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  • 30 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Misconceptions Still Drive Socialism

    One thing everyone remembers about the October Revolution of 1917, which brought Vladimir Lenin to power, was that the Bolsheviks toppled the tsar, an incompetent monarch who had run Russia into the ground.

    The problem is that’s not what happened.

    First, the event happened on November 7, according to the modern calendar, not in October. Second, and more importantly, Lenin and his insurgents did not overthrow the tsarist regime. Few seem to remember that Tsar Nicholas II had been dealt with in February 1917. When Lenin cooly ordered Nicholas and his family to be executed without a trial in Yekaterinburg in July 1918, the Tsar had been out of power for more than a year. What the Bolsheviks actually toppled was something resembling a modern democracy with an elected parliament and government.

    That the rise of 20th-century socialism began with a falsehood is fitting since its modern foundation is also built largely on fiction.

    More than a century after the Bolsheviks took power—and 30 years after their experiment failed for all the world to see—the misconceptions continue.

    New surveys show as many as 70 percent of millennials would vote for a socialist, no doubt because they’ve heard how equitable and fruitful the system is. Few today seem to understand just how awful life under socialism was.

    As someone born and raised on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, let me tell you: Everyday life was bad. I’m not talking about secret police, censorship, forced adulation, or KGB agents among students (my mother was labeled an “anarchist,” which meant she had no prospects for a career). Even the most mundane activities, like buying food, were a challenge. Shortages, deficits, and lines, lines, lines. If you saw a queue, you‘d automatically join it without asking what people were queueing for. It must have been good!

    “Good“ had a completely different meaning under socialism. The absolute majority of consumer goods were awful knockoffs of Western merchandise. The waitlist to buy a car was around seven years. Permission to buy a color TV was often granted by trade union raffle. Those with connections to the Communist Party or union bosses were given preference.

    Anyone who studied economics might be tempted to think that perhaps goods were mispriced; the prices were set too low, demand exceeded supply, and therefore—queues. But the prices the socialist government set for consumer goods were ridiculously high. A TV cost something like 600-700 roubles, while your average monthly salary was about 150 roubles. Modern estimations of how long one had to work to purchase consumer goods in the Soviet Union run as follows: a TV was 713 hours (4.4 months), a refrigerator 378 hours (2.3 months), a raincoat was 77 hours (nearly two weeks), shoes were 33 hours (nearly a week).

    A typical American, on the other hand, had to work 86 hours to afford a TV, 83 hours for a refrigerator, and eight hours for shoes.

    Perhaps under socialism there was more income equality? Actually, no. Sure, you can measure official income inequality, which was around 0.3 GINI—a method of measuring income inequality—not much different from current Western countries.

    But how do you factor in things like special shops for Party members, which regular people were not allowed to enter? Or raffles where Party members were given preference?

    What do these recaps of high school history and memories of those who actually lived under socialism have to do with today? Call it a reaction to horror when one hears elected American politicians spouting statements that socialism is a good thing—that America needs socialism. It‘s like being a very old German and being told that dressing young hooligans in brown shirts and setting them loose on the streets will improve public safety. It’s like being a survivor of Chernobyl and hearing that nuclear safety is for hippies.

    Socialism was, is, and will continue to be an utter failure in everything except keeping people behind Berlin Walls, iron curtains, and barbed wire. Poverty, inequality, disregard for human dignity and human life—that was the everyday life under socialism, not brotherhood and equality.

    There is a reason people tore down the Berlin Wall with their bare hands the moment they realized they would not be shot. Let’s not repeat these mistakes 30 years later.

    Zilvinas Silenas

    Zilvinas Silenas became President of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in May 2019. He served from 2011-2019 as the President of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LFMI), bringing the organization and its free-market policy reform message to the forefront of Lithuanian public discourse. In that role, he and the LFMI won two prestigious Templeton Freedom Awards (2014 and 2016) for Municipality Performance Index and the Economics in 31 Hours textbook, now used by 80% of Lithuanian high school students. Silenas holds degrees in economics from Wesleyan University and the ISM University of Management and Economics, and has served in numerous teaching and advisory roles. He and his wife Rosita live in Atlanta where they enjoy exploring the outdoors, attending social functions, and the occasional pickup basketball game.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

  • Solar Panels Produce Tons of Toxic Waste—Literally

    Solar panels have been heralded as the alternative to fossil fuels for decades. Most readers have likely seen exciting headlines claiming we could power the world’s energy demands multiple times were we simply to cover the Sahara Desert with a solar farm the size of China. The fact that such endeavors would be unsustainable due to their size and the sheer amount of maintenance required or that the necessary infrastructure to bring this energy all around the world is simply unimaginable is irrelevant to those who dream of a solar future.

    That’s fine; we’re all dreamers in one way or another. This fantasy has grasped many voters, however, and politicians are all too keen to jump on the gravy train of alternative energy. Solar panels are subsidized to an enormous extent, as are solar farms, be they public or private. In the age of emissions trading and international climate conferences, nothing is applauded more than showing off some big investments into harvesting the sun as an electricity supplier.

    This zeitgeist is reflected in solar panel sales. The different arrows in the chart below point to the moments when Solar Investment Tax Credits (ITC) were introduced, extended, or expanded.

    Beyond the clear misallocation of resources and energy market price distortions, there is a further environmental problem associated with solar panels.

    Beyond the inefficient use of these resources to begin with (in the process of making crystalline silicon from silicon, as much as 80 percent of the raw silicon is lost), there are numerous human health concerns directly related to the manufacture and disposal of solar panels.

    According to cancer biologist David H. Nguyen, PhD, toxic chemicals in solar panels include cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, cadmium gallium (di)selenide, copper indium gallium (di)selenide, hexafluoroethane, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride. Silicon tetrachloride, a byproduct of producing crystalline silicon, is also highly toxic.

    The pro-solar website EnergySage writes:

    There are some chemicals used in the manufacturing process to prepare silicon and make the wafers for monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. One of the most toxic chemicals created as a byproduct of this process is silicon tetrachloride. This chemical, if not handled and disposed of properly, can lead to burns on your skin, harmful air pollutants that increase lung disease, and if exposed to water can release hydrochloric acid, which is a corrosive substance bad for human and environmental health.

    For any user of solar panels, this is not an immediate risk as it only affects manufacturers and recyclers. More disconcerting, however, is the environmental impact of these chemicals. Based on installed capacity and power-related weight, we can estimate that by 2016, photovoltaics had spread about 11,000 tons of lead and about 800 tons of cadmium. A hazard summary of cadmium compounds produced by the EPA points out that exposure to cadmium can lead to serious lung irritation and long-lasting impairment of pulmonary functions. Exposure to lead hardly needs further explanation.

    In one 2003 study, researchers drew attention to the fact that cadmium is the benefactor of special environmental treatment, which allows solar energy to be more economically efficient (as far as that word quite applies to solar energy even in the current state of subsidization). They wrote:

    If they were classified as “hazardous” according to Federal or State criteria, then special requirements for material handling, disposal, record keeping, and reporting would escalate the cost of decommissioning.

    This mirrors an answer given by Cara Libby, Senior Technical Leader of Solar Energy at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), who admits that there is no lucrative amount of salvageable parts on any type of solar panel. She adds:

    In Europe, we’ve seen that when it’s mandated, it gets done. Either it becomes economical or it gets mandated. But I’ve heard that it will have to be mandated because it won’t ever be economical.

    It is no wonder that Chinese factories, when confronted with the exorbitant costs (both financial and environmental) of decomposing solar panel chemicals properly, prefer to release them into the environment rather than dispose of them in an environmentally safe manner.

    Stanford Magazine also points out that solar energy has a higher carbon footprint than wind and nuclear energy. Ray Weiss, a professor of Geochemistry at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explains that a number of solar panels release nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), a chemical compound 17,000 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. As recently as 2015, he explained that many manufacturers were still struggling to figure out how to contain its release into the atmosphere.

    Energy policy is not a place for emotion or action based on instinct. We throw around a lot of buzz words that lead us to the belief that one energy supply is “cleaner” than the other. The reality is that human action and interaction require a constant supply of energy. All forms of energy production have an impact on the environment.

    Questioning certain narratives regarding the eco-friendliness of those classified as “renewable” but do not live up to an environmental standard that reasonable people could support is essential to both innovation and environmental protection.

    Bill Wirtz

    Bill Wirtz is a Young Voices Advocate and a FEE Eugene S. Thorpe Fellow. His work has been featured in several outlets, including Newsweek, Rare, RealClear, CityAM, Le Monde and Le Figaro. He also works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.

    Learn more about him at his website.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

  • The Antifederalists Were Eerily Prophetic

    Most school kids are left with the impression that the US Constitution was the inevitable follow-up to the Declaration of Independence and the war with King George. What they miss out on is the exciting debate that took place after the war and before the Constitution, a debate that concerned the dangers of creating a federal government at all.

    Everyone knows about the Federalists who pushed the Constitution. But far less known are the Antifederalists who warned with good reason against the creation of a new centralized government, and just after so much blood had been spilled getting rid of one.

    The first of the Antifederalist Papers appeared in 1789. The Antifederalists were opponents of ratifying the US Constitution as it would create what would become an overbearing central government.

    As the losers in that debate, they are largely overlooked today. But that does not mean they were wrong or that we are not indebted to them.

    In many ways, the group has been misnamed. Federalism refers to the system of decentralized government. This group defended states’ rights—the very essence of federalism—against the Federalists, who would have been more accurately described as Nationalists. Nonetheless, what they predicted w