October 3, 2009

Patinkin's First Hand Exposure to Failure of Communism

Marc Comtois

I don't usually associate ProJo lifestyle columnist with hefty political writing (that's not a slam at Patinkin--I generally enjoy his columns--but politics isn't his usual "beat"), so I was impressed with his Saturday column in which he writes about his first-hand observations on the failures of communism.

Much of the 20th century was a contest between Communism and capitalism. It seemed a valid race, because Russia was the one other superpower, a military giant that beat us into space.

I was stunned when I looked behind the scenes.

Communism was an economic disaster. That’s why it failed.

The theory was for the state to erase the rich-poor gap by guaranteeing jobs for all at equal pay. In countries like Russia, laborers made the same as bosses. That way, instead of working selfishly for personal gain, people would supposedly strive for the common good.

That sounded fine in the time of the czars, when the masses starved while the rich had palaces. It may even sound good today when Wall Street CEOs make $50 million while undermining the economy.

There’s only one problem. Communism doesn’t work, and for a simple reason. It goes against human nature.

Capitalism, on the other hand, recognizes the truth about people. We are selfish. We only will work our hardest — and thereby build up society — if it gets us ahead.

But what about the Communist theory that folks will work harder still for community and state?

I thought I’d find at least some of that. I didn’t.

Read the rest of his column to read what he did find. Patinkin's experience rings very true with on of my own. In 1992, I spent Christmas in Riga, Latvia while working on an American cargo ship. The Iron Curtain had fallen, but the country was still in the middle of a transition out from under Soviet power. There were still Soviet troops in the streets and Soviet memorials (guarded by the aforementioned troops) and Communist propaganda was still in evidence. These contributed to a lingering resentment among native Latvians. For instance, I witnessed a young woman get harangued by two or three older Latvian ladies and found out it was because she was a "White Russian", in other words, an interloper.

Yet, there was also optimism in the air, the feeling amongst the native Lativians I talked with (OK, in the "American Bar"!) was that they were ready to embrace freedom and an open economy. And the currency of choice--as Patinkin also described--was the US dollar. I haven't been back since then, but I'm sure Latvia has experienced the growing pains of capitalism. However, despite the failures and missteps, I'd bet that most Latvians don't want to go back to the "good old days" of a planned economy where everything is depressingly "equal."

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The first day in the Border Patrol Academy they told us that most border aptrols were designed to keep their citizens from leaving the country,and ours was there to keep illegal entrants out.All the communist states had border police for just that reason-to prevent their citizens from escaping the tyrrany of the "workers' paradise".
This is lost on the spoiled brats in the ISO and similar "revolutionary" groups who have been indoctrinated by "academics"who exist in a very comfortable and insulated world.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 3, 2009 12:05 PM

Mark Patinkin has identified part of the reason for Communism's failure but it's more complex than people are selfish and will only work for reward. The fact is people are different and value rewards differently. Some of us are motivated by higher salaries, a sense of achievement, a competitive drive or something else. And so they work evenings and weekends, constantly strive to increase the value of their labor through education and training and market themselves aggressively to gain greater responsibilities and greater rewards in the workplace. Others value family and leisure more highly and are far less likely to rise to the top in their careers. Still others enjoy the challenge and independence of self-employment. The point is not that any one of these choices is superior to the others. In fact a decent society and economy requires all of them. A centrally planned economy simply can't allocate rewards effectively to a population holding such diverse values.

Another problem with central planning is that government requirements and regulations can be gamed in a way that consumer demand cannot. There is the (probably) apocryphal story about a Soviet factory that was given a production quota of twenty tons of nails in a quarter. The factory produced a single twenty-ton nail and called it a day. Nothing like that can take place in a system where the measure of success is not compliance with a government directive, but whether you can convince a buyer to pay for your product or service when he has other choices.

Unfortunately, far too many of our elites cannot grasp these simple truths. Witness Patrick Kennedy's belief in the superiority of a government insurance plan over a competitive private marketplace.

Posted by: David at October 3, 2009 12:26 PM

David-great points.You got right to the heart of it.Communism stifles the individuality that makes poeple different from one another.
There has never been a classless communist or socialist system in any event.The "comrades" who run the show are not sharing the lives of ordinary people in any respect.
One could say that is true of the rich here,but they aren't pretending that everyone has an equal lifestyle.
Patrick Kennedy has been cossetted and had his ass wiped for him since he came out of his mother.There isn't much that can be absorbed by his drug and alcohol impaired brain.Not to mention that he is mentally ill.That tends to mess with the ability to evaluate events going on around one.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 3, 2009 1:16 PM

A number of years back, I read a book called Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng. The author, who had originally sypathatized with the revolution, suddenly had her life turned upside down when the Red Guards showed up at her house one day, beat her, destroyed her property, and hauled her off to jail because she and her late husband had been managers for Shell Gas. She was kept prisoner for years and was repeatedly tortured and interrogated. Her daughter, who she assumed would be safe because she was an actress and supposedly of no interest to the government, was murdered while Cheng was imprisoned. Ms. Cheng is currently living in Washington, D.C.
Many of these fools who think a Socialist or Communist government would be great ought to read her memoir. Then they should do a little research and find out what typically happens to academics and, in general, the educated elite under such regimes. It may be a bit of a surprise.

For some interesting reading, check out this article that Nien Cheng published in the National Review shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989:


There is also a rather nice blog post written by a young man who had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Cheng a few years ago:


The voices of those who have actually suffered at the hands of Communist governments - many who initially believed in Communist ideals - are the strongest, in my opinion, when it comes to understanding what life under such a regime would truly be like.

The kids in the ISO have no idea what they are actually advocating.

Posted by: Tabetha at October 3, 2009 2:55 PM

Agree with Patinkin's overall viewpoint but take great issue with his statement,

"Capitalism, on the other hand, recognizes the truth about people. We are selfish. We only will work our hardest — and thereby build up society — if it gets us ahead."

That is such a blanket statement and a highly inaccurate one. Mark should remove the word "selfish" and insert the word "independent" and he should see himself as a perfect example. Mark Patinkin was on his way towards a lucrative career as a columnist/writer. Mark wrote brilliant commentary on societal/political issues. Brilliant! You could tell this guy had a great career in front of him. He had "it" and no doubt was going to move on from the ProJo to $$bigger$$ and $$better$$ things in his career. Then something happened. Mark became a father and everything changed for him. He started writing Mr. Mom columns and it was clear that being a dad was far more important to him than furthering his career. Mark Patinkin made an independent choice and left big money on the capitalist table because he cared more about fatherhood than getting a gig with Time or the Chicago Tribune. In a capitalist society Patinkin had the option to walk away from monetary gain in order to achieve familial gain. I would argue that to build up families as opposed to bank accounts is to "thereby build up society". We have that option in this capitalist society.
There is no singular human emotion that motives each and every one of us towards the same interests and achievements. The beauty of a capitalist society is it allows people the freedom to purse whatever they want to pursue for whatever reasons or motivations they possess. Communism fails because it stifles the human spirit, i.e. if you have no input and no options in this life then you have no motivation to excel or achieve.

Posted by: Tim at October 3, 2009 5:28 PM

Tim-I couldn't agree more with you.I was aked by a friend in INS after I retired why I never tried to "make anything of myself"and was just a Senior Special Agent still on the street at the end of my career.This man had become a District Director and was in way over his head,believe me.
I told him"did it ever occur to you that I really liked what I was doing?"
He just couldn't understand that.
I only left after 21 years because my diabetes was becoming a distraction;otherwise I'd have stayed 7 more years until mandatory retirement.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 3, 2009 6:31 PM

The argument that Communism or Socialism can never work because it goes against human nature is actually taken up by Marx in The Manifesto, where he asserts that human nature is not necessarily fixed. He claims that human attitudes and behavior are reshaped by changing economic systems under which we live and work.

Engels points out that early hunter-gatherer and village societies depended far more on cooperation than on competition. As one example, Northwestern tribes of American Indians engaged in such practices as the “potlatch” whereby almost all of one’s wealth was given away as a means to obtain prestige or authority.
As a socialist, I would argue that Capitalism simply pulls certain arrows from our human nature quiver and leaves the others untouched and forgotten to our detriment as a society. As David suggests, a hybrid system seems to be the best we can hope for at the moment.

I do think that those who claim that Capitalism is somehow built into our DNA are missing half of the equation in their attempt to solve the problem of production and distribution in a society.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 3, 2009 9:04 PM

OTL-you know socialism has as much chance here in the USA as I do of being Governor.
In all seriousness,why are you still here with all the socialist countries in the world?
Because you know better,that's why.I know you won't admit it,but that's the way it is.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 3, 2009 10:06 PM

OTL-you know socialism has as much chance here in the USA as I do of being Governor.
In all seriousness,why are you still here with all the socialist countries in the world?
Because you know better,that's why.I know you won't admit it,but that's the way it is.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 3, 2009 10:06 PM

When I was just out of college with very little real world experience I was a Roman Catholic, run of the mill Democrat, joined the Army, worked in national security, got my eyes opened by observing things up closer than most, and gradually became radicalized by observation of events. It didn't happen all at once, it was a process. Like you, like all of us I was forged by my experiences. You went one way, I went another. I don't expect you to leave the country after we reform health care and forever alter how this country treats capitalism, and you won't. Really the "Why are you still here" argument is a bit lamer than I have given you credit for.

If it helps, look on my presence here as missionary work.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 4, 2009 10:41 AM

The "why are you here" was rhetorical-I know why you're here-you like it-so do I.The health care issue isn't something I've been discussing much at all,so I think you missed something there.I am all for health care reform-I just think ths bill,like the stimulus is trying to do too much too fast and for such an important issue,you just can't ram things through.The Patriot Act has some bad aspects because it was propelled though Congress with little in depth evaluation.
I never opposed affordable insurance for working people who can't afford it, or for those with pre-existing conditions.
The bill as it now stands,would almost encourage employers to "dump" employees onto the public option and then make a savings by paying the 8% penalty.Does that not occur to you?
My major concern with socialist thinking is the imposition of rules for living by social engineers-mainly academics who always "know better"in spite of living insulated lives.
Since I own no stock in any company and never have,I don't have a personal financial stake in capitalism-I just think it produces better products and a higher standard of living.
A lot of the problem isn't with capitalism per se-it's the sinister move from making things to moving money that has ruined our economy.
Our manufacturing base has been moved out of the country.You have to wonder how much of it was due to the environmentalist pressures that made companies give up or transfer operations to countries that don't give a damn about the environment and aren't about to submit to any treaties or "accords".
The problems on Wall Street aren't evidence that capitalism is bad per se,but that it has been perverted by the bankers.There isn't a dime's worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats in this regard-they both take money from the same places.
Now you got me on economics,which I have little knowledge of at all.
What I cannot compromise on is firearms rights,abortion,and the free ride for illegal aliens proposed by every socialist/progressive group in existence.
Another thing I HATE is the Orwellian imposition of political correctness-that comes from the left.
And,in conclusion,I basically disagree with your assertion that peoples' nature can change.It can't.We have certain imprinted qualities that aren't going away or being modified.
In case you missed it,when the Iron Curtain fell,all the irredentist conflicts of pre-1939 re-ignited in varying degrees of intensity.Socialism/communism was gone like a smoke cloud. They don't teach history from 1900-1939 anymore.Too bad.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 4, 2009 12:35 PM

If I had the whole thing back as a do over, I'm not so sure that I would choose to live here. I've visited my grandparents villages in Southern Italy and have observed the quiet, peaceful life that my cousins live there. It's very attractive. In addition, I always liked the idea of proportional representation, giving minority parties a voice in Parliament.

I believe that you might want to rethink what you said about the problems on Wall Street. If greed drives capitalism, it seems illogical to excuse its excesses by saying that it has been perverted by the greedy people. It's the nature of the beast.

We share the belief that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between Republican and Democrat parties; and yes, I agree that they both take money from the same places. The money thing is one of the main reasons that I'm not a Democrat.

We part ways on the gun issue. Abortion is a tough one for me, I personally don't like it, but I don't believe that I should interfer with anyone who decides that it's in their best interest. It's sort of like your attitude towards carrying a firearm.

We could have a few beers over this stuff.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 4, 2009 10:42 PM

I would never even want to visit where my grandparents came from,let alone live there.
All four of my grandparents came over about a hundred years ago,and never looked back.
What you call greed is not necessarily that.Rewards garnered from entrepeneurism and innovation/invention are earned as the result of producing or introducing something productive.
The Chinese "communists"have kept the authoritarian aspects of that philosophy while adopting capitalism as the engine of their economy.
Your socialist philosophy is based on the ridiculous premise of "from each according to his ability,to each according to his need".That has never and will never work.
Communes in American history have died out or been relegated to a few aging hippies in the Oregon woods.
I've just been accused of not being conservative enough on another thread here.Amazing.
I just see a vast difference between Carnegie and the Enron boys.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 5, 2009 7:01 AM
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