Socialism ruined post-war Britain — and could do the same in the US

Socialism ruined post-war Britain — and could do the same in the US
© Getty Images

The Democratic presidential candidates dismiss the powerful economic engine that has led to record low U.S. jobless rates and a remarkable 30 percent rise in the stock market last year alone.

In the most recent debate, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegRestless progressives eye 2024 GOP becoming a cult of know-nothings The massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) MORE and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharKlobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden renominates Powell as Fed chair MORE (D-Minn.) at least acknowledged the strong economy, but the remaining “economic climate deniers” on stage continued to beat the drum of economic unfairness and class warfare.

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenRestless progressives eye 2024 Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Biden eyes new path for Fed despite Powell pick MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersRestless progressives eye 2024 Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan MORE (I-Vt.) often cast blame on corporations, demonize high-income earners and stand firm on government programs as the only solution for every American problem. Such rhetoric brings to mind similar socialist proposals in the post-World War II United Kingdom campaign that led to Winston Churchill’s electoral defeat.


In 1945, Churchill’s popularity unsurprisingly was stratospheric: It stood at a whopping 83 percent. Consumed with defending his nation and the subsequent war triumph, Churchill took his eye off the fact that economically strapped Brits, who never fully recovered from the Great Depression, were crying out for social and economic change.

Churchill’s electoral opponents in the Labour Party accurately portrayed the 1930s as an era of poverty and mass unemployment. Thus, the prospect of a new social order that would ensure better housing, free medical services and employment for all became popular. For all of his great leadership and heroism, Churchill neglected the domestic agenda during the war years, causing his party a landslide defeat — though he did return for a second term as prime minister in 1951.

Churchill’s successor, Labor’s Clement Attlee, worked to dissolve the empire, nationalize industry and put in place massive welfare programs. By the time Churchill regained power in 1951, many of these programs had become entrenched, embedding socialism into the economy even during successive Conservative governments.

Because of the economic policies of democratic socialists, from the mid-1960s until the late 1970s, Britain experienced a precipitous decline in global and economic power. State socialism ravaged the economy as powerful unions crippled industry with strikes. Since much of industry was nationalized and no longer profit-driven, it had to be supported by the government. Con- sequently, British industry was significantly outpaced by American, Japanese and European competitors. The economic situation remained hopeless until Margaret Thatcher revived the nation through private ownership and free enterprise.

Returning to our 2020 elections, one wonders why the United States, whose economic furnace is firing on all cylinders, would consider socialist policies that have always spelled doom for prosperity. These policies would not only burden those who drive the economy, they also would reduce prospects for the disadvantaged.

Warren’s and Sanders’s ideas come straight from the socialist playbook that ravaged post-war Britain. Both senators want to fundamentally re-order a society that is producing jobs and wealth for everyone. Their fairy tale rhetoric promises to reward the working class and middle class by penalizing high earners and corporations in the same way that Britain’s post-war economy did: through massive taxation and government intervention.

While today’s corporate earnings trailblazers — large financial services and technology firms — hardly resemble their post-war counterparts, punishing them through more government intervention, taxation and oversight would reverse the unprecedented growth of jobs in recent years. Likewise, Sanders’s and Warren’s intention to empower unions, socialize medicine and impose the draconian regulations of the Green New Deal harkens back to the ruinous Labour Party policies that crippled post-war Britain.

Sanders and Warren have no realistic way to fund more than a portion of their plans. But that does not seem to matter to many progressive Democrats. Planned taxes on the financial, energy, pharmaceutical and real estate industries would be unprecedented in scope. Anyone with an awareness of the global failures of socialism — Venezuela, Greece and 1930s Spain, for example — should know that the plans of these Democratic frontrunners would collapse an American economy that is performing for all sectors. We need a more determined way to sound the alarm.

We can not afford to chance losing our younger generations when studies show 50 percent of millennials and 51 percent of Generation Z have an unfavorable view of capitalism and potentially will vote for a socialist-leaning candidate.  

Lee Cohen is a fellow of the Danube Institute. He was an adviser on Europe to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.

Clara Del Villar is director of senior initiatives at FreedomWorks Foundation. She previously was a senior executive in investment management, private asset management and capital markets on Wall Street. Follow her on Twitter @villar_clara.