If the Wuhan coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that Americans are just not cut out for socialism. The main reason? The lines and empty shelves. They are inevitable in centrally planned economies, and we are getting a taste of it with the COVID-19 panic, but only a taste.
Some socialists, along with a handful of other left-leaning big-government types, rejoiced at the absence of toilet paper in the nation’s supermarkets. For instance, Justin Wolfers of the Brookings Institution in all seriousness declared that “capitalism fail[ed],” and “what we need right now is a government-backed Strategic Toilet Paper Reserve. That Reserve makes a promise that even if your local Costco ran out, you still have the right to buy 2 rolls per week from the government’s stockpile.”
But, of course, capitalism didn’t fail. The markets didn’t fail. They just aren’t instantaneous. Faced with an emergency that still feels largely theoretical, people panicked, and some started hoarding toilet paper. The shelves get restocked nightly, but hoarders keep coming back, so shelves empty out short-term. Next thing you know, socialists start screaming, “See! Lines under capitalism!”
If one takes a picture of the empty rows where toilet paper was once stored and puts them side by side with pictures of grocery stores in Venezuela or Cuba, sure, the images look similar. A comparison like this may prompt the conclusion that socialism is just like capitalism in a time of pandemic. But while the pictures may look alike, the feel at the stores is wholly different. I know a thing or two about it, because I grew up in the Soviet Union.