September 17, 2018 Reading Time: 3 minutes

Few observers missed Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’ interview and photoshoot last week in which the rising, avowedly-socialist NY Congressional candidate wore a $3,500 suit and shoes while hobnobbing with construction workers. (Such are the perils of outspoken class warfarism; a thing like that tends to be noticed.) Her opponents lambasted her as just another in a long line of collectivist hypocrites, while Cortez’ supporters dismissed the criticism as petty. Ocasio herself noted that the outfit she wore was not in fact hers, and had to be returned after the shoot.

This was not her first encounter with pretense: taking ride-sharing firm Uber to task for “exploitation” on Twitter in early March 2018 didn’t keep her and her campaign from amassing thousands of dollars’ worth of rides with the company (and others) between 2017 and 2018 (some for distances resulting in decidedly non-“living wage” fares of less than $1.00).

In fact, though, there is no hypocrisy afoot. The significance of Cortez’ suit and shoes combo – the cost of which is more than the monthly salary of the average American as of 2nd Qtr 2018 – is not antithetical to socialism but completely consistent with it.

Intellectuals, after all – academics, activists, and technocrats – are the fount from which socialist ideation, theory, and practice spring. “Grassroots” movements, even in the rare event they are spontaneous, require organization and direction, and this unfailingly comes from those whose lives are spent studying, interpreting, and synthesizing theory.

Vladimir Lenin himself wrote in “What is to Be Done?” (1902) that despite the predictions of Marx – that what today would be called popular movements among “the people” or “the workers” – history proves that a working class do not tend to develop ‘class consciousness’.

The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.

This comes as little surprise: amongst themselves, individuals of blue, gray, white, or any other color collar naturally tend to want more pay, better working conditions, and/or more benefits; grandiose ideas regarding the wholesale remaking of society, radical restructure of the economy, and the like tend to come from above.

Practically speaking, the process of proselytizing and mobilizing a population, consolidating power, and converting an economy to central planning – to say nothing of running it – starts and ends with a small, elite corps of ruling intellectuals. That over time they accord to themselves the trappings of the moneyed class they simultaneously assail is neither surprising nor hypocritical. Collectivism of every stripe – democratic socialism, national socialism, communism, syndicalism – cultivates a new, political aristocracy.

Ocasio’s affluent attire is thus in keeping with a longstanding tradition of exceedingly well-heeled redistributionists, as are Bernie Sanders’ homes, the wealth of Cuba’s Castro brothers, North Korea’s Kim family, Hugo Chavez’ daughter, and in historical cases which include those of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong, and many others.   (An interesting side note is that another of the accouterments of high peerage – nepotism – is found in nearly every example as well.)

Despite the core assertions made by its adherents and promoters, in practice socialism is always an exercise in privilege. It should come as no surprise that in a political/economic system helmed by an elite that the trappings of a ruling class inevitably follow, as does the very wealth that by pillorying they ascend to. ‘Revolution’ indeed.

Peter C. Earle

Peter C. Earle

Peter C. Earle is an economist who joined AIER in 2018. Prior to that he spent over 20 years as a trader and analyst at a number of securities firms and hedge funds in the New York metropolitan area. His research focuses on financial markets, monetary policy, and problems in economic measurement. He has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Reuters, CNBC, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, NPR, and in numerous other media outlets and publications. Pete holds an MA in Applied Economics from American University, an MBA (Finance), and a BS in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Selected Publications

“General Institutional Considerations of Blockchain and Emerging Applications” Co-Authored with David M. Waugh in The Emerald Handbook on Cryptoassets: Investment Opportunities and Challenges, edited by Baker, Benedetti, Nikbakht, and Smith (2023)

“Operation Warp Speed” Co-authored with Edwar Escalante in Pandemics and Liberty, edited by Raymond J. March and Ryan M. Yonk (2022)

“A Virtual Weimar: Hyperinflation in Diablo III” in The Invisible Hand in Virtual Worlds: The Economic Order of Video Games, edited by Matthew McCaffrey (2021)

“The Fickle Science of Lockdowns” Co-authored with Phillip W. Magness, Wall Street Journal (December 2021)

“How Does a Well-Functioning Gold Standard Function?” Co-authored with William J. Luther, SSRN (November 2021)

“Populist Prophets, Public Prophets: Pied Pipers of Lucre, Then and Now” in Financial History (Summer 2021)

“Boston’s Forgotten Lockdowns” in The American Conservative (November 2020)

“Private Governance and Rules for a Flat World” in Creighton Journal of Interdisciplinary Leadership (June 2019)

“’Federal Jobs Guarantee’ Idea Is Costly, Misguided, And Increasingly Popular With Democrats” in Investor’s Business Daily (December 2018)

Books by Peter C. Earle

Get notified of new articles from Peter C. Earle and AIER.