A set of images supposedly documenting the impact of socialism on the lives of people residing in some unidentified locale(s) is frequently circulated on social media as a warning about the alleged deleterious effects of that system:
The “Your City on Socialism” meme has been circulated online since at least February 2017, when it was posted to the Facebook page of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA along with the caption “Socialism Never Works. Never Has, Never Will.”
Turning Point USA’s point would be more effective, of course, if they used images that accurately reflected the impact of socialism.
The first image (“Your City on Socialism”) was not taken in any socialist country but rather in the United States. It’s an Associated Press file photo shot by Paul Sancya in July 2011 that captured a row of abandoned stores in Detroit, Michigan:
In this July 27, 2011 file photo, a section of vacant stores is shown in Detroit. Michigan is getting $100 million in federal aid to demolish abandoned buildings to fight blight in Detroit and four other cities, Gov. Rick Snyder said Tuesday. Snyder said the U.S. Treasury Department has approved the aid. Detroit is getting $52.3 million, Flint $20.1 million and Saginaw 11.2 million. Pontiac is getting $3.7 million and Grand Rapids $2.5 million, while $10.2 million goes to a reserve fund for additional demolition, Snyder said. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, file)
The second image (“Your Hospital on Socialism”) is the lone photograph in this meme that was actually taken in a socialist country. It was included in a 2016 New York Times article about the health care crisis in Venezuela:
The economic crisis in this country has exploded into a public health emergency, claiming the lives of untold numbers of Venezuelans. It is just part of a larger unraveling here that has become so severe it has prompted President Nicolás Maduro to impose a state of emergency and has raised fears of a government collapse.
The economic crisis in Venezuela is frequently brought up by those arguing against the merits of socialism. While Venezuela is a socialist country, that aspect is far from the only factor that has led to the country’s severe economic turmoil. As we noted in a previous article on the topic, news outlets ranging from Bloomberg, the New York Times, to Fox News have noted that plunging oil prices, government corruption, and political unrest have also contributed to the crisis.
Furthermore, a single photograph of a run-down hospital is not representative of socialized medicine as a whole. The following image, for instance, was taken at a hospital in Switzerland, a country with universal health care:
The third image (“Your Grocer Story on Socialism”) does not document a grocery store that ran out of food due to a failed socialist economy. It actually captures a Walmart outlet in Texas that ran out of food items and other supplies as it was thronged by customers stocking up ahead of the approach of Hurricane Rita in 2005.
The picture was taken by Jay Jenner for the Austin-American Statesman, and the original caption described it as follows: “Preparing for Hurricane Rita, Maria Chavez of Austin looks for a loaf of bread Thursday in the empty shelves of a Wal-Mart at Interstate 35 and Slaughter Lane. The store was sold out.”
Turning Point USA isn’t the only conservative group to use this image to push an anti-socialism narrative. In 2015, the National Review published a doctored version of this image in an article critical of Bernie Sanders.
The final photograph (“Your Politician on Socialism”) does not show the home of a politician in a socialist country. Again, this image was taken in the U.S. and pictures a hotel in Glen Cove, New York, called The Mansion.
Rather than accurately depicting the impacts of socialism, this meme is perhaps a better example of how images can be taken out of context, re-captioned, and repackaged in order to spread a political agenda.