Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba and the United States and his previous efforts to bring about a rapprochement between the two countries brings the world’s attention to three facts. First, Cuba is one of two remaining communist countries in the world – countries dedicated to the belief that individuals have a duty to live for the state. Second, although the United States does not have the freest economy in the world (Hong Kong and Singapore get that honor and we now rank number 16!), it is the symbolic fountainhead of capitalism – a country whose founding document proclaims the right of everyone to pursue their own happiness. Three, there are still people in the world who contend that communism is better.
One way to see the 20th century is to view it as one long debate over economic systems. What was the best way to lift people out of poverty and put them on the road to economic prosperity? Was it capitalism? Or was it some variant of statism – communism, socialism, fascism or the welfare state?
At the beginning of the century you could at least understand why there was a debate. Intelligent people believed that enlightened government could outperform the marketplace. All over the world they tried to put that belief into practice. The result was carnage on a scale never seen before. An estimated 170 million people were killed by their own governments in the last century! That is six times the number who died in combat, fighting wars.
Here is another stunning fact. The great majority of those deaths were at the hands of true believers — people who were ideologically driven and were at least nominally committed to making the world a better place.