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Nazism is Dead, Long Live Marx

marxrecently wrote about how radical intellectuals are treated as ipso facto irresponsible or abhorrent in middlebrow American ideas magazines where little comprehension of their thought is even attempted. I was talking about the liberal-ish ones like the New Republic and the New York Review of Books. If we expanded that out to include conservative magazines; well, there this kind of prosecutorial a priori rejection has so long been an art form that it’s now just a bored performance, devoid of all thought or worth.

A big part of that orthodoxy, especially among U.S. conservative intellectuals, is the conflation of all the radical political ideologies of the 20th century—especially Marxism and Nazism—into one big totalitarian bogeyman. It’s similar to the painfully awful stuff  written in France starting in the late 1970s, a delayed reaction to the horrors of the Soviet Union that much of the French intelligentsia had ignored. It was whiplash from various Stalinisms, Maoisms and Althusserianism into an often strident, shallow anti-totalitarianism, which combined its lack of philosophical rigor with an extra helping of moral self-righteousness. Suddenly everything was totalitarian: not just Nazism but Marxism, and even the French Revolution.

If you think the nouveaux philosophes were unsophisticated in their relationship to Marxism, that leaves you without much of a word for what contemporary American conservatives are like. I was reminded of this once again after a tweetsplosion from Commentary editor John Podhoretz that began with his (more or less) equation of Nazism and Marxism, something he continues to advance in this post on that incident. He was surprised to find that his critics were more offended by his conflation of Nazism and Marxism than his speaking ill of the dead:

The ultimate point of contention was expressed by Marc A. Tracy of the New Republic. “I think one can be a Marxist in a defensible way that one can’t be a Nazi.”

That is evidently true, given that Marxism remains a respectable school of thought in America’s universities. And that is in part due to the fact that from Marx sprang that intellectual tradition so beloved of my Twitter correspondent, while there is no comparable Nazi tradition.

But here’s a hard truth: there is no Nazi tradition, or larger Fascist intellectual school, because Nazism and Fascism were literally extirpated as the result of a world war. By contrast, Marxism-Leninism survived and thrived throughout the 20th century.

It is not that there could not have been a Nazi intellectual tradition; oh, there certainly could have been.

So the argument here is that Marxism remains respectable only because American universities think it is, and that Nazism could have been a “tradition” in the same way if only World War II hadn’t wiped it out. The implication is that Marxism is just as bad as Nazism, but lacked a historical event cataclysmic enough to lead to its “extirpation” (though Podhoretz and plenty others think the gulags should qualify as such an event).

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I think Podhoretz’s understanding of Nazism is just as weak as his grasp of Marx. Sure, World War II had a great deal to do with the thorough discrediting of Nazism. But Nazism isn’t a philosophy taught in American universities because it was never a philosophy; it was a grab-bag of affinities or sensibilities, with vast blank spaces wide open to interpretation. As Julian Young puts it, it was “body without a head … an ideological and philosophical vacuum which each ideological faction aspired to fill with its own agenda.” The philosophical blankness of Nazism is precisely why Heidegger could embrace the delusion that he could reform the Nazi university in the image of his own philosophy, and why his tenure in Freiburg lasted less than a year. It quickly became apparent that party leaders weren’t interested in Heideggerian philosophy, or any philosophy for that matter; they were interested in political conformity. To the extent there was “Nazi thought,” it was anathematic to Western philosophy, and usually devoted to immediate political needs and thus not of much interest to future thinkers.

Marxism was (and is) nothing like this. It was a thoroughly developed theory of economic-political structure that has proved to be wildly wrong in some respects and astonishingly correct in others. Don’t get me wrong, there are countless things to disagree with in Marx, and I will even concede that its Hegelian universalism and determinism probably had something to do with its praxis in totalitarian states. But you can read Marx your whole life—all the thousands of pages of Capital—and get an amazingly accurate and prophetic theory about the way capitalism works, and the way it feels to be a person living under that system, but you won’t find any guidelines for setting up dogmatic parties, totalitarian states, autocratic leaders, or labor camps. (In fact, you would find strong opposition to all of the above.) You can teach and criticize and subscribe to Marxism because it has content; Nazism, on the contrary, is so pseudo-philosophical that at some point one simply has to regard it as anti-philosophy. If you asserted such a thing about Marx (I’m not saying Podhoretz does), you’re an idiot with whom I can’t argue further.

The reason Marxism continues to be a “respectable school of thought” is that it has intellectually stood the test of time. No philosophy lasts without being argued with and criticized, but Marxism offered something that has proved unceasingly prescient over the past century and a half. The economic destruction and dehumanization wrought by capital is a more pressing global subject than ever, unlike, say, the self-assertion of the German spirit. So it’s no big surprise, no ideological plot, that we still teach Marx and that Mein Kampf and the court “philosophers” of the Third Reich go unread. It’s not just historical events that allowed Marx to survive and Nazism to perish; it’s the value of the thought itself.

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245 thoughts on “Nazism is Dead, Long Live Marx

  1. The reason Marxism continues to be a “respectable school of thought”; or a “school of thought” is that it has intellectually stood the test of time. No philosophy lasts without being argued with and criticized, but Marxism offered something that has proved unceasingly prescient over the past century and a half. The economic destruction and dehumanization wrought by capital is a more pressing global subject than ever, unlike, say, the self-assertion of the German spirit.

    Hey! The conservative case for studying Marx!

    A well done contrast, by the way.

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  2. Good points. One thing that I’d like to bring up is that a lot of American intellectuals might not be that up with Marxism is because they were Jewish and can’t really bring themselves to be supportive of people who overlooked the vast amount of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union; especially when these people were finely attuned to racism on their home turf and in the United States. Many Jewish intellectuals think that the Far Left doesn’t take anti-Semitism with the sort of seriousness that they take other hatreds.

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    • As I’ve pointed out before, Marxist rhetoric about wealthy capitalist oppressors is disturbingly similar to anti-semitic rhetoric about wealthy Jewish oppressors. The OWS movement brought it closer to home with the focus on bankers and money-changers. It’s just a matter of time before someone starts a rumor that the 1% eat babies.

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      • Oh, that comes straight from the same source. It took a while for the Nazis to focus fully on Jews. They started from the melange of normal Marxist thought, thinking the Jewish bankers were the apex of the capitalist oppressors, but they included the Junkers and other capitalists as their class enemies. In their 25 points they targeted war-profiteers, anyone who made money purely from interest income (which they regarded as unearned), and all foreigners, not just Jews. But then they kept refining the conspiracy theory to focus on their targeted outgroup instead of the more nebulous social groups Marx indicted. Marx’s conspiracy was a stretch in many nations, and it would include lots of powerful German industrialists who played a large role in German national strength, something the Nazis wanted to enhance instead of destroy.

        As Nazism kept evolving, shifting more and more towards pure racial theories, they even abandoned their Marxist origins in favor of claiming that Marxism was a Jewish plot to undermine true socialism. Some would argue that Nazis weren’t true socialists, and of course if they argued the point very long they’d find themselves put up against a wall and shot. The only reason socialists dare claim the Nazis weren’t true socialists is because they no longer fear for their lives, which is how that argument invariably ended when Nazis were preaching to the masses.

        In Italy the “owner class” was everybody’s parents, since most Italians worked in small family businesses. Therefore Mussolini abandoned the class rhetoric to target Anglo/American capitalist oppressor nations, saying they crush working class nations like Italy through means that included control of rhetoric and language. (It’s no surprise that as a young socialist writer, Antonio Gramsci answered to Mussolini, who was his editor.)

        It’s perhaps interesting how easily you can recast Marx’s conspiracy theory to target almost any powerful or successful class, race, company, or social structure, without really altering the gist of it. Aristocrats, plutocrats, big oil, Jews, international bankers, multinational corporations, Kennedy’s, neocons; it all works just the same.

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      • I think it’s much older than that, George. It’s human nature, when you have less, to blame the person who has more. I can’t imagine that the first guy to get a second cow was terribly popular with the people who had none. When the ones who have more are members of an identifiable minority, so much the better.

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      • BB,

        Human history does have lots of examples of horrid exploitation where people were right to be angry that the rich had more, because the rich were exploiting the poor, e.g. in slavery, under feudalism. Surely, you agree with Marx about that, i.e. that it was right for people to feel exploited. (And the psychology of alienation as a consequence of exploitation is interesting, if not so empirically justified.)

        It seems to me that the real question is whether people are still exploited under a capitalist system and if so how to stop that exploitation. Libertarians will say that if you get government out of he way that exploitation will cease. Marx may very well have agreed, BTW, at some points, that in the long run the state should dissolve. Liberals will say the government needs to increase equality a bit over time through active economic redistribution.

        I would say Marx is right that people are still exploited (certainly 19th century Capitalism exploited people, no?) The question of what to do about it is tricky.

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      • I have serious doubts about the coherence of the concept of “exploitation” as referred to by the left. How would you define it?

        BB, there’s something to this. Personally, tho, I think that even if the term can be coherently defined people would still disagree about it’s applicability in a bunch of interesting cases. Which is to say that even if I could define “exploitation” in non-question begging terms, you and I might still disagree about whether a real world case meets the definition.

        But how about this: exploitation can generally be defined as an action which a) furthers one person’s aims or goals over another which could not have happened but for an existing power differential between the two individuals which b) violates their initial agreement or widely agreed upon social norms.

        Is that coherent? If it is, is the concept useful?

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      • Stillwater:
        I’d say that it’s coherent, and also that it’s useful right up until the part about widely agreed-upon social norms. Social norms about economics are…not well-reasoned.

        Take low wages, for example. It stands to reason that a person is going to take the best job offer he gets. More or less by definition, a person’s employer is the one who made him a better offer than anyone else was willing to. So whom do “widely agreed-upon social norms” blame when someone makes what they consider to be an unacceptably low wage? The one employer that offered him a better deal than anyone else in the world was willing to.

        That’s completely fishing nuts. Literally no one in the world is less responsible for the plight of a low-wage employee than his employer, yet that’s who gets assigned the blame.

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      • The freemen, no, insofar as they were free to solicit offers from different vassals and choose the best. The slaves, yes, insofar as they were forced to work for a particular vassal.

        Any sensible definition of exploitation has to include an element of harm. The exploited party must be made worse off by the transaction in a probabilistic a priori sense, even if only in terms of opportunity cost. Otherwise the term just degenerates into an expression of personal disapproval.

        So you can exploit someone by force, or by fraud, or exploit his ignorance, but you can’t exploit his high marginal utility from income.

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      • That you think so-called freemen in feudalism aren’t exploited is all I need to know. Freemen had to pay rents (less than serfs, often) to landowners whose only claim to the land was heredity and title.

        The difference between serf, freeman, and 19th century factory worker according to Marx is a spectrum of exploitation.

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  3. It’s curious to me that marxism continues it’s political popularity while it’s economic lines of though are so obviously in error. I studied marxism as well as capitalism and other economic forms of thought in economics, not in political theory classes. Most of the proponets of marxism that I knew, and still know, were academics or other gov’t tax feeders: ie no one that actually had to live by what they produced.

    That aside, both marxism and nazism have a central core: the subservience of the individual to the state. In that they are but two branches of the same source tree.

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    • Damon:

      Is that not similar to the way that Freudian psychology remains heavily studied and supported by English and comparative literature departments (partially because the popularity of the theories did indeed alter the way authors approached their works) despite being seen as essentially bunk by clinical psychologists these days?

      In any case, surely there’s a reasonable case that something that in praxis has killed so many and been so horrible yet has superficial attraction to so many is even more dangerous than something that seems on its face repugnant. (Though, granted, nationalism has an attraction to many.)

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      • Keynes outlined this phenomenon well:

        The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

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    • Marxism’s economic analysis may not be so obviously in error. Oh, its economic prescriptions didn’t work out, but some Marxist predictions have been remarkably prescient. (A small one is ever-increasing commodification of things that it used to be natural for people do for themselves – I think about this when I see pre-prepared salads and plates of raw vegetables in plastic at the grocery store.)

      My dad went to university in the ’70s, and he has said that one of his Marxist professors there (covering the topic of land use), who he didn’t give much credence at the time, accurately predicted pretty much all the major economic developments of the last 30 years.

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      • The problem is that he’s like a doctor diagnosing what’s wrong with your well. If you’ve got well problems you need to talk to a hydrologist or a geologist, not a doctor.

        The problem with Marx is that he didn’t have a real job (so what would he actually know about working?), bummed money off Engels who at least had a job (which was predictor of how Marxism would actually work), and didn’t even know what capital was.

        What he spun was a bizarre conspiracy theory about evil oppressors who for centuries kept their nefarious plots secret from the masses, duping everyone. Marx’s hook was essentially “by reading this, you’re in on a big secret being kept from the masses, so this knowledge marks you as one of the elite but authentic people who will lead the revolution.” That’s why Das Kapital is popular in college, but in a factory would be used as a door stop.

        Fascism and Nazism, as major revisions to Marxist thought based on its observed failings, at least tried to make some sort of economic sense based on experience, even if they were just a reshuffling of the names and titles on a wacko conspiracy theory.

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      • A small one is ever-increasing commodification of things that it used to be natural for people do for themselves – I think about this when I see pre-prepared salads and plates of raw vegetables in plastic at the grocery store.

        It isn’t especially original though. Smith was talking about ever-expanding division fo labour 80 years before Marx.

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      • The problem with Marx is that he didn’t have a real job (so what would he actually know about working?), bummed money off Engels who at least had a job (which was predictor of how Marxism would actually work), and didn’t even know what capital was.

        Nothing like a good ad hominem to get the day going.

        Having said that, I really do like pointing out the hypocrisy and personal failings of M and E. But frankly, it’s not relevant to whether their argument is valid.

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  4. It is true that there is no respectable Nazism, but there is a rather robust neo-reactionary tradition that mostly exists on the internet. It will likely never take root in the academy or either on the mainstream media (although lots of right-leaning media personalities borrow heavily from this tradition), because, in part, these people pride themselves on their opposition to the academy and the mainstream media.

    In other words, Marxists have always been trying to infiltrate, while reactionaries are forever in opposition.

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  5. I don’t think you even have to go so far as differentiating a philosophy from a non-philosophy; I think any system of classification that would lump Nazism and Marxism under some shared banner of collectivism is functionally useless. It would encompass far too much to ever be useful for the purposes of analysis or debate.

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    • It depends on what your intent is. There is a very vulgar form of political science that tries to score partisan political points by equating political opponents with discredited ideologies that gives us things like “Liberal Fascism” or paints conservatives as “American Taliban.” That sort of thing is mostly stupid.

      However, in a legitimate study of how authoritarian and totalitarian governments assert and maintain themselves (for instance, through the use of secret police, a network of informants, the subversion of the criminal justice system to political ends, etc.), it makes sense to understand the similarities between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia and Kim’s North Korea and all the others.

      With Nazism and Marxism in specific, you can see certain similarities in the attempt to subvert all aspects of the culture towards a particular political end (German nationalism in the case of Nazism and the ascendancy of the proletariat in the case of Marxism).

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      • With Nazism and Marxism in specific, you can see certain similarities in the attempt to subvert all aspects of the culture towards a particular political end

        This.

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      • With Nazism and Marxism in specific, you can see certain similarities in the attempt to subvert all aspects of the culture towards a particular political end

        You misspelled Objectivism. Twice.

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      • “However, in a legitimate study of how authoritarian and totalitarian governments assert and maintain themselves (for instance, through the use of secret police, a network of informants, the subversion of the criminal justice system to political ends, etc.), it makes sense to understand the similarities between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia and Kim’s North Korea and all the others.”

        I did not mean to imply that undertaking any comparative analysis, e.g. between Stalinism or Nazism is inherently useless. Rather, my trepidation arises in response to frameworks that implicitly argue for a shared ideological starting point, despite a) clear historical evidence to the contrary; and b) the inherent uselessness of the framework for doing anything other than – as you describe it – scoring cheap political points.

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      • , it makes sense to understand the similarities between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia and Kim’s North Korea and all the others.

        I was going to say something like this. There are many similarities between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia (and many differences, too) that are good for comparison.

        But if we’re comparing the actual ism’s (and not the governments instituted in their name), then things get dicey.

        “Marxism” (whatever that is) and “Nazism/Fascism” (whatever they are) never did anything. It’s people who embraced those ideologies (assuming we can call both of them “ideologies” in the same way) who did those things. Maybe without those ideologies, they wouldn’t have done bad things, would have done them differently, or would not have risen (descended) to the extent of the cruelties they eventually practiced. But it’s people who did what they did, a lot like others use “god” or “social justice” or “liberty” in support of atrocious things.

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      • The evidence for a shared ideological starting point is all the Nazi speeches about the bourgeois, the proletariat, the need for true socialism, the evils of capitalism and the exploitive bankers.

        People who weren’t left-wing socialists or Marxists couldn’t use “bourgeois” and “proletariat” in a sentence.

        For other simple examples:

        “There is no socialism that does not apply to one’s own people.” Adolf Hitler. (27 August – 2 September 1939)

        “If the soldier fights at the front, no one should make money from war. If the soldier falls at the front, no one back home should shirk his duty.” Adolf Hitler. (8 – 14 October 1939)

        “The war forced on the Greater German Reich by the capitalist powers of France and England must lead to the most glorious victory in German history.” Adolf Hitler (28 April – 4 May 1940)

        The peasantry is the life force of the people Propaganda poster, October 1940

        “True socialism, however, is the doctrine of the strictest performance of duty.”, Propaganda poster, June 1941.

        What’s interesting is how both Mussolini (who was a major socialist newspaper writer prior to WW-I, and had been a communist agitator/propagandist and communist labor organizer), and Hitler drew on their experience of togetherness on the front to add new aspects to socialist theory.

        This 1934 passage from Rudolf Hess discusses some of that.

        In the face of looming death at the front, ideas of social standing and class collapsed. At the front, the sharing of common joys and common sorrows led to a previously unknown camaraderie between citizens. At the front, everyone could see that the common fate towered above the individual fate.

        One more thing grew in front fighters, despite the bitter relentlessness of the battle: The sense of a certain inner connection with front fighters across no man’s land, who bore the same burdens, stood in the same mud, were threatened by the same death.

        This feeling of connectedness remains to this day.

        When front fighters meet, though they were once enemies, they now share the same memories and opinions. They talk of the World War, but behind their words they hope for peace. The front fighters are, therefore, called to be a bridge of understanding, helping one nation to understand another when politicians are unable to find the way.

        It is no accident that the states which are entirely led by front fighters — Germany and Italy — are working hardest for world peace. And it is no accident that when the front fighters Hitler and Mussolini met, they quickly developed a warm personal relationship.

        We have signed a treaty that serves peace with our Polish neighbor, where a soldier — Marshall Pilsudski — is in charge.”

        Another clue is that Nazi economic propaganda can be hard to distinguish from East German economic propaganda until you run across a date, or a rabid denunciation of either Nazism or Bolshevism.

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      • I think it’s undeniable that Nazism, and especially Italian Fascism, tried to appeal to the same constituency that adherents to Marxism did. Have you, by the way, red Zeev [sp.?] Sternhell’s “Roots of Fascist Ideology” (it might be called “Birth of Fascist Ideology”)?

        It’s tempting to say that the Nazi/Fascist variants weren’t true Scotsmen, and I’m inclined to agree. But I think, to give you credit where it’s due, there is a “there” there.

        That said, I think you (and I) have strayed from addressing the argument that Dave Sessions is advancing in the OP. What Nazism was, and what Fascism became, strikes me more as an opportunistic “ideology” used by thugs to gain and maintain power, maybe with some sort of organizing principle, such as “Aryan superiority” or subordination of each person’s interest to the interests of an organic “state.” And I’m inclined to see the numerous examples you cite above in that light.

        In that sense, Nazism wasn’t/isn’t a well organized ideology or philosophy in the same way that Marxism is/was. That’s not to justify Marxism, although as my comments elsewhere in this thread might suggest, I’m less hostile to it than you are. But it is to suggest that the OP has a strong point.

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      • I’ll hasten to add that Stalin/Mao/etc. could use Marxism as an ideology to the same ends. My point is that Marxism can be more than (or at least different from) a simple tool for cynical tyrants. It’s a well-devleoped and quite nuanced ideology, one that I increasingly disagree with, but still one that needs to be confronted more seriously than Nazism/Fascism, assuming we can even arrive at a definition of the latter.

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      • In that sense, Nazism wasn’t/isn’t a well organized ideology or philosophy in the same way that Marxism is/was.

        The problem is quite the opposite. Nazism was very well organized. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that had an answer to any question. Usually the answer sucked as far as we’re concerned, but the answer was also put forth as absolutely correct, invariably followed by a detailed explanation. Those who thought otherwise were not only wrong, but should probably be re-educated or shot.

        The problem with Marxism is that it’s vague and often contradictory. A lot of Marxist academics in former communist countries think Engels rewrote large parts of it because what Marx wrote was incoherent. Together, what they spun was a conspiracy theory that didn’t make much sense at all, except perhaps to leftist academics and people who sell surf-board wax at a mall kiosk.

        Interestingly, Engles was highly skeptical of Marx’s strange musings, but was swayed by the glowing reports of Robert Owens socialist experiments in America. As it turns out, all those reports were completely fabricated and all his experiments were epic disasters in human behavior. Had Owens been truthful, Marxism probably would’ve never gotten off the ground, and Marx would’ve been just an early example of “crazy people posting on the Internet”, probably lumped in with chemtrails and mind control rays by alien lizard people from Mrocklon IX.

        As the former president of the Communist Youth League in America once put it, “How can so many people have believed something so stupid for so long?”

        One of my friends grew up in the Komsomol and eventually fled to the West. Having experienced the joys of communism first hand, she got her engineering degree and joined the US military as an officer. Sometimes she jumps into communist apologist threads and says things like:

        Have you ever lived in Russia/USSR? If not, shut your co**-holster, before you get c***-punted. I grew up there. I got the F*** out of there. Your little bitch a** would really presume to tell me how good communism is for me? F*** YOU. You are not worthy of a more civilized argument, you pathetic rancid chunk of an inbred pig’s afterbirth.

        Not only can she curse, she also looks hot in a little black dress with a machine gun slung across her back. Like millions of people who grew up under Marxism, she loathes them personally and viciously, much like an Auschwitz survivor would regard a member of the SS. There are tens of millions such survivors, and now that they’re freed, they will be heard.

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      • The problem is quite the opposite. Nazism was very well organized. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that had an answer to any question. Usually the answer sucked as far as we’re concerned, but the answer was also put forth as absolutely correct, invariably followed by a detailed explanation. Those who thought otherwise were not only wrong, but should probably be re-educated or shot.

        I just don’t see this. Nazism seemed to be predicated on the Fuehrerprinzip and an argument of racial superiority. But otherwise, just a bunch of thuggery.

        My problem with Marxism is not “vagueness” it’s 1) the fallacy of misplaced concreteness (positing a working-class “interest” where such an “interest” might exist, but only in attenuated form); 2) its adherents’ reliance on a tautology, so that anything, either an advancement for workers or a reversal for workers, for example, can support their view.

        Alas, I have to go out for the day and can’t continue the conversation. So you’ll get the last word.

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      • Did people conflate Stalinism with Marxism at the time? Like, because they thought that Stalin was good at what he was doing?

        Because that might really confuse a lot of people.

        The whole “Stalin is the exemplar of our time!” followed by smudging him out of our pictures now that he’s inconvenient is…

        Well, haven’t we seen this movie before?

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      • You’re conflating Stalinism with Marxism.

        What she was told, every day, was that she was living under the joys of Marxism. Stalin and Stalinism had been exposed and denounced long before my Russian friend was born. Her grandfather certainly lived under Stalinism as a highly decorated Soviet bomber pilot (which saved her family on several occasions), but all she got was pure Marxism, refined by over a billion man-years of careful research, thought, and experiment by the best and most committed Marxist thinkers in the history of the planet.

        Of course, what American Marxists think is that the system would have worked if it just had those few key insights from the college kid selling surf board wax at the mall kiosk in San Dimas California.

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      • Oh, since some governmental agent told her that, then it must have been true.

        And yet you doubt Obama’s claim that Assad used chemical weapons.

        Maybe you need to stop judging everything by whether it is convenient or not for your ideological commitments.

        Beyond that, I’ll not engage you further. You are a colossal waste of any intelligent person’s time.

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      • Sure, if you want. I actually think it’s a fair point.

        If people were saying that Stalinism was Marxism at the time, songs being sung, plays being written, poems being read talking about how, finally, Stalin is bringing Marxism into fruition… isn’t it kind of fair to wonder about what the heck happened that now only dishonest people compare the two?

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      • J@m3z, the problem with your position is that you’re arguing that every Soviet who claimed they were implementing Marxism was lying, or they were somehow completely wrong and deluded about their own beliefs. There were over a hundred million such people who worked for over seventy years at implementing Marxism. They studied Marxism from grade-school on. They studied it in college. They lived it every day. That’s seven billion man-years of applying something they called “Marxism.”

        Suppose I tried the same tactic to explain what American liberals believe? First, I would claim that nothing any liberal has ever said about liberalism actually applies to liberalism. Second, I would claim that what liberals claimed they were implementing as “liberalism”, and advocating as “liberalism”, was in fact completely unrelated to the liberalism they themselves were defining. Then I would ignore all of the millions of quotes, writings, and postings by liberals about liberalism (just as liberals do about Nazism), reject their reality, and substitute my own.

        I could of course argue that what liberals do doesn’t match what they say, or what they claim, or what they believe, but it would be quite a stretch to argue that what liberals claimed was liberalism wasn’t what they believed liberalism actually was – every single time.

        The Marxists, communists, Fascists, and Nazis explained their beliefs in excruciating detail, and did so for decades. They produced books, pamphlets, movies, and speeches. We can’t just dismiss everything they said just because we’d feel better if they’d said something completely different.

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      • Sure it’s fair to ask. And as it turns out, not all that hard to just ask, eh?

        I suspect the answer is that in both cases the answer lies in people who’ve never seriously read Marx reading into him whatever is convenient to their beliefs. Oh, that and people being wise to not raise the question under Stalin, eh? Or do you have examples of folks outside the Soviet Union who had actually read Marx and yet a) understood what Stalin was doing and b) wrote poems glorying how he was bringing Marxism to fruition? Because I’d like to see the evidence underlying the assumptions of your question.

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      • As I said, it comes down to billions of man-years that Marxists lived and breathed Marxism, versus a guy in San Dimas selling surf-board wax at a mall kiosk arguing that all those hundreds of millions of Marxists just didn’t properly understand Marxism, but he does, and it would work if they’d just accept his brilliant insights about true Marxism, because what all the Marxist theoreticians, agitator/propagandists, party leaders, apparatchiks, bureaucrats, and glorious factory workers lacked was input from an American college student – who works at a mall kiosk.

        And leftists in America actually try to pass that off as an intellectually defensible argument.

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      • George, I stopped reading midway through your first paragraph. The idea that everyone in the Soviet Union actually read and Marx thoroughly is so ridiculous there’s no reason to continue on. Everything I’ve seen you write indicates to me that you are a guy who probably has some real knowledge in some technical areas, and so you think that intelligence translates over into other areas. But you obviously read those other areas very shallowly. You’re a classic example of the Dunning-Krueger effect. So I’m not going to bother seriously engaging your arguments because it’s pointless. You can’t see your own errors when they’re pointed out, and so fervently believe in your rightness that no argument can make any kind of effect on you. It’s like fighting a tar-baby.

        So just write me off as a jerk, or someone too stupid to understand you, or whatever suits you.

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      • J@m3z, I’ve seen a lot of absolutely, hilariously ridiculous arguments on the Internet, but the idea that a nation of hard-core Marxist-Leninists never actually read any Marx takes the cake. They talked about nothing but Marxist-Leninism all day long, preached Marxism, made sure everything they did was buttressed by some defensible Marxist argument, and spouted Communist dialectics till they turned blue. The number of books they wrote on Marxism is staggering.

        Yet you don’t think they’ve ever read anything about it. Only guys selling surfboard wax in San Dimas actually read it.

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      • Of course, Art, what you conveniently ignore is that Stalinism caused a decline in support for the Soviet Union among western Marxists, so many of whom felt betrayed.

        Have you actually read Marx? I mean, not just the Manifesto, but seriously read Marx? I mean, not looking for evidence to support your beliefs, but with an attempt at seriously understanding how Marx understood the world?

        It’s an awfully unpleasant task, a really painful slog through a combination of not-unique-but-still-true insights into the ugliness of the industrial revolution, a paean to the greatness of capitalism in ending feudalism, an internal critique of classical economics that goes fundamentally wrong by basing far too much on a mistaken labor theory of value, a turgid philosophical exposition simultaneously rejecting and building on Hegal, a smart but overly-deterministic focus on the importance of the economist structure of society in shaping our beliefs, and a foolish prediction about the inevitable course of history and the withering away of the state.

        But here’s what you won’t find. You won’t find any claims about the necessity of gulags, or about starving the populace into submission. You won’t find any argument for invasion and occupation of other countries. You won’t find any proposal that an authoritarian government should be created. Marx is 90% bullshit, but that particular bullshit isn’t to be found in Marx.

        Marx was naive, no doubt about it. But nothing in his theory, in Marxism proper, proposes Stalinism. And to the extent Stalinism was all about reifying the power of the state, it was widly anti-Marxist. Were some people too stupid, even at the time, to see it? Of course. The world has never had a shortage of stupid people who let their ideology blind them to what’s really going on.

        But to lay the blame for Stalinism at the feet of Marx, or to say Stalinism really was Marxism….well, let’s follow that line of logic. The inquisition was done in the name of Christ, so obviously Christianity means the killing of those who don’t believe, right? The Crusaders committed some appalling massacres, so clearly massacres really are Christian, right? If you reject that, then ask yourself why you make the disconnect in one case but not the other?

        Or how about the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? We committed slaughters of innocents in expanding America. We wiped out whole villages of Native Americans. We invaded Mexico and took half its territory. We fought a colonial power in the Spanish-American war only to take its colonies for ourselves. So Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are responsible, right? American liberty is really about slaughter and war for territory? Or can you disconnect these things? If so, why can you not think that maybe there’s actually a disconnect between Marxism and Stalinism?

        If you can distinguish between Christianity and the slaughter of innocents, if you can distinguish between American ideals and the slaughter of innocents, then there is no intellectual excuse for not being able to distinguish between Marxism and the slaughter of innocents.

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      • …the idea that a nation of hard-core Marxist-Leninists never actually read any Marx takes the cake. … you don’t think they’ve ever read anything about it.

        And there’s the tarbaby. George can only respond by falsely restating my position.

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      • “Every provisional political set-up following a revolution requires a dictatorship, and an energetic dictatorship at that.” – Karl Marx, 1848

        “We discovered that in connection with these figures the German national simpletons and money-grubbers of the Frankfurt parliamentary swamp always counted as Germans the Polish Jews as well, although this dirtiest of all races, neither by its jargon nor by its descent, but at most only through its lust for profit, could have any relation of kinship with Frankfurt.” – Friedrich Engels, 1849

        “But in history nothing is achieved without violence and implacable ruthlessness… In short, it turns out these ‘crimes’ of the Germans and Magyars against the said Slavs are among the best and most praiseworthy deeds which our and the Magyar people can boast in their history.” – Friedrich Engels, 1849:

        “…only by the most determined use of terror against these Slav peoples can we, jointly with the Poles and Magyars, safeguard the revolution there will be a struggle, an ‘inexorable life-and-death struggle’, against those Slavs who betray the revolution; an annihilating fight and ruthless terror — not in the interests of Germany, but in the interests of the revolution!” – Friedrich Engels, 1849

        “Society is undergoing a silent revolution, which must be submitted to, and which takes no more notice of the human existences it breaks down than an earthquake regards the houses it subverts. The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.” – Karl Marx, 1853.

        “Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets.
        [snip]
        Thus do these loans, which are a curse to the people, a ruin to the holders, and a danger to the governments, become a blessing to the houses of the children of Judah. This Jew organization of loan-mongers is as dangerous to the people as the aristocratic organization of landowners… The fortunes amassed by these loan-mongers are immense, but the wrongs and sufferings thus entailed on the people and the encouragement thus afforded to their oppressors still remain to be told.
        [snip]
        The loan-mongering Jews of Europe do only on a larger and more obnoxious scale what many others do on one smaller and less significant. But it is only because the Jews are so strong that it is timely and expedient to expose and stigmatize their organization.” – Karl Marx, 1856

        Depending on which of Marx’s writings you want to focus on, you get Stalinism, Nazism, Fascism, Maoism, and all those other nasty genocidal isms.

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      • Of course, Art, you conveniently ignore is that Stalinism caused a decline in support for the Soviet Union among western Marxists, so many of whom felt betrayed.

        Have you actually read Marx? I mean, not just the Manifesto, but seriously read Marx? I mean, not looking for evidence to support your beliefs, but with an attempt at seriously understanding how Marx understood the world?

        Since your conversation is with George Turner, I am not sure why you are asking me these questions (unless a parenthetical mention of Paul Hollander has your back up). The answers to your questions are as follows:

        1. Fragments. It was several decades ago, so it does not much matter now. My exposure was more to proximate parties taught in conjunction with him on a circumscribed range of issues (urban development, &c.). Much more interpreters of Marx (e.g. David Harvey) than the original (though some of the original, read with Georg Simmel, &c.)

        2. I have not made it a priority to read my uncle’s old copy of Capital. It is on the shelf if not the agenda. I just do not hold much by social theory or discourses about social life. Intellectual history, social theory, Lincoln biographies, &c. are strands of thought that merit some attention, but not my attention, and, I do not think the attention of as many people as they get (at least as many starboard side academics as they get).

        3. I did read the salient works of Lenin. That was enough for me to swear off much in the way of Marxist literature after that. Life’s short.

        4. I was compelled to read a mess of more obscure thinkers who were in conversation with Marx or inspired by him (e.g. Immanuel Wallerstein), and actually did take something of an interest in these, especially Christopher Chase-Dunn (who is, I believe, still alive).

        5. In general, I do not pay much attention to any Theory of Everything (does that make me a Weberian?). You do not need it to organize your thinking, and it creates a certain procrustean bed. The rap on Marxist literature when I was a student was that it was long on discourses but short on actual social research (see the career of David Harvey). As I recall, Harvey subscribed to an esoteric philosophy of science I never understood whereby all the literature he digested and commented on was the real show and the empirical work being done by people like Brian Berry was invalid.

        6. If you wish to understand Soviet Russia, by all means look from the bottom up. How does that kolkhoz actually run. The most salient thing about Soviet Russia was that it was a command economy. The other thing was that its public life was an artifact. The third thing was that brutality was systematized, though never after in the way it was during the period running from about 1929 to 1953.

        7. Communist regimes, unlike other sorts of authoritarianism, have a discrete body of literature that inspires. I am just not quite understanding the divorce you are attempting to maintain in your head between discussion and practice.

        8. I cannot quote Marx or Lenin to you any more, but I do recall from it that what was to come was not incongruent with the literature. First you had the sensibility of the stuff. Then the implausibility of the end game hits you (admittedly, one reason it hit is that the actual end game you could read about in the newspapers), then the descriptions of a public life that sound madcap, with phrases like “every official immediately recallable” conjoined to descriptions which made it seem as if all they were doing was manning the vital statistics registry. All of which is to say that you read Marx and Lenin and what struck you was that there were two men who read like fanatics who were describing things that could not come to pass. That it ended up as a horrific train-wreck is really no surprise. Baked in the cake.

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      • Or do you have examples of folks outside the Soviet Union who had actually read Marx and yet a) understood what Stalin was doing and b) wrote poems glorying how he was bringing Marxism to fruition? Because I’d like to see the evidence underlying the assumptions of your question.

        “Understood what Stalin was doing”… well… can we say that they understood what he was going for?

        If so, off the top of my head, we’ve got Walter Duranty, Frida Kahlo, Paul Robeson. I’m sure I can come up with some more useful innocents.

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  6. Well, the two systems have been wrongly conflated for a long time. Here’s an earlier complaint about it:

    In the beginning of August, this year, one of the most authoritative English newspapers published a leading article entitled “Two Dictatorships”, in which a naive and misdirected attempt was made to place before the readers of the paper certain alleged similarities between Russian Bolshevism and German National Socialism. This article gave rise to an extraordinary amount of heated discussion in international centers, which was only another proof of the fact that an astonishing misconception exists among the most prominent West European circles as to the danger which communism presents to the life of the individual and of the nation. Such people still cling to their opinion in face of the terrible and devastating experiences of the past eighteen years in Russia.

    [snip]

    According to returns given by the Soviets themselves and taking reliable sources into account, the number of persons executed within the first 5 years of Soviet rule must be placed at about 1,860,000, in round numbers. Of these, 6,000 were teachers and professors, 8,800 were doctors of medicine, 54,000 were army officers, 260,000 soldiers, 105,000 police officials, 49,000 gendarmes, 12,800 civil servants, 355,000 persons of the upper classes, 192,000 workers, 815,000 peasants.

    The Soviet statistician, Oganowsky, estimates the number of persons who died of hunger in the years 1921/1922 at 5,200,000. The Austrian Cardinal-Archbishop, Monsignor Innitzer, said in his appeal of July 1934, that millions of people were dying of hunger throughout the Soviet Union. During his speech delivered before the House of Lords on the 25th of July, 1934, the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on reports relative to the famine victims in Soviet Russia in 1933, said that the number was nearer to six than three millions.

    We have thus before our eyes a full picture of this fearful and harrowing mass terrorization which is only approximately paralleled by even the most blood-curdling examples of war or revolution that are recorded in the history of the world. This is the actual system of bloodshed and terror and death which is carried out by hysterical and criminal political maniacs who would have it copied in every country and among every people with the same terrorizing practices, in so far as they might find the possibility of doing so.

    Bolshevism pretends to be intellectual, but in practice it’s nothing but mass murder, executions, and genocide. The Nazis looked upon it, and they were horrified by the totalitarian brutality of a ruthless, bloodstained, unscrupulous band of materialistic monsters who had somehow created a system more barbaric and despicable than capitalism.

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    • Bolshevism pretends to be intellectual, but in practice it’s nothing but mass murder, executions, and genocide. The Nazis looked upon it, and they were horrified by the totalitarian brutality of a ruthless, bloodstained, unscrupulous band of materialistic monsters who had somehow created a system more barbaric and despicable than capitalism.

      Wow, revisionist history that barely conceals Nazi apologia! Impressive! Disgusting! Also total fucking horseshit!

      The central argument of today’s historical revisionism, which has seeped into and distorted the diffuse memory of the period, is that fascism
      was a wild, delirious response to the impending threat of Bolshevism.
      This contention is groundless.
      Fascism in Italy came into
      being around the theme of a ‘victory betrayed’ in the First World
      War, and its campaign of violence ‘against the Reds’ began when
      the factory occupations – a movement with no aspirations to
      revolution – were already over; when peasant revolts were rare
      and sporadic, the Socialist Party was in disarray and heading
      for repeated splits, and the trade unions were led by their most
      moderate wing. Fascism later secured funding from the employers and complicity from the Guardie Regie (founded in 1919 as a repressive state force), at a time when
      the Church had just signed a pact with the Liberals and, within the Catholic
      world, was keeping a watchful eye on Sturzo and his newly founded
      Partito Popolare Italiano. Fascism thus presented itself as a guarantee
      of order in the last instance. It eventually came to power in a non-emergency
      situation, by royal appointment and with the direct support of traditional
      conservative forces in parliament (even Giolitti2 and Croce at one moment), which thought they could make use of it for a while and then rein it in by restoring the previous
      oligarchic power structure.

      In Germany, National Socialism was a marginal and defeated
      force throughout the period when left-wing unrest was being suppressed
      in turns by Social Democrat governments, a rebuilt army
      and a decidedly conservative parliamentary majority. Its eventual
      growth occurred on a tide of resurgent nationalism, amid an
      economic crisis intensified by the persistence of war reparations.
      Anti-Semitism and the selective violence of the SA brownshirts
      received explicit support from high places. The Nazis therefore
      surprised everyone by winning 44 per cent of the vote in 1 932, but
      they were again on the wane in 1 93 3 . Hitler was appointed chancellor
      by President Hindenburg, with the complicity of Von Papen
      and Bruning and the decisive backing of the Prussian general staff.
      In Hungary, Horthy came to power when Bela Kun’s ‘Soviet republic’
      had already been crushed. And later, Franco launched a civil
      war in Spain against a duly elected moderate democratic government,
      while among the masses the anarchists carried rather more
      weight than the ‘Bolsheviki’.

      The Communists undoubtedly bore some responsibility in all
      these cases, because they failed to recognize the gravity of the situation
      and, with their theory of social fascism, impeded unity among
      the forces that could and should have fended off the danger. But the
      responsibility of the governing classes for the rise of fascism was
      much greater: they sowed the seeds, exacerbated the grievances
      that gave rise to it, and facilitated and legitimated fascist initiatives
      – not in order to confront a greater danger, but to preclude
      any future challenge to the social and imperial order. In any event,
      when the economic crisis was raging in the mid 1 930s, fascism was i
      already entrenched in much of Europe and showing clear signs of \ its authoritarian and aggressive proclivities. This was the darkest
      hour of the twentieth century, and both the extraordinary, positive
      rise of the Soviet Union and the possibility of its degeneration had
      their origins in it.

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    • Did you cut and paste that from a Komsomol junior-high term paper?

      … is that fascism was a wild, delirious response to the impending threat of Bolshevism.
      This contention is groundless. Fascism in Italy came into being around the theme of a ‘victory betrayed’ in the First World

      Bzzzt… Italy won the war, for those not paying attention. The Fascist party was not the Nazi party and they didn’t agree on much, though both drew heavily on Marxist revisionist thoughts circulating since the 1890’s. Mussolini’s break with the Italian Socialist party (which he wanted to lead) was that they remained internationalist, claiming the war was the fault of the aristocracy exploiting the working people and that the proletariat should avoid it. Mussolini (A socialist and former communist labor organizer) said the war as the spark that would trigger the proletarian revolution, and that Italy should embrace it. So he broke away from the old party line and took a lot of socialists with him.

      So, other than being ridiculously wrong even on basic facts like who won the previous war, the line breaks are a pain.

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    • Marx might be a poor fit for political dynamics, and he might be poor economics. Frankly, I agree. The dyed in the wool Marxists I know are difficult people to talk to, almost like talking to a religious zealot. And even the milder Marxists I find difficult to get along with because they adopt a moralism I find unappealing (although there’s a certain point at which the burden is on me to see things from others’ point of view).

      At the same time, to the extent that I understand Marx (and to be honest, I’ve read very little of him), he evinces a strong concern for the situation of those who benefit less from the advance of capitalism, and he offers a way to cut through a lot of the B.S. we see manifested in capitalist societies, where those who are in charge are in charge supposedly because they are better people, where a lot of the exhortations to such values as “good work ethic” actually act in service to the best advantaged people in society.

      That doesn’t mean Marx is right, and that certainly doesn’t mean that the neo-evangelists who start from the assumption that workers are presumptively right and virtuous and have an interest in common based principally on the fact that they’re workers are right, either. But there’s something more serious and more discussable in Marxism than there ever was in, say, fascism.

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  7. It’s kind of wacky how there is a variant of Marxism (surely not *TRUE* Marxism) that, more than once, ended up in a particularly bad place. More than twice or three times, even.

    Or would you say that calling Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, Pol Potism, Ilism, and so on a “Marxist Variant” somehow unfair to what Marx was trying to achieve?

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    • The question of how Casto measures up against Latin American capitalism isn’t as cut-and-dried a one as you make it out to be.

      Cuba under Castro has nothing that comes close to the human suffering under the Somoza and Duvalier regimes, or the death squads of the Guatemalan and El Salvadoran capitalist governments in the ’80s. In the present, Cuba is poor, but the health and education of the typical Cuban far, far exceeds that of the typical person in Guatemala or Honduras, much less, say, Haiti. Food is monotonous, but people do not starve. There are fewer wealthy or middle-class people than in other Latin American nations – but the poor are much better off, and the majority of the people in most Latin American nations are still poor.

      Average life expectancy in Cuba is 79; in Guatemala it is 71. In Cuba the average person receives 10 years of schooling; in Guatemala the average is 4 years. In Cuba 6 of every 1,000 children die before the age of five; in Guatemala, 32 do. And this is in a situation where the United States has done its utmost to strangle Cuban economic interaction with the rest of the world.

      If you want to attack the problems of communism in Cuba, address the suffering created by capitalism in the rest of the region.

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      • Well, to be fair, Castro only had to kill about 30,000 people because he could exile a million or so, who send back money, and the money is pure profit! In contrast, Castro’s opponents buried in mass graves aren’t generating any tourist revenue to speak of, and thus represent a clear economic error by the state.

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      • Is there data for what countries people compared Cuba to?

        I mean, if people compared Cuba to Chile or Mexico in 1960 and, today, we’re saying “look at how awesome Cuba is compared to Haiti”, I think we’d agree that there are shenanigans going on, no?

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      • Best economic data I can find: In 1950, Cuba ranked seventh in per capita GDP in (the 47 countries of) Latin America (and Caribbean)… in 2001, Cuba was the third poorest country in Latin America as measured by per capita GDP. Only Nicaragua and Haiti lower.[Workers’ Liberty]

        Which, in a way, makes its health statistics all the more impressive. (On the other hand, their health and literacy rates were good before Castro, also.)

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      • To be perfectly honest, I suspect that we will find that health and literacy data for Cuba has been passed through the hands of Official Censors before it made it to people who cite it positively… when people who aren’t Officials start measuring the health and literacy of Cubans.

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      • Right, Jaybird. That’s the question that immediately comes to mind whenever I see claims about the awesomeness of the Cuban health care system: Surely we’re not taking claims from a communist dictatorship at face value, so where do the numbers come from?

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      • Cuba under Castro has nothing that comes close to the human suffering under the Somoza and Duvalier regimes, or the death squads of the Guatemalan and El Salvadoran capitalist governments in the ’80s.

        Haiti is dirt poor even compared to Bolivia or Honduras;

        Nicaragua was, prior to 1975, quite the kleptocracy. It was a patrimonial authoritarian regime and not notably brutal with its populace (Somoza Sr disapproved of Rafael Trujillo, who was notably brutal), and opposition leaders from that era (e.g. Alfonso Robelo will happily tell you the country was more mildly governed prior to 1975 than it was after 1979). The ‘suffering’ was derived from low standards of living, which are fairly common-and-garden in this world.

        Guatemala and El Salvador were contending with internal insurrections during the period running from 1960 to 1996. So, yes, there is going to be a great deal more political violence in that circumstance than in other circumstances. The major problem in both countries over the last 20 years has not been military brutality, but street crime.

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      • Jaybird, Cuba was one of the most affluent and well-educated countries in Latin America before Castro took over. The only countries that were better off were Argentina, Chile and maybe Brazil.

        Not Brazil. The Southern Cone republics and perhaps some other loci like Panama or Costa Rica. Brazil has seen stupendous (though very maldistributed) economic development over the past 50 odd years. It was a poor country in 1960.

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      • I’m getting the statistics from the UN Development Program’s Human Development Indicators.

        It’s worth noting that you’re citing a site from from the School of Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

        And I think it’s entirely warranted, if you’re going to claim communism has utterly failed everywhere it was tried, to recognize that an abundance of countries have gotten significantly worse results from capitalism than Cuba has from communism, despite the fact – which you are all ignoring – that Cuba has been operating under an extremely extensive trade embargo. This difference should raise some questions about the ways in which capitalism has failed.

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      • And I think it’s entirely warranted, if you’re going to claim communism has utterly failed everywhere it was tried, to recognize that an abundance of countries have gotten significantly worse results from capitalism than Cuba has from communism,

        Which countries? If you define generic non-development as ‘worse results from capitalism’, yes. The problem is your definition.

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      • Suffering from widespread poverty and low living standards, Art Deco, is no less genuine and severe than suffering from political targeting – and is usually more widespread. The insurrections in Guatemala and El Salvador were because of revolutionary movements that emerged in response to this widespread suffering (and, in Guatemala, because the US overthrew a democratic government that tried to address and reduce that suffering); the governments responded with widespread murder and torture to defend the rule of the wealthy, and yet you don’t regard those abuses as a failing of capitalism. Communist Cuba is notable specifically because it succeeded in relieving poverty and suffering in comparison to many other Latin American countries.

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      • In Cuba the average person receives 10 years of schooling; in Guatemala the average is 4 years. In Cuba 6 of every 1,000 children die before the age of five; in Guatemala, 32 do.

        You measure performance in terms of inputs? Do I take it you are employed in the school apparat?

        While we are at it, one cannot help note your preferred comparison is with the country in Latin America that has long been about 5th from the bottom in terms of general affluence; had, prior to 1945, the least experience of any Latin American country with constitutional forms; had an absolutely horrific civil war; and suffers from some of the worst street crime in the world.

        Castro took a contextually prosperous country which had not been all that severely governed prior to 1959 (alternating periods of constitutional and caudillo rule, like Panama) and turned it into one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere and the most civically retrograde bar none. Are you sure this is a hill you want to die on?

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      • Suffering from widespread poverty and low living standards, Art Deco, is no less genuine and severe than suffering from political targeting – and is usually more widespread. The insurrections in Guatemala and El Salvador were because of revolutionary movements that emerged in response to this widespread suffering (and, in Guatemala, because the US overthrew a democratic government that tried to address and reduce that suffering); the governments responded with widespread murder and torture to defend the rule of the wealthy, and yet you don’t regard those abuses as a failing of capitalism. Communist Cuba is notable specifically because it succeeded in relieving poverty and suffering in comparison to many other Latin American countries.

        All of this is naive. Poverty is part of the human condition (and has not, in any case, been abolished or subject to generalized amelioration by Cuban communists). Even the most impressive experiences of economic development (e.g. South Korea’s) were played out over periods of five decades or more. And, of course, it is quite unremarkable for people to live at the level of their ancestors. Nothing inevitable about technological adaptation or refinements in the division of labor.

        Poverty is part of the human condition. Systemic abuse of the populace is not; it is a political choice.

        I am not sure how, in your mind, pre-modern economies with haphazard land tenure regimes got slapped with the term ‘capitalism’.

        Insurrections in Guatemala and El Salvador were the issue of members of the country’s intelligentsia who then recruited peasants and foreign subventions. Honduras was at least as impoverished and has no significant insurrection and Nicaragua had its own portfolio of quite local issues. Bolivia was at least as poor and had no insurrection.

        As for the Arevalo-Arbenz regime, it was more polyarchical than anything which came before, but it was more of a political machine state along the lines of the PRI in Mexico or Chavez in Venezuela than a competitive liberal-democratic political order. You recall how Jacobo Arbenz arrived at the presidential palace? Among other factors, his principal rival was murdered in 1949; so very convenient.The legitimated military regimes which followed it over the period running from 1958 to 1982 had at least as much public contestation.

        And, of course, Guatemala between 1954 and 1996 had its own internal political dynamic – one which was not an artifact of John Foster Dulles.

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      • I wonder how other countries that are officially boycotted and sanctioned by the most powerful economic actor in the world trend to fare, economically.

        It does not take fifty-odd years to develop new trading partners. About 80% of the world’s consumption occurs outside the United States and we tend to be more reliant on domestic markets than other affluent countries, so represent a smaller share of international trade flows.

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      • Katherine, my point in bringing it up is that Cuba went from being one of the most economically prosperous nations in the region to being one of the least. This isn’t about a country that didn’t ascend, but one that descended. It’s fair to blame the US for at least some of that, but even if you don’t trust those the University of Miami, they got their statistics from the UN. The things you seem to be pointing to as Castro successes appear to be areas where Cuba was already doing well before Castro.

        Again, you and Chris have a point about the US’s involvement in their fate, but you seem to be making comparisons that aren’t really comparable. It doesn’t appear to me that Cuba was comparable to those nations before the trajectories changed.

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      • I’m getting the statistics from the UN Development Program’s Human Development Indicators.

        Right, but where are they getting their numbers? It’s not clear to me how they could accurately estimate life expectancy in Cuba without relying at least in part on government statistics, but the government of Cuba obviously has incentives to lie.

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    • Or would you say that calling Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, Pol Potism, Ilism, and so on a “Marxist Variant” somehow unfair to what Marx was trying to achieve?

      I don’t think it’s unfair, necessarily. I’ll also cop to the fact that many Marxists who support revolution are very slippery with their terms, so that when something good happens from “Marxist” inspired movements or policies, then it’s “true Marxism,” and when something bad happens, then it’s the “well, if Trotsky had been in power instead of Stalin, that wouldn’t have happened” style of apologetics.

      But it is possible to adopt a Marxist, or “Marxian,” critique that doesn’t amount to supporting revolution and amounts to adopting and favoring policies designed principally to benefit workers as workers. So that someone might be a “Marxist” by some definition of the word and yet support what amounts to western Europe style social democracy. This type of critique focuses on workers and the working-class as an interest, and advancing that interest

      That may be good or bad depending on where you stand and how you measure good policy outcomes. That may be “true Marxism” or a bourgeois “corruption” of Marxism. But I also think it’s possible to go overboard looking at the bad outcomes and using it to dismiss a potentially good (or discussable) critique or basis of policy.

      I really don’t want to defend Marxism. I have a very hard time seeing the working class as an interest unto itself. And even putatively social democratic policies can have bad effects (depending on how they’re implemented, etc.), even though I tend to support them from a more “liberal” (non-Marxist) perspective.

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      • I have absolutely zero problem with “Here, let me give a Marxist criticism of capitalism”. You know what? I’m sure it’s a doozy. We may quibble over what Marx successfully foresaw and what he failed to foresee but, dang, he hit the nail on the head there, didn’t he?

        Why, it might even be fun to discuss whether a post-cash society results in even more alienation. (It’s not even money! It’s 1s and 0s! Mostly 0s.)

        It’s when in discussing the pathologies of the 20th century, the equivocations come out. I’m sure you don’t need me to list them… but my least favorite is the double-edged argument that Stalinism wasn’t really Marxism but, at the same time, the people who defended Stalinism during the time of Stalin needed to be understood as having reasons for having done so.

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      • I agree.

        I will, however, say that it’s important to understand the reasons why people embrace or justify or fail to call out atrocities likes Stalinism. Just like any good historian needs to understand where people were coming from. I don’t think we need to jump from there (as some Marxist/Stalinist apologists do) to justify their actions. I think most of the red contemporaries of Stalin were adopting a might-makes-right mentality that is the essence of what I consider unjust.

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      • Can we agree that those who talked about the Miracle of Chile can be accused of being either apologists for or ignorant of some pretty heinous policies?

        No we cannot. It depends on which source you consult, but the common enumeration of the regime’s casualties is around about 3,200, with scant exceptions killed prior to 1978. The regime also implemented an effective series of economic policies. Acknowledging one does not mean failure to acknowledge the other.

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      • This is from the wiki: “The regime was characterized by the systematic suppression of political parties and the persecution of dissidents to an extent that was unprecedented in the history of Chile. Scholars now consider it an example of a police state.” Oooh, there’s also a section on “Book burnings in Chile.”

        Now, I’m wondering why you think that the analogy is any good.

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      • Pinochet was not s libertarian, though he obviously shared some of their economic ideas. I wonder, though, where do we see something analogous to this — different social and political techniques, but similar economic ideas — and who gets blamed for what went wrong in those situations?

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      • You’re right, Mike, they weren’t.

        It’s rather appalling that, unlike you, so many liberals continue repeating the lie that they were. Such purveyors of falsehood and slander really ought to be be ashamed of themselves, don’t you agree?

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      • If by buddies you mean “he wrote him one letter on Friedman’s field of expertise”, then sure they were buddies.

        Friedman had a standing offer to all world leaders that, if they wanted it, he would offer them economic advice. That’s all he ever did for Pinochet.

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      • Well, the Soviet Union was inarguably the most powerful country on Earth that didn’t have toilet paper.

        I recall a story Gorbachev told about a disastrous propaganda campaign he aimed at Reagan, claiming that Reagan’s social cutbacks were forcing elderly Americans to eat cat food. Throughout the East Bloc the man-on-the-street reaction was “OMG! America is so rich they make special food just for cats!”

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      • I think the issue is the extent to which what you’re claiming is in fact true, and the extent to which you think certain aspects of your claim can be viewed as causally and conceptually independent. This stuff is complex, no?

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      • What do you think I’m arguing in this subthread George?

        You’ve only posted a few lines, and it’s not entirely clear what this whole subthread is even about. Pinochet with neither a Nazi nor a Marxist. He did face some Marxist opponents, but they disappeared.

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      • So, I just wanted to know whether you were actually arguing against anything I’ve written. Maybe you haven’t really been replying to me in your comments.That’s cool. Or maybe you’ve been doing a sorta freeform jazz thingy in this thread where you just throw stuff out there because it feels right. That’s cool too.

        Good to know either way!

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      • Nah, just messing around in this subthread.

        Somewhat similar to Pinochet, Bill Clinton actually ran a government surplus with a booming economy, yet according to US Census figures, around a hundred thousand pregnant teens disappeared under this eight year reign. Cute, eh?

        The main problem with Latin America is that it’s really neither capitalist nor communist, but more mercantilist in the style of the French in the 17th century, with powerful ruling families and business licenses granted with monopoly privileges.

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      • Just to be clear, I was arguing that Pinochetism isn’t Libertarianism in the same way that Stalinism isn’t Marxism.

        So if you blame the horrors of Stalinist Russia on Marxism (entirely or to some degree X), then you have to blame the horrors of Pinochet’s government on Libertarianism.

        Here is a decent piece:

        http://reason.com/archives/2012/07/17/the-mad-dream-of-a-libertarian-dictator

        Hitler, Pinochet, and Stalin all talked as if they accepted a certain theory of justice (and Hitler would change what theory he accepted for different crowds, though he was often anti-communist, which will cause George to troll) but when the chips were down they violated their own supposed commitments to that theory, not in somewhat compromising ways like Obama or Reagan, but in ways that killed lots and lots of people and oppressed more horribly.

        End of story.

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      • But people at the time, serious people, argued that Stalin’s form of governance *WAS* applied Marxism. This is something that happened.

        This is also not something that only the right-wing trolls who hated Stalin were saying. The people who held Marxism up as an ideal were saying this.

        This seems to me to be an important point.

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      • Serious people? That’s a canard. The first serious person to go to the Dark Side of Leninism was Trotsky, because everyone else was blethering on about Pie in the Sky. Lenin seized power because he was about the Here and Now. No dithering.

        It’s always about the Here and Now. Theory always takes a back seat to the exigencies of the present. Russia faced real enemies. If Stalin seized the reins of Leninism and people continued to make excuses for him, whatever else is true of them, they were not Serious. They were Pie in the Sky-ers, hoping and dreaming and wishin’ and sayin’ that Stalin’s excesses were temporary, that something good would come of it all.

        It is the hallmark of the Useful Idiot that he will take sides with Today’s Evil to achieve Tomorrow’s Dream.

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      • But people at the time, serious people, argued that Stalin’s form of governance *WAS* applied Marxism. This is something that happened.

        And there were people who argued that slavery was ordained by God. That is enough to dismiss religion once and for all.

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      • And there were people who argued that slavery was ordained by God. That is enough to dismiss religion once and for all.

        Perhaps, perhaps not.

        I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable saying “those people weren’t *REALLY* Christians”.

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      • So if you blame the horrors of Stalinist Russia on Marxism (entirely or to some degree X), then you have to blame the horrors of Pinochet’s government on Libertarianism.

        You know, if we were to take that and run with it, libertarianism would come out looking pretty damn good, comparatively speaking. Pinochet had a four-digit body count. He literally killed fewer people during the entire time he was in power than Mao killed on an average day. And he didn’t run the economy into the ground.

        Not saying he was a swell guy, but if that’s the worst-case scenario for libertarians gone wild…well…it beats the hell out of leftists gone wild.

        All that said, did Pinochet ever actually profess an affinity for libertarianism or anything like it? My (admittedly limited) understanding was that he was kind of a generic military dictator who fortunately happened to have some economic advisors who studied at the University Chicago.

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      • BB,

        Marx was more appealing to people so it was a more powerful tool for tryants looking to take power which they would then abuse. The same is true of democracy, not just Marxism.

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      • JB,

        So ift Nazis said that they were Capitalists or Christians, that would imply that Christianity or Capitalisn were the cause of Nazism?

        No.

        This whole debate is a mess of “poisoning the well” ad hominem arguments. Just stop.

        Marx got many things wrong, just like Smith, and Keynes, and Nozick. Pointing out those mistakes and arguing is interesting. The rest of the discussion about how Marx caused or didn’t cause Stalinism is a waste of our time.

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  8. Much of the problem with Marx stems from those who came after. Yes, Marx’ economics was wrong…but so were his ideas of “false consciousness”… those who came after told good stories, Althuser tells a good story re ISAs but he was wrong or I should say mostly…Gramsci tells a good story re hegemony but was wrong…turns out ideology isn’t total determinism and organic intellectuals are self interested…

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    • This argument is old. But, the reason why the New Philosophers came about in France was that much of the French intellectual establishment endorsed the regimes of Stalin or Mao. The fact is until 1974 when Solzhenitsyn made it much more difficult lots of French intellectuals either denied or justified the GULag. They were the Soviet equivalents of David Irving. You don’t need to engage with Marx’s writing at all to dismiss the idea of state socialism. Its practical record speaks for itself. In theory everything can be made to sound good including “separate development” (aka apartheid) or colonialism. But, we need to judge Marxist regimes on their actual record of rule the same way we judge Naziism. Sure go read Marx and use his theory to explain capitalism. However, as a model for reconstructing society Marx wrote very little and Lenin’s experiment was sufficiently horrible that yes it should be dismissed out of hand.

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    • “Gramsci tells a good story re hegemony but was wrong…turns out ideology isn’t total determinism and organic intellectuals are self interested…”

      I don’t think Gramsci actually argues that ideology is determinism (or else it wouldn’t be able to absorb and co-opt popular movements) or that organic intellectuals are disinterested (they’re self-interested, at least in principle, because they identify their own interests with the class from which they come).

      Full disclosure: I’ve never read Gramsci, although I’ve read a few works by historians who claim to write in the tradition of Gramsci. I also understand that Gramsci is one of those people so difficult to understand, his work admits of many disparate interpretations.

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  9. The reason Marxism continues to be a “respectable school of thought” is that it has intellectually stood the test of time.

    Swallowing my bile, I’ll just suggest some Zizek.

    http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?page_id=2939

    The name of the essay? “Stalin Applauded too”.

    Zizek makes the mistake of comparing Naziism as practiced with Communism as practiced, though, rather than the much more intellectually honest tactic of comparing Naziism as practiced with telling people that they should read Marx.

    Whoops, lost a little there.

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      • How certain are you that the Pol Pot’s and Stalin’s and Mao’s of the world would not, save for the existence of “Marxism,” have ridden the tide of popular discontent and implemented programmatic murders of supposed enemies of this tide

        I’m skeptical. I’m not prepared to say that the “ism” parts of those revolutions had absolutely no influence on how those revolutions were implemented or on the high number of murders. I do think that ism’s have, at least arguably, some influence in that regard. Still, I’m also inclined to see these ism’s as in large parts excuses for these leaders.

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      • The philosophy that subsumes the individual at the expense of the group will always find it easier to sacrifice individuals than change.

        Excuses like “wrecking” or “limiting” will always bubble up for why the cargo cult just ain’t resulting in planes flying in.

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      • Part of the point, of course, is that capitalism sacrifices individuals in the name of progress, too, and in fact as a basic part of its structure, it’s just that it is not possible (perhaps ironically) to pin the losses on one individual or small set of them.

        How many people died building the railroads across the areas from the Mississippi River to California and Oregon? How many Native Americans were displaced? How many Africans enslaved as the market economy became ascendant in the U.S. and Western Europe? And so on? But you can’t pin this in a person, and all you have to do in order to show that this is not what libertarians believe is what? Suggest reading some libertarians?

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      • “Part of the point, of course, is that capitalism sacrifices individuals in the name of progress, too, and in fact as a basic part of its structure..”

        Free markets by definition do not allow coercive acts against others. Therefore we are talking about a different kind of sacrifice. In statist models the term is used to discuss imprisonment, enslavement, physically preventing someone from doing a mutually voluntary act, shooting, and hanging. In markets the “sacrifice” is allowing someone to fail through a lack of anyone wanting to cooperate with them. Not hiring them, not buying from them, not investing in them.

        There are major differences between coercive harm and the indirect harm of not being chosen to play in a mutually voluntary positive sum game. That said, experience shows markets need safety nets for those unable to attain the gains coming from voluntary cooperation.

        Agreed?

        “How many people died building the railroads across the areas from the Mississippi River to California and Oregon? How many Native Americans were displaced? How many Africans enslaved as the market economy became ascendant in the U.S. and Western Europe?”

        Enslavement, forced labor, steeling land from natives and such are not examples of free markets. They are examples of non market activity by definition. In no cases are these mutually consensual activities. Do you not get the distinction or are you peddling some rhetorical trick?

        Perhaps you think markets depend upon some kind of background level of coercive exploitation to thrive. If so, please say so and those of the non left will easily dispose of this nonsense as well.

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      • If you mean that technological innovations vitiate the value of some people’s skills or changes in cost structures are disadvantageous to people living in particular locales, yes that happens. Your alternative is what, adding provisions to the penal code debarring anyone from using the technology or from closing their business? You injure someone doing that as well.

        Policy decisions which lead to widespread manufactured famine seem a qualitatively different phenomenon.

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      • Roger, if you realize how much you sound like the apologists for Marxism when confronted with Stalinism or Maoism, then my work is done here.

        The problem, pace Jaybird, is not collectivism vs individualism, but materialism. Both communism and capitalism put material ends above individual humans, even individual groups of humans. This leads to dehumanization.

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      • Chris, that’s exactly what the Nazis said, over and over. The capitalists and the Bolsheviks were greedy, predatory materialists.

        Yet the Nazis, instead of promoting individualism, promoted the idea of selflessness and sacrifice to advance the socialist state, and from there drifted even further into the weeds growing on the outskirts of crazy town.

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      • The philosophy that subsumes the individual at the expense of the group will always find it easier to sacrifice individuals than change.

        As I said, I’m open to the argument. I do get really skeptical, however, when all sorts of causality are attributed to ism’s. In my ever more crotchedy middle age, I’m coming more and more to believe that people do bad things because they choose to. That’s not to say that choices can’t be/aren’t constrained by numerous contingencies or developments outside, or only partially within, a person’s control. Just that, I attribute more agency than I used to.

        As for this:

        Excuses like “wrecking” or “limiting” will always bubble up for why the cargo cult just ain’t resulting in planes flying in.

        That’s true, but it can be applied to almost anything, including the supposed promise of free(r) markets or the supposed promise of individual liberty and democracy. Not that I don’t generally support those, just that a lot of mischief can be done regardless of what ism we invoke. Of course, the mischief of a “first, do no harm” mentality is likelier less onerous than a “let’s remake society” mentality. But it’s useful to remember that sometimes the latter lurks behind plans done in the name of the former.

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  10. I liked this post. I knew it would drive George nuts because he seems to accept this new right wing myth about the Nazis being leftists.

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      • maybe liberals are tired of the 30 year campaign to make the word liberal=evil,america-hating commie. but thats just why i think making the nazi=leftist argument is dumb. plus its not based in reality.

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  11. The reason Marxism continues to be a “respectable school of thought” is that it has intellectually stood the test of time. No philosophy lasts without being argued with and criticized, but Marxism offered something that has proved unceasingly prescient over the past century and a half. The economic destruction and dehumanization wrought by capital is a more pressing global subject than ever, unlike, say, the self-assertion of the German spirit

    No, the reason it stands the test of time is that in the social organism of sociology departments, people can write tripe like this and not be laughed at.

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  12. Marxism was only one of many scathing critiques of mid-19th Century capitalism. Read Dickens, and you can’t help but notice that he offers a lot of the same observations, although draped in a narrative form.
    William Morris and John Ruskin did the same, except from the standpoint of art ctiricism.

    From the other side of the coin, there were plenty of breathless utopian claims of what the combination of unfettered capitalism and technology would bring. Its hard not to notice the similarities between the Futurist gibberish of the 1920’s, with some of the Silicon Valley techno-utopias.

    Remember how the Internet was going to undermine oppression, and was impossible for government to control? Can anyone even say that now, without laughing?

    What makes Marx’s (and Dickens et al) critiques prescient is that they saw how the combination of technology and capital can just as easily enslave people as free them.

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  13. Here’s my theory regarding communism. Its economic analysis and predictions had some errors (such as predicting that revolution required an industrial rather than agrarian economy, whereas the opposite was true of almost every state-level attempt at communism) and also some accurate analysis and predictions.

    The source of its major failures, though, was not its economic analysis, but its understanding of human nature: namely, the idea that people are inherently good and it is only social and economic structures that corrupt them. If all/most people were basically good and willing to work for the well-being of others without concern for their own gain or for retaining power, then communism would work. However, people are not inherently good; we live in a fallen world where our basic inclinations are towards evil and selfishness.

    The concepts of capitalism (and of Montesquieu-style or American-style democracy) are the converse: they assume that people are basically selfish, and seek to harness people’s negative qualities. Capitalism works on the belief that selfishness and greed can be harnessed in such a way that people’s seeking after economic gain can benefit other people as well as themselves. Montesquieu-style democracy assumes that people in power will always seek more power, and creates three opposing branches of government so that the self-interest of each can prevent the others from bending the balance of power too much towards itself (this does not appear, btw, to be currently working with regard to Congress, which is actively asking the executive branch to assume more power).

    The moral problem with capitalism is that, in addition to harnessing greed and overconsumption, it actively encourages them; even granted that the world is a fallen place and humanity has bad instincts, an economic system that incentives our worst inclinations is not greatly desirable. (The places where our bad instincts produce bad results are what economists refer to as “market failures”.) This problem is why the late 19th century saw many, many utopian experiments and utopian writings focused on creating a social and economic system that encouraged rather than suppressed our better natures. It’s only more recently that people have advanced the perverse conclusion that selfishness and materialism are virtues and that capitalism is therefore flawless and without need of remediation.

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    • Its failures were derived from the idea that central planning bureaux could improve on distributed information. Its horrors were derived from its practice of jailing, dispossessing, and murdering anyone who stood in the way of its officialdom.

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      • There’s a few main ideas behind my concept of overconsumption.

        Overconsumption is consuming beyond what we need for reasonable comfort and a sense of economic security, particularly when such consumption:

        1) Is not sustainable (e.g., the cod fisheries in Atlantic North America); and/or
        2) Prevents attention to spiritual needs and family/community/positive interactions with others; and/or
        3) Gives precedence to luxuries for those who are already well-off over necessities for people who lack food, housing, clothing, health care, clean water, and other necessities of life.

        All three are major problems of capitalism, although my main interest is in the third. An economic system that provides million-dollar dresses, thousand-dollar handbags, and thousand-dollar gourmet meals to the rich, but sees millions die from want of necessities has failed in some vital way.

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      • Its not hard to arrive at a consensus on how much consumption is harmful; but to actually do something about it requires intervention in the market, and placing the good of the community over the good of the individual.

        A bitter pill for some to swallow.

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    • “The moral problem with capitalism is that, in addition to harnessing greed and overconsumption, it actively encourages them; even granted that the world is a fallen place and humanity has bad instincts, an economic system that incentives our worst inclinations is not greatly desirable. ”

      Adam Smith was a moral philosopher. The insight, to spell it out, is that self focused action can be harnessed for the greater good. Do you really not see this, Katherine?

      As an example, through proper institutional rules, you can create entertainment in sports by encouraging the two teams and players to simply try to win. The rules and dynamic are to channel competition into constructive entertainment. The players don’t need to try to entertain, they just try to win. Self focused action harnessed into a greater good.

      Science does something similar. If you have some romantic notion of scientists being selfless individuals dedicating their lives to human progress then you are wrong. The institution is set up so that personal fame and prestige comes from publishing facts, proposing theories and finding weaknesses in others facts and theories. It is a big, competitive cooperative game with institutional rules designed to harness self focused actions into a greater good (knowledge).

      Does this make sense, Katherine? The point is that if the institution is set up properly, the effects of greed and over consumption are harnessed into the further advancement of humanity. To make a billion dollars within the rules you need to do a hell of a lot of good. To become a famous scientist you need to make some profound advancement in knowledge. To be a famous player you need to offer incredible entertainment to fans.

      “It’s only more recently that people have advanced the perverse conclusion that selfishness and materialism are virtues…”

      I suspect you do not yet grasp the concept of constructive competition. Once you do, a lightbulb will go off and you will get why you are so much better off than your ancestors. It is worth the effort.

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      • The insight, to spell it out, is that self focused action can be harnessed for the greater good.
        That’s what I said, although I phrased it differently. Capitalism harnesses people’s desire for gain in such a way as to use it to provide benefit for others. However, it also encourages selfishness – and many of the selfish actions incentivized by capitalism harm others, and do not end up benefitting them.

        Science does something similar. If you have some romantic notion of scientists being selfless individuals dedicating their lives to human progress then you are wrong. The institution is set up so that personal fame and prestige comes from publishing facts, proposing theories and finding weaknesses in others facts and theories. It is a big, competitive cooperative game with institutional rules designed to harness self focused actions into a greater good (knowledge).

        Yes. And this is superior to capitalism’s harnessing the desire for gain because there is not a finite amount of prestige – there’s always some more left over for someone who makes another scientific advance. It’s still fallible – the search for a scientific understanding of the cause of HIV was impeded by the unwillingness of research teams to share information because each wanted the credit all to themselves – but it’s better than the market. This was the idea a lot of the 19th-century utopias operated on: that you could get the results of capitalism without the associated greed and acquisitiveness by having the admiration and respect of the community replace wealth as the incentive to work.

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      • The point is that if the institution is set up properly, the effects of greed and over consumption are harnessed into the further advancement of humanity.

        I don’t think Katherine is denying the conditional, Roger. Why would you assume she denies it? (Of course, she in fact may deny it, but nothing she’s written in this comment suggest she does.) She’s merely pointing out something that ought to be uncontroversial: that institutional structures and social norms that incentivize greed as an end in itself can lead to bad outcomes. Personally, I don’t know why you’d object to this since your comment specifically talks about limiting the expression of greed to positive sum outcomes. Or in other words, you’re effectively agreeing with her moral critique of capitalism.

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      • I am not exactly sure why, when KatherineMW sees a local businessman, they all resemble Ivan Boesky.

        Something that Stanley Rothman discovered twenty odd years ago in collaboration with others administering tests to those in various occupational groups: corporation executives tend to score well on scales that aspire to measure achievement motivation; journalists score well on scales meant to measure power motivation.

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      • Katherine, the 19th century utopias should’ve showed everyone that the socialist experiments would just produce misery, starvation, and mass graves. They were all abysmal failures.

        As one early American utopian experimental subject wrote in her diary, ‘the crops are rotting in the fields, the pigs are running loose, and all the men are doing is standing around accusing each other of not working.’ None of the utopian experiments lasted much more than three years before dissolving in bitter acrimony, vicious hatred, and disaster.

        Unfortunately, not wanting to admit how horribly wrong the experiments had turned out, the experimenters told their European sponsors stories of glowing success. Those blatant falsehoods convinced Engels that perhaps socialism really could work in practice. It didn’t. It never did. Even the kibbutzes, perhaps the purest attempt at implementing a utopian commune, have been abandoned, with the last few hoping to survive simply as tourist attractions.

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      • I am not exactly sure why, when KatherineMW sees a local businessman, they all resemble Ivan Boesky.

        Wait. Weren’t you just two minutes ago criticizing someone for doing exactly what you did here?

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      • I am in agreement with you that “self focused action can be harnessed for the greater good.”

        In order for any of this to make sense, though, we need to define what we mean-

        Is there such thing as the “greater good”? As a libertarian might ask, who gets to define it? What happens to those who refute it?

        Once we settle on a shared idea of the “common good”, we need to decide how to costruct a political and economic system that supports it by devising “harnesses”.

        What are examples of the “harness” that controls the self-interest?

        I would offer that religious precepts against excessive greed are one form of harness, the concept of all of humanity as a single family deserving of care and support is another.

        Labor unions and progressive taxation are other forms of harness.

        See, Roger, your posts are a bit confusing- you trumpet “free markets” then swiftly acknowledge they alone are insuffient, and you readily acknowledge that they need to be “harnessed” and of course you acknowledge the need for distortions like regulation and social safety nets.
        But you adamantly insist that markets are the solution.
        Ok, fine, if by “markets” you mean “markets plus all the other distortions and restrictions on the free exchange of the factors of production.”

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      • “Capitalism harnesses people’s desire for gain in such a way as to use it to provide benefit for others. However, it also encourages selfishness – and many of the selfish actions incentivized by capitalism harm others, and do not end up benefitting them.”

        Please explain. One is not allowed to directly harm another except that harm which comes by not choosing to cooperate with them. This creates an arms race to cooperate better. Are you suggesting capitalism leads to some other harm?

        “[science] is superior to capitalism’s harnessing the desire for gain because there is not a finite amount of prestige – there’s always some more left over for someone who makes another scientific advance.”

        Actually some argue the exact opposite, that positional goods such as status are relative and thus more zero sum, but I digress. Are you assuming there is a finite amount of utility? I disagree. There is a finite amount of energy in the universe, but not a finite bound to utility, and that is the real goal of markets.

        Perhaps your issue is the you see run away materialism as leading to resource depletion?? This is usually solved in markets through property rights. I certainly think we should solve problems with over-fishing with property rights or some of Lin Ostrom’s ideas on managing common pool resources.

        ” This was the idea a lot of the 19th-century utopias operated on: that you could get the results of capitalism without the associated greed and acquisitiveness by having the admiration and respect of the community replace wealth as the incentive to work.”

        These do not scale well. Indeed they tend to scale disastrously and even horrifically. Are you suggesting you know how to scale up admiration and respect into something superior to markets? Please do explain, especially how you solve the problems of free riding, differing values and perspectives and the knowledge problem of coordinating trillions of actions.

        Or are you just suggesting we revert back to a smaller number of smaller self contained communities? If so, what do we do with the other 6 billion people?

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      • ” She’s merely pointing out something that ought to be uncontroversial: that institutional structures and social norms that incentivize greed as an end in itself can lead to bad outcomes. Personally, I don’t know why you’d object to this since your comment specifically talks about limiting the expression of greed to positive sum outcomes. Or in other words, you’re effectively agreeing with her moral critique of capitalism.”

        But I clarified that free markets expressly must prohibit greed used in non positive sum ways. Markets allow private solo action which serves the actor but harms nobody. Markets allow multi party interactions only when all parties agree voluntarily to the interaction. Thus the expectation is that all parties gain relative to not interacting.

        This is not a moral critique of free markets. It is a moral critique of state action and crony capitalism. If you believe it is a moral critique of markets, then I question whether we are defining free markets the same way.

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      • then I question whether we are defining free markets the same way.

        Roger, I’ve made it abundantly clear that we do define free markets in different ways. For me, a market is simply the place where buyers meet sellers. For you, it includes a bunch of idealized conditions and normative properties that a) aren’t part of the normal concept of markets, and b) begs the question against anyone who disagrees with you about empirical as well as ideological issues. In fact, the way you’ve defined many of these terms (including capitalism I might add) makes disagreement with you impossible, since your definitions logically entail your conclusions. I’ve said all this stuff before, tho, and don’t really want to go over it again.

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      • Well, go back to thinking of capitalism as a really productive game, with rules that make it work well.

        Not every self-interested action is allowed as part of the game, such as breaking your opponents kneecaps or bashing his head in and stealing his stuff.

        Greed isn’t the problem, otherwise athletes and Hollywood celebrities would be pariahs. Nor are the ends necessarily a problem, since when a person builds a massive industry out of nothing we don’t often complain about it. Indeed, we buy and Apple and hop on the Internet in celebration. Breaking the rules as the means to those ends is a definite problem (like sabotaging the competitor’s products, or setting up some cruel form of labor arrangement to trap people into servitude instead of letting them found their own Internet startups).

        Some of the other rules are that you don’t leave the athletes dead on the field, you can’t shoot team members in the head for not working, you can only bench them or fire them. You can’t shoot anyone on the opposing team or destroy their equipment. You can, of course, offer to buy out their contracts.

        We debate both the rules and how we should run the league, such as requiring pensions for all the players, or agreeing to have the league or teams cover the health costs of on-the-field injuries (workman’s comp).

        What this does is create a very interesting game called “production”. If you want more stuff, make more stuff. If you have a house and want two houses, build a second house. If you’re not good at carpentry but make excellent clay pots, make lots of pots and trade them to a carpenter. But if the carpenter only wants three pots, you have to sell your pots to lots of other people who in turn trade you stuff that the carpenter wants. If you’re not good at making something, but excel at arranging deals between buyers and sellers, do that instead, taking a small percentage for yourself. The more stuff you make, the more stuff you have. If you instead focus on making better stuff instead of more stuff, you end up with better stuff. The extra stuff and better stuff is a reward for making more and better stuff. As more and more people play the game, stuff piles up, often in enormous quantities. We call those societies “rich.”

        Eventually hauling all this stuff around becomes burdensome in itself, so we invented currency as a way to keep track of things and abstract the required trades with a simple value counter. We develop both rules and techniques to better manage the production of stuff and the trading of stuff, while also getting better at keeping people from cheating at the game, because cheating doesn’t lead to more and better stuff, it mostly just leads to more cheating.

        In contrast to this “production” game are the redistributionist philosophies that argue that there’s an unfair distribution of stuff, which is an inevitable outcome of a game where some are really able or motivated at making stuff, and some less so. And of course some don’t even want to play the stuff game, or can’t because of injury.

        The problem with the redistribution game is that it involves wandering around to all the people with lots of stuff and just laying claim to all or part of it, justifying the theft by arguing that some people don’t have much stuff and could better use it than the guy who’s up to his ears in all the stuff he’s built.

        Often the claim doesn’t work because everybody else sees the demand and thinks “Holy s***, that ***** is going to steal all our stuff, too, if we don’t put a stop to it.” Sometimes the claim does work because the redistributionist is a really, really good speaker, or the people without stuff are really desperate, numerous, and despise the people with lots of extra stuff. In that case they just loot through force of arms or numbers, writing new rules to cover the expropriation. A new model of social production (or non-production) takes hold.

        The problem comes when the people who were producing lots of stuff get pissed off. They realize that no matter how much or how little stuff they make, somebody is going to show up and take it from them. This creates a profound disincentive to making more stuff. Many of them just up and leave. Some of their little shops and mills are taken over by other people, but those people soon realize that the stuff they make gets taken away just like the previous proprieter faced, and they kind of give up, too.

        So the supply of stuff starts to dry up. As it does, the redistributionist leader ends up with less and less to redistribute. This makes the people who wanted free stuff even more desperate, because they’re soon trying to survive the massive stuff shortage. So they give the redistributionist even more confiscatory powers to claim more stuff for them, and denounce hoarders and stuff stockpilers ever more viciously, thinking that all that stuff the remember has to be going somewhere, since they’re not getting any of it. The redistributionist is given more and more powers and responsibilities because stuff is becoming more precious through its increasing rarity.

        The redistributionist then points out that there’s no stuff because nobody is making any, and that the situation will be rectified by forcing everyone to make stuff. And so they do. But everyone makes as little stuff as possible, just enough to avoid the lash, because they don’t get to keep any of it and get the same amount of stuff whether they make anything or not.

        Eventually the whole redistributionist scheme collapses in chaos, and then one day some people notice that the guy who makes pots had made an unbelievable amount of pots. He says he’ll give them some pots if they’ll build him a second house, and they think “that sounds fair. We’ll do that.” And so it all begins again, and then they have to reinvent the complex rules that guarded everyone’s stuff and created all the incentives for everyone to produce as much stuff as possible.

        Under the best set of rules yet devised for that game, “capital” is the shared knowledge or piece of paper that represents ownership of a nice piece of stuff, stuff that other people might want, backed by rules that cover the transfer of stuff between players.

        Adam Smith and other economists like Marx wrestled with what capital was, but they never quite figured out that it was just a concept of an association between people and stuff, and not something like a brick building or a milling machine.

        Without that association, and the set of rules governing how you can and can’t acquire stuff from somebody else, capitalism doesn’t really exist.

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      • Good push back, LWA

        “I am in agreement with you that “self focused action can be harnessed for the greater good.” In order for any of this to make sense, though, we need to define what we mean- Is there such thing as the “greater good”? As a libertarian might ask, who gets to define it? What happens to those who refute it?”

        The party or parties acting or interacting get to define it. Markets create a positive sum game which allow anyone who enters the game to benefit. It works by cumulatively growing in positive sum events. Trillions of them per day add up to extremely large amounts of good distributed widely and unevenly among players. Nobody needs to agree what good is. Indeed markets actually thrive on people having different values… You prefer an IPad, and Apple prefers your money. Win win with no agreement on the common good. 

        “Once we settle on a shared idea of the “common good”, we need to decide how to costruct a political and economic system that supports it by devising “harnesses”.”

        Wrong. The benefit of markets comes greatly because nobody has to agree what X is. Only the actor or actors have to agree to interact.  You really need to read Hayek’s writings on the role of knowledge in society. 

        We do need to agree or at least settle upon the harnesses. This comes about greatly via institutional evolution and competition.  Again, Hayek is the place to start at exploring why and how.

        “What are examples of the “harness” that controls the self-interest?”

        The evolved institutional harnesses which developed before anyone even understood them (market activity preceded Smith) include the conventions known as property, contract law, the rule of law, and belief in individual freedom. See the British and Scottish wings of the Enlightenment.  There is no transcendent right to do as you please as long as others are not harmed. People learned over time that this convention leads to good results for all concerned compared to the alternatives. It is the kind of rule of thumb that is wisely chosen behind a veil.  

        “I would offer that religious precepts against excessive greed are one form of harness, the concept of all of humanity as a single family deserving of care and support is another. Labor unions and progressive taxation are other forms of harness.”

        I do not completely disagree, though I am sure I will if we get into details. Labor unions which use coercion (most do), are acts of coercive privilege which interfere with free markets and thus reduce utility via monopoly privilege. It is simply a case of you choosing preferred groups and stacking markets in favor of those you approve of against those you do not. Bad form. 

        I am sorry You do not like that I argue not just for markets but markets embedded in a larger social structure of norms and institutions. That is what I believe, and libertarians can feel free to disagree with me. However, I am not picking and choosing winners and losers in markets. I am recommending a set of relatively simple rules which restrict players to moves which are mutually or universally voluntary. I can go into details on the history of how we discovered markets, how the enlightenment thinkers clarified how they work and economists built upon these insights.

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      • So the “common good” is defined only by those individuals who are engaged?

        So there are millions of individual “common goods” each defined separately by those actors engaged with each other.

        What makes it “common” as opposed to “individual”?

        George-

        “when a person builds a massive industry out of nothing ”

        Objection- facts not in evidence. Citation, please.

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      • “So there are millions of individual “common goods” each defined separately by those actors engaged with each other. What makes it “common” as opposed to “individual”?”

        Let’s just agree to call it “cumulative good.” aka widespread human prosperity.

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      • Which is exactly where we started- you are defining “common good” as prosperity.

        Why does your definition get privileged? Suppose I define “common good” or “prosperity” a different way?

        What you seem to be doing is trying to refute the Social Contract theory of the legitimacy of coercive state power to enforce social norms.

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      • LWA, for evidence, look around your room. Nothing in it probably existed fifty years ago. In many cases the companies on the labels didn’t, either. This history of radio and electronics is almost entirely one of someone coming up with a brilliant insight or device and creating an industry out of it. Some of these industries were booming even before production moved out of the inventor’s garage.

        Some of these inventions obliterated entire occupational sectors, like Michael Owens’ glass-blowing machine, the biggest advance in making glass containers in 2,000 years, which pretty much wiped out commercial glass blowing as an occupation and was credited with doing more to eliminate child labor than all government efforts combined. The machine was like going from a matchlock musket to an electric powered mini-gun. It’s why bottles are ubiquitous worldwide instead of cherished craft items.

        Similarly, the canning industry used to require enormous numbers of tin smiths, who carefully shaped and soldered each can, so canned food was reserved for military expeditions or luxury items. Then a guy invented the automatic can making machine and that was that.

        One of the problems with socialism is that it spends all its time focused on people’s time cards and company organizational charts. “Is that too much to pay this kind of supervisor? What if we upped the wages of these folks by that amount?” They’re somehow convinced that if they get the formula for hours and wages just right, utopia will follow, without even wondering what the factory actually makes.

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      • Please explain. One is not allowed to directly harm another except that harm which comes by not choosing to cooperate with them. This creates an arms race to cooperate better. Are you suggesting capitalism leads to some other harm?

        How is one “not allowed”? Do you mean in theoretical terms?

        In fact, there are many ways in which the framework of capitalism not only allows but encourages harm to others. If one or a few companies can dominate the market for a vital product, they can increase their profits by keeping its price high. Companies can increase their profits by accepting a loss in order to undersell competitors in the short time, in order to gain market dominance in the long term (Wal-Mart does this regularly).

        In the third world, things are even worse. Employers take advantage of people’s need by having them work in dangerous and unhealthy environments that cause their employees serious injuries or death in the long term, conditions which the employees may well have been unaware of when they chose to work here. Mining and other resource extraction companies set up their extraction operations without the consent of local communities, pollute and tear up the surrounding area, and leave the people of those areas with a toxic environment and with their former means of supporting themselves destroyed. Companies can make more money if their employees don’t unionize, so they murder people who try to organize unions.

        Moreover, there’s the problem of a lot of property rights having illegitimate sources in the first place. If a person or a company was given land by a colonial government that expelled the former users of that land, how can that right be considered legitimate? If a company claims control of land that has been long used, cultivated, or inhabited by other people but that lack formal documents stating their property rights, what makes its claim more legitimate than theirs?

        Are you assuming there is a finite amount of utility? I disagree. There is a finite amount of energy in the universe, but not a finite bound to utility, and that is the real goal of markets.

        There’s a finite amount of resources. Capitalism leads to the depletion of many of these resources. Oil is one of the ones of major concern at present, and there’s certainly a market in it.

        Land is another; I’ll provide an example of how capitalism leads to inefficient use of land. Say real estate prices are very high at one time in area surrounding a city, but that land is also some of the most productive farmland in a region. The land is used to build additional houses/apartments/businesses, because that’s the most lucrative use of it. This use of the land degrades its quality as farmland. Then, in the future, the region experiences a need for more farmland: they have to choose invest large amounts of money to render inferior land productive, because the good land has all been used up.

        In order to prevent this, one can have government regulate that land above a certain level of agricultural quality is restricted for agriculture, and that residential/commercial/industrial development can be done on the land that is less useful for agriculture. This ensures that the land is reserved for the purpose in which it has, in the long term, a comparative advantage. This consideration is why BC has the Agricultural Land Reserve.

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      • Roger –

        Additionally, if you want a broader example of how capitalism is failing, look at this:

        http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/09/employment-down-profits-up-the-aftermath-of-the-financial-crisis-in-1-graph/279671/

        We’ve faced a recession created by runaway capitalism – the creation of new types of ways to invest that disguise the actual worth of what people are investing in, and overstretch by the banks (having too much money in investments, and too little in savings) that led to the government having to bail them out to prevent an all-out financial collapse.

        In the aftermath of that, financial and corporate profits are way up. Unemployment is also up. The growth we’ve seen following the recession hasn’t benefitted the general public; it’s benefitted a small number of corporate and bank managers and wealthy shareholders.

        In fact, all the growth we’ve seen since the 1980s has benefitted only a very small segment of the American and Canadian public. The median income (i.e.: 50% of people make more than the median, 50% make less) has seen little or no rise in the last three decades (http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/02/04/the-vanishing-middle-ground/). The average income has risen greatly. That’s the perfect indication of a system where great wealth is being accrued by the wealthy, but the condition of the typical person is stagnant or deteriorating. Notably, this state of affairs dates from the implementation of right-wing economic policies in the 1980s.

        So the idea that capitalism is benefitting everyone? Doesn’t hold up.

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      • Well, I admit that some people see rising average income as a problem, and of course the liberals have a solution. Decrease the creation of wealth and add about 20 million illegal immigrants at the bottom to shift the mean. Problem solved!

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      • Less snarkily, I think it’s meaningful to compare what Capitalism (without much Libertarianism, might I add) has done with China’s average person to what Mao did with China’s average person.

        It seems to me that tens of millions were lifted from making a pittance a day to something approaching a middle class existence via Capitalism. Mao? His governance had an effect upon tens of millions as well. They’re still finding them.

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      • Adam Smith and other economists like Marx wrestled with what capital was, but they never quite figured out that it was just a concept of an association between people and stuff, and not something like a brick building or a milling machine.

        You haven’t figured out what capital is. Capital is the difference between the worth of your possessions and how much money you owe. Capitalism is not Stuff. Any further discussion is pointless until you come to some understanding of the power of money. Stuff is irrelevant.

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      • I think it’s meaningful to compare what Capitalism (without much Libertarianism, might I add) has done with China’s average person to what Mao did with China’s average person.

        Who’s arguing in favor of Mao? Katherine? Me? LWA?

        Of course, in a binary framework if you criticize capitalism in any way whatsoever – or more interestingly, criticize certain people’s conceptions of capitalism – you’re opposed to it!

        If you’re not with us you’re against, right?

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      • How do you know they’re my possessions? The car could belong to my housemate. The house might not be mine. How do I prove I own what I possess? What makes my car or house capital, a seizable asset that I can use as collateral, as opposed to just a means of transportation and a place to sleep?

        In much of the third world, where property ownership is iffy, people have houses and cars but they aren’t capital because they can’t be used in the marketplace as leverage. Figuring out why this is so gets down to deeds and car titles and how those instruments work within a system that recognizes them. Without those legal instruments, all the houses might as well be someone else’s and all the cars might as well be stolen.

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      • Capital is the difference between the worth of your possessions and how much money you owe.

        I’m not sure about that Blaise. Granted, I haven’t read all the Important Figures on this topic, but I think the conventional definition of “capitalism” is something very similar to Marx’ definition: private ownership of the means of production.

        Sure, there’s a limiting case in which the definition is extended to exclude private ownership of anything, but that’s sorta a caricature anymore. Extending it the other way, where capitalism requires a monetary system seems like a confusion to me.

        But maybe I’m confused.

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      • If we’re arguing that Capitalism ain’t all it’s cracked up to be (and, sure, let’s argue that!), it’s useful to sometimes see exactly what we’re comparing it *TO*.

        China gives us an opportunity to compare something close to apples to apples with what happened from the 50’s through the 80’s to the 90’s through about nowish. Same country, mostly same culture, different policies.

        If we want to argue that Capitalism doesn’t improve the lives of everyone, and, hey! It sure as hell hasn’t!, it also seems interesting to compare, say, West Germany to East Germany. Same country, kinda, originally with mostly the same culture… and we held them up side to side.

        Useful comparison?

        If we’re complaining about Capitalism being a cruddy system… that’s great. Can we compare cruddy apples to the cream of the crop? Because it seems important to do more than just point at apples and express disappointment at their quality.

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      • Stillwater, until sometime in the 1990’s nobody had a better definition, or a clearly better definition, yet capital is not just the means of production. The collateral backing most US small business startups is personal real-estate, which here is capital.

        The same problem would apply to the means of production. Without all those asset tags and accounting books, how could you estimate the worth of the “means of production” of something like a GE aircraft engine plant? How many of the tools were owned by the GE plant, how many were just on loan from a different division, and how many were borrowed, rented, or belonged to contractors? How many of the hand tools belonged to GE and how many were just rolled in by the people working in the plant? Does GE own the building or do they just lease it?

        If you can’t definitively answer these questions, you can’t even hazard a guess on the plant’s worth. It might be ten billion dollars, or it might be a shell facility with no assets at all, as if a bunch of people and equipment not owned by GE showed up at the same site out of convenience.

        Think of it as a high stakes poker game. Somebody might offer to put up their house, car, or their jet engine factory. Before you call and raise, you’ll have to make sure that they’re not just betting with stuff they don’t really own and which you can’t really take.

        Americans have had a working system of capital for so long that they take it for granted and don’t think about it all that often. But in other parts of the world you can find that ownership is a very nebulous concept when you actually show up and try to claim something based on a debt. It will turn out that the person who owes you didn’t actually own anything. Everything was his cousin’s, his brother’s, or belonged to the village, or was held by a string of companies to complicated to unravel. So nobody bets, and nobody makes loans against all those assets, which are left sitting idle in great respects.

        There’s an old saying in the Arab world. You can never take a man’s camel, because the camel is never his.

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      • George, how can you have gotten this far along in human existence and never taken a single accounting course? Are you aware of the existence of balance sheets, asset inventories, accounts receivable and payable, fixed assets and the like?

        You are worth precisely the sum of what’s in your bank accounts plus what your stuff will sell for. After all that stuff has been sold and your debts have been paid, the pile of money in your hand is what you are worth. That’s it.

        Not much of a capitalist if you can’t even define Assets, Liabilities and Capital. Accounting is the theology of capitalism. Interest income and equity gains are the driver gears of capitalism. Equity is the name of the game.

        In every square inch of the Third World I have seen, property is not Iffy. It is precisely defined, every blade of grass eaten by every cow is part of someone’s territory. If your cow eats the wrong one, it may be taken and/or you may end up with an arrow in your chest. Do you think money works differently in the Third World, that banks don’t work the same way? Do you think they’re stupid just because they live in grass huts?

        Three ways to make money — and only three. You can sell something you own for more than you paid for it — or you can persuade someone to pay you for your time and effort — or you can loan someone money and they’ll pay you back more than you loaned them. Nobody got rich working for a living. Only money makes money.

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      • I speak fairly good Arabic and I’m a great collector of proverbs, many about camels. Camels do belong to people. Take one from Arab who owns it and see how he feels about it. You may not survive the test of this proverb.

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      • Blaise, you miss the point. Every asset in the third world is defended – by people who can’t prove they own it. The land often belongs, when you get down to the lawyers, to the eighth cousin of the first governor of the province based on a land grant from the King of Spain.

        You can’t take the camel because the Arab would shoot you. But what if he owes you the camel because you loaned him a bunch of money and he put the camel up as collateral? You still can’t take the camel, because he’ll still shoot you. You can’t go to the authorities because they can’t prove he owns the camel you’re trying to claim either. If they get involved will turn out to be his cousin’s camel, and you’re screwed.

        That’s why third world governments can so easily dispossess the peasants, or conduct frequent programs of “land reform.” In Egypt it can take a family decades to get legal title to a house they’ve lived in for 70 years, and even attempting to do so risks everything because most Egyptians built extra stories on top of the old ones without any building permit.

        So most of the property exists in a black market limbo. Everyone knows who really owns what, but they can’t use the government to enforce their claims because as far as the government is concerned, they’re all illegal squatters, kind of like American homeless people with shopping carts and “spots” they occupy. The arrangements and property rights within the system aren’t recognized outside of the system.

        The realization that this is the actual situation in the third world drew the attention of the World Bank, the UN, a raft of NGO’s, and the US Administration. We’d taken our simple system for granted, so when we were asked for advice on how to set up capitalism, we just focused on setting up stock markets instead of country clerks.

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      • To follow up on this point.

        Let’s have a look at your double-entry books, Blaise. I know you don’t have a valid business license because you didn’t bribe my cousins in the ministry of business and industry. All your bank assets are therefore the result of illegal activity and will be confiscated. Yes. You’re welcome.

        Also, we show you living in a house that you don’t hold the title to. We know that because you didn’t pay a bribe to my cousin in the land ministry. We will try to find a legal buyer for that, and you also will have to pay a fine. No, it’s perfectly okay. We’re here to help.

        So, now wiser, you try to stay off the radar with your future business dealings, avoiding the banks because they report “mysterious” income to the government.

        You could just keep your profits as cash, but we’re having one of those hyper-inflationary periods. 300% inflation really bites, eh?

        You could try to put your cash in overseas accounts, but we monitor those transactions to prevent exploitation of our proud and industrious citizens. We even check people at the airport to make sure they’re not taking too much cash in or out of the country. Without the proper paperwork, such amounts indicate obvious criminal activity. Yes, we’re tough on crime, and are very protective of our people.

        You’ve wisely decided not to build a home like your last one (which was very nice, by the way. My sister-in-law swears it’s fabulous), keeping the new one more “shack like” so as not to attract too much attention from folks with the power to take it away.

        So the best way to keep your wealth is in things you can turn into money on a continuing basis, such as you use in your business, preferably things that are kind of hard to steal. I suggest bricks and bathroom tiles. Maybe air conditioning ducts. Just stack them on pallets next to your shack.

        So now you are both making the wisest economic decisions based on the available opportunities (in fact genius ones), yet you look like you live in a shack next to an unfinished construction site. That’s no accident. It really does explain why much of the third world looks like exactly that.

        Some of the tools, conveniences, and arrangements we take for granted just don’t apply there, creating a quite different set of strange procedures, as if they were all black market businessmen who had to hide or launder their money to some extent, or else stay poor and ordinary enough to fly under the radar.

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      • Thanks for the thoughtful response Katherine,

        I need to point out that you are using unusual definitions of harm and you are distorting how markets work. A key principle in economics is that profits tend to move to uniformity. In other words, high profits (adjusted for risk and such) attract competition. Low profits reduce investment and incentivize moving capital elsewhere (this explains why “successful” unions self extinguish themselves).

        Walmart may have dominance, but it is doing so by offering incredibly low prices. It is not harming anyone directly. Every customer who shops there does so because they view it as a net increase in utility, same for every employee who works there and supplier who works with them. To the extent any interaction is not voluntary it is not an example of free enterprise. Walmart has done more for the human race than pretty much any individual who ever lived. Same is true for Target. These are huge cooperative complexes of value adding activity to fellow humans. If you do not see this, then I really suggest some economics study.

        In the third world, an employer is not taking advantage of someone by offering them a job; they are cooperating with them. Employer wins and employee wins, and they produce a good which allows the buyer to win. What a beautiful thing. Sweatshop employers do incomparably more good than you or I do. They give them jobs paying above what the employee could otherwise earn. Bless them.

        I could explain how wages are set and why the market rate is desirable even for the workers, but my guess is JK could do so a lot better.

        As to illegal resource extraction or pollution, that is NOT free enterprise. That is violating the laws and should be against all rules as these actions do cause harm. Similarly if  property rights are attained via coercion, they should be corrected by law. This is theft.

        I understand that resources are finite. However, as resources get scarce, free markets encourage substitution and conservation via relative prices. Markets are smarter than central planners in many, actually most, situations.  

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      • Katherine part 2

        The run-away capitalism was running away due to market interferences which distorted risks and benefits. That said, recessions do seem to be part of the regular business cycle in mixed economies. This one was managed (interfered with) extraordinarily stupidly.

        Yes corporate profits are up and most of the gains in the US have gone to high skilled individuals. What of it? You are assuming this should not have happened? Why? Do you think markets reward everyone equally even as we add over a billion new workers and create technologies which allow labor substitution? The real people who gained were the billion new developing world and Chinese workers who we previously coercively prevented from playing the game. Shame on us before for not allowing a billion people to gain from markets. If God was just he would force us to pay them back wages for how we screwed them over. Tell that to your union worker.

        Worldwide, humanity is more prosperous TODAY than any other day since the universe was created 13.8 billion years ago. And this prosperity came about in large part due to trillions of voluntary market interactions. More people rose out of severe poverty in the last decade than ever before, ever. You somehow take the apex of prosperity an spin it as a calamity for the privileged first world worker who lost a privilege he never deserved. This is wrong. 

        If this huge, unprecedented elevation of the human race is attributable to a right wing economic policy, then thank the lord for the right wing. Billions will join us in giving thanks.

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      • That was good, Roger.

        But we may have to drop back to the two cows.

        You have two cows:

        Under socialism, the government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.

        Under Fascism, the government takes them and sells you milk.

        Under Nazism, the government shoots you and takes your cows.

        Under communism, the government takes your cows and gives you milk.

        Under post-communism, the Russian mafia shows up and steals your cows unless you agree to give them milk.

        Under Liberalism, the government takes the cows, then pours the milk down the drain because it’s too high in fat.

        Under environmentalism, the government fines you for two cows’ worth of methane emissions.

        Under primitive capitalism, you sell one cow and buy a bull.

        Under advanced capitalism, you give both cows to your wife and declare bankruptcy.

        Under tech capitalism, you set up a cow cam and make money from online ads.

        Under California capitalism, both your cows run away when the INS shows up.

        Under Texas capitalism, you build a smokehouse for them.

        Under futurism You have two cows, but they are spherical, theoretical cows and only produce milk in a vacuum.

        Under Islamism, you shoot both cows for being Israeli spies.

        Under Jihadism, you attach explosives to the cows and drive them to market.

        Under Hinduism, you have two cows. They are pretty. Look at the pretty cows.

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      • Walmart may have dominance, but it is doing so by offering incredibly low prices. It is not harming anyone directly. Every customer who shops there does so because they view it as a net increase in utility, same for every employee who works there and supplier who works with them. To the extent any interaction is not voluntary it is not an example of free enterprise. Walmart has done more for the human race than pretty much any individual who ever lived. Same is true for Target. These are huge cooperative complexes of value adding activity to fellow humans.

        They offer low prices, but they also offer low wages and deliberately prevent unionization in their stores. They use the predatory practices I’ve outlined – selling at a loss in the short term in order to drive out competitors – to create a monopoly, which reduce people’s choices in the long terms. This also reduces the number of local businesses whose owners live in and around the community. So instead of a mix of local business-owners and employees, you’ve got a mass of lower-paid people with less income buying cheaper stuff. That’s not an improvement. And the contraction of people’s choices of both employers and places to shop is something you should be against if you believe that capitalism is good because it expands options.

        In the third world, an employer is not taking advantage of someone by offering them a job; they are cooperating with them. Employer wins and employee wins, and they produce a good which allows the buyer to win. What a beautiful thing. Sweatshop employers do incomparably more good than you or I do. They give them jobs paying above what the employee could otherwise earn. Bless them.

        Again, things are not this simple. If you run an sweatshop that collapses on its employees, or that has a fire and the employees burn to death because they business isn’t designed to have exits they can reach, the employees are not better off BECAUSE THEY’RE DEAD. If you hire farmworkers and have them use pesticides that give then cancer and other diseases, then they’re worse off for having the job, not better. If you work people 18 hours a day in an alienating environment to the point where they commit suicide, again, they’re losing rather than benefiting because they are dead. This should be patently obvious to anyone with a brain and a moral sense, so don’t be facile and condescending about it.

        As to illegal resource extraction or pollution, that is NOT free enterprise. That is violating the laws and should be against all rules as these actions do cause harm. Similarly if property rights are attained via coercion, they should be corrected by law. This is theft.

        And yet they are both constant characteristics of capitalism as practiced, particularly in the third world. And the destructive resource extraction isn’t always illegal – if a corporation gives a poor government enough money, then the law is whatever the corporation wants it to be. And when the actions are illegal, it’s destitute plaintiffs against a multibillion corporation, so they either get nothing, or they get a little payoff to prevent court costs without remotely resolving or compensating the damage caused, and that’s the end of it. And if attempts are made to return land that was taken from the local people and given to white settlers or corporations, the developed world as a whole throws an overwhelming fit and cries persecution and socialism.

        Yes corporate profits are up and most of the gains in the US have gone to high skilled individuals.

        Here you’re using a tautology. How do we know markets are good? They reward the most valuable and skilled people. How do we know that the people benefitting from the present economy are the highly-skilled ones? Because they’re benefitting, so they must be.

        I don’t consider bankers and hedge-fund managers and CEOs who ruined their companies to be the most highly-skilled people in North America. I don’t consider speculation a skill that benefits anyone but the speculator. They’re certainly not skilled in terms of “ability to create benefits for people other than themselves”, which goes against your core concept that capitalism benefits everyone through economic interactions.

        The difference in money isn’t that it’s gone from American workers to workers overseas; if it was, the trend would have been for average income in the US to remain roughly the same while income in China and elsewhere rose. That’s not what we’ve seen; we’ve seen profits for a small number of international capitalists skyrocket while income for everyone else falls or stagnates.

        Worldwide, humanity is more prosperous TODAY than any other day since the universe was created 13.8 billion years ago. And this prosperity came about in large part due to trillions of voluntary market interactions. More people rose out of severe poverty in the last decade than ever before, ever.

        In the first place, your claim is unprovable because we don’t have reliable statistics for most of the world going back that far. For all we know, China might have been better off on many metrics a thousand years ago, or 500 years ago, than it was at the start of the 1900s. For all we know, Africa may have been better off 700 years ago than it is now. The claims of continual human progress are flattering to us, but we can’t know their truth because vital statistics don’t go back anywhere near that far.

        In the second, a vast part of what humanity has benefitted from wasn’t capitalism, but science and technology. Some scientific and technological advances were market-driven; others came about because kings and governments paid people to make them; many scientific advances were simply the result of people who pursued study for its own sake, or for patriotic reasons (Louis Pasteur, a Frenchman, was highly motivated by wanting to outdo the German scientists of his day). The global campaign to eradicate polio wasn’t accomplished by capitalism. Technology and medicine have done vastly more to improve the human lot than the capitalist system has.

        And if you want to claim benefits in global welfare for capitalism, you have to look at the minuses. The slave trade is the biggest one, both transatlantic and within the Americas – a massive commodity market in other human beings causing devastation both in Africa and to the Africans brought to the Americas, and the deaths of millions.

        Moreover, look at things in the shorter term. Over the last 200 years, we’ve seen overwhelming advances related not to markets but to governments. Pensions. Public health care. Public water and sewer systems – that alone has been responsible for overwhelming changes in life expectancy. Public education – you may denigrate it now, but public education was the reason American literacy rates far exceeded those of Europe in the 1800s. Public welfare, so that while people may be miserable during periodic market downturns, at least they don’t starve to death. (Notably, a lot of these things were done out of fear of Marxism – make conditions a little less miserable for the workers, and there’s less danger of revolution. This is explicitly why Bismarck introduced public pensions in 1800s Germany.)

        Look even more recently at what unfettered capitalism has actually accomplished. It produced the Asian financial crisis when international financial institutions finally succeeded in pressuring Asian governments to deregulate short-term investments. They’d been going strong for years; they immediately took a severe blow from reckless speculation. These governments – the most successful ones in the developing world – had never before gone with the model of uncontrolled capitalism that you credit with their accomplishments. They had goals, and they regulated their economies to achieve them. Regulations on trade to allow development of manufacturing turned South Korea into a first-world nation when, in the 1950s, all the economists had told it to stick with its “comparative advantage” in growing rice. They made Japan and Taiwan and later China into economic powerhouses. None of these countries went with your prescriptions for unfettered capitalism, so you can’t claim their achievements as vindication – quite the opposite. South America’s seen its best advances in living standards in years during the 2000s, when its governments threw off the Washington Consensus of unfettered capitalism and moved to more leftish policies; this contrasts with the stagnation of the 1980s-1990s. The countries with the highest living standards in the world are not the US, but the socialist and social democratic ones of Scandanavia. The model which you are consistently advancing and advocating produces inferior results to one which includes government action.

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      • An actual Arabic proverb, not one of George’s makin’-shid-up proverbs: if you must be a lover, love the most beautiful woman. But if you must be a thief, be a camel rustler.

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      • George –

        Not remotely aceptable. Not only was that ludicrous and reprehensible, I doubt it’s something that you actually believe so much as a match you threw to see if you could make our threads explode.

        Feel free to come back in two days, but no more s**t like that.

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      • Katherine,

        Walmart provides us with vastly more options. if you think consumers have less choices or are worse off after Walmart opens then I question your judgment. 

        Predatory pricing is a leftist term for everyday low prices. Competition in everyday goods is substantially more intense today than even a few years ago. More choices, lower prices.

        Why is it that leftists constantly make up a trend which is the exact opposite of what is actually happening (we are seeing demonstrably more leisure, more part time jobs, more consumer choice , yet in these pages leftists constantly suggest the opposite with no data and then suggest a rule to fix a problem they made up?)

        Low wages are still wages. If you want to offer higher wages feel free to do so. The offerer of any job is doing more than the cynic sitting on the couch bemoaning how tough life is. When the cynic suggests absurd market interferences the difference is that Walmart is doing good and you are doing bad. You want to make people’s lives worse by pretending you are making them better. This is about you feeling good about yourself, others be damned. 

        A business has the freedom to argue against unions and unions have the freedom to argue for them. Neither is acting freely when violence or threats are used. If either side crosses the line it is no longer FREE ENTERPRISE.

        On the issue of hazardous work conditions the logical error you are doing is blaming free enterprise for entropy. The point is that nature works 24/7 trying to kill us. We cooperate together in free markets to resist nature. However nothing ever can be completely safe. Thus people by definition face safety vs reward tradeoffs for everything they do. After a disaster strikes we can all agree that the victims were unfortunate. But before the event they are taking a gamble. The very fact that you don’t recognize the very dangerousness of life just shows you take the prosperity of free enterprise for granted. Safety conditions and tradeoffs are best handled locally by the individuals and local society involved. If a firm uses coercion or trickery to get around these they are not playing by the rules of free markets and should be penalized. 

        Market rewards are not a tautology. It is entirely possible that gains go to someone other than high skilled. It is a matter of supply and demand. The reason we know who has been benefitting the most from recent gains is people gather data.

        I don’t consider bankers who destroyed their corporations as deserving rewards either. The free market approach would have penalized them (both the bankers and the fools investing in and hiring them). The crony capitalist approach was they called their buddies in government and got bailed out. Your attack of markets is actually an attack of regulatory interference in markets. Again, we interfered in markets and got an artificial bubble that collapsed and then we interfere with markets to save their butts. And you have the audacity to blame markets? 

        The trends in income are EXACTLY as I stated. Wages have been rising dramatically for thirty years in the third world and China. Over a billion families have risen out of severe poverty in past ten years. Due to markets. Again, you argue by making up a fact that is 180 degrees from reality. 

        However, you are right that money did not go from workers here to there. That implies a zero sum situation. Cooperative job offers have expanded outward, thus reducing bargaining power of less skilled workers ( who no longer get free ride of governments forbidding a billion people from playing the game). 

        As to your comments on our inability to know rough estimates of prosperity in prior eras, again you made that up. Economic historians are able to determine estimates of prosperity. Just google Angus Madisson and per capita GDP. The charts are fascinating. Historically people have tended to survive on the equivalent of two to three dollars per day. If the left has their way, we will again.

        I certainly agree that prosperity is not just a matter of markets. Cultural progress is a mix of institutional advance, scientific advance, technological advance and market problem solving activity. However, note that places with access to the science and technology without the institutions and markets are still dirt poor. I could go on for hours on this topic and have probably read two or three dozen books and countless articles on this exact subject. Perhaps we should take it to another thread though.

        Slavery is not a minus of free markets. Enslavement is not a mutually voluntary interaction. Get serious.

        As to sanitation and social safety nets. No argument. These are areas which have frequently been handled outside of market mechanisms, though the resources created were done greatly by markets. I am not arguing for markets in every domain. Markets, government, science and math are all problem solving systems. But they each need to be focused on particular and appropriate problem types.

        Nor have I argued against government action. Indeed I argue that government action is the usual way which the rules of large markets are defined and enforced. I have argued against Poorly thought out interference in market activity. Minimum wages, coercive unions, banker bail outs, trade barriers, loan requirements to people without assets, licensing restrictions, mandatory benefits, discharge restrictions, etc.

        Studies of market interference and freedom by nation are available and I have linked to some of them in other comments. They clearly show that economic freedom and prosperity are strongly correlated. Theory matches fact. Similar data is available by industry comparison, US state comparisons, by city an so on. It also matches my 30 years of empirical experience working within vastly inconsistently regulated industries across 51states (or is it 50?).

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      • You can’t prove Walmart offers more choices. You’ll never see a high quality item at Walmart: you’ll see the same merchandise become increasingly more shoddy over time as margins are squeezed.

        Predatory pricing is not a leftist commentary on the Free Market at work. Predatory pricing is using the power of capital reserves to undercut a competitor’s price, absorbing a temporary loss of profits in exchange for eliminating competition. There are two malign forces at work in the market, price fixing and predatory pricing. You’ll never admit it, of course. Just saying.

        To say Americans have more leisure time now than ever is simply untrue. Americans work more hours. Wages are stagnant. McJobs don’t pay people enough to even pay for rent. “Feel free” At turns, your dogmatism can be inadvertently hilarious.

        And do try to steer clear of physical terms such as Entropy. Entropy tends to create equilibrium, not merely chaos. Entropy, in AI, is rather like popcorn in the popper: eventually all the kernels that will pop have popped. It’s achieved equilibrium. All the rules have fired. Some rules re-fire other rules. Eventually stasis emerges and a verdict is rendered. Look in the popper while it’s popping and you won’t know which kernels will pop and which won’t. Information lies at the core of the concept of entropy. The only way you’ll ever know the true state of anything is when it’s at rest, when potential energy has been depleted. Do us all a favour. Don’t use the word again.

        When violence or threats appear in the real world, someone’s trying to change something. Opposing forces are at work. Roger, nothing in your system prevents violence or threats. Nature doesn’t work to kill us. That’s crazy talk. Nature is constantly adapting to threats, inevitably with violence. But Nature doesn’t produce Winners. It produces survivors. Winning one battle doesn’t mean you’ve won the war.

        Market rewards obey the same principle. Today’s winner has only sowed the seeds of his own destruction. What nonsense, to say the bankers whose only goals were short-term profits should drag down the rest of society and government should let them. Had government obliged those banks to maintain proper capital reserves and put their risk into open risk markets, you’d be making more crazy noises of the same sort about how the Gummint is just Innerfeering with the Free Market. Your sermons about the Free Market are a bit like some soapbox preacher hectoring passers-by about Heaven and Hell. Crazy talk, every last word of it.

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      • I don’t consider bankers who destroyed their corporations as deserving rewards either. The free market approach would have penalized them

        No, it would have penalized their employers, and their employers’ stockholders, and the ensuing crash would have hurt the rest of us even more harshly than the long recession has. The bankers wouldn’t lose the salaries and bonuses they’d already gotten during their years of recklessness and malfeasance. All the incentives were for them to keep playing the game as long as it held out.

        Boom and bust is everywhere in the history of markets. It’s baked into the system. The more you insist that markets form a perfect, self-regulating mechanism, the less serious you appear.

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      • Blaise I will gladly reply when you apologize and promise to no longer threaten me or call me a polished turd or other such terms when you start losing the argument.

        The choice is yours.

        Assure me you will play by the rules and the discussion can begin.

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      • Roger:

        I don’t care quite so much about Wall-Mart moving into my town.

        However, let’s say Wall Mart moves in to a small town, and uses the power of its distribution network to sell cheap-ass t-shirts for half the price of the local mom and pop store, that perhaps sells higher quality t-shirts, but can’t drop their prices.

        This is nice for people who want a cheap-ass t-shirt.

        However, mom and pop need to close their store, and Wall Mart isn’t spending their profits there in that small town, they’re shipping the cash to somewhere else. So the local economy has lost the competitor to Wall Mart, two middle class jobs, two middle class spenders. Maybe three, the local sporting goods shop goes under. Maybe ten, twelve. The small pharmacy closes.

        Before, all those people lived and worked and spent their profits right there in town.

        To some extent, this might be the new normal.

        But if you’re looking at Wall Mart’s presence in a local economy as not just the relationship between “customers of Wall Mart” and “the prices they pay”, you can see how it can be disruptive in a way that does not benefit the health of the little micro-environment of that local economy (especially if the Wall Mart finds the customer base dropping off and moves out).

        Improving the relationship between a consumer and the price they pay for goods is only one aspect of how a local economy works, and capital movement in-and-out of town is kind of an important issue.

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      • Mike, I am well aware of the boom and bust trends within the longer term trajectory of 2% economic growth. What of it? What is your point? That life would be peachy if growth was more consistent? Ok. Good point.

        Yes, when cooperative teams forming a firm create a dysfunctional business plan, they risk becoming part of creative destruction. Note though that the destruction is not direct, it is indirect. The firm disintegrates into parts which are repurposed elsewhere more effectively in the economy. This is not a bug it is a necessary feature.

        Interference with this is exactly what creates PRIVILEGE. Those with a dysfunctional firm are given privileged protection by the state against other potential firms which are not stupid. Bail outs and guarantees are privilege which distort the market and lower productivity of markets making us less well off than we would be otherwise. Again, see page 31 of the link I suggested earlier.

        I did not say markets were perfect. In fact I think I specifically told LWA yesterday that they are imperfect problem solving systems. Why are you taking the exact opposite of what I say and using it as an argument against me? Is this what passes for good rhetoric in your circle?

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      • My point is the one I made, about perverse incentives that can’t be dismissed by “the perfectly free market would correct that and never mind the collateral damage.”

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      • Patrick,

        I understand that a side effect of a Walmart moving in to a very small town is that it could eliminate less desired (by customers) competitors. Again, within longer term trends for unprecedented increases in choice, within a particular place for a particular moment in time, the trends are not a straight line trajectory. very true.

        Nobody familiar with life before widespread markets can realistically argue that markets tend to reduce choice, though. Clearly they increase choice on a broader scale and trends point to acceleration, not the reverse.

        It is ironic that Vikram just started a post on how Amazon is setting up to eat Walmart’s lunch with unimaginably more choice and even lower prices.  Lather, rinse repeat.

        As to spending money in town, I do not believe this is scalable. I think longer term we would all be better buying from the most efficient, highest quality, lowest price alternative based upon the preference set of the customer. There are certainly good reasons to buy local. However, I think you would agree that mercantilism in all it’s manifestations takes it too far (I know you are in no way a mercantilist). And I cannot argue that a part of creative destruction is sometimes the collapse of a local economy. It happens and those it happens to would love us to stop the process in their favor. Often they are successful, and this greatly explains why growth is slowed. Privilege and special preference self amplify.

        I share the frustration we experience with the “back steps” of two forward one back. My pet peeve is what in the heck happened to video stores?  I liked going to the local video store and getting new releases. But blockbuster put them out of business. And Netflix streaming  and Redbox took out Blockbuster.

        Yes I go to Redbox. Yes I constantly (2 shows a day?) stream off Netflix. Yes I get BluRays delivered by mail. But I sill get mad at not having a supply of thousands of non new release videos at my local corner. Ten steps forward in choice at lower prices and more convenience, but I still bitch about the one step back. Human nature

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      • “My point is the one I made, about perverse incentives that can’t be dismissed by “the perfectly free market would correct that and never mind the collateral damage.””

        My point is that every job ever created plays by the rules of market competition. Every single employee competes with those in other firms and tries to win customers. “Buy from me not them!” is basically the message behind every commercial.

        The buggy guy put the blacksmith out of a job, leading to the blacksmith becoming an auto worker who put the buggy guy out of work, who became a worker at a better factory, which put the first auto worker into the job market….

        When you enter a market, the rules are to compete for opportunities to cooperate. When consumers no longer choose you, you need to change your job. This is 250 years of market history in a paragraph.

        However, nobody wants to change jobs. So they use violence or government privilege to prevent others from offering superior terms of cooperation. This freezes economic progress and leads to widespread impoverishment. This is non market history in a paragraph.

        You are on the side of the privilege seekers and widespread impoverishment. Why?

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      • Once more: I’m not talking about individual workers, or individual firms, or even individual industries. I’m talking about systemwide failures, which used to be called Panics or Crashes, and were later euphemized as Depressions. I disapprove of the bank bailouts morally too, but I recognize that they were motivated by absolute terror at the consequences of not finding a soft landing. That crisis was caused by everything that’s supposed to be positive about markets: individuals making rational decisions and pursuing their own goals. The result: potential economic devastation. If the analysis of that is “You want to protect buggy-whip makers”, why bother reading further?

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      • As to spending money in town, I do not believe this is scalable. I think longer term we would all be better buying from the most efficient, highest quality, lowest price alternative based upon the preference set of the customer.

        Well, it is of course not scalable, but that’s not necessarily the point.

        Functionally, you can’t turn a small town economy into an industrial center economy in a scalable fashion.

        Here’s the thing: there are different kinds of services. Until we get ubiquitous, reliable, safe, robotic companions, those differences in services are going to be differences in kind, not just degree.

        If I want someone to drive a trash truck, it has to be someone who’s reasonably close to the truck route. If I want a doctor, the office needs to be reasonably close to where I am. If I want a teacher or a firefighter or a cop, or a shoe-shiner or a plumber, same problem.

        These jobs are all direct service jobs. If my local economic engine isn’t big enough to support this degree of specialization, I have a race condition that resolves itself when things implode, or we deal with a persistent lack of those services.

        Labor isn’t as mobile as capital or goods, that’s just the way things are. To the extent that we use the same form of capital to pay for goods that we use to pay for services, this is a big problem; as long as we’re allowing the goods and the capital to move as freely as they’re inclined to do, when the labor can’t move.

        A hundred and fifty years ago, capital could move but goods and services couldn’t. A hundred years ago, capital could move and goods could move to some extent, but services couldn’t. Fifty years ago capital and goods could both move pretty well, services still couldn’t.

        Now you can move goods almost as easily as capital, thanks to globalization, but labor/services are arguably under *more* constraints than they were a hundred years ago, because the cost of moving isn’t just economic, now, it’s rate-limited at the national level through immigration policies.

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    • the idea that people are inherently good and it is only social and economic structures that corrupt them

      I take issue with your definition of “good”. I see nothing good in a person who cares nothing for themselves, or even no more for themselves than others. I’m not advocating a pure Objectivist position, I think you can be too selfish, but there’s nothing wrong with being moderately selfish.

      I would frame this particular failing of Marxism in a different way, the problem is that Marxism held that people don’t (or shouldn’t) have agency, but rather will (or should) passively do whatever the leadership (assuming the right people are in charge of course) wants them to do. This is precisely what Adam Smith warned against in The Theory of Moral Sentiments with his Man of System quote:

      The man of system … seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

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      • I take issue with your definition of “good”. I see nothing good in a person who cares nothing for themselves, or even no more for themselves than others.

        And I see valuing the well-being of others above your own as the very definition of virtue and goodness, and consider the idea of selfishness as virtue to be utterly perverse and twisted. Rand is the antithesis of Christianity and of everything I believe. Clearly, we are not going to agree.

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      • Rand is the antithesis of Christianity and of everything I believe.

        I’ll give credit where it’s due—she fought the good fight at a time when some pretty crappy ideas were in vogue. But she wasn’t that great.

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      • And I see valuing the well-being of others above your own as the very definition of virtue and goodness, and consider the idea of selfishness as virtue to be utterly perverse and twisted.

        There is a particular problem with this viewpoint, if taken to its absolute, however.

        For starters, it leaves us with maybe a couple hundred good people on the planet. I mean, they might be better than the other 3 billion of us, sure.

        But if “good” is a descriptor that only separates out .00001% of a group, it’s probably too ideal. Maybe we ought to broaden our definition into something more useful.

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      • Patrick, how about this distinction: people acting in their self-interest is neither good nor bad – it’s just what people do and so is morally neutral. Bad/unvirtuous actions then would those actions which harm others; good/virtuous actions are those which help others. Self-interest can result in either of those types of results, yes?

        That’s not a complete view of things, to be sure, but it does give a semantics to the terms as Katherine’s using them.

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      • I greatly agree with the second part, SW.

        I believe anything that a person does to thrive is good. It is good and virtuous to (on net) help yourself or another.

        It is bad to harm one’s self or another. Anything which on net harms one’s self or another is bad or unvirtuous.

        This leads us though to actions which help one party while hurting another. These are zero sum and lead to arms races of expanding conflict. The way to solve for this is to voluntarily agree to set up institutions which require all actions which materially affect anyone to be voluntary on the part of all significantly affected actors.

        Thus only positive sum, helpful moves are allowed. Zero sum actions are still permitted, but only when the participants agree to them voluntarily beforehand.

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      • Patrick, how about this distinction: people acting in their self-interest is neither good nor bad – it’s just what people do and so is morally neutral. Bad/unvirtuous actions then would those actions which harm others; good/virtuous actions are those which help others. Self-interest can result in either of those types of results, yes?

        That’s more or less what I was looking to tease out, yeah.

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    • Katherine MW: I think you have this exactly right. The British novelist CP Snow wrote that Marx’s prescriptions were doomed because of his wildly optimistic view of human nature, and back when I studied Soviet Foreign Policy (back when that was a thing) a major focus of the huge reading list was the differences between Marx, the 19th Century economist/philosopher/romantic, Lenin, the demagogue,and Stalin, the out and out tyrant. The latter two, the literature supported, were as much, more,driven by traditional Russian interests as ideological imperatives adapted from Marx, through Lenin’s prism.

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      • I also stand with Katherine MW on her rejection of Ayn Rand as the antithesis of Christianity. I’m a free speech absolutist. If there was to be any author’s works that I would ban–and there isn’t; I’d represent her publishers in court pro bono if needed to prevent censorship–it would be Rand. Because she makes the very worst tendencies in humanity seem virtues.

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      • This is one thing that strikes me as odd.

        If I wished to point to a pile of bodies created by Stalin or Mao, I’m pretty sure that I could get most folks to agree to this or that 20 million people.

        For all of Rand’s ugliness, does she have a pile of bodies associated with her?

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      • Marx was a pessimist, not an optimist. The facile reader finds in Marx what he’s looking for, as folks do with the Bible.

        Marx said he was not a Marxist. He merely observed as surely as feudalism gave rise to capitalism, so capitalism would give rise to socialism. It’s still true, as surely as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Marx didn’t say it would be easy or fun. He said it was inevitable. How Snow or anyone else can read Marx and see anything else is beyond me — or any serious scholar of Marx.

        The Class Struggle was seen in feudalism. Eventually, that struggle doomed feudalism. It’s now bedevilling capitalism. And that struggle will doom capitalism as well.

        Snow tried to build a bridge between science and the humanities but never succeeded, largely because he presumed everyone would want to cross that bridge.

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      • Ayn Rand was just a pitiful reactionary. The pile of bodies she stacked up eventually awoke from their adolescent angst, took a few Tylenol to deal with the hangover and stumbled off to the workaday world, wondering what the hell they’d been drinking the night before.

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  14. One of the greatest weaknesses of Marxism was its idea that somehow there exists, a political and economic system which is capable of addressing all the needs of society- as others pointed out, that it sweeps all of human endeavor under the same cloak of a political dogma that is both universal and complete.

    Whether it is Germany or Hawaii, the same political dogma applies; whether it is a primarily Christian and Jewish European society in the 19th Century, or a Indonesian Muslim society in the 21st, the Marxist analysis remains the same.

    We see the same now with market fundamentalism such as libertarianism- free markets are the universal and complete prescription.

    They are universal- they work the same in Chile or America , yesterday, today and tomorrow- All things-schools, toasters, sexual relations, health care- are capable of being viewed through the analysis of market pricing.

    Markets are complete in that they don’t need intervention and regulation- they are capable of perfect self-correction if set up correctly and allowed to work freely.

    Small wonder that both see religion as an enemy- its a competing brand.

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    • Not true, indeed you often criticize me for not believing that market’s are complete and need no regulation. Let me clarify…

      Markets apply to only some domains of human problem solving, NOT all domains.

      Markets customarily depend upon non market mechanisms.

      Markets are imperfect, however within their domain when properly set up they are superior to the alternatives.

      Unlike religion, all you have to show me is a superior complex adaptive problem solving system within this domain and I will join you in support of this alternative. I PROMISE.

      So, would you quit repeating this religion nonsense?

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      • Roger, I have to say this is sorta exasperating, but I’ll try to stay patient and ask you a question. If you believe that markets are useful tools in the limited domains you outline above, and LWA agrees with that assertion (which he essentially has in previous comments) then why do you think LWA (and me and Katherine and lefties generally) are on the side of villians when we’re effectively all in general agreement regarding the scope of market utility? What exactly is it, in your mind, that demonstrates our villiany? What beliefs do you attribute to us that makes you think we’re just itching for the chance to spring Gulags on your ass?

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      • Because you want to pick favorites on the playing field and build systemic interferences in the market which help those you favor at the expense of those you do not favor. This leads to massive regulatory interference and makes markets sclerotic and dysfunctional. The more dysfunctional they get, the more you interfere, and the more sclerotic they get until the system crumbles.

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      • Except this very same system of picking winners and losers and helping those we favor has led, since the Enlightenment, to a massive increase in prosperity, health, leisure, and general happiness.

        Or maybe not- maybe, just maybe, this massive increase in happiness is not the result of an economic system.

        Lets look at the evidence. (repeating this from another thread)

        Because we can easily see that virtually all the 167 nations of the world, (with fewer than a dozen exceptions) have remarkably similar economic systems- a mixture of markets with regulatory apparatus.

        Yet the results are wildly diverse. Haiti and the United States have market systems that are more similar than either of them is to Sweden. Yet USA and Hait acheive remarkably different results, while the USA and Sweden achieves a result very much like the USA.

        What do Sweden and the USA have in common with each other that they don’t with Haiti?

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      • Except this very same system of picking winners and losers and helping those we favor has led, since the Enlightenment, to a massive increase in prosperity, health, leisure, and general happiness.

        No. It’s been the extent to which competitive markets were allowed to operate without the picking of winners (really, the picking of who would be allowed to compete) that created all that.

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      • LWA, we didn’t build prosperity by picking winners and losers, because then we’d have to massively subsidize the losers, which costs a fortune. For example, if it costs you $1.80 to produce a bottle (which was the rough price prior to Owens automating bottle production), and I can produce a bottle for two cents, there is no way to make you the winner without finding someone who will pay your $1.78 in subsidies for a bottle that’s selling for 2 cents on the open market.

        Owens threw tens of thousands of highly skilled craft workers out of a job (along with 6,000 children), and a century later I’m sitting here drinking a beer out of a bottle made by Owens Brockway. (As an aside, I accidentally destroyed thousands of their bottles debugging some of their machines).

        To Marxists, this is all the result of a bizarre social conspiracy theory. To an engineer, it’s the result of a better way to make bottles (which was a really hard problem because glass is not a good material to work with, being gooey, sticky, and hot, with wildly sensitive temperature/viscosity curves).

        For an example of picking winners and losers, Finland’s flagship company, Nokia, had grown huge when it had almost no union representation for its workers. Then the unions moved in and threatened massive strikes and Nokia’s stocks stumbled. Then they made a series of bad decisions, took missteps in response to the iPhone, and their worth plummeted from about 260 billion Euros to 5 billion, at which point Microsoft simply bought them up last week.

        Nobody picked Nokio as a loser except for all the evil Marxists who bought iPhones, and pretty much all Marxists bought iPhones because they support exploitive capitalist Asian sweatshops over Scandinavian socialism, and they liked the nifty little iPhone aps better.

        As for Haiti, try going there and buying a house and you might understand why they live in poverty.

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      • James, the enlightenment led to the scientific revolution, which in turn led to inventions, technological improvements, advances in medicine, cultural changes which materialized in better governments, etc that appear to be completely independent from markets, let alone competitive markets, unless we’re using a very expansive definition here.

        Or so it seems to me.

        You’re comment attributes all the social advances to freeing up markets, which inclines me to believe you’re using an expansive definition here. Not there’s anything wrong with that! Could you expand on that a bit? I just want to get clearer on how your using the term and what you think is subsumed under the concept.

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      • George,

        LWA, we didn’t build prosperity by picking winners and losers,

        Well, in fact we did, to a great extent. For example, post WWII the US made oodles of money by imposing bilateral trade agreements on our partners. Picking winners and losers was built right in.

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      • Completely off thread, but I just spoke to a friend in Lyons and the whole town is being evacuated. Power is out, water and sewage treatment is out, roads are destroyed. Lots of property damage too.

        Parts of Longmont are still underwater. Loveland has been flooded. Even the Cache le Poudre up in Fort Collins when out the banks. I haven’t heard anything about Boulder in a while, which I hope is a good sign and things are getting better down there.

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      • Well, if you have a real choice in picking it means the game is so close that it can be decided by a couple calls by the ref, with everyone watching intently and writing about the game afterwards.

        Common examples of this would be picking the F-22 over the F-23, or picking the F-35 over the much uglier Boeing F-32. Often, what we pick is a loser anyway, when it comes to the market, like Solyndra and a host of other failed green companies that got fat government loans because of their close ties to the administration. Yet economic reality is a cold b****, and they went spectacularly bankrupt anyway.

        In the marketplace, the people who do the picking is us, every time we choose a Kia over a Chrysler or a Pepsi over a Coke. To a Marxist, such choices don’t even make much sense, because why would people need two different soft drinks that taste almost the same, or more than one kind of car? It wouldn’t seem like an efficient way to do things. So they eliminate choice, and without choice, and thousands of choices, and picking winners over losers day after day, there is no winnowing of bad products nor promotion of good, nor any need to improve already good products.

        Marxists might see a conspiracy on Wall Street to promote brand X, but if all the customers prefer brand Y, those in on the brand X conspiracy lose their gambled fortunes. And that’s why they fearfully spend so much money on market research firms instead of sitting in smoky rooms laughing maniacally about how their investment in brand X will bring them world domination.

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      • LWA and SW,

        Would you guys benefit if I linked you to a visual representation of the value created by markets? Go to page 31 of this link and follow what happens to consumer and producer surplus when we interfere with supply and demand. It destroys the potential value of voluntary exchange.

        http://mercatus.org/sites/default/files/The-Pathology-of-Privilege-Final_2.pdf

        Your picking winners and losers is to a great extent an interference in these supply and demand curves, usually as James said, by interfering with market entry. That is what a minimum wage, mandatory benefit, price control, trade restriction, regulatory barrier and license requirement tend to do.

        There are huge differences in the relative freedom and lack of interference of markets. I can give you links which attempt to measure this freedom, and Sweden and the US are near the top and Haiti near the bottom. Prosperity correlates strongly with freedom and less interference. I also have links on comparisons between freedom and prosperity by US state, and I have seen comparisons down to the city level. Same story.

        In brief, go to this link and see exactly what the US and Sweden have in common. There are several other similar but slightly different studies.

        http://www.freetheworld.com/2012/EFW2012-complete.pdf

        The concern of course is how much ground the US is losing over recent years. This is sure to lead to less prosperity and more more cries for further goofball interference by those on the left. This gets back to what George mentioned.

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      • Eh; some amount of picking winners and losers is not a big deal. Indeed, barring totally equal starting conditions, it *is* a matter of justice.

        There’s the supply curve, and demand curve, and there’s consumer surplus and producer surplus. But, you know, consumer surplus is “these are the consumers who would pay more for that good, but the market price is set lower, due to aggregate demand”. That’s who they are.

        The market price might be the least pessimistic, most efficient price point, but it still has beneficial effects; if you’re willing to pay more than the market is, but the price is that point, you get a deal. If you’re willing to pay more than the market is for most goods, but the price is still that point, you always get a deal.

        To the extent that those customers can be grouped into a common pool, across multiple services, those customers will always benefit more from a market economy, because they’re always willing to pay more for a good or service than that good or service is worth, to the rest of the consumers.

        Effectively, they always are the ones who get a discount from their true valuation.

        Again, in a case where you have totally equal starting conditions, this isn’t a big deal. But, you know, we’re nowhere near a case where everyone has totally equal starting conditions.

        On the flip side, it’s generally accepted economic wisdom that money falls under the law of diminishing returns, too. Meaning that more money you have, the less that next dollar is worth, to you.

        Well, hey, this means that under our monetary system we *also* get the case where people who have more money actually value each dollar less than the preceding one.

        To the extent that people with lots of money are also correlated with people who are generally willing to pay more for the same good, then we get a double whammy: they’re willing to pay more than market price, but they don’t have to do so, even while they value that additional cost less than people with less money.

        Capitalism as practiced is egalitarian only when you have equal starting conditions. You allow wildly disparate starting conditions, the system itself favors the wealthy. I mean, that’s just how it works.

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      • Patrick,

        Not sure if I followed everything as you moved across many topics, but let me try to respond. Please correct any misreadings or interpretations…

        My first question is I am not sure why you seem? to assume any able bodied person is incapable of being in the pool of consumers. To consume you produce. If you want to consume more, you must produce more things of value to others. Granted some things will always be out of reach of each of us based upon our skills and tradeoffs, but even here, the effects of capitalism over time has proven to be more luxuries at a lower price. In the 18th century luxuries were things like buttons and buckles. This is kind of funny to even think about today. Today, I would argue the standard of living of a bottom tier income individual such as myself is probably superior to that of the King Louis.

        My second question deals with this concept you introduce of a “true valuation.” Could you clarify please? Do you mean the price at which consumer surplus becomes zero?

        My third question deals with your suggestion that consumer surplus benefits some people who started at a better place than others. Obviously life is better for someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Is that your point? What does this have anything to do with the rest of us? Most of us started with nothing but a public education and proper manners and converted it into the best we could. Who gives a darn about some rich kid who had it easier? Life isn’t a race, and when we die we don’t count up relative points vs trust fund babies. But again, I probably misread you here.

        I certainly understand the theory of marginal utility and how the first dollar is more valued than the billion and oneth. I then follow you that the same people able to buy buckles and buttons are able to pay with dollars that mean less to them. Again…so?

        You just seem to again say that people born rich have it easier. Why is this noteworthy or relavent to anything? I wasn’t born rich, and do not care whether others were or not. How does any of this relate to how I flourish in life?

        “Capitalism as practiced is egalitarian only when you have equal starting conditions. You allow wildly disparate starting conditions, the system itself favors the wealthy. I mean, that’s just how it works.”

        Who suggested capitalism is or should be egalitarian? Certainly the rules should be universal, but to assume equal starting positions and especially equal end points is something which does not hold up well to scrutiny. Capitalism is specifically designed to lead to inequality of outcome. It is absolutely necessary. Otherwise why do anything to try to produce?

        I don’t accept a critique of capitalism being that it is not egalitarian. I think egalitarian capitalism is an oxymoron.

        Furthermore, it is not just capitalism which favors the well born. It is every system, it is life. indeed the real question is which system, compared to the others, has the best track record of allowing people to flourish. I would say we would agree it is somewhere other spectrum of free/mixed economies.

        Finally, any interference to achieve shorter term egalitarian objectives must be compared to longer term net growth rates. Virtually any interference with long range growth would be harmful to future generations.

        All this said, my guess is that I did misread you in several places. So feel free to correct.

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      • My first question is I am not sure why you seem? to assume any able bodied person is incapable of being in the pool of consumers. To consume you produce. If you want to consume more, you must produce more things of value to others. Granted some things will always be out of reach of each of us based upon our skills and tradeoffs, but even here, the effects of capitalism over time has proven to be more luxuries at a lower price. In the 18th century luxuries were things like buttons and buckles.

        Oh, certainly. It beats serfdom all to hell. Something can be the best thing we’ve come up with and still have weaknesses, though, and capitalism has a couple of very specific weaknesses. I’m just pointing out that those specific weaknesses, in the case of capitalism, favor those who are already advantaged.

        I mean, if I were devising an economic system and I was trying to produce a just system (not just an efficient one), I’d be favoring those who weren’t already advantaged, instead of the other way around.

        My second question deals with this concept you introduce of a “true valuation.” Could you clarify please? Do you mean the price at which consumer surplus becomes zero?

        A true valuation is how much you would pay for something, in a single-consumer environment.

        You look at the demand curve for an individual, and you overlay it on the demand curve for the aggregate market. If I value something more than the market price, I win; in an auction environment, for example, I may be paying much closer to my true valuation.

        If something’s market price is $N, and my true valuation is $M, and N > M, I’m not going to buy, fair enough (if a new producer enters the market that can sell to me at a profit at $M, they can acquire me as a new customer, and everybody else like me, which will generally lead to the new price equilibrium somewhere between N and M.)

        But if M > N, I’m getting a deal. I’m certainly going to buy; I’d be willing to pay more. In certain types of systems, like an auction system, I’d be paying closer to my true valuation. In the open market, the valuation of everybody else helps set the price.

        Given perfect information and perfect competition and all that jazz, over time you’re going to see relatively small spaces for consumer surplus and producer surplus, but we don’t have those things in practice. Consumer surplus can be particularly large for some products; meaning that there are some people who constantly pay much less than their true valuation for something. There are some people who pay their true valuation. And there are people who don’t buy.

        Here’s one silly example. Let’s say the price of a candy bar is $1. Joe is 9 and has rich parents and gets an allowance of $100 a week. Joe’s actual valuation for a candy bar is $3; he doesn’t care all that much for money, ’cause he’s got an awful lot of it. Because the market of all the kids sets the price for the candy bar, Joe always gets candy bars cheaper than what he’d be willing to pay; hell, he buys two and he still pays less than he’d be willing to pay. Mark has an allowance of $20 a week, and his true valuation of the candy bar is $1. He’s a boring, run of the mill customer (for most goods, there’s a lot of Marks). Mark pays a buck. Christy doesn’t get an allowance. She occasionally finds random change in the couch. She’s managed to scrounge $0.75, and she values that candy bar at all her money… she still can’t buy one.

        Hey, you and I are probably Marks. This isn’t a big deal, to us.

        But right now the contention pretty common on the Left is that there are an awful lot of Christy’s and not many Joes, and Joe’s stockpiling a bunch of the candy bars.

        My third question deals with your suggestion that consumer surplus benefits some people who started at a better place than others. Obviously life is better for someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

        Right; but doubly so, in the case of capitalism. Because you start with a surplus of money, and because of the law of diminishing returns you care less about each successive dollar, and yet you’re also a member of the class of people – well, if you buy my underlying assumption anyway – that would be willing to pay more, more often, for the same good(s). So you could pay more, and you’d be willing to pay more, but the system typically produces an environment where you consistently have to pay less.

        Again, this is still better for the non-disadvantaged than serfdom, no question.

        You just seem to again say that people born rich have it easier. Why is this noteworthy or relavent to anything?

        When energy speculation raises the cost of energy because of futures markets, it’s relevant at least to the majority of the purchasing decisions of the majority of people (who are not rich). When the financial system tightly couples highly risky investments with basic lending, that affects the ability of people who are not rich to get access to capital.

        From the standpoint of social stability, it’s generally the case that systems that present the appearance of unfairness to the majority of the people… they don’t turn out well. Even if it’s better than the system that it itself replaced.

        Who suggested capitalism is or should be egalitarian? Certainly the rules should be universal, but to assume equal starting positions and especially equal end points is something which does not hold up well to scrutiny. Capitalism is specifically designed to lead to inequality of outcome. It is absolutely necessary. Otherwise why do anything to try to produce?

        The point (such as it is) is that if the system has (baked into the system) advantages for a few, correcting for this – in some specific cases – can be considered just. Indeed, if you’re taxing, or subsidizing, or otherwise choosing winners or losers, that may be a sub-optimal market price point, but you could be increasing availability. This, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily stupid, even if it’s inefficient. Particularly if there’s a social surplus advantage for greater availability. For example, it’s to everybody’s benefit for, say, vaccinations to be cheap (or free) and wildly adopted.

        Now, I’ll generally agree that it’s not uncommon for specific products or services or whatever to be unnecessarily subsidized, or unnecessarily taxed, or whatever. But messing with market pricing isn’t inherently always a bad idea. Nor is it always misplaced nanny-statism.

        (I’ll also re-stick my standard objection to “markets made the life of the poor better, look at the adoption of markets and how they’ve led to prosperity” with “eh, technology generally kicks the market’s butt, iff’n you ask me”, but that’s an aside.)

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      • The other side of the coin is that declining marginal utility also implies it is those with the gains closest above zero benefit the most. Who gains more, the guy getting twice as many fancy buttons, or the guy whose child didn’t starve to death? My take on it is that the least advantaged gain the most from capitalism. I will take my grandson over a billion any day.

        On the issue of technology, it is tough to disentangle the braid. I did recently read an article by Kevin Kelley on how what gets invented isn’t what is possible, it is what is profitable. Furthermore most of the literature on science is that technology does more to drive science than vice versa.

        I still believe that absent markets, we would not have been able to outrun the negative for of Malthus and zero sum exploitation and rent seeking. They are necessary, but not sufficient.

        The ingredients of modern prosperity which we probably agree on:
        Institutions
        Markets
        Science
        Technology and
        culture

        I might even add luck.

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      • The other side of the coin is that declining marginal utility also implies it is those with the gains closest above zero benefit the most. Who gains more, the guy getting twice as many fancy buttons, or the guy whose child didn’t starve to death? My take on it is that the least advantaged gain the most from capitalism.

        Well, that’s a valid counter. And when the overall economy isn’t in crisis mode, it’s a pretty good riposte.

        However, there’s still the perception issue. You may very well be correct that the poor man, who has gains closest to zero, gains more. That might be the case.

        But I bet you on perception he still feels way more screwed. :) And as far as it goes, that’s still a threat to the system. Especially under crisis mode.

        I did recently read an article by Kevin Kelley on how what gets invented isn’t what is possible, it is what is profitable.

        Eh, I’ll disagree with that to an extent. What gets invented is what sparks the imagination of someone on the cusp of new technology.

        Now, what gets adopted, that’s a whole different story. Indeed, I’d say that this can occasionally work against progress. Given two technologies, A & B, that both tackle some problem, the technology that is the most profitable will probably be the one adopted… but it’s distressingly often the case that the one that is most profitable is also the one that has the most externalized costs that can be ignored by the two parties involved. Indeed, in our particular instance of a regulated market, we usually demand that you show those externalized costs are prohibitive until we even begin talking about it, which isn’t always the greatest idea.

        The ingredients of modern prosperity which we probably agree on:
        Institutions
        Markets
        Science
        Technology and
        culture

        I might even add luck.

        Oh, I’ll definitely add luck. The Institutions I’m not so sure of as an independent entry; Institutions are just an official embedding of a particular snapshot in time of culture, that change, themselves, under different incentives than the greater culture, but they’re probably still worth mentioning as a semi-independent variable.

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    • I would argue the opposite, that Marx resolutely refused to jump to conclusions. Here we must be careful to dissect away the “Marxists” from Marx himself. The greatness of the master is measured in the idiocy of his disciples. Marx never wanted disciples.

      Marxism is rather like the basics of weather analysis. Cold air is denser than warm air. Capitalism does create a bourgeois class, whose power derives from the power of money and not the power of labour. The much-ballyhooed and much-derided Class Struggle develops as surely as hurricanes.

      Capitalism does work and Marx was (in his own time) its keenest analyst. He never claimed to invent much. He got a good deal of it from Ricardo and Adam Smith, who laid out basically the same principles.

      Marxists who get all Relijis about their beliefs, rushing off to the barricades in the Class Struggle are Marx’s worst interpreters. Where class struggle arises, it’s a sure sign capitalism isn’t working. Look at where this idiotic form of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism took root: in feudal societies, where the farmers didn’t own their land. These doctrinaire morons only replaced one evil overlord with another. People don’t want to be Liberated. They want to own things.

      I have been threatening to do a series on Trotsky. I really should apply myself and quit making noises about it.

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    • Well, the threads have strayed far and wide, and I’ve posted lots of direct quotes from Marx advocating mass genocide, especially of Jews, and lots of quotes from Hitler and other Nazis pushing socialism.

      So here’s an old 1998 article on the Nazis being socialists, and why it just got forgotten about, glossed over, and buried.

      I prefer more primary sources myself, but it gives a rough summation.

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  15. , it was Yom Kippur yesterday so I could not post. This is in response to your critique of Marxism. I don’t think that Marxism and Communism define people as naturally being good. Your analysis of Marxism reads more like an analysis of left anarchism than anything else. Under basic left anarchist theory; people are naturally good and cooperative but only act in evil ways because state and religion assume that people are evil by nature. People will return to their natural goodness once we eliminate the state and religion under left anarchist theory.

    This is different from the Marxism in that Marxist thought assumes that different classes will act in their self-interest and saw history as a clash between different classes. The 19th century represented the victory of the bourgeoisie over the landed classes. What was supposed to happen next was the working classes were supposed to engaged in socialist revolution because it was their self-interest to do so. None of this had anything to do with seeing humans as naturally good.

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  16. I’m not a Marxist, nor a Nazi. I disagree with Marxists about plenty of things (I’d agree that much of what I disagree with originates in Hegel), but find it possible to talk with them because they don’t need a racial theory to get there and Nazis aren’t Nazis without the race theory, which ends all conversation for me.

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