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There are three and only three ways to organize an economy. All others are merely combinations and permutations of the big three.

One of them is socialism, defined as complete government ownership of the means of production. The state owns, controls and manages the airlines, steel mills, factories, farms, mines, schools, media, etc. Oh, you can keep your toothbrush, underwear and maybe even a bicycle and possibly a private vehicle, but cannot use any of these possessions for commercial purposes. The USSR, Cuba, North Korea, Eastern Europe, China, all tried that system, and we all know how that worked out.

Another is economic fascism. Here, there is a veneer of private ownership. Krupp, Stuka, BMW, Volkswagon were all privately owned under Nazism, but that was in name only. These means of production were so heavily regulated that for all intents and purposes they might as well have been owned by government instead of indirectly managed by this institution. The U.S. economy is more fascist than socialist, since apart from roads, parks, waterways, schools, libraries, museums, vast tracts of land, it directly owns little else. Rather, it engages in heavy and intrusive regulation.

The third is of course laissez faire capitalism, where the marketplace reigns supreme. In moderate versions thereof, there is some government ownership and control, but very little. The closest examples include the five Tigers in general, Hong Kong (pre-Chinese takeover), and Singapore in particular, and elements of past U.K and U.S. experience. “Greed is good” is celebrated. Empirical correlations of economic freedom and prosperity demonstrate that “the wealth of nations” can best be maximized under such a system.

There are several combinations of the aforementioned that are of interest. For example, Bernie Sanders is not really a socialist. He does not call for massive nationalizations of industry. Rather, he is an economic fascist and combines that with a strong emphasis on redistributing everything not fully tied down, and even that, from rich to poor. He thinks the Scandinavian countries exemplars of socialism, but they are amongst the nations most closely associated with free enterprise. They are in the top quintile, and often even in the top decile, of those with the greatest amount of economic freedom in empirical measures.

Yet another permutation is the public-private partnership. This unholy alliance combines, wait for it, out and out socialism with fascism. One commentator goes so far as to call for the “building of governmental infrastructure with private cash.” Advocates of PPP do not seem to realize that this is a variety of economic fascism coupled with elements of socialism. The “public” part of this amalgamation of course exemplifies government ownership. But the “private” part is by no means an aspect of capitalism. Rather, the private investors are acting in the role of junior partners of the state apparatus, to be regulated and controlled. The true free marketeer does not move in the direction of government. He takes exactly the opposite route, as does the vampire flee from the cross.

Unhappily, even some who favor economic freedom have fallen for the snare and delusion of PPP. Instead of calling for the privatization of infrastructure, the Bipartisan Policy Center advocates cooperation between these two very different institutions, one based on compulsion, the other not. The National Highway Traffic Administration and the Department of Transportation preside over a road system that kills some 40,000 people per year. Are we to encourage private interests to pour money down that particular rate hole? Far better would be a radical restructuring of this entire system.

Walter Block holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the J. A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans, and is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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