The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

Liberalism Then and Now


Classical liberalism, in the sense of the liberalism of the 18th and 19th Centuries, was a powerfully progressive force. It was the ideological expression of the need of the bourgeoisie to put paid to the social-political vestiges of kings and aristocrats and to create a society in it’s own image, and one in which the repressive power of the state could be reduced to the minimum necessary. Thus liberals fought, often with great success, for universal suffrage, formal equality before the law, freedom of expression, improvements in the status of women, a military under civilian control, and limitation of police powers. All good things, compared to what had gone before.
A progressive ideology that basis itself on a progressive economic system becomes reactionary when that system has exhausted itself.  Compare the progressive role of Christianity in the fight against the Roman slave system to Catholicism’s reactionary role during the downfall of the feudal monarchies.  In the same way, when capitalism itself became reactionary—that is, when it could no longer maintain itself without massive wars and destruction of infrastructure and ever-increasing measures of repression to defend its ever-greater difficulties in distributing human wants (wealth inequality)—liberalism transformed from a progressive ideology to one that simply provided a cover for the worst crimes of capitalism. 
We could look at the criminal role of liberalism in the Russian revolution, or its craven role Germany in the 30s, but really, we don’t have to look any further than the US. From the massive labor battles of the 1930s to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, liberalism in the form of its official spokesmen (politicians and journalists) has specialized in fighting tooth-and-nail against any moves toward equality, and, insofar as their efforts failed, loudly claiming credit for instituting them.  It’s like. after being robbed at gunpoint, you bragged about your generous donation.  When the US ruling elite needs to take a repressive step but fears that its “right-wing” elements will generate too much popular outrage, it turns to its “left-wing” side to carry it out.  We all remember how it turned to Obama to cut SNAP benefits, protect Wall Street gangsters, launch new wars, and begin a massive assault on immigrants.  Going further back, it was the “New Deal” Roosevelt who asked congress for the right to draft striking workers and force them to labor.  The “Fair Deal” Truman invoked Taft-Hartley 12 times within the first year of its passage.  Permit me to quote from Labor’s Giant Step by Art Preis:
“It is an irrefutable fact that the New Deal-Fair Deal liberals were the chief authors and sponsors of the first federal laws to (1) make mere opinion a crime (the Smith Act of 1940, rushed through by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Roosevelt); (2) establish concentration (detention) camps in America where political dissenters can be imprisoned without trial during “national emergency” (McCaarran-Kilgore Internal Security Act of 1950); and (3) outlaw a political party (Communist Control Act of 1954).”
The last, by the way, was sponsored by Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, who “won his spurs” by collaborating with the Stalinists to destroy the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party.
In the end, the first and third of these acts were used (with, it must be admitted, the cooperation of the union bureaucrats) to essentially neuter the American union movement and leave it helpless in the face of the massive, direct attacks on the unions that began under Reagan.
Today, what goes under the name of liberalism directs its energy toward preventing independent action of the working class, spreading ignorance, sowing division, and, above all, trying to convince us that the hollow shell of liberalism is the only alternative to the even more reactionary elements.
Heads up: it isn’t.

Author: skzb

I play the drum.


  1. skzb, I think your energy would be better spent looking forward, rather that trying to punish “liberals” of all types for the sins of their fathers. As I’ve said in the past, the word “liberal” has many different political definitions depending on who is using it. You are a liberal, according to those on the right, so punish yourself. The democrats you refer to, did some very not liberal things in today’s thinking.

    Many of the new wave of democrats are pretty socialist, so it would be good to give them some support for their efforts, rather than tar them because “democrats” are evil in your mind. The goal, at least for me, is progress and improvement.

  2. David, you gotta learn from the past. Marx over-stated one thing: the past only sometimes repeats as farce.

    Now, I agree that you can’t be a slave to the past. Generals famously fight the previous war, and so do most politicians.

  3. To nitpick a bit, the Smith Act didn’t criminalize opinion, it criminalized expressing certain opinions. It also wasn’t the first federal law to do so. The Espionage Act of 1917 made distributing anti-draft literature a crime, according to the unanimous Supreme Court in Schenck v. United States (1919), and the Sedition Act of 1798 allowed people to be convicted for, among other things, hearing a gunshot when President John Adams was in town and calling out, “I hope it hit Adams in the arse.” (From Wikipedia.)

  4. skzb

    David, that’s why I said “classical liberalism” when I started, because that has a precise meaning, which I then described. To be sure, there are those today who hate liberals and so define anything they hate as liberalism, and those who identify as liberals and so define anything they approve of as liberalism. That does not mean the historical development of classical liberalism, and how it transformed from a progressive to a reactionary ideology, is unimportant to us today. The study of political history, a thorough understanding of it, is vital to move forward. Would you accept the argument from someone that we should ignore the last, say, 90 years of Republican policy and “give them another chance”?

  5. skzb, I really did see your reference to “classical liberalism” and agree with much of what you said referenced to that specifically. My problem was that your definition seemed to be getting looser as you went along. The self described liberals that want some of the same things you do end up under the same umbrella word. Yeah, I know, it makes it more tedious to try and sort that stuff out. That’s why today many call themselves “progressives”, it is simpler.

    Please don’t invent a straw-man for me. At this point, the GOP has used up all it’s “second chances”, and third and fourth, etc. They are now an open cesspool of corruption with no value left. I feel sorrow for those good old republicans who have been betrayed by this right wing coup. Many have left the party. Eisenhower must be rolling over in his grave. I remember how Reagan oversaw a slow putsch to remove anybody not loyal to him (that is, if they honored their oath of office).

    The GOP claims to be “the party of Lincoln”, implying that they are for racial equality. While at the same time doing everything they can to put down all racial minorities. That’s an abuse of history. Your implication that all democrats today are as bad as the worse of the past, is also an abuse of history.

  6. skzb

    Please look up “straw man argument.” What I did was an analogy. It may be valid or an invalid analogy, but “straw-man” would have been valid if I had accused you of being a Republican and then torn down all the Republican arguments as if that proved you wrong. I only said, in essence, “we need to know this history; we can’t know how horrible Republicans are if we forget what they’ve done.”

    Now, it *would* be a straw-man argument if you had never said we can ignore the history of the liberalism in general or the Democratic Party in particular. But I i can see no other interpretation of your “let’s give these new guys a chance” comment other than the implication that we should ignore the history of their predecessors. Did I misinterpret you? If so, how?

    “Your implication that all democrats today are as bad as the worse of the past, is also an abuse of history.” I wouldn’t have said or implied that, not because it is incorrect, but because it is vague to the point of being meaningless. We need to concern ourselves with what these organizations and ideologies have done and are doing. I established beyond question, in the passage I quoted, how anti-democratic and anti-working class they were in the past. Today, we need look no further than the Obama presidency to see what they are; we don’t even need the confirmation of Pelosi’s actions since becoming speaker.

  7. Well, I guess it’s really a straw-man then because I never said, “we can ignore the history of the liberalism in general or the Democratic Party in particular”. Nor did I ever imply it. My saying give the “new guys a chance” doesn’t say “ignore history.” Where do you come up with this stuff? Using that criteria, you should never say another word ever in favor of socialism or communism because of Mao and Stalin. Because of them, socialism should be forever damned, to use your reasoning.

    Also I said “implication” because you implied it rather than said it. It was implied in your litany of all things horrible about “liberals”. Working down your list of things you didn’t like in the past, with no qualifications or explanations. So all democrats/liberals are in the same class of horrible (in your estimation) people. See above. The trouble is, you seem to have nothing to give. You put down those people actually trying to fix problems rather than you working toward solutions to problems. You have no third way that can work. Chaos is not a solution.

    Your position has been stated that everything will collapse, so why bother. You would like to be part of this new glorious movement that arises out of the ashes and blood. Though the reality is that if a violent revolution happened, you are likely to be one of those put up against the wall as were many of the original Russian revolutionaries. You might want to think things through a bit.

  8. skzb

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. *yawn* Can’t make any generalizations about liberalism, because they’re all different, ya see. Or, presumably, conservatism, because I’d imagine they’re all different too. Or reactionaries. Or fascists. Or white supremacists. Can’t say, “this ideology is defined by this” because, y’know, people are all different and believe different things. Or, am I wrong? Is it possible to make generalizations about every ideology except liberalism? Is it the magic ideology that doesn’t actually mean anything?

    My saying give the “new guys a chance” doesn’t say “ignore history.” Is disregard history more precise, then? Because, really, unless you’re going to tell me where the “new guys” have expressed opposition to the liberalism that I outlined in the past, have said they opposed the action of Hubert Humphrey and Robert Kennedy and the o ther leading liberal spokesmen of the time, those who carried out activities that have resulted in unions being broken, standards of living being smashed, people going to jail for their opinions as well as losing their livelihoods, then I’m just going to keep thinking that “give the new guys a chance” just means, “don’t look behind that historical curtain.”

  9. skzb

    Second (because it deserves its own remark) your comment about “everything collapsing” indicates you didn’t bother reading what I wrote. I spoke of progress. Of good things accomplish by classical liberalism. Things that are still with us, and still give us great benefits. Of progress. Because an ideology was once progressive does not mean it always will be. As Twain said, “Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.”

  10. It’s kind of like “Good Cop/Bad Cop.” Both want you to confess so they can haul you off to jail, and “Bad Cop” screams and foams at the mouth. “Good Cop” acts all sophisticated and friendly while making plans to do you in. The Democrats are the Good Cop.

  11. skzb

    Kragar: That’s not a bad analogy at all.

  12. kragar & skzb:It’s very apt as the party leaders are essentially another policing arm of the oligarchs.

  13. David:
    1) “the GOP has used up all it’s “second chances”, and third and fourth, etc.”
    2) “Your implication that all democrats today are as bad as the worse of the past, is also an abuse of history.”

    My interpretation of what the above quotes mean:
    1) It is appropriate to condemn the current GOP for horrible policies implemented by prior GOP members
    2) It is not appropriate to condemn the current Democratic party for horrible policies implemented by prior members of the Democratic party

    I think that’s a pretty fair characterization, but I acknowledge that others occasionally disagree with me. How am I misreading you David?

  14. I agree with both of my quotes, but there is context behind them that is significant. I agree with your #1, but again, there is context. How many years and how many chances have the GOP been given to do something productive. Each time, they come up with an even more diabolical way to make everything worse and this continues to this moment. I am thinking you agree with this.

    Your #2 is an exaggeration of what I said. It means that the new socialist democrats are not the old democrats of 50 or 80 years ago. They are quite different. For the new people, just because they identify as democrats doesn’t mean that they think like democrats of 1950 or 1930. Things change. Democrats are getting more socialistic. I am thinking you might agree that this is a good direction.

    Don’t compare apples and cantaloupes.

  15. You did raise a good question though, thanks.

    One loose end: how do modern republican politicians compare to their party of 50 or more years ago? The republicans of 50 years ago would be called socialists by today’s republican politicians. They might even be to the left of say the Clintons. This is because 40 or 50 years ago, republicans still cared for the welfare of the country and their constituents. Reagan (and Karl Rove) put an end to that, so now nearly all republican politicians are owned by the party and owe their allegiance to the party above that of the country and constitution.

    Can it be said that the democrats have a similar failing? I know that the DNC tried to do this and went right as a defense against the GOP, thinking they could win by taking over the middle. Forcing Hillary to be the candidate is a hint that big money was running the show.

    You could say that the new, younger, democrats are helpless to cause change. Possible, but at least they are trying. Which is why I say, “give them a chance.”

  16. David:

    You claim above that it is unfair to blame young members of the Democratic party because “the new socialist democrats are not the old democrats of 50 or 80 years ago.” Fine. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s not fair to blame the son for the sins of the father.

    However, you don’t extend the same treatment to GOP members despite admitting that the GOP members today are different than GOP member 40 or 50 years ago (in your opinion, the GOP was “better” 50 years ago than it is today).

    You also accuse the GOP of being monolithic (“nearly all republican politicians are owned by the party and owe their allegiance to the party above that of the country and constitution”). You seem to contrast that with the Democratic party. LOL. The GOP has schisms within it, just as the Democratic party does. Remember the Tea Party? Schism. Libertarians are more likely to be Republican than Democratic, and boy howdy libertarians are unhappy with today’s GOP.

    I suggest you consider whether you are an example of exactly what you accuse the GOP members of being (i.e., that you are a partisan Democrat). You refuse to see the corruption – historic and current – of the Democratic party. Do you line vote for Democratic party members (you don’t need to answer the question here, the question is intended to inspire some self-reflection)? Do you actually investigate all the candidates for a position before choosing for whom you are going to vote or do you use party as a crutch?

    You said: “Democrats are getting more socialistic. I am thinking you might agree that this is a good direction.”

    No. I do not agree this is a good direction.

    “Each time, they [the GOP] come up with an even more diabolical way to make everything worse and this continues to this moment. I am thinking you agree with this.”

    Hmm. I agree that the GOP does not seem to have a philosophical/theoretical “approach” at the moment. Trump is driving the GOP, and he’s not a conservative. I dislike much of what Trump says. However, I don’t agree that everything the GOP is doing is making things worse. I’m very happy with the judges that are being appointed to the federal bench. I think that Trump’s “bull in a china shop” antics are highlighting problems with laws that have long concerned me (e.g., giving too much power to the executive). I think that in the medium-term, this heightened awareness regarding delegating power to the executive is good for our republic. I welcome Trump’s efforts to withdraw the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan. Syria is FUBAR. There are no good choices in Syria. So, I’m not going to praise/condemn Pres. Trump or Obama for their actions with respect to Syria. I believe that Trump’s fixation on a wall is heightening awareness that the immigration laws passed by Congress are a complete mess and that the laws need to be revised to make them internally consistent. Both parties are cowards with respect to immigration. Both parties have had an opportunity over the past 30 years to enact comprehensive immigration reform and both have avoided the opportunity. So, I welcome the inadvertent attention to immigration reform caused by Trump’s fixation on the wall. I also LOL at the number of times the Democratic party has kicked itself in the nuts reflexively criticizing Trump for something they themselves approved/engaged in prior to the Trump administration.

    And I look above and see … a wall of text. My bad.

  17. Meanwhile, where does Capitalism fit into all of the above?

    I mean, my loose reading of this blog the past several months seems to indicate a prevalence for socialism and opposition to the general “evils of capitalism”.

    But how do the above criticisms of both sides of the aisle apply towards capitalism?

    I don’t fully understand the finer points of either, to be honest, never having liked reading history very much. I confess to an ingrained sense of socialism is evil and capitalism is good philosophy I can’t quite pinpoint the origins thereof.

    What I keep asking myself is, would you, Mr. Brust, be in the same position you are in today (i.e., popular and well-to-do fantasy author freely questioning the status quo) under a socialistic state?

    Thanks to all for the illuminating discourse.

  18. I wouldn’t say that Democrats are getting more Socialistic. I haven’t seen any of them proposing public ownership of the means of production.
    Some of them do seem to be returning to traditional Liberalism and dropping Neo-Liberalism.

    kukugorguns:Previously, you have mentioned that you wanted to learn more about Socialism. Above you mention that:
    “No. I do not agree this is a good direction.”
    So, have you decided against Socialism for some reason?

    You also mention that: “I’m very happy with the judges that are being appointed to the federal bench. ” Do you have an example of a characteristic of one of these appointees that you like?

  19. Steve Halter: “So, have you decided against Socialism for some reason?” I haven’t been convinced it’s a good idea. Until I’m convinced socialism is a good idea, I’m not going to agree that attempts to implement socialism are a good idea. Socialism, to the extent it is being implemented in the U.S., involves giving the government new or additional power. I’m not a big fan of giving the government more power. Which leads to my answer to your other question …

    “Do you have an example of a characteristic of one of these appointees that you like?”
    Skepticism of government power. Do a search for “Gorsuch Sotomayor Dissent” for some discussion of the skepticism of government power I want to see more of on the bench.

    If you have some time and want to be outraged by the abuses our government heaps upon us, I suggest you listen to the “Short Circuit” podcast. The podcast discusses federal appellate court decisions. You get to hear the stories of people who litigate against the government and how, frequently, the courts (which are themselves part of the government) blindly defer to the authority of other branches of the government. Not always though. Sometimes the courts decide in favor of the individual. I want more of that.

  20. kukuforguns:As I mentioned, Socialism isn’t being implemented to any particular extent in the US so far. Most of the things that are pointed at as examples of Socialism by the Right aren’t.

    Many (all?) government abuses of power can be traced back to an overreach that benefits some particular special interest group. A well founded Socialist government should actually be more resistant to abuses as it is working directly for the people. While our current governmental organization is supposed to be working for the benefit of the people, the people with the most money benefit the most, all too often.

  21. Steve Halter: I agree socialism (as the term is used by skzb, Marx, Trotsky) is not being implemented to any great extent in the U.S.A. Nor are the Democrats’ young guns socialists (again, as the term is understood by skzb, Marx, Trotsky). So, while the D’s young guns are described as being socialists, they’re really people who believe big government will make things better (i.e., Democrats, as opposed to GOP politicians who (until recently) said (as opposed to practiced) that a smaller government will make things better).

    I’ll disagree with you to some extent regarding your stated belief that most government abuses of power can be traced back to a special interest group. A lot of government abuse is meant to benefit the government. I’ll give an example. A prison in the South doesn’t have air conditioning and the prisoners filed a suit claiming that being imprisoned in an un-air conditioned prison was unconstitutional cruel punishment. The court issued a ruling requiring temperatures be monitored. The prison installed an air mister next to the thermometer. No special interests benefited (I suppose the company that sold/installed the mister). The abuse was intended to mislead the court and to protect the prison.

    I agree that special interests do underlie some government abuse. I just don’t feel comfortable characterizing it as most or all.

    The criticism that capitalism (or, our current organization) benefits the most privileged the most always confuses me. Capitalists argue that capitalism raises everyone up (unequally up, but almost universally up). Capitalists, therefore, view the criticism as irrelevant: What does it matter if A benefits more than B, if B’s life is improved by capitalism? Your comment, in fact, reflects this philosophy (“the people with the most money benefit the most” as opposed to “benefit to the detriment of the poor”). And, in fact, there seems to be a great deal of truth to the capitalists’ claim. Increased trade as a result of capitalism has resulted in the most significant increase in the quality of living worldwide in recorded history (or in the archaeological record). Socialism theory, in fact, agrees that capitalism will have this effect (at least as I understand it).

  22. kukuforguns:The “government” is not some sort of vast and nebulous singular entity. It is a bunch of people. In the prison case that you mention, some number of people who happen to be members of the government have managed to turn some set of rules to their own benefit — they are the special interest group and either are violating some set of laws or some set of laws should be in place of which they will be violating.

    Capitalists do, of course, argue that capitalism raises everybody up. They may or may not actually believe this.
    Here’s an example: The Lead Paint industry argued against rules prohibiting lead paint for decades after it was well established that lead causes all sorts of problems. The people in charge of the Lead Paint Industry made a lot of money by doing this. Their lives were improved. Many people either died or suffered permanent damage as a result of this. Their lives were not improved.

    Capitalism is a “quick” and dirty method of producing change from a less developed economic condition to one in which higher order economics can take over.

    If you are freezing in the Donner Pass, eating one another may at one time have seemed like a good way of surviving. Now, noticing that there is an interstate going by, eating one another would be a fairly bad thing to do.

  23. Steve: Feel free to use your definition of special interests when you are commenting. My definition is different than yours and my comment identified the distinction.

    When the U.S.A. was formed, the architects cobbled together a number of different political institutions/concepts/philosophies that had been previously implemented in other cultures. They were not implementing something entirely new (how they did it was more revolutionary). Which is to say, they were conservative in their choices.

    Socialism, is revolutionary. If you believe some socialists, it’s only been attempted once before (to abject failure). If you believe socialism’s critics, socialism has been attempted multiple times (to abject failure). I’m not jumping onto a theory with no record of success without rather impressive guarantees of success.

  24. 1. Both parties are ruled by money.
    2. For my values, the GOP is by far the greater evil. They have truly lost their humanity. Some of them never had any.
    3. Citizens United must be overturned if there is any hope of accountability to the people for ANY politician.

    So my question is this. Where is the room for compromise? The point of having more than 1 party is to bring people to the table to find the best solution for the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism. (Recognizing here that the minority numbers-wise hold the power.)
    So take out the radicalized left and right, and look at the 80% of us. Politicians are supposed to find ways to make things work by giving each side something they want. Sometimes a side gives too much away. Sometimes the issue is so dire – like slavery – that there shouldn’t be a compromise. Right now, few people are listening to anyone who is not dogmatically pushing one platform or another. Look at social media. I can’t tell you how often I have been attacked for pushing back on a blanket statement like all people who support #metoo are “feminazis.” I am not saying they are all angels, but most of them are honestly talking about their lived experience. Just like most people on welfare and food stamps, etc., would like nothing more than to make enough money to get off these programs. Politicians are not supposed to be “pure” partisan. They should present their value system and vote according to what they said or explain why they felt a deviation was justified. But that is my vision of a good politician, not what they actually are. Shouldn’t all good politicians be looking for the best possible bi-partisan solutions?

  25. As you say, both parties are indeed ruled by money. I could watch when this was happening. The GOP had an advantage in fund raising, so it pushed hard to make elections much more expensive. Then they got the Citizens United ruling pushed through, and made things even worse. So the common rule is that you need to suck up to big money to get elected.

    If your goal is to minimize corruption in the political process, we need to eliminate big money in campaigning.

  26. Ok. My first response was “Who needs the First Amendment?” I’m trying to avoid snark though. So, here’s my more substantive approach.

    How do we protect freedom of speech – particularly political speech – while limiting the influence of money in politics?

    Bezos is richer than most corporations, so limiting free speech to individuals does not solve the problem … just magnifies the influence of the relatively few ultra-rich.

    If we limit how much money can be contributed, what’s to stop the GOP (or Buffet) from buying the NYT and then running the rag as its mouthpiece?

    Moreover, I don’t think money is the problem that some people make it out to be. We say money to mean access to mass media. That model is dying. The analytics of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. are far more effective than saturating the airwaves.

  27. There is a simple answer. Limit all contributions to the same $2700 private citizens are allowed to give to candidates. Eliminate the PACs which are simply money launderers pretending to do civic duty. While $2700 is more than I could give to a candidate, it lowers the amount to the point where most politicians would reconsider whether the ass-kissing and humiliation was worth it.

  28. kukuforguns:Prior to 1789 democracies failed all the time. After 1789, democracies failed all the time. The writers of the constitution were taking a fairly radical leap, politically.

    Economically, the Constitution doesn’t have much to say and unfortunately the founders were all too conservative in not trying to think outside their boxes there. (I’m pointing at slavery, by the way.)

  29. All governments fail, eventually. The founders were fascinated with Venice and Rome for their longevity. And the founders deliberately avoided creating a democracy in favor of a republic. What is the oldest government in existence?

  30. Depending on how you want to count, either the US or San Marino, but that isn’t particularly the point.
    Primarily, you are conflating economic and governmental systems. There’s no necessary connection there.
    Secondarily, as you say, all systems fail or change. The economic system the US has now isn’t the same as it had in the 18th century.
    Tertiarily, e only happen to be participating in our current socioeconomic system through the happenstance of time and birth. There’s no particular reason to believe it is the best possible.

  31. What is the point? If the point is to minimize human suffering and maximize happiness, I contend political stability is relevant.

    I don’t see a strong reason to separate political and economic systems. That’s why we have terms like, socioeconomic. The U.S. was designed to be a mercantile system, it’s baked into the Constitution. The famous phrase, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a paraphrase of John Locke’s statement: ““Reason … teaches all Mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.” Acquiring possessions is one way in which humans pursue happiness.

    One of the reasons the U.S.A. has persisted as long as it has was the flexibility it was designed to have. So, I view the fact that the economic system has evolved as a testament to the success of the Founders’ plan.

    The vast majority of humanity lives and lived in a socioeconomic system through the happenstance of time and birth. So, I don’t understand what point you were making there.

    It’s also true that the vast majority of humanity lives and has lived in socioeconomic systems that are far worse than what exists currently in the U.S.A. You seem to be arguing in favor of discarding that success on the promise of a theory that has never been successfully implemented. If you want to convince me, consider emigrating (along with all the other true-believer socialists) to Venezuela (since the population there is departing, there is opportunity there) and turn it into your socialist utopia. I’m not trying to be super snarky here. Shouldn’t the test bed for new systems be places where misery/poverty is highest?

  32. kukuforguns:
    Please reference the sections of the constitution where mercantilism is listed as the economic system.

    Nothing in that statement of Locke’s is inconsistent with Socialism.

    You can aquire personal goods under Socialism. I am guessing that you haven’t yet internalized the various forms of property.

    So, flexibility was good in the past but we should definitely not change what we have now.

    Nice attempt at a form of “love it or leave it” there in the last paragraph. But, the proper test bed for economic change is one that is ready for change.

  33. I may be wrong, but I believe kuku’s “love it or leave it” barb was secondary to his main point, in that why, out of the nations in the world that are struggling under capitalism and ripe for ANY change, there are no well-meaning, funded, industrious people inside or outside the country setting up these test cases.

    “So, flexibility was good in the past but we should definitely not change what we have now.”

    I was under the impression that implementing socialism would require the equivalent of Louie Anderson doing a split… a break and replace sort of flexibility, not bend and reshape.

    I’m unconvinced Locke’s statement is necessarily inconsistent with Socialism, but it does appear that it is inconsistent with what is required to implement it.

  34. Nathan S:To stay in that metaphor, People have been trying experiments. These have been counter opposed by other people who are trying to break the experiments.

  35. Steve Halter: Article I Section 8 of the Constitution grants several powers to Congress that promote mercantilism, including the commerce clause, bankruptcies, to coin money, to establish standards of weights and measures, and patents. The 3/5 compromise. The 4th Amendment. Also, one of the main criticisms of the Articles of Confederation was that the several states enacted laws that discouraged inter-state trade which created such dismay that critics created the Constitution.

    I never said, and do not believe, we should avoid change.

    I was not (primarily) making a love it or leave it argument. From a utilitarian perspective of maximizing happiness, it makes little sense to endanger the happiness of 300+ million souls in one of the better countries on an unproven theory. It makes more sense to try the theory in a location of misery.

    Locke wrote more than that statement and since he was one of the leading proponents of the liberalism referenced in skzb’s original post, I’ll defer to his conclusion that Locke would shun socialism. I referenced Locke to clarify that “happiness” was understood at the time the Constitution was ratified to include private ownership of property.

  36. Kukuforguns:Article 1 section 8 gives Congress authority to establish laws over those. What laws they establish is up to them.
    Nothing in the 4th Amendment contradicts Socialism.
    The 3/5 compromise was indeed evil and has been done away with.

    “One of the better countries.” You May want to think about what that means and exactly what circumstances lead to that supposed state.

    Private ownership of personal property is fine.

  37. Steve: Are you trying to be an unsufferable ass? Gosh, it’s never occurred to me think about what living in the U.S.A. means or why I would rather live here than Mexico, Belize, Guatemala. Italy, Congo, South Africa, North Korea, China, Russia, Venezuela, etc. Are there other places I could live happily? Yes, and I did not say the U.S.A. was the only good place to live.

    I said mercantilism is baked into the Constitution. It is. I pointed out various provisions which support my statement. I see you skipped right over my comment regarding the Articles of Confederation or the implications of a little something called the Commerce Clause. I never said the 4th Amendment by itself contradicts socialism – I referenced it as one piece of evidence that the Founders envisioned a mercantilist country, in this case by safeguarding private real property (a means of production).

    Why don’t you tell me where in the Constitution the federal government is granted the exclusive right to own the means of production and distribution? Good luck. Powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states or the People.

  38. kukuforguns:If by unsufferable you mean answering truthfully rather than expectedly then yes, otherwise no.

    You missed the point of the question. It wasn’t, what are other countries like, but rather what sort of things may have prompted them to be less “better”. That’s the “circumstances lead to that supposed state.”

    The Commerce clause is another that grants Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;” Again, Congress can pass laws here as they wish–nothing about mercantilism.

    The Articles of Confederation are a historical document, not a set of governing laws so I don’t see a particular need to discuss them or the Magna Carta in this particular conversation thread.

    The 4th Amendment says nothing about means of production. It seems to pertain to personal property and privacy rights quite strongly and that is fine.

    It seems eminently arguable that the commerce clause could enable Congress to pass laws about the means of production.

  39. Steve: The federal government is not given exclusive rights to own the means of production and distribution. The 10th Amendment therefore guarantees the People’s right to own the means of production and distribution. Also review the steel cases. Also the 5th Amendment makes it unrealistically expensive to take the means of production and distribution away from the People.

    Again, gosh, I never thought about why the U.S.A. is a nice place to live and Haiti is a pestilential hellhole. I will admit, the list of hellholes is so long that I have spent exactly 0 hours researching why most of them are hellholes.

  40. kukuforguns:Yes, those are your opinions. Socialism does not take the means of production from the People. It restores them to the People.
    So, the case that the US Constitution in some way prevents Socialism is very weak at best. If it does in some fashion that you haven’t mentioned, then that, much like slavery, can be rectified with ammendments.

    That’s too bad that you’ve never thought at all about what may have disadvantaged other countries. I’ll continue to presume that you are trying to learn things here. Here’s one clue — “banana republics.” No, that’s not the only reason, but it is definitely a reason.

  41. Nathan S.:I would very much prefer the gradual replacement of capitalism with socialism as segments of the economy become ready for such a transition. Healthcare is a good example of a segment that is ready now. Public healthcare works very well pretty much everywhere else.

    Unfortunately, there exist a segment of society that seems to want to own everything for themselves. Historically, it is this that eventually leads to a breaking point (as you say) as eventually, that mad desire for ownership imposes conditions too harsh to bear.

  42. Kukuforguns: thank you for the response. While I’m going to stay out of the fray between you and Steve, I would like to respond.

    First, free speech is inherently good and must be protected. Grant.
    Second, as David pointed out the answer is limits to contributions.
    Third, when you say that rich people will just buy newspapers and control them I would argue that is a slippery slope (in argumentation terms). For that to be an evil, it depends on the future inaction of legislature. If we set limits, and folks find a loophole, the answer is easy:close the loophole. If we waited for a perfect solution nothing would ever get done.
    Finally, I agree that the model is shifting. However, broad consumption on social media requires people to do the work and money to buy the ad time. Still lots of money in it. There are certainly examples of people who got it done on less money, but they are outliers. I personally think we should severely limit ad time on ANY media platform with every nominee getting equal time. It would have two major benefits. First, fairness. Second, we would not have to be completely inundated with campaigning when we just want to see what the weather will be like tomorrow. The oversaturation of campaigning is counterproductive to getting people to vote. They are so sick of it all by the time the election hits that many just don’t want to bother. Not to mention that “truth” is not necessary anymore. I think money makes people do all kinds of things they would otherwise be morally opposed to doing. It is very enticing to imagine what money could do for our lives and those we love, including our causes. That’s why we have the lottery and game shows and a million get rich quick schemes. If we limit the money in the game, we are likely to get politicians who actually believe in something.

  43. Sandy, great post.

  44. Sandy:

    Should newspapers and television stations (and any other media outlets) be allowed to publish op-eds or to endorse candidates? I ask this question because I don’t see a difference (as respects the corrupting ability of media) between Bezos owning the Washington Post (or NBC) and a newspaper (or television station) with a corporate ownership.

    How do you close the loophole of the incredible power that necessarily comes with the ownership of a mass media outlet? I see three solutions: (1) state run media; (2) amend the Constitution to strike the First Amendment; and (3) qualifying the right to vote on demonstrated familiarity with relevant issues. I find those solutions to be worse than the problem.

    Pres. Trump is an example of a candidate who had unequal access to airtime and amount of ink spilled in his honor. His unequal access had nothing to do with the amount of money he (or PACs) spent. Nearly every media outlet gave him free exposure because it was good for the media outlet’s bottom line in terms of increased “sales” or advertising revenue.

    The call for campaign contribution limits is an effort to regulate fairness. However, in the end, we cannot control fairness without eliminating freedom of speech. Who are you willing to appoint to be the arbiter of whether an article is fair? I’m fine doing the job myself. My list ends there. The list of people endorsing me for that position is stuck at one person.

    Personally, I would like to believe that the marketplace for ideas is self-correcting.

    I’m a big proponent of the “perfect is the enemy of the good” argument. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t support converting the U.S.A. to a socialist system. That being said, I don’t believe that doing something for the sake of doing something is likely to lead to an improvement. There’s no shortage of money being spent on either side of the political spectrum. Why is it bad for Universal Exports, Inc. to give $1 million to Candidate A, while it is good for United Unification Union to give $1 million to Candidate B? I cannot think of any valid justification for distinguishing between the two. I note that Democrats are fiercely litigating in favor of unions’ right to acquire money and spend it advocating for politicians liked by the unions. Both sides are trying to formulate rules that favor their own side.

    We have tried the equal air time solution. It’s not exactly a roaring success.

  45. There’s a few threads here.
    First, yes free speech is great–we should have more of it and, yes, corporations are not people and yes, money should not give you more free speech than your neighbor. Removing greed from the equation would be helpful.

    Second, how can we tell that the current system is near its peak? Take a look at various measurements of standards of living — human development index, real income, productivity vs. wages, …
    The general trend is that these measurements show either a leveling off or outright declines. This is a definite pointer that there is something not working out.
    What might that something be? The one measure that is skyrocketing is that of income growth and ownership growth of a very small percentage of people. These charts always end in the sound of tumbrels.

    Thirdly, something that hasn’t come up in this discussion is that we are also facing an existential danger as climate change continues to accelerate. We don’t have a lot of time to deal with that. The “that” in particular is a definite side effect of the current economic model of attempting to slough as much cost into the commons as possible. Capitalism encourages not paying for the true costs involved in an enterprise if you can get you neighbor to pay for them instead. In this case, everyone is the neighbor. This is something that can’t be countered on an individual level. At the current pace, this ends in something that humans haven’t faced in a very long time.

    It is fairly hard to perform macro economic experiments. You need something approximating a nation state upon which to perform this experiment. Ideally, people recognize the need for change and embrace it. Practically, what we see is that the small percentage of people who are benefiting the most right now lack enough long term foresight or don’t care and so are perfectly happy watching the world burn as long as they can eat gold leaf covered ice cream. I am against watching the world burn.

  46. KuKu-
    You keep making the argument that money is speech and that right should be protected.
    1. Free Speech is not an absolute right. We have set limits over the years and I am suggesting that, in the case of politics, we should set limits because the rich should not be allowed to have the undue influence they have. That is, after all, the reason we fought the American Revolution.
    2. Corporations are not people.As such, they have no right to free speech. Unlimited money is a corrupting influence on our system. Citizens United must be overturned so rich corporations cannot continue to buy our politicians.
    3. I’m not suggesting that endorsements are a part of speech that needs to be regulated. Endorsing is not the same as giving a candidate money. Teachers, for example, put out a list of endorsements in every election of candidates that they believe will be best for public education. They can continue to do this without buying off candidates with money. Same for running an endorsement in an oped. Go ahead. Again, stating a set of beliefs and why a certain candidate meets those beliefs is not the same as buying influence. We all have bias and preferences. No one is taking that away or trying to regulate it. But if I as a teacher, can only “buy” a candidates influence with a sob story, a wall street banker should not be able to buy influence with money. We limit EVERYONE by limiting money.
    4. Unions buying candidates is no better than oil companies buying candidates and it should be stopped. I’m not looking to stop money from conservative outlets only. If it sounded like I endorsed only taking money away from one side, I apologize. If, however, you made that assumption, that’s on you.
    5. The answer to corporate ownership of media is simple. We deal with it when it happens. We need to hold the press accountable for reporting both sides of the issue. What happens on the oped pages is exactly that: opinion. Yes, the media had a huge part in electing the Idiot in Chief. Their pearl clutching now over him is indeed frustrating when they did, in fact, give him loads of free air time. Just as the GOP’s pearl clutching over a rep swearing or Steve King being a racist is ridiculous. That’s why limits are important. The candidates would not be able to make appearances because it would violate their limits.
    6. You set up a false dichotomy by suggesting that free speech and fairness are mutually exclusive. We can have both and we do it all the time. We are limiting MONEY, not speech. People can continue to yammer on about anyone they see fit. We can make assumptions about people or corporations based on how they choose to spend their money. We can research and get educated and make decisions. But just because I have bought Nike shoes in my life does not mean I am in favor of sweat shops. Money is not only not speech, it is not an absolute fail safe of what someone thinks. But if one guy buys you a yacht and another sends you a lovely note with a $5 starbuck’s gift card, most folks are going to do what the yacht guy wants.
    7. How do we regulate media? Easy. We educate people and boycott unethical ones. That’s how it works. Facebook is not correcting its fake news problem because it wants to. It is working on the fake news problem because people are outraged and making them change it. If no one had quit, or threatened to quit, it would still be business as usual in 99% of the cases. (Okay, I admit, I made up the number but you get the idea without the actual statistic, which is obviously high.) The people will regulate if and when they understand it to be necessary. Fact based reporting is necessary if we are to live free. We are human beings and you can never eliminate bias. But weighing the facts from either a left or right bias is different than purposely misleading people and making things up. Our media used to know this. We need to make them all do it again.

    For your arguments to hold weight, we have to believe that fairness and speech are mutually exclusive and that money is always speech. I’m saying those base assumptions are wrong.

    David – Thank you!

  47. Sandy:

    I’ll address your points in separate comments in order to avoid an overly long comment.

    “Corporations are not people.As such, they have no right to free speech.”

    It’s a nice sentiment, but the Supreme Court of the United States has held that the First Amendment protects the speech of corporations. So, either we need to amend the Constitution or reverse more than a hundred years of precedent in which the Court has found that corporations enjoy many constitutional rights. Adam Winkler’s _We the Corporations_ was recently published and addresses how corporations have won rights. Although I place Prof. Winkler slightly left of center, he does an admirable job presenting his points without overt political bias.

    In addition to the problem of overcoming SCOTUS precedent, I find depriving corporations of the right to free speech to be problematic. If you have two business, one privately owned and the other a public corporation, why should the private owner have greater speech rights than the corporation when advocating on behalf of his business? Corporations pay taxes and are subject to civil and criminal penalties. Since they operate in our social/legal environment, don’t they have a moral right to participate in determining the shape of that social/legal environment?

  48. “I’m not suggesting that endorsements are a part of speech that needs to be regulated.”

    The reason I asked the question was to highlight the fact that op-eds and endorsements are an established part of our political process. A newspaper chooses which op-eds to publish and which candidates to endorse. This is speech by a corporation (assuming the newspaper is corporately owned). Newspapers do this with the express intent to manipulate/sway readers to vote in line with the newspaper’s preferred outcome.

    I see no difference between (1) a newspaper publishing many stories favorable to candidate A (or repeatedly announcing its endorsement of candidate A); and (2) a corporation paying a newspaper to publish many advertisements promoting candidate A. Both scenarios give candidate A an advantage.

    I see no principled way to allow large media corporations the right to endorse their own preferred candidates and yet prohibit non-media corporations from paying a large media corporation to publish an endorsement of their preferred candidate. It treats corporations differently depending on what the corporation’s business is.

  49. “Unions buying candidates is no better than oil companies buying candidates and it should be stopped. I’m not looking to stop money from conservative outlets only. If it sounded like I endorsed only taking money away from one side, I apologize. If, however, you made that assumption, that’s on you.”

    I was not accusing you of that practice. I was making the point that Democrats, like the GOP, try to manipulate the playing field to their own advantage. Armies try to choose and alter battlegrounds to their advantage. So too political parties.

  50. With regards to your point 6, I think we may have some agreement. Contributions to politicians are highly regulated to limit the ways in which politicians are allowed to use the money. Politicians cannot use contributions to buy themselves goods or to put in their personal bank account. Generally speaking, politicians can use contributions to buy ink or airtime or canvassers’ salaries.

    I am not advocating in favor of giving money directly to politicians.

  51. “How do we regulate media? Easy. We educate people and boycott unethical ones.”

    That sounds very similar to the marketplace of ideas concept I mentioned previously. We are largely in agreement here. Which begs the question, why do we need laws further limiting speech when the marketplace of ideas adequately addresses the issue?

    We’re not in complete agreement because I believe educating people is hard. And I am not excluding myself here. I have many more opinions than I have informed opinions. I try to distinguish between them when making decisions. But, I am human.

  52. Pingback: Liberalism Then and Now (via The Dream Cafe) – Republic Today

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