Featured Post

Make Universities Less Welcoming

Universities in America have taken a beating as of late. The right criticizes them for being antagonistic to conservative voices and opinion and the left condemns them for their perceived racist and corporate mindset. Public faith in our higher education system is decreasing while the cost of admission is rising; many feel a college degree is the ticket to a good life and yet we are experiencing a loss of faith in the intuitions providing the credential. Freddie, writing in the LA Times, notes the dire place the university sits in the minds of most Americans.

Only 36% of Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center, believe colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, versus 58% who say they have a negative effect. Among Democrats, those figures are 72% and 19%, respectively. That finding represents a crisis.

Adding to the statistics above, many middle-class liberals in my personal sphere have similar reservations about the role our universities are playing in American life. When nearly a fifth of all Democrats share the Republican distrust for higher education, we are facing a serious problem. Oddly enough, the left in America has been quick to attack these same institutions, creating a convergence of criticism for universities on both ends of the spectrum.

Surely, there is more than enough embodied in our university structure to warrant criticism. What I am continuously perplexed by is the language of inclusion the right and left have used when demeaning our higher education system. On the left, activists have made wide-ranging overtures to the creed that a university should do more than simply provide an education for its students they should also offer accommodation even from an independent source as Scape Students. One of the Yale protestors infamously stated:

It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that.

It is easy to dismiss this remark by an inexperienced activist as an outlier disconnected from the larger political movements happening on campus. Yet, from Evergreen to Missouri, disassociated students bring up the conviction that the colleges they attend need to do more to create community for various minority students.

The right is not immune to these political demands on our education system. In an Op-Ed for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Robert Maranto argues that Christian students face routine discrimination by a university culture that sees the faithful as unacceptable.

Back in the 1980s, J.D. Gartner found Christianity reduced the chances of admission to psychology doctoral programs. Using 1999 data, “The Still Divided Academy” by Stanley Rothman, April Kelly-Woessner, and Matthew Woessner offered strong statistical evidence that (typically religious) socially conservative professors must publish more to get the same academic posts.

More recently, George Yancey’s “Compromising Scholarship” showed that in many academic fields, significant numbers of professors, more than enough to blackball hiring decisions, express reluctance to hire evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.

None of this makes secular professors bad people. As psychologists William O’Donohue and Richard E. Redding argue, people generally express willingness to discriminate against those of other political or religious ideals. The danger comes when individual institutions lack ideological diversity, enabling an arrogant tendency to dismiss dissenters as unacceptable people with unacceptable opinions.

He continues:

An unrepresentative intelligentsia leads many of our fellow Americans to distrust us, and our research. When traditional Christians find academic, media, and cultural institutions closed to people like them, they see little reason to believe those authorities. Not surprisingly, recent polls show that Republicans, who are disproportionately traditional Christians, have increasingly lost faith in higher education.

Clearly, this distrust on both the right and left regarding our universities is troubling. This suspicion in the role our higher education system plays in helping develop experts in various fields of scholarship ultimately fosters a rejection of proficiency entirely. The left is keen to disregard expert knowledge as “white supremacist” in lieu of personal experience. The right sees experts as nothing more than well-trained talking heads to emasculate their very existence.

This distrust in our institutions is a serious problem; making universities more “welcoming” is not. Speaking as someone who wants real, honest diversity of experiences and ideas at a university, we are doing a disservice to those aims by bending for every outlier’s demands on inclusion and bureaucratic community building. In fact, it’s tempting to connect the level of distrust in our higher education to the contiguous increase in administrative staff, specifically in the “diversity” subfield. David Frum noted:

The Parkinson of American academia is Ralph Westfall, a professor at California Polytechnic University in Pomona. He computed in 2011 that over the 33 years from 1975 to 2008, the number of full-time faculty in the California state university system had barely increased at all: up from 11,614 to 12,019. Over the same period, the number of administrators had multiplied like little mushrooms: 3,000 had become 12,183.

You might ask: What do these administrators do?

Today’s New York Times offers one modest illustration. Over the past 18 months, the Times reports, 90 American colleges and universities have hired “chief diversity officers.” These administrators were hired in response to the wave of racial incidents that convulsed campuses like the University of Missouri over the past year. They are bulking up an already thriving industry. In March 2016, the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education held its 10th annual conference in San Francisco. Attendance set a new record: 370. The association publishes a journal. It bestows awards of excellence.

As diversity officers proliferate, entire learned specialties plunge into hiring depressions. In the most recent academic years, job postings for historians declined by 8 percent, the third decline in a row. Cumulatively, new hirings of historians have dropped 45 percent since 2011-2012.

Ultimately, critics will argue that having diversity experts at universities is important. Few contend that having people from different walks of life active in a university community is detrimental. Where many conservatives, rightfully in my opinion, find fault with this “diversity agenda” is that it embraces a select few underrepresented groups while excluding others for purely ideological reasons. In James Bloodworth’s excellent book, The Myth of Meritocracy, he notes the manner in which working class whites are often excluded from state efforts to better the disadvantaged due to the pervasive nature of identity politics on the left. Diversity seems to matter at universities only when it comes to race and gender, not for those of different classes or philosophical perspectives. It is not surprising that large swaths of Americans are distrustful of these institutions.

A good leftist might say, “Yes, we need to increase the number of white working class people as well. We, in fact, need more diversity experts.” Perhaps, or maybe we are just asking too much from our universities. Being a schoolteacher, I flinch at calls by pundits and political figures for our schools to do more. Provide more services, increase test scores, and uphold the values and traditions of the nation.

It may be that our schools are already stretched thin and that by turning them into second homes for all students, we actually make our schools worse in the process. At best, we make them increasingly expensive to operate due to the surges in the bureaucracy. We also run the risk of needlessly politicizing these institutions in such a way that large portions of our community now see them as little more than indoctrination factories for the left, bent on enforcing a very specific form of diversity that excludes them.

Let me offer a radical alternative: let’s make universities less welcoming. They should be a place of academic trial and struggle, forcing students into uncomfortable situations to improve their understanding of the world and increase their personal fortitude. Much like boot camp, there will be no safe space. No idea is holy. You will be forced to read and ponder concepts you personally despise. You will be asked to live and mingle with individuals from other walks of life. If any of this bothers you, you can drop out and consider other roads through life. The school will be welcoming in that it accepts all people but its community responsibility to the student ends there.

I recognize this is not a perfect solution. Some students may wish their institutions had larger, more expensive bureaucracies designed to enshrine some communities and ideas over others. This political victory by administrative coup is shortsighted however, as it will only bread increased distrust from the community as a whole in these institution’s impartiality. Since portions of the right and left seem bent on wielding the university system to their own ends, it seems this minimalist proposition is the only way to ensure our universities remain untethered to a political interest group.

As it stands, the right and left are attacking our university because it doesn’t elevate their ideas above competing ideologies and ways of life. Christians are demanding that their religious views on the age of the earth and the development of life not impact their acceptance to the biology department; race activists on the left demand a veto on scholars they disagree with. Both sides can point to legitimate issues of discrimination that need to be addressed in higher education, but the desire to enshrine their position in our institutions into codified officialdoms does a disservice to our universities.

Perhaps, formalized bureaucratic diversity has only made our universities worse, and ironically, less diverse in the ways that matter.

 


Staff Writer
Twitter 

Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

132 thoughts on “Make Universities Less Welcoming

  1. Can you give an example of universities ever being unwelcoming places filled with struggle and trial? Especially at the Undergrad level. I can think of a handful of schools known primarily for their intellectual rigor and those are Chicago, Swarthmore, MIT, and CalTech.

    The first universities were created to train priests, lawyers, and doctors. The sons of the rich came soon after and it wasn’t until very recently that higher education was able to shake its reputation as a place of being a finishing school for the rich if it ever did.

    The tuition crisis is not going to help with your goal. The research I have seen shows that it was possible to pay for tuition largely with minimum wage jobs in the 1970s and until sometime in the 80s but this changed quickly. Tuition has skyrocketed and no one wants to force even public universities to lower their tuition prices. Or the will to do so just isn’t there.

    As long as student loans are a real thing, universities will see their students and their parents as customers and customers have power. Customers must be pleased.

    There is also the “Excellent Sheep” problem. Our best students succeed because they know how to work the current system and thrive in it and they don’t question it. The issue you address above won’t change until this changes. The current elite of our generation got good grades and went to the best universities and got good grades there and this led to an upper middle class life or above via jobs in finance, banking, consulting, and now tech. Our generation learned that you use university to get economic security, not intellectual rigor. Perhaps this was always true as well. LeeEsq has written about this concept in American history. It is also important to remember that when people talk about STEM, you can probably take out the S and the M. Our leaders don’t want particle physicists, they want computer programmers and engineers who will build the latest IPO and hot tech company.

    So as long as it is all about the economy and people in esoteric or less marketable majors get mocked; you will not see your reforms happen.

    Report

    • Studying math can lead to a high-paying career, as long as you’re willing to apply it to something like finance, insurance, or machine learning. A lot of math majors go into software engineering, too. The problem is when you just want to do research with no immediate practical value, because then you’re basically dependent on donations or government funding. It’s really only the S you can take out, and only some sciences.

      Report

      • That is a fair point. Lots of math majors become quants or software engineers. My broader point was still that STEM push by politicians is less about encouraging intellectual exploration and advancing knowledge and more about practical economic issues. Politicians and pundits try to fig leaf this but they often fail.

        Report

    • If folks chose a degree that isn’t always marketable, lets say a MFA, and then whine about it they deserved to be mocked. They got to choose their course of study and now have to accept the consequences.

      Report

      • This brings up another thesis of mine. We are a wealthy enough society to produce a lot of intellectually curious people who have the capacity to gain advanced educations in a wide range of subjects. We are not wealthy or advanced enough to produce enough jobs for said people including the sciences.

        Report

        • I was thinking along these same lines earlier today, though in a different context.

          Switzerland stands out amongst all of Europe in terms of GDP, and not due to their chocolates, cheese, and cuckoo clocks (though, admittedly, these are first-rate products which command a premium).
          It is the banking sector that rakes in the dough, not little Heidi up with Grampa on the mountain.
          A transaction-based economy (somewhat misaptly termed :service economy”) will always be able to produce more on paper than a production-based economy.
          Way more M3 than M1 money around, and it’s always going to be that way.

          There has been an underlying, overarching (and several other terms which might well describe a sandworm) assumption that the acceptable rate of change in an economy is infinite; that broad fundamental transformation is desirable; that our economy is so robust as to be able to absorb any rate of change whatever.
          Granted, this might be possible, were job re-training not an issue.
          Surely, we could put all former production workers to the sword, and fill the need for professionals to fulfill transactions via targeted immigration.
          Repression could well be our best friend.
          At least, insofar as expanding our economy is concerned.
          Nothing like a little repression to give a bump in GDP.

          Yes, the problem appears to be these long lifespans, many over 45 years, that people have gotten accustomed to.
          Maybe Keith Richards had something to do with that.
          Or there might be a way to blame it on the French.
          That’s always popular.

          Pasteur!
          That was the devil behind it!
          And now, superbugs . . .
          Have some freedom fries . . .
          Care for a super-size Diet Coke?
          It’s been shown to rot buzzard guts, and incur maggot vomit, in simulated lab tests . . .
          Well, ok, Grand Theft Auto . . .

          Nowhere else I can see is the proposition of infinite flow rate so (apparently) universally accepted.

          If I drink two bottles of chardonnay, I can calculate how much I will piss.
          After about the first minute-&-a-half of pissing, I can pretty much calculate how long it will take me to piss out the rest of that chardonnay.
          Too elitist for you?

          Ok, for the conservatives:
          If I drink five margueritas, I can calculate how much piss that will be.
          After about the first minute-&-a-half of pissing and, more likely than not, a long, groaning sigh, I can tell pretty close how much longer it will take me to piss out the rest of those margueritas..
          Are we all on the same page now?

          Flow rate.

          Now, the question is:
          What are we going to do about those long lifespans?

          (Hint: Baby Boomers)

          Report

  2. I went to college and grad school in the late 80s and early 90s. Then, the majority of instructors were left of center. (I sat next to one student in some class I forget now, but it was a GUR class, not a class in my major, where the student was a hard core conservative but went full on socialist in his class participation to bait the instructor. I knew other conservative students who just flew under the radar and parroted what left leaning phrases to “get through” the class.) I had more actual “educational inquiry” in high school chemistry.

    One of the problems I have with “diversity”, as has been mentioned, is that it’s not diversity of thought. If everyone is arguing degrees to the left of center, does it really matter if your ethnic/religious percentages align with the population at large? I went to college on the thinking that I’d actually LEARN something. To a certain extent I did. Oh, yes, I learned some facts. I learned some skills, but what I really learned was to keep my mouth shut and that what people say is rarely what they do. I can’t tell you how often I’d go into a class at the start of the semester looking forward to the subject matter only to have that experience degraded by listening to the instructor rant about the “republicans” or the right, etc. You’d maybe expect that in political related or history classes, but in English Comp?

    I’d hate to be going to college now. I went to learn something. I didn’t go so I could spend all day protesting and having difficulty getting to class because some bozos are blocking the doors, or are “disrupting” things because some drunk frat dude drew something on a sidewalk that could vaguely be a swastika.

    Report

  3. I think there’s something here.

    I know when I was a student – some 30 years ago, now, at a Public Ivy – there was much more of a “sink or swim” mindset in re: individual students. There WAS politicization on campus (The West Bank Bus. The Shanty. The pamphleteers and people with clipboards) but a lot of us – at least people in STEM mostly kind of walked faster when approached on the Diag and tried to avert our eyes. We did discuss issues in class, but pretty much only the ones pertaining to the class topic (e.g., environmental issues, drug approval by the FDA)

    For individual students – well, someone going in to their Earth Science teacher and demanding “alternate ages of the Earth” be taught would be (depending on the prof) laughed out of the office, told to drop the course if they don’t like it, or be given a polite “no.” I’ve had students harshly criticize me on evaluations for not teaching Intelligent Design in my classes alongside of evolution. Fine, that’s their right to say that, but I’m not gonna change how I teach. And yes, that would be the hill I’d choose to let my career die on if some admin came to me and said, “I know you want to cover evolution in your ecology class, but could you tone it down a little, and maybe include a creation narrative?” Unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

    Where I teach now, we have lots of “welcoming” activities. We have an exam-destressing week – once they even hinted that maybe the profs would give up a night of sleep to go volunteer to service “breakfast at midnight” to the students (like profs don’t need sleep during exam week?). And there is more paperwork burden on the profs than there was when I started this gig almost 20 years ago. Most of it is aimed at “retention,” which is a big, big deal at a small school with shrinking state appropriations. (One thing I will say: between the online gradebooks, the monthly monitoring e-mails we’re supposed to send out, and our ten hours per week of office hours – no student should be able to complain that they don’t know their grade. Oh, they still DO, but they shouldn’t.)

    A lot of this seems to be aimed at two things: first, reducing any need to struggle or live with insecurity. And second, and I’m sure this is the real reason: Legal CYA to keep us from being sued by a clever attorney with an axe to grind.

    But one of the hard lessons I learned as an adult is that an awful lot of life is not-knowing what you want to know, and struggling with difficulty, or with opposing viewpoints, or just plain putting up with “noise” in my vicinity that I don’t like. I’ve found difficulties with getting real discussion in class because students seem to be afraid of voicing a viewpoint that is in opposition to their peers (or to me, though I try VERY hard in class not to let on what my views on political topics are. I am sure students can suss them out by reading between the lines, but I try hard to communicate that my grade of you is based on how well you make your case and how you support it, and not whether you parrot exactly what I believe). People want to be safe.

    Or rather, it seems about 7/8 of the people want things to be safe and “nice,” and 1/8 just want to blow it all up and be uncivil about things instead of discussing and weighing evidence – and really, in a way, people just want their prejudices pandered to, whether they’re a “safe space” left-sider or a “MAGA!” right-sider, and they don’t want to consider that (a) they might be wrong in some ways and (b) maybe they should move out of their particular set of beliefs and consider what someone else is thinking, and why (beyond they “they’re a bad person and dumb” idea)

    I’m teaching a class on environmental law for the first time this fall and am wondering what I’m going to see in discussion there.

    I don’t know. I guess there are still people with independent minds out there but they do sometimes seem harder to find. Maybe the economic insecurity of recent years is driving people to try to follow the herd more? Maybe the whole idea of “one stupid comment on the internet will follow you forever and hurt your employment chances” is sinking in in unintended ways?

    Report

    • “I don’t know. I guess there are still people with independent minds out there but they do sometimes seem harder to find. ”

      Spoiler Alert. Most people have always and will always follow the herd. You just remember all the rabble rousers from when you were 19 and not the vast majority of the student body who just came to class, partied on the weekends, stayed quiet in class, and that was that.

      In 30 years, there will be a 50 year old former student of yours complaining about the 20 year olds they’re teaching. Such is life.

      Report

    • I think biology teachers should teach the Mayan creation story as related in the Popul Vuh and some other texts. It’s much more in line with science than Christian creationism, with the universe being created from multiple folding operations (string theory), an iterative biological creation process full of false starts and mistakes, with monkeys being the prior attempt at making people. It would also make Christian creationists shut the heck up as they realize their demands to teach alternatives to evolution result in their kids being taught bizarre Mayan polytheism in a religion that relished ritual human sacrifice.

      Report

  4. Saul is right, the only way to make colleges and universities less welcoming is to stop turning them into money making schemes for the right administrators and tenured professors. As long as being a college administrator or tenured professor at the right college is seen as good way to make lots of money and other fringe benefits, i.e. NYU giving Henry Louis Gates in apartment in New York City even though he teaches at Harvard, than the incentive is going to treat students as consumers and be as welcoming as possible. If you look at past media, going all the way back to the late 19th century, college was always treated as place to have a good time and play football when you were between 18 and 21. The Ivys had a theoretically good academic reputation but tended to focus on educated wealthy young people of differing academic ability until after World War II. The current meritocracy system did not exist until the first Baby Boomers hit college age in the early 1960s. Taking grades seriously got you labelled as a grind in America and a swot elsewhere in the English speaking world. Being a grind or swot was not a good thing.

    For politics, colleges and universities are one of the few places in the United States where real Far Leftists have a modicum of power. They aren’t going to give that up. We live in a very partisan time and only by decreasing the culture wars in the general culture can we decrease the culture wars on campus. Good luck with that.

    Report

  5. There are a couple of questions that probably need to be answered.

    “What is the mission of the university?” is one.
    “What is the person who goes to the university hoping to get from the experience?” is another.

    The tension between the answers to these questions is only exacerbated by the answer to the question “it costs *HOW* much to go there?!?”

    And the more weird and wacky the behavior of universities becomes, the more distance there seems to be between “the mission” and “what the people paying *HOW* much to go there” is.

    This problem could be solved if college cost an amount that could reasonably be paid off within a year or two of getting an average job. (And I mean “average for a 24 year old” and not “average for a 42 year old who has been in whatever industry for 15+ years.)

    Since it ain’t, there are going to be more and more questions like “what, exactly, are we getting for our money?”

    And like “well, here’s a list of things that people used to get back before university got really, really, really expensive” are only going to work for so long before people say, again, (but with emphasis this time) “what, *EXACTLY*, are *WE* getting for *OUR* money?”

    Report

    • The first universities had the mission of training priests, pastors, lawyers, and doctors. They also were places to store but not necessarily create knowledge. By the 16th century, they were finishing schools for the wealthy and remained so until the mid-20th century. In the early 19th century, German intellectuals created the idea of the research university, a university whose job is to create knowledge rather than just store it. Universities never had one purpose, they always had a bunch of purposes that might conflict.

      The current universities still exist to train professionals like the first one even though the professions have changed. They also exist to create new knowledge. They kind of lost their finishing school aspect but the reputation of some schools as party schools or the networking that goes on at elite universities tends to be a continuation of the finishing school aspect.

      Report

      • You also have the American Landgrant universities which were created to train better farmers and engineers and give them some classics while at it. A lot of the less well-off students at the Landgrant colleges in the 19th and 20th centuries were there to study better agriculture.

        Report

      • The first universities had the mission of training priests, pastors, lawyers, and doctors.

        Teachers.
        Almost all of the public universities here, and a sizeable number of community colleges, began as “teachers’ colleges” dedicated to the training of teachers.

        Report

        • “Normal schools.”

          There is a mid-sized city in Illinois (I used to live there) named Normal in memory of its teacher’s college (Now Illinois State University).

          Ordering stuff from catalogs, when I lived there, was…..interesting. I heard more than one customer-service rep go “Snerk” when I named my town.

          The place where I teach now started out as a teacher’s college, but I don’t know that it ever called itself a “normal school.”

          Report

        • I was going back to the Middle Ages. When I meant the first universities, I really meant the first. But many public universities and communities colleges did start out as teacher training normal schools as you and fillyjonk point out.

          Report

          • To repeat myself:

            And like “well, here’s a list of things that people used to get back before university got really, really, really expensive” are only going to work for so long before people say, again, (but with emphasis this time) “what, *EXACTLY*, are *WE* getting for *OUR* money?”

            Report

    • The tension between the answers to these questions is only exacerbated by the answer to the question “it costs *HOW* much to go there?!?”

      I think that’s key. If a degree increases your lifetime earnings, then it is an investment. It can be perfectly sensible to borrow tens of thousands of dollars you don’t have to pay for an investment, if the returns are high enough to justify it. However, if the merits of a degree are of a less tangible nature – social, intellectual or spiritual fulfilment then it is not an investment, but a consumer good. I don’t say that to disparage, after all investments are but a means to an end while consumer goods are an end in themselves, but the fact remains that it is spectacularly irresponsible to borrow tens of thousands of dollars in your early twenties to buy a consumer good, no matter how worthy it is.

      Expensive education can be an indulgence for the rich, or it can be an investment for everyone else. But non-pecuniary degrees are a non-starter for people who can’t afford them easily.

      Report

      • Yeah, this is one of those points that always seems to inspire “what? Are you saying that people don’t *DESERVE* Master’s Degrees in the Arts unless they’re rich?” kind of conversations when that’s, seriously, not the argument.

        But we hammered on this waaaaaay back in 2011 when we argued about that guy who quit his job, got a Master’s Degree in the Marionette Arts, found himself $35,000 in debt, the complained about not being able to find a job in the Marionette Arts that would help him pay off his debt.

        It *STILL* strikes me as nuts that we were arguing about that.

        Report

  6. They should be a place of academic trial and struggle, forcing students into uncomfortable situations to improve their understanding of the world and increase their personal fortitude. Much like boot camp, there will be no safe space. No idea is holy. You will be forced to read and ponder concepts you personally despise.

    People say this, but what they often mean is that there should be 20 stalins. Everyone is always about more radical more egalitarian. But no one ever defends a stratified society.

    As it stands, the right and left are attacking our university because it doesn’t elevate their ideas above competing ideologies and ways of life.

    This sort of proves my point. The right’s complaint is not that the university doesn’t elevate their ideas above competing ideologies, it is that the university treats their ideas as illegitimate by default. If even what half of what’s going on in Heterodox university is accurate then it cannot merely be that universities are neutral between left wing and right wing ideas and both sides are pissed that it does not favour their own

    Report

    • forcing students into uncomfortable situations to improve their understanding of the world and increase their personal fortitude. Much like boot camp, there will be no safe space. No idea is holy. You will be forced to read and ponder concepts you personally despise.

      This passage reminds me of the English teacher at the Catholic high school who was dismissed after, inter alia, assigning Toni Morrison for her class to read.
      If familiarizing the students with bestiality and incest were the objective, they could well read Greek mythology, though it typically is not given the sympathetic treatment of Morrison.

      it cannot merely be that universities are neutral between left wing and right wing ideas and both sides are pissed that it does not favour their own

      Deep in the Red State, the Ivory Tower leans noticeably to the Left.
      The exception is the Criminal Justice department, where there tends to be one or two Leftists a year who disbelieve in the notion of intentionally seeking out the most vulnerable members of society to inflict grievous injury on them. They typically don’t last too long.

      Most polisci profs are discernably Leftist. I had one exceptional prof for polisci that I still would be unable to even generalize about his personal politics. I can tell he doesn’t like Madigan at all, but that’s not unusual even for a Democrat.
      Maybe half of the Legal Studies department is avowedly Leftist, though there is an openly Republican woman, Mormon as well; but she’s a T14 grad. A handful are notably non-political.
      Most of the Communication department leans wide Left, and are fairly open about it.
      The vast majority of the Art department are bleeding heart liberals, and unprofessional as well, as you would expect. They are not as likely as Communications people to analyze why the department employs more Leftists.
      The Business & Management classes show a good mix of Left/Right, maybe tending to the Right.

      It varies a great deal by department.
      I believe a lot of the problems noted are actually caused by administration and staff (including university police) rather than faculty.
      Administration is fairly congested, unwieldy, and unresponsive.

      Probably the best that can be done at this point is re-label The Lottery as “Instruction Manual,” and pass it out before the company picnic.
      I’m not sure if that would reduce administrative positions sufficiently.
      Perhaps a monthly picnic would help.

      Report

  7. the number of administrators had multiplied like little mushrooms: 3,000 had become 12,183. You might ask: What do these administrators do?

    Their job is to deal with other administrations, or their own, or prove that the U is “doing something”.

    And those numbers probably understate the problem. That Chief Diversity Officer needs a staff to fully demonstrate his importance, many of his minions will need minions., everyone else will need more minions to interact with his department… and these thousands of bureaucrats+minions will need buildings in which to “work”, they’ll need IT support, etc.

    And having created a massive bureaucracy whose only job it is to deal with other massive bureaucracies, we’re shocked that the price of running this mess increases.

    Report

  8. I think there’s a better lens to look at the controversy. As a Marxist, I view the topic as a power struggle between classes.

    The professional-managerial class PMC is making a fighting retreat against the resurgent capitalist class (CC). Academia is the center of PMC legitimacy; the CC attacks academia to undermine the legitimacy of the PMC.

    As we saw in 1929, 2007, and 2016 (with the election of Trump) (not to mention 1873), the CC is absolutely unable to manage the macroeconomy and completely unsuited for political rule. The PMC took state power after the Great Depression, but as soon as the threat of socialist revolution was averted, the CC wanted their power back. They got it back in 1980, but they did not intend to make the same mistake the PMC made: they set out to not just subordinate but utterly destroy the PMC.

    If the PMC is to survive, academia must be, well, professional and managerial, not capitalist. Universities exist precisely to inculcate specific modes of thought, inquiry and action necessary to reproduce capitalism: there is a limit to the “ideological diversity” they can tolerate. (Also, people shouldn’t be egregiously racist, sexist, etc. just on GP.) If one is going to argue some abstract notion of “principles”, these principles should recognize that the university exists to do the things capitalism needs done that capitalists are utterly incapable of doing.

    Of course, the PMC and academia will not survive. The CC has the will and power to utterly destroy the PMC and turn academia into another avenue for extracting surplus value. However, the CC is destroying the only class (the PMC) and the only institution (academia) that has a chance to reproduce capitalism. As a Marxist, I view the inevitable wheels falling off of capitalism with both hope and considerable fear: we have another opportunity at an economically just society, but the toll in blood, no matter who fights and who wins, will be (again) depressingly high.

    Report

    • Interesting take, no surprise, my view of the situation is near opposite. Socialism has continued to unfold through ‘progressive action’ since before 1786. I don’t see the 1980s as anything but another step in expansion as nearly every social construct continued to grow.

      The socialistic/progressives have made it important for indoctrination and to maintain guild standing for social institutions. As the state melds with the corporate, there is built state corporations, university work becomes the indoctrination of the motive of the state corporations.

      Each individual is to become a piece of the state corporation, serving it as a cog in the system. Each individual becomes a piece of a means to an end, instead of an end in and of its self.

      That brings a very real disparity. What is the value of a university or a state corporation in an individuals subjective value. If the value is not significant then the creative destruction of those social constructs is imminent, as it should be. The repeated destruction of types of feudalism is the primary task of base capitalism as practiced with individual sovereignty. I for one delight in seeing any social institution that uses force or economic aggression destroyed.

      Report

      • Socialism has continued to unfold through ‘progressive action’ since before 1786.

        Marxists such as myself distinguish between socialism and welfare-state capitalism. Socialism entails the working class (people who, in a capitalist economy, sell their labor power on the free market, and whose surplus labor forms the basis of profit) gaining real political and economic power. Welfare-state capitalism entails the government paying for public goods without the working class having substantial political power.

        The socialistic/progressives have made it important for indoctrination and to maintain guild standing for social institutions. As the state melds with the corporate, there is built state corporations, university work becomes the indoctrination of the motive of the state corporations.

        It’s not the socialists, but yes, that’s what the professional-managerial class pretty much needs from academia. Remember, “indoctrination” consists of inculcating ideas one does not agree with; the opposite is “teaching”.

        I don’t know what you mean by the state melding with corporations. In most capitalist economies, states and (private) corporations work together closely. Complicated societies, capitalist societies included, require a lot of public goods necessary for the reproduction of the society, and there is good economic theory that shows that public goods are hard to produce efficiently without some sort of social planning.

        In any event, I have seen little evidence that the present United States government has ever tried to directly take over or absorb private corporations producing excludable, rival goods.

        Each individual is to become a piece of the state corporation, serving it as a cog in the system. Each individual becomes a piece of a means to an end, instead of an end in and of its self.

        The above description is almost, but not quite entirely, unlike what academia actually does. This seems much more like what the capitalist class wants of the working class.

        That brings a very real disparity. What is the value of a university or a state corporation in an individuals subjective value.

        This is a capitalist view. The whole point of academia is that the capitalist view is completely incompetent to actually reproduce capitalism; hence academia — the foundation of PMC legitimacy — has to be something other than capitalist.

        I for one delight in seeing any social institution that uses force or economic aggression against people I like destroyed.

        Fixed that for you!

        Report

        • Thanks for the reply, this is a interesting discussion and I can tell we come from very different positions.

          “Socialism entails the working class gaining real political and economic power.”
          This is the ideology, but doesn’t actually work in reality. An individual has no real political and economic power in a socialist construct. History shows repeatedly that the power resides with the vanguards and the leader. The ability of any individual to exercise individual sovereign power is at the very minimum in social constructs. Assuming most people do work in a nation, the functional political and economic power is distributed functionally in the exact opposite way the ideology proposes.

          This is little different in practice than the developments of a social democracy were the factions eventually align with the vanguard powers of state leaders and corporations to become in effect a similar authoritarian state.

          Indoctrination and teaching are both the presenting of ideas and principles, the only difference being the acceptance of things ‘critically’ or ‘uncritically’ which is a pretty thin line tow.

          I find base capitalism, the producing of tangible capital wealth is nothing new and can be found around the world, whether social constructs exist or not, whether some managerial class exists or not. Free exchange can be found in every part of the world. It exists even in parts of the world so totalitarianist that free exchanges have been made illegal.

          I propose base capitalism is reproducible unto itself. It is a spontaneous ordering, not requiring any PMC, academia or any formal CC. Only when state and corporatism arise is there typically requirement for the formal institutional formations.

          I for one delight in seeing any social construct destroyed.
          There more better!

          Report

          • This is the ideology, but doesn’t actually work in reality.

            There is a difference between does not work and has not yet worked, and an even bigger difference between did not work forever. Both the USSR and PRC took impoverished agrarian colonized countries and turned them into world powers. That ain’t chopped liver.

            The ability of any individual to exercise individual sovereign power is at the very minimum in social constructs.

            I don’t understand what you mean by individual sovereign power. “Sovereign” usually means “highest law”; even in the United States, all individual rights flow from the constitution, so it is the constitution, not the individual, that is sovereign.

            Assuming most people do work in a nation, the functional political and economic power is distributed functionally in the exact opposite way the ideology proposes.

            I will concede the point a little, but only first replacing the present tense, which indicates universal truth, with the past tense, which indicates historical particularity. Second, I will admit there were historical disconnections between the ideology and reality (which is inevitable: reality is far too messy to ever conform perfectly to any utopian ideology, left, right, or center), but not that ideology and reality were “exact opposites”.

            Finally, there are a lot of reasons why there were disconnections between ideology and reality. History is too complicated for simple reductionism.

            This is little different in practice than the developments of a social democracy were the factions eventually align with the vanguard powers of state leaders and corporations to become in effect a similar authoritarian state.

            I don’t understand. Can you give me examples?

            Indoctrination and teaching are both the presenting of ideas and principles, the only difference being the acceptance of things ‘critically’ or ‘uncritically’ which is a pretty thin line tow.

            It is easy to simply assume that anyone who accepts an idea one disagrees with must have accepted it uncritically. This conclusion is usually unwarranted.

            I find base capitalism, the producing of tangible capital wealth is nothing new and can be found around the world, whether social constructs exist or not, whether some managerial class exists or not. Free exchange can be found in every part of the world. It exists even in parts of the world so totalitarianist that free exchanges have been made illegal.

            The capitalism is universal and ahistorical argument has little merit. First, social constructs always exist.

            Second, “free exchange” does not make sense. For exchange to exist at all, much less be pervasive, there must be coercion to enforce contracts; if coercion and freedom are complements, then there is no such thing as free exchange (or it is just trivial bartering).

            Second, just that people create capital wealth (in the economic sense of the production of commodities by the use of commodities) and sometimes barter doesn’t make capitalism. Capitalism is a social construct that promotes certain kinds of interactions, power structures, and institutions, and deprecates others.

            I propose base capitalism is reproducible unto itself.

            Either this assertion is vacuous, i.e. all human societies and social structures reproduce themselves… until they die; our social structures are not imposed on us by aliens, or it is a utopian fantasy from Friedrich Hayek’s and his admirers’ fevered dreams: there has never been a society that reproduced itself without any institutions dedicated to that task.

            Only when state and corporatism arise is there typically requirement for the formal institutional formations.

            But you apparently believe they do actually arise. Where did they come from? Aliens? At the very least, you admit that “capitalism” (I’m not at all convinced you really understand the term) requires institutions to reproduce itself.

            I for one delight in seeing any social construct destroyed.
            There more better!

            Is that so? Capitalism is a social construct. Money is a social construct. Language is a social construct. This message board is a social construct. Civilization is a social construct. The only way to get rid of social constructs is to destroy Broca’s area in every living person so we can no longer communicate socially.

            Report

            • Both the USSR and PRC took impoverished agrarian colonized countries and turned them into world powers. That ain’t chopped liver.

              How many millions had to die to create a workers’ paradise in both those places? No, thanks comrade.

              Report

                  • notme,
                    The Triangle Fire wasn’t the only incident where workers died.
                    And remember the Exodus?
                    How about the Trail of Tears?
                    The Marianas?

                    America’s about as bloody a country as you can get.

                    Report

                      • I wouldn’t try to guess at the death toll of American industrial growth in the early 20th century, but I know it was pretty grim.

                        That said, the US, for all it’s warts, did not make a habit of mass killing & imprisonment for politics. The lives stolen in the USSR & PRC were often the result of efforts to silence dissent. The toll in America was more attributable to avarice and apathy.

                        That distinction is gonna matter to people.

                        Report

                        • That distinction is gonna matter to people.

                          Oh, so it doesn’t matter that we kill a lot of people? What matters is the story we tell ourselves about why we kill them? It’s A-OK to kill people because they’re on our land or our oil, to let them die because of enforced poverty, to enslave them because they’re black, but it’s not OK to imprison people because they advocate the overthrow of the state?

                          And of course we make a habit of mass killing & imprisonment for politics. Why else would we have the highest percentage of our citizens in prison of any country? Why else do the police routinely slaughter black people in this country? What about the mass imprisonment of refugees in Australia? These are just off the top of our head.

                          Don’t answer, “Well, it’s complicated.” It’s all complicated.

                          You’re veering close to the argumentative shoals of a gigantic special pleading fallacy: “You are bad because you do bad things, but we are good, which justifies the bad things we do,” or, “We both do bad things, but your bad things are worse because you do them.”

                          Report

                          • I’m not saying we are the better angels, FSM knows I’m hypercritical of how our political institutions work.

                            However, you are making some pretty massive assumptions that the organs of state in the PRC and USSR (and other communist regimes since the start of the 20th century) were meting out perfect justice when they killed or imprisoned people who ‘advocated the overthrow of the state’. An awful lot of people in those nations died or were imprisoned for merely speaking out against the state (what we generally refer to hereabouts as ‘protected speech’), or more specifically, the people in control of the state.

                            One constant that runs through communist regimes (hell, through all power structures, to be honest) is that those in power will go to incredible lengths to keep that power, and the communists were not immune to that, but they also had the ability to use violence against their own people to keep that power. Otherwise the death tolls of people killed by direct government action would not be in the millions.

                            Also, trying to tie WWI & WWII into this is thin.

                            But yes, history is bloody, and the kings of old would merrily kill off the peasants in job lots when it suited their needs (or send them to die in battle). But we aren’t talking about the span of human civilization, we are talking about communist regimes who consistently fall to corruption because the people in power have little to no functional checks on their power. That makes it the past 100 years or so.

                            Our sin (i.e. Western Powers) is less unchecked power and more rampant apathy (a condition our government eagerly promotes, because power). The fact that the checks on power in the US are still largely in place, if rarely used, at least lets me hope that the people, should they become sufficiently roused, will actually act to stop abuses. The trick is rousing them.

                            Report

                            • However, you are making some pretty massive assumptions that the organs of state in the PRC and USSR (and other communist regimes since the start of the 20th century) were meting out perfect justice when they killed or imprisoned people who ‘advocated the overthrow of the state’.

                              That’s not what I said.

                              One constant that runs through communist regimes (hell, through all power structures, to be honest) is that those in power will go to incredible lengths to keep that power… [emphasis added]

                              The boldfaced above is precisely my point. Such activity, because is ubiquitous, cannot be used as a point of differentiation.

                              Otherwise the death tolls of people killed by direct government action would not be in the millions.

                              I don’t buy that the death tolls by direct government action is in the millions, unless you count deaths in war.

                              we are talking about communist regimes who consistently fall to corruption because the people in power have little to no functional checks on their power. That makes it the past 100 years or so.

                              And the capitalist class has functional checks on its power and is not entirely corrupt? And I don’t think it’s legitimate to compare mature capitalism to immature socialism: Why are the sins of the formation of capitalism exempt from moral analysis. If capitalism is founded on a mountain of bodies in the 18th and 19th century, why is that insignificant when denouncing the mountain of bodies underlying socialism?

                              There are a lot of moving parts here. I am not — to put it mildly — ever under any circumstances in favor of millions of people dying. If millions of people die for any reason, whoever is in charge has screwed up royally, should be held accountable, and we should work hard to remedy the situation.

                              The question, rather, is whether economic rule by the capitalist class, potentially moderated by political rule of the PMC, and subordinating and exploiting the working class is definitely known to be the best (or only) way to not only prevent millions of people from dying but also building a just and fair society.

                              Report

                              • I don’t buy that the death tolls by direct government action is in the millions

                                IIRC, there is quite a lot of documentation of the horrible abuses of the people by those governments. Stalin & Lenin were grade A monsters. After Stalin died, the USSR got better, by some measures, but the power structure that was built was not interested in being subverted and dissolved, so it continued being bad, if to a lesser degree. The body counts in China and SE Asia were, from what I understand, much more horrific, and Cuba/South America have their own issues with dealing with the opposition most expediently.

                                So you don’t have to buy those numbers, but a lot of people do, a whole lot of people, and that is something you can’t hand wave away.

                                The question, rather, is whether economic rule by the capitalist class, potentially moderated by political rule of the PMC, and subordinating and exploiting the working class is definitely known to be the best (or only) way to not only prevent millions of people from dying but also building a just and fair society.

                                No, the question is, why does Socialism/Communism seem to attract the worst sort of authoritarian to leadership? Let me be generous here and assume the ideology is sound. Then it has a significant problem in that it can not attract adherents who are both capable of rallying the masses and actually doing the difficult work of governing well (see also: Trump). Governing is hard, doing it well even more so, and by and large, populists suck at it. I’d love to see* a country that has a revolutionary leader gain control, work to implement socialism, and then fade away and leave the governing to people who know how to actually operate bureaucracies and economies. But that never happens, so the ideology remains a failed one, and capitalism, for all it’s many warts (and they are legion) continues to excel at improving the human condition.

                                *I’m serious about this, I think that a well constructed socialist system could work, but we’ve yet to have anyone erect one that is both effective and robust. They either fall to shit straight away through incompetent leadership (failure to feed the people and/or inability to handle dissent in a peaceful & just manner), or they collapse the first time they hit an economic hiccup (Venezuela). Or they get smart and take the China route, and allow for some degree of capitalism to flourish, at least enough to make the economy robust and satisfy the wants and needs of the people.

                                Report

                        • Oscar,
                          Takei remembers when America imprisoned people for politics.
                          Simply because it was easier for Germans to pretend not to be Germans doesn’t mean we didn’t want them locked up or killed.
                          Ditto Jews, Ditto Blacks, Ditto Irish.
                          The KKK wasn’t just about blacks, sure nuff.

                          And if you can’t be bothered to see that racial animosity is Politics By Other Means (propaganda, in other words), well…

                          Report

                    • Thanks, Kimmi.

                      Not just the Trail of Tears, but the genocide of the indigenous North, Central, and South American peoples.

                      Let me add:
                      The Great Famine (Ireland)

                      The First and Second Imperialists Wars, including the use of saturation bombing, firebombing, and nuclear weapons, twice! on civilians.

                      The Holocaust (Hitler was as capitalist as Stalin was communist.)

                      The Russian Civil War.

                      Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Iran, etc. ad nauseam.

                      And there is, of course, the present day wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc.

                      “20,000 and 45,000 deaths a year due to lack of health insurance.”

                      Let’s not forget 300 years of slavery and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (50-100 million deaths right there).

                      And that’s just the US. When we throw in British and Western-European colonialism we also get the partition of the Indian subcontinent, and the Belgian Congo.

                      Shall I go on? The history of civilization has been drenched in blood since the beginning of recorded history.

                      Report

            • All good counters let’s see if we can unpack them a little more.

              -Let’s start with the work ability of socialist systems. I for one think Marx was on to a few things, but why doesn’t it work out? What are the parameters that make it unworkable?

              Let’s start with leaders and vanguards. Where do they come from? Why do they climb into the positions that open? Why do they consider their authority capable of leading a group of people?

              Why do the vast majority of socialist states turn quickly into authoritarian dictatorships? Maybe it has something to do with authoritarianism? Turning an agrarian society into a World Power for what reason, to what end?

              -Here is something I’m going to make abundantly clear. Rights as framed in the constitution don’t matter. The constitution doesn’t matter. Why you might ask? The constitution only represents rule of law. Rule of law as represented by the assorted individual constructs of consenting individuals. Individual sovereignty was a recognizable concept before and during the drafting of the constitution. Somehow the progressives-socialists-modern liberals have selective history cognition.

              The BOR was supposed to be a warning, a limiting mechanism to avoid conflict of the individuals against government collectivist rule. Regulating at that time meant regulating the government, not dispensing rights to individuals.

              Rights are not something free people ask or beg for, they exercise them freely. Freedom is the primary, and all spontaneous order flows out of that freedom. Not the other way around. It worked for awhile because it had a double meaning. ‘We the people’ worked for a time for both collectivists and individuals. The collectivists ended up running over the individuals, the republic was not kept, so what we have is a eventual looming civil war. Another war of feudalism on the horizon. Stationary bandits yet to bleed. A cheeky leviathan that never sees it coming.

              -Example? A brief search through collusion of government and corporations reveal the concept. The top two in a brief search here and here. The third was Corporatocracy, ha!

              -I’m not impressed or overly optimistic that ideas or principles are being presented in any kind of context that would apply critical thinking about the current state of social objectivity.

              -Vacuous? All society runs on something, I suppose it’s safe to say unicorn farts and marshmallow dust in utopian speak. For the rest of us, production to the ends of capital formation is a thing. No matter if there is a formal society or not, no matter if there is a civilization or not.

              -They arise from the ideologies of needs.

              -That last one was partly in jest, only partly though.

              Capitalism in its current form? Yep destroy that, and start over.
              Money in it’s current form? Yep destroy that and start over.
              Language? Man have you attempted to trace the logic in the english language?
              This message board? There is enough churn to keep it fresh. maybe keep it

              Broca’s, do you really want to die on that hill? There is like this one social ideology most fit for non-talking drones.

              Report

            • Both the USSR and PRC took impoverished agrarian colonized countries and turned them into world powers. That ain’t chopped liver.

              PRC’s long term GDP/person graphs show no growth for the period of time they tried communism. That’s quite a bit worse than it sounds considering everything else they did, i.e. all their positive accomplishments were matched by negative accomplishments. And this is in the context of the rest of the world experiencing massive gains, so… ouch.

              https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1700_AD_through_2008_AD_per_capita_GDP_of_China_Germany_India_Japan_UK_USA_per_Angus_Maddison.png

              The USSR’s GDP/person does suggest good things… but once again, that’s in the context of the rest of the world also experiencing massive gains. http://ivgnnm.livejournal.com/356635.html

              Report

  9. Listen Larry, I get that you are an advocate for a stronger socialist society, and I can respect that, even if I don’t agree that such is necessarily the best path toward human flourishing. And I also quite happy to agree that the Western Powers are not innocent of crimes against their own peoples. But AFAIK every government that called itself communist (or some flavor thereof) since the early 20th century on has had a habit of killing or imprisoning large numbers of their people for contrary political thought & speech. These were not people who took up arms against their governments, or led others to do so, but merely spoke out against them, or were otherwise inconvenient to those in power.

    If your system of government, if your ideals for society, can not withstand opposing viewpoints, you’re either doing something very wrong, or your ideals are faulty. Governments exist to protect the people they govern, and if you are acting against those you govern because they peacefully disagree with you, you have failed the core function of government (e.g. this is one of the reasons I am very critical when police kill people who were clearly not a threat – you can not protect & serve the public when there are large swaths of the public you are terrified of).

    Perhaps there is a communist/strong socialist government on earth, right now, that does not act against it’s own people for political speech, but I’m not aware of one.

    Anyway, your defense up above smacks strongly of both an argument that communism isn’t so bad because capitalist democracies do bad things too, and also an argument that communism can not fail, it can only be failed. Both thrusts fail to convince, and let’s be honest here, I’m not trying to convince you of the stellar benefits of capitalist democracies. I have no desire to defend it so strongly, but you will not convince me of the strength of your preferred system if you have to resort to either of the above approaches.

    Finally, in your tally up above, you lambasted the US for uninsured people. I’m not a fan of uninsured people, and I’m betting we could figure out some way to get them coverage, but there is a significant difference between governments passively allowing people to suffer and die, and governments actively contributing to the suffering and death, either by withholding access*, or by sending agents out to contribute directly (this is why things like Smallpox blankets and the Trail of Tears are such black marks on our national history). I am terribly skeptical of concentrated power, and very wary of it, precisely because it can be targeted so devastatingly against people, and communism doesn’t seem to work without a strong central power structure.

    *i.e. A person without insurance is not prevented, by government order, from getting health care. They can still get emergency care, and they can still raise funds sufficient to cover their care, and the government will not stop them (as long as the funds are not raised through theft or fraud). It’s less than ideal, but a far cry better than having access denied by authority, despite ability to pay.

    Report

    • Also, as a practical matter, as soon as/as long as communists and socialists try to defend and carry water for things like the USSR and its associated family of collectivist hellholes the game is pretty much lost. I think the “they were nightmares and did it almost all wrong” is the more productive tack to take*.

      *Though even there communism has a pretty steep hill to climb. Everyone has seen the sides of roads or the insides of bus shelters.

      Report

      • as long as communists and socialists try to defend and carry water for things like the USSR and its associated family of collectivist hellholes the game is pretty much lost.

        Sigh. I’m not trying to carry anyone’s water. I’m responding to the assertion that socialism and communism are absolutely discredited because of a few million deaths, but capitalism is still awesome despite a few million deaths. It’s a terrible argument.

        Report

        • Well to that you’d have to address Oscars points. There’s a magnitude of different between states letting things happen in the course of their history and directly carrying things out themselves. My point is that arguing the merits of the USSR is probably a problematic diversion from your core goal which is justifying communism/socialism.

          Report

    • Bill Gates probably doesn’t have health insurance.

      And as a side note, it’s highly improbable to catch smallpox from a blanket. Non-inoculated girls in India who worked at washing laundry in the last small pox wards almost never caught smallpox, and they were dealing with blankets straight off the patients.

      NIH smallpox study

      Report

  10. What are the parameters that make it unworkable?

    We don’t know that socialism is unworkable; we know only that two attempts eventually failed; one became a kleptocracy and the other capitalist in all but name. I mean, in 1798 did we know that a democratic republic was “unworkable” because Rome had fallen to authoritarian rule?

    The absolute, implacable hostility of the capitalist west towards communism, made manifest long before any of the supposed ills of the USSR and PRC, including the credible threat of nuclear annihilation, might have a little to do with those failures. If I burn down your house, I’m hardly justified in saying the architecture was unworkable.

    Rights as framed in the constitution don’t matter.

    They don’t? If the police or government violate your constitutional rights, are you saying you would not argue your constitutional rights in court? Are you saying you wouldn’t seek legal remedies? Practically speaking, how would you defend your rights against encroachment by the state?

    Individual sovereignty was a recognizable concept before and during the drafting of the constitution. Somehow the progressives-socialists-modern liberals have selective history cognition.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I have a degree in political science, and I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Freedom is the primary, and all spontaneous order flows out of that freedom.

    Again, I have no idea what you mean here; it sounds vaguely like Randobabble, with a dash of Hayek. Are you describing your religious beliefs, or making a scientific truth claim?

    A brief search through collusion of government and corporations reveal the concept.

    Given that corporations are chartered and legitimized by the government, are regulated by the government, and are routinely paid by the government for the production of public goods, just asserting “collusion” seems vacuous. Of course they work together. Someone has to actually do capitalism. I’m not sure what your point is.

    For the rest of us, production to the ends of capital formation is a thing.

    Capital formation is an end? I thought a prosperous, just society and human well-being is a better end.

    No matter if there is a formal society or not, no matter if there is a civilization or not.

    But how does one actually form capital without an formal society or civilization?

    Capitalism in its current form? Yep destroy that, and start over.
    Money in it’s current form? Yep destroy that and start over.

    No argument there!

    Language? Man have you attempted to trace the logic in the english language?

    Yes. My point was that language is a social construct.

    Report

    • Again, all good points, and I enjoy your perspective as it is very different than my own.

      -To be fair I am not sure any form of government is workable outside of self-rule. Kleptocracy and the other capitalist, at least capitalism in the modern sense are some failure modes.

      The failure mode I am most concerned with is authoritarianism. What I usually see in the socialist uprising is leaders and vanguards. It appears to be the first step of a revolution is to cede all authority to the military effort, followed by ceding of all authority to the economic organizing effort, followed by some transformation effort that never really seems to stick the landing. So there is a prolonged period of centralized authority that never is redistributed to the people. Power is centralized instead of decentralized.

      -A policeman of the state can kill me at anytime and there would be a very real possibility of no repercussion. The monopoly of force, (as I am told repeatedly) is the object of the state. The ability to kill without impunity, I think is how our fellow Stillwater used to say it.

      Besides, there are a variety of other political factions and even the supreme court that can distort and bend meanings to particular political whims. The president and secret courts have no coherent boundaries. The powers meant to be divided and checking don’t stand. So no, as it stands right now, the constitution isn’t worth any more than a loaded magazine of .45 ACP rounds.

      Let me repeat this, I don’t have rights. There is nothing sacred the state is supposedly giving me that it can’t take back. Any rights I may or may not have, would be determined by a court that I wouldn’t perceive as fair or unbiased. I haven’t been asked to approve or disapprove a law or constitution my entire life. The entire legal system has no subjective value to me because I didn’t consent to any of it or create any of it. The constitution or ‘rights’ speech is useless. Any given person at any given time, only has rule of law as an individual construct. It is the only thing they consistently consent to and approve and defend at the same time. It is the only form of legitimate justice at any given time. It is only useful to the degree it can be defended.

      That is the realists position. We can talk fairy tells all you want about rights, but that is the final measure of it.

      -Good god man, I hope you didn’t spend too much on that degree, maybe we could see about getting some of your money back. Just ribbing. Honestly, I think academia has tried to erase as many traces of the concept of individual sovereignty as possible. It’s out there, but probably not found much in the Marxist sections of the library. You may not think much of the concept, but I think if socialism is to have a future, a little more than half of it will have to be based in individual sovereignty. Don’t ask me how, or even if it is a possibility, I’m just sayin’.

      -It takes a sharp eye and a versed mind to spot the components: ‘Freedom is the primary’ comes from Proudhon’s ‘liberty is not the daughter, but the mother of order’ adding spontaneous to the ‘spontaneous order’ pulled from Zhuangzi and later Smith.

      It is half of the two freedoms problem I often yammer on about.

      -I’m good if it isn’t obvious or not a obvious contention of your position. Feel free to ignore it if you wish, it is just very visible problem from my position.

      -Yeah it’s an end, I mean it’s really a thing, like a worthwhile thing. We can try not achieving capital formation, to each his own, just don’t ask me for anything.

      You thought a prosperous, just society and human well-being is a better end? I thought we weren’t going to be sniffing utopian glue. I guess if that’s what I want, I will find subjective value in those things and spend capital accordingly.

      -First off drive or get a ride out of the population center. Somewhere to where the roads are dirt, drive a little bit further. You find some people engaged in doing stuff. Those folks, those are what we call workers. Not some hypothetical model of a working class. Make sure to take a notebook. They are likely making/producing/harvesting something tangible. Again, take some notes, wear your glasses. That stuff their working on, if they accumulate more of it at the end of the day than they started with… again takes some notes. Note that there are no cops, no formal laws, no society, not even formal fishing roads. Again take notes.

      If for some ungodly reason you think you are still in the cradle of civilization try somewhere else. Keep trying somewhere else, until you can think ‘you know, I really am out in the middle of nowhere’.

      Keep trying different places. You might even find a place and circumstances like: ‘you know if it weren’t for the pleasantries of rule of law, that worker dude could kill me right here and bury me over there and society would be none the wiser’. Maybe if you spend enough time out there it finally dawns on you. ‘Rule of law is a big deal, because there is no way for all that social institution bullshit to matter out here’. Anyways, take notes, and skeeter repellent.

      Report

      • To be fair I am not sure any form of government is workable outside of self-rule. Kleptocracy and the other capitalist, at least capitalism in the modern sense are some failure modes.

        I understand that you might not like such governments (I don’t like them either), but how are they “failures”? People are working, getting paid, eating; people are not dying on the streets.

        What I usually see in the socialist uprising is leaders and vanguards. It appears to be the first step of a revolution is to cede all authority to the military effort, followed by ceding of all authority to the economic organizing effort, followed by some transformation effort that never really seems to stick the landing.

        Except that, as I note in another post below, most socialist uprisings are in already authoritarian cultures. Also, most socialist uprisings face profound military and economic threats from the capitalist west from day one: authoritarianism is s common response in even the most rock-solid democratic republics during wartime. (Abraham Lincoln, for example, definitely used authoritarian rule during the Civil War.) And Machiavelli argues that any substantive regime change requires a period of dictatorship.

        And again, what do you mean by authoritarianism as a “failure” mode? China is still authoritarian — and capitalist — by any reasonable definition, and it is hardly failing.

        A policeman of the state can kill me at anytime and there would be a very real possibility of no repercussion. The monopoly of force, (as I am told repeatedly) is the object of the state. The ability to kill without [I think you mean with] impunity, I think is how our fellow Stillwater used to say it.

        I don’t know who Stillwater is, but this is a reasonable approximation of Weber’s definition of the state as the set of institutions with a monopoly on the use of legitimate violence.

        Let me repeat this, I don’t have rights. There is nothing sacred the state is supposedly giving me that it can’t take back.

        This is an odd definition of “rights”. I mean, I agree with the factual statement of the second sentence above, but why should we define “right” (in the political sense) that way?

        I haven’t been asked to approve or disapprove a law or constitution my entire life.

        Baloney. Of course you have: Because you are free to leave, that you remain within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States (or whatever country you live in), you agree to the terms and conditions of its constitution and laws. Furthermore, you are entitled to vote in elections and thereby have an opportunity to change both the legislative and constitutional provisions.

        Honestly, I think academia has tried to erase as many traces of the concept of individual sovereignty as possible.

        Or it could be that it’s just a dumb idea. Since I don’t know what you mean, I’m unable to decide. I’m asking you politely for the second time to explain.

        ‘Freedom is the primary’ comes from Proudhon’s ‘liberty is not the daughter, but the mother of order’ adding spontaneous to the ‘spontaneous order’ pulled from Zhuangzi and later Smith.

        Proudhon is a petty-bourgeois hack, and if you think Smith talks more than peripherally about “spontaneous order”, then you haven’t read Smith.

        I don’t know who Zhuangzi is, but if you’re going to talk about spontaneous order, then you should at least cite Hayek. I think the guy is wrong, but he did win a Nobel prize.

        Yeah it’s an end, I mean it’s really a thing, like a worthwhile thing. We can try not achieving capital formation, to each his own, just don’t ask me for anything.

        I assume you mean capital formation. I’m not arguing whether capital formation is desirable (I think it is), I was asking if it’s an end or a means to another end.

        You thought a prosperous, just society and human well-being is a better end? I thought we weren’t going to be sniffing utopian glue.

        What do you mean by “utopian glue”? Are you saying that general prosperity, happiness, and justice are impossible or undesirable? What’s the alternative, some Randian or vulgar Nietzschean dystopia of the eternal enslavement of the strong by the weak, with the weak properly grateful for their enslavement? What sort of “freedom” do you want anyway, and what do you intend to use it for?

        First off drive or get a ride out of the population center. Somewhere to where the roads are dirt, drive a little bit further. You find some people engaged in doing stuff. Those folks, those are what we call workers.

        This conversation will go more smoothly if you were to refrain from acting like a condescending jackass.

        Report

        • So you can’t get passed the first step into the failure mode of authoritarianism. Second, you have no good reason to see authoritarianism as a failure mode. Unless you can show any sincere rational argument around those two parameters, we can just stop here and agree to disagree.

          Report

    • Joe is correct in that capitalism doesn’t depend on a formal society or civilization. It is just the way humans behave, even in countries that don’t promote capitalism and through up endless barriers to it.

      The black market in every country is capitalism. The black markets in socialist countries are capitalist, and generally the only part of a socialist economy that actually works.

      Your confusion may stem from not knowing what capital is.

      But I’ll go back to my stuff theory of economic systems.

      In socialism, the goal is to make a just society by taking the stuff made by people who are good at making stuff, and thus who accumulate more stuff than other people, and giving that stuff to people who don’t have much stuff. It relies on our primitive and instinctual sense of fairness. “You have so much stuff! And those people are starving and don’t have any stuff. You must give some of your ridiculously vast, horded pile of stuff, which you must’ve somehow stolen from them, back to the starving people.” It resonates. People go for it, and all the excess stuff from really productive people gets redistributed to people who don’t have much stuff.

      But the piles of wealthy people’s stuff is quickly exhausted, so the redistribution folks get put in a bind. They have to somehow coerce productive people into making more stuff without letting them keep or sell the stuff they make. This often involves purges, bullets to the back of the head, and mass graves.

      The people making stuff eventually realize that the deal sucks, because they work like dogs to make stuff but don’t get any benefit from it. Their output is stolen by the redistributors, who keep most of it, with a little bit given to the poor to keep the whole charade going. The people who produce stuff become very good at being very bad at making stuff. Most just leave the making stuff industry. This is why Venezuelan farmers, on the most productive agricultural region on Earth, quit growing food. Anyone caught with a lot of food is a target, accused of hoarding or profiteering. So the redistributors order everyone who doesn’t know how to grow food to grow food, and the cycle repeats as everyone frog marched to the farms realizes they can’t sell or eat the food they grow.

      As food and other items become more and more scarce, the redistributors become more and more powerful because they are more and more important. But the more important they become, the worse the system works because they root out the few remaining productive people who were flying under the radar and their stuff is taken, too.

      What can’t continue won’t, so the system collapses and bodies are everyone revolts at once, as happened in Eastern Europe, or bodies are piled in heaps.

      The capitalist system is much simpler. If you want stuff, make stuff. If you want more stuff, make more stuff. If the stuff you make isn’t the stuff you want, barter the stuff you make for stuff you want. Since hooking up seller A to seller B to seller C to buyer D to buyer E to buyer F becomes burdensome and inefficient, invent a medium of exchange, called money, so that all stuff can be converted to a cash value to make bartering trivially easy no matter what stuff you make and what stuff you want.

      Figure out how to bring people together into larger, permanent groups who focus on making particular stuff or trading stuff in perpetuity as a profitable enterprise (corporations). Use the human capacity for abstract thought and reason to gain better insights into how stuff is produced, consumed, or lost, and create any structure or system conceivable, such as insurance, stock, stock markets, future’s markets, insurance for future’s markets, and iPhone service agreements.

      People focus on working smarter, not harder, and employers aren’t allowed to shoot workers in the back of the head for failing to meet the mandated production quota. People get fat and sit around playing xBox and driving Dodge Challengers. For the first time in human history, diet foods become a thing (pay more for less!).

      Meanwhile, in socialist Venezuela, most of the county is shedding pounds by not being able to find food, because they started redistributing it for the benefit of the people, and thus ran out of people who produce food. They long ago ran out of toilet paper, in a rain forest, and blamed hoarders for the wood shortage – in a rain forest – where wood grows on trees.

      Socialism doesn’t work because it will never work.

      Report

      • Your confusion may stem from not knowing what capital is.

        I have Bachelor’s degrees in political science and economics, I’m halfway through a Master’s degree in economics, and I have a reasonably solid offer to teach economics. I decided to go into economics because I had read extensively about the topic before starting school. So I think I’m not entirely ignorant about what capital is.

        I understand that we might disagree about what capital is and how it works, and that’s OK; we can talk about it. But we can talk about it without you being a condescending jackass. Mmmmkay?

        The black market in every country is capitalism. The black markets in socialist countries are capitalist, and generally the only part of a socialist economy that actually works.

        This is… um… not a common view even among mainstream economists. It makes no logical sense if black markets are capitalist, and socialism has black markets, then socialism is capitalist, so where’s the problem?

        Furthermore, the assertion that black markets are “generally the only part of a socialist economy that actually works,” is contradicted by the actual evidence. Sadly most of this evidence is in scholarly journals, some of which are not online. There is very little scholarly research on actual socialist economies. Since I have access to an academic library, I have been able to look at what research there is, so you’ll have to take my word for it for now.

        In socialism, the goal is to make a just society by taking the stuff made by people who are good at making stuff, and thus who accumulate more stuff than other people, and giving that stuff to people who don’t have much stuff.

        Literally no socialist ever has proposed such an obviously ridiculous system. This is what capitalist propagandists who have never read Marx (or assume their audience has never read Marx, or any other actual socialist) say about socialism. I will skip most of the rest of your unsourced fantasy, but one thing pops out.

        This is why Venezuelan farmers, on the most productive agricultural region on Earth, quit growing food. Anyone caught with a lot of food is a target, accused of hoarding or profiteering.

        You really need to look much more carefully at the actual political and economic issues in Venezuela. There’s a lot more going on there than you suspect. One important issue is that the US makes a special point of undercutting local food production.* The United States has far and away the most efficient agricultural economy in the world: it is to our advantage to trade food for cheap labor. Secondly, the capitalist and middle classes in Venezuela were violently opposed to Chavez, and deliberately withheld and hoarded food so as to cause an economic crisis.** Of course the government is going to respond forcefully.

        *see e.g. Geran, Juliana. “How American Food Aid Keeps the Third World Hungry.” August 1, 1988. The Heritage Foundation. The literature on American agricultural policy is quite rich.

        **see e.g. Ellner, Steve. “Setting the Record Straight on Venezuela.” December 4, 2015. Jacobin Magazine.

        The capitalist system is much simpler. If you want stuff, make stuff. If you want more stuff, make more stuff. If the stuff you make isn’t the stuff you want, barter the stuff you make for stuff you want. Since hooking up seller A to seller B to seller C to buyer D to buyer E to buyer F becomes burdensome and inefficient, invent a medium of exchange, called money, so that all stuff can be converted to a cash value to make bartering trivially easy no matter what stuff you make and what stuff you want.

        None of this is “simple”. It took hundreds of years and tens of thousands of smart people to work out, and capitalism still has severe problems. We have entire academic fields — economics, political science, international relations, sociology — dedicated just to the theoretical understanding of capitalism, not to mention others — finance, business schools — to actually operating it. We have millions of people — bankers, lawyers, accountants, bureaucrats — who produce nothing but keep the machinery of the system working. We have entire shelves of federal, state, and local laws and regulations. We have almost a thousand years of case law regarding property rights.

        Good grief, man! even Adam Smith wrote five volumes on capitalism in 1776, when the paradigmatic firm was a ten-person pin factory. And he got a lot wrong, and was corrected by David Ricardo.

        Whatever capitalism actually is, it ain’t simple.

        Report

        • I understand that we might disagree about what capital is and how it works, and that’s OK; we can talk about it. But we can talk about it without you being a condescending jackass. Mmmmkay?

          Marx never figured out what capital is. Adam Smith had some notions, but he never nailed it down either. Somehow people were able to use money and property as leverage in transactions. Marx focused on the means of production, but that’s not capital. In the US, most businesses start ups are funded by people who use their house as capital. But in most of the Third World, a house is not capital, it’s just a dwelling. Americans also use their cars as capital, which is likewise impossible in most of the Third World.

          Capital is an asset that can be legally seized as part of a financial transaction. That requires a legally recognized proof of ownership that stands up in court. In the Third World, very few houses or vehicles meet that criterion. There, a house is just a dwelling and a car is transportation. A bank (or bookie) can’t seize them because they always belong to the resident’s or driver’s cousin, or their cousin’s friend. A bank can’t take them because they can’t prove who owns them. Thus no bank will issue a loan with a house or car as collateral, and thus a house or car in the Third World can’t be used as financial instruments. Houses and cars aren’t capital. Deeds and titles, within a legal system that recognizes those as proof of ownership, are capital.

          Socialists never figured this out, and capitalists took it as such a given that they never reflected on it, and never told Third World countries that they needed to have a system of legal property rights, instead telling developing countries stories about the need to set up a stock market. Stock markets are a clever tool for all sorts of transactions once a system has a population with actual capital. Without such systems, a stock market is just a way for the tiny fraction of the population with recognized property rights (the Third World elites) to engage in transactions with the capitalist world, trading property they merely claim but don’t own for real property elsewhere.

          The black market in every country is capitalism. The black markets in socialist countries are capitalist, and generally the only part of a socialist economy that actually works.

          This is… um… not a common view even among mainstream economists. It makes no logical sense if black markets are capitalist, and socialism has black markets, then socialism is capitalist, so where’s the problem?

          All socialist and Third World countries have black markets. In many of those countries the bulk of economic activity is black market. That’s because the percentage of people in the official economy is quite small, whereas the black market is vast. When you go to the Third World, most of what you see is black market. People are selling things without having a business license. Houses are bought and sold without anyone having an actual land title or deed. Cars are bought and sold under the “possession is 9/10ths of the law” rule. Nobody calls the cops over business issues because nobody is legally in business, and nobody calls them over burglaries because nobody can prove who owns what. Everyone just has to watch each other’s back, and property is transferred by getting all the neighbors to recognize the new owner as the new owner, otherwise the neighbors will band together and drive out the new owner before they argue among themselves about whose cousin gets to be the new owner.

          Those are all black market transactions, which only exist in the US for illegal activities because our entire property system is a legalized black market.

          And your take on Venezuela must’ve come from Chavistas. Venezuela as a bread basket of the region. They were a major food exporter. One of the first things Chavez did was seize all the productive farmland from foreign agribusiness, much of it British. Production collapsed, and then Chavez went after successful domestic farmers, as they were of course rich land owners, the natural enemy of socialists. This continued, and as peasants kept setting up secret farms in the boonies, Chavez kept sending soldiers to harass them. Eventually most everyone quit farming because all the food would not only be seized for the people, but the people growing the food could be sent to jail for hoarding.

          The redistributors will have their take, and punish anyone who’s not part of the system. Thus the hundreds of thousands of formerly productive Venezuelans who fled to Columbia, Spain, Mexico, or Miami, anywhere to get away from the socialists who want to steal their property and throw them in prison for owning something.

          Report

        • Secondly, the capitalist and middle classes in Venezuela were violently opposed to Chavez, and deliberately withheld and hoarded food so as to cause an economic crisis.** Of course the government is going to respond forcefully.

          I think “hoarding food” is left-speak for “the gov priced food below the level of production so farmers refused to sell at a loss.”

          Report

          • The US is so consistently blamed for the failures of SocCom economics that I can’t help but conclude that either the system is structurally too weak, or those countries are really bad at governing.

            Economies have to be robust enough to resist foreign interference. Because foreign governments and corporations will attempt to interfere. Whining about it just says you don’t have an answer for the problem.

            Report

            • I was trying to be literal, so maybe I should go over how this works mechanically.

              I, the gov, declare [something] to be a Right!,…

              The least economically destructive way to do this is to pay for it, however that’s hard or impossible for my budget so I’m not going to do it that way. Instead I say…

              …therefore no one is allowed to sell [something] for a price greater than [X]!

              Where [X] is priced below the market, maybe even much below the market. My supporters are poor, if they can buy [something] for [X] then it’s great for everyone. Of course what really happens is (as basic econ theory suggests) we get shortages, and people “hoarding” gov supplied [something] purchased at [X] so they can sell it on the black market.

              If the gov is strong and determined enough to make this Really happen, then [something] goes away, especially if it’s below the price of production.

              From the news on what the gov has been doing, Venezuela has gone through multiple iterations of this, various food stuffs (and yes, toilet paper) were determined to be Rights, etc. It sounds like they’ve hit the point where food in general is, however the US’s ability to influence or create this sort of situation is extremely limited. We’re hardly the only country to sell food (or t-paper), and countries with this mindset are generally trying to do everything themselves anyway to shield themselves from outsiders.

              So everything is self inflicted.

              Report

          • And yet if farmers refuse to sell at a loss, and the government prohibits them from selling to those evil exploitative for-profit grocery stores (or just takes their produce “for the people”), the farmers don’t have enough money to grow next year’s crop. They abandon farming, wander into Colombia, and look for work. That pretty much seems to be what happened in Venezuela.

            When this happens, people end up sorting through garbage for scraps of food, again, just as we see in Venezuela. And then the government orders soldiers to start planting crops, which Venezuela did earlier this year, and then the socialist government orders regular citizens to work on the farms, which Venezuela did just a few months ago. And all the while the government keeps blaming hoarders, looters, and speculators for the shortages.

            And of course if the “rich” were hoarding food, where are they hoarding it? Do upper class Venezuelan families have refrigerated warehouses, or did they just fill their spare bedrooms with sides of pork and vine ripe tomatoes, all of which went bad in a week?

            And it’s not just food. You know you are close to achieving true socialism when the government sends soldiers to guard the country’s toilet paper factory. Venezuela crossed that threshold about two years ago and hasn’t looked back. Needless to say, the government blamed the usual suspects for the situation, because we all know how bad revanchist capitalist saboteurs are with toilet paper. Yes, those evil Jews are known throughout European history for traveling with truckloads of pilfered Charmin, since toilet paper is better than cash can wipe equally well on any side of any border.

            Oh wait, Jews were known for traveling with gold and diamonds… *thinks* undoubtedly wrapped in toilet paper!

            Report

  11. But AFAIK every government that called itself communist (or some flavor thereof) since the early 20th century on has had a habit of killing or imprisoning large numbers of their people for contrary political thought & speech.

    I’m not arguing about the value of freedom of speech — although Fox News, Breitbart, World Net Daily, Citizens United, etc. ad nauseam argue for some limitations. I’m arguing about the causal inference, that two socialist countries used state power to abridge freedom of speech; therefore they abridged free speech because of socialism; however, although many capitalist countries have used state power to abridge freedom of speech (e.g. the Smith Act), this abridgment occurs despite capitalism.

    Both Russia and China abridged free speech before socialism, they abridged free speech during socialism, and they abridged free speech after socialism. Capitalist countries (US, Great Britain, Western Europe) abridged free speech before capitalism and during capitalism. Therefore socialism causes the abridgment of free speech, but capitalism doesn’t? This makes no sense.

    Perhaps there is a communist/strong socialist government on earth

    AFAIK, there is not one, even without qualifiers.

    Anyway, your defense up above smacks strongly of both an argument that communism isn’t so bad because capitalist democracies do bad things too, and also an argument that communism can not fail, it can only be failed.

    I really wish you would address what I actually write, not what you want me to mean. If you are going to draw conclusions from my words, please be more direct and specific about how you’re drawing those conclusions.

    As noted above, I am arguing against certain causal inferences: X is bad because X is correlated with Y, but Z is good so that Z is correlated with Y is acceptable. We have to clear a lot of brush before getting to the substantive points.

    there is a significant difference between governments passively allowing people to suffer and die, and governments actively contributing to the suffering and death

    No. No there isn’t. That way lies moral horror. I don’t even think there’s an objective difference. Governments have a duty to care. This is a conjugation issue: I cannot alleviate suffering, you passively allow suffering, he actively contributes to suffering.

    [C]ommunism doesn’t seem to work without a strong central power structure.

    Again, I will object to the use of the present tense, which indicates universal truth, in favor of the past tense, which indicates historical specificity. And I would note that capitalism doesn’t seem to work without a strong central power structure.

    Report

    • I really wish you would address what I actually write, not what you want me to mean. If you are going to draw conclusions from my words, please be more direct and specific about how you’re drawing those conclusions.

      Let’s start here:

      but it’s not OK to imprison people because they advocate the overthrow of the state?

      No, it isn’t, ever. It is the right and true power of a people to advocate the overthrow of the state. Now should they take up arms against the state, the state can defend itself, but until then, only it can do is argue back.

      There were more, but it took me 10 minutes to find that one. The threads are long and thick.

      Governments have a duty to care. This is a conjugation issue: I cannot alleviate suffering, you passively allow suffering, he actively contributes to suffering.

      Yes, but that relies very heavily on how you define ‘care’. Government has core duties of defense & enforcement of law/defense of rights. That is the only ‘care’ it is beholden to. If we decide government should provide safety nets, that’s great, and we should, but understand that should the economy collapse or we face invasion/massive natural disaster, I fully expect safety nets to be the first thing to evaporate. I mean, if government can provide assistance, it should, but I expect resources to go toward expelling invaders/repairing infrastructure/keeping order before anything else. Beyond that, with regard to care, I expect government to not make things worse, if it can’t make them better.

      Regardless, you are wrong about the moral calculus. It is considerably worse for government to actively contribute to suffering than it is to passively refuse to alleviate it. This becomes the Copenhagen Ethics problem. There are insufficient resources to alleviate all suffering, so there will always be some amount that government must passively allow. If there are sufficient resources to alleviate suffering*, then we can discuss how best to deploy those resources, but the reality is that no matter how wealthy we are, we can’t fix it all.

      *And yes, the US could probably do more to alleviate suffering at home. For instance, I’d rather have police helping people get into rehab programs, than tossing them in jail for drugs. At the very least, I’d rather have the police passively allow such people to suffer. Having the police throw them in prison alleviates zero suffering.

      Report

    • And I would note that capitalism doesn’t seem to work without a strong central power structure.

      Capitalism works fine without a strong central power structure (see every black market, ever). It will most likely produce some very adverse effects if left alone too long, but it functions as designed. Granted, most folks aren’t OK with those adverse effects, so they want government to act as a check against it, but still.

      Report

      • Capitalism works fine without a strong central power structure (see every black market, ever).

        Black markets are not capitalism. There are a lot more moving parts to an industrialized capitalist economy than we see in black markets. Capitalism requires a lot of institutions: banks and money, taxes, property rights, contracts. The working class has to be induced to actually work and allow the capitalist class to expropriate their surplus labor. As we saw with the railroads in the mid 19th century, once you have economic endeavors with large capital expenditures and low marginal costs, you have to have social institutions to bake sunk capital costs into marginal costs.

        It will most likely produce some very adverse effects if left alone too long, but it functions as designed.

        Yeah, like the Long Depression, the Great Depression, the Global Financial Crisis and Lesser Depression, and near constant banking panics which have plagued capitalism from its inception, and which required the creation of government supported central banks such as the Fed and the Bank of England.

        Even if you want to go back to the 1790s, with enormous room for individuals to expand (with only a few pesky indigenous people to murder to get it), and only the smallest capital-employing ventures even in relatively more industrialized England, you still need Hamilton’s protectionism to allow industrialization to take off.

        The whole point of the Constitutional Convention was because the central government under the Articles of Confederation was far too weak to allow the economy to develop or to even defend the nation(s).

        So, show me an example of capitalism thriving without a strong central government. (Or is this a conjugation issue? I have just enough government to work, you have too much government, he is authoritarian?)

        Report

        • It appears you are using a very narrow definition of capitalism while affording socialism considerable leeway.

          Black markets from the state perspective is not capitalism, but for the producers and consumers it is capitalism. Do you have any idea how this is going to register within subjective value?

          The step between cottage industry capitalism and industrialized capitalism took a lot of effort. They had to create considerable effort to get people out of their cottage industry and coerce them into factories. It was the darkest hour of capitalism, the slow infiltration of controlling social based institutions. One that we are still contending with today. One that will eventually self correct.

          Subtract social institutions/constructs from capitalism and it works just fine, perpetually.

          One of the reasons they had the constitutional convention is that there were too many commoners willing to put musket balls through the flesh of rent seeking bastards. An I’m not talking regular rent seekers, I’m talking some real bastards.

          We had uprisings before the convention and we had uprisings after the convention. Jefferson for a time, was under the impression that we would be tipping the cart over every 20 years or so, but capitalism was such a productive system that eventually the commoners started accumulating wealth despite all the bastard social institutions that had hobbled them. We never should have stopped shooting.

          Report

          • [T]he slow infiltration of controlling social based institutions . . . will eventually self correct.

            Subtract social institutions/constructs from capitalism and it works just fine, perpetually.

            As I’ve noted earlier, I’m not here to discuss religious beliefs.

            Report

            • Religion? Ha! Your the one believing socialism will bring a prosperous, just society and human well-being while dismissing the reality that socialism more often brings the exact opposite result. Your the one who believes Marx proposed a useful model and it is the lens to view the topic from.

              Report

    • Both Russia and China abridged free speech before socialism, they abridged free speech during socialism, and they abridged free speech after socialism. Capitalist countries (US, Great Britain, Western Europe) abridged free speech before capitalism and during capitalism. Therefore socialism causes the abridgment of free speech, but capitalism doesn’t? This makes no sense.

      I like the logic, but the data set you’re using here is small.

      The starkest Apples to Apples comparison between Capitalism and Communism is South Korea to North Korea; Same people, same culture, only difference was the systems, and yes, North Korea is a lot more repressive (and poorer) than the South.

      After that we have… Germany’s National Socialists vs. their post-war Capitalists? Or maybe just East Germany vs. West Germany?

      Famine? Is Cuba the only Socialist country which has avoided starvation?

      Lack of economic growth (i.e. people stay poor).

      Report

      • Dark Matter: The starkest Apples to Apples comparison between Capitalism and Communism is South Korea to North Korea

        No. North Korea is not communist. North Korea is batshit crazy. Literally no non-insane socialist ever (outside of the Kim family and their immediate supporters) thinks that North Korea is even socialist, much less desirable.

        That’s like saying the best comparison of capitalism and socialism is Marcos’ Philippines vs. Castro’s Cuba.

        I think the best comparison is between China and India.

        Report

        • I think the best comparison is between China and India.

          Eh? Both of those were socialist countries who moved away from socialism to enable growth. That India backed the West during the cold war is irrelevant.

          And you complained that culture and not communism was a better explanation for repression (etc) so that’s why we’re trying to make similar-people comparisons.

          So why drop the entire East Germany vs. West Germany comparison?

          Literally no non-insane socialist ever… thinks that North Korea is even socialist…

          I’d be good excluding Korea as a single outlier except it’s not a single outlier. Kim, Mao, Hitler(*), Stalin, & Pol Pot are just famous names off the top of my head. There’s a long section in wiki devoted to mass killings under Communist regimes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_Communist_regimes

          Capitalist systems regularly have bank failures and depressions. It’s not desired, it’s an example of the system failing, we always have politicians promise it will never happen again, but it’s very fair to count those as aspects of the system.

          Communist systems have problems where the Great leader goes off the rails and implements plans that deliberately or accidently get written up by the history books as insane, mass murder, or something similar. The Purpose of the Great Leap Forward wasn’t to kill 40 million people from starvation, but that sort of thing happens often enough that we need to talk about why it happens and how to prevent it.

          (*) : Yes, the National Socialists were Socialists. Hitler dropped the class warfare and kept personal property, but he was firmly anti-Capitalist (because Capitalism is Jewish) and the state should be doing everything.

          Report

  12. Let me back up a bit.

    I am fundamentally making the argument that we can compare actually existing socialist societies with actually existing capitalist societies — with all the contingencies, errors, stupidities, and monstrousness of both — or we can compare theoretical socialism with theoretical capitalism (or libertarianism, or Randianism, or whatever). What I strongly object to is comparing actually existing socialist societies to theoretical capitalism. Of course theoretical anything — which can handwave away all the messiness of actual human beings — is going to beat actually existing anything.

    Russia and the USSR had to deal with the near total collapse of functioning government during the First Imperialist War, the “Civil War” which was actually a war of aggression initiated and supported by the capitalist West — all this before Stalin.

    Stalin was no fool and knew that Germany would reindustrialize and come straight after the USSR, and had to go balls to the wall if his country would even survive. And he was right, and he very nearly lost anyway: had the West backed Hitler, had Hitler been a little more careful and Churchill a little less committed to anti-Nazism, the USSR would have been annihilated. And then he has to deal with a nuclear-armed United States that is making a credible threat to destroy the USSR with nuclear weapons (and the only reason Truman restrained Patton and, later, MacArthur was that he didn’t think we could actually win wars of aggression against either the USSR or PRC.)

    The PRC had to deal with the Japanese invasion (and Mao fought against the Japanese, while the Nationalists did not, preparing to fight Mao), increasingly sour relations between themselves and the USSR, and MacArthur and the United States Army in Korea publicly advocating using nuclear weapons as a prelude to invading China. They also had to rapidly industrialize an agrarian society or face certain extinction. Had they not, they would have eventually faced a US government that did think they could successfully invade China, and they would have, and maybe they would have won.

    This is not to excuse what they did. I don’t agree with all the things that Lenin, Stalin, and Mao did, but I don’t know what I would have done with Hitler and the German Army, or the United States Army, dedicated to the annihilation and enslavement of my people.

    So when we look at the USSR or PRC, sure, we’re going to see the kind of evils that we see in every society. That’s what we create governments for: to do the monstrous things a nation needs to do to survive.

    I use the evils of the capitalist West not to condemn capitalism, but to say that simply counting up bodies gets us nowhere. There is plenty of blood to go around.

    Saying, “Look, those other guys did those bad things,” is an easy way to sidestep actual criticism of one’s own society: “We might be bad, but we’re not as bad as those other guys on the “left”, and any criticism of my own society from the left entails that we endorse those other guys. And I do see it: “A $15 minimum wage, or single-payer health insurance, is ‘socialistic’, socialist societies caused the deaths of millions, therefore we should not do these things,” is the laziest sort of argument.

    It reminds me of my days at Internet Infidels, lo! these many years ago, when I encountered the argument that Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were atheists, therefore atheism killed millions of people, therefore God exists. When I pointed out that Christians have killed their fair share of peopled, I received the exact same dismissals: not as many, we had to, it was justified in God’s name, it’s complicated, yada yada yada. It was a lazy argument then and it’s a lazy argument now.

    Literally no contemporary socialist, even the ones who actively admire Stalin and Mao, believe that we should kill millions of people, or even kill or imprison anyone who criticizes the government. We admit that capitalists have learned from (some of) their mistakes: capitalism no longer suborns chattel slavery, and good on ya, mates! Allow us to learn from some of ours.

    Report

    • What I strongly object to is comparing actually existing socialist societies to theoretical capitalism.

      Thus the whole “Let’s compare West Germany to East Germany” thing and the “North Korea and South Korea” thing and “North Vietnam and South Vietnam” thing.

      Heck, going to this hemisphere, I’m always fascinated by how we went from comparing Cuba to Mexico and Brazil when it was under Batista to comparing it to the Dominican Republic and Haiti when it was under Castro.

      Yeah. Cuba vs. Haiti makes Cuba look pretty good. (But that wasn’t the apple we used to compare Cuba to way back when.

      Report

    • Perhaps we are having a fundamental misunderstanding of what you envision as an acceptable economic system? I agree that authoritarianism is not a necessary condition of socialism/communism, but to date, everyone who has tried SocCom has either been strongly authoritarian, or resorted to that in short order. Which strikes me as a PR problem that is going to doom SocCom as an economic system until it’s addressed.

      But that is a side issue to my main thought in this comment – how do you envision SocCom, in the modern age, working? Wait, don’t answer that here… You seem to have some very strongly held beliefs about this, and I am genuinely curious about them, so would you be willing to write a guest post about this?

      Let’s make it straightforward. Don’t argue against capitalism, but rather, start from an assumption that you’ve been given the green light to build a modern SocCom system in a first world economy. How do you do it? How to you handle the major issues that will crop up? How do you structure incentives? How do you protect rights (and what rights are protected), provide for justice, finance welfare, etc? How do you make it robust enough to withstand foreign shenanigans? How do you do all that? I’d be generous and start with the assumption that the majority of your population is willing to give it a go for at least a decade, so you get 10 years to work it before the wheels could even begin to start coming off.

      As I said elsewhere, I think a huge reason SocCom has been such a failure time & again is precisely because the people doing it were charismatic populists who were absolute shit at running governments & had zero plans for what to do once they had power. It’s like they were all Donald Trump, but without the benefit of a well established bureaucracy and institutions that are determined to not let the system fail despite the best efforts of the POTUS.

      So I’d like to see a plan. And I think it would be an absolutely awesome guest post.

      Report

      • So I’d like to see a plan. And I think it would be an absolutely awesome guest post.

        I’d like that too (although admittedly it’s me voting for someone else to do something).

        Report

      • You seem to have some very strongly held beliefs about this, and I am genuinely curious about them, so would you be willing to write a guest post about this?

        What, inviting an academic to publish? Ow! Ow! Stop twisting my arm! OK! I’ll do it!

        Before you make the offer official, you are more than welcome to examine my blog, The Barefoot Bum. (Link in my profile.) I’ve been writing for a long time (10+ years?) and my views and focus has changed considerably over that time, so my more recent work would be a better guide to what I would write.

        You might want to check out the “democratic communism” tag and the “strict equality” tab.

        My only conditions are 1) I can approve any emendations or withdraw my submission; 2) I retain the right to preserve and republish if you stop publishing the article; and 3) You can’t sell the article or allow it to be published for money without my permission.

        Report

      • I’m doing an experiment in behavioral economics for my master’s thesis, which will pretty much consume the next two or three weeks. After that, I will make time for such a post, so you can expect a first draft in about a month.

        We should probably hook up via email. If you or one of the admins can see my email, just grab it directly. Otherwise you can, with a bit of digging, find my email on my blog, linked to in my profile.

        Report

  13. I also want to extend my argument to the connection between socialism and authoritarianism.

    “Authoritarian”, like “totalitarian”, usually means, “a government regime I don’t like.” But I think the intuitive notion of authoritarianism — e.g. rule of persons, not law, lack of individual civil rights guaranteed by an independent judiciary, and legitimacy primarily by military force — will do enough work here.

    Both Russia and China were authoritarian before they because socialist, the USSR and PRC were authoritarian during socialist rule, and they remain authoritarian under a capitalist regime.

    The United States was a de facto democratic republic during its agrarian and mercantilist stages, and they remained a democratic republic during capitalism. Indeed, we are seeing a surge in authoritarianism and the erosion of democracy* precisely as the capitalist class is consolidating its victory over the professional-managerial class. And, of course, both the socialist and capitalist governments have no qualms about installing authoritarian governments in other countries.

    *Meaning democratic participation in the election of trustee representatives.

    There’s also Nazi Germany, which went from capitalism to a particularly nasty form of authoritarianism. (Which Keynes saw coming a mile away; pity no one listened to him: like the Great Leap Forward, a colossal, preventable mistake which led to the deaths of millions.)

    The only links, however tenuous, between capitalism and authoritarianism are the bourgeois revolutions of 19th century Europe. But even there, these revolutions occurred because authoritarianism failed more-or-less on its own, and the bourgeoisie took power because the socialists were too weak and divided to stop them.

    (An interesting contrast is Russia, where authoritarianism failed on its own, with little help from the Bolsheviks. The “bourgeois” Kerensky government failed because the Russian bourgeoisie were weak and divided, and because Kerensky was an idiot (well, at least not even close to being up to the job), again with little help from the Bolsheviks. By the October Revolution, only the Bolsheviks and some close allies had enough popular legitimacy to take state power, and only because Lenin himself was able to wrench the Bolsheviks from their vacillation.)

    A causal inference from socialism to authoritarianism seems pretty far fetched to me. Socialism seems neither necessary nor sufficient.

    Report

    • Authoritarianism, principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action. In government, authoritarianism denotes any political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small elite that is not constitutionally responsible to the body of the people. Authoritarian leaders often exercise power arbitrarily and without regard to existing bodies of law, and they usually cannot be replaced by citizens choosing freely among various competitors in elections. The freedom to create opposition political parties or other alternative political groupings with which to compete for power with the ruling group is either limited or nonexistent in authoritarian regimes.

      Authoritarianism thus stands in fundamental contrast to democracy. It also differs from totalitarianism, however, since authoritarian governments usually have no highly developed guiding ideology, tolerate some pluralism in social organization, lack the power to mobilize the entire population in pursuit of national goals, and exercise that power within relatively predictable limits. Examples of authoritarian regimes, according to some scholars, include the pro-Western military dictatorships that existed in Latin America and elsewhere in the second half of the 20th century.”

      So how does socialism produce the ‘individual freedom’ parameter/mechanism that would set it apart from (by definition) a authoritarian government?

      Report

      • So how does socialism produce the ‘individual freedom’ parameter/mechanism that would set it apart from (by definition) a authoritarian government?

        An excellent question, and thank you for a nice authoritative definition of authoritarianism.

        As a Marxist, I see all social systems as contingent and historical. Following Engels’ Socialism, Scientific and Utopian, ahistorical and essentialist definitions of socialism have limited utility. The question for a Marxist is not, “What is the best society?” but “Where do we go from here and now to achieve a better society?”

        That being said, I think I can identify a few general elements of socialism that should be fairly consistent across different historical specifics. Keep in mind that these are my own ideas: the socialist literature is vast, and there are writers and thinkers who disagree with me. Bring them up and I would be happy to address any arguments that contradict my own.

        First, I do not believe that socialism can exist without political democracy. I view the seeds of failure in the USSR and PRC were sown when they were unable — for what I believe, after some but not exhaustive scholarly study were for historical, contingent reasons and not intrinsic reasons — unable to implement and preserve political democracy.

        By political democracy, I mean the people in some sense are the state. Democracy differs from the democratic republic (parlimentarianism), where the state comprises the people’s trustees, not the people themselves. There are many methods to implement democracy — e.g. delegated (as opposed to trustee) representation, representation by lot (as in ancient Athens), direct majoritarian or super-majoritarian election (with the Internet, more feasible than ever before) — the specific methods used can be left to the moment. This is, to me, a critically important point: socialism without democracy is not socialism.

        Any democracy must have constitutional limitations: it should be easy for the democracy to operate, but it must be hard (but not impossible) for it to become not a democracy. Fundamentally, it should be hard to disenfranchise or restrict from democratic participation some individual or group; disenfranchisement cannot be implemented by one simple majority vote. And democracy requires that individuals must remain individuals: socialism should not conceive of the individual as the tool of the state.

        And, in fact, most of the United States Constitution’s individual protections, as well as the UN Declaration of Human rights, can be viewed as an excellent guide to the above, with the proviso that “property” refer to “personal property”, i.e. tangible property that an individual actually uses on a regular basis.

        Which brings us to the true sine qua non of socialism. Socialism takes direct aim at bourgeois property rights. An analogy is that socialism is to property rights what political democracy (or a democratic republic) is to the right to rule. Under a political democracy no individual can, like a monarch or a feudal lord, own the right to rule; democracy states that an individuals can have special rights to rule only when those rights are granted, conditionally and provisionally, by the people, who always (at least in theory) retain the right to rule. Socialism extends this analogy to economic rights: no individual can own the means of production; any individual control over some means of production cannot be owned; it must be granted, conditionally and provisionally, by the people, who always retain final ownership.

        Let me be direct and unapologetic: socialism delegitimizes bourgeois property rights, i.e. the rights to own the means of production. Since bourgeois property rights are not legitimate under socialism, they are not only not protected, bourgeois property will be coercively expropriated with little, if any, compensation; any compensation will be determined pragmatically (it’s always cheaper to buy people off then try to kill or imprison them), not by right.

        Socialists absolute expect capitalists, the owners and controllers of bourgeois property, to consider this expropriation to be a heinous and vile injustice. We do not argue that capitalists should consider socialism to be just; we simply do not care, in precisely the same sense that democrats did not care that the Kaiser or the Tsar — and those supporting them — chafed at the injustice of losing their right to rule.

        That is what I see as the core of socialism. How to actually implement a socialist society will require an enormous number of contingent and historical decisions, decisions that are best made not by me but by those actually implementing a socialist society in a specific historical context. However, there are a few issues that pop out to me as obvious:

        The necessities of life, those required to live a decent life and participate in a democracy, have to be afforded to individuals as rights, not contingencies. People have a right to adequate housing, including electricity. clean water, sanitary sewage and garbage removal, access to the communications infrastructure, food, ordinary medical care, etc. The people will have to democratically decide what constitutes “adequate”; I think the constitution should require that these decisions be universal: we cannot have different standards of adequacy for different groups or classes of people.

        Since the obligation to work would no longer be enforced economically, i.e. work or starve, and the obligation to work would no longer be what is today in fact an obligation to the owners of capital, it has to be enforced by the state: to the extent that the people democratically determine a certain level of work to be obligatory, individuals have to contribute their share or face the judgment of their fellow citizens under democratically determined law.

        Since the presently small group of private individual owners of capital can no longer decide how to allocate capital, the state — again under democratically decided law — will have to allocate most capital spending. Again, constitutional or legislative provisions can make sure that this allocation is as just and fair as reasonably possible.

        I have a few other suggestions to those actually implementing a socialist society.

        I recommend that worker-owned and -managed firms produce most if not all excludable, rival goods. The government should directly control and manage most if not all natural monopolies (e.g. electric power distribution).

        Not including the trade-off between stuff and leisure, I strongly recommend nearly strict income equality, with the only exceptions being either democratically decided, or offered as true gifts (not exchange) by individuals.

        Report

        • This is a solid beginning of a guest post. Or a series. I don’t know about the rest of the commentary, but I appreciate being able to talk to a pragmatic socialist who has a deeper level of thinking about the issues than your standard college kid.

          I don’t think your terms are objectionable. We could even do it as a cross post if you want, so you defacto retain the rights.

          Report

        • Excellent comment, and I will only make a few points here in a attempt to not muddy up the guest post.

          What it appears you are describing is a form socialist democracy.

          My first point has to do with formations of factions that form in democratic type systems that escalate into authoritarianism. I don’t see any limiting factor for that condition that wouldn’t lead to the same failure mode as I am seeing in regular democratic governments. In short there is nothing checking majority rule and the destruction of the limiting properties of a constitution.

          My second point has to do with a particular pivot point in economics. Subjective value. Not only subjective value in purchasing services and products, but also the subjective value in owning the means of production(as personal property) in producing those things.

          My third and last point is what to do if your population has a high degree of subjective value in individual sovereignty as applied to a governing system.

          I truly hope those points can be addressed in full, or I think any type of social even including components of democracy, will be ineffective in finding a place in the future.

          Report

          • You do have a point about factions forming even under a socialist government, but purges have proven quite effective at eliminating that problem. From Mussolini’s brown shirts to the Night of the Long Knives to Stalin repeated and vast purges, and even to Saddam’s purges and Kim Jung Un’s purges, purging works. In none of those cases did the voters say “Hey, that’s too much purging!” There’s no such thing as too much purging.

            As for subjective value, Marxist theory can’t deal with it. You can’t get from the labor theory of value to “Every worker will have a one-of-a-kind Babe Ruth rookie card worth $100,000!”

            I often encounter utopian Star Trek fans who argue that the Federation is a post-scarcity economy, where nothing is in short supply. I tell them to travel to the future and request a house overlooking Star Fleet Academy and the Golden Gate Bridge and get back to me. Sometimes I ask how come the Enterprise kept having to rescue Federation miners on hellish planets if people only did things for personal improvement, or why anyone wanted to be a red shirt on a star ship if everyone could simply own their own star ship.

            Report

        • Which brings us to the true sine qua non of socialism. Socialism takes direct aim at bourgeois property rights. An analogy is that socialism is to property rights what political democracy (or a democratic republic) is to the right to rule. Under a political democracy no individual can, like a monarch or a feudal lord, own the right to rule; democracy states that an individuals can have special rights to rule only when those rights are granted, conditionally and provisionally, by the people, who always (at least in theory) retain the right to rule. Socialism extends this analogy to economic rights: no individual can own the means of production; any individual control over some means of production cannot be owned; it must be granted, conditionally and provisionally, by the people, who always retain final ownership.

          That’s where socialism has always been off the rails. Wouldn’t a more proper analogy to voting rights be that property and the means of production gets to vote? Why shouldn’t houses and machine tools have the same rights as everyone else?

          But more to the point, what are the “means of production” and why should they matter? If Apple employees are allowed to own their own iPhones, on which they write aps, is this somehow supposed to transform society? I’m pretty sure Apple employees already own their own cell phones. Congratulations! The great socialist mission was accomplished and nobody even bothered to tell you about it. Fo shizzle, we live in a society where programmers can afford their own computers!

          You might want to go back to the 19th century and try selling socialism to some poor yobs working in a metal foundry with a giant belching smokestack, because the means of production here have changed beyond all recognition.

          In fact, vast numbers of workers own their own tools. Many own their own businesses, too. Many workers happily work in a factory to save up to start their own business. Buy a lawnmower and a trailer and wham, you’re in the lawn care industry. It’s just that easy, and you didn’t have to have mass executions or anything.

          And we have tons of employee owned factories, too. Workers buy stock. Many workers are given huge stock options and bonuses. Under capitalism, a company can set up any kind of Marxist system they want, with the proviso that they have to meet minimum wage and safety requirements, and they cannot shoot employees in the back of the head for failing to meet the production quota (a common feature of socialist business models).

          Marx and Engels referred to America as the graveyard of socialists, because they were constantly sending communist agitator/propagandists and organizers over here, and those would invariably disappear after a short while. Curious, they sent more agents to figure out what was happening, and what was happening was that when the disaffected European communists realized that they could just open a shop here, without having to bribe officials for a business license, or jump through endless hoops at some business ministry, they just went ahead and went into business.

          They had become communists because as European workers they couldn’t move up. Over here they could because we already had our workers revolution, and the workers set up a system that worked for them, one where they could freely own property, own businesses, buy trucks and machine tools, and sell almost anything. Everyone is allowed and encouraged to be in the owner class.

          Let me be direct and unapologetic: socialism delegitimizes bourgeois property rights, i.e. the rights to own the means of production. Since bourgeois property rights are not legitimate under socialism, they are not only not protected, bourgeois property will be coercively expropriated with little, if any, compensation; any compensation will be determined pragmatically (it’s always cheaper to buy people off then try to kill or imprison them), not by right.

          The Nazi thinking was much more advanced than that. Although all property rights, including houses and cars, were temporary grants by the German government, Germany recognized that it doesn’t matter who owns the means of production, it matters who controls the means of production. Ownership is just a name on a piece of paper filed in some downtown office. Control is real.

          The Nazis, bean counters that they were, also realized that it is in fact much cheaper just to kill people. They even figured out how to do it without wasting the cost of a bullet, because the Nazis weren’t going to waste money that belonged to the German people. They even guillotined about 16,000 dissidents.

          So anyway, now you suggest stripping people of their rights to own the means of production. Well guess who that is over here? In large part, the workers. They’re not going to take kindly to you stealing their house (which backs most business loans), their delivery truck, their store, and their tools. Most of our unions won’t even allow communist members, and they certainly won’t allow communist academics who constantly tried to breeze in from a university and take over a union, directing the rank and file as foot soldiers in an idiotic quest to become as poor and oppressed as workers in North Korea. American union workers like their big pay checks, their trucks, their guns, and their bass boats.

          Report

  14. Another note: when I talk about capitalism as a set of institutions, I’m not talking about the kind of capitalism where people live in mud huts and occasionally exchange deer for beavers. I’m talking about the kind of capitalism we have now: with global air travel, container shipping, consumer goods, computers, the internet, grocery stores, frozen dinners, insulin, organ transplants, satellites, space travel, rovers on Mars, probes orbiting Saturn and landing on asteroids. I love this stuff!

    I love love love that we can have seven billion people on the planet, living, loving, working, playing, and finding some happiness.

    Even with its manifest benefits, I do not want to go to a few million hunter-gatherers living on the earth.

    I shudder at the cost we’ve paid, but I don’t want to go back.

    If you do not love all this cool stuff, well, OK. Go live in the woods or whatever. But if you do not want to lose all this cool stuff, if you do not want to see almost everyone die (without replacement), then we have to have institutions. The question is not whether, but what kind? The world is far too complex for absolutely autonomous individuals to coordinate the production, distribution, and consumption of all the cool stuff we have today.

    And I understand that capitalism created all this stuff. So did Marx. Thanks! But we have to ask: what have you done for us lately?

    Report

    • Oh lord here we go with the hunter gatherer/primitive thing. Look, there is a real problems explaining stuff to folks with social inclinations. One of the repeating themes is…’everything is social’ and ‘if it weren’t for society /civilization then’. Social people don’t think things can work outside their very narrow view of the world, so you have to give examples of how things work without society, which means in order to show something working outside of society you have to get outside society and see examples of that thing working. Often you have to dumb it down, so it gets to be a real primitive model, not from the stand point of ‘primitive capitalism’, but from the aspect of ‘these people are such idiots you have to show them the simple stuff’.

      That simple stuff still works when immersed into socially thick conditions, but it takes on considerable distortion. A lot of social folks point out those distortions and say ‘look that thing doesn’t work’! So we have to take the idiots back out to the woods again to see a simple enough model that they might be able to see the distortion, but it never tends to work over all the ‘that’s a primitive model’ yammering.

      Anyone who understands capital formation and the distortions typically doesn’t fear the collapse of the economic social institutions. Part of the fear of loosing those institutions is based on need. Need based ideology is easy to spot for all the pearl clutching. People who are ability based don’t fear the destruction, because their functional use of capitalism is based on abilities, not need.

      Most long standing capitalistic developments have evolved entrenched rent seeking and various forms of capture and distortion by multiple entities. Ability based capitalists do not fear the destruction of those, they welcome it.

      Report

      • I apologize: I literally did not understand anything you said above. I know all the words, but when you string them together as you did, I’m unable to grasp any meaning.

        I’m not trying to be a jackass. The problem may well be my own background simply does not afford sufficient context to understand what you’re saying. And I really do want to understand.

        Report

        • No need to apologize, and in fact it is a bit my fault for having knee jerk reactions when I see primitive condition models being dismissed. Some of the processes I see in reality can involve stacks of wood or stacks of turbine blades, so it is a bit arbitrary the material product being run through a process.

          I have put considerable amount of information in condensed form there. If it is not familiar to you then I suppose there is a significant amount exchange of concepts that we have yet to discuss. We do have very different positions, but we probably perceive or world in a very different context from very different life histories.

          Report

      • So I’ve re-read this post, and I think I can extract some meaning. As I said, there is little in my background to provide the context to understand what you’re saying, so please excuse me if I err in trying to interpret your comment, or understand it incompletely

        I think you’re saying that social institutions are not necessary, that human beings could possibly develop a modern economy without them. Presumably (and I am completely speculating here, not interpreting your comment) the alternative is absolutely autonomous human beings interacting individually.

        Let me know if I have understood you correctly.

        Assuming I have hit at least close to the mark, in response, I have to admit that you are correct at least in that there’s no logical contradiction between some sort of pure individualism. However, the last 5,000 years of history seem to show that creating and maintaining social institutions is pretty much every society’s first choice at managing economic and social complexity. Furthermore, this overall strategy has not yet failed catastrophically: after 5,000 years of social institutions, human beings are not only still here, but many are also quite wealthy, and compared to earlier societies, almost everyone is more wealthy compared to 1,000 — or even only 300 — years ago. That ain’t chopped liver.

        Again, assuming I have come close to understanding your position, it seems far more radical than socialism: socialism just entails different kinds of social institutions. Because your position seems so radical, the request for an account of how more than the simplest economy would operate still seems apt.

        Why should we discard a strategy that seems to have at least worked well enough for 5,000 years?

        Report

        • We’re having some pretty fundamental problems in conversing about basic capitalism. To the point ‘radical’ is being used. I’m not sure what use of going into the complexity of more difficult facets of capitalism will be until there is some basic understanding of concepts.

          Report

    • And I understand that capitalism created all this stuff. So did Marx. Thanks! But we have to ask: what have you done for us lately?

      One of the greatest arguments for capitalism and against socialism is economic growth, witness the vast differences is per person GDP between East and West Germany (etc, etc, etc).

      Reducing the average growth of the economy is monumentally bad, “evil” wouldn’t be too harsh a word although that’s normally reserved for people who know what they’re doing is wrong.

      Wave a magic wand and cut our GDP/person in half. We have much less money available for a VERY long list of societal goods; fewer people get treated for cancer, less education, less leisure time, more back breaking labor, etc. Do it over night and we’ll have (and deserve) riots in the streets from the economic pain inflicted.

      2% growth means in 35 years the economy doubles, reduce that to zero (a 2% drop) and in 35 years the economy is half as large as it would be otherwise. That 35 years just disguises the pain, it doesn’t change the reality. Take us out to another doubling time (70 years), and now we’re looking at a 4x increase in what I’ll call “human good”.

      And 2% for a 35 year doubling time is actually pretty low. Take us to 4% and we’re doubling every 17 years, so at 70 it’d be a 16x increase.

      Over a very long time large “bites” on growth (which in Venezuela is probably a lot more than 2%) is mind-numbingly tragic. “Entire generations condemned to poverty” tragic.

      Report

      • One of the greatest arguments for capitalism and against socialism is economic growth, witness the vast differences is per person GDP between East and West Germany (etc, etc, etc).

        Agreed! But with economic growth slowing, and, more importantly, the gains from economic growth becoming increasingly concentrated in the top 1% and 0.1% percent, “What have you done for us lately?” remains relevant.

        Reducing the average growth of the economy is monumentally bad, “evil” wouldn’t be too harsh a word although that’s normally reserved for people who know what they’re doing is wrong.

        I agree in only one part: under conditions of absolute material deprivation, I too consider it bad to reduce economic growth, and evil to do so intentionally. However, I think there is a point (and I suspect we are presently near it) where most people might say that they have enough, and that the fastest possible economic growth is no longer desirable.

        I disagree in another sense that “economic growth” is too vague. We can have economic growth that does not improve anyone’s well-being, and we can have economic growth that contributes to the well-being of only a small few. These kinds of economic growth are — for most people — effectively identical to no growth at all.

        Over a very long time large “bites” on growth (which in Venezuela is probably a lot more than 2%) is mind-numbingly tragic. “Entire generations condemned to poverty” tragic.

        Again I will mention that there is considerable controversy over whether Venezuela’s economic problems are due to Chavez’s movements toward socialism or the violent opposition of the rich and near-rich to having their economic privileges infringed. “Nice economy you have there, Hugo. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”

        Report

    • And I understand that capitalism created all this stuff. So did Marx. Thanks! But we have to ask: what have you done for us lately?

      What’s the definition of lately that makes this a compelling comparison? Would we be better off if we froze 5 years ago? 10? 25? What’s the cutoff point past which the output the capitalist system stopped being with the tradeoff?

      Report

      • I’m too lazy to look it up, but economic growth has been anemic since the GFC in 2007-2008, and the distribution of economic gains to the lower two or three quintiles has been nearly flat for I think about 20-30 years. When time permits, I’ll hit FRED to get the correct numbers.

        I don’t know what you mean by “freezing” anything, but I can say that most of the country is entitled to say, “What have you done for us in the last 20 years?”

        Report

        • Well, the post I was replying to was referring to all of the cool technological advances that we were all agreeing were the result of capitalism, so off the top of my head and taking 20 years as a reasonable cutoff:

          * Smart phones.
          * Cell phones everywhere with cheap plans.
          * Hybrid and electric cars.
          * Social media.
          * Customized wavefront laser eye surgery.
          * Efficient online retail with fast, low-cost delivery.

          I’m sure I’m missing a lot of big ones, but just taking a first cut at what has improved over the past 20 years yields a lot of stuff.

          Report

  15. Hey Larry, how ya doin’, long time, etc.

    My criticism of “socialism” vs. “capitalism” is generally just this:

    The stuff that tends to call itself “socialism” tends to do really well* for a couple of years and then turn into something like Venezuela.

    The stuff that tends to call itself “capitalism” tends to do really well for several decades before turning into something like Venezuela, if it turns into Venezuela at all.

    *”really well” defined as “about as well as the stuff that calls itself ‘capitalism'”.

    I don’t want to get into the whole “but that’s not *REALLY* (whatever)” debate as it seems to be a game of No True Scotsman so we can just run with the whole “self-identification” thing for this. Countries/societies that call themselves “socialist” have had a lot of really, really public failure states and, get this, the failure states happen *EARLY*. Like, within a lifetime.

    Capitalist failure states happen down the road a ways. Long enough to allow engineers to tweak it here or there and keep stuff running.

    Report

    • Perhaps we should also distinguish between Western capitalism and essentially 16th century Spanish mercantilism that was still widely practiced in Latin America. The Spanish didn’t cross the Atlantic to colonize so much as conquer and rule over indigenous tribes. The Spanish in charge were all nobles and military officers from high-born families, and they kept Spanish mercantilism and top-down command and control structures as the form of their governments.

      They built a system to keep the great families on top and the ordinary families powerless. Latin American governments will alternate between right-wing authoritarians and left-wing authoritarians, and even with communist authoritarianism, but the one constant is that the elites stay on top, the government dictates what common people can do, and the common people are kept on the bottom and often kept locked out of a real property system or the right to run businesses without paying endless bribes. By American standards, they’re not capitalist and never have been. They’re a throwback to a system we abandoned many centuries ago, one where ministries sell the right to own monopolies in perpetuity. When a right-wing government is replaced by a left-wing government, all that changes is the name plates on the desks, and who is at the front of the line for government favors, and how many bribes they have to pay. For the man on the street, nothing changes.

      In contrast, the US system was set up by the people essentially at the bottom (the common folks) because the upper class British didn’t cross the Atlantic until they wanted to be in Hollywood. We took only the law we were familiar with, the common law, and the common way to running markets and owning property that common people use in the absence of an aristocracy or institutions set up for the maintenance of the elites. Our “black market” system of business and property is perhaps human default behavior for large groups, because it is seen worldwide, but we backed it with government instead of fighting it to maintain a very different system based on rank and privilege.

      That other system also shows up throughout history, and is perhaps the view of someone who by inheritance or conquest thinks they are in charge of all the people, or at least ranking way way up there. Such anointed leaders walk on another plane, one where Caesar doesn’t have to haggle in the marketplace to get some apples and pears. He doesn’t have to rent or lease, he just possesses for the glory of Rome. Food, jewels, and all the comforts are provided to Caesar by his staff.

      Royals who grow up in such environments don’t learn naturally about the marketplace, or common notions of property, or how ordinary people create ingenious business structures to best fit their needs. All they know is that they are in charge of the common people. It is their natural position in life, and they can write laws and rules of behavior for everybody else so as best make their society function and their people prosper. Unfortunately they suck at that because they have no idea how common people naturally behave, and they don’t care as long as common people properly obey and work in harmony to make society thrive.

      That is the root of socialism. In fact, one of the things that drove Marx and the early socialists and communists was their disgust with the greedy, low-borne capitalists who were creating social chaos and getting rich from it. Capitalists were a disease, completely contrary to the natural order of things in which idle, deep thinking, respected leaders create order and stability. But Marx was also irate with aristocracy for letting capitalism happen, slaves to their own greed.

      And of course he penned a vast conspiracy theory to explain how everything works now, and how everything is supposed to work, just as any shah, caliph, or emperor would write royal orders to address vast social problems he perceived, and just as Pol Pot tried to remake Cambodian society. That’s baked in by Marx and Engels who wrote that the pathetic, capitalistic, primitive races in Europe would have to be wiped out because they weren’t fit for the new socialist order. Hitler went ahead and implemented many of their recommendations. You can’t build utopia without breaking a few eggs.

      Report

      • In fact, one of the things that drove Marx and the early socialists and communists was their disgust with the greedy, low-borne capitalists who were creating social chaos and getting rich from it. Capitalists were a disease, completely contrary to the natural order of things in which idle, deep thinking, respected leaders create order and stability. But Marx was also irate with aristocracy for letting capitalism happen, slaves to their own greed.

        There are were early- and mid-19th-century socialists who wrote something kinda similar to what you describe (the “utopian socialists”). However, I’ve read a lot of Marx, and I have not seen anything in his writing that matches what you say here.

        From my own readings, Marx considered capitalism to be a natural, necessary, and in its own way desirable development. In Capital vol. I, which I think we are entitled to consider the most mature and developed expression of his thought, Marx bends over backward to avoid moral judgment. Instead, he writes descriptively to understand what capitalism is, what features of capitalism constitute the contradictions that will eventually tear it apart, and how the bourgeoisie’s ineluctable creation of the proletariat in its specific historical form will lead to the next development in political economy.

        Marx does, of course, have a moral vision. But his moral vision is in a sense profoundly individualistic (Marx did not deny individualism, he just argued that individualism was not the liberal conception of individualism); even in his earliest writing, he does not at all desire or justify any sort of meritocratic elite to exercise political rule.

        Report

        • But Marx missed a lot of things, and his mistakes became obvious by the late 1800’s. For one, he didn’t realize how much railways would transform the relations between owners and workers. Prior to railroads, European workers couldn’t easily travel, and that created natural local monopolies where owners suppressed wages. Railroads shattered those monopolies as workers “voted with their feet”, moving to areas with higher wages.

          He also grossly underestimated the power of national myths, symbols, and dynamic leadership on the masses. Marxist revisionists in the 1890’s focused on this glaring flaw, noting that the masses were still willing to fight and die for king and country but weren’t willing to fight for their class. And he was mistaken in thinking that overthrowing the ownership class would be beneficial. It would make more sense to force them to share power with the workers and with an enlightened, meritocratic central government that looks out for all the people, not just the lower class, and that would take advantage of the management skills of the upper class.

          Mussolini, raised as a Marxist and employed as a leading writer and editor in the Italian Socialist Party, corrected those mistakes and the trains finally ran on time. His innovative thinking and masterful speeches were so groundbreaking that his surviving family should have sued Hugo Chavez for copyright infringement.

          He had rightly realized that “throw off your chains” makes no sense in a country like Italy where most people work for their parents or grandparents. Marx idiotically assumed that capitalism, all around the world, meant that Joseph Six Pack worked for Baron von Multinational Conglomerate, Inc. Nope. In many countries most people work for mom and pop.

          But of course not everyone is suited to live in a socialist society, and as you note the main obstacle to socialism is the bitter opposition of capitalists who try to sabotage and destroy any attempts at it. That’s because capitalists cling to their primitive ways, and the simple and necessary thing to do is to eliminate them from the gene pool. Marx and Engels both wrote that the Slavs were simply too primitive for socialism, and the Jews were too wedded to money and property to ever adapt to the new socialist utopia. Much of Eastern and Southern Europe was likewise populated with backwards, money grubbing, genetic failures who would have to be cleansed.

          Accomplishing such strong and transformational measures would take more than a misguided class war, one that sees a people destroy itself like a cancer. The Bolshevik disaster grimly illustrated the futility of the Leninist model, with mass starvation in Ukraine as the serfs were finally starved into submission to separate those who had human potential from those who were merely primitive ape-men who would sell their own children into slavery for a bottle of vodka (which was most of them). The disaster of Bolshevism clearly revealed the idiocy of purging all the knowledge workers, as production plunged and millions starved to death in an agrarian society.

          No, the way forward was for workers and owners to unite for one common purpose, true socialism, realizing that just as animals compete to stay in the gene pool and thus evolve and advance, so do peoples and nations. Bolshevism was an aberration, a failure, a dark socialist heresy, and it must be destroyed before it enslaves the world in an orgy of suffering and death. It was bad enough in Russia, where people grow their own food on their own farms. A nation of shopkeepers like Germany would never survive even a little bit of it.

          Yes, Bolshevism is a tool of the Jewish capitalists and their Slavic lackeys, and it will collapse as soon as a true socialist army kicks in the door, an army whose soldiers have both the courage, will, and moral clarity to save Western civilization from both Jewish perfidy, Anglo/American capitalism, degenerate democracy, and Bolshevik heresy.

          Onward soldiers! A strong people, working together under the banner of socialism, can conquer all! The very survival of mankind is at stake. It will take strong hearts, and bold men to beat back the forces of darkness threatening to engulf Europe. It will take men and women of zeal, all working for the common purpose to win the rightly deserved future for the German people, a future under national socialism where all the people advance to undreamed of accomplishments in science, arts, and industry, and take their place as the crowning glory of mankind!

          *sigh*

          We were so close to achieving true socialism. If only der Führer and his staff had listened to the logistics officers who said an invasion of the Soviet Union was, for any campaign lasting longer than a few months, doomed.

          The mistake was cataclysmic, ending with mass rape and a divided, conquered Germany, one half subject to the evils of exploitative capitalism and victor’s justice, and the other subject to the perversions of Bolshevism and even worse victor’s justice. Their national will was lost, buried in undeserved guilt over the acts of will necessary to make visionary socialism work, and now German girls cower in their homes afraid of the millions of invading Muslims from the pits of humanity’s nether regions who think Christian spoils and plunder are sanctioned by God.

          Rise up, oh great German masses! We have turned away from socialism and betrayed ourselves, selling out our own people and our own history! We don’t need to rethink socialism, because socialism is objectively correct. We just need to regain our will, our confidence, and expand our transport networks and supply lines so we can reconquer and ethnically purge the degenerate races plaguing Greater Germany and all of Western Europe and build a Reich that will stand for the remaining 922 years! Ignore those who say we’re dumpster diving in the dustbin of history! Seize the future!

          Report

    • The stuff that tends to call itself “socialism” tends to do really well* for a couple of years and then turn into something like Venezuela.

      Yes. The capitalists are ruthless — willing to impoverish and kill evens tens of millions of people — when their power is threatened. I think it’s impossible to separate out the intrinsic merits of socialism vs. capitalism from capitalists’ implacable and violent hostility to even a hint of socialism.

      This is a huge issue for socialism. We have to steer between the Scylla of being ruthless and violent enough to defeat the capitalists and the Charybdis of becoming so ruthless and violent as to ruin the socialist project completely.

      Capitalist failure states happen down the road a ways. Long enough to allow engineers to tweak it here or there and keep stuff running.

      So far. If capitalism can keep itself from collapsing, the complaints of socialists like me will remain just idle chatter. But nothing lasts forever, not even capitalism. The question is: what will follow, Utopia or extinction?

      Report

  16. Note that I have an enormous amount of work to do in the next 2-3 weeks, so I will be unable to continue these edifying and enjoyable conversations. It has been suggested that I create a guest post, a project I am most definitely highly motivated to complete; I think that we can continue these conversations in that context.

    Thank you all!

    Report

Comments are closed.