Cowboy Economist: How can you recognize a socialist?

Socialist: Image of the Cowboy Economist in one of his YouTube lessons
This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Cowboy Economist

The Cowboy Economist is John T Harvey PhD, an economics professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, who makes humorous and educational videos about economics.

They’re worth sharing, so here is his lesson #1: How to tell if someone is a socialist?


Oh well howdy. I didn’t hear you come in.

Normally I’d shoot you for unlawful entry but seeing as how this is your first offence I’m going to let it go.

You know when I’m not whitling or cleaning my rifle, something I like to do is help out my friends and neighbors With interpretations of economic phenomenon we see around the country.

Why and just today I received this letter from a woman in Tyler.

Let me read it to you.

Dear Cowboy Economist,

I think my children are becoming socialists.

What are the telltale signs and where is the closest re-education camp.

Signed, terrified in Tyler.

Well let me answer your second question first. That’d be College Station 

But the first question, boy that’s a doozy.

What is a socialist?

Is it somebody who wants the social ownership of the means of production?

Is it an individual whose in favor of universal healthcare?

Is it that guy down the street who won’t take his Beto yard sign down?

Well, probably it’s all of these to some extent.

But you know what, in order to really get at this we need to be a little more scientific about it. We need to come up with a definition.

Because it’s impossible to hunt down socialists without a wanted poster.

One mistake people often make in this approach is to define by example.

What this means is to say for example what’s a cow? Well a cow is like Besse.

Or what’s a mountain? Well, a Mountain is something like Mount Everest.

But then what do we do with an entirely new phenomenon. For example my wife.

Where does she fit in here?

You know, when I first thought about this I thought she’s a lot more like a cow than she is like a mountain 

Well I’m here to tell you, from bitter experience, that’s the kind of logic she rejects.

And what she recommended to me instead is to define a cow by its function. By its innate characteristics.

So I thought, well that’s not a bad idea, so I went and got myself a dictionary and I looked it up.

Here’s the definition of a cow.

A fully grown female animal of a domesticated breed of ox, kept to produce milk or beef.

Well friends, that’s not my wife and I sure wish I’d read this first. Would’ve saved a whole lot of trouble.

So what definition should we use for socialism.

Well, we want to avoid the errors of so many others who say things like….  What socialism is what they had in the Soviet Union or what they have in Korea and so forth.

Instead we want to come up with something more scientific like our definition for a cow.

Furthermore I’m going to break socialism into two major groups. I’m going to call them big S socialism and the little S socialism.

Let’s start with the latter.

Now looking this up, the best definition I ever found, nd as I mentioned earlier there’s many, but I think the best one I’ve found was this…

Socialism is the distribution of a good or a service by a means other than income.

What this means is this.

We distribute saddles by income If you’ve got enough income, you can have yourself a saddle. We distribute horses by income. If you’ve got enough income, you can get yourself a horse.

We distribute leather bound copies of Marx’s Kapital  by income. If you got enough income you can get yourself a leather-bound copy of Marx’s Kapital.

However we do not distribute police protection by income.

All you got to do is dial 911.

When you describe your emergency they  do not say “Can I have a credit card number please? What’s the 3 digit number on the back””.

They don’t say any of that.

They say “What is your emergency”?,  and if it sounds like something they can help you with, they’re going to come right over.

It doesn’t matter whether you aren’t even a citizen of this country and have never given any money into the taxes that pay these fine men and women’s salaries.

You are still entitled to police protection.

In short, in this country, we distribute police protection by a means other than income.

We distributed it by a means of those who need the protection at the time of a crime being committed and so forth.

Now, that makes the police department a socialist Institution.

I’m sure some of you all are reacting the way my wife did when I compare her to a cow, but even though I stand well corrected on that issue, I’m right on this one.

Indeed, comrade, there’s socialism all around us right now.

I’ve made a list.

Public libraries, ublic schools, national parks, fire departments, NASA, the United States Army, Navy, Airforce, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps, are all socialist institutions.

I know it’s horrifying.

Before we dig deeper into that nest of vipers though, let’s step back and have a look at big S socialism.

Now this is quite a bit different from little S socialism. It’s a much more specific um I guess theory you could say.

And that is a recommendation.

What we want with big S socialism is, we want social ownership of the means of production.

We want, for example, Ford, Microsoft, Exxon, Walmart, Citibank, all to be owned in this country the same way NASA is owned.

And the basic goal is here is we’re eliminating a class of people who earn Income from nothing but owning.

You can earn income from working, you can earn income from managing, you can earn income from directing, but you shouldn’t earn income from just owning.

I think the easiest example of this is perhaps someone who has inherited wealth.

They have done nothing to earn that wealth, yet because they have inherited say for example the Hilton Hotel empire, The,n they can receive an income from that ownership.

The goal of big S socialism is to eliminate that class of people, and have us all own the means of production In a social manner, in the same way we do with the Marine Corps, and with NASA. .


That gives us a chance to think about some wanted posters here, and to help this horrified woman ion Tyler determine whether or not her children are socialists.

Let’s start with big S socialism.

Here’s my wanted poster. I don’t know if you’ve seen this guy or not [shows a wanted poster of Karl Marx].

And if you’re trying to determine if your children are becoming big a socialist, this is what you need to look for:

Are they carrying around copies of the Communist Manifesto?

Are they going on about Labor being the only source of value?

Do they talk about the different stages of Economic Development?

If so they’re probably getting ready to expropriate the expropriators.

Now fortunately very few of these types exist.

On the other hand, if your children have gone down this path, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Why they’re easy to spot, but these are people who have gone through the work of reading Marx’s Kapital, [picks up three very large volumes and flips through the pages of one] and tried to understand it.

It’s not going to be an afternoon’s conversation to dissuade someone of what they’ve read in these books .

I apologize, or rather I’m very sorry for you, if this turns out to be the case.

Now I suppose you could if you were desperate, as a parent, read through these yourself and look up some sort of an intellectual argument you could have with your children to try to bring them back to the ways of God and freedom.

But very few parents actually love their children enough to do that.

So [puts the three large volumes down with a thud]. Very sad.

Could your children be little ass socialists [holds up a wanted posted of Bernie Sanders], like this man right here?

Well you know what, they could be .

That’s a very strong possibility.

But the problem is that pretty much everybody is a little S socialist .

Anyone who believes that we should be distributing some goods and services by a means other than income, is a little S socialist.

If you think it’s okay that you don’t have to pay to go to a public library, you’re a little S socialist.

If you think it’s okay that you don’t have to get out your checkbook if you have a fire at your house, then you’re a little S socialist.

If you think it’s okay for the United States Army to not be run as a private enterprise, I mean imagine what that would entail, the United States Army would have to operate like an insurance company,  they have to come by your house [knocks on table]…

“Hello, are you the woman of the house?

My name is Captain Johnson, United States Army.

Are you afraid of Canadians? Me too.

We have three levels of protection against Canadian aggression.”.

Then you’d sign up for them and so forth, and that’s how they finance the United States Army.

Well we have lost World War II for sure, if we operated that way.

So once again, if you’re okay with any of these things, you already are a little S socialist.

In fact what we’re witnessing today In towns across America, including Tyler Texas, Is actually not an argument over whether or not there are some goods and services that should be distributed by means other than income, but which ones should be distributed by means other than income.

That’s been the argument.

Now these so-called Democratic Socialists for example, their idea is not to introduce a new concept in the economy, that is little S socialism, but to extend little S socialism to things like healthcare.

They believe that things like Healthcare should not be driven primarily by how much money you have.

Now one is certainly free to disagree with this notion, just as one is free to disagree that the poor deserve police protection.

But that doesn’t make it an attack on the American way of life.

So what I would say to you, worried mother, where’s your letter again, worried mother Terrified in Tyler. What I would say to you is feel free to argue with your children about this.

Remind them that the poor are lazy and undeserving.

But don’t worry about them becoming card-carrying Communists these are very different things.

Now another thing I hear from many of my viewers Is the concern that little S socialism can perform a role as a gateway drug into big S socialism.

In fact there’s a lot of people out there who equate the two. Who say these two are essentially the same 

These are either ignorant people or fear-mongers. Do not listen to them.

Instead, yes it is true that big S socialists generally also embrace little S socialism.

But very few little S socialists also embrace big S socialism.

In other words, of all those people who believe that there are goods and servicesthat  should be distributed by means other than income, very few of them also believe that we should have social ownership of the means of production.

I don’t know of a single political party in the United States that takes such a position.

I mean there might be two or three people who try and run for office now and then, but nobody important and certainly nobody here in Fort Worth.

So, Terrified in Tyler, don’t you worry about that.

Now, um,l one thing that we do hear a lot about…

Again going back to these social Democrats – Democrats – whatever they’re called, um, Is that they want to make the capitalist system more democratic, with a small D.

Now what they mean by that essentially is to return to the days of Adam Smith.

To the high levels of competition that prevent a few individual firms and owners from accumulating the power that enables them to well, accumulate even more power.

That’s not how capitalism is supposed to work.

The invisible hand does not operate when it’s got its hand in the back pocket of a politician.

That’s the right way to think about it.

So, I hope this was in some way helpful to everybody and to perhaps put your mind at ease.

I know I feel a lot better having thought through these issues myself.

Will this prevent me and my militia group from worrying about various other issues.

Probably not.

But I don’t think we need to worry about socialists.

For now we’ve got them under control.

[Holds up wanted posters of Karl Marx and Bernie Sanders again].

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