The West is being called on to rescue the people suffering from the wreckage of communism with our money. But if these devastated countries are to revive, it will be with our ideas. This will prove a greater challenge to us than aid, because it will force us to reaffirm our own ideals.
Today soldiers and barricades surround statues of Lenin in major Soviet cities to protect the father of the country from the wrath of the citizenry, even as the Soviet parliament makes of him an empty image by passing a resolution endorsing private foreign ownership of Soviet businesses. Today no Soviet leader looks to socialism for an answer to the enormous problems confronting the country. Instead, all eyes are turned to the United States.What we tell them in response is more important than the aid that we send. Sadly, we may be too skeptical of our own principles to encourage them confidently to economic liberty. America is still the land of liberty, but we have not escaped unscathed from the socialist 20th century.
Liberty survives in our historic institutions, but it is not an active principle in our government's economic and social policy.
In the 20th century, the state was everywhere regnant as socialists of various colorations used the power of government to undermine economic freedom in the name of equality of result. Important aspects of our lives - including education and retirement - are as socialized as in the Soviet Union.
Moreover, liberty has scant voice in our schools and universities, which, if anything, are the last homes of Marxism on earth. The Reagan administration, which sought to restore the individual as the major shareholder in his own income, remains the favorite target of derision in university classrooms. It will be difficult for a society so uncertain of its belief in the principles of its success to help guide the vast landscapes of Russia, China and Latin America to recovery.
Nevertheless, the historic process of recovery from socialism that is under way has nowhere to look for ideas except to liberty. The students in Tianan-men Square, the Ukrainian and Russian coal miners, and protesters in Red Square are not demanding racial quotas, guaranteed incomes or socialism with a human face. It was a statue of liberty that the Chinese students held aloft.
Our contribution to the world's recovery from the dark age of socialism must be to lead by example. We must renew our spirit of liberty, too.
For example, there is no reason for the United States to have a socialized retirement system. Much less is there any excuse for a Social Security system that imposes mandatory idleness upon the elderly as a condition for collecting their retirement pension. How can the essence of liberty be the difference between a country that imposes forced labor on millions of its citizens and a country that imposes enforced idleness upon millions of its citizens?
The Social Security system can be easily privatized to everyone's gain. Benefits would be larger, and the accumulated capital would pass to heirs upon death, thus building wealth in families. And individuals would regain the right to remain employed free of massive financial penalties. It would be a step toward a freer society.
Another American socialist failure is public education. For years we have thrown increasing sums of money at the problem. The predictable result is a massive and expensive administrative bureaucracy and decreased authority of teachers.
It would be a great irony if Soviet people pursuing liberty end up with freer institutions than our own.