In February of 2015, we had the opportunity to visit Cuba. My husband and I spoke at a leadership conference to a group of over 300 pastors in Santa Clara, central Cuba. It’s a beautiful country with amazingly resilient people. We absolutely loved our time there but were heart-broken at the abject poverty we witnessed.
On our second day there, we visited a family in remote area who hosted a church in their home. Since the government notoriously shuts down churches—often leveling them to the ground—Christians are forced to hold church in their homes. Their “church” consisted of 90 regular attenders on any Sunday morning who met in their living room, an area approximately 12’ x 20’!
This couple had three sons and another family member living with them, but I only noticed one bed… a dirty mattress sitting on the concrete floor.
Cubans are highly educated, hardworking people, even though each worker makes the equivalent of $30 USD per month. This is true regardless of profession. Custodians make the same amount as doctors in this country. They are not given a choice of where they go to college, or even which career they will pursue—the government tells them what they will study. Young men are forced to join the military, known as compulsory service.
The Castro brothers “sell” doctors, engineers and other highly trained professional to other countries to work in desolate, high crime areas where their local citizens refuse to work. The receiving country pays the Castro’s, not the employee or even the government. An individual can’t refuse, because he will never work again since everyone works for the state.
The citizens of Cuba do not have the ability to pursue happiness or liberty.
The Socialist mantra is, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” This sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Many dictators and autocrats rose to power by promising to build a utopian world where there are no there is no struggle between economic classes, and everyone has what they needed. Karl Marx, author of the infamous Communist Manifesto believed that Capitalism was doomed to fail, and abundance and harmony were achievable if communities would commit to sharing resources and denounce private ownership.
Many across the world took the bait. At one point in the late 1970’s, 60% of people world-wide were under socialist governments.
The widespread devastation caused by World War II left many countries scrambling for new solutions. European Colonialism—the practice of Great Britain and other wealthy countries exerting political and military authority over many smaller territories in order to exploit them for cheap labor and abundant natural resources—had failed. Countries previously controlled by Great Britain or other nations were finally establishing their independence.
Future leaders across the world fighting to gain power saw socialism—in one form or another—as a shortcut to economic prosperity for their struggling countries. If the government controlled all means of production, they reasoned, wealth could be redistributed evenly so that everyone would benefit. This proved to be an illusion in every case.
Some of these experiments began quite innocently. Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, East Africa sincerely believed that he could rebuild the country and increase the wealth of his country. But instead of creating economic prosperity through a market economy, Nyerere ordered all citizens to abandon their private property and move to collective farms where the government would redistribute the spoils. Instead of generating wealth, these policies proved to be very inefficient and led to more bureaucracy.
The people, now pushed to the brink of starvation, rebelled and burned down the villages.
His flawed logic had tragic consequences: massive food and gasoline shortages. Government corruption exploded, because it now held all the power. Instead of creating prosperity, his actions led to wide-scale starvation and despair.
Other emerging leaders were not as naïve. Their promise to create a utopian society was nothing more than an elaborate and deliberate power-grab. Mao Zedong in China, for example, pledged his countrymen the one thing they all wanted: life-long, basic economic security. The Chinese people soon came to realize the cost was submission. The Chinese government controlled everything in their lives including who they married and how many children they had. Even the clothes they wore and books they read were dictated by the government.
Many brutal dictators successfully sold this dream of peace on earth, only to devastate their country’s economy, ruthlessly oppress their people, and crush any opposition. Vladimir Lenin promised Russia “Peace, Bread, and Land” in 1918; Jawaharlal Nehru promised India the end of poverty in 1947; Mao Zedong promised China there would be open debate in 1956; Fidel Castro promised Cuba prosperity in 1960; and Hugo Chavez promised Venezuela universal healthcare in 1998.
Contrary to popular opinion, socialism and communism are more similar than they are different, and socialism leads to communism more often than it does not. Regardless of the intention or methods, one thing is clear from history: every single experiment with variations of socialism has resulted in epic failure and untold human suffering.
Venezuela was once Latin America’s richest country and one of its longest-running democracies. Chavez rose to power by promising the poorest citizens of his country that the government would take care of them; provide free healthcare and lift them out of poverty. His plan was to redistribute Venezuela’s great wealth, primarily from its vast natural resources. The lower class believed him, and he was overwhelmingly elected in 1998.
It appeared to work for a time… until oil prices plummeted. The government had abolished private industry and took over oil production. Under the new regime, production from oil refineries which had the capacity to produce 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) fell to 7,000 bpd because of years of no maintenance and the breakdown of systems of production. Government can never run businesses as efficiently as private industry.
A university study in 2017 testified that Venezuelans reported losing and average of 24 lbs. of body weight from starvation after their government oversaw the destruction of its democracy and it economy, plunging much of the country into desperate poverty.
This same promise of social utopia has been repackaged and sold in America as Democratic Socialism. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Congresswoman, promised single-payer healthcare, tuition-free public colleges, and a guaranteed living wage to all Americans in an interview with Business Insider in March of 2019.
I feel like I’ve seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well.
Let’s not forget that we already have a prototype of socialized medicine in the U.S. It’s called the VA. The Veterans Health Administration has the largest integrated health care system in the United States. Its 1,243 health care facilities, including 172 VA Medical Centers and 1,0622 outpatient sites serve 9 million Veterans each year.
The CBS hit drama Seal Team aired an episode in April of 2019 exposing the VA system. This episode, appropriately named “Medicate and Isolate,” highlights the struggle of a veteran by the name of Brett Swann seeking help for his war injuries. Finally, after years of failing to hold down a job and losing every important relationship in his life, Brett recognizes that he suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury during one of his many deployments.
He schedules another appointment at the VA, fully knowing what to expect. The show captures the long waiting lines, poor service, and hopelessness of many of the veterans waiting to be seen. After sitting in the waiting room for over eight hours, the receptionist tries to reschedule Bretts’s appointment…for over two months away! After being coerced by Brett’s friend, the doctor eventually agrees to see him.
When Brett is finally seen, the doctor acknowledges that his symptoms definitely could have resulted from an explosion he encountered in Iraq 10 years early. But since his injury went undiagnosed by doctors at the time of the event, the VA system rejects Brett for treatment for his brain injury. Instead, the overworked doctors and staff have no other option but to prescribe Brett with more anti-depressants.
The episode culminates when Brett—recognizing that he’s out of options and hope—takes his own life in the parking lot of the VA facility. Yes, Brett is a fictional character, and this is a drama series, not a documentary. However, CBS articulately captured the essence of the VA system and how it has failed some of our most faithful citizens.
The VA Medical System developed after World War II granted power to the government to make healthcare decisions of our nations Veterans. Although the system still works in many cases because of the dedicated medical professionals the government employs, the VA system has seen suffered several black eyes in recent years.
In 2014, a scandal involving then President Obama’s mishandling of Veteran’s Affairs came to light. A Newsmax article from that year disclosed how 35 veterans died while waiting for appointments to be seen at VA medical facilities, just in the Phoenix area. Across the country, at least another 24 veterans have died while waiting for care.
Although still not perfect, the VA Administration has turned the corner. The MISSION Act, under President Trump, took effect in June of 2019 and privatizes come care. This policy serves to give back control to Veterans to make decisions over their own healthcare.
Europe and Socialism
Many have claimed that Socialism is working in Europe; however, this depends on your definition of success. There is a lot confusion among Americans—understandably—concerning European politics.
Democratic socialists typically cite Sweden, the Nordic country in Northern Europe, as the example of where socialized medicine is successfully practiced. Sweden has a robust market economy predominately comprised of privately owned businesses which fund their vast social programs. Sweden has also benefited from staying out of World War II and other global conflicts which would have depleted their national reserves.
In other words, capitalism funds Sweden’s socialized healthcare system and other government-run programs. The government can finance these programs because the average Swede is taxed at a rate of nearly 50%.
Even though Sweden benefited initially from socialized medicine, the healthcare system has fallen behind in recent years. According to Stanley Feld M.D., FACP, MACE, “Swedes are losing interest in the concept of a socialist society. The complaint is that it is inefficient, and, in most areas, the socialistic system does not work to the benefit of the people.
For example, the town of Solleftea in Northern Sweden has 20,000 residents. The only maternity ward in town was shut down in 2014 to save the government money. Since the closest maternity ward is now over 125 miles away from town, midwives offer classes on how to deliver babies in cars—a skill which has proved very useful in many parts of the country. In an article in a local paper entitled, “Sweden’s Healthcare is an Embarrassment,” author Johan Hjertqvist reports that waiting times in Sweden’s’ hospitals are among the worst in Europe.
The healthcare dilemma in Sweden has been exasperated in recent years by their immigration crisis. This crisis began in 2015 when over 100,000 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq poured into the country seeking asylum just in one year’s time. An additional 70,000 refugees applied for asylum in the following two years.
Swedes are very angry about the flood of immigrants pouring into their country and putting a strain on the healthcare system, delaying wait times for regular citizens. To make matters worse, Sweden’s over-extended healthcare system is one of the most expensive systems in all of Europe. Despite the scarcity of hospital beds, long wait times, and shortage of doctors and nurses, Sweden spends 11% of its GDP on healthcare.
The welfare state created by liberal immigration policies is creating an unsustainable financial crisis in Sweden. The country of 9 million citizens—slightly larger than the population of New York City—has now committed to providing care to hundreds of thousands of refugees for life. The citizens of Sweden fear the long-term political, cultural and economic effects to their country that only time will tell.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to visit Brussels, Belgium to work with an international organization aiding victims of human trafficking. Two observations I made regarding Belgians from that visit: 1) it seemed that everyone drove a black BMW sedan, and 2) although many were helpful, very few of them ever smiled. One of the missionaries we worked with explained that even though Belgians have everything they need to live comfortably, most are unhappy.
The Belgium government taxes incomes at 51%. Business owners aren’t concerned with providing good customer service, because it won’t increase their profit margin. Belgians, according to my friend, are just going through the motions because they know they can never get ahead.
Recently the people of Great Britain issued a referendum on socialism by voting in Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson in 2019. Johnson won a decisive victory by securing 43% more of the popular vote than his rival; the largest winning margin in 60 years. Johnson’s opponent, the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, identifies himself as a democratic socialist. The people of Great Britain rejected the radical socialist ideology when they went to the polling booths that year.
As Margaret Thatcher—the Prime Minister of England and the Conservative Party leader who rescued her country’s economy in1979 after years of failed social policies—said, “The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
The Bible and Economics
What does the Bible say about the idea of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs,” as the socialism mantra states? Scripture tells us more than you may think.
The very nature of mankind opposes the notion that we will ever have utopia here on earth. For socialism to work properly, human nature would need to naturally benevolent and wanting to help others more than themselves. But men and women are selfish by nature. Paul spends a lot of time in his letters to the churches talking about our self-centeredness as human beings and speaking to the fall-out this has caused in the early Christian church.
At one point, Paul addresses a problem happening in the church at Thessalonica, a city located in modern-day Greece. The year was 51 B.C. Certain individuals had become lazy and stopped working. They depended on others in the church for support. Instead of working to provide for their own food and necessities, these people felt it was the responsibility of the church.
Paul’s response? “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”
Paul wasn’t trying to be cruel; he was aiming to help all members of the church thrive by being self-sufficient. He understood how devastating it could to an organization if a few individuals carried the responsibility to provide for many others.
If we look back even further, we see basic social and economic principles in action even in very early civilizations. Abraham, the man credited with being the “Father of Many Nations” was very wealthy: he owned property, planted crops, hired workers, accumulated possessions, and protected his assets.
It’s important for us to understand that every civilized society establishes rules to protect individuals and their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Throughout history, cultures that failed on this task didn’t survive.
For example, the nation of Israel exists today because its founders understood these basic principles, even thousands of years ago. After the Jews’ famous escape from Egypt, recorded in the book of Exodus, Moses is tasked with establishing a new, sovereign nation. The remainder of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy record God’s laws and requirements for this brand-new society. These books record detailed instructions—among other things—on how to build buildings, plant vineyards, and prepare supplies their need for survival.
The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Mt. Sinai outline the rule of law for this new nation and provide a basis for all civilized societies. Worship God first and only, respect His name, honor your parents who gave you life, don’t murder, don’t sleep with someone else’s spouse, don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t crave your neighbor’s stuff. These commands exemplify God’s natural order. When properly applied, these rules can and have benefited every individual and society known to man since the beginning of time. When these laws are disregarded, however—such as “don’t murder”—the results are devastating.
The idea of Socialism is unnatural. From the beginning of time, individuals have benefited from hard work, self-discipline, and honesty. They understood the need to provide for themselves and to protect their property and possessions from those looking for the “easy way out.” It’s not natural to work really hard so that the profit you make can be given to others who are lazy and do nothing.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t help others. We are compelled as citizens of heaven to help orphans and widows (James 1:27), care for the poor (Proverbs 19:17), and help strangers (1 John 3:17), but according to the Bible, this is our individual choice and we’ll be rewarded for our good deeds by God.
Charlie Kirk—founder of Turning Point USA, a non-profit organization advocating for conservative principles on university campuses—was asked if Jesus was a Socialist. Kirk points out that Jesus was, first and foremost, the Savior of the world… not a political activist. He also points out that, our charge as Christians… “starts and ends with the individual calling, not the collective calling. ” We can’t abdicate our responsibility to the government or anyone else.
We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next chapter, Capital Gains.
Socialism always begins with the promise of utopia but leads to tyrannical rule.
Even prosperous democracies such as Germany in the 1930’s, Venezuela in the 1990’s, and Sweden in the 2010’s can succumb to destructive policies and mismanagement which bankrupt the economy and destroy their culture.
The failure of Socialism is predictable because it defies the laws of nature. People are selfish by nature. And even though we are social beings and desire community, we all have an innate (i.e. natural) need for autonomy.
The erroneous idea that the government should own all property and distribute to all individuals evenly is an insult to our God-given intellect. To be candid, individuals never benefit from government control over the means of production or service providers, only the politicians in power.
“If socialists understood economics, they wouldn’t be socialists,” according to Friedrich Von Hayek, the Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 1974.
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