February 21, 2011

Where's the Socialism?

Justin Katz

It always seems a bit silly, to me, to fight over words. Use of the word "socialism," for example, tends to be descriptive among conservatives. That is, we use it because we're trying to describe a system or institution that we're addressing, not because it polls badly and we want to throw tar on an otherwise unobjectionable thing. The reaction from the left, though, is often to insist that the term does not wholly apply, rather than to take up the real topic — which is that the aspects that the thing shares with an abstract whole socialism are objectionable in their own rights.

Kevin Williamson takes up that thread:

A more complete definition of socialism incorporates two criteria: The first is that socialism entails the public provision of non-public goods. The second is the use of central planning to implement that policy.

What is a public good? Economists distinguish between public and non-public goods on two grounds, features known as rivalry and excludability. Public goods, under the economic definition, are goods which are non-rivalrous in their consumption and non-excludable in their distribution. A couple of examples will make these distinctions clear. A rivalrous good is one for which my consumption of one unit of the good leaves one unit less for your consumption. A mango is rivalrous in consumption: Every mango I eat is a mango you cannot eat. But some goods are non-rivalrous: a highway, for instance. If I drive down a mile of highway, that does not leave one less mile for you to drive down.

Of course, with the disputes in which socialism arises, the boundaries of the economic term expands, such that some disputants behave as if all goods are ultimately public, and individual consumption is a presumption to be regulated by the state, which Williamson brings up subsequently:

The modern experience suggests that the economist Ludwig von Mises was only partly correct when he wrote, "The socialistic State owns all material factors of production and thus directs it." That was true for the authoritarian, single-party powers of his day. In our own time, the converse is a more accurate description of the real economic arrangement: Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them. The state does not have to actually own factories, mines, or data centers if it has the power to dictate, in minute detail, how business is conducted within them. Regulation acts as a proxy for direct state ownership of the means of production.

The key example — not only in structure, but in evidence of socialism's inevitable failure — is public education as currently constituted, which despite the popularity of arguments about "socialism" is not often enough raised.

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"The key example — not only in structure, but in evidence of socialism's inevitable failure — is public education..."

Good to see you admit to what we all suspect, that your position isn't about public education reform but rather about ending public education alltogether. Makes a lot more sense (the lack of research, the counterproductive focus on testing, etc.) when viewed through that lens.

Posted by: Russ at February 21, 2011 11:02 AM

It shouldn't be surprised that I'm against public schools as currently operated. (I've added a couple words to the post to clarify.)

On the other hand, a system that ensures, with public money, that every child is educated to a certain degree is worthwhile.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 21, 2011 12:25 PM

One of Ludwig von Mises's most important contributions to economics was demonstrating that, in addition to the gross incentive problems inherent in socialist systems resulting from ignorance of human nature, they are fundamentally incapable of producing a vast informational network complex, quick, and accurate enough to respond to the actual needs of the people through central planning. Free markets use price mechanisms to convey information quickly and efficiently, through billions of individual transactions every day. There is no computer powerful enough and certainly no human being or group of human beings knowledgeable enough to centrally plan any portion of a modern economy. It is progressive folly and hubris to think otherwise.

Posted by: Dan at February 21, 2011 1:49 PM

Progressives suffer from arrested psychological development. They are all ego and id, but lack the superego.

Posted by: BobN at February 22, 2011 8:22 AM

De Tocqueville on Capitalism:

In Adam Smith's economic perspective, money demonstrates preferences. Therefore, people with more money are able to influence the market much more than people with less, and would need less government protection. It is the people with less money who can least afford bad times. Thus, these people are in the least position to combat unfair practices or to change their position.

(I add, consider the Citizen's United decision in this light and you will understand its basic undemocratic underpinnings.)

De Tocqueville continues by recognizing this fault in Smith's system. First, laborer becomes more and more involved in his labors, and therefore more focused on the small details for which he is responsible, while the industrialist becomes increasingly interested in the larger workings of the factory. In this way, the two classes become less alike and mobility between them becomes more difficult. Finally, "the industrial aristocracy of our day, when it has impoverished and brutalized the men it uses, abandons them in time of crisis to public charity to feed them" (de Tocqueville 558). In Smith's governmental plan, there are no provisions for taking care of the poor when they are not taken care of by the market system.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at February 22, 2011 11:46 AM

The Leftist has not posted a direct quote from Tocqueville so the veracity of his claim as to the source is highly suspect. It doesn't pass the smell test.

Keep in mind that Tocqueville was writing in the early 19th century. In reality, a great many private philanthropic organizations arose after that time to help the truly needy.

There is more to society than industry and government and the variety of educational, social and philanthropic institutions supplies many of the goods and services that a simplistic two-factor model leaves out.The Left wants to ignore this fact because it wants to promote government to the head of all society and give it totalitarian control.

We have seen the Left attempt to put their model into practice throughout the past century and every time it makes the people worse off. But to the Left, if their idea doesn't work in the real world, it is the real world that is wrong.

Posted by: BobN at February 22, 2011 12:08 PM
On the other hand, a system that ensures, with public money, that every child is educated to a certain degree is worthwhile.

Um, that's socialism according to what I understand the fringe-right to mean by the term. Hard to understand which side you're on, comrade.

If only we had more centralized control (standardized testing), right!

Posted by: Russ at February 22, 2011 12:19 PM

The Nazis stand in testimony to what happens when Right Wing ideologues take over a country. The incredible Mr. N tries to rewrite history so he has to ignore its facts.

Not that it will do any good to the wilfully ignorant BobN, but the authority here is Robert Neelly Bellah, Harvard B.A. ’48, Harvard Ph.D. ’55, American sociologist and educator who served for 30 years as professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley.

One of the most influential sociologists today, his books, Beyond Belief, The Broken Covenant, Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, shape the discipline.

This is what Professor Bellah says

One is to say that private selfishness leads to public benefit. If each of us busily pursues our self-interest, the invisible hand of the market will assure that overall productivity will increase and in a more affluent society morals will actually improve. This optimistic theory was not even entirely convincing to Adam Smith. It is clear that greed, a primordial human motive, can and often has gotten out of hand. Unrestrained greed can undermine even the conditions of a market economy, lead to lack of trust, and destroy economic vitality.

So it was seen by Smith and others, no one more clearly than Alexis de Tocqueville, that capitalism needed a moral context to be rational and efficient-not naked self-interest but, as Tocqueville put it, self-interest rightly understood, enlightened self-interest, that combined one's own ambition with concern for others.

Tocqueville warned that the "excessive and exclusive taste for material well being" among Americans was a great danger. It could lead to our isolation, our withdrawal into the purely private sphere, where we care only about family and friends and are unconcerned about others, so that finally we may be "shut up in the solitude of our own hearts." That is the prelude to despotism. Only an authoritarian state can control a society of utterly selfish competing individuals.

Tocqueville and Weber after him argued that the moral ecology that limited the extreme egoism of capitalism was supplied by our religious institutions and our habits of civic participation, particularly in local government and voluntary associations.

One can see in the history of the last couple of centuries the vicissitudes of capitalist greed-the extent to which greed at moments gets out of control and becomes morally and socially destructive-and then the moral ecology is reasserted and strengthened-usually not only with social but with economic benefits. One such period of the outbreak of unrestrained greed was the end of the 19th century when the triumph of the robber barons led to widespread corruption in politics and private life and a faltering of public morale. The rise of the social gospel, social legislation and labor unions mitigated the worst excesses of that earlier period.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at February 23, 2011 1:47 AM

Bellah is not Tocqueville, so Lefty lied when he attributed Bellah's remarks to him.

It is obvious from the snippet that Lefty provided that Bellah is a Marxist propagandist in the model of Howard Zinn. Bellah's statement carries no weight whatsoever in this debate. All he does is assert his own moral judgments, devoid of any real analysis or logical interpretation of facts.

Lefty gets a pants on fire for this one. And an A$$ award for the gratuitous insult.

I would like to see the Left's explanation of how government will cure Americans' "excessive and exclusive taste for material well being" without shredding our Constitutional rights, as well as what authority government has to determine our moral well-being. In fact what is wrong with such an "excessive and exclusive taste?" That taste seems to have been the driver for a whole bunch of scientific and social innovations that have advanced the comfort and safety of American society in ways unimaginable to Tocqueville (or to Marx, for that matter). In fact, it is precisely the diversity of actions by free people, each trying to figure out the best way to maximally improve his life, under the protection of our Constitutional rights (not the phony "rights" asserted by FDR) that makes America so successful.

What Lefty and his friends want is the world of Orwell's 1984 or the Soviet Union. Misery for millions means nothing to them provided they are in control and enjoy their corrupt, special privileges.

Posted by: BobN at February 23, 2011 9:11 AM

Hey BobN
Finally, "the industrial aristocracy of our day, when it has impoverished and brutalized the men it uses, abandons them in time of crisis to public charity to feed them" (de Tocqueville 558)is the De Tocqueville quote. Have someone point out the quote marks and then explain to you exactly what they mean. But the best you could do was to punch low, hitting below the intellect seems to be one of your primary tactics.

Look around nearly 50,000,000 people in this country have no medical insurance. Millions are unemployed, their benefits are running out, and people are loosing their homes. I'd say we have millions in misery right here. But you have your pipe and slippers so all's well with the world except for those pesky poor and needy.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at February 23, 2011 10:39 PM

Lefty Lies Again

If I had the time I could lay out here the many quotes from Tocqueville that praise America's capitalist system. Lefty finds a single quote and wants you all to believe that it represents Tocqueville's entire thinking on the subject. And I bet he has never read "Democracy in America" or "American Institutions and their Influence" and found the quote second-hand in Bellah's propaganda screed.

But since I have to work every day to feed my family, I don't have the time.

Note the phony "victim" cry of the Leftist (punch low...) followed shamelessly by another gratuitous insult "pipe and slippers").

It is impossible to have an adult conversation with a Leftist because all he has to work with are lies, insults and emotional outbursts.

Posted by: BobN at February 24, 2011 7:24 AM

Ever consider that it's impossible to have a conversation with someone who starts by calling another a liar?

It's impossible to have a conversation with people who are blind to the misery surrounding the society in which they live.

It is impossible to have a conversation with someone who cannot distinguish between the polar opposites of fascism and communism.

Finally, I am not interested in arguing anything with you, BobN. I simply don't want you to get away with the big lies that make up your ill founded world view. In fact, maybe you are not lying. Maybe you really are nuts enough to believe the junk that comes from the convolutions of your mind.

No BobN, I'm not arguing with you. It would constitute an act of intellectual bullying - just trying to set the record straight.

With sympathy for you and all your problems, yours in peace and love,

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at February 24, 2011 2:31 PM

Well, since Lefty refuses to debate the topic, preferring to continue his strategy of ad hominem insults, there is nothing to talk about.

Lefty is willfully ignorant of the history of his own political ideology. Those who have read this history (see "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg and "American Progressivism" an anthology of original sources edited by Pestritto and Atto) know the truth: that all of the modern Statist movements have such common roots in the 19th century that they are political siblings, and that the American Progressives were huge admirers of both Communism and National Socialism. Nothing Lefty and his friends say will obscure the facts.

Lefty's condenscending tone merely compounds the odiousness of his unearned elitist attitude.

The fact is that it is Leftist policies and programs, particularly since the 1960s, that have increased the breadth and depth of misery in America.

Posted by: BobN at February 25, 2011 9:59 AM
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