SAS: Socialism, future or failure?

By Scott Simmonds, Researcher at TaxPayers' Alliance

Socialism, and socialist ideas, are having something of a revival at the moment. Like some obscure 70’s bands you thought were long gone, socialism is now touring again, captivating a newer younger audience.

With this in mind, the TaxPayers’ Alliance ‘Stand Against Socialism’ campaign was launched to highlight the shortcomings of socialism and remind people why it is such a disastrous ideology. This campaign was the basis for the ‘Socialism: Future or Failure’ debate last month at the Conservative party conference. I was lucky to speak alongside an impressive line-up: Conservative MEP Dan Hannan, journalists Julie Hartley-Brewer (talkRadio presenter) and Dawn Foster (Guardian columnist), and fellow wonk Dr Kristian Niemietz.

The debate gave a good flavour of the different ideological arguments we often hear. There were excellent and quite varied views in the opening statements on why socialism has been, and continues to be, a failure. The point of socialism becoming more popular with Britons, even though most have never actually lived under socialist regimes, was raised by Julie. Kristian argued socialism’s new-found popularity is down to the ‘hipster-isation’ and rebranding of the ideology; good PR rather than good economics. Dan defended capitalist free markets, with his usual rhetorical flourish, and I argued that people will always spend their money better than government ever will.

Dawn, who was the single panellist on the ‘future’ side of the debate after a fellow left-wing journalist dropped out, argued that capitalism wasn’t working, with high housing costs, wage stagnation and the avocation of the redistribution of wealth. On a personal note, a massive thanks to Dawn for joining us and making the case so passionately.

Following the opening salvos, the main debate centred on housing costs and the inability for younger people to buy homes. This generational divide that has opened up regarding the ability to purchase property goes a long way to explain why younger people are being enticed by the socialist mirage. It’s hard to be a capitalist when you don’t have any capital. This is a problem of policy, not capitalism. That the housing sector is the most constrictive and regulated sector in the economy is no coincidence. Supply and demand is as true today as it ever was. With housing, it’s the supply side of the equation that is not delivering, with restrictive planning laws preventing housebuilding and pushing up prices in high-demand areas.

Perhaps one thing that pro-freedom advocates could learn from this debate is that the housing crisis remains an enduring example of overregulation, while at the same time becoming a major reason why so many young people are turning to socialism.

The housing crisis is just one example of the slow creep of regulatory build up which has meant a slow, creeping growth of the state, and with it more burdens on the taxpayer. As governments becomes larger and more involved in the economy - taxing here, subsiding there - this undermines genuine free market competition resulting in consumers paying more for goods and services, while at the same time paying more in taxes. Situations like these are a disaster for consumers, and will quickly become a stick with which socialists will beat the defenders of capitalism.

This is why this campaign is important, not only to point out extreme failures overseas like Venezuela, but also the gradual implementation of the same principles and ideas here in the UK. Socialism by stealth is not the answer. If we’re going to stop socialism becoming the future, we need to sort out the failure to be properly free market.