Derrick Crowe logo

Episode 11: Ben Shapiro Plays Dumb on Democratic Socialism

By Derrick Crowe
October 1, 2018

I can be incredibly naive. What follows is the result of that fact about myself. I went into a video that purported to be about democratic socialism which consisted of a speech by Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, looking for the best criticism possible of the political ideology that I hold. That’s because I thoroughly enjoy a good debate and being challenged on important ideas. I think it’s a fundamental principle that one should never hold an opinion while being afraid it isn’t true, and the only way to get over that fear is to test the idea in the fire.

Now, Ben Shapiro is constantly being recommended to me by my conservative friends as the one to offer the strongest challenges. This is despite the fact that the articles he publishes on his website have headlines like:

  • “The Death Panels Are Coming,” obviously an article about Obamacare;
  • “Why Hillary Clinton and Obama Prefer Islam to Christianity”; and
  • “How Many Westerners Will Die to Make #refugeeswelcome?”

These don’t exactly seem like indicators of a person who acts in good faith in a debate. Yet, I am told he is the “cool kid’s philosopher” and a “gladiator” by The New York Times. His demands to debate Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a nominee for Congress who is a democratic socialist, were taken seriously in the press despite the fact that Shapiro is not running against her and holds no elected office. So, maybe my skepticism was unwarranted.

To test that, I watched a recent long-form speech of his, “7 Myths of Democratic Socialism Debunked.” Then, I watched it again. And what I saw, I’m sorry to say, was not a direct challenge to the core philosophy of democratic socialism, but a sloppily slung-together set of American Enterprise Institute talking points, bad-faith arguments, and statements made in the hopes that the audience hasn’t done the reading, punctuated with applause lines for conservatives. If Shapiro is representing here the best that old-school movement conservatives are putting on the table for intellectual grist, then that’s why they lost their party to Donald Trump.

Here are the “seven myths of democratic socialism” that Shapiro seeks to debunk:

  1. Democratic socialism isn’t exactly the same thing as socialism.
  2. Democratic socialism is not force, because it’s democratic.
  3. Socialism is fairer than capitalism.
  4. Democratic socialism has never really been tried.
  5. Real democratic socialism is Norway.
  6. Socialism works in medicine.
  7. Capitalism is a giant failure.

Now, before I go further, let me offer an apology. What follows is going to lack a ton of structure beyond this seven-point outline, Shapiro is not making a case–he’s just making seven different speeches and stacking them together, and calling them speeches is being generous. They are basically just rants. The benefit of this is that we get to see very clearly how his ideas don’t hang very well together. The drawback is, well, that the original material, and thus any direct response, is kind of a mess. I’ll proceed with a couple of key quotes from Shapiro in each section and then respond to the core of the assertions. Bear with me.

“Democratic socialism isn’t exactly the same thing as socialism.”

“No one can explain the difference because there is no difference. Democratic socialism is just socialism with a nice word in front of it…If you add ‘democratic’ to socialism it is still socialism.” — Ben Shapiro

Right at the top, it’s clear that Shapiro has made zero effort to figure out what democratic socialism means as a distinct school of thought within the broader socialist universe or read what democratic socialists themselves say about it. It’s also clear that he wants to paint democratic socialists as being afraid of the word socialism in general so he can insinuate that people who are attracted to it are being deceived in some way. (Why one would assert that one is trying to trick people into thinking that they are not associated with a term whose popularity is exploding is beyond me, but fine.) The majority of the rest of the speech also depends upon him defining away any place for market forces within democratic socialism and only conceding a definition of democratic socialism which includes a 100-percent centrally planned economy and authoritarian governance, which, as we will see, is completely wrong.

So here, Ben, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to figuring all this out, because I know it’s complicated. Hang with me.

  1. Type, “Google.com” into your browser’s search bar.
  2. In the search field on Google, type “What is Democratic Socialism?”

Now from here, it gets really complicated, because now we have options.

See, in the top search results on Google, you either have a link to the FAQ from Democratic Socialists of America which explains in detail what democratic socialism is, or you could just read the summary that pops up in the sidebar which clearly distinguishes democratic socialism from other socialist traditions. Now the Wikipedia excerpt works just fine with me, but if Ben decided to show such deep commitment as to go one click deep in his epic search in the wilderness for even a single, solitary person to explain this to him, he would land on a page that includes this statement:

“First, we call ourselves socialists because we are proud of what we are.”

Or, if he wanted to get really crazy, he could just read “Where We Stand: Building the Next Left.” Which is also, you know, right there on the website. In that document, we say:

“We are socialists because we reject an international economic order sustained by private profit, alienated labor, race and gender discrimination, environmental destruction, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo.”

Shorter version of the above: this isn’t that hard, Ben, and this attempt to portray democratic socialists as running away from the broader label of socialism is, shall we say, disingenuous.

Keep this bit of pique about labels in mind as we move along, however. It comes back to bite him in the ass.

The real noteworthy argumentative move Ben makes in this section is to start laying the groundwork for his own version of the “no true Scottsman” charge that he levels against democratic socialists. He warns his audience, “Just because a country has socialist programs doesn’t make it a socialist country.” As you’ll see later, the only consistent defining criteria for Ben on whether a country should be called socialist is whether they provide an attractive example for the arguments he wants to make. When talking about the Nordic experience, he says without evidence that, “Nationalized medicine is the socialist part, and the really high income is the non-socialist part. The part of the living standard that’s actually really good is the part that’s not socialist.”

Ah, yes, very helpful. Otherwise I might have thought that not letting people just suffer needlessly, go bankrupt more often, and die earlier would have a serious deleterious impact on living standards.

Shapiro wants to avoid engaging with the actual ideas of democratic socialism and instead just talk about central planning–but democratic socialists explicitly state in that one-click-deep document that they are not for the total abolition of markets:

Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.

Or, again, from “Where We Stand”:

We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane international social order based both on democratic planning and market mechanisms to achieve equitable distribution of resources,meaningful work, a healthy environment, sustainable growth, gender and racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.

We could care less if your factory that makes Snuggies is owned by the government or if it’s a co-op. What we do want is for the Snuggie factory workers to have a strong union or and for each worker to own part of the company so they can have a say in the environment where they are obliged to spend the bulk of their waking hours. And of course, as Ocasio Cortez put it, we reject the idea that in a country that is wealthy, modern, and moral, someone can be too poor to live. But let’s just stipulate before we move on here that what we see from Shapiro in this section is a very good illustration of why when you’re trying to figure out who the true Scottsman is, you shouldn’t trust the British to give you a straight answer.

Democratic socialism is not in fact force, because it’s democratic!

Shapiro:

“Just because the Republic of North Korea is actually a republic! [Again, remember this kind of argument. We’ll come back to it later.] …If you say democratic socialism, the fact that someone from the government is pointing a gun at your head to rob you, that is not force anymore. Now it’s democratic. Alright? Now it’s democracy. …But here’s the problem: voting for the use of force is still the use of force. If two-thirds of us vote to rob at gunpoint to rob the other third of the people in this room, that is still force. That is still tyranny. The founders recognized this, which is why they built a system of checks and balances. They were worried about the tyranny of the majority explicitly. …If you have some people voting to take away other people’s money, that doesn’t make it democratic and it doesn’t make it fair.”

The meat of Shapiro’s statement here is that if two-thirds of the people vote to tax you, and we actually do that, it’s not just unfair, it’s tyranny. His statement is indistinguishable from the position that taxation is theft. This reasoning is indistinguishable from Gary Johnson’s reasoning–which makes sense, because according to Ben elsewhere, he’s “basically a libertarian.” He’s welcome to hold that view, but it makes him useless in the actual affair of governing, because if we adopt his view, then literally every form of governance is tyranny.

But I want to dig a little deeper here: If a democratic body voting to tax you for redistributive purposes is tyranny, surely a single person or small, unrepresentative body acting to enrich themselves by depriving you of the value of your labor either by paying you less than the work is worth or by depriving you of your livelihood altogether–and doing so without your input–is even more tyrannical. Say they are a chief executive who is acting on behalf of an all-White, all-male governing body, and they are laying you and your colleagues off so that they can keep taking home somewhere between $30 million and $152 million per year, and you had no input into the decision in any democratic way. That’s what has gone on here in my hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland at Discovery Communications. Surely if it’s tyranny to take taxes out of your paycheck via a payroll deduction to promote the general welfare, it’s even more tyrannical to deprive you of a paycheck to buy a second yacht for an oligarch…right?

Socialism is fairer than capitalism.

Shapiro goes on a slightly embarrassing rant about Bernie Sanders wanting to give everyone one-and-a-half houses and how that half-a-house leftover doesn’t even provide shelter. I know, Ben, fractional averages are annoying. When he finally gets to the point, he says:

“[F]airness, and our sense of justice, actually rests on the premise that there are consequences for actions…if you didn’t earn it, but you got it, it feels unfair. …Socialism says…we’re supposed to discriminate in favor of  people who have been less successful financially.”

No. Democratic socialism does not say you are supposed to discriminate against anyone. It says people should not be exploited. Democratic socialism says we have to fight unaccountable accumulations of power.

Now, I half-expected Shapiro to launch into a defense of the inheritance tax here. After all, “if you didn’t earn it, but you got it, it feels unfair.” Alas, my hopes for intellectual honesty were again dashed, and anyway, elsewhere he calls the inheritance tax disgusting. He goes on to say that,

“[S]ocialism seeks to destroy this system of action and consequences.”

At this point, I’m constitutionally obligated to point out that no one went to jail for the 2008 financial crisis, even though it was caused by massive criminality and then followed up by massive criminality, and it was the capitalists, not the socialists, who were both responsible for this criminality and responsible for shielding it from consequences. But more directly to the point, socialism points out precisely that “if you didn’t earn it, but you got it,” that’s unjust. Here’s a very simple scenario to illustrate:

  1. Say a capitalist brings capital to the table worth 100 points. He wants to hire workers to turn that capital into products to sell.
  2. The workers then add another 100 points to the value of the capital by applying their labor to it.

The total investment into the item is now 200 points. Now, the capitalist has every incentive to keep the price low in the marketplace to be competitive. So let’s say the price remains somewhere near 200 points. Let’s say it goes for around 220 points on the open market.

Now: when he gets 200 points for the product, how does he divide it? Does he simply keep the 100 points he put into it and give the other folks 100 points and everyone returns back where they started plus 10 more points? Of course not. Every reader of this scenario knows exactly what the owner is going to do: not only are they are going to try to keep their 100 points and their 10 extra points, but they are going to dig as far into the 100 points of the labor force as they can get away with. And, to do that, they will fight any attempts by the worker to exert power in the workplace.

Everyone knows that is what is going to happen–including Ben Shapiro. That’s what he means when he says elsewhere that “the reason you hire someone is because they create surplus value for you. If they don’t create surplus value for them, you don’t hire them.”

It’s what Austin-area technology CEO Joshua Baer meant when he said:

“Inspiring them to work for less than they are worth.” Huh. Occasionally you catch these folks being honest.

We’ve been trained to expect this as normal under capitalism. You have the capital, so you get to set the exploitative terms that always return you at least the value of your investment plus a premium, even if that means not paying the people who do the work what the work is worth. The problem is that this system is inherently undemocratic and subjects people to authoritarian behaviors of bosses all day long, and it puts them in a position never receiving what their work is actually worth. That exploitation is what socialism seeks to replace with worker ownership of the capital.

He then goes on to make a nonsensical distinction between “charity” and “socialism,” which every socialist would agree has a distinction, but Shapiro’s way of putting it shows shoddy logic and sloppy thinking:

“Charity is about my duty towards you. Socialism is about your rights from me.” Um…this is a distinction without a difference. If one person has a duty to do something for another, that other person has a right to expect you to do it. That’s how duty works. Shapiro tries to weasel out of this by saying that the duty is religious, and it’s God that has a right to expect it of you. But riddle me this, Ben: Does your wife, to whom you swore a sacred vow, have a right to expect fidelity from you? Think carefully about your answer.

But back to Ben’s basic point: the claim that socialism seeks to destroy a system of action and consequences. In his way of reasoning, you’re prosperous or rich because you worked hard for it, and you’re poor because you didn’t, and if the non-rich band together to use collective political power to force the rich to give up some of their income, that’s theft driven by the jealousy of the lazy. He will later go on to say that, “the rich don’t become rich by stealing from the poor because the poor don’t have any money.”

This is an incredibly blinkered and ahistorical. And since Shapiro drags the Bible into the discussion, it’s also not biblical. The writer of Proverbs 22 is not just engaging in idle speculation about a person who “oppresses the poor to make more for himself.” It’s a constant fact of life in the world that people with power and wealth will leverage that power and wealth to get more power and wealth, explicitly at the expense of the poor unless the many collect together to defend themselves. What does Ben think that the prohibitions against lending money at interest in Exodus and Leviticus are about?

But let’s get more recent than the Bronze Age. What did Ben think colonialism was about? Or even more recently: Americans paid $15 billion in overdraft fees alone in 2016. That seems like pretty good money. What about bank fees for customers with low account balances, or bank-side reordering of withdrawals so that customers get hit with multiple overdraft fees more often? Fee-for-service check-cashing services? Anyone who has ever had any experience living outside a gated community could find countless other examples of how rich people can make fortunes off of poor people.

But again, all of this avoids the central thing capitalists want to steal from poor people: their labor. That’s what colonialism and slavery were about in the first place–the violent acquisition of capital and the theft of labor from local populations. That’s what the modern incarnation of capitalism is based on: paying people poverty wages and pocketing the surplus value of their labor. The CEO of McDonalds did not make $15 million a year because he was working harder than the army of kitchen workers hustling on their feet over hot grease vats. He made it because he sits at the top of a business model that lets him pay those tough bastards a wage far below the value of the work on which they can’t afford a dignified life so that he can keep more of the profits.

It’s not a coincidence that the world’s richest man presides over a massive network of warehouses where people are paid pittances and terrorized with demerits to the point that they skip bathroom breaks and pee in bottles. In fact, if you want to get a better distinction between what socialists are after and what charity is, consider that what Jeff Bezos will give to charity this year, $2 billion, was what he made this year before the first full week in January was over, but if workers start to organize to demand dignified wages and treatment, he is perfectly willing to simply close their workplaces and move them elsewhere.

At the close of this section, Shapiro really exposes himself as a propagandist and not a rational thinker by claiming that socialism violates the Ten Commandments. He claims that socialism engages in idolatry because “You’re not supposed to worship the government–you’re supposed to worship God.” This is a clear sign that Ben is beyond rational discussion, because no democratic socialist “worships government.” It’s the kind of statement that makes him feel righteous, but that has zero logical nature or value. I can swap it around and say, “You’re not supposed to worship free markets–you’re supposed to worship God,” as a gotcha move, but it gets us nowhere in the conversation because it’s just a caricature that can’t be discussed rationally.

He repeats the assertion that socialism is theft (by which he means taxation, even if he wouldn’t admit it outside of this screed–but hey, forget it, he’s on a roll), to say socialism violates the prohibition against stealing. See above.

He then claims that socialism violates the prohibition against envy, and through this attack tries to knock down any concerns about inequality. “You’re not supposed to covet your neighbor’s property.” Again, note that he carefully avoids one of the major central thrusts of socialism when it comes to wealth, which is that most of the robbing takes place between doing the job and getting the paycheck. People should not be robbed of the excess value of their labor by capitalists on the job site, nor should we permit inherited capital–which the person did not earn, remember–to endanger democracy by creating unaccountable, aristocratic centralization of power and wealth. 

Furthermore, this assertion that caring about whether your neighbor has nice things than you puts you in violation of the Ten Commandment indicts all of capitalism. We have been told again and again by movement conservatives like Ben about the incentives of inequality. One could cite George Will, who is in turn citing John Tamny, when he says:

“[I]ncome inequality in a capitalist system is truly beautiful” because “it provides the incentive for creative people to gamble on new ideas, and it turns luxuries into common goods.

That incentive never gets off the ground without taking a peek at your neighbor’s goods. So, think what you like about incentives and profit motives, but if worrying about whether you are keeping up with your neighbors is idolatry then capitalism is the religion of the golden calf.

Ben’s assertion that “the rich don’t become rich by stealing from the poor because the poor don’t have any money” is ridiculous on its face. Socialism believes that actions should be connected with consequences, i.e. that people should get paid more for doing work and should have a say at the place where they work.

“Democratic Socialism Has Never Really Been Tried”

This section is great because of Ben Shapiro’s lack of self-awareness. He says:

“The USSR wasn’t socialist. Cuba wasn’t socialist. Venezuela wasn’t socialist. …It’s just like magic. The minute they start sucking and blowing away dissidents, then all of the sudden they aren’t socialist anymore.”

Remember earlier when Ben was trying to clear the socialist category of any Nordic countries with good societal outcomes? It was so that he could make this disingenuous argument. Never mind the fact that democratic socialists themselves have defined what they are after as tracking closely with the Nordic model. Ben just knows better, or pretends to so that he can make the convenient argument. Having started off his talk with his own version of the “no true Scottsman” fallacy, he then accuses his opponents of the same. It’s typical Shapiro hypocrisy.

But hey, remember earlier when Ben said, “Just because a country has socialist programs doesn’t make it a socialist country”?

And then he laughed at self-labeling being useful for making this determination said, “Just like the Republic of North Korea is actually a republic!”

Now he’s here to tell us that, “Socialists countries know they are socialist because they say they are socialist.”

By this point in the speech, it’s clear that Ben is ranting whatever convenient nonsense pops into his head, is simply chasing applause reactions in his audience, and his only real criteria for which countries are socialist is whether they help him sell books about why socialism is bad.

Real Democratic Socialism Is Norway

Shapiro opens this section by saying:

“‘Real democratic socialism is not Venezuela, it’s not the U.S.S.R.–it’s Norway.’ Norway is their favorite one these days. It was Denmark a few years ago, and then they had an economic collapse and elected a right wing government. But now it’s Norway.”

He then mocks Sanders and Clinton for using Denmark as an example by citing a 2015 speech at Harvard in which the Prime Minister of Denmark said:

“I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” Rasmussen said.

Oh, lord, where to even start with this. Conservatives haven’t been able to decide on what their criticism of the Nordic model is over the past decade. First,

Ben wants you to think Denmark’s socialism led to some Venezuela-style economic collapse and then elected a “right-wing” government along the lines of a government that’s “right-wing” as any of us in the U.S. would understand that term. This is pure, I-didn’t-do-the-reading nonsense.

As you can see from this chart, the “economic collapse” to which he refers is the 2008 financial crash which Ben’s beloved capitalist buddies caused from the United States.

The “right-wing government” to which he refers was headed by the political party Venstre (and if I were going to pull a fast one like Ben Shapiro, I’d point out that the party’s name literally means “left”). This is either a blatant falsehood on Shapiro’s fault or a demonstration that he’s talking about topics about which he lacks knowledge, namely, the political spectrum in Denmark. In that same 2015 speech, Prime Minister Rassmusen said the following:

“I represent a party to the right in the Danish political spectrum–a center-right party–and I became prime minister again for four years with a center-left government. But I imagine our political differences in Denmark appear minor from your perspective. …Many Danish parties regard themselves as sister parties to the Democratic Party in the U.S., so when we joined the convention at–four years ago and together with the opposition in Denmark–we all went to the same U.S. convention. And that gives you an idea of how minor the differences are in the Danish perspective compared with other countries.”

So right off the bat here, you can see that Shapiro is speaking to his audience completely in bad faith, substituting applause lines for, you know, facts. But then let’s see what else Rasmussen had to say in the same speech about Denmark’s model:

“We have universal health coverage – you don’t pay to see your doctor or go to the hospital. We have a high degree of social security. You are entitled to benefits if you lose your job, if you get sick, if you are disabled. We have one year of maternity leave. We have subsidized early childhood education and care, and we ensure care for our elderly if they cannot manage on their own.

“We also have a strong and free educational system. Students in institutions for higher education and university do not pay for their education. On the contrary, they receive educational grants for studying.

“So, what is the catch, you might ask. The most obvious one, of course,  is the high taxes. The top income tax in Denmark is almost 60 percent. We have a 25-percent sales tax and on cars the incise duties are up to 180 percent. So, in total, Danish taxes come to almost half of our national income compared to around 25 percent in the U.S. Quite a substantial difference.”

Um…that pretty much sounds like the democratic socialist platform we’ve seen in the United States from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and yours truly. The full quote from Rassmussen on Denmark, socialism, and market economies, was the following:

“I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy. The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.”

Let’s remind Ben (since he didn’t do the reading) what democratic socialists themselves say about planned economies:

Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.

Without even getting outside the opening few lines of this section, you can see that Shapiro is on a gee-I-hope-my-audience-is-ignorant-and-I-can-get-away-with-this rant. When Democrats embraced even one of the planks of the Danish system, universal health coverage, Shapiro previously said, emphasis mine, that their “cowardice led the party down the primrose path to full-on socialism.” There is no way he would not call a political platform that attempted to implement Denmark’s full breadth of social programs in the United States a socialist apocalypse.

He then goes on an extended screen about how The Heritage Foundation ranks Nordic countries at the top of their index of economic freedom, as if that gets him out of the trap he’s laid for himself by trying to argue that countries with double the tax burden of the United States are not socialist but taxation is socialist theft. Pick one, Ben. And while you’re at it, again, I want you imagine what the reactions would be between democratic socialists on one hand and Ben Shapiro’s political allies on the other if we attempted to perfectly transplant Norway or Denmark’s model–social programs, market features, everything–to the United States. The democratic socialists would be the ones cheering, and the conservative Republicans would be screaming bloody murder and communism. Everyone knows that’s the case, and that tells you all you need to know about Ben Shapiro’s attempt to disqualify Norway as an example of what democratic socialists want.

He closes this section by mocking the idea that you can extrapolate from a country the size of Norway to a country the size of the United States (Norway has 5.2 million people. The U.S. has 325.7 million.). That’s a strange thing to say for someone who has been extrapolating from a Venezuelan experience to whatever the outcomes in the U.S. would look like, given that the U.S. has a population an order of magnitude larger than Venezuela.

Again, it’s pretty clear that socialism to Ben means, “Whatever I say it means, and I say it means whatever is convenient at the time.”

Socialism Works in Medicine

Shapiro’s actual argument is that the U.S. system doesn’t work because we have a nonsensical health care system in the United States, and his solution to it is to call for a true, transparent, free market system. One is tempted to point out that he is saying that, “free market dogmatism works in health care–it’s just never been tried in the U.S.”

As tiresome as it may be to point out, but even if Ben were correct that a total free market system in health care would lead to better outcomes than our current system, that in no way disproves that socialism works in health care. Sticking with Denmark, which has even Ben will agree is an example of universal, socialized health care, we see:

  • fewer deaths from preventable diseases or complications had health care been available than the U.S.;
  • longer life expectancy than the U.S.;
  • a higher percentage of people covered than the U.S.;
  • all of this for about half of the per-capita health care spending of the United States.

Socialized medicine clearly works in medicine, and it does so at a lower price than the U.S. system.

 

There’s no point in arguing that that’s not the case, so Ben doesn’t even try.

Democratic Socialists Claim that Capitalism is a Giant Failure

The big assertion that Ben Shapiro makes here is that the number of people living on a dollar a day or less, fell from 27 percent of the global population in 1970, to 5.4 percent in 2006. He’s parroting talking points here from the American Enterprise Institute, which attributes all of this to capitalism. Here’s the speech from AEI’s Arthur Brooks where you find this point stated most succinctly:

The best recipients of the blessings of free enterprise are the poor themselves. How do I know that? Go back to 1970. Alright? Compare the world of the 1970s to today. It turns out that between 1970 and 2010, the worst poverty in the world, people who live on one dollar a day or less, that has decreased by 80 percent as a percentage of the world population. You never hear about that. It’s the greatest achievement in human history and you never hear about it. Eighty percent of the world’s worst poverty has been eradicated since 1970. It had never, ever happened before. So what did that? What accounts for that? The United Nations? U.S. foreign aid? The International Monetary Fund? Central planning? Nuh-uh. It was globalization. Free trade. The boom in international entrepreneurship. In short, it was the free enterprise system, American style, which is our gift to the world.

Just one little problem here, guys.

China. Good ol’ not-capitalist, communist dictatorship (your words in 2016, Ben) China. China which ranks, not number 12 on The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom cited by Shapiro before, but number 110. According to the World Bank, in 1981, there were 1.9 billion poor people. In 2013, there were about 800 million poor people. Over that time, the number of poor people dropped by 1.1 billion people, and this is a huge achievement. The problem for this argument is, more than three-quarters of that drop occurred in China alone, with China lowering the number of poor people by 870 million people. 

Once more for those in the back: the American Enterprise Institute and Ben Shapiro are using China’s gains against extreme poverty to argue that conservative economics, “American style,” is the most moral system on the planet. So…we’re done here. This single act of deception on Shapiro’s part renders the entire rest of this screed a total sham. Not once does either he or the AEI hacks he’s quoting even mention China.

And yes, China did implement liberalizing reforms starting in 1978–but in de-collectivizing the agricultural sector, they relied on a relatively equal distribution of cultivated land, which, as the World Bank put it, “enables the bottom poor to proportionally benefit not only from development and reform in agriculture but also from the transfer payments the state provided to support agricultural development.” The World Bank goes on to note that China also undertook a redistributionist approach over that time period using universal social development programs and then implemented focused poverty reduction programs since 1986. It was not, “the free enterprise system, American style,” as Brooks put it, that yanked down poverty numbers in China.

By his own form of argument, Shapiro is 100-percent locked out from being able to credit the global decrease in extreme poverty to capitalism. Elsewhere, he has firmly categorized China as “socialist” to try to force accountability for the regime’s crimes onto everyone advocating for single-payer health care. If he starts trying to re-categorize China as “state capitalism,” his entire house of cards for the crimes he attributes to “socialism” falls apart and he’s left holding several tens of millions of dead bodies just by virtue of how he’s tried to argue the point. He does not get the benefit of the nuance here, and he seems to know it, which is why China never comes up. This willingness to omit such a massive, problematic factor in a key argument is exactly why no one should ever take Shapiro seriously.

And let me be clear: Democratic socialism also does not get to claim credit for China’s moves to reduce poverty. Nowhere have democratic socialists argued for a Chinese-style government. We explicitly reject China’s use of the fruits of development to strengthen the grip of authoritarianism. And at least we have the intellectual honestly not to try to take credit for China’s poverty reductions.

This kind of outright dishonesty and deception is exactly why you should never, ever take Ben Shapiro seriously ever again.

Conclusion

So here we are. Not one of these attempts to bust even Shapiro’s own caricatures of democratic socialism stands up to even the slightest challenge. It’s all rotted wood. Contrary to the characterization by The New York Times, Ben is not some intellectual gladiator. He’s just a polemicist and an ideologue, driven to prominence in the age of social media by his willingness to say inflammatory things and never back down. He’s not the cool kids’ philosopher. He’s the College Republicans’ pugilist. When you are tempted to dismiss him for article headlines like, “Why the Global Left Doesn’t Care About Dead Jews,” you should by all means do so. He should thank his lucky stars that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez declined to humiliate him in public. He can’t even  hold a coherent argument together when he’s on the stage alone, much less when he’s being challenged in a debate.