According to a Gallup poll, 4 in 10 Americans “embrace some form of socialism,” or at least see socialism as a good thing. I am willing to bet that only a very small percentage of those people have any clue about how socialism has functioned throughout history. I can almost guarantee none of them have ever experienced socialism in the real world. Despite its idealistic promises, the reality for many people who have lived in socialist societies around the world has been the opposite of a pie-in-the-sky experience.
The Nevada Policy Research Institute recently sent an email touching on this subject, and to give a real example they included this article from The Federalist: “How a Russian’s Grocery Store Trip in 1989 Exposed the Lie of Socialism.” (It’s important to note that there are differences between “socialism” and “communism,” the main one being that communism “creates an equal society through an authoritarian state which denies basic liberties,” as defined by EconomicsHelp.org. The Soviet Union was Communist. Ultimately, however, both approaches are state-controlled, removing individual choice and liberty from the equation.)
The article describes former Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s experience when visiting Clear Lake, Texas — a suburb of Houston. At the time, Yeltsin had just been elected to the Soviet Parliament and was on a diplomatic visit to the United States.
While in Clear Lake, Yeltsin visited a Randall’s grocery store. A visit to the grocery store may sound awfully boring and insignificant, but Yeltsin was shocked by how well-stocked the shelves were — a far stretch from the baren shelves and long lines that were common to Soviet Union grocery stores. It’s hard to imagine, since we are so used to an abundance of foods and products that fill our everyday supermarkets, but just think back to what grocery stores looked like this past March, when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown had just begun. The shelves were almost bare (especially the toilet paper aisles) as people stocked up; it was almost apocalyptic. Seeing that on a regular basis would be chilling, but that was the reality for many living in the Soviet Union.
Walking into that grocery store, Yeltsin realized that a more comfortable and prosperous society was possible, ultimately shifting his views on socialism. Americans who see socialism as a more favorable alternative would do well to research the history of socialism to learn the truth and to not take our prosperity here for granted.
As the famous line from Prime Minister Margret Thatcher sums it all up, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”