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Why the Debate Over Socialism Isn't Over:

Many commenters on my post on "Israeli Kibbutzim and the Failure of Socialism" argue that socialism is a dead issue. Why, they ask, should we bother arguing against an ideology that is already so completely discredited? Their point is not without some merit. In most of the world, socialism has far fewer adherents today than at any time in the last 100 years.

Nonetheless, there are still some good reasons to continue the debate over socialism, and to explore the reasons why that ideology proved so disastrous in both theory and practice. First, to state the most obvious, there are still at least two governments that continue to practice full-blown socialism: Cuba and North Korea. It is important to understand the reasons why the people of those two nations live under such horrible oppression.

Second, it is far from impossible for socialism to stage a political recovery in the future. Especially when packaged with nationalism, socialist rhetoric still has tremendous appeal to many people. Hugo Chavez's political success in Venezuela is an example of how some of the most disastrous socialist policies can be successfully sold to the people if combined with nationalism - a lesson first taught by Hitler and Mussolini. Political entrepreneurs in other Third World nations may well try to emulate Chavez's successes; the same could even occur in parts of the developed world if economic conditions deteriorate sufficiently. And, as Bryan Caplan shows in this excellent paper (scroll down to the link marked "The Totalitarian Threat"), several likely future technological and political developments may increase the viability of socialist totalitarianism and render its reemergence more likely.

Third, full-blown socialism continues to have some important and respected advocates in the intellectual world. Yale economist John Roemer and Oxford political theorist G.A. Cohen are two of the most sophisticated, and both are leading scholars in their fields. There are other academic advocates of socialism who enjoy considerable followings despite the fact that their work is far less impressive than Cohen's and Roemer's, or is even downright dishonest (as in the case of Noam Chomsky's political writings). By contrast, there are virtually no intellectually respectable advocates of fascism (in the true, rather than the purely pejorative, sense of the word) or racism left in the Western world.

Fourth, even among those who agree that socialism has been an abject failure to date, there is disagreement about the reasons for that failure. Some defenders of socialism claim that it failed in the USSR and elsewhere only because of insufficient ideological fervor, negative attributes of Russian culture, the hostility of capitalist states, or other causes that do not discredit the ideology's core ideas. As I explained in my previous post, the failure of the Israeli kibbutz model is important precisely because it helps rule out some of these arguments.

Finally, some, though by no means all, of the shortcomings of full-blown socialism are shared by more moderate interventionist policies. The problems of knowledge, incentives, and political ignorance that undermines democratic control of big government are particularly important here.

For all these reasons, the debate over socialism is far from over. The spectre that once haunted Europe and the world may have been defeated and discredited. But we have not yet completed the task of driving a stake through its heart.

UPDATE: To avoid confusion, I should emphasize that in this post, as in the previous one, I use the term "socialism" to refer to government control of all or most of the means of production, not to more moderate departures from the free market, such as welfare statism or government regulation of industries that remain privately owned.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why the Debate Over Socialism Isn't Over:
  2. Israeli Kibbutzim and the Failure of Socialism:
Billy Beck (www):
"Why"? Because of rubbish like this.

Oh, and "socialism" is about a lot more than economics.
9.8.2007 2:01am
James968 (mail):
I have a leftist friend who still believes Communism could have worked, just Lenin implemented it the wrong way. (When I first saw the article on Kibbutsism, I was really considering sending it her, though she tends to only read things which she agrees with).
9.8.2007 2:06am
Kieran (mail) (www):
I've always liked it that the Communist Manifesto closes with a list of radical policy demands that includes (along with stuff like the abolition of private property) a graduated income tax, a strong central bank, abolition of child labor in factories, and a free public education system.
9.8.2007 2:11am
Marina Martin (mail) (www):
Out of curiosity, have you ever read anything on socialism -- whether it be a blog comment, an article, or a book -- that gave you even a second's pause, or that made you re-think the slightest part of your current political stance?

I have an agreement with a socialist friend of mine -- I'll read "Capital" if he reads "Atlas Shrugged." I'm about 25 pages in and bored to death, but I'm willing to stick it out to the end (if only to stick it to him that I upheld my end of the bargain). I just can't wrap my head around how an otherwise personable, intelligent, likable person can believe in socialism, but I really *want* to understand. In most debates, I can at least see the other person's point of view, but not on this one.
9.8.2007 2:27am
Malvolio:
I have a leftist friend who still believes Communism could have worked, just Lenin implemented it the wrong way.
No one can say that Christianity has failed. It has never been tried.
— GK Chesterton

Yes, Lenin failed to implement communism correctly, and Mao failed and Pol Pot failed. They all failed. Were they lazy? Stupid? What went wrong? I mean, at what point does even a mildly self-deluded left start to realize that gee, maybe is cannot be done right?

(When I first saw the article on Kibbutsism, I was really considering sending it her, though she tends to only read things which she agrees with).
None of us would ever do that.
9.8.2007 2:30am
Montie (mail):

To avoid confusion, I should emphasize that in this post, as in the previous one, I use the term "socialism" to refer to government control of all or most of the means of production, not to more moderate departures from the free market, such as welfare statism or government regulation of industries that remain privately owned.


But we certainly should not forget the failures of even "moderate departures." I would posit that many people are blissfully unaware of the Winter of 1978-1979 in the U.K. where fuel and food were no longer delivered, trains stopped running, ambulances no longer responded, the dead were left unburied, and garbage was allowed to pile up on the street.

There are very practical reasons why Margaret Thatcher was the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.
9.8.2007 2:30am
The River Temoc (mail):
I glanced through Bryan Caplan's "excellent paper" on "The Totalitarian Threat." It is utter drivel.

To paraphrase one incredibly stupid argument: "one big challenge to totalitarian governments is the existence of democratic governments. The existence of a world government, which could come under totalitarian sway, would remove the possibility of a democratic government existing at the same time. World government takes its inspiration from the European Union. Therefore, the European Union is bad. For similar reasons, other regional groupings, which are often modeled after the European Union, are bad."

If you buy into this logic, maybe the Articles of Confederation were just one step away from totalitarianism, because the U.S. of A. might inspire other groups of states to form a political union? I mean, take this to its logical conclusion and you'll be saying that we shouldn't have any jurisdictions larger than Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. Live free or die, and all that.
9.8.2007 2:40am
Infidelesto (mail) (www):
I have a friend who believes that socialism in it's purest most perfect form is, in fact, the perfect system of rule. If it's actually done and implemented correctly of course. But in addition to that, he also believes that it is impossible for it to ever be perfected due to man's natural desire of free will.

The "idea" of pure socialism is a great one, and many "scholars" and "intellectuals" favor it for this reason, but they think it through too much and have too much "belief in the system".

They forget the one powerful force of every man; free will.

So although is may "seem" like the perfect form of rule, it is, in fact, impossible to ever perfect.
9.8.2007 5:33am
NicholasV (mail) (www):
Infidelesto : I think such a belief is still flawed, free will aside.

Some people are willing to work harder to get more. Some are willing to settle for leisure, and have less. Some people are willing to take risks, others are not. We're all different, we have different desires, different abilities, and different lifestyles.

Communism/socialism is a "one-size-fits-all" philosophy and I just don't think humans are so uniform that such a system suits them, even if they are willing to make that system work. I think they would find that what they thought they wanted, was not as great as they thought it would be.

Have you noticed how the people who seem to get what they want out of communism tend to generally be the ones who exploit the system, and by extension, the other people? I think it's an interesting paradox - those who are most committed to the system via their leadership positions tend to be the ones who are furthest from its ideal.
9.8.2007 6:01am
Bob The Lawyer:
Gosh, I'm a long way from being a Marxist, but Das Kapital is an incomparably better book than Atlas Shrugged. It's a struggle to read, but anyone with an interest in economics or history, whatever their politics, should have a go.
9.8.2007 6:56am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
The scary thing is that Capital is not only a better book than Atlas Shrugged; its also more entertaining.
9.8.2007 7:57am
Jeff Boghosian (mail):
socialism: "government control of all or most of the means of production"

Definitions of socialism always seem vague to me. Are there any examples of industries in the U.S. that you would define as socialistic? maybe nuclear power, drinking water, education, or the defense industry?
9.8.2007 8:09am
steve (mail):
The contest between socialists and libertarians always puts me in mind of what J.L. Austin said about realists and nominalists, that they both subsisted by taking in the others dirty laundry.
9.8.2007 9:36am
martinned (mail) (www):
Montie said:

To avoid confusion, I should emphasize that in this post, as in the previous one, I use the term "socialism" to refer to government control of all or most of the means of production, not to more moderate departures from the free market, such as welfare statism or government regulation of industries that remain privately owned.

But we certainly should not forget the failures of even "moderate departures." I would posit that many people are blissfully unaware of the Winter of 1978-1979 in the U.K. where fuel and food were no longer delivered, trains stopped running, ambulances no longer responded, the dead were left unburied, and garbage was allowed to pile up on the street.


As opposed to the US, where free enterprise makes sure that there is always plenty of such basic necessities as, say, electricity or health care.

More generally, I would advocate using the word communism for Soviet-Union type deals, and reserving socialism for the moderates. That would certainly be more in line with normal usage today.
9.8.2007 9:51am
Zathras (mail):
"Definitions of socialism always seem vague to me. Are there any examples of industries in the U.S. that you would define as socialistic? maybe nuclear power, drinking water, education, or the defense industry?"

This is slightly off topic, but how would people classify credit unions? They are not really capitalist, since they are nonprofit entities, but they are not really socialist, since they are not government owned. Perhaps there is a third alternative?
9.8.2007 10:17am
samuil (mail):
Any Utopian idea, when the system or believes are forced upon people without consideration of historical and cultural development as well as individualistic human nature had failed before or and is bound to fail again.
Take communism and neoconservatism for example....end of history, my ass....
9.8.2007 10:24am
MDJD2B (mail):
Though socialism has been discredited as a means for increasing economic production, it may have non-economic advantages in societies that face non-economic external or internal threats.

As I indicated in comments to teh Kibbutz post, this means of social organization arguably allowed Jewish settlers to hold onto their land in the face of constant attack and threat of attack from nomically superior forces. It also provided the sort of solidarity and morale that allowed them to resist British rule without much internal treason-- the Achilles' heel of many resistance movements.
9.8.2007 10:47am
Jerry F:
Considering that most Americans (including many conservatives) have a highly negative view of Joe McCarthy, one would think that the debate over socialism is most certainly not over.
9.8.2007 10:48am
Bpbatista (mail):
"Third, full-blown socialism continues to have some important and respected advocates in the intellectual world." As I suspected, although Socialism does not work and is discredited in the real world it will undoubtedly work and has many advocates in Fantasyland.
9.8.2007 10:54am
Houston Lawyer:
Question why advocates of socialism are no less reviled than advocates of fascism. They are birds of a feather and should be treated the same.

The driving force of socialism is envy, one of the seven deadly sins. Yet it is still the dominant belief system on college campuses today.
9.8.2007 11:26am
CheckEnclosed (mail):
It is interesting that Cuba and North Korea should be held up as examples of socialist states. In the case of North Korea it has been ruled as a monarchy unde Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il with the military following the monarch and the people being starved. Cuba has been run the same way under Fidel Castro, who will likely be succeeded, dynastically, by his brother, though the people have not been as mistreated there, perhaps because of better weather and more friends in the neighborhood.
Neither of these places is a particularly good argument for socialism, or against it, unless one has an argument that attempts at socialism necessarily breed this type of outcome.
9.8.2007 11:34am
A Law Unto Himself:
As pointed out by many economists of the Chicago school, the pricing mechanism of capitalism is a communications medium, implictly providing vast amounts of information about supply and demand.

The fundamental arrogance of socialism (as Ilya defines the term in this piece) is the belief that central planners can effectively replace all of these billions of "messages" between buyers and sellers. This is why there will always be an excess unwanted goods and shortages of wanted goods when the government controls the means of production.
9.8.2007 11:44am
Truth Seeker:
Considering that most Americans (including many conservatives) have a highly negative view of Joe McCarthy, one would think that the debate over socialism is most certainly not over.

A negative view of McCarthy has nothing to do with a positive view of socialism. The problem was with his methods of outing people.

But after the fall of the USSR we found out that he was right that they had a lot of spies in the highest levels of our government, including FDR's aides.
9.8.2007 12:07pm
Darth Scalia:
"The driving force of socialism is envy, one of the seven deadly sins. Yet it is still the dominant belief system on college campuses today."

LOL envy is the driving force of capitalism, not socialism. Unless of course you believe people buy gigantic houses and $50,000 cars because they need them. How many things do you think people buy that they actually need, and aren't a reflexion (manufactured or natural) of some degree of envy (either of others or to instill in others)?

As far as socialism goes, it's nice that this hasn't been the usual nonsense failing to define what socialism is and it's varying degrees and instead applies it to "bad people we don't like". Oh wait, that's exactly what this has been. I'm absolutely shocked, I can't think of another time during a political discussion where people harped on and on about something they had no idea about. Oops.
9.8.2007 12:30pm
Darth Scalia:
Yea, McCarthy was right...just like I was right when I guessed that it would rain yesterday and it did.
9.8.2007 12:34pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
On of the reasons that the Middle East is still struggling to find a successful modus operandi is that the self-proclaimed 'intellectuals' of the media and universities are stuck in an eddy of political discourse known as 'socialism'. Pan-Arabism, the Ba'ath Party, even some of the foremost reformers are questing for a socialist answer to social problems.

In this, they are aided and abetted by 'post-colonialist' analysis that absolves them of any actually responsibility for their own past, present, and futures.
9.8.2007 12:34pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Dividing purchases into those driven by need and those driven by envy is a classic case of false dichotomy. A lot of people buy $50,000 cars and large houses because they're more comfortable and convenient than $20,000 cars and small houses, not because they're hoping to cause heartburn in their neighbors. I'm sure there are a few people in the world who don't like the taste of lobsters and escargots but eat them anyway just to show off, but most people who eat them do so because they like them so much they'd rather spend the money on them than on other things.
9.8.2007 12:42pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
* It perverts the term "socialism" to characterize Cuba and North Korea as " full-blown socialism."

*I agree that "It is important to understand the reasons why the people of those two nations live under such horrible oppression" but it has nothing to do with the idea of socialism but at least in the case of Cuba all to do with stupid American policy which aided Castro by trying to isolate him.

But in general I want to compliment Professor Bernstein for raising this issue which strikes me as an excellent and relevant one when there is absolutely nothing else of importance to discuss.
9.8.2007 12:44pm
Anon1ms (mail):
"The driving force of socialism is envy, one of the seven deadly sins."

And the driving force of libertarianism is selfishness.
9.8.2007 12:46pm
ejo:
you get it a lot from academics as they are truly in socialist institutions like universities, which exist by the tax dollars of the productive members of society. once they get tenure, they can't be fired. why wouldn't professors and academics love socialism.
9.8.2007 1:05pm
Billy Beck (www):
"Gosh, I'm a long way from being a Marxist, but Das Kapital is an incomparably better book than Atlas Shrugged."

{howling laughter}

Wow. That's a bona fide shibboleth, right there.
9.8.2007 1:09pm
Billy Beck (www):
"And the driving force of libertarianism is selfishness."

That's exactly right. What's your point?
9.8.2007 1:12pm
Darth Scalia:
"The driving force of socialism is envy, one of the seven deadly sins. Yet it is still the dominant belief system on college campuses today."

LOL envy is the driving force of capitalism, not socialism. Unless of course you believe people buy gigantic houses and $50,000 cars because they need them. How many things do you think people buy that they actually need, and aren't a reflexion (manufactured or natural) of some degree of envy (either of others or to instill in others)?

As far as socialism goes, it's nice that this hasn't been the usual nonsense failing to define what socialism is and it's varying degrees and instead applies it to "bad people we don't like". Oh wait, that's exactly what this has been. I'm absolutely shocked, I can't think of another time during a political discussion where people harped on and on about something they had no idea about. Oops.
9.8.2007 1:14pm
Darth Scalia:
"The driving force of socialism is envy, one of the seven deadly sins. Yet it is still the dominant belief system on college campuses today."

LOL envy is the driving force of capitalism, not socialism. Unless of course you believe people buy gigantic houses and $50,000 cars because they need them. How many things do you think people buy that they actually need, and aren't a reflexion (manufactured or natural) of some degree of envy (either of others or to instill in others)?

As far as socialism goes, it's nice that this hasn't been the usual nonsense failing to define what socialism is and it's varying degrees and instead applies it to "bad people we don't like". Oh wait, that's exactly what this has been. I'm absolutely shocked, I can't think of another time during a political discussion where people harped on and on about something they had no idea about. Oops.
9.8.2007 1:14pm
Darth Scalia:
"Dividing purchases into those driven by need and those driven by envy is a classic case of false dichotomy. A lot of people buy $50,000 cars and large houses because they're more comfortable and convenient than $20,000 cars and small houses, not because they're hoping to cause heartburn in their neighbors. I'm sure there are a few people in the world who don't like the taste of lobsters and escargots but eat them anyway just to show off, but most people who eat them do so because they like them so much they'd rather spend the money on them than on other things."

Well, it is when you purposely ignore the actual basis for what defines "comfort". What exactly makes a $50,000 car "comfortable", particularly when an individual has never driven or sat in it? What exactly makes a larger house "convenient", with the added space, cleaning, and (at times) longer commute for work?

It couldn't be that envy plays a significant, if not a driving factor in this...
9.8.2007 1:20pm
Bottomfish (mail):
If I see that someone has a $50,000 car and a large house, and I have neither, there are several ways I can react:

(1) Demand that government provide similar things for me (the socialist or at least Rawlsian reaction);

(2) Do what I can to obtain similar things on my own (the laissez-faire reaction);

(3) Conclude there is more to life than expensive cars and big houses.

In a previous post, I argued that socialism may be practicable if you consider the economic success of some religious communities that have gone into business, for example, the Christian Brothers. But these groups clearly exzemplify (3) rather than (1) or (2).
9.8.2007 1:49pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
To expand on what Houston Lawyer said, what keeps socialism going is it is relatively simplistic and it plays on a mix of primal emotions - envy, greed, a sense of "justice", desire to control or exercise power over others, etc. So it is relatively easy to teach or relay the narrative, comprehend it, and use the visceral responses it activates to motivate people. When you aren't bogged down by having to teach people some of the complex and counterintuitive aspects of economics and can really get them worked up with envy and a sense of injustice it is really easy to manipulate large groups. There's always a ready-made scapegoat thanks to the "class warfare" component - the rich or upper class.

And since human nature doesn't change, socialism almost always has a chance of catching on. Especially if people don't know much about economics.
9.8.2007 2:10pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Per Ilya's "Update," any reasonable discussion of "socialism" would have to distinguish (sharply, IMHO) between:

(1) the type of communism which developed in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and North Korea, characterized by, among other things, totalitarian/dictatorial governments with no political democracy, which took root in countries with little-no democratic tradition, experience with capitalism, or with independent institutions of democratic societies (e.g., free trade unions); and

(2) Social-Democratic states or polices, such those seen in Western Europe, ranging from Scandinavian-style quasi-socialism to significant welfare state measures like national health care. Notably, these states all had political and economic traditions quite different than the countries in (1) [remember Marx saying capitalism had to come before socialism?] and remained democratic politically.

Libertanians sometimes argue that anything that looks like (2), including comparatively modest social welfare programs in the U.S., get us on a slippery slope to (2) and then (1) (Sweden then maybe on to the old Albania, if you will).

There are lessons to be learned from the horrific failures of a variety of different types of totalitarian states (communist and otherwise), and lessons to be learned from ecomonic policies of democratic states (e.g., Israel and the Kibbutz). But lumping the whole discussion under the rubric of "socialism" is not very helpful, at least to the many of us who would unhesitatingly and categorically denounce (1) but who find some useful lessons about the positive impacts of some social welfare legislation from (2).
9.8.2007 2:16pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Zathras-

This is slightly off topic, but how would people classify credit unions? They are not really capitalist, since they are nonprofit entities, but they are not really socialist, since they are not government owned. Perhaps there is a third alternative?

I believe they are a kind of non-profit corporation. I wouldn't call them socialist because they aren't directly owned or managed by the government and participation in them is voluntary.
9.8.2007 2:20pm
JosephSlater (mail):
This is all pretty theoretical/academic, but of course Marx spoke in terms of worker control over the means of production, not government control.
9.8.2007 2:39pm
Montie (mail):

As opposed to the US, where free enterprise makes sure that there is always plenty of such basic necessities as, say, electricity or health care.


martinned, you appear to be ascribing positions to me that I do not take.

My point is simply this: I have observed too many people who appear to believe that (i) the social democracies of Western Europe were almost wholly successful because socialism virtually always works and (ii) conservative politicians such as Thatcher were somehow able to fool Western European countries into abandoning their "winning formula."* These views are patently false.

*-I assume that you do not share these views.
9.8.2007 2:40pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
JosephSlater-

The distinction between your two categories is state ownership of the means of production. In category one the state owns all or at least the vast majority of the means of production. In category two the means of production is still owned by private parties, but taxes and regulations are relatively high. Mises (one of the fathers of the Austrian school of economics, Ludwig von Mises) referred to the second category, the "social democrat" economies, as "hampered market economies". They are still market economies, but they are hampered by relatively high levels of taxation and regulation.

The state taking ownership of the means of production is a big deal - because it screws everything up. The state then tries to plan and control the market for its products through price and wage controls, rationing, etc. This creates shortages. Black or gray markets spring up to address these shortages and in order to keep control of the economy a police state is needed. So socialism basically requires totalitarianism.

This is laid out in more detail here. (Yes, I'm always linking that article but in my opinion its an important one.)
9.8.2007 2:41pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
JosephSlater-

This is all pretty theoretical/academic, but of course Marx spoke in terms of worker control over the means of production, not government control.

Well since there is no private property the government manages everything that is collectively held by "the people". Of course controlling something is vital part of owning it, so in effect the government owns everything. Those who control the government control everything, so a new de facto government elite is formed.
9.8.2007 2:47pm
JosephSlater (mail):
A.P.:

I agree that what you describe is an important distinction. I would add that there are other important distinctions, including perhaps most prominently the existence of political democracy (and individual rights to speech, association, etc. which may not be exactly the same as in the U.S. but which are at least usually substantially similar).

Again, for what it's worth, Marx never championed STATE ownership of the means of production, he called for WORKER ownership. The state was going to wither away.

And he expected communism to come only after states had gone through capitalism. That's relevant to my first point, because Marx (correctly) noted that capitalism brought with it basic democracy and basic democratic institutions, something the Soviets, China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, etc., all lacked when they were taken over by communists.
9.8.2007 2:51pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Anon1ms-

And the driving force of libertarianism is selfishness.

No, the driving force of libertarianism is liberty. Freedom to act in your self-interest if you choose to is part of that. The thing is, in a capitalist economy everyone benefits from the self-interested activity of everyone else.
9.8.2007 2:52pm
JosephSlater (mail):
A.P.:

We cross-posted. What you describe is certainly what the communist dictators said was happening in the communist states (of course, the property was in fact held for the benefit of party elites). Marx's theory was something different, but again, that's pretty academic at this point.
9.8.2007 2:54pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Darth Scalia: "Well, it is when you purposely ignore the actual basis for what defines 'comfort'".

OK. What defines the actual basis of comfort? What is it? Is it the same for everyone? How does it apply to a car, house, or bifocals?
9.8.2007 2:59pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
JosephSlater-

Again, for what it's worth, Marx never championed STATE ownership of the means of production, he called for WORKER ownership. The state was going to wither away.

I have never read Capital, but I don't remember this happening in any of the communist or socialist countries. Regardless of whoever is claimed to be the owners - the "workers", the "people", the "collective" etc. - the government controlled everything. Since control is basically de facto ownership, the government basically owned everything.
9.8.2007 3:07pm
therut:
Not only envy but also coveting. It is one of the Big Ten to avoid.
9.8.2007 3:11pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
JS-

We cross-posted. What you describe is certainly what the communist dictators said was happening in the communist states (of course, the property was in fact held for the benefit of party elites). Marx's theory was something different, but again, that's pretty academic at this point.

Disregard the message just above then.
9.8.2007 3:19pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
I wonder if Darth Scalia has ever driven a $50,000 car. I've never owned a car costing even $10,000, but thanks to Driveaway, I once drove a 4-door Mercedes with a sunroof from Chicago to the port of Baltimore (on its way to a sheik in Kuwait) and a beige Corvette from Baltimore back to Chicago. They were very nice cars, and if I ever win the lottery I will definitely think about buying something that nice -- not because I want to cause heartburn in my friends, enemies, and coworkers, but because they would be a lot pleasanter to drive than any of the cars I've owned. (If you're wondering, that's an '83 2-door Sentra with no radio or air conditioning bought new, a '95 Tercel bought used in '97 when the Sentra died, and a '98 Accord acquired from relatives a few months ago, since the Tercel is on its last legs.)

I've never owned a house, or lived in a particularly large house or apartment, but some of the big houses I've seen were very comfortable indeed. I teach high school and sometimes go to parties at the houses of parents or colleagues. One of the latter is the former president of the national airline of a medium-sized country. If I had unlimited amounts of money, plus kids with musical talents, I wouldn't mind having a house like his, with (e.g.) a music room with balcony overhanging the sunken living room for occasional impromptu concerts. If I had kids, I wouldn't mind having a house big enough for each to have his own bedroom, with another for guests, and with plenty of space left over for (e.g.) a pool table.

I could go on, but surely my point is clear: more expensive cars and houses are generally nicer than less expensive ones. That's why people pay more for them, and it doesn't always (or even usually, in my observation) have anything at all to do with envy. Perhaps if you live in Los Angeles or Manhattan, or some suburb occupied predominantly by stockbrokers or commodities traders, you will find that consumption is driven primarily by envy or the urge to inspire envy. I haven't found that true anywhere I've lived, which is a dozen or more different places.

All in all, when people claim that everyone else is inspired by envy, I think it tells us more about them than about everyone else.
9.8.2007 3:30pm
martinned (mail) (www):
Montie a dit:

martinned, you appear to be ascribing positions to me that I do not take.

My point is simply this: I have observed too many people who appear to believe that (i) the social democracies of Western Europe were almost wholly successful because socialism virtually always works and (ii) conservative politicians such as Thatcher were somehow able to fool Western European countries into abandoning their "winning formula."* These views are patently false.

*-I assume that you do not share these views.


In fact, I, too, am an inherent socialist in that I take the tax money of hard working capitalists to pay for my Ph.D. fellowship, which, incidentally, concerns just these Thatcherite privatisations. So to answer to your final remark first: So far I have grave concerns about whether many/most of the recent European privatisations (electricity, rail transport, telecoms, etc.) were carried out for anything resembling a good reason. That is not to say that such a good reason might not exist, just that governments appear quite happy to carry out such operations based on policy documents that appear to contain 90% fried air. Thatcher, for one, seems to have advocated privatisation mostly for philosophical reasons. (Which is fair enough, but then don't try to sell this as an inherent efficiency improvement.)

What my earlier remark was meant to indicate has to do with your point number i: social-democracy in Europe has worked so well (it has) because it has attempted to strike a balance between ideological opposites. The reason why state management should be avoided where possible is strikingly easy. It has already been referred to above: there is too much tacit knowledge required for doing the kinds of calculations that one would theoretically have to do to solve for a global optimum. (cf. Hayek (1944), the use of knowledge in society). However, leaving political philosophy aside, the industries where state involvement is preferable clearly also make up several tenths of the economy. Network economies causing (nearly) unavoidable natural monopolies, severe information asymmetries, etc. are characteristics of such industries as public utilities, rail transport, health care and education. On the balance, sometimes the government needs to be involved, because that is the most efficient solution. (Still leaving political philosophy aside.) In my research so far, I've found that both today and in the 19th century, large categories of institutional arrangements are simply ignored, completely left out of contention, without anyone ever bothering to explain why. The key is to keep your options open, and not to be overly optimistic about either communism/socialism or libertarianism.
9.8.2007 3:52pm
33yearprof:
Why, they ask, should we bother arguing against an ideology that is already so completely discredited? Their point is not without some merit. In most of the world, socialism has far fewer adherents today than at any time in the last 100 years.


Not exactly. The new rubric is "income redistribution." A large majority of my faculty colleagues think that is just fine. At least so long as government plays the "Robbing Hood" role.

When I remind them that the US government will gladly accept all the additional money they want to send in pursuant to TREASURY DIRECTIVE 61-09 (May 3, 2001), they suddenly lose interest. Apparently, it 's only my money and yours that they wish to have redistributed.

Socialism isn't dead. It lives in the hearts of so-called "Progressives" and is the theoretical basis of the tax rate structure of the US income tax code.
9.8.2007 5:30pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As opposed to the US, where free enterprise makes sure that there is always plenty of such basic necessities as, say, electricity or health care.
Well, yes. Which doesn't mean everyone can afford it, obviously.
9.8.2007 5:36pm
whit:
"Third, full-blown socialism continues to have some important and respected advocates in the intellectual world. Yale economist John Roemer and Oxford political theorist G.A. Cohen are two of the most sophisticated, and both are leading scholars in their fields."

this actually says more about the people in the "intellectual world" than it does about socialism

iow, saying a position is respected in the "intellectual world" and/or academia says next to nothing about whether this position/theory is supported by evidence. ESPECIALLY in soft "sciences" like political science or economics.

kind of a sad indictment of academia, not a support for socialism.

you can be sophisticated and respected and still be 100% wrong in academia as long as your position makes people feel good, or revolutionary or "progressive" and/or egalitarian.

positions that are supported by FAR more evidence and real world data points than socialism will not be "respected" or "sophisticated" among "intellectuals" and academics, otoh, because they don't like the implications. see, for example, the big flap over summers merely mentioning research into cognitive difference between men and women.

lets not forget that it was acadamic economists who brought us efficient market theory, possibly the dumbest theory ever supported by academia (for decades) despite reams of evidence to the contrary.
9.8.2007 5:40pm
Mark Field (mail):
OT: DMN, as long as you're here, get over to Balkinization now. You have a once in a lifetime opportunity: to agree with Paul Finkelman.
9.8.2007 6:00pm
Voorhies (mail):
Socialism is a species of group-think that has developed evolutionary in an adoptive mind manor.As the science of evolutionary psychology progresses this will become more and more apparent.Possibly this accounts for the hostility to this very science.
9.8.2007 6:28pm
JosephSlater (mail):
A.P.: I think we're on the same page.

Beyond the strange but predictable on a libertarian blog confusion of a progressive income tax with totalitarian communism, I will only note one comment above.

TheRut writes: It is one of the Big Ten to avoid.

Having been born and raised in Michigan, and having gone to U-Mich. law school, I could go off on what in the Big Ten I should have avoided a week ago today. But it wouldn't have anything to do with communism.
9.8.2007 6:32pm
JosephSlater (mail):
After a quick trip to ESPN.COM, please add "and this week too" to my post above.
9.8.2007 6:49pm
MDJD2B (mail):

LOL envy is the driving force of capitalism, not socialism. Unless of course you believe people buy gigantic houses and $50,000 cars because they need them.

No-- envy is the driving force of socialism. Greed is the driving force of capitalism. They are different. The latter makes you want more for yourself. The former makes you want to take away from others, even if it does not enrigh you.
9.8.2007 8:03pm
MDJD2B (mail):

I believe they are a kind of non-profit corporation. I wouldn't call them socialist because they aren't directly owned or managed by the government and participation in them is voluntary.


That's also true of kibbutzim
9.8.2007 8:06pm
triticale (mail) (www):
As opposed to the US, where free enterprise makes sure that there is always plenty of such basic necessities as, say, electricity or health care.
There has been exactly one case in the United States in recent decades outside of short term disaster situations where the supply of electricity did not meet basic needs. That was in the state of California, when the government meddled with the market in a manner which might be labeled socialistic.

As for health care, the availability is constrained somewhat by barriers to entry and competition maintained by the major players, but rarely to the point of crisis. If you want to debate the manner in which it is paid for, that is another matter entirely, and we will have to start with the understanding that of those who are at any time without health insurance include those who have access and income, but choose to spend elsewhere, those who are here in violation of immigration law, and those who are passing thru hard times but will come back out. There is a system in place, flawed in design and implementation, which sees to the health care of the persistantly indigent.
9.8.2007 10:22pm
Eliza:

There are other academic advocates of socialism who enjoy considerable followings despite the fact that their work is far less impressive than Cohen's and Roemer's, or is even downright dishonest (as in the case of Noam Chomsky's political writings).


Easy there Ilya. It doesn't do to go around insulting Al-Qaeda's favorite intellectual. Although, one does wonder if OBL knows Chomsky is Jewish. If so, perhaps AQ has become more broadminded; if not, I don't suppose the infatuation will last long.
9.8.2007 10:58pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
triticale:
There is one other class of uninsured: those who are saving money by intentionally going without insurance, with no risk at all. When I was an adjunct instructor at a university, my health insurance always lapsed for 6 weeks every summer. I had the option of paying to have it continue, but it would have cost hundreds of dollars, and I could do that retroactively at any point. So I never paid for it, figuring if I got sick enough to need insurance that would cost me that much, I could always borrow the money, sign the papers, and send them in. There was always the slim possibility that I could be run over by a truck and not die, thus running up tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical bills while unable to sign the papers to reinstate my insurance. I was too lazy or thoughtless to do it, but I could easily have signed the papers and left them with my next of kin to be handed in with a check in the unlikely case that I needed the coverage and couldn't handle it myself. I wonder how many other uninsured people are in a similar situation.
9.9.2007 12:20am
Thomass:
CheckEnclosed (mail):

"Neither of these places is a particularly good argument for socialism, or against it, unless one has an argument that attempts at socialism necessarily breed this type of outcome"

Your assuming socialism has any time for democracy... From what I've read of it, it had little or no respect for it and wrote it off as 'political liberalism'... which was basically a pejorative as 'economic liberalism' was another way of their saying 'capitalism'... Continental leftists put a lot of thought into the corrupting influences of political liberalism... how it drew in groups that should otherwise be in conflict... by creating compromise it put off the revolution... et cetera...

The modern left (say Chomsky types) play up democracy in a spin of the way it is articulated by dictators… States without their preferred programs are not democracies because if they were they'd had their preferred programs… ergo, democracy (as an abstract) is good but states that are not run by people like them in ways they'd like… are not really 'democracies'… ahh… the mental knots leftists can tolerate..

Long ago... socialsts who actually bought into democracy decided to call themselves social democrats....
9.9.2007 1:13am
peter jackson (mail) (www):

The first thing we need to do to drive a stake in the heart of socialism is to quit humoring those who still cling to it's premises. A little Austrian man named Von Hayek has already provided the stake and the mallet. Whenever someone tries to argue the virtues of socialism to me I stop them, and explain to them that Hayek's knowledge problem poses an insurmountable obstacle to their ideation. Very few socialists I've ever met have even heard of it. If they don't become immediately defensive I'll offer a brief overview of Hayek's thesis, but if they do become defensive I don't press them, but instead refer them to Wikipedia. I explain that no one has yet come close to offering a convincing rebuttal to Hayek, and that until someone does any discussion about socialism would be an unserious review of ground long-since covered. I then end the conversation by sincerely promising that I will listen to what they have to say about socialism as soon as they can explain how the knowledge problem can be overcome, and then, again very sincerely, I wish them luck, promising that if they can figure it out that there would surely be a Nobel Prize in it for them.

yours/
peter.
9.9.2007 1:18am
Thomass:
Their new strategy is simply to move the debate to other places (than government planning of the economy). The environment, globalization, for profit companies running / ruining health care… rather than how their ideas will actually fix, or even help with, these 'problems'…
9.9.2007 1:37am
cthulhu (mail):
Zimbabwe was omitted from the list of sinking Socialist regimes...
9.9.2007 2:43am
Peter McCormick (mail):
The moral impulse of socialism is still the reigning moral orthodoxy of our time. To prove the point, just look at how much the "socialist ideal" has crept into the conservative intellectual movement and the GOP via Christianity and the neoconservatives.

If you google "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism" by C. Bradley Thompson you can see for yourself just how much socialism has infected American political and intellectual life. (I couldn't post the URL here.)
9.9.2007 8:22am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Dr. Weevil-

All in all, when people claim that everyone else is inspired by envy, I think it tells us more about them than about everyone else.

Except when you merely point out that their economic and political philosophy is driven by it. The whole "class conflict" component of socialism is based on: "Look at all those filthy capitalist dogs have, and they made it all by exploiting your class - the proletariat."
9.9.2007 8:37am
Ro:
Fascinating. I would like to share an oldie but goodie, a darling little newspaper clipping with you. I have kept it on my desk for years.
COMMUNISM - You have two cows. The government takes both of them and gives you part of the milk.
SOCIALISM - You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbour.
FASCISM - You have two cows. The government takes both cows and sells you the milk.
NAZISM - You have two cows. The government takes both cows, then shoots you.
BUREAUCRACY - You have two cows. The government takes both of them, shoots one, milks the other then pours the milk down the drain.
CAPITALISM - You have two cows. You sell one of them and buy a bull.
I wonder if it could be slightly updated, due to emerging GM.
9.9.2007 9:14am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
envy is the driving force of socialism. Greed is the driving force of capitalism. They are different. The latter makes you want to earn more for yourself. The former makes you want to stealfrom others, even if it does not enrich you. (with apologies to the original author)

I can run a pretty good economy based on earning. It is hard to run one based on theft - indefinitely.
9.9.2007 10:13am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The most communist social grouping in America is the family.
9.9.2007 10:23am
Al Fin (mail) (www):
Academics in social sciences and post-modernist fields of study are typically socialists because they depend upon the hard work of others for their livelihood. They have no practical skills and nothing of value to contribute.

They are a parasitic class living off the labour of others.
9.9.2007 10:25am
inmypajamas:
Isn't it interesting that during the "people's" revolutions, the intellectuals are among the first to go? The Bolsheviks, the Nazis and Fidel all worked hard to wipe out the intellectual/academic class through job elmination, imprisonment and execution. Marx was also suspicious of intellectuals. Yet academics are the evangelicals in capitalist societies that keep the socialist faith and spread the word to recruit new followers. Go figure.
9.9.2007 11:28am
Paden Cash (mail):
Being a prole myself, I probably haven't the intellectual capacity to understand everything that is being said here. I do understand however, that if I spend 10 hours of my life working, only to have the product of my labors taken away by force, I have been robbed. The people who do that are thugs. I don't care what you call them. Socialism is based on theft, as are all income tax systems. The difference is that socialists want it all.


Voorhies: Hunh what?
9.9.2007 11:45am
Bpbatista (mail):
For all its pretenses to the contrary, Socialism is not about spreading wealth. It is about spreading misery. To the Socialist, every one must be equally miserable -- not equally rich.
9.9.2007 12:02pm
mockmook:
There seems to be a creeping "socialism" of "thought crimes" in the Western world. I posit that this threat to liberty is more dangerous than the economic socialism that reached its zenith in the 70's.

Since my free speech may be thought of as my "property", I use "socialism" for this free speech threat. If someone has a better term, please tell me.
9.9.2007 1:35pm
mariner (mail):
In most of the world, socialism has far fewer adherents today than at any time in the last 100 years.

While that's true, those adherents are concentrated where they do the most harm.

Primary and secondary education, universities and the media are overrun with socialists.

I'm afraid Khrushchev was right -- the communists will eventually bury us (if we don't surrender to the Islamists first). It's just taking longer than he thought it would.
9.9.2007 1:46pm
Bloddy Sam (mail):

The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.

Norman Thomas - 6 time US Socialist candidate for president



The debate may have been won, but socialists are still at it. Now they advance their agendas via deceptive methods.
9.9.2007 2:22pm
Enlighten-New Jersey (mail) (www):
Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel or envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery." -- Winston Churchill

New Jersey is a perfect example of the fact socialism is still being touted and implemented in the U.S. The only difference is that socialism has been rebranded and it's now called "progressive" government. If anyone's curious how it's working out -- New Jerseyans are heavily taxed, the state is bankrupt and the middleclass are fleeing the state in droves.
9.9.2007 2:35pm
constant (mail):

As opposed to the US, where free enterprise makes sure that there is always plenty of such basic necessities as, say, electricity or health care.


In the US:

Electricity is generally not free enterprise but is a government-regulated utility.

And medicine is already highly socialized. Hardly a fit example of "free enterprise".

The notion that the United States is a land of free enterprise while Europe is socialized, is little more than a crude stereotype. The differences are in fact much smaller than that crude stereotype implies.
9.9.2007 2:38pm
yehiel handlarz:
I remember the comment made some years ago that there are
more Communists at Harvard than the Kremlin. Tho the
real life Socialists realize that it is dead and buried,
most in academia do not since they have very little real
life experience.
9.9.2007 3:27pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Marina,

" I'll read "Capital" if he reads "Atlas Shrugged." "
Bad move. I was bored to death by "Atlas Shrugged" and couldn't even get through the first couple pages. This isn't going to appeal to a socialist at all.

The problem is that Ayn Rand's philsophy is actually wrong and is not going to appeal to the other side precisely because she makes her errors in the areas they care about most.

It's going to be obvious to the socialist reading her that's she's wrong and frankly he's going to be right about that. In the meantime, he's going to miss all the points she right on because of the glaring idiocy of the parts he cares about.

I'm about as anti-socialist as they come but this is not the book I would have chosen. You should have used a book like William Tuckers "Homelessness and Housing policy". You need a book that shows how screwing with the economy screws the little guy, not a book that glorifies the accomplishments of the elite and tries to build a moral case for selfishness.
9.9.2007 4:22pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Monti,

"I would posit that many people are blissfully unaware of the Winter of 1978-1979 in the U.K. where fuel and food were no longer delivered, trains stopped running, ambulances no longer responded, the dead were left unburied, and garbage was allowed to pile up on the street."

Educate me. The best link you have will do.
9.9.2007 4:29pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Darth Scalia,

"LOL envy is the driving force of capitalism, not socialism. Unless of course you believe people buy gigantic houses and $50,000 cars because they need them."

The envy in this statement is palpable. How ironic.

No, you are wrong envy is not the path to earning the salary needed to buy a gigantic house or a $50,000 car. It does suffice however for stealing land from a white farmer socialist style. Chavez is all about envy too. Envy that is going to end with his country in ruins.
9.9.2007 4:40pm
Smokey:
M. Simon: The most communist social grouping in America is the family.

Wrong.

Unless in your family, Dad equally split his paycheck with mom, his brothers and sisters, and all the kids.

In America, I'd like to know why such a big proportion of every workers' income is given to the so-called 'poor.'

Communists are just Socialists in a hurry. They all want to steal your work product and hand it out to their their cronies.
9.9.2007 5:34pm
Peter McCormick (mail):
I'm struck by the snide and infantile comments posted here about Ayn Rand. Notice that her detractors never make a philosophic argument against her philosophy. It's all just ad hominem.

Atlas Shrugged is the single best moral critique of socialism ever written and the single best moral defense of capitalism ever written. Rand presents lays out a systematic philosophy in defense of capitalism that no other thinker has even tried to do. That's why the Left fears Ayn Rand. If given a choice between having one Objectivist teaching in every philosophy department in American or one conservative, they'll take the conservative every time.
9.9.2007 7:46pm
Elliot123 (mail):
The socialist sees a situation where everyone has five units to be superior to a situation where some have ten units, and the rest have seven units.
9.9.2007 7:52pm
Bpbatista (mail):
To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher: A socialist/liberal sees a wealthy man and says, "No one should have so much." A capitalist/conservative sees a wealthy man and says, "Every one should have so much."
9.9.2007 8:03pm
Mark F. (mail):
And the driving force of libertarianism is selfishness.

And the problem with that is?
9.10.2007 2:01am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The most communist social grouping in America is the family.
While this has been somewhat debunked above, it has some truth in it, for a very good reason.

Much of socialism is utopian, assuming or wishing perfect people who are willing to work for the common good. But that is not reality, at least not yet, and likely, not ever. Man is selfish for very good reasons - it is the selfish ones over the eons who have the most to provide their families, and therefore have been more genetically sucessful. And, thus, we have a selfish gene, for a very good reason.

But there has been some recent research on altruism, etc., and the closer to home it comes, the more altruistic we seem to be naturally. So, helping your family is very good, but you can also advance your genes by helping your extended familiy, and, traditionally, due to the inherant inbreeding we used to see, helping your local community. So, no surprise that we are more altruistic the closer we come to our families.

Others above have pointed out that capitalism is based on greed. What that means is that it is based on the reality of human psychology, as it currently exists. Socialism is based on the utopian belief that we can overcome greed in our human nature. Maybe it can be bred out of us over millenia. More likely, a lot of millenia. Note that Marx, and esp. Lenin, posited this to some extent, and the later justified a totalitarian government in the meantime.

Some above have suggested that those who are the most suportive of socialism are most often those who see themselves as the more equal, those at the top in a socialist regime. No surprise then, that they aren't really true socialists, since their driving force isn't altruism for the whole, but rather personal greed, and this is just how they see themselves advancing their personal position in society.

I do think that the signalling pointed out by Hayek is crucial in understanding how socialism ultimately fails in comparison to capitalism. But akin to that is the reality that socialism assumes altruism, and thus that the people won't try to out game whatever system they find themselves in. But that altruism invariably loses out to the reality that man is inherantly selfish, and thus that invariably you have far more brains and effort being spent trying to beat the system than in designing it. And that is one reason that socialistic programs tend to ultimately fail, due to capture, rent seeking, etc.
9.10.2007 1:42pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
A further point, when pointing out the simularities between (then Russian) Communism, German Naziism, and Italian Fascism, Hayek noted while theoretical socialism might not require totalitarianism, applied socialism invariably leads to it. The reason is that man is greedy, and thus socialism is contrary to human nature, and thus the only way to overcome this human nature is at the barrel of a gun. (Some of the later is my own interpretation, but Hayek did spend a lot of time showing why totalitarianism naturally flowed from attempts at socialism).
9.10.2007 1:52pm
YoloMike (mail):
I'm wondering what the actual purpose of this post and the comments on it might be. Besides Bernie Sanders, there are no important political figures in the US who openly or even secretly espouse what might be called "socialist" policies (even defining that in the orthodox libertarian way). Hugo Chavez, I'm sure all genuine Libertarians would agree, is the business of Venezualans, not American bloggers or policymakers.

So why the post? I suspect it has something to do with whipping up animosity toward any policy that could be considered slightly to the left of the status quo. For instance, healthcare reform (aka "socialized medicine") can simply be tagged as a symptom of resurgent and wrongheaded "socialism" and opposed on that simplistic ground alone. Much as cries of "Fascism" from the left obscure deeper legal and philosophical issues involved in Bushism, so too this kind of shallow anti-socialism obstructs rather than assists clear thinking.

I say this as a left-libertarian environmentalist, for whom "conservative" Libertarianism and Socialism are two sides of the same discredited coin.
9.10.2007 5:53pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Bruce Hayden-

But that altruism invariably loses out to the reality that man is inherantly selfish, and thus that invariably you have far more brains and effort being spent trying to beat the system than in designing it. And that is one reason that socialistic programs tend to ultimately fail, due to capture, rent seeking, etc.

I wouldn't say that socialism only fails due to the human elements of greed and selfishness. There is a mix of other elements as well - envy, the need for some to control, boss around, or dominate others, etc.

As far as systemic factors go, there are other problems despite the lack of price signaling. Without a market that richly rewards innovation, creation, invention, and the like the incentive to engage in those activities has to decline significantly. Also, some socialist systems are so inefficient few have the time or funds to engage in those activities. Because there is less innovation and invention there is less societal wealth and a lower standard of living.
9.11.2007 8:56am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
YoloMike-

I say this as a left-libertarian environmentalist, for whom "conservative" Libertarianism and Socialism are two sides of the same discredited coin.

What evidence do you have that libertarianism has been discredited?

Take a look at the Index of Economic Freedom - the more libertarian countries are near the top, most of the countries that are even close to true socialism are near the bottom. (I say "more libertarian" intentionally, even those toward the top are pretty far from libertarianism.) This evidence seems to conflict with your statement, how do you reconcile the two?
9.11.2007 9:04am
YoloMike (mail):
American Psikhushka:

Can I infer from your screen name that you are being held in an American psychiatric ward for your political views? "Vsyo Amerika palata nomer shest'," eh? Really: this goes to your credibility.

What I clearly said was that conservative Libertarianism had been discredited *for me*. The reasons are easy to sketch: conservative Libertarians will continually speak out both sides of their mouths when it comes to 1) military expenditures; 2) the unitary executive; and 3) public subsidy of religion. They are neither serious nor consistent.

Economic libertarianism I regard as a species of parasite that feeds on mature economies. Once much of the public infrastructure has been developed by government direction (as was the case in the middle third of this century in America), there is a natural incentive for free-riders to profit from it without obligating themselves to replenish it. That is perhaps the main reason that you don't see many underdeveloped nations high on the Heritage Foundation's "freedom" chart. They haven't had the luxury to fall into the libertarian swoon. In any case, I wouldn't put too much stock in such a list, which is arrived at via very shady methodology. I certainly wouldn't use it in support of your contention that more libertarian countries are as a rule better off than non-libertarian ones. On the list, Haiti almost doubles Cuba's score, and France trails Estonia by a huge margin.
9.11.2007 7:21pm
happylee:
Awesome blog thread.
9.12.2007 2:00pm