Whitewashing Communism for eco students

Bryan Caplan

A professor at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog, Bryan Caplan knows his stuff – his stuff being economics. And so last February, when we ran across a statement by him that his first encounter with eco textbooks proved many of them to be alarmingly “pro-communist,” we kept reading. Those books, he maintained, were “very positive relative to communism’s historical record” and their authors “seemed deeply ignorant of actual communism.” They were, in fact, “communist dupes,” spreading “a radically overoptimistic image of communism.”

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok

Is this still the case? Now, a generation later, Caplan is helping his son, a high-school student, prep for an advanced-placement eco exam. The main text in the subject, Modern Principles of Economics by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, gets good grades from Caplan: it “includes accurately horrifying details about life under communism.” But the test prep books are something else again. The Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP Economics is “mostly a normal econ text,” but its account of Communism, Caplan says, is nothing less than “awful.” He takes it apart sentence by sentence: “Communism,” it states, “is a system designed to minimize imbalance in wealth via the collective ownership of property.” In fact, Caplan points out, collective ownership “was never primarily a means of ‘minimizing wealth imbalance’”; for Communist leaders, it was “an end in itself,” kept in place despite the fact that it “caused horrifying famines in the short-run, and low agricultural productivity in the long-run.”

Cowen and Tabarrok’s textbook: good on Communism

The Princeton Review prep book goes on: “Legislators from a single political party – the communist party – divide the available wealth for equal advantage among citizens.” Caplan’s comeback is blunt:

What actually happened under communism was rather different. Communist regimes began with the mass murder of their political enemies, businessmen, and their families. Next, they seized the peasants’ land, leading to hellish famines. In time, they launched major “industrialization” campaigns but obsessively focused on building up their militaries, not mass consumption. And no communist regime has ever tried to “divide wealth for equal advantage.” Bloodbaths aside, communist regimes always put Party members’ comfort above the very lives of ordinary citizens.

The Princeton Review’s book: not so good on Communism

The prep book goes on: “The problems with communism include a lack of incentives for extra effort, risk taking, and innovation.” Caplan’s reply: “Communist regimes did provide poor incentives to produce consumer goods for ordinary citizens. But they provided solid to excellent incentives in the sectors they really cared about: the military, secret police, border guarding, athletics, space programs, and so on.” Finally, Princeton had this to say: “The critical role of the central government in allocating resources and setting production levels makes this system particularly vulnerable to corruption.” Caplan: “Talk about praising with faint damnation. Never mind mass murder, famine, pathological militarism, and state-mandated favoritism for Party members. What’s really telling is that communism was ‘particularly vulnerable to corruption.’” What kind of a book “leaves students with the impression that corruption was communism’s chief defect”?

Deep in the heart of Texas: Jew-hatred

An outfit called Canary Mission, a watchdog group that “anonymously monitors anti-American, anti-Israel and antisemitic activity on US college campuses,” reported recently on a particular egregious finding.

UTA’s College Park Center

On both Facebook and Twitter, no fewer than 24 current and former students at the University of Texas-Arlington (UTA) have posted the vilest imaginable comments about Jews. They’ve advocated anti-Semitic violence, denied the Holocaust, celebrated the Holocaust, and written things like “Stuff Jews in the oven.”

Some members of the UTA chapter of SJP

How can such extensive Jew-hatred have taken root in, of all places, a college in Arlington, Texas? Well, one clue to the answer is that most of the repulsive posts were made by members of the UTA chapters of two groups. One of them is Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has been described as a “front for Hamas and the Hamas intermediary American Muslims for Palestine.” The group, which has chapters on at least 200 campuses in the U.S., is viewed as playing a leading role in the spread of anti-Semitism among American college students. As a 2014 article observed,

Mariam Ghanem

Instead of promoting justice, SJP and/or its members spend almost all of their energy demonizing Israel, advocating for its eventual destruction, showing an unfortunate affinity for pro-terrorist figures, bullying and intimidating pro-Israel and Jewish students with vicious and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric, and even at times engaging in physical violence. While SJP may pay lip-service to peaceful aims, their rhetoric and actions make it hard to avoid the conclusion that a culture of hatred permeates nearly everything the group does—making the college experience increasingly uncomfortable, at times even dangerous, for Jewish or pro-Israel students.

Three years ago, Northeastern University banned SJU entirely, “after years of anti-Semitic vandalism, glorification of terrorist groups, calls for the destruction of Israel, and other actions.”

The other group behind the rash of anti-Semitism at UTA: the Muslim Student Association (MSA), a front for the Muslim Brotherhood that has chapters around the world and that has not only routinely voiced a virulent anti-Semitism but has also aligned itself with Communist and other radical-left groups.

Nancy Salem

Among the UTA students named in Canary Mission’s report is Mariam Ghanem, who belongs to both the SJP and MSA and who has “compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Hitler, and tweeted a cartoon equating Nazi soldiers and IDF officers.” Ghanem, now a senior at George Mason University, has worked as an intern at the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve; her profile at the Society of Egyptian American Professionals says that she hopes to “use her education and background to give back to the global community and to improve the lives of as many people as she can.”

Also mentioned in the report was SJP member Nancy Salem, who once “retweeted a riddle asking: ‘How many Jews died in the Holocaust?’ The answer: ‘Not enough, HAHAHAHA.’” When a friend left for a visit to the Holy Land, Salem tweeted: “Have a safe trip Lulu. I love you baby girl! See you in 3 weeks! Kiss the Palestine ground for me and kill some jews! <3 #IMissYouAlready.” Then there’s Ismail Said Aboukar, who “referred to the Nazi genocide of the Jews as ‘#LiesToldInSchool’” and wrote that the “world would be sooo much better without jews man.”

Attention UTA administrators: perhaps it’s time for you to learn a lesson from Northeastern University and, in fact, do them one better by banning both of these hate-inculcating groups?