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Ask Me Your Dumb Questions About Socialism

| 412 Comments

There’s a tendency among Marxists to be dismissive of certain sorts of questions: the ones that start, “Under socialism, how would…?” There are good reasons for being dismissive. For one thing, in many cases, the answer is, “We’ll have to figure it out.” For another, these questions have, in the past, most often come from people who aren’t serious; that is, people who see the whole thing as a purely intellectual exercise, a mind game, and there are better uses for a revolutionist’s time than satisfying the idle curiosity of someone who has no intention of becoming involved in the struggle. For a third, some of these questions give one the impression that the questioner is trying to score points, rather than understand what sort of future socialists are trying to build.  And for another, really, with the imminent threats of nuclear war and climate change, two problems capitalism is incapable of solving, what choice do we have?  When the alternative is destruction of 90% of humanity and a reduction to barbarism, certain details like whether I can own a houseboat or who gets to eat the caviar appear pretty trivial.

But.

Things have changed. The election of Donald Trump has put direct, massive attacks on the American working class on the agenda, and anyone who imagines that the working class can be attacked without responding is living in a dream world. What sort of response will it be, what form will it take, and what will be the result? I clearly remember how, when Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed his union-busting bill, there came spontaneous calls for a general strike, and the union bureaucrats had to work double- and triple-time to suppress it, to convince everyone to behave and count on the electoral process. My point is, the instinct to fight back is inevitable. This fight is called the class struggle. The class struggle carried to its conclusion is revolution.

The conditions for revolution (I am not, here, talking about whether the revolution is successful, just whether it takes place) are well-known: a massive distrust of and disdain for the government, rage among the oppressed about the conditions they are forced to live under, and a sense among the masses that there is a chance to make things better. When the last is lacking, you may have riots, possibly even an uprising on a limited scale, but not revolution, which is a conscious—I repeat conscious—effort by the masses to take history into their own hands.

So, as I said above, things have changed.  The struggle, the conflict, is inevitable, and for there to be a successful outcome, there has to be that awareness that we can make it better, that it can work, that channeling the anger into a disciplined and organized force is worth the effort. This means socialist consciousness, and that means, all of a sudden, the questions about whether socialism can work are much more immediate. One huge question has to do with the Russian Revolution, which I’ve done my best to answer in a series of posts last year.

As for the rest, well, go ahead and ask. I might say, “we’ll have to see.” I might decide some of the answers require their own posts. I may spend a lot of time pointing to some of the things in what I somewhat ironically call my socialism FAQ.  I honestly don’t know how this will work, except that I’m pretty sure I’ll learn something.

When I refer to a socialist society, I mean, simply, an economy based on collective ownership of all means of production, and a state that is controlled by the class that produces value.

So, what do you want to know?

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

412 Comments

  1. How many dead teckla can we expect in the revolution to come? (Please feel free to interpret this as either “will there be two dead teckla for every pot?” or “is it likely that many of us workers will die in action?”)

  2. skzb

    Well, fewer will die in a successful revolution than in a fascist counter-revolution. But, in fact, the main factor that determines how bloody a revolution is, is how prepared and organized the revolutionary party is. The October Revolution of 1917 was essentially bloodless.

  3. So organizing is the way to save the lives of our neighbors and ourselves!

  4. Ok, here’s a dumb one: what working class?

    Automation is quickly doing away with the necessity for anything resembling a working class in the socialist or even capitalist sense (a service economy is not capitalist by the definitions I’ve seen socialists use, but perhaps they have an answer for that).

    But at the same time, it is creating the absolute need for an “elite worker”. There’s simply no way that everyone can spend 3 hours a week maintaining robots or writing their software. These are skilled jobs that takes years of education and decades of experience to master.

    We simply don’t need hordes of unskilled factory workers anymore, any more than we have needed hordes of peasants to make food in the Western world for half a century.

    What is left of the “working class” is quickly turning into an elite working bourgeoisie.

    What rewards should this elite class of workers expect for their years of education and decades of service?

  5. Last election, I was the most radical moderate leftist everyone knew. That is to say, Democrats saw me as a radical, radicals saw me as a Democrat, I saw myself as a Democrat.

    As a result of this election cycle – and not just, not even *primarily*, the result, I think I’m ready to become the most moderate radical leftist everyone knows. That is to say, Democrats will see me as a radical, radicals will see me as a Democrat, I’ll see myself as a radical.

    Coincidentally, next time I’m in the Cities, I’d love to sit down over beers or whisky and have a conversation about that whole trajectory.

    Anyway. As an organizer, the problem I see with getting people to make a conscious effort towards revolution as opposed to uprising is the *perception*, more than the reality, about the fragmentary nature of the far left. Plenty of folks stand in solidarity without asking awkward questions when there’s a strike, or a protest, or some other civil disobedience action. But as soon as the pressure comes off, the Maoists and the Trotskyists and the Anarcho-Syndicalists, the Socialist Equality Party and the Socialist Alliance all head back to their own corners and their own camps.

    I’ve seen this in your FAQ and in other threads in a different form; it’s not “why are we always infighting/something something something ideological purity something” that I’m asking about. Because seeing it up close, and seeing the willingness everyone has to pitch the labels and set the shoulder to the wheel, I can see that, as long as the willingness to solidarity remains a reflex, those divisions aren’t a weakness but a strength, enabling everyone to find the approach and belief that works best for them and workshop it until they succeed, fail, or move to a different camp. It makes *sense* that a working-class party would be (we hope amiably) divided.

    But the problem is, when I wasn’t drinking with anarchists and watching the History Channel with Maoists and playing D & D with Trotskyists, that willing instinct towards solidarity which they all feel so undeniably was *totally invisible* to me. And I believed that revolution was doomed because the left couldn’t get together.

    My question is not, how can the left get together under one program (I have very POINTED questions about particular aspects of that, but that’s for later), but how can we show the moderate left that despite divisions in labels, philosophies, methods, when it comes to action there is unity? How, without dissolving the diversity of approach, do we convince people we are together enough and strong enough? I know dozens of folks who would rally to the banner if there were one banner to show them. How do we snag them for the cause when we have our dozen smaller banners instead?

    And y’know, if any part of my premise doesn’t hold up, let me know that, too.

  6. One of the questions that I think urgently needs answering is how undesirable jobs would be handled in a socialist system. Note I am not talking about garbage collection here; I am thinking about things such as nuclear waste/nuclear weapons disposal, for example. This is not something that one can simply farm out to anyone chosen at random off the street. Granted, the general approach of capitalism to many such issues appears to be to ignore them and hope that they go away–until there is a crisis and the government steps in to do the job or pay for someone to do it.

    A second such question is the obvious one of “Who determines how much and what is produced?” In this case I would say that assigning this oversight to a government is a perfectly reasonable response. Even if a socialist economy were in place I do not see any prospect that government would not be needed.

    I read your older page responding to some questions about socialism, and a number of the key questions had an answer of “I do not know”. These were two of those instances. To me this is bad because people who may be wondering whether socialism can be a good alternative to what we have now will be turned off if some of these simple and important questions are just swept under the rug, as it were. If there are no reasonable possibilities given that may work then people will not want to take a leap into the unknown even if the current situation becomes bad. I am not a fan of capitalism, but if socialism cannot be presented as a rational alternative why should I support a change? The history of the USSR does not seem to me to be a good argument that socialism will work wonderfully well…but is that because socialism is flawed or because of something in Russian culture was causing difficulties? How does one know one way or another? I am not trying to be difficult here. Since socialism has had such bad press in the USA for long years it has to be presented in a positive and attractive way to get any traction. Basic questions need at least some reasonable answers to present to people.

  7. I have a question but hacksoncode has already done a fairly cogent job of asking it already.
    Anyway, I’m the Level 1 automation tech in a steel hot rolling mill and I want to know if I’ll still have to work 50+ hours a week. I mean, I like my job, but without the need for money and health care, I’d quit and spend my time at gaming conventions.

  8. skzb

    Jen: Yes.

    hacksoncode: “(a service economy is not capitalist by the definitions I’ve seen socialists use, but perhaps they have an answer for that).”

    It certainly is working class. In volume one of Capital, Marx points out that in many countries (his example was Ireland) the majority of the working class is in service rather than production. Also, I’m trying to work out how there can be service without goods being produced to use in the service, and I’m not having much luck. As for the rest, for the tasks that are not menial, doing them tends to be their own reward–at least, that’s true of all the decent engineers, scientists I’ve met. I think pretty much everyone will want an education, and then will want to use that education because that’s what we do. Believe me, if I weren’t getting paid for it, I’d still write.

    The question of who determines how much and what is produced is an interesting question. In my opinion, the decision will be made be representative democratic means, after intense discussion, arguing, and competitiveness, as well as the work of various geeks who will try to outdo each other to come up with cool algorithms to help determine what needs to be produced where in order to maximize efficiency and benefit. There will then be arguments about what “benefit” means. I consider this a feature, not a bug.

    “My question is not, how can the left get together under one program (I have very POINTED questions about particular aspects of that, but that’s for later), but how can we show the moderate left that despite divisions in labels, philosophies, methods, when it comes to action there is unity?”

    The problem here is your orientation is to “the left.” In other words, you’re looking at it in terms of, “We have to work with people who think kinda like us.” I think, instead, the work has to take place among the masses themselves, where the key issue is not how they are thinking, but rather, what is their social position. Give me the working class, and the poor, and you can have all the leftists you want.

    karlsoap: How much of that can be automated? How much will be able to be automated in 20 years? How about in 40? In my judgment, there are very, very few jobs in the world that both a) require a human being and b) no one wants to do. This is because the jobs that require a human being tend to be interesting, challenging, and rewarding. But, in any case, even two years after the revolution, rather than 20, it is absurd that someone needs to work 50 hours a week while millions are unemployed or underemployed. I’ll bet we could make a whole lot of people very happy just by evening things out a bit.

  9. hacksoncode, I’ll go for the quick answer: members of the working class are in the working class whether they have work or not, just as members of the bourgeoisie are in the bourgeoisie whether they’re running their businesses or having a perpetual vacation. It’s about what you own, not what you do.

  10. Steve, I’m glad you’re taking this on. One of the things I most dislike about the people who seem to best be called the alt-center is their simultaneous demand that people adopt their ideology and their snide “I don’t do 101.” If you want people to understand, you have to be willing to do the hard work of helping them understand. Though I grant the latter response is very useful if you don’t have useful answers.

  11. Just a quick point coming from an IWW guy in tech: Automation changes the type of work being done — but it only works as long as a process remains stable. I’ve redone process automation for the same workflow repeatedly, as the demands and requirements for that process change. In essence, continually optimizing the automation, the job aspects that the automation replaces are superseded with other duties. Even in industrial settings, this is the case – e.g. Robots do all the welding, but someone needs to maintain the robots. Sure it’s not the *same* job, but when a society is receiving a good basic education, workers become more adaptable.
    Additionally, there’s a human factor to address: work has an inherent value to most people, even if it’s just to fend off boredom. Experiments with guaranteed minimum incomes have shown that people don’t stop working – they work*differently* and are freer to work at the things that they actually are passionate about. For a lot of folks, that meant getting more education to retrain for a different job in the near term.

  12. Frankly, I have been debating about emailing you a few questions for a long time. I am not a socialist, but am curious about learning about it from someone who’s intellect I respect. Plus, it is nice not to have to worry about being accused of this, that, or the other simply for not agreeing or not understanding something. Unfortunately, folks love to denigrate people that don’t agree with them or understand their points.

    OK, here goes:

    I understand how people helping each other is a great thing. I understand that the ideal is for people to work to the betterment and survival of their fellow men/women. A while back you used an illustration of everyone pulling on oars to help a group of people in a lifeboat survive. Everyone pulled, although not everyone pulled equally because some couldn’t pull as hard as others.

    However, where this starts to fall apart (in my experience) is when you have people who REFUSE to pull on the oars. I have members of my own circle of friends and family that refuse to work and want “society” or family to take care of them. It isn’t a case of not being ABLE to work, but rather just a desire to work minimally or not at all. These same people seem to get worse when they get more help. They seem to work harder when they have no choice (ie: sleeping in their car) vs when they get charity (ie: someone letting them sleep on their couch).

    How does socialism deal with what would likely be large numbers of people that would refuse to work or work minimally? Please keep in mind I am NOT talking about those that cannot work.

    I am truly curious as to your answer. I really want to learn because I think I have typically heard only name calling on both sides with no real, reasoned answer.

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  13. Hm. I am not sure that answers my question. How do you make *anyone at all* aware of that unity and that spirit, while maintaining that diversity of approach? What actions will be demonstrative, persuasive?

  14. Kevin Volk: “I don’t know” is a very useful and truthful position. Especially when followed by “let’s try to figure it out.”
    Contrast this with meaninglessly firm answers like “the invisible hand”.
    For a good discussion on what went wrong in Russia, see the discussions here on “The Revolution Betrayed”

  15. My perpetual question for any political system is: how do you keep the sociopaths from taking over? Given the recent US election,I think this is an even more pointed question.

  16. Not a question, but this may amuse you.

    My 10-year-old son came in, saw your post title and asked, “What’s socialism?” Which led to a 20-minute discussion about capitalism and socialism, and drifted into the thin excuses that governments give when they want to get into a war. Then I noticed how late it was getting and sent him to read a little Harry Potter before bedtime.

  17. skzb

    Matt: Not following your question. Try again, please? If you asked a question earlier in this post, I think it got et.

  18. skzb

    Tim: Thanks for your comments.

  19. skzb

    Bill: Thanks for the question. There are a number of things here, but first of all, I really don’t think it would be a LOT of people. Second, we go to my usual fallback of the hunter-gatherer cultures I’ve studied: People work because they’re expected to, and eat because they expect to eat. There is not, from what I’ve seen, a direct relationship, at least in all cases (although there are some cultures that reward the best workers with the best cuts of meat and so on, but even this does not seem to be universal).

    Point being, yeah, there could be a few people who just want to sit on their hands and not contribute anything. I have real doubts about many of them being to stand the glares, the comments, the shunning—could you? But, even so, I can’t see it making a fundamental difference to whether society worked.

    Also, as a last point, I want to say that “people helping each other” is, as you say, a good thing. But socialism is not based on altruism. It is not based on the idea that we all want to help each other (though I think most of us do), but rather on “rigging the game” if you will, so that, instead of building myself up by pushing someone else down, in order to build myself up I’m required to build other people up to. We own the wealth in common, right? So if I want more wealth, I have to work to create it, which will have the effect of putting more wealth into the system to be shared.

  20. skzb

    Thanks for the question, Falco. I’m going to start by pointing you to #4 and #14 in this post: http://dreamcafe.com/2013/09/13/answers-to-a-few-things-im-tired-of-hearing/

    Start there, then you can follow up if you want and I’ll do my best to answer.

  21. Oh! Doylist = Matt, Matt = Doylist when he’s on his phone, which doesn’t autolog him into wordpress, grumble grumble.

    I’m saying, if I *don’t* specify the left, I think the perception problem only grows. Working among the working class doesn’t seem, to me, to innately fix the issue that socialists are seen as a house divided. If anything, it amplifies it, because it reduces exposure. So how do we counteract that narrative? Especially in union circles, or workers that want to organize, how do we demonstrate our capability?

    This is the opposite of a rhetorical question – the separation between organized socialist or anarchist circles and labor unions (not labor union LEADERS, but the rank and file) seems to me to be one of the big challenges, something that needs to turn around to prevent revolutionaries from having to reinvent the wheel when organizing.

  22. I would like to start by drawing an obvious parallel to the discussion. In the Book Teckla the character Kelly talks at length about social issues and how things could be better for the working class.

    Before I continue please understand I do not mean to be flippant by referring to a fictional character in a fictional world. It is just that I see similar problems in our real world and in the book, problems I believe are fundamental and need to be resolved first before progress can be made in any meaningful or lasting way.

    So to continue, Kelly makes many reasonable arguments for his beliefs but leaves out many details that are glaringly obvious to someone who is familiar with the universe Kelly lives in. Part of the struggle that Kelly does Identify are the noble classes wanting to maintain their lifestyles and the working class of Teckla and Easteners to continue in their status.

    There are many reasons why the movement towards a more socialist form of government is difficult, some if not many have been discussed but what I want to address is the issues facing Kelly that he is unaware of, at least as far as we can tell from what is written in the books.

    Kelly seems to want to end the cycle itself. Believes it is possible and is working towards educating the people about how it is not only possible but necessary and in some ways inevitable. What Kelly is ignorant of (apparently) is the purpose of the cycle itself and all the mechanisms that keep the cycle working.

    What I am referring to in terms of the fictional world of Dragaera is the Orb, the cycle itself, the Halls of Judgement and the Jenoine.

    Put in simplest terms, this is a fictional world I am talking about so I don’t want to get too bogged down in this part of what I am saying and I am aware that I am making these points to the author of this world and will undoubtably get part of this wrong, the cycle exists to protect the Orb from misuse, the Orb exists to protect the empire from the Jenoine, the Halls of Judgemnet exist to prepare for the eventual war with the Jenoine and the Empire exist to help the individual evolve to help themselves by helping each other.

    My point here is that if Kelly were to get what he wants the entire system would break down because unbeknownst to Kelly the Jenoine are a constant threat that would simply overwhelm on a huge scale anything the working class had built for themselves. Also as another flaw in Kelly’s planning is the fact that as an Easterner, his entire lifespan is less than the adolescence of any member of a Noble class. A class of people who want nothing better than to not allow a shift of power or control to a working class.

    So, now that I have painted that pretty picture here are my question(s) you did me the honor to ask for.* “What are the barriers to socialism in America AND if America could become a true socialist state what hidden threats might appear to wipe the American lifestyle off the map?” Could a true socialist state support a military that could protect itself from an invasion? Does the common human conditioning of simply “wanting more while working less” allow for a socialist state to perpetuate long enough for a lasting change? In all of Human history no socialist state has lasted beyond the experimental stage, at least that I am aware of, what makes you think now is different?

    *love Paarfi of Roundwood btw am rereading the Khaavren Romances at the moment.

  23. Mostly my questions boil down to “how do we not become Laos,” but that’s probably not useful, so I’ll start with one:

    How do you plan to respond to a general exodus of skilled labor? Will you restrict movement and seal the borders, as every Communist government has had to? Are US borders even sealable? Do you have some other plan?

  24. Thank you for doing this. I have 2 questions.

    There are so many people, public figures and theoreticians, that use the word ‘socialism’ that I really don’t believe are socialists. My understanding is that socialism is where all necessary resources and services are held in common.

    My first question is if there’s a clear, logical way to spot these schools of fake socialism?

    My other question is practical, but given you are open about your political beliefs, I suppose you’ve thought about it. In the USA, you have a pretty scary right-wing government coming to power. Here in the UK we’ve just had the Investigatory Powers Bill (aka Snooper’s Charter) passed, which means every internet search, comment, text message, you name it, is stored for 12 months to be accessed at the sign-off of the Home Secretary. Including this one. Surely greater persecutions are coming.

    My second question: is there any advice, or are there any discussions around this issue that you think people ought to be aware of?

  25. How do you decide what counts as the means of production in a service economy? A car that can be used as a taxi? A room that can be let out as a b&b? Scissors that can be used to cut hair? An oven that can be used to bake cafe cookies? Or is this the “houseboat” question?

  26. Bill:It can often be useful to think about how things are done in our current system. There are people who don’t work in our current system. I’ll contrast two sets–those who inherited their wealth and don’t work-the idle rich vs. an average person who doesn’t work. Why, in the current system, should one group get everything and the other next to nothing?

  27. skzb

    Matt: Oh, sorry! I missed that. “Especially in union circles, or workers that want to organize, how do we demonstrate our capability?” To me, this gets right to the heart of the matter. The answer is: by telling the truth. By warning them what is to happen, and who not to trust, and by saying the unpopular thing if necessary. Here is one example: the recent Syriza debacle in Greece: every “leftist” group I know was saying, “Hey, give them a chance.” The WSWS, on the other hand, insisted that they were a fundamentally middle-class group looking to prop up capitalism, and they must and would betray those voted for them. The WSWS took a lot of crap about that from various leftist groups, but there were a few workers in Greece who noticed, who will remember, and who are thinking about it. The same pattern was recently repeated in the sell-out of the auto-workers strike. There are a few auto-workers who saw that the WSWS was involved in that fight, and warned about what the union bureaucrats were doing. They’ll keep reading, and they’ll talk to fellow workers.

    The Bolsheviks grew from a handful in 1913 to a mass party in 1917, and they did it by telling the truth to the workers.

    Does that help at all?

  28. skzb

    “What are the barriers to socialism in America AND if America could become a true socialist state what hidden threats might appear to wipe the American lifestyle off the map?”

    I’d say the biggest barriers are, first, the trade union bureaucracy, that has a comfortable lifestyle achieved at the expense of the workers and will cheerfully sell out the rank and file to protect that lifestyle, and political efforts from both the left and the right to divide the working class along racial and sexual lines and prevent their unity.

    ” Could a true socialist state support a military that could protect itself from an invasion?”

    A workers state has both the right and the duty to defend itself against efforts by capitalism, whether from within or without, to destroy it.

    “Does the common human conditioning of simply “wanting more while working less” allow for a socialist state to perpetuate long enough for a lasting change? ”

    I would go so far as to say it encourages it. Once our needs are met–once we aren’t terrified of losing our homes, or having our heating cut off in winter, or becoming sick without the means for health care, it will allow us to concentrate on our passions, and, 90% of the time or more, those passions work to make the world better. Yes, there are doctors who went into it for the money, but most of them, especially the best ones, had a calling. Same with engineers, same with scientists. “I want to know how this works.” “I want to see if I can build a one of these.” “I like taking sick people and finding a way to make them better.”

    Today, we like to think about those few who would do nothing if they didn’t need to. What about the millions upon millions of people who would LOVE to do something interesting and exciting but they don’t have the chance to even study their passion, much less follow it up.

    “In all of Human history no socialist state has lasted beyond the experimental stage, at least that I am aware of, what makes you think now is different?”

    In all of human history, there have been two socialist revolutions. The first, the Paris Commune, was premature–there simply was not the economic superstructure to solve the problem between the city and the town, among others. The second, the Russian Revolution, is difficult and important and worth study. If you’re interested, I did a whole series of blog posts on it that start here: http://dreamcafe.com/2015/08/31/on-trotskys-the-revolution-betrayed/

  29. Bill, my favorite example of the fact that people like work that’s rewarding in some way is Bill Gates. He kept going into the office for far, far longer than anyone needed to who only wanted to be rich. If you go down the list of the world’s richest people, you’ll find most of them choose to work at what capitalism calls a job or at what capitalism calls a charity.

    What most people hate is make-work and work that is despised by richer people. Neither of those kinds of jobs would exist in a socialist society.

    Tim, Canada is a good example of the fact few people would leave to get higher paid jobs elsewhere. If capitalists were right that everyone’s only in it for the money, every Canadian doctor would’ve come to the US for higher pay. Instead, they stay there because they like Canada and they like knowing that thanks to universal health care, everyone who needs care can get it easily.

  30. skzb

    Flipperface: Both really good questions. For the first, I don’t know how easy it is to spot, but one thing that “schools of fake socialism” all seem to have in common is they do not orient themselves toward the working class. They might mention them here or there, but the lack of a working class program, or, as is more common, disdain and contempt for the working class, is pretty common among them.

    For the second question, none that I know of. You’re right, it’s scary. But the best way to defend ourselves is build the movement. As individual, isolated radicals we’re pretty vulnerable; the organized masses are, let us say, less so. By penetrating into the masses and fighting for its program, the revolutionary party not only does its job, but protects itself as best it can at the same time.

  31. skzb

    Tim: The exodus of skilled labor after the Russian Revolution was a result of its backwardness and impoverishment compared to other capitalist countries at the time of the revolution. The US is, by the standards of other capitalist countries, not backward. That is to say, skilled workers (Engineers, doctors, &c) would have had to take drastic cuts in their living standards by staying. That is not the case in the US.

  32. skzb

    Significance: It sounds like you’re asking about those people (and they are many, I am one) who both own and work at the means of production–that is, I produce value on a computer that is my property, and the sell the object I produce (ie, a manuscript). This is text-book middle class. Or have I misunderstood your question?

  33. skzb

    Steve Halter: Well said.

  34. Steve, you probably know, I’m a programmer by day and writer by night. I love to program and I love to write. What you said about people wanting an education and wanting to use it are both true.

    However, every job has aspects the people doing those jobs don’t like, and if they had their choice — they wouldn’t accept those responsibilities. I work for a SaaS — Software as a Service — company, so my headaches come from supporting a production system. DDoS attacks, failing disk drives, customers with problems at 11 PM or 5 AM, and all sorts of other things that get away from what I really want to do.

    That is: write cool programs.

    Heck — what programmer likes working on legacy code? But it’s that legacy code that can be the bread and butter of a company. It’s the legacy code that the customers rely on, not the wild crazy cool stuff you want to work on because you already solved everything. Customers want bug fixes. They want minor enhancements. What programmer thinks “woo hoo! I get to fix a bug in 10-year-old code today!” ?

    So… The question.

    In your system, how do you get people to do the jobs that can’t be automated that people don’t want to do?

    In the current system, we have incentives. We pay people, and for the types of jobs I’m talking about, we pay them fairly well. But unless I *really* don’t understand, that style of incentive is off the table. Everyone is rewarded equally, regardless of what they’re doing.

  35. skzb

    My first thought is that there are probably people out there who’d actually enjoy that. My second is that adjusting hours by trial and error so that the less pleasant the work, the shorter the hours, and divide the unpleasant chores evenly.

  36. Do you believe a revolution would be organized on a national or international basis? On the one hand, I think a successful revolution would need to be international, given the mobile nature of predatory capitalism these days. On the other, I can see such a revolution having even more potential points of failure than a more localized one.

  37. skzb

    I think it will be national, but very quickly spread. That is, the first will give impetus to the others. This happened in the period from 1918-1923, and even continued later.

  38. Heck, for all its failings, the Arab Spring is a good example of national revolutions turning international.

    Steve, my main concern about relying on telling the truth to workers is that it seems to work more slowly than the spread of dissatisfaction, leading to a working class that is ready to revolt, but not ready to apply the lessons of socialism. Heck, my dissatisfaction with the SEP is that same focus, prioritizing the necessary and important work of journalism and analysis over the necessary and important work of getting boots on ground, faces in meetings. It seems to me that, in order to be ready, we need an approach more like the union organizing model of community outreach – another reason the alienation between socialism and labor makes me gnash my teeth and stomp around unhappily. Am I missing something major here?

  39. I have something to add about the question regarding people who don’t want to work. You just need to look outside the US, at capitalist countries with a strong welfare state. In those countries, you can technically get away with not working. Some people do – not even through fraud, but just through remaining unemployed and not doing much about it. They’re almost always people from the least educated parts of society, people who haven’t really had a chance to develop as human beings. But even then, the most important thing is that they are *very, very few*. Almost nobody doesn’t want to work, and even those people might want to work if they got to do something interesting. What people don’t want is to work infinite hours for low pay – which dovetails wonderfully with the question about automation. One the need to create “fake” jobs falls away – which is a feature of capitalism, not socialism – there will be a lot less work, and with growing automation, it will be possible for people to work only a small amount of hours, enough to feel productive while still having space to live a decent life. The tiny amount of people who will still refuse to work… well, if they’re not a problem now, why would they be a problem under socialism?

  40. I do have a question myself, though, and it relates to something that’s been already mentioned above: how do we actually get there? Yes, the socialist revolutions of the past happened quickly, but there was a widespread engagement with socialist ideas in significant sections of society. It was a time when workers might debate the role of capital at the dinner table – a far cry from where we are today, after decades of anti-communist propaganda.

    You know that I greatly respect the analytical work done by the WSWS; I’ve been following it for about 15 years, and they’ve been right a *lot*. But I don’t see the SEP really growing. I’ve voted for the SEP in Germany, and seen their election results – despite good posters and a real effort to spread the message, at a time when people were feeling quite critical of the system, they came in behind the Christian Feminists for Puppy Protection and the Old People’s Bicycle Repair Party (names altered to avoid embarrassment). Tens of thousands were marching against the banks and the SEP utterly failed to connect to them, or to the millions living in increasingly bad conditions.

    We are correctly critical of ridiculous strategies like Hillary Clinton attempting to win an election by appealing to internet liberals, but what’s really so different about the current socialist approach of, well, talking about shit on the internet?

    No matter how many times the SEP proclaims “this is a significant step for the working class” about something that a tiny handful of people are even aware of, no significant growth seems to be occurring. Even under conditions of real economic crisis! Isn’t it time to consider a more active approach – not telling the working class the truth, but actually organizing the working class, actually fighting on the ground *with* and *for* the working class, so people actually get the idea that we’re on their side?

  41. Joe Larson: ” I work for a SaaS — Software as a Service — company, so my headaches come from supporting a production system. DDoS attacks, failing disk drives, customers with problems at 11 PM or 5 AM, and all sorts of other things that get away from what I really want to do”

    How many of those things would happen under socialism? Serious question. I’m old enough to remember when the web first went public and greedy people were just beginning to think about how to legally and illegally exploit it. I miss it a lot.

    And so far as impatient people go, under any system, some people will just be loud and annoying. They can wait for help until someone wants to help them, or they come up with a reason to make someone want to help them. Like offering pie.

  42. Thank you very much for this post and discussion thread. I truly appreciate the opportunity to learn and think about this.

    Why is violent revolution required? The reasons for socialism – common ownership of production, stopping worker exploitation, ending obscene inequality – seem self-evident to me. What horrifies me is the notion of eliminating the current system by some kind of armed takeover. Why not build on what humanity has accomplished in terms of democracy and respect for the rule of law, including codified protections for personal rights and freedoms? It seems to me that education and elections could get America to the same place (of socialists devising the best policies for figuring out who does what and who gets what) as a revolt could, minus destroyed lives and infrastructure.

    “Why violence?” is my main dumb question. Beyond that, I struggle a bit with seeing the world as clashing classes, although I’m not sure how to articulate a question. #13 of your FAQ (socialism vs communism) helped a bit. I get “classless”. A classless society sounds like a very sensible and morally sound ideal. And I get that there is currently a lot of inequality under capitalism, and that this is not a coincidence. What confuses me is putting individuals into class buckets, whether that is now under capitalism or in a hypothetical future under socialism. When I think of the “winners” in capitalism, I think of the CEO who makes over 200 times what the average worker does … and yet, unless that CEO’s company is employee owned, isn’t she selling her labor in return for a wage, as a member of the proletariat who does not own the means of production? If the masses take control of history and the working class ends up in control of the government and of the means of production, what other classes are left? Is everyone working class, then? (And, therefore, the ruling class?)

    By the way, I would totally understand if your answer were “read a book”. I confess my knowledge of socialism and Marxism and even capitalism is superficial at best.

  43. Critics of socialism love to talk about their concept of human nature, which tends to bore socialists, mostly because capitalists’ assumptions about human nature are like feudalists’ concepts: self-serving.

    But I do think there’s one interesting element. Under any system, most people like to help others. Emergencies regularly bring out the best in people. But when there’s a choice and all things are equal, nice people are more likely to be helped sooner than assholes. Capitalism changes that: the asshole with money gets helped while the nice person without money hopes some help will trickle down.

  44. Will, that’s a very fair comment.

    I also liked your comment about pie. I have on the filing cabinet behind me a small gift from one of our airline customers — a small model of one of their airliners. I’m told they’re coveted. Our contact at the airlines sent it to me because we went above and beyond.

  45. Joe Larson – Your earlier, lengthier comment seems to be predicated on a notion that socialism means the abdication of remuneration and reward. – viz. “In the current system, we have incentives. We pay people, and for the types of jobs I’m talking about, we pay them fairly well.”

    I’m super-simplifying here for relative brevity:

    Consider that a minimal ‘social contract’ under socialism is “We won’t let you starve to death or go homeless.” and leave complications and refinements on the floor for now. In order to get things done that need doing, some form on enticement is necessary- and in some sense, that bare bones social contract is its own inducement: to have better, you must create better. But socialism doesn’t require the abandonment of inducement and reward — What it *absolutely requires* is the abandonment of coercion via threats to survival.

    Remember that money in any form is just a medium for moving labor and goods to where they are needed or desired. As a programmer, you have to have run into that set of guys with UNIX beards 12 miles long who come out of retirement to hack some terrifying ALGOL monstrosity because it sounds like fun or they get to make some extra cash. It’s the same principal: If you want a more than subsistence level existence, you take on work that may have aspects you don’t particularly enjoy – but you are never coerced into taking on labor that you find objectionable or abhorrent in order to survive.

  46. My observation is that, however well-intentioned the system, people who get off on having power over others will try and take over. Armed people relax when the danger is no longer obvious. Children who have known no other system expect that they don’t have to do much to maintain it.

    What about socialism is different that it won’t become corrupt?

  47. Argentum: I don’t think there are any socialists who *want* violence. Nor does a revolution *have* to be violent. But do you think the current ruling class will let go of power without employing violence against those seeking a better system? Socialists do not seek to initiate violence, but it’s necessary to learn from history and expect the ruling class to use extremely brutal methods to prevent change.

    Falco:
    1) Through workers’ councils and similar systems, it will be structurally impossible for a single individual to amass too much power.
    2) Without the ability to amass economic power through extensive ownership of capital and without the possibility of coercing people through fear of poverty, it will be much harder for anyone to exercise undue influence.
    3) How an individual’s ambition is expressed is not an ahistorical, contextless matter left purely to “human nature” – it’s deeply rooted in the totality of socio-economic relations. In a socialist system, people will be able to express their ambitions in healthier ways than the one essentially demanded by the current system.
    4) Most significantly, however, socialists do not agree with the primary basis of your argument, which is that systems begin pure and then become corrupt through the actions of individuals. It’s not a matter of good intentions, but one of mathematics. That’s why socialists are critical of capitalism, not crony capitalism. The existence of classes, of the exploitation by the few of the many, arises from the inherent logic of the capitalist system. In other words, this corruption is a feature, not a bug, and we want a different set of features.

  48. Tim Clark, on this: “In order to get things done that need doing, some form on enticement is necessary- and in some sense, that bare bones social contract is its own inducement: to have better, you must create better.”

    But that sounds like money to me, all over again. So maybe my question is: Is there truly no form of money after the Socialist revolution? That’s what I’d been led to believe from previous conversations with my Marxist brethren, but I might have misunderstood. If there is no money, then what type of reward would you give out for creating better things?

    To me, the hardest thing to fathom about this all is a society in which money plays no role. If everyone was equal in their contribution to society, or their desire to work hard, then money wouldn’t be necessary. But since they aren’t, I’m at a loss to understand how people who are willing to be constructive members of society are encouraged, and those who aren’t so willing are discouraged. That’s why your comment on reward is interesting to me. If you don’t mind, please elucidate how this reward would work (unless my assumption is wrong, and you are planning to have money in the post-revolution economy).

  49. If, as you say, socialism had only been tried twice, and failed both times, what reason do we have to believe it would work?

  50. Human-powered flight was attempted more than twice, and failed. Clearly, all such efforts must fail.

    More seriously, every new idea ever failed every time it was tried, until the time it worked.

  51. Mitch, can you count how many failed revolts against feudalism there have been?

  52. Mitch, how many attempts at overthrowing feudalism failed?

  53. I do appreciate that there is a different meaning of the word ‘socialism’ in US English and English English; on this side of the pond we are seeking to defend those rights we achieved by a socialist government which brought into existence the NHS, free at point of use by everybody, as well as the underpinning of our freedoms.

    At present we are confronted by a Goverment seeking to use powers last invoked by Henry VIII in the 16th century, and repealed immediately on his death, because Parliament knew very well that no one can wield those powers without being corrupted by them. This, taken together with US population being unable to grasp that you can’t negotiate with physics, that the Universe doesn’t care who started it, the Universe doesn’t care, and Jesus is not going to turn up and provide a really nice planet to replace the one we’ve trashed, is the result of decades of people lied to about just how bad this really is.

    I have to say that your latest post demonstrates just how little you know, or care, about the only planet that humans can survive on. This is not how reality works. Unfortunately, it will be you up there trying to explain what the hell you thought you were doing…

  54. Addendum to Jonas Kyratzes #4: We also acknowledge that changing the system will introduce a new set of bugs; however, we feel that by designing features like “service to the proletariat, rather than control of the proletariat”, and “frequent turnover of representation” into the representational system, we can debug more efficiently. The latter would also be true for a capitalist system, but because the feature set of the capitalist system is based on zero-sum economic principles rather than cooperativism, the debugging process is far more arduous.

  55. skzb

    Jonas: I’m not sure. I have the impression that the readership of the site has been growing significantly, but as for the size of the party itself, I simply don’t know. I was involved though, when the last huge influx happened—around the the time of the Kent State shootings, and continuing until Nixon resigned—and I remember how quickly it can happen: a branch of four members holding meetings of a dozen, suddenly two branches each with a score of members holding meetings in the hundreds. Yes, during the next period of retreat, most of them left; but some stayed.

  56. skzb

    Argentum: To restate what others have said, they won’t give you an extra ten cents an hour with a strike; they certainly will give up everything they own without using the power of the State. And I’ll add, the police shootings we’ve been seeing is exactly that: terrorizing designed to crush opposition. The violence has already begun; how should we respond?

    I don’t see it as putting people in buckets, I see it as identifying the buckets they’ve been put in against their will. Because the buckets exist. In practical terms, that hypothetical CEO is, indeed, getting a “wage.” But that wage is a tiny fraction of the individual’s income: bonuses and stocks inevitably count for much more, and none of those people, if fired tomorrow and “unemployed” for the rest of their lives, would need to worry about how to maintain their lifestyle.

    However, this IS a difficult question, and while I’ve been trying to avoid the “read a book” answer, it may be best; except that now I have to decide what book to recommend. Maybe I should do a blog post.

  57. skzb

    Falco: It takes more than someone wanting to be powerful to be powerful. If all it took was wanting to, George Lincoln Rockwell would have been running the country since 1959. What permits political power is the need to enforce political inequality. What requires political inequality is economic inequality–that is to see, as long as there is a great mass of people deprived of fruits of their labor, there will need to be a police force and an army and jails and a whole legal system to make sure they don’t simply take what they want. Remove the economic inequality, and there is no corruption because there is nothing to corrupt–the mechanisms of power do not exist.

    Now, to be clear, this is something that I foresee happening gradually, over time. The difficult period of the revolution is one that will require sharp vigilance on the part of the armed working class. A working class conscious enough to make a revolution will, I think, be able to maintain this vigilance.

    ETA: I somehow missed Jonas’s answer, or I’d have saved myself some time. Yeah, what he said.

  58. skzb

    Mitch: Because we understand the reason for those failures, and have learned. In both cases, it was because the productive forces were not sufficient to permit the economic equality that is needed for political equality. This does not mean either one was a “mistake.” You can’t simply decide, “We’re not ready, let’s not have a revolution.” The German Social Democrats did exactly that in 1918, and it was exactly that decision that permitted Naziism. What it does mean is that, if the revolution is happening first in an economically backward country, it means the rest of the world needs to get on the job, fast.

  59. Noah Smith on his Noahpinion blog has an article that might give revolutionary wannabees a bit of pause. Especially when one considers the Russian Civil War that followed the October Revolution took an estimated 8-9 million lives.

    You and whose Army

    Our ability to kill each other today might be slightly more advanced than that of the Russians of the early 20th century.

  60. skzb

    Haven’t read the article. Does he mention that the Civil War was financed by England, France, and the US, and involved intervention by armies representing 11 different countries? Of course, it is a time-honored tradition to say, “You made us invade you by establishing a government we don’t like.”

  61. Steve Rodgers – Please re-read my posting – Money is not in itself the problem. Money is a medium of exchange, and a useful tool. Money/currency is an abstraction of capital wealth, but is not in itself, valuable but for what it represents. Only when it represents privately monopolized capital, do we have a problem.

    Some schools of classical Marxism and its offshoots have take a moralistic attitude toward the current monetary system particular insofar as money is “pinned to” any number of substances, such as precious metals, that are controlled by private or state monopolies. There is a naive interpretation that this is a blanket stance against “money”. It is not. It’s a stance against privatization and monopolization of money, as we would experience it under pure capitalism.

    Socialism does not require the abdication of an exchange economy. It does require the acceptance of the notion that survival is a fundamental right of sentient beings, and that it is a foundational duty that society act cooperatively to guarantee that right.

    To keep this from getting overlong on this thread, I’ve posted an extended version here:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/tim-clark/wrt-steve-on-skzbs-blog/10154815718694375

  62. What is the philosophy of ownership under socialism? Frankly, a lot of what I have heard before is what I would call “envy based”. For example, a woman I know (single mom, dirt poor) saved her whole life to buy a piece of property and make it nice. So, in her late middle age after scrimping, saving, and working her butt off she finally accomplished having her property (about 1/2 acre) with nice flowers, grass, etc. She was hosting a BBQ and a local college student who had socialist leanings looked around and said, “Very nice place. She lives here alone? That is very selfish.” To me, who had seen her struggle for many years to create a nice place to live, this was enough to certainly sour me emotionally on the concept.

    Does socialism allow private property? How much? What would be thought about that woman mentioned above? If you cannot truly own anything , where is the incentive to “go above and beyond” with work to earn some level of comfort? And yes, I know that nobody truly owns anything since it can be taken, we die, etc., but I hope you understand my question anyway.

    BTW, being able to ask questions without name calling is one of the reasons I am enjoying this discussion: I get to see reasoned responses vs name calling and assumptions. Unfortunately, that college student had made a judgement and assumption about that woman, “she is selfish” simply because she had more than he did. I can say, after watching her for many years, that she is one of the most generous people I have ever met.

    Lastly, as someone who is not socialist, but interested in hearing that point of view, I have promised myself: no debate. If I am thinking up something to say or a point to be made, then I have missed what is being said and the points being made. 🙂

    I have another question or two, mostly based on what I have seen around me with people’s behavior. I will ask after I read a bit more and perhaps get a response for this question.

    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss.

  63. Bill: That college student may think of himself as socialist, but he clearly knows very little about socialism. Socialism is not about moralistic judgement; even its criticism of capitalism is not about greed, but about capitalism being unstable and ultimately incapable of allowing humanity to keep growing. There’s nothing about having a nice house that’s wrong in socialist theory; the problem is when someone has a hundred houses and charges others for living in them.

    Socialists make an important distinction between private property and personal property. It is the former that socialists want to abolish – private ownership of the means of production. Socialists don’t want an individual to own, say, factories, or important infrastructure (water, energy, transport). Socialists want to end production for profit and the exploitation of workers by a class of owners. Personal property – your phone, your PC, your house – will continue being your own. In fact, socialists want people to have *more* stuff, to create a society that is more wealthy, more enjoyable to live in.

    That said, there will certainly be some things to figure out at first. How many houses can one individual own? What’s the limit? Two? Three? Nine? Either way, it will be far more than 99.9% of people own today.

  64. A footnote to Jonas’s comment: The answer will probably vary from place to place. If everyone wants a beach house, it might be necessary to say that people can only have one beach house. Many of the answers will come from common sense rather than regulation: in a society where no one has to be a servant, you’re not going to be able to take care of a lot of houses, so it’s hard to imagine the current situation where someone like John McCain has trouble remembering how many houses he has.

  65. There seems to be a fair amount of confusion about the differences between communism and socialism — and that’s completely understandable since they get seems to be continually conflated when discussed in the U.S. education system and other public discourse.

    A good, short primer that focuses quite tightly on the differences in orientation of the philosophies can be found at:

    http://www.marxmail.org/faq/socialism_and_communism.htm

  66. Tim, what makes this especially tricky is Marx and Engels considered the words synonyms. Different far left groups since then have given different meanings to the two words, but I’m not sure how useful the distinction is. The only hard distinction I think is useful is that between anarchism and socialism: we both want the same goal, a world of sharing that doesn’t need regulation, but the anarchists think we can leap there in an instant while the socialists want an orderly transition.

  67. Thank you very much for your replies, Jonas and Steven. Promoting and expecting violence are two different things, of course. I can’t say why I assumed that socialists were pushing for violent revolution. I really know next to nothing about socialist organizations (I had to google WSWS and SEP) and I understand that the status quo is far from nonviolent. Possibly my assumption is rooted in how historical narratives tend to place all agency (credit or blame) at the feet of the revolutionaries — not just socialist revolts, but any attempt to overthrow the existing power structure, like the American Revolutionary War … and regardless of how obviously in the wrong the existing powers were or which side did most of the killing … I’m thinking of the slave rebellion in Haiti and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

    And yet, the rhetoric which I’ve heard from socialists — and please let me know if I’m way off base here; I am not deliberately misunderstanding, but I don’t have specific evidence to cite — seems very focused on preparing for a fight, as a necessary means to a greater end, and much less focused on how to avoid violence. I am probably in the minority here, but this is the number one reason why I am personally not “involved in the struggle”. So I don’t ask in idle curiosity.

    On a moral level, I am opposed to violence. On a selfish level, I recoil from the idea of me or my loved ones killing or being killed. And on a strategic level, I think there is a lot to be said about the folly of letting opponents define the terms of a struggle to reward where they are strongest and we are most vulnerable – i.e., violence. (The Noahpinion article linked by oneillsinwisconsin above makes a similar point, I think.) I am working my way through “Waging Nonviolent Struggle” by Gene Sharp, and find his argument that while violence may remove and replace rulers, the actual relationship between the dominant elite and the dominated population is unlikely to be fundamentally altered by use of violence, to be very convincing. Methods of nonviolent intervention, Sharp argues, have a comparatively better shot at restricting and severing the sources of power of their rulers/oppressors, and at mobilizing the population’s own power potential into effective power.

    Separate topic: thanks to Harvey Summers for linking to that video. I was just thinking that there must be some behavioral science studies exploring human nature; debates on human motivation tend to quickly boil down to “I think humans are this way” vs “I think humans are that way” with neither viewpoint offering evidence that would preclude the competing explanation. I wish the video didn’t gloss over the actual experiment details, though!

  68. Will – Marx and Engels started the project, but it didn’t end with them.There’s more than a century of evolution in society, language and philosophy to contend with. Even early Post-Marxist socialist theory was already migrating toward the kind of distinction the link I pointed to makes, and at this point, it seems to be a well-recognized differentiation.

  69. skzb

    Okay, as threatened, time for some pointers.

    Here’s the link: http://dreamcafe.com/2013/09/13/answers-to-a-few-things-im-tired-of-hearing/

    Bill: Point #7. Also, thanks for participating in the conversation.

    Tim: For when I use “socialism” and “communism: see point #13

    Argentum: Point #10 and #15

  70. Argentum, to be blunt, some socialists are drama queens. I continue to think the best hope for socialism in the US lies in the examples of Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King, and Bernie Sanders.

    Tim, agreed that it’s evolved, and would even quibble to say it started before them, but I see a series of many steps rather than a precise point where socialism becomes communism, so I’m content to stick with talking about socialism, especially since the common understanding is that communism is inherently authoritarian while socialism can be democratic. Yes, it’s a false understanding, but it’s still there.

  71. Hi, thanks for answering but yes, you misunderstood my question. I’ll try to clarify. In your post you defined socialism as the collective ownership of the means of production. I assume from that definition that you are okay with private ownership of some things, just not the means of production. When things have multiple uses (e.g. a car to get around as an individual vs to operate as a taxi), how do you decide what counts as the means of production and hence needs to be collectively owned?

  72. Significance:If you are driving around in your own car (even making some means of exchange in this fashion) then it is your own car–personal property. If you have someone else driving people in your car and they have to give you back a medium of exchange in return then it has become private property that you are using as a tool to exploit the other person.

  73. Steve Halter, I like that a lot. Is the difference as simple as this:

    Personal property: property you own and use for whatever you please.

    Private property: property you own that other people use so you may profit.

  74. skzb

    It’s a clear enough distinction that I’m suspicious of it. 🙂 But yeah.

  75. Will:I think that is the essence of the difference.

  76. Steve B, me too! 🙂

    Steve H, thank you for pointing me in what appears to be the right direction.

  77. With respect to some of the qualms that have been expressed, I would not expect the Revolution to immediately create working socialism, anymore than the American Revolution immediately created a working Constitution. I would expect the masses to be motivated to work for something better and to have a rough sense of the parameters of a new better order. Actually working out all the details might take quite a while. We also don’t know what ecologic and/or technological factors might impact events.

    Some of my worries: a major ecologic collapse in the physical economy during or near a revolutionary moment. Second, I would want to know more about how the agricultural sector works these days: my impression is that much of the food is dependent on seed that can only be replenished from corporate laboratories, not naturally harvested and held. The American farm workforce is migrant and isolated from the rest of the citizenry by linguistic barriers and political classification as foreigners. Finally, fascism seems to be much more vibrant and organized these days. Most of the West turned right or all the way fascist after WWI; so our objective historical models (sparse as they are) are actually kind of pessimist.

  78. Steve Halter wrote:

    “Significance:If you are driving around in your own car (even making some means of exchange in this fashion) then it is your own car–personal property. If you have someone else driving people in your car and they have to give you back a medium of exchange in return then it has become private property that you are using as a tool to exploit the other person.”

    This part I don’t get. Is it exploitation when both people win? If you use my car as a taxi, then there’s wear and tear on the car. It will need maintenance and wear out sooner. It’s not available if I need to run to the store, so I’m inconvenienced.

    I guess I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of these things.

    On on a separate note, I keep hearing about “collective ownership” — it’s been used in this thread and other places. What does that really mean? What does it mean that “the means of production are owned by the working class?” Let’s use a concrete example.

    I write a piece of software, at home, entirely my own effort. I then begin selling it. Under socialism, who owns the rights to the software?

    I think from other things that’s said — I do.

    But sales are great. I hire a few employees. I buy computers and desks for them — which I pay for from money made before they came on board (or maybe money I saved even before the software started selling). Now what happens? Who owns my company now? Is it owned evenly?

    Things are going great. The four of us make a fabulous company, hundreds of major customers, each paying us a ton. We operate that way for five years, and we’re total rock stars. But it’s time to hire more people. We hire someoen fresh out of school to answer the easiest of the help desk tickets.

    Does he now suddenly own 1/5th of what the rest of us just spent five years building?

    A year from now, one of the five of us decides to pursue other interests. What happens to his share of what we’ve built? It doesn’t seem fair that he has to give up what is now worth a LOT of money.

    Or have I got it all wrong? Did it suddenly become a state-owned business the instant I hired my first employee?

    As I said, I have a hard time wrapping my head around some of these things. I get it when it’s a factory with 100s of people slaving away, and they’ve been abused. But that’s not remotely my life, and I don’t understand how any of this (theoretically) applies to situations far closer ot home to me.

    Any chance at a concrete example of ownership and the resulting rewards beginning with a 1-man shop?

  79. As I see things, Joe, one important difference that hasn’t been directly spoken about in these examples yet is that of power differential. While today, we (usually) have the legal fiction that the employer and the employee are in a relationship between equals, in practice, under capitalism, there is a significant power differential. The employee has the power to mildly inconvenience the employer by stopping work. The employer has the power to remove the employee’s ability to buy food and pay the rent by firing them. Theoretically, this is only a temporary danger to the employee but, again, in practice a vindictive employer can make it very difficult for the employee to find other work. In the matters of compensation and working conditions, employers routinely impose detrimental changes upon their workers, and the workers have no recourse other than the drastic ones of striking or quitting.

    In your example of a company growing from one to four and then five people, you are (presumably unconsciously) falling into the capitalist pattern of employers and employees. This is notable in your use of the word “hire”. Someone who can hire is also someone who can fire. This is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of collective ownership, and inevitably leads to abuses.

    It seems likely that there will exist more complex arrangements of collective ownership then “equal shares”. Even under equal shares, however, I will endeavor to address your questions. When expanding a company from N to N+, this means that each share will, indeed, be less. But this is an incentive to not expand prematurely, and it outright prevents the exploitation of the newly added workers. Under capitalism, we are used to thinking of jobs as being “worth” more or less than other jobs; under the model I am discussing, all jobs are equal and the question is “Do we need this done?” When someone decides to leave (and no longer contribute to) a collective, then they will no longer be considered a member of that collective, nor entitled to the benefits of that membership. This strikes me as fair and sensible. One thing to remember in all of this is that we are positing a society in which no one can take away your fundamental right to food and housing. In such a state, a lot of the incentive for building up significant bank accounts simply vanishes. A person who legitimately wants to “pursue other interests” is free to do so without seriously risking their life, and this is a major feature of the model, rather than a bug.

  80. Even today, we have pretty amazing examples of collaborative software development that don’t involve employer/employee situations. I suspect that given the security provided by a socialist system, we’d get a *lot* more of “we’re collaborating on this because it’ll be awesome and we want it to exist” than “I’d like to hire you to make this thing so we can all make money.”

    It’s important to note something about exploitation, however. “Exploitation” in the socialist sense is not an emotional term. A good employer who treats his employees well still exploits them, in that exploitation, that is appropriation of surplus value, is fundamental to how the capitalist (owner/employer) makes a profit. The Marxist critique of this relationship is systemic, not moral or personal.

    One more note: state-owned does not equal worker-owned. A capitalist state can own businesses, and indeed that is the model most people who oppose socialism first think of. But 1) a socialist state is different at a structural level, having different goals and being governed by different rules 2) even in socialism, collective ownership does not necessarily equal bureaucracy, but can include a large variety of syndicalist forms.

  81. skzb

    PrivateIron: “I would not expect the Revolution to immediately create working socialism, anymore than the American Revolution immediately created a working Constitution. I would expect the masses to be motivated to work for something better and to have a rough sense of the parameters of a new better order. Actually working out all the details might take quite a while.”

    Yes, what you said.

  82. skzb

    Joe: I can’t improve on what Alexx and Jonas said.

  83. One problem with micro examples is that they lack context. In the example of the car, it seems likely that since transportation is something that everyone needs, that would be a segment that would be collectivized. With the advent of self driving vehicles, it is easy to envision an efficient scheduling algorithm where vehicles arrive to transport you where you need to go and then go on to someone else. Everyone owning cars that mostly sit around idle is an awful way to allocate resources.
    Given that context then, other than a few collectors, no one would have a car but at the same time, no one would lack a car.
    Other contexts will produce different results.

  84. skzb

    Steve: True. And I think we’ll see mass transit to an unbelievable level, plus I’d be surprised if working from home didn’t become the norm

  85. I used to live in city with an extremely efficient, but expensive, public transport system. I didn’t need a car for anything, and I certainly didn’t need any taxis. Make that system free and cars in the city would be very rare, used only to transport goods or the disabled. Spending more time in rural areas makes you appreciate the value of having a car, but since one of the first things any socialist government would do would be to vastly expand public transport, it would be a lot less of an issue. Plus, it would be perfectly possible to have publicly-owned and available cars which you just pick up and drop off, much like some places do with bicycles.

    Getting rid of taxis and taxi drivers should by itself already be a powerful argument for socialism. 🙂

  86. Joe:What makes the concepts of socialism hard to wrap ones head around is trying to think of them in the framework of capitalism. Imagine yourself a serf on some lord’s estate a couple centuries ago and some starts trying to explain international banking. It is going to sound very strange.
    A framework shift requires shifting frameworks.

  87. I still don’t understand how socialism/communism handles the innate drive for social standing. Pre-capitalist cultures, like hunter-gathers, still have social hierarchies, so hierarchies can’t be the result of a few individuals controlling the means of production. What I’m hearing so far sounds a lot like changing the system so everyone will have a place to live and enough to eat means they’ll stop trying to climb the ladder. If the assertion is that socialism removes the ladder, I think there is a very idealistic fantasy that should be looked at. What am I missing?

  88. skzb

    Steve: Yeah, like that.

    Falco: Social hierarchies are not the same as social classes. That is, it isn’t the same as one group living off the labor of another. Whatever hierarchies did or did not exist (and there is considerable debate on the subject, and what “hierarchies” means that context), one thing we no for sure is that they did not need a state–that is, armed individuals whose job was keep the oppressed oppressed. That seems like a significant difference.

  89. Falco, to go a little further with Steve’s comments, I am sure that creative people will continue to score high in the social hierarchy—especially since we’ll know everyone started off with similar advantages. By creative, I mean everyone who creates, like one of my heroes, Tabitha Babbitt, the inventor of the radical saw who didn’t copyright it because she was a Shaker.

    I also expect people would score high for doing necessary work that’s not romantic. That would be seen as stepping up rather than as menial labor.

  90. Falco: Have you read “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” by Cory Doctorow? That shows an example socialistic hierarchy system.
    (Providing that you want a hierarchy is a feature you want)

  91. Just wanted to say thanks very much for your responses, Steven and Will. I guess I am an incrementalist ☺️

    Another question… are real-life communes examples of socialism in practice, or are they not a useful model for ‘piloting’ socialist societies because they can’t escape the dominant context of capitalism?

  92. Argentum, as socialists go, I’m prob’ly an incrementalist too. 🙂 There are things Marx and Engels said that make incrementalism a reasonable position, but I grant that whether to go with electoral change or revolutionary change depends on the country you’re working in.

    My guess is everyone will agree that examples like communes are of limited use, simply because they operate in isolation, but it’ll be interesting to see if I’m wrong.

  93. skzb

    I’d pretty much agree with that. Communes have always struck me as trying to destroy capitalism by pretending it doesn’t exist.

  94. Falco: Much like socialists actually want industrial production to grow (unlike, say, many Greens), socialists are also very much in favour of individualism and the human individual being liberated to follow their ambitions and desires. But *how* such ambitions are expressed is very dependent on the socio-economic system one lives in. In capitalism, success generally translates to money, which translates to direct power over the lives of others. But even in capitalism, we have other examples. I’m pretty sure Steven is not secretly richer than Bill Gates, and yet he has social standing among us because he produces interesting books. He’d still be writing those books in a socialist system, maybe also a few that currently can’t get published; he’d still have heightened social standing because of his contributions to society. That’s not a bad thing!

  95. I have a few questions, then a few observations.

    When was the entire concept of socialism as a social construct first theorized?
    Over the intervening years, how many societies have tried to implement a version of socialism?
    Is there a single example of a society that has succeeded in implementing it without devolving in to Totalitarianism, and a loss of things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press?

    I have looked, and I cannot find a single example (and it has been tried for centuries) that succeeds in practice to bring about the expected utopia that socialism promises. Every time you try to have a substantive conversation with an advocate of a socialistic system, the main argument you get is it just hasn’t been properly implemented yet, and while that may be, that’s a lot more faith than I can personally generate.

    How does a socialistic utopia deal with scarcity? How does it deal with differences in ability? How does it deal with differences in personnel ambition?

    People are not the same, they don’t have the same motivations, skills, hopes and dreams. How does a system that makes everyone equal account for the fact that everyone isn’t equal? I am not referring to equal before the law, but equal in desires and ability?

    I cant help but feel that this is the real Achilles heal of any socialistic system. It sounds great around the facility lounge table, but once it hits the real world it always fails.

    Steve, I disagree completely that the number of people unwilling to contribute in meaningful ways if their basic needs for housing and food are guaranteed is going to be small. The very fact that 95+million able bodied working aged people in America are not even looking for work belies this, they are all eating, they have their cable TV and big screens, their cell phones, so why bother looking for work? The evidence before us is that the majority of people that have the basic necessities of life provided for them, will NOT work.

    I can go on, but I see no evidence that socialism has ever succeeded or that it ever can, regardless of how wonderful it sounds.

  96. “Is there a single example of a society that has succeeded in implementing it without devolving in to Totalitarianism, and a loss of things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press?”

    There have been precisely two attempts at actual socialism in the proper Marxist sense. They did not devolve, but they did buckle under extreme pressure. However, so what? Many attempts at democracy were crushed before democracies were established; this does not mean democracy is impossible, only that it requires fighting for.

    “I have looked, and I cannot find a single example (and it has been tried for centuries) that succeeds in practice to bring about the expected utopia that socialism promises.”

    Socialism is not utopian. It does not promise a utopia. It only promises a better economic system that will allow people better, not perfect, lives.

    “How does a socialistic utopia deal with scarcity?”

    How does capitalism deal with it? At this point, a tiny amount of people are hoarding most of the wealth, and still the system keeps going. If on average people have *more* than they do now, where’s the problem? Socialism isn’t “anyone can have whatever they want”, it’s public ownership of the means of production.

    “How does it deal with differences in ability?”

    Better than capitalism, since it bestows social rewards on talented people without threatening the survival of more average individuals.

    “How does it deal with differences in personnel ambition?”

    This has been answered extensively above.

    “How does a system that makes everyone equal account for the fact that everyone isn’t equal? I am not referring to equal before the law, but equal in desires and ability?”

    Socialism does not make everyone equal, nor does it seek to. “Equality” in this sense is not a useful abstraction. Socialism seeks to make specific practical changes to how the economy functions, to the relationship between workers, owners, and the means of production. It seeks to abolish the class system, not make each and every person have the exact same property or standing.

    And if I may go into philosophy for a moment, the purpose of socialism is not equality, but liberation (see Oscar Wilde’s tremendous The Soul of Man Under Socialism).

  97. LiquidDrano:What Jonas just said + your statement of ” The very fact that 95+million able bodied working aged people in America are not even looking for work belies this” is not accurate:
    Politifact on false claim of 90 million not working.

  98. It is not false, but you can believe what you like

  99. skzb, Will: That makes sense, thanks
    Steve: I will out that on the reading list, thanks. What I’m trying to say is that social status is a feature of human consciousness and systems that propose to do away with hierarchy are based largely in fantasy. I had taken the impression socialists propose to make everyone equal and an glad to find I’ve misunderstood.

  100. LiquidDrano, do you think those 21 million college students should drop out and get real jobs?

  101. Uh, Tabitha Babbitt is credited with the invention of the *radial* saw. Sorry about that typo. Karl Marx probably deserves credit for inventing the radical saw.

  102. Also, the 20 million number that politifact eventually arrives at doesn’t subtract out the disabled. It’s a small percentage, but since LiquidDrano specifically said “able bodied”, it seems worth pointing out.

  103. For bonus pedantry, for the radial saw, wouldn’t that be a patent she forwent, not a copyright?

  104. Will’s comment re-posted for truth:

    “Critics of socialism love to talk about their concept of human nature, which tends to bore socialists, mostly because capitalists’ assumptions about human nature are like feudalists’ concepts: self-serving.
    But I do think there’s one interesting element. Under any system, most people like to help others. Emergencies regularly bring out the best in people. But when there’s a choice and all things are equal, nice people are more likely to be helped sooner than assholes. Capitalism changes that: the asshole with money gets helped while the nice person without money hopes some help will trickle down.”

    Dayum. That there’s an argument!

  105. LiquidDrano, pre-money societies seemed to largely work by a sort of socialism. Of course, that only lasted for several thousand years…. See DEBT: THE FIRST 5000 YEARS for an interesting discussion of the evolution of money.

    I don’t understand the fascination people have with the question of how to make people work under a socialist system. Or rather, I understand why it’s waved as a scaring point, but I don’t understand why people believe that it’s a problem. One of the biggest problems capitalism has right now is that there isn’t enough work to go around, and probably more effort is put into keeping people out of the workforce than getting more people in it.

  106. Slaveowners also said freeing slaves would result in a lot of lazy people refusing to work. It’s an ancient meme.

  107. Alexx Kay:Looking at the census data of:
    EMPLOYMENT STATUS BY DISABILITY STATUS AND TYPE (you have to select people, employment, Work disability status, United States if the link doesn’t take you to the final table.) it looks like a large percentage of that remaining 20 million falls into the “with a disability” column.

    All of this reflects our current societies attachment of moral values with “work”. The right wishes to portray the largest number of people possible as not working and hence immoral.
    If remove fluffy morality from the equation and instead approach work as a science of something like “here’s what needs to be done”, “here’s who we have to do it” with things like job sharing if applicable and then provide opportunities for education or exploration for those who aren’t currently engaged–thinking of them as being on sabbatical would seem to be a more productive direction rather than the current, “Work or starve” approach.

  108. LiquidDrano “It is not false, but you can believe what you like.”

    Source, please. If you aren’t coming to the table with facts, you don’t get to discount the people that are.

  109. LiquidDrano writes: “The very fact that 95+million able bodied working aged people in America are not even looking for work belies this, they are all eating, they have their cable TV and big screens, their cell phones, so why bother looking for work? “

    This is the type of misleading statistic that should be highlighted either for the gullibility or duplicity of the author.

    The number is correct. It can be found in the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report. What it doesn’t say is that nearly half of that 95 million consists of retired people (40+ million). Another 15 to 20 million are students. Millions more are disabled. Millions more have to stay home and care for family members. Millions more are stay-at-home parents raising children.

    In the end, we get down to a few million looking for work and another few million discouraged workers. I.e., there are 2.6 million who *want a job* but aren’t looking.

    LiquidDrano ought to be ashamed for using the 95 million *not working* number without caveats.

  110. skzb

    Well said, Kevin. I’m pretty sure duplicitous in this case, which is why I didn’t bother to answer.

  111. cptbutton, yep. I don’t know why I keep blurring those. I suspect it’s because I think copyrights, patents, and trademarks all suck.

    Kevin, for bonus points, it should be stressed that most of the “aren’t looking” are people who looked for months or years before they accepted the fact there simply aren’t jobs for everyone.

  112. Will, I find your position on copyrights interesting given that you write books for a living.

  113. I would trade copyright for Basic Income in a second.

  114. Fair enough, but I don’t see a corelation. I guess I was wondering what was evil about copyright. Patents, especially software patents, however…

  115. I think a good argument can be made in a capitalist society for the Statute of St. Anne, which called for, I think, a 14-year copyright. The notion that corporations should be able to keep copyright going after someone has died is just a way of fencing in the public domain.

    I wrote this a while back: http://shetterly.blogspot.com/2012/04/people-who-owned-bible.html

  116. Someone pointed out that there would be a lot of good Star Wars movies if Star Wars had entered the public domain after a short period of copyright, and Lucas would’ve still been richer than the human mind can comprehend.

  117. Ah, we’re not so far apart them. It’s not the copyrights themselves are so evil but how they’ve been extended and used for evil 🙂

  118. Yep. Though it’s worth noting that the original copyrights were not for the sake of authors. They were for the sake of publishers. Then copyright got majorly worse when Hollywood got involved.

    Okay, I’ll get off the sidetrack now. 🙂

  119. skzb

    FWIW, I agree with you guys about copyright. As long as there is capitalism, some form is necessary, but it’s gotten absurd and abusive. NOW we can get off the sidetrack. 🙂

  120. The majority of my arguments about socialism to date have revolved around psychology both at the individual as well as at the group level. Regardless of what system of government you come up with, people will always be people, and collective ownership is wholly incompatible with individualistic ownership.

    I have, at least until recently, always been quite surprised at how dismissive–even short-tempered–Steve gets when I bring these points up. I assume it was irritation at having to cover the same ground, address the same objections, over and over again. It was, but that wasn’t ALL it was. The piece I was missing was the idea that it doesn’t HAVE to be this way. It’s worth mentioning that Steve came right out and SAID that very thing, and I still missed it.

    One of the most difficult things to do, I think, is to be able to recognize when one of your most central beliefs is, if not wrong, then maybe not as immutable as you think it to be.

    I like to think of myself as a pretty smart and insightful guy, and the conclusion I’ve reached after observing human behaviour after 35 years is that humans motivators and behavioural responses are usually very predictable if you are aware of enough of their causative influences. We are governed by decision-making processes that seek, more than anything else, to define things; to compare them to other things and in so doing, label them, as means of increasing our control over our environment. We look at how other people have produced desirable outcomes in circumstances similar to the ones we might be facing, and, if sufficient similarity exists, we tend to respond in the same way.

    For example, if you introduce uncertainty, most people will respond fearfully, and will seek to protect themselves. Even the ones that seem to lean into the fear are almost certainly doing so because they have learned or convinced themselves that doing so provides a means of control over the situation, which is to say, a means whereby the overall level of fear is reduced.

    The behaviours vary widely, but the motivating/precipitating elements are usually pretty intuitive/logical etc. When discomfort arises, the organism will seek to reduce the discomfort–living things respond and adapt to their environments.

    Where *I* went wrong was that I assumed certain things were immutable, when they were merely responses/adaptions that I’d forgotten (or never knew) I’d made. I assumed, because I was raised in a capitalist society, that the profit-motive and its attendant behavioural patterns were universal. Well, they ARE, but our lives do not necessarily need to be lived in an environment where those motivators/behaviours are *constantly* being provoked.

    The constant (over)stimulation of a thing will produce an inflamed response that is increasingly disproportionate to the stimulus that produced it–this is almost the very definition of neurosis, if not outright insanity.

    For example, someone who thinks that they are smart will be sensitized to people being stupid. They’ll see stupidity EVERYWHERE. If this conceit is left unchecked, this sensitization will increase to the point where the person will eventually be unable to accept the possibility that anyone else is capable of being smart at all. If he sees someone do something differently than he would have responded, then that other person must have done so because they’re an idiot, and no other reason.

    Confirmation bias is a helluva drug.

    I would be very interested in seeing what humans do, individually and as groups, when they’re not constantly having the profit-motive lesson entrenched ever more deeply into their subconscious decision-making processes.

    I suspect it will take generations to recover, as a society, from these profit-motive based cognitive distortions. It’s taken generations to recover from the ravages of sexism, and racism; and STILL we have a long way to go in each–but at least in their case society as a whole has long been aware of the problem. We are only just recently discovering that capitalism is presenting us with problems that aren’t the result of the usual suspects; ie, that it is something inherent in capitalism itself that is the root cause.

    Capitalism has become, or maybe always was, a cancer on society. Cancers are uncontrolled growth that eventually kill the host; or, put in social theory terms, are increasingly unbalanced allocation of resources that eventually results in the failure of the society in question.

    Socialism looks like a terrible idea to a capitalist because, well, it is…to a capitalist. It’s mal-adapted to a capitalist infrastructure, and the traits that it possesses put it at a distinct competitive disadvantage when surrounded by many (well-entrenched) capitalist societies.

    But the current circumstance is changing–globalization has never been possible before now, and with its advent, antiquated ideas like “borders” are a great deal less meaningful. Borders being an extension of individualistic, tribe-based thought. If I may extend the evolution metaphor from the previous paragraph, an adaptive trait that is a liability in one situation might be life-saving in another. Sickle-cell anemia, as one example. As “cancerous” capitalism (and right now it seems like there isn’t any other type) begins to die off, a sufficiently opportunistic (and viable!) organism may find itself able to establish a foothold where before it was completely impossible. Collective-based thought might finally be able to get a word in edgewise.

  121. It should also be stated that, when you’re re-training your brain from a cognitive distortion, or a hyper-sensitization, that you’re not trying to eliminate the problem response, you’re seeking to restore it to an appropriate level. So someone who’s dealing with anger issues will still feel anger–that is normal. Not feeling anger is just as neurotic as feeling too much anger.

    The same should be said about individualism. Attempting to over-correct the problem will only result in a different problem of the same type as the last one.

    As with everything, a balance between individualism and collectivism must be struck. It should come as no surprise to anyone that this is easier said than done. De-programming even one person is fiendishly difficult and prone to relapses. I can only imagine how hard de-programming an entire society will be.

  122. Jon:I think that mostly yes is the reply I would make to that. Essentially, that’s what I meant when I said that you can’t think of Socialism within the framework of Capitalism.

  123. skzb

    Very insightful comments, Jon. My only issue is almost too trivial to mention, especially because I have no evidence to support it except vague impressions: but I think, rather than generations, we will see amazing changes and growth from the first generation that wasn’t born under capitalism.

  124. How is scarcity handled? People finally realize Deluth, MN is the greatest place on earth and all start moving there. Does a lot of housing get built? Is the some disincentive, like rising rents under the current system? What happens to all the new hosting when people come to their senses and all move to the actual greatest place on earth, Lincoln, NE?

  125. @Falco: Again, as said above, socialism isn’t “everybody gets whatever they want.” So, in this honestly somewhat outlandish scenario (why would everybody want to move to one place? the world is full of awesome places, especially once you remove the need to survive by chasing jobs), collective decisions would have to be made. Do we build more houses? Sure, why not, capitalism has been terrible at handling the housing crisis and we could definitely use more housing. And if some of those people move away – though again, your scenario is hard to believe – then where’s the problem? The planet is full of people and we have plenty of space, Malthusian fantasies of an overcrowded Earth notwithstanding. Worse-case scenario: some empty houses. If they bother us too much, we vote on tearing them down and rewildering the area. How is that any worse than the deranged situation we have right now with places like Oakland? Or London, for that matter? Rising rents aren’t a disincentive maintaining some imaginary balance, they’re both a humanitarian catastrophe and a serious impediment to growth.

  126. True fact: there are more empty homes in the US than there are homeless people. LIke many things, the only reason we have homeless people is capitalists are fine with that.

  127. Even more annoying – it loses the capitalists money to keep things this way. Like warehoused goods, they’re on the hook for upkeep costs they could be rid of if they sold these homes cheaply – say in large blocks, to the state government, for a few thou each plus a charity tax break. This particular problem is so ludicrously solvable. Utah, I know, has started an initiative to provide free housing and social workers for all homeless, as it saves the state money on jail and emergency room costs.

  128. Ok, let me pick a different example. The Atlantic Shoefish is reported to have cancer-preventing properties. There aren’t enough in the ocean for everyone to eat it once a week, but everyone wants to. Who has shoefish on the table? Why them? I understand everyone can’t have what they want and that the current system doesn’t do a great job, either, but what is different under a socialist/communist system?

  129. There’s a public, accessible discussion. No result is certain or guaranteed from go, but some are likely. More money is authorized to study why the fish has such properties and how it can be reproduced, more money is allocated to public fisheries to begin stocking and breeding the shoefish; fishers are cautioned on how to make sure it is fished sustainably. In the meantime, priority is given to those with the highest cancer risks, as they are in the greatest need.

    With the elimination of competitive profit motive, fishers have no reason to overfish and sell now in anticipation of future shortage or competition, pharma research companies have no reason to halt research because funds are being directed to a penis enlargement pill for rich men, fisheries have no reason not to stock because sushi is more cost-effective, and no privileged class exists which gets to determine that they get the fish before others.

    In short, this example seems to make it comically obvious why capitalism bungles such scenarios. Would socialism handle them perfectly? No. But when we know the current system does a terrible job…

  130. Falco, the general answer to all tricky questions under socialism is “people work it out.”

    Tangential fact: Cuba’s had a lung cancer vaccine for a while that seems to be extremely promising. Who gets it in the capitalist US? Currently, no one. And it’s not because of Cuba.

    If you’re curious, you could start reading about it here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/02/health/lung-cancer-vaccine-cuba/

  131. Will: As far as I can tell, that’s the answer in the current system, too. I’m trying to understand what’s different.

  132. In the current system, rich people work it out. Which means they get the best and we get the rest.

  133. I wish I could share the optimistic perspective of skzb when he talks about the future generations who are not born under capitalism.

    It won’t happen, not because I love capitalism, but because the election of Trump accelerates the speed of climate change, and thus is rapidly ensuring that there won’t be a planet fit for human habitation by the time skzb’s hoped for future generations arrive, provided of course, that Trump doesn’t blow up the planet in a fit of pique in the firstplace.

    Climate change is nothing to do with politics; you can’t negotiate with Physics, the Universe doesn’t care whose fault it is, the Universe doesn’t care full stop.

    And that is an insoluble problem; the belief that Jesus will take care of it is no more irrational than the belief that scientists can fix it, notwithstanding the fact that the scientists working on it tell us we can’t fix it. All we can try and do is slow it down, mitigate the effects, and give at least some people better chances of surviving.

    We are not talking about Utopias here…

  134. Will: I think “rich” is the label for people with high social status under the current system. So the people who make these decisions won’t have high social status under socialism/communism?

  135. Falco:There are various ways in which social decisions of resource allocation can be made. This article from Jacobin presents some examples and discussion. Some of those are examples that are more socialistic and others less so.
    In general, the people who would make the decisions in socialistic systems are the people. In other words, democracy rather than authoritarianism.

    Stevie:All we can do is to keep carrying on and pushing back and hope that Trump doesn’t push us completely over the edge.

  136. Falco, rich has nothing to do with high social status—some of the members of the Fortune 500 don’t even have photos available because they’re not playing the social status game. Sociaists focus on economic status, not social status.

    If you’re asking whether we’ll have direct democracy or representative democracy, I haven’t a clue. There’ll probably be experiments with both. In representative democracy, yes, social status would matter, but no one would be able to take their fortune to a PR firm and buy social status.

  137. Falco: this desperate mindset you’re describing is a characteristic of capitalism, a result of the artifical scarcity it maintains to keep the profit system alive. Just the other day I bought a drug (in the medical sense). It cost me approximately $6. The same drug costs $200 in the US. But believe me, those companies are not losing money on that drug in Europe, either. There wouldn’t be problem with selling it for $6 in the US; there probably wouldn’t even be a problem selling it for $1. Most forms of scarcity, especially when it comes to healthcare, are completely artificial.

    Stevie: I understand feeling pessimistic, but you’re vastly exaggerating the threat climate change poses to us as a species. I’m not saying it’s not a huge problem, it is, but it’s not going to make the planet uninhabitable. It’s just that effectively dealing with it would require the kind of large-scale planning that market-based solutions cannot provide.

  138. Jonas Kyratzes “I understand feeling pessimistic, but you’re vastly exaggerating the threat climate change poses to us as a species. I’m not saying it’s not a huge problem, it is, but it’s not going to make the planet uninhabitable.”

    I think this is currently unknown.

    We are changing the world in ways that have not happened since before mammals evolved. There is no guarantee at all that humans will be able to survive in the new world we are creating. There is no guarantee that rats can survive.

    Probably we will suffer a population crash and lose a lot of technology. That isn’t such a big deal in the long run. If humans can maintain a population of 100,000 people in some biome somewhere, that’s nothing like extinction, it’s just a population surge and decline. It happens to lots of species.

    But there has to be some biome somewhere that we can survive in, and there may not be. We have released into the air around 3 times the total current biomass of the earth. WIth the remaining fossil fuels and release of clathrates etc, that’s likely to total out at somewhere around 6 to 20 times the total current biomass. That’s a different world. Assuming we get past the first couple hundred years where around 6 billion people die and we lose technology, and assuming we get past the first few thousand years where we have extra greenhouse gases in the air changing things around in unknown ways, we will eventually wind up with an environment with a biomass that’s say 3 to 10 times as big as ours. Can we survive when there’s 10 times as much life out there competing with us? I dunno. It will be a different world.

    Hot wet places with billions of mosquitoes.
    People don’t survive a water-saturated atmosphere at 110 degrees, where sweating is useless.
    Places where the ant density gets too high, people can’t survive without special technology.
    Places where the weather is too unpredictable people can’t do agriculture.

    Humans have survived without agriculture before. We have survived with hordes of giant herbivores. We have survived lots of adversity and in lots of different ways. If there’s one biome where we can survive in large numbers, we’ll come out OK, and expand into other biomes as we figure out how.

    If there isn’t one, then we go extinct. Nobody knows how likely that is. It’s way too soon to say that Stevie is exaggerating the threat.

  139. What happens if someone creates a new means of production on their own initiative, or some other long term asset, like the development of a new technology, more efficient methods?

    How can a socialist society reward its members for their effort and/or the value they create, especially WRT creation of valuable infrastructure?

  140. My question is less about socialism and more about American socialist parties:

    There are currently two socialist parties vying for control of my email inbox: the Socialist Equality Party and the International Socialist Organization. I know about the SEP from this blog and the ISO from Jacobin.

    The WSWS has published a few articles that damn the ISO (and Verso books) as “Pabloist” or “a front for the Greens.” But I’ve been to an ISO meeting, and they very clearly want to keep a safe distance from the Democrats and Green Party, in the mode of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

    I’m very conflicted on which party to support; while I understand the that the ISO’s strategy–working within movements started by less-left organizations–is unlikely to spark real socialist change, I can’t see how the SEP’s strategy–working with no one but themselves–is doing anyone much good either!

    I did vote for Jerry White based solely on his platform, but in the time since I’ve grown to be somewhat wary of the WSWS’s acidic tone towards other socialist groups with minute disagreements.

    My question, for Steven or anyone familiar: have I got the wrong idea? Is the SEP actually a terrifically efficient organization welcoming of new ideas? Or is it some shade of grey?

  141. While mine is not a long experience with the SEP, Tim, I share your concerns. I tried to volunteer to help organize the SEP’s presidential campaign, and was told that donating money and sharing the WSWS stories with others were the only way I could do so – they had no interest in events, ground game, or other traditional methods of in-person organizing.

  142. J Thomas

    And I haven’t even commented yet on the threat posed by multi-resistant bacteria. The World Health Organisation has been doing their best to beat it into the skulls of Homo Sapiens, with singularly poor results, but it’s there.

    http://www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/events/UNGA-meeting-amr-sept2016/en/

    The information is easily available to anyone who takes the time to read it, but it seems that most people don’t want to read it. After all, Jesus is turning up soon so why bother with trivialities? Unfortunately this is another reflection of the anti-science movement which is so embedded in US culture: this seriously bad news…

  143. skzb

    Tim: That’s a good question, but I really don’t want to start in on all of my problems with the ISO. The best I can tell you is to do some reading and see what you think. The key point that I look for, is whether an organization has a proletarian orientation–that is, is build on uniting the toilers under a socialist program. So if some group or another is adapting itself to the middle class, that is what is significant to me. Whenever there is a political alliance that crosses class lines, it always benefits the upper class in the alliance at the expense of the lower. So an organization that advocates alliances that cross class lines is dangerous to the workers movement.

  144. skzb

    Peak: Your question seems to imply (correct me if I’m misunderstanding you) that someone wouldn’t create something new and exciting and beneficial to masses of people without the hope of material reward. The history of, well, everything doesn’t bear this out, even under capitalism.

  145. Tim, I love and respect our host here, and I respect the writers at the SEP, but like Doylist, I share your concerns.

    While I understand enough of the history of socialist parties to understand the suspicions of the isolationists, I think they’re mistaken. Marx and Engels were right in the very short Chapter 4 of the Communist Manifesto: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch04.htm

    And so was Eleanor Marx when she said, “has not the Communist Manifesto taught us that it is our duty to support any progressive movement that benefits the workers’ cause, even if this movement is not our own?”

    My current take is to give the Sanders faction a year to see if there’s any hope of reforming the Democrats. If they fail, we then need to do all we possibly can to create a Labor Party, or at the very least, end the two-party system that lets the capitalists play us against each other.

  146. @skzb: Dang, I’d love to hear your problems with the ISO! I have a few gripes myself, but again, I’ve only been to one meeting. It’s proven difficult to dig up thorough assessments of socialist parties on the web. Are there any links you recommend I start researching from, besides the biased landing pages of the parties themselves?

    Also, that middle-class distinction is good to keep in mind, thank you.

    @Will: I really appreciate this perspective. I gave up on the Sanders faction months ago, but your comment has me reconsidering them. I’ve lately been leaning into the argument that no change is worth fighting for besides revolutionary change, but in a country where no such sentiment has captured the public, maybe that’s just a mask of defeatism.

    Calling back to Jonas’s first question, the one thing I’ve yet to see from any socialist party is an ACTUAL PLAN to organize a revolution. Instead the plan is some variation of “spread the word.” You’d think the word would be easier to spread if there were a concise, compelling plan of action behind it. Kind of makes me want to start my own party, when I’m in an ambitious, daydreamy mood, haha.

    Oh, and @doylist, I appreciate your reply, I just can’t think of anything to say in response besides *nod, nod*

  147. Like Franklin, I’m generally of the opinion of hanging together or else we’ll end up hanging separately.
    Since the presumed next administration is heading full bore to the far side of the right, this seems particularly important.

  148. Tim Bumpus:You won’t find anyone trying to organize a revolution because nobody is doing that.
    You also won’t find anybody trying to organize a hurricane. Hurricane’s happen when the right conditions occur. What you will find is people discussing hurricane preparedness. Hurricane’s happen and it is good to know what to do when they do occur.

  149. skzb

    Will: Yeah, but you see, when Eleanor Marx said that, she wasn’t thinking progressive in the sense of, “thinks kind of like us,” but in the sense of, “is fighting in the interests of the working class.” So, yes, we supported the anti-war movement (although critical of some of the methods), and the civil rights movement (same caveat) but have no interest in supporting groups that make “leftist” sounds while attempting to lead us into the dead end of identity politics and “pressuring” the Democratic Party to help make capitalism nicer. We start by drawing lines around class interests, not ideologies.

    Yes, I know your next question: “Isn’t a $15 minimum wage and full health care in the interests of the working class?” Yes. Absolutely. Now, let’s ask the next question: Under what circumstances is the FIGHT for those things in the interests of the working class? The answer is, when it is based on their own, independent strength, as in the 30s and 40s, that gained us social security, unemployment insurance, medicaire, medicaid, and welfare. It is not in the interests of the working class to count on this or that politician to do it for them. When the working class is convinced that the only power they have is choosing who to vote for, rather than by launching a struggle based on the actual power they have as the producers of all the wealth, we end up with a demoralized working class and Donald Trump as president.

    Tim: Well, briefly, their basic foundation is middle class. To me, the key element is their support of identity politics, which by definition cuts across class lines, and therefore subordinates the struggle of the working class to the interests of the upper middle class. Also, seriously, how can so-called “Leftists” support increased US military action in the middle-east? This just croggles me.

    Steve: Nice analogy there, I like it. It would be even better if we thought that, with proper hurricane preparation, the hurricane could make things better.

  150. Steve, I completely agree with your quibble about Eleanor Marx’s meaning. I did not mean to imply otherwise.

    But as for your second paragraph, the circumstances for the fight for a much higher minimum wage and universal health care are always in the interest of the working class. And while I agree that Hillary Clinton demoralized the working class BECAUSE SHE DID NOT OFFER THE THINGS THAT SANDERS DID 🙂 her token offers in that direction still let her win the popular vote. Blame the Electoral College and the DNC for Trump, not Sanders’ fight for $15, universal health care, and free public higher education.

  151. You’ve reminded me that I should write something about the way identity politics moved from the black bourgeoisie at Harvard into some socialist groups. The quick version: young socialists accepted it out of the deadly combination of good intentions and ignorance.

  152. skzb

    Meh. I didn’t mean to blame Sanders for Trump’s victory. It was a result of many things, all of them reactionary, but the one I meant to be pointing to in this case was a climate in which the role of working class is seen only in terms of their demographic, that is, who they vote for. When the working class flexes its muscle, things happen, as in the example I gave above; when the working class is demoralized and doesn’t see itself as a united force, we get things like Trump’s victory. So, in brief, the Sanders campaign didn’t cause the election of Trump, but neither was it any sort of solution to the problems of the working class.

  153. Agreed that it wouldn’t have been a solution; it would’ve only been an amelioration. I think Sanders would agree with that. But it would’ve been an amelioration that would’ve greatly helped the working class.

    Ah, well. It’s moot now. I continue to think the top people in the DNC preferred the risk of losing to Trump to the safer bet of letting a Jewish Democratic Socialist win.

  154. From Mr Trombley’s Hyporion blog: All My Possessions For A Moment Of Time. A post involving both E.P Thompson and Eric Hobshawm.

    Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about a pencil. I am holding it in my hand right now. To make this pencil, trees had to be cut down, pulped and reglued to be soft enough to easily sharpen. Somebody when cutting down these trees cut themselves and bled on the wood. Their blood is in my hands. Aluminum ore had to be dug out of the ground, processed at great difficulty, pressed and painted. These miners are worked to the bone in non-union mines. Their sweat is in my hands. Paint had to be synthesized. Precursors to the chemicals making this unnaturally red paint had to be synthesized. Everything that happens in every one of those chemical factories is part of this pencil. Open pit graphite mines are giving miners lung cancer. Those deaths are on my hands, are they not? Forget the labor theory of value, it’s a will-o’-the-wisp. Isn’t the fact that those deaths and all that pain happened because I wanted a damn pencil just the plain meaning of imputation?

    Well worth reading.

  155. re: the innovation factor: Jonas Salk is an excellent example of someone who refused to profit from the development of a new thing. I don’t see why that couldn’t become the standard instead of the exception.

    In my opinion, the best thing about doing something like that is that it defeats our tendency to create heroes of people who do great things. While they may be very well worthy of that respect; it should never become worship. That leads to that person’s opinion carrying more weight than might otherwise be reasonable; and that detracts from that person’s ability to contribute further.

    Furthermore, at a more basic levels, heroes are incompatible with the idea of a collective; heroes are individualistic constructs. CEOs are the same way–there’s an implicit assumption that a CEO is better than your average Joe; and the only reason that is so is because they have resources in a resource-centric society.

    But the reality is that no great achiever achieves in a vacuum, except for astronauts. The hero didn’t figure out how to conquer from some kind of Eureka moment. The CEO didn’t create the success of the company. So why then are we ignoring the trainers who trained the hero, and the workers who actually PRODUCED the goods/services that improved the company’s bottom line? We don’t read stories about how a sherpa climbed to the top of Mount Everest (or enabled a climber to do so), so…why do we deify CEOs?

  156. Two questions, one real, one fictional:

    Do you think Universal Basic Income is a step in the right direction, or just a band-aid solution to keep capitalism alive and the working class from revolting?

    And would it be possible to implement permanent socialism in Dragaera without breaking the Cycle?

  157. skzb

    Universal Basic Income could be an important step, if it was fought for by the working class itself, not as a campaign promise. In my opinion, capitalism isn’t in a position to be able to give a concession like that (although I’d love to be wrong), but the fight for it could be significant. The need for it is pretty obvious.

    And, no.

  158. The answer to that question, NOAT, is that it depends.

    At its core, the UBI seeks to address some of the problems created by the wealth distribution inequality in our society. Too many people hover around the poverty mark for our society to be truly productive. For others, getting to the poverty line is actually a goal for them.

    The current society is a spinning top that, like, all spinning tops before it, has produced a wobble that is increasingly pronounced. As more and more wealth is siphoned away from the main population into the off-shore bank accounts of the 1%, the wobble increases.

    The reason this inequality exists, beyond simple greed, is that people who have no disposeable income have reduced ability to press for change where change is needed. You can’t attend a protest if you have to work so that your kids can eat. You can’t sit and think about revolution if you’re so exhausted from working the 12 different jobs you need in order to make ends meet.

    The current state of affairs–the inability of our society to be truly productive–isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

    But the population doesn’t want the top to stop spinning any more than the 1% does, so they introduce a new concept — Universal Basic Income– in an attempt to reduce the wobble through appropriate channels, and within the rules of the society they’re attempting to preserve.

    The problem with the UBI is two-fold:

    1) if UBI isn’t paid for almost entirely by the 1%, then the program is essentially taking money from your pocket so that you can put money in your pocket.

    2) the UBI is an attempt to play within the rules. The people who are causing the problem observe no such set of rules.

    There’s simply no way to implement 1) that won’t be labelled as class warfare by the 1% and the lickspittle idiots who foolishly believe that they can somehow join the 1%. What bugs me the most about this is that, to the 1%, they ARE engaged in war. “Business is War” is a common mantra. Those who are the most unscrupulous are statistically more likely to be the ones who perform the best. Businesses fight other businesses, but caught in the cross-fire are the civilians, the rest of the population, the 99%, upon whose shoulders the costs and sacrifices of any war are levied.

    And this “war” has been on-going for decades if not centuries. There is no exit strategy. There is nowhere that is off-limits. There are no safe places anymore, thanks to the tendency of Capitalism to reward ruthlessness. Regardless of whether we want to be or not, the common person has been dragged into this insane pursuit of profit at any (and every) cost. We are conscripts in a war where all the spoils go to other people, and all the bloodshed is our legacy. In a very real way, this war can be characterized as corporation vs individual. In that characterization, however, only one side is shooting, because only 1 side has any guns.

    Any war where only 1 side is shooting is called “oppression” and “tyranny” and other words besides.

    As I type these words, I think of Syria, where the war is more than just a metaphor. It is literally a shooting war with those who are enfranchised on one side and those who are being oppressed on the other. If you think Syria can’t happen here, you’re fooling yourself.

    In the current climate, I can’t help but feel that the UBI will almost certainly fail as an EFFECTIVE social program because the 1% will never agree to do what needs to be done to restore even a semblance of balance to the spinning top–even though it’s what is required to MAINTAIN the status quo, not end it. And in failing, UBI will become just that much more ammunition for the viewpoint that government (and the regulations it attempts to enforce to reduce/stop the wobble) needs to be scaled back because it’s just that much waste of money and time.

    Pretty neat little setup if you managed to roll a 100, don’t you think?

  159. skzb

    Good answer, Jon. Better than I could have given.

  160. Jon, yes, good answer. If we stick in the framework of Capitalism, then UBI seems like a potentially attractive but ultimately non-working patch.
    In a fully Socialist system, UBI is rather moot.

  161. I push Basic Income because:

    1. It’s not socialist, so not-socialists also work for it.

    2. The very concept points out the problem with capitalism.

    3. If the fight for UBI fails, it will still advance the discourse about economic injustice.

    4. If UBI succeeds, people will be in a better position to keep working on making a better world.

  162. Stevie: I don’t mean to downplay the threat posed by climate change, but your scenarios are exceedingly apocalyptic. The planetary climate does fluctuate, at times wildly, and we are far more capable of using our technology to deal with that than we have ever been in the past, even if this time it’s our “fault”. Yes, there will be an increasing number of problems, but that doesn’t translate to the immediate collapse of agriculture or, for that matter, human civilization. Even in capitalism. (I will recommend, as I do frequently, the book Austerity Ecology by climate researcher Leigh Phillips.)

    Antibiotics-resistant bacteria are quite terrifying, I have to say. Not impossible to overcome, but between capitalism’s sluggishness when it comes to research and the various technophobias of the modern “Left”, it’s a worrying situation.

  163. Jonas writes: “The planetary climate does fluctuate, at times wildly, and we are far more capable of using our technology to deal with that than we have ever been in the past, even if this time it’s our “fault”.

    The current climate likely hasn’t been seen on earth since before humans developed agriculture; i.e., civilization. Changes that we see now over the course of a few decades took centuries or millennia to manifest before the steady increase in anthropogenic forcing over the past 100 years. Past fluctuations took place on geologic timescales – not human lifetimes.

    Most plants and animals evolved to live in niche ecosystems. You can’t transplant giraffes from the Serengeti to the mountains of Colorado and expect them to thrive. And unlike humans, plants and animals don’t have the ability to simply decide to pack up and move to a better place. The next time you see a tree by the side of the highway hitchhiking seeking a more equable climate post a pic.

    Those who believe there are technological solutions to global warming are dreamers. They’ve read too many science fiction stories. It’s like interstellar travel and FTL drives; it’s fiction.

    There’s a canary in the global climate coalmine — the arctic. Spend some time reading up on the changes that have occurred in the arctic just over the past decade, and the consequences based on paleologic evidence, and you might begin to realize just how deep a hole we’ve dug for ourselves. Strike that – not for ‘ourselves’ – but for our children, grandchildren, and all future generations.

  164. This isn’t really a thread on climage change, but as I consider this particular issue to be the most pressing of all issues humanity is facing, I can’t avoid commenting on what oneillsinwisconsin said.

    I agree almost entirely with the entire post except this:

    “Those who believe there are technological solutions to global warming are dreamers.”

    I disagree. Now, I do not know if humanity has the political will to do what needs doing in the timeframes necessary. But I fully believe science could develop a multitude of methods to re-sequester the carbon. Imagine, for instance, a solar-powered desalinization plant and pumping system that pumped fresh water to the edges of the Sahara (which is growing). Use the fresh water to push the desert back dramatically, growing (for instance) GMO bamboo forests. According to one source, we’re dumping 12,000 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually. According to another source, a single redwood tree stores about a ton of carbon, so granted — it would take a LOT of plants to make up for what we’re currently dumping.

    But at the same time, we *can* stop burning fossil fuels. Hell, that’s a given, as we’re past Hubbert’s Peak. Tar sands can drag out the inevitable, but we’ll run out of it eventually, and in the meantime, other sources will overtake fossil fuels from an economical standpoint.

    This is a problem we COULD solve, and we could be on the path to a solution within a relatively short period, if we had the political will to do it. Stop burning fossil fuels, and then find ways to begin sequestering the carbon again.

    I don’t think we’ll do it until the sort of economic collapse others have mentioned, but we could, and it’s not even a technologically difficult problem to solve. It just takes will.

    That we don’t have.

  165. Jonas — consider this: if we assume that global average temperatures (GAT) and sea levels (SL) in 1750 are normal (pre-industrial) we can look at the geologic past and make some calculations by looking at the changes or delta (d).

    1750 dGAT = 0C, dSL= 0 meters
    Eemian dGAT = +1C, dSL =+ 7 meters
    Mid-Late Pliocene dGAT= +2.5 C, dSL = +25 meters
    Early Pliocene dGAT = +4C, dSL = +40 meters
    Mid-Miocene dGAT = +5C, dSL= +50 meters

    Compare delta temperature (dT) vs delta SL Height (dH) and the linear regression is dH = -1.26176 + 10.2647 * dT, with an R^2 = 0.9967. The expected value for dH with a dT = 1.0 C is then 9.0 (+- 1.4) meters.

    We are already more than 1C above 1750 GAT. We’re *hoping* we can keep it to no more than 2C. It’s more likely we’re looking at 3C by the end of the century. We are locking in dozens of feet of sea level rise. How fast or slow this will happen is a matter of scientific debate. It’s not going to happen in your lifetime, the majority of it won’t happen in our children’s lifetime — but unless the laws of physics have changed you simply can’t avoid it.

  166. “Changes that we see now over the course of a few decades took centuries or millennia to manifest before the steady increase in anthropogenic forcing over the past 100 years. Past fluctuations took place on geologic timescales – not human lifetimes.”

    That’s only partially true. Yes, the changes that are happening due to human activity are much faster than anything that’s come before, but we do have climate fluctuations like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period that do have a measurable impact on human life. The world does not exist in some perfect quasi-mystical “Balance” the upsetting of which would wipe us all out. Things change, sometimes for the worse, and we make do.

    And yes, I’m fully aware the global climate change will have vast effects on humanity, as I am of the science regarding what’s happening right now. But that doesn’t mean jumping to apocalyptic scenarios of civilizational collapse that simply aren’t warranted. Nor does it mean giving in to technophobia and misanthropy. Following the work of actual climate scientists shows a great deal of hope, including many promising new technologies in addition to those we already have, but aren’t using properly (such as nuclear power). The idea that there are technological solutions isn’t a dream, it’s the reality described by the very same people whose data described climate change in the first place. You can’t base your view of climate change on science, but then throw science out the window when it comes to a solution.

    The climate change problem is very serious, but it’s eminently survivable. Under socialism, or at least with some pretty serious state planning involving, it’s even stoppable, if sadly not (currently) reversible.

  167. Seriously, guys, this book: http://www.zero-books.net/books/austerity-ecology-collapse-porn-addicts

    It’s expensive, but it’s the best-argued, most calm and rational and pro-human book I’ve read on climate change in ages, and the author is someone who really knows his shit. Can’t recommend it enough. And it strongly relates to the overall discussion of socialism, too.

  168. Jonas – science doesn’t have capitalist molecules and communist molecules. Snow and ice don’t have a political agenda – they just melt. China’s CO2 emissions are nothing to write home about. I.e., central planning isn’t any panacea.

    Yes, I’ve maintained that it would take a concerted world war-type effort to combat climate change. That point I would agree with. But that is *not* a reason for optimism. Quite the reverse; such an effort is not coalescing and is not likely to happen anytime in the near future. Putting the djinn back in the bottle is very, very difficult.

    Leigh Phillips book strikes me as little more than “If I Were King of the World.” It’s irrelevant. He’s not. I’m not. You’re not. Too many socialists(like libertarians) live in a fantasy world of theory and forget that we aren’t living in a fantasy novel. Theory is great when it describes the real world – not when it merely describes some fantasy world.

  169. The book is many things, but “If I Were King Of The World” is not one of them. What it is (in part) is a climate researcher showing – using fairly accessible math and easy-to-understand historical examples – that technological solutions do exist, but are hampered precisely by the market logic of capitalism, as well as by Green/left-wing technophobia and fetishization of minor symbolic actions (recycling, organic foods, etc.).

    The book actually does a fairly extraordinary job of demonstrating just *how* extremely huge the challenge of overcoming climate change is – for example, by comparing the needed amount of decarbonization compared to previous efforts – but in doing so also demonstrates the human capacity to achieve this goal.

    That’s the real world. There is a problem. There are solutions. The way our economy is structured makes applying those solutions extremely difficult. That’s also the central argument of socialism: not “we would like the world to be the way we imagine it,” but “capitalism cannot overcome its crises and the only way forward is socialism.” It’s not about ideology, but about what works. The current system no longer works. We’re asserting not what we wish were true in our fantasies, but what we believe is the only objective assessment of how economies evolve.

    I’ve never claimed this is a cause for optimism; it’s just how things are, and now we have to deal with it. Despair won’t help, and neither will turning this challenge into an apocalyptic fantasy about the end of humanity. It’s another big problem in a series of big problems that we have to figure out what to do about.

  170. Jonas “…is a climate researcher…”

    No, Leigh Phillips is a science writer;a journalist. He is not a climate researcher. We typically reserve that moniker for actual working scientists that study, gather data, and publish peer-reviewed scientific papers.

  171. skzb

    Just for the record, I agree with Jonas about climate change, mostly because I have seen such amazing things out of human beings working together that I’m not prepared to give up. However, I do not agree it is the most immediate threat: I think an extinction level event, if it happens, will be caused by nuclear war before climate change can get to it. On many levels, the US election came down to defeating someone who was determined to provoke Russia and electing someone determined to provoke China. Neither is better for us. If we do not stop the drive to war, the consequences could easily be catastrophic. The fight against war is the fight against capitalism.

  172. Hillary, Vickie Nuland, and the other Neocons probably just want to rattle Russia’s cage enough to drive arm sale profits and get Putin to back off from helping Israel’s regional rivals in Damascus and Tehran, since nuclear winter is not too good for the bottom line. Unfortunately, these things can take on a life of their own. I think this recent “CIA blaming the Russians for the election” nonsense is part diversion and part fit-throwing that a mildly pro-Russian candidate is about to take office, potentially thwarting those plans, at least temporarily.

  173. Kragar writes: “I think this recent “CIA blaming the Russians for the election” nonsense …”

    In early October the Administration made public a consensus judgment of the entire US intelligence community about Russian tampering in the election. How this qualifies as ‘recent’ is rather odd. How this is ‘nonsense’ is contrary to our intelligence community’s assessments.

    It’s also rather odd that the authoritarian-kleptocratic-crony-capitalism of Putin’s Russia is the darling of so many people today. Republicans especially have a new found love for Putin. Is that the government we want to have? Is that a partner we should be avidly seeking?

    Meanwhile, for those on the left, the Chinese pragmatism of a socialist market economy seems to be a subject on which there is mainly silence — despite their role as the only Communist Party in the world with any real power. The remarkable decline in world poverty in the 2000s – with those in extreme poverty cut in half — is mainly a story of Chinese economic growth.

    Fortunately for the people of China it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice.

  174. Oneillsinwisconcin

    I am bewildered by the fact that many people on the left in the USA either insult or ignore the only country, China, which still adheres to at least some of its communist principles, whilst praising Russia’s status as a country, notwithstanding the fact that it’s run by a combination of fascistand oligarchs.

    I posted this a couple of days ago on Facebook, since I do have some specialist knowledge when it comes to nuclear weapons::

    ‘China has predictably responded to the Donald’s Taiwan chat by flying a nuclear capable bomber along a symbolic route. I’m equally predictably concerned, though possibly not for most people’s reasons.

    In a galaxy far, far away, the RAF regularly flew missions with armed nuclear missiles; as we all know, nobody ever fired them. What we don’t all know is that armed nuclear missiles sometimes objected to being disarmed and removed from the bomb bays, and when that happened someone had to persuade them.

    The principal someone was my father, whose ability can be measured by the absence of radioactive slag heaps which used to be Air Force Stations; what worries me is whether the Chinese have someone as good as him. Because if they don’t the Chinese Government would never lose face by admitting it; they would claim enemy action and the consequences of that are entirely predictable as well…’

    That is reality. Trump has already declared trade war on China, which leaves him no alternatives to real war. Presumably at some point in the future it may finally dawn on people that it’s a good idea to check up on the evidence, but that doesn’t seem likely in the near future. I wish it did.

  175. Stevie writes: “…armed nuclear missiles sometimes objected to being disarmed and removed from the bomb bays, and when that happened someone had to persuade them.”

    Then you must be a fan of Dark Star — one of the funniest sci-fi movies ever made.

  176. skzb

    Kragar: I don’t think anyone is in favor of nuclear winter. I think powerful elements of the ruling elite are heading that way regardless. The more rotten the system, the more narrow the options of those desperate to preserve it.

  177. oneillsinwisconsin:

    That’s correct, he’s a journalist who *works for a climate research institute*, not actually a climate researcher, and that got conflated in my posts (during editing for clarity of all things, and then I kept repeating it), which ends up sounding like an appeal to authority. Apologies!

    Nevertheless, he’s someone I consider to be particularly up-to-speed on recent developments, with a great grasp of the science involved, and he’s really worth reading. I really wish there were more people like that. Please point them out to me if you know any, because the clickbait catastrophism we’re inundated with constantly is both useless and depressing.

    I don’t mean to harp on too much about an individual or individual book, anyway, it’s just convenient because that book focuses so specifically on the topic and contains so many excellent arguments that I can’t all repeat here. Climate change is a very big deal, I think, but the way it gets treated in the media is completely hysterical, from denial to catastrophism.

    As for China, well, they’re not a socialist nation. If anything, the recent developments there show the benefits of capitalism (state capitalism, in this case) in the early phases of an area’s industrialization. After all, as socialists, we are very much pro-industry, and consider capitalism to be an important step in humanity’s development. However, as I said, China is not a socialist country, and it is going to face the same problems – or similar problems – as other capitalist nations. In fact, if I remember, growth is already slowing considerably.

  178. Sorry, my comment about China is freaking useless. There’s way more needed to put it all into the correct context regarding growth, industry, and socialism.

    See, I should only communicate in lengthy essays…

  179. I didn’t realize the color of mice was in the news (at least on the alt-right). President Obama has apparently been channeling his inner Deng.

    “I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory–you should just decide what works.”

    The Washington Times, Michelle Malkin, The Daily Caller and all the usual suspects are up in arms. Of course the GOP no longer cares what works. Better a socialist train that runs late than a capitalist train that runs on time. Not sure Trotsky would agree.

  180. oneillsinwisconsin–

    If you think the CIA is a credible source, you haven’t been paying attention. Wikileaks, on the other hand, has never had someone successfully challenge one of their published documents in their history, over a decade. But you won’t get that perspective from CNN and the Washington Post. To help in understanding these issues, you should probably immediately stop getting your news from such respected corporate mainstream media sources.

    I agree with szkb that nuclear war is a far greater threat as compared to global warning, but its mostly because the U.S. foreign policy elites are drifting further and further from reality as they hysterically try to keep their grip on power in the face of widespread public rejection and condemnation.

    Back to “stupid” questions about socialism. I was gassing up the other day (I know) and I wondered how a socialist system would handle the transition from the current one.

  181. Kragar – it wasn’t just the CIA – it was the entire US intelligence community. Wikileaks *reveals* information that is provided to them– it does not obtain the information directly. The question has never been is the information truthful, it’s who provided the information. Your ‘knowledge’ is not very reliable.

  182. I still haven’t seen an explanation of the new-found love for Putin’s Russia. Even though I disagree with the premise, even within its own context a choice between Russia and China should be China. Putin’s Russia is not significantly different from Pinochet’s Chile.

    China has the only Communist Party with any real power left in the world and it has eliminated the worst of the extreme poverty within its borders and has succeeded.

    Nor have I seen an answer to Trump being a loose cannon. Israel, Syria, China … who’s next? The chances of war *increase* when you have an insular nutjob in charge – regardless what prospective disagreement might come up. The idea that a President Trump decreases the chances of war is wholly without evidence.

  183. skzb

    Kragar: “I was gassing up the other day (I know) and I wondered how a socialist system would handle the transition from the current one.” I don’t really know, but if I had to guess, the way humanity has always managed post-revolutionary transitions: clumsily, with trial-and-error, accidentally making some problems worse while fixing others, and eventually getting there, propelled by a general enthusiasm and optimism that seems overcome a surprising number of difficulties by sheer elan. For an argument that I’m being too pessimistic, a post-Soviet historian wrote a book about the economic and governmental decisions from 1917-1922 that indicated an expected number of things done right. I’m going to see if I can find the book and link it.

  184. oneillsinwisconsin–

    If you acknowledge that the Podesta and the DNC emails are true, and they are, what does it matter where they came from? But Wikileaks folks said they came from a disgruntled insider at the DNC. Anyway I am tired of arguing with you. Go read some Robert Parry, Ray McGovern, and Chris Hedges to cleanse your palette. Everything reported in mainstream sources on Russia since the Western sponsored Neo-Nazi Ukraine coup has been pretty much the opposite of what is really going on. That entire US intelligence community has reached a consensus, which it hasn’t, is a very unimpressive fact to me. See Iraq 2002, Libya 2011, Syria now…

    szkb–

    I would hope that the workers state would attack the problem of mass transit by building a stuff ton of mass transit, while scaling back on personal cars and gasoline consumption. Petrol at $15 a galllon as a prohibitive figure to greatly discourage its use?

  185. oneillsinwisconsin:

    What love for Russia? Maybe I’ve misunderstood something further up. Do you mean on Trump’s part, or are you suggesting that socialists in this thread are pro-Russia?

    In the case of Trump, I don’t have much to say. One bit of an elite gets along with another, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. These alliances will shift largely determined by non-personal factors.

    As for socialists, the notion that any of us are pro-Russia is totally erroneous. We are merely opposed to the demonization of Russia in a nationalist sense by American and European liberals, leading to the threat of a world war. Russia is a capitalist oligarchy and we have no sympathy for its ruling class. That doesn’t mean we’re willing to accept any and all propaganda cooked up to distract people from other issues.

    Regarding Trump: Clinton has a long track record of supporting and even organizing imperialist actions. It is likely these would continue. Trump *claims* to be an isolationist and has a somewhat less aggressive stance towards Russia. That could lead to the argument that Trump is slightly less likely to cause a world war. However, wars are not caused by individuals, they are caused by larger-scale economic and political factors, and there’s a fairly good chance that both Trump and Clinton would act in similar ways, with only superficial differences, much like Obama continued Bush’s policies, just with better PR.

    As for China, as I mentioned briefly above, China is not a socialist state in any sense. It is run by a wealthy bureaucracy that has created a certain brand of state capitalism. Its success at eliminating extreme poverty (which I entirely grant you) is not a success of socialism, but of capitalism.

  186. skzb

    Kragar: Yeah, me too.

    Jonas: Agree, except I think even the “state capitalism” in China is gone by now. Unless I’m misinformed, there is full private ownership of most productive facilities.

  187. I meant to say the problem of getting everyone from one place to another could be solved by tons of trains and subways and els and the like. San Francisco used to have an efficient and cheap trolley system but it was bought up and deliberately destroyed by capitalists because they wanted everyone to purchase their own expensive personal vehicle and fill it with gas every few days.

    I like Jonas’s response regarding Russia. It is what I was thinking but I didn’t have a way to say it as artfully.

  188. Kragar — I was reading Robert Parry since before there was an internet.

    Perhaps *you* ought to widen your circle. Perhaps with some Antony Beevor – not his history books – just his recent posts on their being banned in Russia. By Banning my book, Russia is deluding itself about its past

    Re: the CIA: That the Bush Administration dropped crucial qualifiers and misrepresented the intelligence has been known for over a decade. Hell, it was known *before* we went to war. I wrote about it extensively at the time just based on public information and basic common-sense.

    The full 2002 CIA report is available online and has been for some time.

    From Truthout way back in May 2003:

    ” According to the report, the draft contained such questionable material that Powell lost his temper, throwing several pages in the air and declaring, “I’m not reading this. This is bullshit.”
    Cheney’s aides wanted Powell to include in his presentation information that Iraq has purchased computer software that would allow it to plan an attack on the United States, an allegation that was not supported by the CIA, US News reported.
    The White House also pressed Powell to include charges that the suspected leader of the September 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer prior to the attacks, despite a refusal by US and European intelligence agencies to confirm the meeting, the magazine said.
    The pressure forced Powell to appoint his own review team that met several times with Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to prepare the speech, in which the secretary of state accused Iraq of hiding tonnes of biological and chemical weapons.
    US News also said that the Defense Intelligence Agency had issued a classified assessment of Iraq’s chemical weapons program last September, arguing that “there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.”
    However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress shortly after that that the Iraqi “regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, cyclosarin, and mustard gas,” according to the report.”

    Blaming the intelligence community for the sins of the Bush Administration in twisting that intelligence has long been a right-wing tactic. I see its alive and well on the left as well.

  189. The CIA may be like the New York Times: the job is to give accurate information to the rich in a form that the rich may spin as they please.

  190. Climate change provides a good example of the failure modes of capitalism. It is in the capitalists best interest to disguise the true costs of their enterprise. This allows them to extract value not just from their immediate employees, but from the rest of society.
    The costs of coal or oil in disrupting the climate and in individual health costs are eaten by the rest of society and the capitalist happily walks off with the increased profits.

  191. I have a question. There has been a lot of discussion about the merits of Socialism; the problems with capitalism and theories about how Socialism can/would work. So then, How do we get there from here? How can we as individuals begin the process to develop into a more socialist state? What are the steps and in what order should they be accomplished?

  192. oneillsinwisconsin–

    I said I was tired of arguing with you and I meant it. You are uninterested in a productive dialogue, so there won’t be one with me.

    calisto01–

    I think szkb would say you can’t follow steps and make socialism happen. It happens on its own when the working class realizes its irresistable power, and rises up and throws out capitalism. The task of the socialist organizer is to teach, to shape, and to guide the mass movement, and argue against and point out those who would keep the working masses divided against themselves. The dividers are very, very good, but cracks are forming in their power. The mainstream media, owned and controlled by corporatist interests, surely wanted Clinton to be elected and tried to force her down our throats. The fact that they failed is a sign that their power is waning.

  193. skzb

    calisto01: I would say that anyone interested should start hitting the books–reading the classics on Marxist theory–and, if serious, think about joining the Socialist Equality Party.

  194. calisto01: That’s something I think about a great deal. Personally I think that beyond theory, which does matter, it’s incredibly important to get organized. That is, to find ways of participating in labour struggles, even if they are imperfect. When no structures and connections exist in the working class, the world tends to respond to crises with fascism. The best way to do this would be in the context of a proper socialist party/movement, but that’s where my frustrations with the SEP’s hands-off policies come in.

  195. China is an interesting question. As Jonas indicates, they are not currently a socialist economy. It still seems to be, however, an open question as to whether their current course is a permanent detour into a form of state/private capitalism or if they are merely using capitalism as the useful tool to evolve towards a more socialist state. Not being privy to the inner workings of the Chinese state, I can’t answer that, of course.
    This article provides some useful history and more depth to that question.

    Russia is, of course, a completely devolved oligarchy. Its sole export (for all intents and purposes) is gas and oil. It is easy to see how the Petro/banking alliance apparent in the Trump cabinet aligns well with that sort of state.

  196. Kragar – You made a claim. I gave you facts — as opposed to your conspiracy theory. The actual CIA report is online and available. I also gave you a contemporaneous rundown of the facts from truthout.org – a liberal/progressive website that has run dozens of columns by Robert Parry over the years. That truthout article also contradicts your claim.

    What ‘dialogue’ is supposed to exist when one-side insists on opinion and the other on facts? None. I’ve dealt many times in many places with similar whines. Brad Delong often talks of ‘marking beliefs to market’ — i.e., examine your own beliefs critically. Your self-righteousness fails to impress.

    In the old Dueling Modems topic on the SFRT during the 1st Gulf War I only remember me and skzb being against the invasion. I’m sure there were others, but we were the only stalwarts willing to enter the fray every day to combat the unthinking pseudo-patriotism and constant government propaganda.

    I’ve also had wire-taps on my phone (both court-ordered and illegal), so the notion that I have some mistaken ‘faith’ in government or uncritically examine the ‘evidence’ by put forward by the government is laughable on its face and really quite insane.

  197. skzb

    That brought back some memories.

  198. Allow me to clarify my question. When I asked “How do we get there from here?” what I meant was “How do we get there from here successfully?” as in making changes last long enough to benefit a generation or beyond. The experiment has only happened a few times and was very short lived. How do we implement and IMPROVE on it?

  199. Steve, a while ago on Facebook I referenced my memory of the SEP opposing unionization, including among their own workers. At the time I had no citation. What I have now is this: http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no30/no30-GRPI-WSWS.html

    The rest of my concern comes from a conversation I had with a rep for the SEP presidential campaign, but as that could much more easily be written off (by me, even) as a single aberrant encounter, I’m more interested to hear your take on this.

  200. skzb

    My answer is proletarian revolution. The reasons it hasn’t worked the other time it was tried are important to understand, because understanding them makes it clear that this is not a danger under the present circumstances. I have a series of blog posts on the subject.

  201. skzb

    doylist: This sounds a lot like the rubbish the Sparcist League—the tabloid journalists of the Left—love to bring up, all without any political foundation. The name of the individual listed as “owner” of a working class press doesn’t seem terribly important to me. I can tell you, however, that my brother, Leo, worked for that press until his death, and if there were any anti-union policies I’d certainly have heard about them.

    The issue of the relationship between the trade union movement and the vanguard party is difficult and complex and I’d be lying if I said I had a complete handle on it. Can there be a fight to replace the corrupt leaders of the unions, or must the entire unions be replaced by new organizations built to defend workers rights? I don’t know. But I know that there is no other party that has maintained a principled position on the issue of building a mas working class party, with a working class program, to oppose to capitalism.

  202. SKZB: could you insert a link to the blog posts you mention. I am having some trouble finding them. Could be my mouse is a closet commie or my keyboard was built by a imperial capitalist or maybe (what are the odds) I’m just dumb.

    Thank you.

    P.S. Anyone else notice this is one of the longest threads on the site? There is a lot of good discussion happening here.

  203. What is the significant difference between Marxism and the religious belief in The Second Coming?

    The parallels I’m looking at here are the imminence of the events to contemporaries at the time of the beliefs founding and the rationalizations that both undertake to explain the failure to materialize. It is also worth noting that new information is not incorporated into a revised belief.

    The latter point is especially relevant to Marx and communism. It is akin to saying that everything we could know about economics was known 150 years ago. Nothing in the intervening years should or can change our views. Economics becomes, not a science, but merely a belief system. In no branch of science (math, physics, chemistry, etc) would we say that all knowledge was known 150 years ago.

    Newton devised the calculus, but he also believed in alchemy. Galileo made great scientific contributions, but his theory of tides was all wrong. Einstein famously disagreed with the implications of his own theories — incorrectly. In science we acknowledge the contributions of the past while constantly revising and correcting those hypotheses and theories based on new information.

    Religion and Marxism seem immune to this process.

  204. oneillsinwisconsin, in your faith, capitalism was revealed by Adam Smith, and so it shall be, now and forevermore?

    No, Marxists do not think it’s still 1848.

  205. oneillsinwisconsin, it occurs to me that you may not have been intending offense, and perhaps you have run into Marxists who think everything in the Communist Manifesto is gospel. I have seen astonishingly ignorant people online who claim to be Marxists. They are not representative of the Marxists I know, like, and admire.

    Marxists are Marxists because of the fundamental principles Marx offered. They stay relevant. He himself expected the process to be different from place to place as people experimented with what worked best.

  206. Will, as I’ve mentioned before, I spend most of my time arguing economics with libertarians; they have a similar fixation on Hayek. At the same time they completely misread Adam Smith. Smith recognized that economics has to be grounded in morality and work towards the benefit of all. He also pre-dated Marx’s Labor Theory of Value by arguing that increases in national wealth depended on labour rather than a nation’s quantity of gold or silver, [capital] which is the basis for mercantilism, the prevailing economic belief. “The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes …”

    Adam Smith was not a libertarian or capitalist ideologue. For instance, “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” He also recognized the asymmetry of bargaining power: “A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, a merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.”

    With these sentiments is it surprising to find Smith also writing: “When the regulation, therefore, is in support of the workman, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.”

    I wish we had *more* of Adam Smith’s ideas incorporated into our culture, just as I wish we had more of Christ’s teachings in our culture. So I stand guilty of believing Smith revealed the strengths (and weaknesses) of capitalism, but I’m not even sure I’d categorize him as a capitalist. His work does not support that label.

    SKZB — Turning on the BLOCKQUOTE html tags for comments would make many comments more readable.

  207. Oh – and I forgot this Smith quote: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”

    Smith was born in 1723. Marx in 1818. Hayek in 1899. The question really shouldn’t be what they thought – their works if studied *completely* should lead to general agreement on *that* subject. More interesting, and more important to my mind, is what would they think *today* with all that has transpired in the intervening years?

  208. I agree that right-libertarians badly misread Smith. He’s on my list of people who offer a sweet model of capitalism based on morality that ignores what Marx saw: capitalism has nothing to do with morality. Nor does it have to do with greed in the religious sense. It has to do with accumulation: The goal of capital is more capital. Whether that’s immoral or amoral, I leave to the reader, but its effects are horrible if you have any concern at all for working people. Or if you’re rich and want to be selfish, its effects are horrible on capitalists, because it encourages them to ignore the greater part of humanity, and that’s as good a definition of evil as any, I think.

  209. skzb

    calisto01: They start here: dreamcafe.com/2015/08/31/on-trotskys-the-revolution-betrayed/

  210. skzb

    Darwin didn’t invent the theory of evolution, he solved a fundamental problem in the mechanics of it that permitted further development. The fact that we have continued to learn, and have no grown past Darwin’s discoveries (and even, in certain particulars, negated them) does not mean we reject Darwin, or make claims that evolutionary biologists are still stuck in the nineteenth century. Of course, fundamentalist Christians do, indeed, make such claims, but that is because understanding the actual processes conflicts with their core beliefs, and they would rather hold onto those beliefs than permit them to be challenged, even when it leads them to make absurd arguments.

  211. SKZB – ” The fact that we have continued to learn, and have now grown past Darwin’s discoveries ….”

    Have we grown past Darwin’s theory of natural selection or simply expanded upon it? Darwin knew nothing of genes, so the details of inheritance were unknown to him, but this additional knowledge does not negate the theory; it makes it more complete. Similarly, with quantum theory – particularly quantum entanglement – we have built upon Einstein’s theory of the photoelectric effect. And despite Einstein’s own belief that “God does not play dice” — we have plenty of empirical evidence that per Einstein’s own theory God is, in fact, a regular at the casino 🙂

    The point is that we have to reject Newtonian mechanics if we want to fully understand the world. The same with Ptolemy and geocentrism. That rejection is based on accumulated knowledge that was not available to Newton or Ptolemy – especially empirical evidence. This is the essence of science: an endeavor to explain some part of the world we live in and is subject to empirical evidence (falsification).

    When I read the Sermon on the Mount I can agree with it, but it’s not a scientific statement – it’s a belief system. No evidence now or then can confirm or contradict it’s ‘truth.’ Meanwhile, the theory of supply and demand does not require faith for one to accept it (or reject it). New Keynesian ideas on ‘sticky prices’ and ‘sticky wages’ are not matters of faith.

    When Marx writes about political economy as it existed in his time we can find much that is scientific. Yet there is also much that is purely a matter of belief:

    “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

    We will all be living in The Federation and aspiring to be Spock, or Uhuru, or Captain Kirk. Seventy-two virgins take the place of the mudshark in your mythology.

    When one read the 10 demands in the Communist Manifesto one is struck by how they are simply a product of their time and not the same demands Marx would write today. This leads one to question what else he wrote that would be different based on both the different world we live in and the accumulated knowledge we have gained.

    It is difficult (many would say impossible) to reconcile Marx’s theories with the modern information age; where the commodity is often ideas, knowledge, or risk rather than agricultural or industrial products. Indeed, the whole notion that only labor adds value, or that value is intrinsically related to the amount of labor required, has been pretty much falsified. It was only marginally (sic) true at the time Marx wrote, but has become less and less true over time (not to mention the whole ‘assume a spherical cow’ nature of “socially necessary”). Yet, it is his theory of value that underlies all of his ideas.

    Should we be singing along with Billy Bragg and waiting for the Great Leap Forward? Is it inevitable? Will there still be a proletariat to administer the dictatorship of the proletariat? Or is all of this just a well-intentioned effort to provide hope to those who bore the worst of the effects of the industrial revolution? I.e., was it ironically just a synthetic narcotic for the masses?

  212. Will writes: “The goal of capital is more capital. Whether that’s immoral or amoral, I leave to the reader…”

    ‘Capital’ is not homogeneous. As with most stereotypes your statement ignores the many uses of capital where the goal is altruistic and not profit. Marx gets around this by defining capital as only that money used by ‘middlemen’ to realize a profit. In Marxism “The goal of capital is more capital” is a tautology – not an insight.

    I do agree that strong-form, laissez-faire capitalism is an amoral (not immoral) system. This is a major flaw in libertarians’ whole mode of thought. Economics cannot be divorced from morality and still pretend any claim to consistency or scientific/logical process. It is essentially the need to observe the norms of morality in both practice and goal that delineates the social sciences from the physical sciences (basic safety and the treatment of animals in labs around the world notwithstanding).

    The social sciences seek to explain and improve the human condition; the hard sciences merely the acquisition of knowledge. The social sciences are inextricably interwoven with moral choices – the physical sciences only rarely. Acceptance of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says little about your belief system. A recommendation for economic policy says a lot about your belief system.

  213. skzb

    “Have we grown past Darwin’s theory of natural selection or simply expanded upon it?”

    Entirely valid point. But that simply makes the parallel stronger. I happen to agree with his predictions about communist society, at least most of them; but they are hardly the point—discovering he was wrong about most of that would not invalidate the contributions on which others have built. The analysis of surplus value as a result of the selling of labor power, which holds up today; and the understanding of dialectical processes in the mind being a reflection of dialectical processes in the material world, rather than the reverse; and the analysis of economic forms (ie, relationships among people that permit production and distribution of material wants) being determined by economic content (ie, the method of production); and the State being, in turn, a product of those same conditions.

  214. The recent crises of capitalism are yet another of many cases in which the theories Marx and Engels put forward – and which have been refined by many later thinkers, a freaking *glut* of thinkers that actually makes Marxism harder to approach than it needs to be – have been proven accurate. That’s it. It’s nothing to do with religion or hero-worship. It’s just correct. Capitalism keeps functioning in the way Marxists say it will. I would much rather believe in the wholesome fantasies of the social democrats or the idealistic dreams of the libertarians, but they just don’t work. Even the work of scientists who aren’t themselves Marxists, like Piketty, points in that direction.

    As for value and work, the information-age commodities you refer to only highlight the problems of capitalist logic, and capitalism’s spectacular failure to deal with these things, sinking further and further into totally fictional systems. They change nothing about socialist theories or goals. (And, to be honest, they’re not nearly as “disruptive” as people claim. Just because a handful of people make money on the internet doesn’t mean that the large majority of work isn’t still entirely regular physical labour – it is, because we are still physical beings with physical needs.)

  215. oneillsinwisconsin, is your concept of altruistic capitalism like noblesse oblige monarchism?

  216. Capitalism is inherently immoral, not amoral. This applies not just to laissez-faire but also to modified forms like our weird incestuous hybrid of corporate-cartel and government-control.

    If your mining company doesn’t screw its workers, then it will obviously have less productivity and higher costs than those that do. If your arms-manufacturing company doesn’t participate in graft and revolving-door relations with government, then it won’t ever get any rich contracts. If your fast-food company offers 40 hour work weeks, then it will lose enormous amounts of money on all the benefits it has to shell out. if your clothing retail company doesn’t use sweatshop goods squeezed from oppressed foreign workers, it will have to charge twice the price of the competition. And capitalist companies that fail to “compete” by optimizing efficiency eventually lose out.

    So sure, you can cite all kinds of examples of CEOs who have suffered seizures of virtue; everyone is a capitalist in a capitalist society, and that doesn’t make all the individuals involved evil. But the general tendency is toward immorality because optimizing profit requires it and failure to optimize profit is anti-survival.

  217. oneillsinwisconsin–

    It saddens me that you were once saavy enough to argue against the 1991 Gulf War but are now accepting the CIAs pronouncements as being something other than deliberate falshoods foisted on the U.S. public in service to the aims of the deep state. Those aims: Perpetual war, comprehensive intrusion into private affairs to facilitate the suppression of dissent, a financial system designed to enrich the already obscenely wealthy at the expense of the rest of us, and a foreign policy slavishly dedicated to the increasingly un-achievable goal of full spectrum dominance, a global hegemony.

    You are coming back at me with truthout? Why not throw in Vox, politifact, and MSNBC while you are at it? You might want to look into who is funding those groups. I get it that you are disappointed that your DNC standard-bearer was defeated on November 8th. But I fear you have lost the correct perspective that you apparently, at one time in decades past, held.

    We have to tear it all down and start over. And we have to do it before the warmongers like Clinton and her ilk go too far and annhiliate the human race. November 8th may have bought us some time, but time is running out.

  218. Kragar — you’re doing the same thing the GOP has been doing for years. You are repeating the same claims over and over with absolutely no proof. Say it enough times, and it becomes the perceived truth, right?

    You distrust everything the CIA says. Fine. You’re free to distrust. Healthy skepticism is a good thing. Saying, “Prove it” is a good thing.

    So: Prove it. Prove your claims that the CIA has manufactured the evidence that Russia manipulated the election.

    You can’t.

    Given the other threads from Trump to Russia, I’m quite willing to believe the CIA’s claims. I’m also quite willing to believe most people working at the CIA are good, decent people trying to do their best — the same thing I feel about most people. Not all, but most.

    But this is what pisses me off about the GOP. They keep repeating their claims over and over, most of which are known to be false, but they keep saying them anyway, and a lot of people believe them just because they hear them enough. Without one shred of evidence. I’m so tired of it I can’t begin to tell you.

    If you can’t win your argument based on the truth, then there’s something wrong with your argument. The GOP can’t win ANY arguments without lies, lies, lies, so what does that tell you?

    As for “Nov 8th may have bought us some time” — do you really believe that? Trump isn’t even in office, and he’s already taunting China. He’s a child, and the thought of him with nuclear weapons scares the unholy hell out of me.

    Clinton — warmonger? Maybe. Clinton believes that the US has a responsibility to use the power we have to advance not only the interests of the US but also our allies. But she does so coolly and deliberately. She wouldn’t need someone to tell her to calm down and think about what she’s doing. That’s what she does.

    We don’t have to worry about her sending a Tweet to begin launching nukes because someone wrote a bad review of his restaurant.

    I can’t believe ANYONE involved in this discussion thinks Trump is a good thing, unless you hope it leads to some sort of hellishly bloody revolution out of which some sort of Utopia can emerge.

    Utopia from revolution is not the world’s norm, and I sure as hell am not hoping for one.

    Will Shetterly — you stated the goal of capital is more capital. I would posit that by itself isn’t the problem. The problem is how it happens. In my world, it doesn’t matter how much money someone else has. It matters how I am personally doing. And because I’m a caring individual, how everyone else is doing — but not in a comparison against the most affluent, but in comparison to some standard for how I feel everyone should be doing.

    The other half of the problem can be summed up in one word: bullies.

    And bullies are really good at using whatever system exists to beat up the vulnerable. Playground taunts, tripping you in the school hallways, leaving bad reviews on your books because they don’t like you (or because they want people to buy their book instead), or what have you. Taking capitalism away and replacing it with something else doesn’t do a single thing to deal with the bullies.

  219. Joseph Larson, I agree that capital seeking more capital isn’t a problem by itself. The problem is the distribution of wealth. If you let bullies get rich, they bully more. End the profit motive and you defang the bullies.

  220. I would argue they’d find other ways to be bullies.

  221. Joseph, I would agree with you. But they would be less effective ways, and there would be more ways to counter them, and based on what we know about what creates bullies, in a society without desperation there would be far fewer bullies.

  222. Joseph Larson–

    The CIA, courtesy of anonymous sources speaking to the Washington Post, has concluded that Russians hacked the DNC servers and gave the files to Wikileaks. The source says they don’t have hard evidence of this, but they claim their conclusion is based on circumstantial evidence.

    Wikileaks, on the other hand, says they got the files from a disgruntled DNC insider. So, not a hack at all. What does the NSA, a shadowy organization previously caught lying to congress say? Crickets, even though we know the NSA are vacuuming up vast amounts of electronic data and communications from every man, woman and child in the United States.

    You say I can’t prove the CIA has manufactured the evidence Russia manipulated the U.S. elections. But they have released (through understandably anonymous sources) no such evidence, only conclusions. Conclusions contradicted by the folks who actually provided the information to Wikileaks. If the CIA is making a claim, it is their burden to provide the evidence to back that claim up. Especially given that agency’s very questionable track record for being honest with the U.S. public.

    We might be able to assess your claims that the CIA operatives in question are hard working, honest professionals a bit better if they had not chosen to hide behind anonymity as sources for this “story.”

    I am not a Republican and I didn’t vote for Trump and I don’t agree with him or support any of his ridiculous nominees. But I know that a Clinton presidency carried with it an almost guaranteed escalation of the U.S. involvement in Syria, leading to an unacceptably high risk of armed confrontation with nuclear armed Russia. Trump may abandon some long-standing taboos of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, but why should citizens concerned about peace and social justice care about those?

  223. skzb

    Kragar: Scratching my head, trying to figure what it is we disagree about.

  224. -Kragar: my only observation is while i do not trust the CIA as far as I can spit, I simply do not see any motivation behind manufacturing evidence of Russian involvement. That and your observation that the NSA has said nothing on the subject is not accurate. It was not the CIA alone that holds to the idea of Russian involvement but the “intelligence community”. The intelligence community in America is more than 18 different intelligence organizations of which the NSA and the CIA are a part.

  225. Russia has disrupted the US’s attempt to achieve either of two things in Syria, chaos as in Libya or a US-friendly state. The neoliberals who dream of remaking the Middle East have to hate that, so a little saber-rattling seems appropriate to them

    Even if Russia helped with some of the leaks, I haven’t seen any polls suggesting the leaks were a serious factor in the election. But I realize Clintonites need to blame anyone but Clinton.

  226. The burden of proof lies with those making a claim. Precisely zero evidence has been provided to back up the claim of Russian hacking. None. Nothing. All we have is the word of an anonymous source about the contents of a secret report that supposedly doesn’t even implicate Russia, but middlemen. This simply does not hold up to any kind of standards.

    Based on this utter lack of evidence, the historical role played by intelligence agencies (their main function being the undermining of democracy and resistance to capitalism, internally and externally, using illegal and immoral methods, including assassination), and the overall propaganda campaign against Russia, it’s not hard to conclude that the most likely scenario is that this is one more act of Cold War-style propaganda.

    None of this implies any support for Russia’s ruling class, who function exactly like every other ruling class.

  227. Clinton lost for a bunch of reasons. Whether she would or wouldn’t have done this or that is fairly irrelevant now.
    What is easy to state is that Trump is not on a course to help anyone other than the richest. Trump is most definitely not a Socialist.

  228. Uh, can you quote anyone who thinks Trump is a socialist? If you’re arguing that Trump will be worse than Clinton, that may be true, but that’s irrelevant. Either the Dems should’ve united behind Sanders or they should’ve adopted his policies because they were popular and Clinton’s watered-down versions weren’t.

  229. If anyone were to ask if Trump were a Socialist, that would fit the post title.
    What I am stating is that everything the Dems did (Sanders, Clinton, whatever) is now irrelelevant.
    We’ve got to deal with the fascists/oligarchs/kleptocrats we have rather than the dust bunnies of history.

  230. There’s a fine line to walk with history: we have to learn from it, not wallow in it. Ignore the dust bunnies of history, and they will eat you. (Insert Faulkner quote about the past is not the past.)

  231. Yes, but you have to pay attention to the relevant parts of history. I’m looking at Athens, Rome and Germany.
    Dust bunnies and dead horses don’t tend to eat many people. Demagogues and Nazis are voracious.

  232. I love this metaphor, but I’m afraid I may be pushing it too far when I say demagogues and Nazis spring from dust bunnies, not nowhere.

    The Rome you should be looking at is the Rome of Berlusconi, not Caesar or Mussolini.

    On a practical level, there’s not much we can do about Trump now. Join the ACLU (but not the SPLC because they’re the televangelists of leftist good intentions) and be vigilant.

  233. The best path is that Trump is Berlusconi and just loots the heck out of the country.
    Yeah, for at least two years, contributing to places for good like the ACLU and, as someone has said, patiently explaining that there are alternatives to oligarchs and capitalist pillaging are the things individuals can do.

  234. Jonas K writes: “Precisely zero evidence has been provided to back up the claim of Russian hacking. None. Nothing. ”

    Wrong.

    1)The phishing malware found on the DNC computers has long been associated with two hacking groups believed to be Russian intelligence units, codenamed APT 28/Fancy Bear and APT 29/Cozy Bear.

    2)The attackers registered a deliberately misspelled domain name connected to an IP address associated with APT 28/Fancy Bear.

    3) Malware on the DNC computers was programmed to communicate with an IP address associated with APT 28/Fancy Bear.

    4) Leaked DNC documents contained cyrillic metadata indicating it had been edited on a document with Russian language settings.

    5) Some of the phishing emails were sent using Yandex, a Moscow-based webmail provider.

    6)Guccifer 2.0— the hacker(s) claiming credit for the leaks has said that he’s Romanian. However, as wikipedia reports:

    “On June 21, 2016, in an interview with Vice “Guccifer 2.0” stated that he is Romanian. On June 30, 2016, “Guccifer 2.0” stated that he is not Russian. However, despite stating that he was unable to read or understand Russian, metadata of emails sent from Guccifer 2.0 to The Hill showed that a Russian-language-only VPN was used. When pressed to use the Romanian language in an interview with Motherboard via online chat, “he used such clunky grammar and terminology that experts believed he was using an online translator.”

    7) Not only the US intelligence community, but the US private cybersecurity community believes Russia was behind the attacks: Wikipedia again:

    “The U.S. Intelligence Community concluded that some of the genuine leaks that Guccifer 2.0 has said were part of a series of cyberattacks on the DNC were committed by two Russian intelligence groups. This conclusion was supported by the independent analyses conducted by various private cybersecurity experts and firms, including CrowdStrike, Fidelis Cybersecurity, Freeye’s Mandiant, SecureWorks,ThreatConnect, and the security editor for Ars Technica.”

    The claim there is zero evidence is absolutely wrong. And, of course, this doesn’t include evidence that only the intelligence agencies are holding. Someone needs to widen their circle of information sources.

  235. Will S writes:oneillsinwisconsin, is your concept of altruistic capitalism like noblesse oblige monarchism?”

    Sorry, I wrote a response to this over Xmas, but it never appeared. In short – I don’t think so.

    The socialist democracies we see today – especially Scandinavia – are mixed economies that one might best categorize as ‘enlightened capitalism.’ They try to harness the power of markets tempered with a watchful eye for its excesses. I do not believe it is any accident that ‘happiness’ ratings have many of these countries in the top 10.

  236. oneillsinwisconsin, there’s a hard line between communism and capitalism, but socialism is a soft concept between them. I think sufficiently enlightened capitalism is the beginning of socialism, and part of the reason for Scandinavia’s happiness rating is they know they can take risks and fail and still be taken care of.

  237. The socialist democracies of Scandinavia are certainly a step or two in the right direction.
    The “power of markets” is an often extolled but typically undefined feature of capitalism. Essentially, it seems to me to be a type of semi-local, semi-randomized genetic algorithm that often gets stuck in poor local minima.
    Various forms of “planned economies” of the past suffered from noted lacks of (at least) computational capacity, resource availability and fast feedback mechanisms. Current technologies could provide for all three of these. How to get such a system up and running would be a fantastic endeavor.

  238. skzb writes — “… discovering he [Marx] was wrong about most of that would not invalidate the contributions on which others have built. The analysis of surplus value as a result of the selling of labor power, which holds up today…”

    Marx’s analysis of surplus value was wrong. Marx believed that only labor added value. We know this is not true. Marx believed capital does not complement but substitutes for labor. We know this is not true. Marx simply failed to realize that structural unemployment is a temporary phenomena. He failed to see the role that capital played in absorbing risk and creating *new* employment.

    As an economist Marx has no lasting legacy. I don’t know of any currently viable economic theories that claim to have built on the work of Marx.

  239. skzb

    “Marx believed that only labor added value. We know this is not true.” Oh.

    “Marx believed capital does not complement but substitutes for labor.” I’ve never heard anyone who claims to be a Marxist say anything remotely like this, and certainly there is nothing in Capital to support it.

    ” I don’t know of any currently viable economic theories that claim to have built on the work of Marx.” It’s called Marxism, and it keeps making accurate predictions.

  240. OK, I need to rephrase regarding Russia and hacking. None of the reports that supposedly lead to the confident assertion that Russia has been involved have been released. There is no serious, detailed analysis, only reports of findings by agencies with a very long history of lying. I’ve read the stuff you mention before, and sure, it *could* be, but others involved with a case say it isn’t – so frankly, in and of itself, it doesn’t necessarily amount to much. What matters is that a fairly huge claim is being made, with an outsized impact on global politics, based on extremely nebulous connections that no-one can really follow.

    (It should also be noted that this hacking didn’t actually interfere in the democratic process, at least not in the way HRC believes the US should interfere in other countries’ elections, actually determining their result. It just exposed information that paints an extremely unflattering picture of one chunk of the ruling class.)

    But honestly, from the socialist perspective, even if Russia was responsible, so what? The US also consistently uses such tactics – and worse – to cause regime change. This is how powerful capitalist countries act. We oppose the Russian ruling class as much as we oppose the US ruling class. What really must be questioned here is the way in which these events are used by the American ruling class to foster nationalism, create a panic about evil Russian spies, and equate all opposition to the Democratic Party with pro-Russian treason. Let’s not forget how the whole “fake news” bullshit was immediately used to censor various left-leaning sites that were critical of the Democrats as supposedly being Russian spies.

    Especially with someone as dangerous as Trump in power, it’s extremely destructive to turn to such tactics. Trump is already pushing politics very far to the right; to attack him from even further on the right, with paranoid suggestions of him being a Russian puppet, is going to have terrible consequences for political discourse in general.

  241. skzb – “It’s called Marxism, and it keeps making accurate predictions.”

    What accurate predictions have been made?

    I’m sorry, but I live in the world of real economic activity. Economic models inform us of what will/should happen under different scenarios. I.e., what are the effects of increased government spending at the zero-lower bound? What are the effects of decreased government spending on employment? In general, what are the effects of policy X on variable Y under conditions Z?

    As Box said, all models are wrong, but some are useful. I have not seen any accurate economic predictions flowing out of a Marxian model. Hell, I’m not sure there even *is* a Marxian model. Did it predict the housing crisis? Did it predict the current low unemployment rates in the USA? Did it predict that China would greatly reduce extreme poverty by moving to a mixed market economy?

    I have a feeling your idea of prediction is more Nostradamus-like.

  242. skzb writes :”I’ve never heard anyone who claims to be a Marxist say anything remotely like this, and certainly there is nothing in Capital to support it.”

    Marx in Capital, Chapter XV, Section 6: “But we have already seen that, with every advance in the use of machinery, the constant component of capital, that part which consists of machinery, raw material, etc., increases, while the variable component, the part laid out in labour-power, decreases.”

    Capital substitutes for labor through technological change. This is true, but it neglects, as I said, that capital also increases the need for labor and plays an important role in risk. The net effect is that a rising tide *can* lift all boats. Whereas Marx saw it more like a teeter-totter; if one side rises the other must fall. The difference is one of absolutes and relative measures.

    Less clear is how to interpret Dietrich Vollrath’s The returns to societal capital where he talks about ‘trust’ and ‘scale.’

  243. Around 7 – 9 percent of children in the US live in food insecure conditions. That doesn’t sound like an entirely working system to me.

    Imagine we are living in a town that gets its water from a pump that is worked by a motor. The people who run the motor have built themselves pools in which to relax and otherwise use up the bulk of the water even though they comprise less than 1% of the population. They say this is the only workable system even though their motor periodically stops and other members of the town die.
    In the past, another group had built a different motor and were working at distributing water in an equitable fashion. The first group decried that the new motor could not possibly work and threw stones at it until it broke. Since then, they have forever used this as an example of how the plans of the other motor group could not work.

  244. “Did it predict the housing crisis?”

    Umm, yes, pretty much. Marxist thinking is significant not only in economics – your assertion that it hasn’t had an influence is just baffling, given that it’s widely cited even by those who aren’t Marxists – but also in areas such as geography, where Marxist academics like David Harvey have been quite accurately predicting such developments for *decades*. (I have my disagreements with him but I’d highly recommend The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism, which approaches the subject in a scientific but accessible way.)

    As for “the rising tide lifting all boats” – all you need to do is look at the hard data in Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century to see that this just isn’t true.

    “I’m sorry, but I live in the world of real economic activity. Economic models inform us of what will/should happen under different scenarios. I.e., what are the effects of increased government spending at the zero-lower bound? What are the effects of decreased government spending on employment? In general, what are the effects of policy X on variable Y under conditions Z? ”

    You can go back and read boatloads of Marxist writing going back decades. Compare what it claims the effects of policies would be – e.g. under Thatcher or Reagan – and what actually happened. You will see that the predictions are correct, and the claims made by capitalist economists are not. (In the book I mentioned above, Harvey does an excellent job of tracing the collapsing power of Labour and Capital’s responses to keep the economy going over the last few decades, entirely matching Marxist thought.)

    The Marxist analysis of the Soviet Union also proved accurate, far more so than the “end of history” fantasies promoted by various liberal thinkers.

    Or look at Greece, where even the IMF had to admit all of its projections were completely wrong, and where Marxists entirely correctly predicted the implemented policies would lead to collapse. More significantly – and unpleasantly – Marxists also correctly predicted how a social-democratic party like SYRIZA would be compelled to act under these economic conditions, and in the face of every leftist desire, they were proven painfully right.

  245. Regarding Russia and hacking, there are two excellent pieces in The Intercept. The first one explains why the public “evidence” is weak (https://theintercept.com/2016/12/14/heres-the-public-evidence-russia-hacked-the-dnc-its-not-enough/) and the second one shows that better evidence should actually be available, judging from previous cases (https://theintercept.com/2016/12/29/top-secret-snowden-document-reveals-what-the-nsa-knew-about-previous-russian-hacking/).

  246. The NSA almost certainly knows one way or the other. They also aren’t known for laying out evidence. I am strongly in favor of showing evidence that won’t get someone killed. The sort of evidence the NSA typically gathers isn’t the sort that gets people killed-theirs is the electronic realm rather than the realm of operatives.
    In general, I prefer a lot more openness out of organizations that are working for the people in the end.

  247. oneillsinwisconsin, one of us doesn’t understand what Marx meant by labor-power, and I grant it could be me, because I haven’t read Capital. But let’s look at a very simple example of technology affecting labor and profit. How many people did it take to make a car when Henry Ford started, and how many does it take to make one today? Or if you’d prefer, what percentage of the population had to work the land in 1848 and what percentage works it today? In either or both examples, are the businesses more or less profitable than they were?

  248. skzb

    Jonas answered the issue of predictions (although if he’s going to refer to post-Soviet Russia, he could also mention the whole issue of capitalist restoration, also predicted by Marxists), so I’ll deal with the quote from Capital.

    I see nothing in that quote that says, implies, or hints that there is a “substitution” going on, particularly a substitution of labor for capital or vice versa. Capital is wealth used in a particular way: investment to produce more surplus value. Marx recognizes capital as one of the products of surplus value, and traces surplus value to the difference in value between labor-power (ie, wages) and the productivity of that labor. Where is anything being substituted for anything else?

  249. skzb

    Will: Labor-power is the ability to work. One of Marx’s key discoveries, is that the worker does not sell his labor, he sells his *ability to labor.* Why this matters is because what was confusing to Adam Smith and David Ricardo and the other classic political economists is, “If labor is a commodity and the source of all value, and all commodities sell at their value, the labor must sell at its value too, so whence comes profit?” The answer is, labor is not a commodity, it is what the value of commodities is measured in. The commodity is labor-power—the agreement that I will come into Starbucks and make foo-foo coffee drinks. Making foo-foo coffee drinks is labor, agreeing to make foo-foo coffee drinks for $8.75 an hour is selling my *labor-power.* As long as I am producing more than $8.50/hour (plus other expenses), then Starbucks is making money on my labor. Exploitation is the technical term for the difference between the value of labor-power and the amount of value actually produced by that labor.

    (The real kicker, of course, is that the value of labor-power isn’t fixed and arbitrary, but determined socially, by the class struggle. A $15.00 minimum wage wouldn’t be violating any economic laws, whatever the Libertarians say, it is simply establishing, through negotiation and conflict, a new minimum value for labor-power.)

  250. Steve, thanks. I suspect that because Oneillsinwisconsin was blurring things, I was focusing more on the part that interests me just now, the claim that “capital also increases the need for labor”, which reverses the history of labor, capital, and technology. Owners embrace technology as quickly as they can to reduce their need for labor, which is why Basic Income or socialism become more and more necessary. Oneillsinwisconsin doesn’t seem to have noticed that the well-paying working class jobs are disappearing, thanks to technology, and service industry jobs are beginning to go.

  251. Corporation: Let’s negotiate a fair price for the service you will provide me.

    Worker: Sounds like a plan.

    Corporation: Just keep in mind, you must work for us or another big corporation. Your alternative is to starve and freeze to death under an overpass.

    Worker: Umm…

    Corporation: We will (grudgingly) start the bidding at $7.25 per hour.

    Worker: Gulp. That’s not much. Out of curiosity, why $7.25?

    Corporation: Because 40 years ago, congress passed a law that made us pay that much. Luckily, we have stacked both houses with our cronies, so we successfully prevented that figure from growing with inflation. $7.25 doesn’t go as far as it used to, amirite? (Playfully shucks worker on the arm).

    Worker: (Shifts uncomfortably, starting to sweat) Well, if you have stacked both houses with your cronies, why not just pass a law abolishing the minimum wage entirely?

    Corporation: Oh, I can’t tell you that one.

    Worker: Why not?

    Corporation: Oh, what the hell. You’re nobody, so who is going to listen to you? Anyway I’ll deny saying this. It will be my word against yours.

    Worker: I’m listening.

    Corporation: If we passed a law abolishing the minimum wage, that would piss off millions upon millions of workers. They might start to pay attention, and even try to do something about it. Our system of exploitation works much better when a big chunk of the populace cannot understand it, or doesn’t care enough to mobilize.

    Worker: That is so…

    Corporation: Messed up? I know, but it is great for profits. Hey, are you planning to get sick on purpose in the next few years?

    Worker: I hadn’t planned to…

    Corporation: We figured out if we give people less than 40 hours per week, we don’t have to provide private health insurance!

    Worker: The more I hear about this deal, the rawer it sounds.

    Corporation: Well that’s the beauty of it. The Fed has kept interest rates super super low, so there are tons of unemployed people around. If you say no to this deal, I’ll just go hire one of them. The same goes for you if we do hire you. You have to play by our rules, or hit the streets. No complaining, no organizing, no unionizing.

    Worker: Sigh. All right, where do I sign. My mom is going to be so proud of me.

  252. (Picking up from Kragar’s story, but replacing the last line.)

    Worker: This is a raw deal. I think I’ll just start my own business.

    Corporation: Ha ha! That’s a great joke.

    Worker: I’m serious.

    Corporation: Enjoy starving.

    Worker: (works his ass off, barely gets by, but starts to see success)

    Corporation: WTF!

    Worker: (feels fulfilled)

    Corporation: This isn’t happening!

    Worker: (hires more workers. Pays them fair wages.)

    Corporation: No, no, no. You can’t do that!

    Worker: (offers great benefits)

    Corporation: What is happening?

    This is what the tech industry is doing. It’s also what Amazon is enabling authors to do. People need to realize that in a changing marketplace, you have to evolve to survive.

    Factory jobs in America are a thing of the past, and hanging onto that idea as the basis for American labor is ridiculous. And I would posit that working for major corporations is also becoming a thing of the past. Job creation is in small businesses. The most exciting places to work were startups within the last 20 years or less.

    In this country, ANYONE can start his own company. He just needs to be willing to hustle.

    Why people wait for the world to be handed to you — I don’t understand. If you don’t like the way corporations treat employees, don’t work for one.

    I guess I don’t get it. I really don’t. You want the workers to own the means of production? Well, there it is, just above. The jobs of the future? The means of production is a computer. That’s it. Everyone reading this post has one.

    I don’t understand why it requires economic upheaval. It’s right there. I have two jobs: Software Development and Writer. I own the means of production for job 2, and if I wasn’t already comfortable with what I’m paid in job 1, I could go start my own company there just fine. (I’ve done it before.)

    Sure: not everyone is capable of doing this. But what percentage is that? If you have skills a corporation is going to find valuable in the first place, why can’t you do this instead? Or team up with buddies and become co-founder?

    Can someone explain why this doesn’t solve the problem?

  253. Sure. Let’s look at what happens when someone starts up a business in a rural state that might compete with WalMart. WalMart cuts prices until competing with them is no longer profitable, relying on revenue elsewhere. The competition goes out of business. Then WalMart raises prices again. This has happened again and again, all across the country. Honest competition is only permitted when it is impossible to prevent.

  254. Joseph Larson:Just hustle and money will roll in, right? First, somewhere around 70 to 80 percent of small businesses fail. Apparently most people aren’t hustling enough.
    Another scenario–person hustles, business starts to catch on, person gets sick. Can’t hustle, business fails, dies. Bummer–should have hustled more. Person had kids, well, they should hustle. No skills because they are kids? I guess they should starve.

    By providing a real social structure that doesn’t just say hustle or die, different economic systems than the one we currently have can end up empowering people to take the risks that you claim just require hustle.

  255. I don’t believe I said they just require hustle. More than hustle is required. That’s a given. And you have to be smart in how you hustle.

    Trying to compete with Walmart wouldn’t be smart hustling.

    Here’s something about the economy of the 21st century: growth in opportunities is in jobs that didn’t exist 30 years ago. Growth in opportunities is in jobs / industries that are based on the creation of intellectual property.

    I guess to some extent I’m thinking of this as a solution for individuals. If an individual has valuable skills, and he doesn’t like the way corporations will treat him, he has options.

    I suppose that doesn’t fix all the issues at the societal level.

    But if all the good talent said “kiss off” to the abusive corporations, those companies would be forced to evolve. Maybe that’s only a partial solution, but it’s better than nothing getting done at all.

    But then, I don’t believe in the inevitability of revolution. We’ve seen what revolution looks like in this country — and it’s a shift to the far right, not the far left.

  256. “All the good talent” being organized around a single cause looks, in fact, a lot like revolution.

  257. doylist:Exactly–beat me to it.

  258. Is it a cause? Or is it self-interest?

  259. Joseph Larson, everyone can’t be on the top of the pyramid.

    As for what this country wants, look at the popularity of Sanders’ issues.

  260. Hey, Will.

    I don’t feel the need to be at the top of any particular pyramids but the ones I create myself.

    i don’t see life as a pyramid, anyway. My view of how well I’m doing isn’t measured based on how well other people are doing. It’s measured based on whether I feel fulfilled and either have the things I need & want or have a way of getting them.

    It doesn’t matter that John Scalzi sells more books than I do and makes a ton more money. Good for him. I haven’t liked all his books, but I’ve liked enough to respect him as a writer. Personally, I like Steve’s books more, and if I had a choice of a new Scalzi book or a new Shetterly book, I’d take the Shetterly. Anyway…

    What I’d like to see is a world where everyone has the things he or she needs but needs to do some hustle to get the things he or she *wants*. But I don’t recall hearing anyone else put it that way. Is that such an alien concept.

    We’re certainly not there, and I think it would take a universal basic income to get there. I’m fine with that. Basic income with basic housing, basic clothing, basic food, basic medical care.

    You want more? Then you hustle.

    But it’s important to identify the goal and the means to achieve the goal as two distinct things. Is Marxism the goal? If so, I think that’s a bankrupt goal. IMO, the goal should be something along the lines of what I just said, and Marxism is one possible way to get there. But it’s not the only way.

  261. In the broad strokes, we agree. (And thanks for the nice words about my work!)

    But I don’t believe capitalism will allow everyone to create a meaningful job: the wealth flows upward. Socialism will allow that. Calling it Marxism misses the point, I think: Marx was writing an analysis, not a blueprint. You may’ve seen me quote his summation of the goal more than once:

    “In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

    It’s a useful test for whether a society is Marxist in reality or name only.

  262. Meeting everyone’s needs is a very good goal–one that capitalism has failed miserably at doing.
    How “luxury” items are handled is an interesting question. Various proposals have been given and apportioning extra for extra hustle is in many of those.

  263. Interesting Grizzleysteppe. Pretty firm statement from the FBI & homeland security. Still not a ton of explicit detail, but certainly not anonymous anymore.

  264. I highly doubt universal basic income, healthcare and housing is achievable within the current political and economic structure. Because fear of homelessness, hunger, and untreated sickness is one of the bedrock motivators to force the working class to do capital’s bidding, capital will never give up the ability to create that fear under any circumstances. In fact, capital has been working vigorously to undermine what little safety net there currently is. In these efforts, capital has been largely successful.

  265. Kragar, all the more reason to fight for them.

  266. Kragar, I disagree. I just don’t think it’s going to start in the US. We’re going to see it in other parts of the world first, and I’m thinking The Netherlands will lead the way.

    I’d love to start seeing “experiments” of this nature to see what happens. I think doing it in an economy of 300M people might be tricky, especially given how many people voted for Trump because “they’re tired of working their asses off to support lazy people”. (I had someone say this to me on FB just last night.)

    That’s the perception you’re dealing with. These people think their taxes are going to support “people too lazy to work”. The ignorance is unbelievable. But that’s not coming from capitalists. That’s coming from “the working class”.

    You’re not going to see significant change in this country for as long as the working class is convinced other members of the working class don’t deserve more than they’re already getting.

  267. I’m with Joseph Larson here. I think the sane billionaires know they need to accept Basic Income in order to stay billionaires. And, no, I don’t think that stops the march toward socialism. I think it slows it, but in a good way, so everyone’s able to consider the steps that follow without feeling desperate.

  268. Greece is a fantastic case study of capitalism’s inability to do the sane thing (mild reforms to boost the economy) even when it would be beneficial to itself. Plenty of capitalist economists have been screaming that what’s being done in Greece can’t work, but what they don’t understand is that their ideology can’t affect how the system functions. They may regret austerity but it doesn’t matter, we are at a point where capitalism is mathematically incapable of anything else.

    Another great case study is indie games. A few people started making serious money making games, so loads of people started doing it. Producing content and all that. Now most of these new people making games believe they can make money, when in fact only a tiny fraction can, while the rest starve. Good games sink into oblivion every single day. But the fantasy that “everyone can make money if they just make a good game” persists because it’s exactly the kind of narrative the system needs to preserve itself. Same with ebooks, YouTube videos, Twitch, and whatever else is the latest you-can-actually-make-it-in-capitalism scheme is.

    People with artistic talents tend to be particularly short-sighted and arrogant when it comes to such fantasies, because *they* at least have a chance. “Just hustle.” Well, actually, the majority of ordinary people are just that – ordinary. Some of them have talents that don’t fit into a modern economy that only rewards IP production. Others don’t have any special talents at all. And you know what? That’s perfectly OK. Moral value and the right to survive are not rooted in ability. That’s why we recognize these as *inherent* rights, and why we haven’t entirely devolved into a Social Darwinist dystopia yet.

  269. Jonas–

    I followed the Greek financial crisis with great interest, but it was tough to figure out what was going on even from normally helpful progressive news sources. Is there a link where you’ve written an overview that I can look at?

  270. Joseph Larson: One of the problems is that many people seem convinced they are working their asses off to benefit some unnamed poor person. The actual problem is they are working their asses off to benefit the rich.
    The rich have much better PR than the poor.

  271. skzb

    “I don’t understand why it requires economic upheaval.”

    Because competition requires automation, which lowers rate of profit, requiring higher quantity in sales and production, requiring expanding markets and more resources, requiring war.

    Because the most profitable way to run a business is to ignore the effect on the environment (social as well as natural), which means an ethical business is at a disadvantage while the ruling elite is controlling the state for maximum profit of the most powerful individuals.

    Because production for individual profit creates conditions of each against all, which increases over time to the point where human interaction, not mediated through the market, becomes increasingly strained and difficult.

    Because of the natural tendency under capitalism for wealth to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands, causing anger and threatening rebellion among those cast aside, which in turn produces repression and terror in the form of mass incarceration, police violence, state surveillance, state murder,

    But, above all, today millions upon millions of working people are destitute, or holding two or three jobs, or one sick kid away from homelessness, while the number of those already homeless increases, underemployment has become the norm, with a tiny few making extreme profit at the expense of misery for the rest; all of which makes me think, how isolated does someone have to be to not see this, now, as economic upheaval?

  272. Here’s more dumb questions: why does the populist right seem more organized and ripe for a revolutionary moment than the left? If we get a right wing revolution can it destroy the objective bases necessary for a socialist revolution? Even if the right flames out over a decade, can it suck all the oxygen out of our system?

  273. because stupid is universal; and it takes actual thought to come up with an opposite to stupidity. But when you introduce thought as a means to addressing problem X, then a bunch of smart people are going to come up with a bunch of smart ideas, and each idea will have its own followers.

    A tempting, simplistic approach, which I label “stupid” is much more likely to appeal to a much greater number of people.

    I don’t think stupidity will ever flame out, unfortunately.

  274. I wouldn’t chalk Trump’s win up to stupidity. Like Brexit, electing Trump was the population’s only way to tell the elites off. In a healthier system, there would have been better ways.

  275. One big problem was that people weren’t really given a left choice. About 76% of the populous did not vote for Trump.
    I’d say that indicates a desire for a difference and not a difference to the right.

  276. The far right is more successful because it’s not anti-systemic; it’s actually a facet of the system, kept in check during periods of prosperity but never eradicated (and always interconnected to the status quo), to be unleashed in periods of crisis.

  277. Trump only surprised me because I thought we would get a “populist” Republican President in 2020, not 2016 and also because I thought they would be someone with a little more Party pedigree, like Cruz or another more overtly religious candidate. Considering how the numbers fell out, I am guessing that Clinton would have won 7 or 8 times out of 10 in simulations; so I don’t think I was that far off. Even the Republican leadership might have wanted my prediction to come true. A lot of pigeons are returning home in the next few years and now they will actually have to stand in front of the consequences.

    However, I always did think a proto fascist was more of a likelihood in this election cycle than a real progressive revolt. The next question is does Trump gut our physical economy/environment so badly that he actually sets back progress towards socialism or does he accelerate the hunger of many Americans for a real Left, as evidenced by Sanders’ strong showing?

  278. The security add in group I use (Wordfence) did a look at the data in the Grizzly Steppe release from yesterday, here.
    The result is that there isn’t anything in the release that points to anyone in particular. It would be nice if our national security services would give us useful information.

  279. Steve Halter–

    If you are waiting for US national security services to give out useful information, you will be waiting a long time.

    skzb–

    Under a socialist system, how is food handled? Currently, a person could buy cheap processed stuff at the store, healthier food and cook it, get fast food, or even eat at a very high end restaurant, or catering, or hunt for game. A meal could cost pennies or thousands of dollars. The goal is to make sure no one starves, but there will still be champagne and caviar, too. Folks under capitalism with vast inherited wealth can eat pretty well, while millions of kids deal with food uncertainty, so I am starting from the proposition that the current system is deeply flawed.

  280. Meager:I should probably add more sarcasm indicators.

  281. Kragar:

    There was a fantastic article about industrial food production in Jacobin: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/slow-food-artisanal-natural-preservatives/

    We could have superb industrially produced food for the masses. It’s entirely within our capabilties to not only feed everyone, but feed them well.

  282. That previous post should be “Krager:”, silly autocorrect.

    That was an interesting article Jonas. Food can be healthy even when mass produced. Of course, none of that precludes someone who might want to cook in whatever fashion and sharing.

  283. skzb

    In the short run, Kragar, I think it’ll be handled much like it is now. In the long run, Jonas answered it pretty well. I think specialty, gourmet type food is liable to turn into a complete labor of love, as other arts are, and those who glory in delighting their friends by turning out a meal they’ve spent 12 hours preparing will be able to do that. I would be surprised, however, if the “restaurant industry” survived very long. Does that answer your question?

  284. To add onto the needs vs. wants discussion, it seems to me that in a properly functioning post-capitalist society, the concept of luxury consumer goods essentially goes away. Currently, there is a lot of artificial scarcity created to drive yearly consumption.
    Actual scarcity does exist. For example, seats at a live event. A randomized drawing would be one example of a method of allocating such things.

  285. skzb

    Steve: That makes a great deal of sense.

  286. Steve said: “the concept of luxury consumer goods essentially goes away”. Does this mean those goods we currently consider luxuries goes away, or the concept of them being luxuries is what’s going away, but the goods themselves remain?

    The Real Steve Said: “I would be surprised, however, if the “restaurant industry” survived very long.” No, no, no. I am adamantly opposed to any plan that shuts down restaurants. I love going to restaurants. I love having foods I can’t make at home, or made far better than I could make them at home. And I get a whole lot of writing down at Red Robin. The world would be a lesser place without good places to pick up sushi.

    Please, oh please tell me I’m misunderstanding.

  287. On Christmas, I partook of a feast that would, in a sit down restaurant, have cost mid 3-figures per person.

    A proposed exercise: Pay attention to how many of the things in your life which really matter to you are produced by Capitalism, versus how many are produced by people who do what they do primarily out of Love, or Art, or Vocation. How many of those produced by Capitalism *wouldn’t* end up getting made in a Socialist system?

  288. Restaurants and the restaurant industry are different things. My guess is restaurants would be valued by society, and therefore there would be restaurants. The people who ran them would be rewarded with praise, much as hunters are rewarded in hunting societies. And every job comes with some perks. For people running restaurants, they’d get to sample new dishes, try new foods, etc. There’d be the pleasure of getting out of the house and seeing people. Heck, there might even be people who would keep some of the world’s great restaurants going in full glory for the same reasons we have historical recreationists today.

  289. skzb

    Actually, Will, that last point in particular makes a great deal of sense. Or appeals to the romantic in me.

  290. Thanks for the answers, skzb and others. It is astonshing just how much the drive by the powerful to acquire a tasty meal has led to moves, wars and policies that shaped history. It is true that I would not want to go back to spending 6-10 hrs per day procuring and preparing food.

    I interpret Jonas’s answer to be that modern socialism will thrive in the food department because the centrally planned economy will be able to take full advantage of the millenia of advancements in agriculture and food preparation, but will no longer be shackled by the need for enforced scarcity or the profit motive.

  291. Joe Larson: The goods won’t go away but the marketeering forces that try to convince people they have to buy them in order to produce the profits that drive capitalism would go away. When you take the need to harvest profit out of the system, you get rid of the need to constantly replace. Planned obsolescence is a feature that isn’t needed.

  292. “I interpret Jonas’s answer to be that modern socialism will thrive in the food department because the centrally planned economy will be able to take full advantage of the millenia of advancements in agriculture and food preparation, but will no longer be shackled by the need for enforced scarcity or the profit motive.”

    Exactly. Industrial food production under socialism would mean an incredible variety of *awesome* high-quality food available to everyone. That’s entirely within our means right now. We produce tons of food already, then throw a lot of it away for market reasons. And all our processes are optimized for profit, not quality.

    I suspect restaurants would continue existing under socialism, but with different opening hours. One of the horrible, back-breaking aspects of running a restaurant is how little free time you get; that would change, as people would run restaurants out of choice, not need.

    There might also be other forms of going out to eat. For example, there already exist various websites and services dedicated to people turning their own homes into restaurants for a day – Uber for cooks, basically. A terrible, soul-destroying capitalist invention, but one which could be put to different use in a socialist system.

    I’m pretty sure that my wife, who is an incredible cook and loves cooking for large groups of people (she starts preparing her Christmas meals three days in advance), would love to run a little restaurant or occasionally have strangers over and cook for them. As long as you don’t have to do it *all* the time, and you don’t have to deal with some of the crazier bureaucratic aspects, stuff like that can be great.

    Another scenario is treating (some restaurants) as a public service. We could treat food much as we treat water or electricity. In that case, the big difference would be in working hours. Loads of people I know actually enjoy working in various food production-related jobs, they just don’t want that to dominate their whole lives.

  293. There’s a quote from Bone Dance that I wish I had handy—it’s not about socialism directly, but it asks what life would be like if the only jobs were those we wanted to do and those we thought needed to be done. That’s what I think socialism would be like. If my community decided it was important to have a restaurant, I would happily put in one or two four-hour shifts a week. Ditto for garbage pickup. There aren’t any necessary jobs that someone wouldn’t mind doing on a part-time basis if they got to do it under conditions they thought were reasonable and the community respected them for doing it. The social hierarchy would be interesting: both the person who did a great job at something they loved, like cooking, and the person who did a good job at something the society needed, like cleaning out a sewer, would be local heroes.

  294. ok, re: cooking, since it’s a better example of where some skill is needed, as well as some regulation, than nuclear technician, in that cooking is ubiquitous, and nuclear technicianing is not.

    How would socialism address the hygiene regulation of a food services industry in a “uber for cooks” type of model? I’m sure this is less of an actual issue than the FDA would make it seem to be, but it is nevertheless a valid concern. In the absence of regulation, people will do the least minimum amount of work to get the job done so that they can move on to other jobs. This isn’t (necessarily) attached to the profit motive; it’s just a matter of attention to detail/concentration, which not all of us have in spades. And certainly, like with sewing, there are parts of the job that are less enjoyable than others, and it would take someone with some discipline to do the job right every time.

    Which is not to say that restaurants in a capitalist system are any better; there’s a reason there’s a saying re: “you don’t want to see how the sausage gets made”.

    Anyway. This kind of low-level, but still important regulation of less highly technical labour–how does socialism handle that?

  295. Jonathan Carey:There would be regulations. In any model of Socialism that would begin appearing, there is going to be a State and there would be appropriate regulations. The “state will wither away” portion is a much further step down the road.

  296. would a regulator position not attract people interested in the accumulation of power?

  297. skzb

    1. I’m not sure “positions of power” apply when the power is actually–not just theoretically–held by an armed people.

    2. If I’m wrong, positions of power ought to be rotated, so no one becomes a “professional” at it and any privileges that come with such positions need to be closely watched and limited.

  298. Yes, in an actual participatory Democracy, I would think that rotating administrative positions would work out better than an entrenched bureaucracy.
    Note that the same statement would be equally true under either a Capitalist or Socialist system that aimed to keep a consolidation of power away from a privileged elite.

  299. “In the absence of regulation, people will do the least minimum amount of work to get the job done so that they can move on to other jobs.”

    Remind me never to eat any food you’re prepared.

    Joke!

    You’re describing people who don’t want to do a job, or you’re describing business done for profit. People who love their work love to do it well. Under socialism, the goal is to have work done by people who love it or who believe it must be done and therefore must be done well.

    Also, there would be a strong principle of openness, so all of the people who are like today’s foodies would be sharing their reviews on the equivalent of the internet, and that would include a stroll through the facilities looking for things to praise or damn.

  300. What is preventing you (along with about a million other like-minded individuals) from answering the call “prove it” ?

    Pick some location, perhaps some underpopulated county in North Dakota, or wherever is make sense. Move there. Build this society. Show the rest of us how it works.

    This is a serious question.

  301. Joseph Larson, because you can’t do it in isolation. The closest you can come is to create a religious community like the Amish, but socialists do not believe in limiting people’s beliefs. It’d be like asking why a town in the middle of China couldn’t be a thriving hub of capitalism. Donne’s observation applies to economics too: no man is an island.

  302. Joseph Larson:What is it about the current system that you think is working spectacularly? (I am curious here.)
    I always find it interesting that many people seem to want all of the answers as to how Socialism will work perfectly, when it seems like the current system is far from adequate, let alone perfect.

  303. Will: A million people is hardly “in isolation”. But *why* isn’t that a big enough sample? Do you need the entire country to prove the theories? The entire world? Why?

    A million people is twice the size of Luxembourg. It’s the size of Cyprus or three times the size of Belize or Iceland.

    Steve: Happy to have that discussion, but I’m not sure this is the venue for it. Happy to join a conversation on it, or just discuss via email. Or maybe Mr. Brust cares to open the discussion more widely.

  304. Joseph, you’re asking a million people to uproot themselves on the theory they can do by themselves what they believe a country must do to work.

  305. You’re right. I am.

    Maybe I misunderstood, and maybe this entire discussion is academic. My engineer brain jumps from “this is what we’d like to see” to “how would someone make it happen?”

  306. For what it’s worth, I’ve begun doing the same thing about global warming, too. Waiting for The Government to do the right things is ridiculous. I’m now looking at the meaningful steps I can personally do.

  307. Joseph Larson:It would be a difficult experiment at lower than a country level. Take health care as an example. Providing medicines/medical equipment interconnects to the rest of the economy. A small isolated group can’t really duplicate that by itself.

  308. I’m not discounting the things that you can do because little changes are good. But if you want big changes, you can’t do it alone. Some socialists, including me, think we can get there democratically. Others think the only way is revolution. I hope the latter are wrong, but I don’t know that.

    The story of the starfish thrower gets used in a lot of ways. My take is that if you can throw some starfish back, great, but if you’re really concerned about the starfish, you need to organize people to build a reef.

  309. skzb

    Joseph Larson: I’m wondering just where you will find a place that has built up industry (ie, where capitalism has done what is supposed to do, build up the productive forces) that would let the people appropriate those industries without compensation to the owners and run them in their own and the public interest. Most places I know consider this theft and have law enforcement agencies to prevent that kind of thing.

  310. skzb, intellectual property is where the future is, and the cost of entry is pretty darned cheap. But if you really did have 1 million people, and each came with $1,000, that’s $1billion in investment.

    Steve H: 1 million people *is* on a country level. See previous comments. That’s 3 times Belize, etc. But yes, I presume this experiment would still need to interact with the rest of the world, just like the US currently interacts with the rest of the world.

    Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  311. Joseph Larson:

    You could raise $100 Billion, but the owners wouldn’t sell. There is a concept called ‘the fear of a good example.’ Cuba, if it had had normal trade relations with its huge and immediate neighbor to the north, would have been an economically thriving, tropical, communist paradise 75 miles off of the Florida Coast. Think the US planners would have ever allowed something like that to exist? Then you don’t know them very well. Instead the US leadership embarked on a 50 year onslaught of economic embargo and sanction after the outright invasion failed.

    The people in charge do not want to give socialism a chance to succeed, on any scale, any where. Especially not on U.S. soil! The Cliven Bundys of the world are tolerated, but never a socialist enclave. They would get the Branch Davidian treatment if all else failed.

  312. Joseph, I’m afraid your proposed experiment reminds me of the most ridiculous section of Atlas Shrugged, when the handful of super-capitalists build their little Libertarian paradise with a fully functioning economy… but no workers! High in the Rockies (or wherever it was, it has been many decades since I slogged my way through that book and I can’t be bothered to even look it up on Wikipedia) each one built railroads, dug mines, smelted ore with their very own hands, all to prove that the bosses are the true creators of value…

    You really don’t need to secede from the Union and build an oversized commune to prove that Socialism can work. There are many hybrid Socialist/Capitalist societies in the world, from Scandinavia to, arguably, China, all cherry-picking aspects of Socialism to boost their performance in delivering what their people want, and many of them outperforming more supply-side Capitalist nations. If partial, half baked Socialism can create a sound economy, why not full fledged?

    Or, heck, since you are so focused on intellectual property, how about Cuba? Despite being locked in a permanent cold war with the world’s greatest military and economic giant, tiny Cuba managed to build a thriving medical industry, providing inexpensive drugs to half the world and even conducting serious basic research that lead to new treatments. For all its flaws, I would have to call it a proof of concept for Socialism. With all our resources, couldn’t we build a far more successful, humane socialist state here?

  313. Kragar — wasn’t suggesting buying an existing industry. Invent / build something. But if you did want to buy, you don’t have to say a word about socialism while buying.

    larswyrdson — oh? I believe I mentioned a million like-minded people. That’s not a few dozen living in a commune in the Rockies with no workers. That’s an entire (small) country.

    “So focused on IP” — yeah, I am. It’s where I work and what I know. Feel free to select another industry if you don’t care for it.

    Cuba, according to Wikipedia: “The average monthly wage as of July 2013 is 466 Cuban pesos, which are worth about US$19.” Yeah, sorry. That’s not quite the standard of living I’d want. It’s Wikipedia, but still…

    Anyway — I was curious. Clearly no one else think this can be done. Carry on.

  314. Joseph, what Cuba’s standard of living would be without decades of US embargo, we can never know. And yet, despite the embargo, the Cubans raised their literacy rate above ours and lowered their infant mortality rate below ours. Their life spans are longer than ours thanks to universal health care. When you say you prefer the US, remember that dead babies are part of the price.

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/jan/31/tom-harkin/sen-tom-harkin-says-cuba-has-lower-child-mortality/

    https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=cuban%20life%20expectancy

  315. @Joseph “Monthly Wage” is pretty much a null concept under a socialist system

  316. Socialism isn’t a “community.” Nor is it a city or a small country. It’s a financial system intended to succeed capitalism. It is intended to be global – that’s the whole point. You know how socialists despise Stalin for, amongst other things, advocating the concept of “socialism in one country”? That’s because socialism cannot exist on the basis of nationalism.

    The very basis of socialism is that capitalism expands and changes the productive forces of humankind to the degree that they are no longer compatible with the bourgeois nation state. That’s the issue that *predates* socialism and it is also the necessary condition for its creation. You can’t go from feudalism to socialism. You need large-scale global capitalism first. And then you can’t go back.

    The central argument is that the globalized machinery of capitalism could be put to better use; it’s meaningless to ask people to start a medium-sized city based on this notion, because such a city simply wouldn’t have access to said machinery on any meaningful scale.

    Socialism may start in one place, but unless its perspective is internationalist, it will fail (again).

  317. agreed. If one community is playing by a set of rules that effectively handicaps that shit out of them in an arena where all the rest of the players are playing by another set of rules that doesn’t, then it would be small surprise to anyone at all if the one community fails; the experiment’s results would be invalidated as a result.

    Regarding the accumulation of power: if those in administrative office (for however long) have the power to change the system (which fine-tuning is often required by their office) how do we prevent them from fine-tuning it in such a way as to accumulate power? I’m sure that, at first, the things that would be changed would have very good reasons that the people would accept. Corruption happens incrementally, and typically isn’t noticed until it’s so blatant that it’s damn near impossible to root out.

    More than anything else, I see people who haven’t been able to change over to the new socialist system, ie, those who are playing by the old, broken rules, to be the greatest threat to any socialist experiment, and possibly, socialism in general.

  318. Joseph Larson:First, I’ll note that I agree with the others above as to why the experiment wouldn’t work. But, since you want to have a fun experiment, I’ll give it a shot. The rules seem to be, I get 1 million people and you don’t seem to think Federal laws/regulations matter. So …
    The 1 million citizens gather in North Dakota and note that they outnumber the total population. They also note that elections are upcoming and they have more than enough votes to completely claim the election. In fact, they have such a super majority, that they divide into groups and send part to Delaware and part to Wyoming. They then register appropriately and assume complete control of the three states elected officials. Quickly, they change the state laws, regulations and constitutions to provide for a conducive environment for socialist ideals (such as the elimination of public property). Delaware is particularly nice since through quick action they claim the corporate licensing of more than half the corporations in the US. These laws are quickly changed to switch the ownership of the means of production of much of the US.
    From this base, and with the backing of much of the now worker controlled corporate structure, they work on implementing all reforms and then expanding into other states. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    In reality, of course, this would have any number of problems, not the least of which is that Federal level laws do actually matter.

  319. Joseph- I think you were reading a tone that I didn’t intend. I greatly respect IP as a work product. I mentioned it because, as I said, it flourishes in Cuba despite the many handicaps placed in that country’s way. Intellectual property is being created and put to good use. If individuals aren’t getting rich as a result, that isn’t a sign that the system is failing, but rather that it is working as intended.

  320. skzb

    Jon: I suppose the question is, to what extent can those in power give themselves more power? Keep an eye on that would not hurt. Also, in general, being vigilant.

  321. To build a an Egyptian pyramid may take 10,000 laborers 5 years using nothing more complicated than basic tools available circa 5000 BC. But if Pharaoh had done some shopping at his local Caterpillar dealer he might have reduced the required labor force by 90%. To do this he would need cash or a good credit line. He could spend his capital to substitute for labor through the use of technology.

    This is a very basic concept. It’s one that Marx recognized. Capital can substitute for labor through technological change.

    Why some would fail to see this at this date in history is beyond me. Marx saw it 150 years ago.

  322. I asked for examples of predictions based on a Marxist economic model. No one has yet produced one. All I hear are Nostradamus-like, vague and unverifiable claims. If you can’t point to a specific prediction please don’t make the claim.

    I can predict today there will be a recession in the future. At some point in time — a year, 5 years, 10 years from now — there will be a recession. Was my prediction correct? Not really — at least not a meaningful one. I made such a vague prediction of something that was bound to happen that claiming an accurate prediction is nonsense.

    Marxian economics predicted the housing crisis. That claim has been made upthread. Where and when was the prediction made? Do you mean every housing crisis that has occurred over the last 150 years? Or just the one that occurred in the early 2000s? I say, nonsense. First of all, not every housing crisis even has the same root cause. Socialist and communist countries have *also* had housing crises.

    One of the major problems for latter day Marxists is that Marx wrote in a time where the gold-standard was the norm. He saw ‘fictitious capital’ as a profound error within capitalism that inevitably led to inflation or depression or both. Instead, what we have seen is the system is much more resilient (once the gold-standard was abandoned). Asset bubbles (largely the ‘fictitious capital’ of Marx) come and go. The system burps, suffers some indigestion, but has hardly proved fatal.

    Someday the system will fail completely. Yes, and some day Christ will return. Bringing us back to my initial point: what’s the difference, they’re both failth-based beliefs.

  323. Oneillsinwisconsin:What kind of prediction are you looking for? The last timeI checked, the US is operating under a capitalist system. I’ll predict that supply side economics will continue to not work at all.
    The US will continue to be lead astray as money is horded by the .1% and the Gini coefficient will continue to grow.

  324. skzb

    Ahh. *through technological change* is the magic, missing piece that you didn’t include before. Kind of makes a difference, don’t you think? Hence, the falling rate of profit, hence the need for continual expansion of markets and resources (imperialism in the strict scientific sense), hence the concentration of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and the domination of finance capital over industrial capital and the ever-deepening tie between private wealth and the state, all of which were discussed by Marx in Volume 3 of Capital. He did not discuss continuous warfare as another result–Lenin made that contribution, but it also seems to be holding up pretty well too.

  325. oneillsinwisconsin, it’s about analysis, not predictions, but let’s pretend it is. Did Adam Smith predict the housing crisis? And is it a tenet of your faith that the system will never fail?

    Possibly useful: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2017/01/05/as-socialist-venezuela-collapses-socialist-bolivia-thrives-heres-why/?postshare=9101483741934206&tid=ss_tw-bottom&utm_term=.fb430b50205d

  326. oneillsinwisconsin–

    If you don’t like Marx’s critique of capitalism, which do you prefer?

  327. skzb writes: “Ahh. *through technological change* is the magic, missing piece that you didn’t include before”

    I wrote on Dec. 29 upthread: “Capital substitutes for labor through technological change.”

  328. Will – both Marx (when wearing his economist hat) and Keynes provide tools for analyzing an economy. Keynes is ‘more right’ than Marx, but that would be expected since Keynes was able to incorporate 50 to 75 years additional data *and* utilize previous work including that of Marx.

    As someone that believes in the scientific process and that much of economics can/should be a scientific endeavor I recognize that we build upon the work of our predecessors. I.e., “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants ….”

    Marxian communism as a viable, practical political ideology I regard as a dead end. As an *ideal* it is always relevant, but as I pointed out earlier it’s a vision of the Star Trek world. It does not offer a practical prescription for how to attain that ideal.

    Laissez faire capitalism is just as much a dead end, though putting a stake through its heart seems a much more difficult task.

    The only obvious answer I see is the mixed economy of well-regulated markets with the state actively working to maintain a more than subsistence level existence for its citizens. Indeed with the possible exception of a North Korea or somesuch we only see mixed economies in the world today. The chief difference among them is how actively they approach income predistribution and redistribution to equalize outcomes.

    Communist, socialist, capitalist and mixed economies have all been tried. It would be an overwhelming accident of random probability that those that exist today are all mixed economies. It is much more parsimonious to believe they dominate because they are more successful.

    I have long ruminated on ‘The end of work.’ How do we transition to a world where 40 or 30 or 20 or even 10 hours of your labor per week is not required to keep the economy going/growing? A universal basic income is probably the next step required. Free education — at any and every level up to and including post graduate studies is probably another part of the solution.

    I still see the arbitrary lines on maps that we have drawn as the major stumbling bloc. Nationalism, pure and simple, is the biggest hurde to clear. Until we view every other person in the world as important and as closely related to us as our next door neighbor, until we recognize we’re all in the same boat, we’ll continue plodding ahead with one step back for every two steps forward.

  329. Neither Adam Smith, nor Marx, nor Keynes specifically predicted the housing crisis and ensuing financial collapse that recently occurred. Yet each, in his own way, can be said to have foreseen the circumstances that led to the collapse.

    Smith would attribute it to poorly regulated markets. Marx would say it is the inevitable result and fatal flaw of fictitious capital. Keynes would attribute it to the human propensity for spontaneous optimism or ‘animal spirits’ that occasionally dominate markets.

    Where they differ is that Smith offered no prescription for how the economy could best be rescued from such a collapse. Marx didn’t either – he saw communism as the only answer. Keynes recognized that these events can/will happen and that the government can take specific steps in the aftermath to ameliorate the human cost.

  330. Kragar — Marx’s critique of capitalism is spot on in many instances. It is also deficient in many instances. As I mentioned upthread, he was working within a framework of the gold standard and this limited his ability to foresee the resilience of market capitalism. he also underestimated the ability of market capitalism to adopt many socialist structures leading to the mixed economies we see prevalent today.

    Laissez faire capitalism does not exist in the world around us — only in the fantasies of the Ayn Rand acolytes like Paul Ryan. Where today’s governments tend to fail is where they adopt *more* of a laissez faire attitude. Where and when they succeed is when they temper it with larger socialist structures.

  331. skzb

    “I wrote on Dec. 29 upthread: “Capital substitutes for labor through technological change.”” Then mea culpa—for whatever reason, I could make no sense the first time you said it, but put the other way it came into focus. Now I only need to understand why you think it’s wrong.

    “…this limited his ability to foresee the resilience of market capitalism.”

    In my opinion, what hMarx didn’t foresee was world war–war on such a scale that infrastructure would be so demolished that, in the course or rebuilding it, it would temporarily raise the rate of profit, thus extending capitalism’s lifetime at the minor cost of millions of human lives. This understanding was one of Lenin’s most important contributions. See his book, *Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.*

  332. @skzb

    Sorry for late clarification, I thought my comment had been eaten for some reason.

    “Your question seems to imply (correct me if I’m misunderstanding you) that someone wouldn’t create something new and exciting and beneficial to masses of people without the hope of material reward.”

    Certainly some people will go above and beyond without hope of material reward. Or indeed even without hope of spiritual or social reward, or if it comes to it with a certainty of suffering and death as their only reward. -And that’s an important thing to recognise.

    But it’s not a binary question, we want as much of that as possible. And I think there’s a moral question of rewarding people for their labour as well. It’s not that I don’t think it will happen if it isn’t incentivised, or even if it’s harshly disincentivised. I just think there’s:

    1. a moral imperative to reward such action.

    2. a practical imperative to incentivise such action

    (and whatever kind of being leads to and is involved in it)

    _

    To expand on and argue for 1:

    If someone saved my child’s life, going above and beyond to do so, I would feel obligated to reward them. Not just to recognise and celebrate them, but to sacrifice some portion of my (socialist) salary, or savings, or time, -or something, anything, in order to reward them.

    -After all, isn’t one of the main appeals of socialism that people should be rewarded for their labours, not for capturing the value of other people’s labour? This seems like a direct application of that principle.

    So, similarly, if someone innovates a procedure (on their own time, and ahead of time) which will save 100 children (in the time they have brought it forward from the ether), I think there is the same same moral obligation on society to reward them for what they do, indirectly, for everyone’s children, that there is on me personally to reward someone for what they do directly for my child.

    -Indirect or direct, personal or distributed, it’s the same thing- they’re saving lives, (or more generally, creating or safeguarding value), outside and on top of their normal duties.

    (Of course, to many people invention is its own reward, But then so is physical struggle and direct heroism for others. Perhaps less of the latter, I don’t know, but the point is, I don’t regard someone being so good as to need no incentive or reward, as a reason not to reward them. If anything it’s a reason to insist on rewarding them more)

    If we expand this principle out from saving lives to creating or safeguarding value more generally, -which I think is reasonable because material wealth can can fund life-saving, and happiness and inspiration can create material wealth, as well as help and BE good health itself- then I think that establishes a general moral duty to reward people for (majorly?) going above and beyond their duties.

    Softening this (perceived) duty are the following

    3. There’s huge diminishing returns on how much wealth one person can usefully dispose of. The more you concentrate the value you create, on yourself, the more it diminishes.

    4. Dragging someone’s child out of a river shouldn’t mean you now own them, on the basis that they’d otherwise be dead. Individual endeavours should be incentivised, but not to the point where you destroy (most of) the reason to incentivise it in the first place: It’s public goods you want to incentivise, not private wealth building. The latter can be used for the former, but it’s the means, not the end. You don’t need to incentivise people to acquire cool stuff for themselves.

    __

    So between these, I come to the conclusion that just like a person who jumps into a torrential river and saves a child should be rewarded for their labour (high risk labour in this case)-

    the person who saves a hundred lives with an innovation made on their own time (or spiritually or materially enriches a proportionate amount) should be rewarded for their labour as well. Not in direction proportion, because of reasons 3 and 4, and maybe others, but in some increased proportion -because people should be rewarded for their labour, rather than have it arbitrarily captured by others, whether that’s by formal laws allowing someone absolute ownership of community-built means of production, or by the fundamental organisational difficulties in rewarding someone for creating vast, but diffuse, value. (Which isn’t to compare the two situations, just to claim that the principle seems sound.)

    ___

    So I suppose I’ll stick mostly with my original question, just with a clarification tacked on:

    How can a socialist society reward its members for their effort and/or the value they create, especially WRT creation of valuable infrastructure?

    (by infrastructure I don’t just mean physical things. -Also life or efficiency saving methods, good entertainment and/or literature, etc. -permanent assets of all kinds)

  333. oneillsinwisconsin:

    Let me recommend one specific work: The Limits to Capital, by David Harvey. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a work of contemporary Marxist analysis that constitutes a pretty good argument for the continuing relevance of Marxist theory.

  334. skzb

    Peak: It always feels disrespectful to reply to a long, closely reasoned comment with a short remark; it seems dismissive, and for that I apologize. But the thing is, in terms of creative work of any kind—engineering, art, scientific research—for the most part, people do those things because they have a passion, because they can’t *not* do them. The same, so far as I can tell, applies to many doctors and teachers and various others (including the clergy, which brings up all sorts of questions I don’t want to deal with now).

  335. Maybe it’s as simple as- you just just go ahead and reward them in some proportion, with diminishing returns just like wealth has when highly concentrated on a single individual. idk

  336. My second comment there was a crosspost with yours.

    Your reply doesn’t feel dismissive at all. I think you’re pointing at something very important, easily comeasurate with my long closely reasoned blog comment (lol).

    _

    Anyway

    What about the moral argument? Why is saving a life jumping in a river different from saving a life (or more) by spending hundreds of your (free) evenings on a research project rather than creatively analysing team fortress 2 or something? -Or why doesn’t the former need to be rewarded?

    _

    On incentives:

    But there has to be a margin somewhere, where incentivising and rewarding people for doing really high value work on their own time, results in at least a little more of that work being done?

    And if you’re paying people after the fact, there’s no risk of a wasted investment. Seems to me like not doing so would necessarily mean leaving value on the table.

    _

    And I think that margin might be pretty broad:

    Creative work can be rewarding and compelling, but that’s far from always the case, right? (Even in writing, which is one of the most purely creative fields.)

    And use of creative abilities and faculties can be rewarding in itself, whether they’re turned towards something ‘productive’ or not.

    And there’s a lot of valuable work of that kind which isn’t creative, but methodical. e.g. a doctor collecting and collating data about patients doesn’t take a lot of creativity, just a certain amount of determination and organisation.

    Then there’s a lot of people with the expertise to develop potentially more efficient methods in their field, but aren’t necessarily the ‘creative’ type, or for whom creative development, analysis, iteration, certainly isn’t a self sustaining process, -but is one which they’re capable of. And it will be mostly non creative people who have that necessary expertise in non creative fields. Lets say, stereotypically, accounting.

    Which brings me back to the original point about passion and things being rewarding. Yes probably at the very top of the field, where the most impactful work is disproportionately going to get done, a lot of people will have a really strong drive to do that kind of work anyway, maybe a supermajority. But there’s still a massive amount of optimisation and improvement and going above and beyond that people can do distributed throughout the whole system, which there’s going to be a margin for, -I imagine not just in terms of direct incentives, but in terms of feeling valued and acknowledged. Would you spend your evenings slaving over a project for strangers’ sakes if all you’d be getting was a gold star? I might try, but it would fuck with my pride, never mind my incentives or other motivation.

    Though speaking of intrinsic motivation, I just remembered that I read something like that if intrinsic motivation is oversupplemented by extrinsic motivation, it can destroy the intrinsic motivation.

    But anyway, I can’t imagine a socialist system which doesn’t try to work with incentives,
    At least in an interrim period. Seeing as that’s what we’re all used to. Maybe that’s a failing of our spiritual education, or determination, but I think it’s a fact.

    And to me personally at least it seems like not rewarding things along those lines would be like making a statement that it’s not valuable, because the cost of rewarding proven valuable contributions after the fact is so low.

  337. The moral argument becomes very personal, but I’ll offer a few bits to connect as you please:

    1. Moral people are not interested in rewards. They believe in “Pay it forward.”

    2. A good society is its own reward.

    3. People who do good that becomes known are rewarded in many ways: other people want to be their friend, to provide them with favors, to invite them to parties, to name their children after them, to praise them. None of that changes under any economic system.

  338. skzb

    Hmm. And now we’re back to Cory Doctorow and “Whuffie”. There are worse places to be.

  339. Whether “whuffle” would cover everything in a true communist society, I dunno. It might well be that there would be jobs so unpleasant everyone would agree the person who did it could have the house by the lake and everyone else would take turns cleaning it once a week.

    Mostly I think people who want to know every detail about how a new system will work cannot be reassured. When the American Revolution was happening, they were the people who went to Canada because they knew things would stay the same there.

  340. Whuffie is interesting although problematic (See here. for Doctorow’s opinion.
    One proble is that we are all conditional to think of things in terms of scarcity. People “get ahead” and “need” to be rewarded. All of these concepts are rooted in the society in which we are currently living.
    There are various ways to apportion truly scarce goods. If we can get to the point where that is the only detail that needs to be worked out then we will be in a pretty good place.

  341. Agreed. I’m talking about something much vaguer than whuffie. One of the few things I’m willing to say is human nature is the desire to show appreciation.

  342. Will:Yes, I completely agree with your previous comment. You can definitely see the trend of people wanting to know all the details. All the details of the current economic system are far from known; that it is very far from good, let alone perfect should be fairly self obvious.

  343. Scarcity is hardly a figment of capitalism. Goods and services can nearly always be measured as having a cost in raw resources, energy, and personal effort to produce. All those resources are finite. So in a way, all goods, services, and the other things we spend money on under the current system are “truly scarce goods”.

    It is lying to act otherwise.

    We can readily produce more than enough food to feed the people on this planet. But if people get in the habit of thinking of food as “not scarce”, then it also becomes something that we can waste.

  344. skzb

    Steve Halter: “One proble is that we are all conditional to think of things in terms of scarcity.”

    I really think that is the heart of it right there. As long as we’ve existed as a species, we’ve needed above all to worry about, “Will I have enough?” It leads to all sorts of pathologies—hoarding wealth being only the most obvious. I know there are those who are convinced these pathologies are inherent, biological, rather than responses to conditions. I don’t agree, but after there has been a generation raised in a world where we simply don’t have to worry about not having plenty, we’ll have a better idea.

  345. One example that behavior changes as scarcity diminishes: people who are more secure tend to have fewer children. Malthusians should be socialists or, at the very least, supporters of Basic Income.

  346. Auto incorrect gets me again. Should read “One problem is that we are all conditioned …”
    Skzb:I agree that a great many things are learned rather than hard wired. Especially, things that are taught at an early age can be very hard to break.

  347. SKZB — “I [O’Neill] wrote on Dec. 29 upthread: “Capital substitutes for labor through technological change.”” Then mea culpa—for whatever reason, I [skzb] could make no sense the first time you said it, but put the other way it came into focus. Now I [skzb] only need to understand why you think it’s wrong.”

    Queue puzzled look. I *don’t* think it’s wrong. I specifically said that Marx knew this 150 years ago and I couldn’t figure out why *you* thought it was wrong. You’re the one that wrote: “I’ve never heard anyone who claims to be a Marxist say anything remotely like this, and certainly there is nothing in Capital to support it.”

    I had already provided the quote from Capital to support it. I then explained it in my own words. Now you understand it and apparently agree that capital can substitute for labor, but claim *I* think it’s wrong?!?

    That was never my argument. Mine was that Marx did not see that capital could also complement labor and that capital also played an important role in absorbing risk. He was not wrong that capital can substitute for labor – he neglected to see the other roles it could beneficially play.

    He also believed that ‘fictitious capital’ could only lead to inflation or depression or both. That was probably (?) true under a gold standard, but has not proven to be the case once we moved to fiat currency. This is one of the main points of Keynesian economics — governments should be counter-cyclical agents; saving in good times and spending in bad times. This really isn’t possible with a gold standard (or any commodity currency).

  348. skzb

    *Buries face in hands* I think maybe I sometimes read too fast. Apologies. I’m not going to address the other points you raise out of a combination of embarrassment and whiskey. Maybe we’ll come back to what is lies underneath this disagreement at some future point. For now, the field is yours.

  349. oneillsinwisconsin:” This is one of the main points of Keynesian economics — governments should be counter-cyclical agents; saving in good times and spending in bad times. This really isn’t possible with a gold standard (or any commodity currency).”

    Yes, exactly. Now, I would assert that governments can do even better by removing at least some of the private ownership of public property and exerting direct control rather than the indirect leverage of monetary policy. An industry segment where this seems of immediate benefit would be health care where allowing people to be exposed to the vagaries of the market seems to be a particularly bad idea.

  350. Steve H – You’ll get no disagreement here. There are many markets where competition is illusory or non-existent. Heathcare is clearly one of them.

  351. @will shetterly

    “Mostly I think people who want to know every detail about how a new system will work cannot be reassured.”

    I can’t tell if you’re implying I’m someone who wants to “know every detail about how a new system will work”. I hope not, because I didn’t ask for a single detail, never mind every detail.

    I’m also not un-‘reassured’ about socialism. Right now capitalism does a pretty poor job of aligning incentives with what is valuable.

    See, e.g. the disaster of sub-prime lending, pretty much the entire fields of sales and advertising, for profit prisons, insane (branded) drug prices when the exact same compound is available unbranded for a tength of of the price, the entire practice of paying people as little as you can get away with, based on your leverage, etc, etc.

    But that’s exactly why I’m not going to blow off the importance of not-designing-your-system-wrong. Especially by going ‘lol NERD’, or in this case, canadian-emigre-coward-traitor.

    -Based on everything I’ve seen of capitalism, incentives are important, and I can’t see any reason that would suddenly cease to be the case with socialism, especially as there would be a transition period, of unknown length, in getting from here to there.

    _

    And this post *is* titled ‘ask me your dumb questions about socialism’, so cut me some slack even if I seem canadian-treachorous -that’s a pretty difficult thing to diagnose from a couple of blog comments, and this of all places is surely a good one to be charitable.

    _

    Also see my reply to myself suggesting there might be an extremely simple solution and maybe it isn’t that complicated -for all I know:

    “Maybe it’s as simple as- you just just go ahead and reward them in some proportion, with diminishing returns, just like wealth has when highly concentrated on a single individual. idk”

    -I wasn’t saying this is an impossible (potential) problem, or even that it is in fact a problem, I just wanted to know what (and whether) socialists think about it. (including the possibility that it’s a minor problem, or not one at all)

    __

    Lastly, even if I had wanted to “know every detail about how a new system will work”, would that really be so bad? after all-

    1. Wanting is different from demanding. Sometimes, I want to live forever, but that doesn’t mean I expect to.

    2. SOMEBODY has to figure these things out. We can’t just close our eyes, put fingers in our ears, and, basking in the glow of our warmth and good intentions, trust to the strength of our (disneyTM) belief. Because the more you get the structure/system of society right, the better things run, the less people suffer and die unnecessarily.

    Maybe what I’m thinking about is inconsequential, but I’d rather ask and gather information than assume it’s no big deal and later pretend not to notice when my friend or aunt gets turned down for a vital medical procedure because funding is short, because we were leaving value on the table. (-or acquiantance or stranger)

    _

    So while I didn’t (remotely) want to know, or ask for, every detail of how a new system will work, I wouldn’t be remotely sorry if I had.

    Somebody will have to. The system has to be set up some way, and some ways will be better than others, and they will be better and worse in units of people’s lives.

    Asking about that in a place dedicated to such questions is, (to say the least) clearly nothing like hounding people with demands for (‘every’) detailed blueprint/s, as a (dishonest or delusional) cover for fear of change, or attachment to the injustices of the old order.

    _

    Anyway, maybe I misinterpreted you. If so, my apologies in advance. -I really suck at ignoring even potential glib mischarecterisations of myself.

    Or, come to think of it, even if I didn’t misinterpret anything. After all, a bit of low-level shit talking is to be expected online, and probably I shouldn’t take it personally. But, alas, I can’t help myself, the post is written, and its inexorable fate is to be posted rather than deleted. C’est la vie

  352. peak of fit-of-pique feat of pick, you had nothing at all to do with my comment. It was based on a long history of encountering devout capitalists who keep asking to have every possible detail worked out, and then reject them because they don’t fit their understanding of human nature. It’s the logic of people who believed in the divine right of kings.

    I’ve stayed in this thread because I completely believe the people who want change should answer questions. One of my greatest complaints with the angry identitarians called SJWs is their tactic of claiming they “don’t do 101” to avoid hard questions.

    But I also believe there comes a time to cut your losses. That’s at least as old as the New Testament: When you meet people who can’t be convinced, you should let them see the dust of your sandals as you move on.

  353. Sorry again then. And thanks for answering questions. I probably should have picked more up on the fact that you gave several answers to mine.

  354. One of the most vexing problems in considering competing economic systems is the “innovation” problem. Is creativity and innovation heightened by market processes or are they invariant to the economic system (skzb alludes to agreement with the latter interpretation upthread)?

    Rather than think, I decided to look it up. I searched Google for “what great inventions did the ussr create”

    The top two results:
    12 top Russian inventions that changed the world

    Top 10 Inventions Made in USSR

    The first list is composed almost entirely of inventions from the *19th* century. The second list pales in comparison to the significant advances made in the 20th century.

    I make no claim that these lists are exhaustive, complete, or even truly representative — but Google is usually our friend with these types of questions. They do not lend one to believe that the USSR was a hotbed of innovation. Especially not when we consider the numerous transformative technologies and inventions that made their mark on the 20th century.

  355. peak of fit-of-pique feat of pick, no worries!

    oneillsinwisconsin, when you compare accomplishments in the US and the USSR, you should also compare resources.

    And I would suggest putting the first man and the first woman in space is quite an accomplishment, especially when considering Russia’s resources.

    I”m a little surprised the top 10 list didn’t include the eye surgery techniques that made Lasik possible.

    And I would remind you that no one here is arguing for authoritarian socialism.

  356. Will, LASIK seems to be a procedure that has many fathers – not one specifically. Wiki has some history/

    Putting on man in space or on the moon isn’t really an invention – so I can see why they aren’t listed.

    What’s interesting is that Russia in the 19th century had numerous decent inventions, but little afterwards. It would be difficult to make the case that the relative resources available decreased pre- to post- revolution.

    China, OTOH, is now near the top in many World Intellectual Property Indicators. Though it does lag significantly in patents per population.

  357. As long as we are speculating on potential economic systems, does anyone mind if I bring speculative fiction into the mix? I only ask because the last time I tried to introduce science fiction into one of these discussions, my conversational partner was weirdly and vehemently dismissive. Everyone here is down, right?

    Have you read either The Best of All Possible Worlds or, better, the Galaxy Game by Karen Lord? Excellent reads, and she includes some very interesting economic/political systems. In her interstellar society, there are two separate currencies. There is a system of monetary credits that are used to buy subsistence items… food, clothes, and so on. There is also a system of social credit that is used to buy… well, that is less clear. Opportunity? Access to more interesting circles and projects? Influence?

    Any work you do will earn you the first, and absolutely everyone gets enough of it to live comfortably. The second kind can only be earned by doing work that gets you noticed by people who already have social credit. Any kind of work can earn it, but, obviously, innovative work that has wide ranging benefits is going to get you the most.

    Does that sound like a system of incentives to create? Any reason to think that a top-flight engineer wouldn’t find that at least as appealing as a Maserati or a Patek Philippe watch?

  358. Although it is, of course, difficult to impute specific origins of innovation, even here in capitalist USA, many of the root origins of innovation stem from government programs. A few of the biggest are:
    The space program (specifically Apollo).
    DARPA — most notably the internet.
    Los Alamos — nuclear power

    So, it becomes very murky to say what came from “market forces” and what came from government incentives.

  359. Didn’t mean to imply the Russians weren’t standing on the soldiers of giants, but your link does note “This work was followed by that of the Russian scientist, Svyatoslav Fyodorov, who developed radial keratotomy (RK) in the 1970s and designed the first posterior chamber implantable contact lenses (phakic intraocular lens) in the 1980s.” You don’t get to Lasik without radial keratotomy.

    And unless the Russians stole all their tech, they had to do some innovating to beat the US into space.

    I personally think people invent because they want to, either for fun or to meet a clear need. But doing that requires resources most people don’t have.

  360. @ Will Shetterly
    I personally think people invent because they want to, either for fun or to meet a clear need. But doing that requires resources most people don’t have.

    I am forced to respectfully disagree with you on the last point you made. There are people all over the world who are inventing and innovating every single day and many of them if not all of them lack resources. Within the US and elsewhere many inventors are now creating new technologies, new working prototypes of ideas that simply did not exist before, THEN they often turn to the internet to crowdsource funding to produce a product. The arduino microprocessor, the PI mini computer, the ENTIRE line of products from the new company Adafruit and thousands of third party ad-ons are all examples of individuals who had and idea and a soldering gun and made something that worked. And those examples are just a few of the electronic based products in the last few years. An 11 years old child(sorry but I don’t recall his or her name) came up with an entirely new way to make waste water safe to drink and farm with. The process is cheap enough to be implemented on a large scale and is projected to allow for new sources of food and water for decades to come in an area that is now considered on the edge of unlivable.

    Innovation follows need, mankind has always been able to rise to the occasion and fill a need. I agree that many who innovate or invent do so for reasons other than profit but a lack of resources has never meant a lack of innovation.

  361. Fair enough, I should’ve been more precise. It’s a whole lot easier to invent something that’ll impress capitalists if you have a state-of-the-art laboratory. If you’re a working stiff, you ain’t got that.

    And by “resources”, I’m including a first-rate education, which is only available to everyone in the US in the fantasies of meritocrats.

  362. Will, I would not be so sanguine about innovation being a pervasive inherent trait. As Anton Howes writes:

    Kay’s innovation [the flying shuttle] was extraordinary in its simplicity. As the inventor Bennet Woodcroft put it, weaving with an ordinary shuttle had been “performed for upwards of five thousand years, by millions of skilled workmen, without any improvement being made to expedite the operation, until the year 1733”. All Kay added was some wood and some string. And he applied it to weaving wool, which had been England’s main industry since the middle ages. He had no special skill, he required no special understanding of science for it, and he faced no special incentive to do it. As for institutions, the flying shuttle was technically illegal because it saved labour, the patent was immediately pirated by competitors to little avail, and Kay was forced to move to France, hounded out of the country by angry weavers who threatened his property and even his life. Kay faced no special incentives — he even innovated despite some formidable social and legal barriers.

    Kay’s flying shuttle is just one example, but it is illustrative of many more innovations that were low-hanging fruit, ripe for the plucking for centuries. So the usual, natural state is the state of those millions of weavers who preceded Kay, who never knew another innovator and so never even received the idea of innovating. As the agricultural innovator Arthur Young put it, the natural state is not innovation, but “that dronish, sleepy, and stupid indifference, that lazy negligence, which enchains men in the exact paths of their forefathers, without enquiry, without thought”.”

    I have my own personal experiences that match this narrative. Very few people actually ever innovate, they prefer stability – not change. Especially when that change also entails risk. Looking at history, and the often long stretches of human existence where significant changes rarely occurred, it is much more believable that innovation is a rare trait, but once we are exposed it can spread like a virus and incentivizing innovation hastens the pandemic.

    I won’t go into any other ‘simple’ inventions that took ‘forever’ to come into existence other than to cite the wheel: “Wheels are the archetype of a primitive, caveman-level technology. But in fact, they’re so ingenious that it took until 3500 B.C. for someone to invent them. By that time — it was the Bronze Age — humans were already casting metal alloys, constructing canals and sailboats, and even designing complex musical instruments such as harps.”

    In looking through history we seem to see periods that night be coined bursts of innovation and many more and longer periods of stagnation.

  363. oneillsinwisconsin, we’re talking about degrees of invention. Putting a nail in a convenient place to hang something is an invention. If you want me to say some people are more inventive than others, sure. If you want me to say people tend to keep doing things the same way if there’s not an obvious need to change, ditto again. If you want me to say a wonderful thing about schools is they can spur creativity, I’ll agree with the qualification that they can also stifle it, so it really depends on the school and the resources.

    But if you want to argue about invention and individuals, let’s start with Tabetha Babbitt. How did capitalism spur her to invent?

  364. Will, I’m not sure your point. Obviously capitalism is not required for innovation. I don’t believe markets are even required for innovation. What is required is a mind-set and that mind-set is rather astonishingly rare in history.

    What we *do* see is a snowball effect. Many people apparently have the potential to become innovators, but they need to first be exposed to the concept and oftentimes given incentives to do so. Markets seem to catalyze the process.

    I haven’t thought about education and innovation, but today at least there is a fairly strong correlation between education and innovation. Some of this will be due to the need for exposure to the concept and a basic education (elementary grades) should be sufficient for that. And obviously some innovations require a high level of scientific or technical training.

  365. oneillsinwisconsin, no worries. I wasn’t sure about your point. The snowball effect would seem to have to do with communication, which is obviously, I hope, related to education. Innovation happens most easily where knowledge is shared.

  366. Let’s talk about crime. Number one, if everyone has enough to eat and a safe place to stay and a fulfilling job under socialism, crime is going to shrink down to a nub of its current self. Without personal property to covet and steal, there will less opportunities to commit crimes. And, the formation of genuine communities where people care about one another will virtually do crime to death. But there will still be some crime. There may be crimes of passion, there may be some mentally ill people who can’t be rational operators, even under socialism there will be the odd psychopath here or there. And, at first, there will be former capitalists trying with all their vicious might to undo the change to socialism. So how will the crime/court/prison system look different under socialism, apart from being much smaller?

  367. skzb

    I think what is left is probably going to fall under the heading of mental health, rather than crime. That is, at least, part of the answer.

  368. Data point: Currently, half the people killed by the police in the US have some form of mental disorder. I suspect socialist cops would not kill nearly as many people as capitalist cops do.

  369. There are good examples from the Nordic states (much as I dislike associating them with socialism in any way) of prison systems that focus on rehabilitation and on not torturing people. I think that’s the way to go. Crimes will still happen, particularly crimes of passion, but the prison-industrial complex doesn’t need to keep going.

    As for invention… because of the field I work in, I know a lot of people who are on the very edge of technological progress. I’d say maybe 1% of them are in it for the money. Of the majority, maybe 10-20% actually benefit from capitalism, whereas the rest are actually struggling to get the funds to keep working. (This is obviously anecdotal.)

  370. Here is a link to the Oxfam set of reports showing the 8 richest men holding as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the world population. The full report has a number of recommendations for correcting this. Some of these I agree with and some I don’t (a number don’t go far enough) but in general it is a movement in the right direction. Interesting reading in any case.

  371. skzb

    Thanks for the link.

  372. Ada Palmer has a very interesting blog post, On Progress and Historical Change that discusses some aspects of what progress is at a concept level.

  373. Ada Palmer:
    “Progress is not inevitable, but it is happening.
    It is not transparent, but it is visible.
    It is not safe, but it is beneficial.
    It is not linear, but it is directional.
    It is not controllable, but it is us. In fact, it is nothing but us.”

    Not one of my favorite Palmer essays, but then it’s more philosophy than history. In broad brush strokes there’s little to disagree with. The part about the papal election simulations was my favorite.

    My main problem with the essay is it is difficult to believe that progress is not inevitable, but it is directional. Directionality implies inevitability and vice versa.

  374. I am traveling to Detroit today, so I have a direction. While likely, it is not inevitable that I will get there. Many things can go wrong with simple travel through space, let alone the slow march through time we are making.

  375. Steve – if you are always traveling towards Detroit (directionality) it is inevitable that you will get there. It may take an hour, or three, or 300 years – but arrive fear not. Many things can go wrong, but if they do you will have lost your directionality.

    Directionality, like the arrow of time, says we’re not going back. I actually believe this is wrong in the short run for progress, but true in the long term.

  376. Bad, unforeseen things can happen. Rabid goats, terrifying albino penguins, Trump. Inevitability of human intentions is an illusion that gamma ray bursts from nearby super novas and cracked brake lines sneer at.
    As it happens, I am now in Detroit–it was very likely, but not inevitable.

  377. oneillsinwisconsin- directionality when applied to time is, indeed, unwavering, if only in our perceptions. I don’t think the word implies that in most circumstances. or as used in the essay. In fact, I think the whole phrase, “It is not linear, but it is directional,” makes it quite clear that is not what Ada means. She also discusses at length the problem of teleology vs. progress, so the inevitable arrival at a single point is certainly not what she is implying.

    Progress is directional by definition; progress is an observation that trends in human history are always from worse to better, whether you are talking about technological progress, economic progress, or human rights.. That is what distinguishes progress from random change. But progress over time isn’t contradicted by cyclical change in the shorter run. Immediately after the Civil War was one of the high marks in race relations in this country. Across the nation, even in the former Confederate States, blacks were accorded respect and privileges that had never enjoyed before. That Reconstruction was followed quickly by Segregation, the KKK, and Jim Crow laws doesn’t mean that progress didn’t happen. However delayed, the Civil Rights movement eventually gained more ground for black Americans than was lost in Reconstruction’s backlash. The vilification of Black Lives Matters now doesn’t mean that the overall trajectory of of racial inequality isn’t improving. It has never been safer to be Black in America than it is right now (well, actually the high point was a few months ago, but you see what I mean). If Justice isn’t fully blind yet, at least she isn’t staring as hard at the color line as she has in the past.

    Really, progress in this sense is no different from Evolution. Evolution is always directional due to the influence of the necessity of fitness. Species must evolve because of the pressure of survival, and their evolution is always directional, not random, because they must meet the demands of their environment more and more effectively. There is no inevitable end species. Humanity is not the top of some mythical chain of life. Still, every extant species is, by definition, more fit than their predecessors. So with Progress. There isn’t an inevitable end, but wherever you are at the time is always better than where you were in the past, if you look back far enough. And if you can look far enough in the future, it will be better still.

    Unless Trump kills us all, of course, then all bets are off.

  378. larswrydson – directional means that it is not random, that I can agree with, but per the graph provided we’re looking at non-linear change (exponential). Not a polynomial or random walk with trend. I.e., the graph does not show any regress, only upwards (progressive) values.

    We are talking about progress in general – not specific circumstances. No one says it’s inevitable that Hillary Clinton (or Donald Trump) will be elected president. We are saying it is inevitable that health care in the USA will improve. Now, how we improve it, how long it takes, and the specific shape of the improvements are the papal simulations that Palmer describes. Directionality implies it is inevitable. It will improve. But it’s non-linear, so it may improve 1% in 10 years or 10% in one year, or 0.1% in 100 years.

    If progress were not inevitable, then we could equally speculate on how it will devolve – it might get worse in the long-term. I.e., it’s not directional. If, as you intimate, it’s purely definitional, then it really adds nothing to the discussion – tautologies rarely do. I give Palmer more credit in her argument than that, I merely disagree or find it inconsistent with her other statement.

  379. Oh well, fair point, “Progress is not inevitable” and “it is directional” seem inconsistent. Still, as an observation, the statement that progress is inevitable is certainly relevant to the conversation here. As Palmer pointed out, for most of human history the common wisdom was that change either did not happen- the steady state world maintained by an interventionist god- or was always bad, the fall from a Golden Age.

    Francis Bacon positing that changes brought about by the scientific method must always lead to overall improvements to the status quo is actually quite significant and seems born out by the data. And on the social side, she does talk about negative changes (e.g. the Terror) as well as positive, so random walk with upward trend, as you say. The chart I think you are talking about pictures the rate of technological innovation, which is definitely exponential. Social progress might be inevitable as well, on the large scale, but it is certainly not smooth and it can, to some extent, be directed by the people living it.

    Whether you are a social democrat, a socialist, a euro liberal, or what have you, if you want positive social change and you are witnessing the present regression, isn’t it a useful perspective to see that for almost any metric of social justice, the long term trend is positive? And, more importantly, to remember that the mitigation of downward trends is our collective responsibility, to be accomplished by innovative thought and steadfast adherence to principal.

    Well, that is what I got out of her essay.

  380. Gambler’s Ruin.

    If you have a large chance for a small improvement, but a small chance for a catastrophic outcome, over many trials you can do statistics which make it look like you are consistently winning — until you hit the catastrophic outcome.

    If she thinks we are improving on average, she may not be taking the rare catastrophes into account.

    So for example, we have never yet had a large nuclear accident. But Chernobyl and Fukushima, small-to-moderate scale nuclear accidents, imply that a large one might be very very bad for us if it ever happens. What is the chance we will have a large nuclear accident before we stop using nuclear power? That depends on how long it takes us to stop….

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambler%27s_ruin

  381. lars – We only have this one reality. It’s a single instantiation of many possible realities. All of those different possible realities may include health care improving, but the specific reality that we experience (i.e., how much and how long it takes for health care to progress) are dependent on the sum of individual actions.

    All we can do is play the role we feel catalyzes or provides the best chance for the reality we want to see come to pass.

    I don’t think this is specifically Palmer’s message — but it is close if not inferred.

  382. I ran across this great quote today. Since we are discussing late-stage capitalism, I thought I would post it here. It seems to describe our current situation well:

    William S. Burroughs: “We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures, and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident, inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.”

  383. Sorry I’m a little late to the party; apologies if this has already been answered somewhere above.

    My big question about communism/socialism is how do you sell it? (I recognize the irony in using inherently capitalistic language to address getting rid of capitalism.) But seriously, how do you (we?) overcome the stigma associated with communism.

    Some notes: I’m in my 30s, and my impression is that most people my age are like me: they don’t remember much of the (previous) U.S.A. vs. U.S.S.R. cold war era, though they do remember the end of the U.S.S.R., especially the fall of the Berlin Wall. So folks my age don’t have the “communism=evil” gut reaction that so many older folks in the U.S. have. _But_ there is still a pervasive association of communism with the failed U.S.S.R. and with Cuba, and with China, and perhaps with North Korea.

    What this means for me (and, I suspect, for many others) is that communism _is_ equated on a gut level with some pretty harsh abstracts and imagery, notably: bread lines, widespread poverty, violent rejection of dissenting opinion, and grey, brutalist architecture, in which citizens are crammed into crappy apartments, essentially government slums. Also grey clothes, grey streets, and grey skies.

    I think the architecture issue is real and substantial one, and western European socialism didn’t help the image either. A lot of the British government housing looks and feels like Soviet government housing.

    U.S. government housing has traditionally been more red-brick (though also fairly crappy).

    At any rate, I think there is a visual equation in American minds between socialism/communism and a dreary sameness that will be hard to overcome.

    Of course, American capitalism has also produced a depressing sameness in its architecture: tract homes. One could argue (I would) that they’re prettier than attempts at public housing, and maybe that helps. Both communism and capitalism have struggled with providing cheap housing and both settled on cheap materials and repetitive processes. America made the insides bigger and prettier in tract homes because the country felt obligated only to house the middle class that could afford them.

    And maybe I’m wrong (I grew up in New Orleans, so anything less than old European/colonial architecture in a plethora of colors feels depressing to me); maybe other Americans don’t have the same images of grey Russian buildings when they think of communism, but I’m willing to bet they do, if only because those are the only visuals of communism we’ve received from movies and TV.

    I think a _lot_ of Americans, maybe a majority would be comfortable with the idea of a universal minimum income, maybe a guarantee of housing, food, and healthcare, especially in the face of increasing automation. I think a lot of us have a recognition that there aren’t enough jobs to go around, and there will be fewer soon, and only granting money/housing/food/medical care to the few lucky enough to get the few jobs available is unsustainable. I think a lot of Americans would agree that granting the tiny few who are lucky enough to own capital (the patents for the robots, or the IP for the AI code, or the actual factories/cars/hospitals using automation) _all_ of the wealth that comes from that capital feels deeply unfair (especially, thought not exclusively, when that capital inherited, or bought or started using inherited money, or an inherited access to education, etc.).

    But I don’t think Americans are comfortable with the word “communism” and the visual/abstract associations that American media depictions during the cold war and since the U.S.S.R.’s collapse have instilled in the American psyche.

    So how do you sell it, pitch it, spin it to overcome prior prejudice against the word? (Plenty of older Americans hate “socialism” deeply, but will defend their Medicare and Social Security to the death, and don’t see the irony.) How do you make Americans _want_ it. We are humans and we are deeply irrational. It should be obvious by now that something being overwhelmingly in our own best interests is clearly not a strong enough motivator.

  384. skzb

    Justin: There a couple of glib answers I could give you, starting with, “The primary propagandist for communism is life under capitalism.” But the fact is you’re right; the Stalinists did a great job of equating Stalinism with Communism, and have created massive amounts of confusion. How to address it? In the words of Lenin, “patiently explain.”

  385. What would be a good primer on socialism for a layperson with little prior interest in politics?

    Forgive me if this sounds a little dismissive of your own writing here, it isn’t my intent to disregard your own writings on the subject here; I’ve been reading your blog with a great interest ever since I discovered your Dragaera books, and that has in fact been one of my main motivators to learn more. The nature of a blog doesn’t really lend itself to in depth study though, so I’m looking for something a little more structured to aid my political awakening. Since (to my knowledge) you yourself haven’t written any books on the topic, the next best course of action seems to be to ask your advice on where I should start.

    Also, since I see both terms used almost interchangeably by a lot of people, is there a substantial difference between socialism and marxism? A lot of other people I respect use the latter term a lot, while you seem to mainly use the former.

  386. skzb

    There a pamphlet by Engels called Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. It is an excerpt from Anti-Duhring, one of my favorite works, so you can read the whole thing if you feel like diving in.

    Here are the links to PDFs of both of them:

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Engels_Socialism_Utopian_and_Scientific.pdf

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Engels_Anti_Duhring.pdf

  387. skzb

    As to your other question: Marxism is the theory of knowledge of the working class–that is, it is an ideology. Socialism is an economic system.

    Good questions.

  388. Thank you very much, I shall read through them with great interest. I don’t know where I stand on a lot of this stuff yet, since I’ve never really had a long hard look at the issues. I know I don’t agree with quite a few things I’ve seen you say on here, but I can’t just sit down and rely on the establishment left to help the situation any more.

    Both in the UK and the USA (not to mention Europe), they’ve proven themselves to be incompetent at providing a legitimate opposition to the rise of fascism and white nationalism. The only positive I can see from the current situation is that I can’t be the only previously complacent lefty thinking like this.

    Thank you, both for your uniquely enjoyable literature, and for helping open peoples eyes to the possibility of an alternative to the current political and economic status quo. Rock on and stay awesome!

  389. Also, I just realised you said my questions were good, mea culpa, I’ll try to restrict myself to dumb ones here. 😛

  390. Recognizing this is an older post, a new question has occurred to me in the wake of recent executive actions and much news on immigration to the US. Under socialism, how would the movement of labor between nations be regulated? It’s been confusing me that on its surface, there should be free movement of labor under capitalism, which is obviously not the case today, and which few self-proclaimed proponents of capitalism promote, at least within the US; it seems both ends of the right/left political spectrum are full of reasons to limit immigration into the US, with a theme shared by the likes of Trump and Bernie Sanders of protecting American workers first. If workers were to assume control of the US state, would there be any predictable implications for the flow of immigrants, documented and undocumented, into the US? Or would international immigration remain a complex issue until a stateless world is achieved?

  391. skzb

    Part of the program is fully open borders and no restrictions on any rights of any worker coming from anywhere.

  392. Currently, capital is mobile and labor is forced to stay in place, in large part. Advantage: capital.

  393. I can’t see having no restrictions of any sort on where any worker lives.

    Imagine that we had a vital, necessary project that required we have an extra million workers in North Dakota, plus support personnel. But we can’t find a million people with the needed skills who are willing to spend time in North Dakota.

    One solution would be to change the rules. Find a way to live without the vital project. Or find a way to do it somewhere that isn’t too much of a hardship on workers.

    Or find a way to reward workers so much for going to North Dakota that enough are willing. Maybe we would have money that can be spent on luxuries but can’t be spent on capital goods. Give them enough luxuries to make up for ND. Possibly that might involve six months in ND and six months in Hawaii, in the hedonic capital of the world where hedonic experts are happy to luxuriate the heroes of North Dakota.

    Meanwhile if somebody wants to use his luxury money to buy a drill press he can’t.
    “But I enjoy making holes in things, this to me is a luxury item.”
    “Very well, but no one has permission to buy anything from you that has holes drilled in it, unless you can document who drilled those holes using legal capital goods.”

    It’s hard for me to see how to get any approximation to equality when some people have to work in North Dakota while others get to live in San Francisco or Rome. And how do you compare the guy in North Dakota to the guy in the Sahara? They both have a lot to put up with, but it’s incommensurable.

  394. If people believe it’s necessary, you’ll have more volunteers than you need. Where money is most influential is when you’re trying to convince people to do things they think don’t matter.

    You’re also missing the fact that many people who live in the Dakotas love the Dakotas. It’s beautiful country.

  395. I was gonna say. I’m a Fargo resident.

  396. Thanks so much for the quick answer! The answer itself – fully open borders, no restrictions on worker rights – is even better than I had hoped. It feels right. It’s frustrating to see so many workers blame each other for tough conditions.

  397. “If people believe it’s necessary, you’ll have more volunteers than you need.”

    That’s another way to change the rules.

    As I understood it, the original idea was: When we run things our way, everybody can live wherever they want to.

    So I ask, what happens if it’s impractical to let everybody live wherever they want to?

    And among the answer is, “People will *want* to live wherever it’s practical for us to put them. We can be so persuasive they will always want to do what’s best for them.”

    That doesn’t really answer my question. Or maybe it does.

    I can’t just assume that people will want to live in places where there’s no room for them etc. There’s no guarantee that will ever happen. On the other hand you shouldn’t just assume that it will never happen, when there’s no guarantee that it won’t.

  398. First, here’s a very interesting article related to all this: Production under Socialism

    jethomas5:There are a few things to consider. Currently, within the US and within the EU people are free to move to work. This works fine. When you want to bring someone to a place, under capitalism you offer them a higher wage or at least a job where there wasn’t one where they formerly lived. In the North Dakota example, the recent oil boom appears to have brought roughly 100,000 people to the state.
    The reason behind the sudden boom is that fracking opened up shale oil production in ND such that the apparent cost of that oil made it profitable for Capitalism to extract that oil and sell it. I say apparent as one prime failing of Capitalism is failing to account for all of the costs.

    How would you get a lot of people to move from one place to another under a Socialist system? Again, there are lots of potential methods. Part of the answer as Will said above is to show people the benefits for society for moving, That will be enough for some number of people. You can also make the move fairly easy — nice housing, ease of movement, etc.

    Your next comment was on ” what happens if it’s impractical to let everybody live wherever they want to?”

    The answer to that is that in a given place there will always be a limit to how many people can live there. Physical space for example. While I might be disappointed not to be able to live at a particular place, there will be a secondary place that I’ll find available. I could put my name on a list of people who want to move to that place and when space was available, I might move there.

  399. jethomas5, I was thinking you were focusing on people going to places that you think are undesirable, but necessary work has to be done there.

    The reverse question is more interesting from a socialist pov: what do you do with things more people would want than could have, like an apartment in the best parts of Manhattan or Paris, or on one of the great beaches of the world?

    I suspect you’d have two kinds of lotteries, one for most of the living spaces that treated them as vacation homes that you could use for a limited period of time and another lottery for people who would live full time in that area, doing the things that any community needs done on a regular basis.

  400. skzb

    Argentum: “It’s frustrating to see so many workers blame each other for tough conditions.”

    Yes. This strikes exactly to the heart of the problem. This is why I oppose any efforts to divide the working class, whether it comes from reactionaries who want to close borders and incite religious hatred; or union bureaucrats who want us to “buy American;” or those on the “Left” who want us divided along gender or racial lines.

  401. “The reverse question is more interesting from a socialist pov: what do you do with things more people would want than could have, like an apartment in the best parts of Manhattan or Paris, or on one of the great beaches of the world?”

    Those look like very similar questions to me.

    I think it’s hard to make things fair. When somebody says he has a way to make things truly fair, I doubt him very much. Which is not a justification for blatant extreme injustice….

    When the Devil invites people to sell their souls, he doesn’t offer them all the same thing. He offers them their own individual hearts’ desire.

    So in any system where some key people get to make choices that affect a lot of people’s hearts’ desire, those key people can get power out of all proportion. They can jockey their power for more power. We wind up with a small class of people who are “rich” in whatever they care about, which usually includes status symbols that other people care about.

    If everybody can get a decent place to live, but some people get apartments in Paris or on a great beach, while other people get apartments in a historic castle etc — places more people want — then whoever passes out apartments has some power.

    You could ameliorate that with lotteries — everybody who wants a particular luxury could enter the lottery, while people who don’t want that one don’t have to join. (Some people would be miserable stuck among a bunch of frenchmen or enduring the reek of the sea.)

    But it’s very hard to prevent it, because it depends on what people actually want. Somebody who can arrange a dinner with Beyonce has power with Beyonce fans. Similarly, somebody who can arrange a dinner with Steven Brust. Whatever it is that people want which is in short supply, turns into a stick to beat them with or a special reward.

    Still, if we can provide everybody with the necessities, that’s worth doing. We’re better off when getting enough healthy food to eat is not a status symbol.

  402. I originally posted this to facebook but I thought to myself, hmm I actually want a response on this, so I’m going to post it here as well:

    I’ve long thought the philosophy of “the customer is always right” is just plain dumb.
    But then there’s this: the customer might not always be the customer–they just might be calling themselves that to avoid liability and legal obligations.
    “In an effort to explain how, in the last twenty-or-so years, workplaces have fundamentally (in his view) worsened, David Weil described the “fissuring” process where lead companies in many industries reduced their own large workforces in favour of a complicated network of smaller employers. New businesses are also being built on this same model. Weil describes the American economy, but the application to many countries around the world has been noted and commented upon in the academic literature.
    In his book, Weil describes how lead companies, through contracting and outsourcing, reduce costs and place themselves in a position where they are not responsible for the indirect employment they create as they shift liability and cost to others. He describes how this shift to smaller companies that provide lead companies with products and services is a deliberate strategy to create intense competition at the level of employers below the lead company, and causes significant downward pressure on compensation while shifting responsibility for working conditions to third parties. Weil shows how this has created increasingly precarious jobs for employees who perform work for contractors and often for many levels of subcontractors.
    …lead companies contract out or outsource activities that used to be done internally, creating intense competition among potential suppliers and contractors to provide the lead company with products or services.
    The critical factor which allows the revenue and costs strategies to be integrated and which makes the overall business strategy successful is that the lead company *can control the product and services provided* by the contractors and subcontractors through…the creation of detailed complex standards to which contractors must abide, and also makes it possible for the lead companies to control and enforce all the standards on product quality, delivery, and other services that the contractors and subcontractors provide. Thus, contractors of the lead company, often in fierce competition with other similar companies, must comply with the rigorous supervision of the lead company. Under this strategy, the lead company avoids the legal responsibility that goes with directly employing the employees of the contractors and subcontractors, and any statutory or bargaining responsibility that goes with it. The smaller employers are therefore less stable themselves and often have more uncertain relationships with their own workers.”

    Source: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/about/cwr_interim/chapter_3.php

    Are individual service providers the new “worker”? Ie, do service providers need to unionize so that actual individual workers can be protected?

  403. I say yes. I disagree with traditional Marxists who think all freelancers are petit-bourgeois. I think freelancers who subcontract work are petit-bourgeois, but the person who cannot afford to subcontract is effectively no different than any prole who has must sell his labor to survive. We’re ronin.

  404. I’m not sure what traditional Marxism has to say on the subject, but I feel confident that they didn’t foresee today’s labour market or the effects of globalization etc.

    Therefore, their label that all freelancers are petit-bourgeois might no longer be valid. Many of the “independent contractors” I know are temps, aka, permatemps, or should be considered as defacto employees under Ontario’s labour laws.

  405. And 95% of all new jobs created during the Obama adminitration were and are part time or limited duration jobs. So maybe voting in Neo-Liberal Democrats will not be the salvation of the working class after all…

  406. ONTARIO (CANADA)

    Workers who are employees under the ESA definition are sometimes “misclassified” by their employers – intentionally or unintentionally – as independent contractors not covered by the ESA. 12% of the 5.25M workforce in Ontario are classified as independent contractors, a portion of whom are misclassified.

    Businesses that misclassify employees as independent contractors avoid the direct financial costs of compliance with the ESA and other legislation. These costs include, but are not limited to,

    4% vacation pay;
    approximately 3.7% of wages for public holiday pay;
    overtime pay;
    termination pay;
    severance pay; and
    premiums for Employment Insurance (EI) and the Canada Pension Plan.

    Additionally, employees who are misclassified as independent contractors are denied benefit coverage where such coverage is available to employees. In sum, misclassification has significant adverse impact on those Ontario workers who are labelled independent contractors and not treated as employees.

    USA:

    Misclassification is said by the US DOL to be a broad and significant problem, presenting:

    …one of the most serious problems facing affected workers, employers and the entire economy. Misclassified employees often are denied access to critical benefits and protections to which they are entitled, such as the minimum wage, overtime compensation, family and medical leave, unemployment insurance, and safe workplaces. Employee misclassification generates substantial losses to the federal government and state governments in the form of lower tax revenues, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation funds. It hurts taxpayers and undermines the economy.[121]
    Underscoring the importance of the misclassification issue, the DOL has allocated significant resources to the issue by prosecuted cases in federal court, and by signing partnership agreements with numerous states to encourage detection and prosecution of misclassification cases. In 2015 the DOL’s investigations resulted in more than $74 million in back wages for more than 102,000 workers in industries such as the janitorial, temporary help, food service, day care, hospitality and garment industries.[122] It has also been reported that misclassification cases, which are described by the DOL as cases of workplace fraud, are the subject of numerous profitable class action cases.

    Source: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/about/cwr_interim/chapter_5_2.php

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