A year ago, those of us born after the Second World War in the free West had little experience of shortages and serious restrictions on our daily work and social lives. While the Canadian pandemic response is not the same as living in a socialist or tyrannical regime, the past year has given us a teeny bit of a taste.
For the purpose of this article, I am using the term socialist as defined in the Oxford online dictionary, based on the word socialism: “…. and that the government should own and control the main industries.” I do not include any country in the West as socialist. Social programs by themselves do not make a country socialist, so please keep that in mind.
It began with a run on toilet paper. Thanks to our mostly free, capitalist marketing system, which is able to respond quickly to market forces, the toilet-paper shortage was short-lived. We had temporary shortages on meat, baking powder, yeast, flour, and sugar. Later, gardening and building supply shelves became empty as people turned to working at home. In most cases, after a few weeks supply caught up, and at worst there have been limits on how many of one item could be purchased at one time. In socialist countries, shortages of all kinds are a common occurrence and black markets are often the only reliable suppliers.
Previously, the only lineups we had experienced were the ones for the newest blockbuster movies, sports events, Boxing Day sales, and non-emergency health care. Freezing in chilly spring weather last March and April, we waited outdoors in lineups, for our turn to shop for groceries. Again, lineups for bread in socialist countries are common and not due to a one-time event like a pandemic, but rather simply a function of unresponsive government-owned and operated market systems.
While travel restrictions have mostly been voluntary (despite popular perception), most of us have cancelled vacations. Previously, the only closed borders Westerners heard about were in socialist or communist countries. In 2020, air travel was down around 80-90 per cent across the country. Most Canadians have taken the “do not travel” aspect of public health announcements very seriously. Local and near tourism was the byword last summer. Some politicians and government officials who had read the actual guidance on travel knew that it wasn’t illegal to travel, and did so. This outraged Canadians, who felt like conscientious schmucks, and seriously damaged the credibility of the voice of government and public health officials.
Previously, some of us may have even looked enviously at some aspects of modern socialist countries. Logically, central planning by a single party, without campaign signs and bothersome elections, seems like a more efficient way of governing. Beijing’s ease of building ring roads in their huge cities, and mega projects which are able to displace people without much fuss in order to make way, are, at least fleetingly, the dreams of planners everywhere.
However, as the past and even current restrictions on our lives, on the availability of goods, and our freedom to travel show, government control in our lives and markets are not freeing. The messiness and mistakes of the free market are still much better than the shortages, lineups, and restricted travel of socialist countries. Shortages have been temporary, lineups short-lived, and restrictions in travel will lift soon.
One stain on our reputation is how quickly otherwise civil people were to damage vehicles with out-of-province license plates and to call anyone opposed to vaccines, masks, or lockdowns “Covidiots.” These disagreements should be civil and not resort to name-calling.
Freedom of expression and thought, and the inevitable disagreements that arise, are necessary for a free society to flourish. The primary tool for socialist countries and tyrants is neighbours and family that keep everyone in line by bullying each other into silence, and obedience. Let’s not give in to that urge.
For the sake of personal freedom, for the sake of ample toilet paper, let’s make our brush with tyranny a temporary inconvenience, not a permanent reality.