Orwell and War Socialism
By Bryan Caplan
The Economist blog suggests we give George Orwell a booby prize for his 1941 declaration that World War II proved the superiority of socialism over capitalism:
The first award goes, post-humously, to Mr George Orwell, socialist writer, who penned these lines in 1941’s The Lion and the Unicorn:
What this war has demonstrated is that private capitalism—that is, an economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned privately and operated solely for profit—does not work…War, for all its evil, is at any rate an unanswerable test of strength, like a try-your-grip machine. Great strength returns the penny, and there is no way of faking the result.
The Economist blog thinks that the next few years blew Orwell’s prediction out of the water:
One can’t help but wonder about Mr Orwell’s private thoughts when America entered the war and used its chaotic, undirected, profit-driven economic might to lay waste to all Hitler’s plans.
Frankly, I’m not so sure Orwell’s prediction was crushed by the facts. After all, the U.S. moved swiftly in the direction of socialism during the war, and the out-right Communists of the Soviet Union beat the National Socialists of Germany.
Capitalism is great at creating wealth, but socialism is great at taking wealth from the people who created it and using it for other purposes. If socialist countries take five times the fraction from economies that are one-fourth as rich, they’ve got military superiority, at least for a while. So it’s not surprising that Stalinist Russia could starve millions but still turn back the tide of the German invasion.
The real problem with Orwell’s quote is that he seems to be judging economic systems purely by their military strength. Don’t wretched living standards, loss of lives, and the end of individual freedom count for anything? Strange indeed from the author of 1984!