The new, angrier socialism

In his volume in the Oxford History of the United States (The Republic for Which It Stands) covering 1865–1896, Stanford’s Richard White says that John Bates Clark, the leading economist of that era, said “true socialism” is “economic republicanism,” which meant more cooperation and less individualism. Others saw socialism as “a system of social ethics.” All was vagueness.

Today’s angrier socialists rail, with specificity and some justification, against today’s “rigged” system of government in the service of the strong. But as the Hoover Institution’s John H. Cochrane (a.k.a. the Grumpy Economist) says, “If the central problem is rent-seeking, abuse of the power of the state, to deliver economic goods to the wealthy and politically powerful, how in the world is more government the answer?”

The “boldness” of today’s explicit and implicit socialists — taxing the “rich” — is a perennial temptation of democracy: inciting the majority to attack an unpopular minority. This is socialism now: From each faction according to its vulnerability, to each faction according to its ability to confiscate.