– November 8, 2020 Reading Time: 6 minutes

November 7th marks the 103rd anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, where Communist revolutionaries overthrew the czarist government of Russia, eventually leading to the establishment of the Soviet Union. From there, Communism would spread throughout the world with the promise of liberating the working class and establishing a worker’s utopia. Countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia, Laos, East Germany, and many more would succumb to the grip of this authoritarian ideology. An ideology with absolutely no regard for individual freedom and the principles of sound economics.

It has become fashionable for some to question the fact that over 100 million people have been killed as a direct result of the actions of Communist governments. Actions such as genocide, starvation, and persecution. Forty-five million people killed in China alone in the span of four years due to the monstrous policies of the Great Leap Forward. In Ukraine, there was Holodomor which 

“By one estimate claimed the lives of 3.9 million people, about 13 percent of the population. And, unlike other famines in history caused by blight or drought, this was caused when a dictator wanted both to replace Ukraine’s small farms with state-run collectives and punish independence-minded Ukrainians who posed a threat to his totalitarian authority.”

The list goes on and on and on. Look at any country, from North Korea to Cuba; without any deviation, every single country that has adopted Communism has brought continuous death, destruction, and suffering onto its citizens. The reason is not because of bad apples. With all the talk about “structuralism” and the importance of systems over individual actions, you would think Communists understood why their system always fails.

There are no accidents; bad economics, and bad political science will lead to terrible results. If there are no checks on state power, tyranny will prevail. If you disregard sound economics, people will starve. It is as simple as that. 

Individual liberty, constitutional order, the rule of law, and free markets were not adopted because some rich White men thought it’d be fun. They were adopted because that’s how you build a prosperous society. Without freedom and without markets, you get what has happened in every single Communist nation. Blood in the streets, starvation by the millions, and heart-wrenching instances like this in Vietnam as the Communist Vietnamese army approached victory.

“Women outside the walls wailed and wept,” the author writes. “Some rolled on the sidewalk in hysterics, crying out the names of the American servicemen, businessmen and diplomats whom they had served as clerks, drivers, cooks, cleaners, bodyguards and interpreters. Mothers tried to pass their babies to Marines.”

This instance is indicative of every single Communist regime where people risk their lives to escape to free countries like the United States. Every year around 1,000 people successfully escape from North Korea; the rest are either killed or tortured for failing. If that isn’t possible, like the mothers mentioned before, at the very least they hoped their children would grow up in a place like America. 

If that isn’t convincing enough, here’s my family’s story 

“The Khmer Rouge was a far left regime that ended up killing almost a quarter of the Cambodian population in a span of four years. When they came to power, they targeted ethnic Chinese civilians, such as my mother’s family. Not only were they racist, they were envious of our financial well-being, because my mother’s family, and many other Chinese residents, operated small businesses. In the great spirit of the workers’ revolution and smashing capitalism, they raped, pillaged, and destroyed communities. My family, like many others, were rounded up and sent to concentration camps soon to be dubbed “The Killing Fields.” My mother, still a small child, was forced to build a hut out of whatever she could find. Mass starvation soon ensued as the economy was absolutely devastated and sealed off by the socialist policies of the Khmer Rouge. While people were starving, the leaders of this people’s republic hoarded food and resources for themselves.”

I cannot stress enough, there are no accidents and ideas have consequences. There are systems of government that unchain human potential and unleash prosperity. That is a system that protects freedom.

Then there are systems that enable tyranny, murder, and suffering at the hands of men who claim to speak for the masses. Systems that succumb to the fatal conceit of central planning and the lethal fallacy that the government is the embodiment of God on Earth. 

What Has Capitalism Done?

Milton Friedman’s famous Free to Choose was published in the year 1980, detailing the power of free markets and individual liberty. Around that same time period, a number of countries decided to embrace those same lessons. Most famously, Maoist China decided to engage in a campaign of market-oriented reforms in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping. Communist Vietnam followed soon in 1986. Both China and Vietnam went from rural, impoverished nations to economic powerhouses in the span of decades. Meanwhile, every existing Socialist country from Cuba to North Korea, as well as quasi-socialist countries like Nepal, continue to remain poor. All of these countries are rich in resources and all of them were former victims of imperialism. There is only one substantial difference between these countries that makes the difference between prosperity and poverty. China and Vietnam have drastically improved the lives of all of their citizens by embracing markets, not Socialism.

Markets in China 

The meteoric rise of China from the depths of poverty created under Mao Zedong is household knowledge at this point. A country composed mostly of huts and coal-fired furnaces now boasts the second-largest economy in the world with gleaming skyscrapers and Michelin star restaurants. The answer is clear and simple. China did not plan or regulate its way to prosperity; they did precisely the opposite. Ditching Communism and embracing market-based reforms. Such policies have fulfilled more humanitarian goals than any Socialist or charity could ever dream of. 

The World Bank writes,

“Since China began to open up and reform its economy in 1978, GDP growth has averaged almost 10 percent a year, and more than 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty.”

Getting government out of the way and allowing individuals to conduct business in a way they see fit has done more for China than any government program. Although China still has a long way to go, the limited reforms they have introduced have drastically turned the country around. 

A timeline provided by Reuters demonstrates what happens when more economic freedom is introduced to China when it notes

“1980: Southern city Shenzhen is made the first “special economic zone” to experiment with more flexible market policies and in a matter of years it is transformed from a fishing village into a manufacturing and shipping powerhouse.”

Markets, and not Socialism, brought the wonders of modern civilization to the masses. This of course should not be construed to suggest that China does not currently live under the brutal repression of the Chinese Communist Party or that China’s economy could not be far better if it liberalized more. 

Đổi Mới in Vietnam

Although overshadowed by the commotion surrounding China’s economic development, Vietnam launched its own set of market reforms in 1986 that have yielded similar results. The World Economic Forum writes,

“Walking around in Ha Noi, Viet Nam’s capital, you can feel boundless energy everywhere. People whiz by on scooters, buy and sell everything from phones to food in the countless small shops, and run to and fro to get to school or work. Viet Nam is young, growing, and anything feels possible.

It wasn’t always thus. A mere 30 years ago, the country was one of the poorest in the world.”

Market liberalization brought life to Vietnam, a country that has been under the boot of French Colonialism and later Communism for much of recent history. On top of being oppressed under the draining forces of colonialism, Vietnam was devastated by war in the latter part of the 20th century. The World Bank notes 

“Vietnam’s development over the past 30 years has been remarkable. Economic and political reforms under Đổi Mới, launched in 1986, have spurred rapid economic growth, transforming what was then one of the world’s poorest nations into a lower middle-income country. Between 2002 and 2018, GDP per capita increased by 2.7 times, reaching over US$2,700 in 2019, and more than 45 million people were lifted out of poverty. Poverty rates declined sharply from over 70 percent to below 6 percent.”

In only a couple of decades under comparatively light market reforms, Vietnam is on its way to widespread prosperity.

The Legacy of Liberalization 

The legacy of Milton Friedman’s timeless lessons about free-market capitalism is that of ever-increasing prosperity extended to the least fortunate around the world. There is an undeniable correlation between economic freedom and the well-being of a country. When people are free to choose and go about their business in a way that they see fit through a process of market-tested betterment, they flourish. For decades, Communism kept the inhabitants of China and Vietnam hopelessly poor. However, just a hint of capitalism has reversed the damage those policies have done and drastically improved the lives of millions. 

The Legacy of Communism

To this date, no Communist or Socialist-leaning country has come even remotely close to the level of widespread well-being that a capitalist country has. They have only left a dreadful trail of destruction and lost productivity. How far along could we be in forwarding shared global prosperity, technological advancements, and cultural vibrancy had Communism been defeated in its cradle? In countries like China and Vietnam, adopting limited forms of Capitalism has done more for the working man than Communism ever has. Markets have turned those countries into a place where people do not flee by the thousands but to some degree actually prefer to live in.  

Communism and big government ideologies more generally have made the lethal promise that nature can bend to the will of man. That human nature, the laws of economics, and basic political science are merely suggestions. How dreadfully wrong they were. 

Ethan Yang

Ethan Yang

Ethan joined AIER in 2020 as an Editorial Assistant and is a graduate of Trinity College. He received a BA in Political Science alongside a minor in Legal Studies and Formal Organizations.

He currently serves as Local Coordinator at Students for Liberty and the Director of the Mark Twain Center for the Study of Human Freedom at Trinity College.

Prior to joining AIER, he interned at organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Connecticut State Senate, and the Cause of Action Institute.

Ethan is currently based in Washington D.C.

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