Saturday, February 23, 2019

a somewhat awkward criticism of socialism

Watch the following video, which points the finger and goes "Ha ha!" at Panera's recent, misguided attempt at a "pay what you can" business model that apparently had the aim of feeding the poor. I think the video goes wrong in labeling Panera's experiment as out-and-out socialist, but the video does make some legitimate points about the overall sustainability of the socialist economic model.

If you found the presenter's mannerisms smug and irritating, I'm right with you. I wasn't a fan of the woman's self-righteous, snotty intonation. But form aside, the content of the video was interesting, especially in the way it tackled Marx's "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Ultimately, I think that people who complain about the ills of capitalism are obliged to go further and provide solutions to those ills. So far, the only "solutions" I've heard have been along the lines of central planning and command economies—implemented socialism, implemented communism, Kimism, Chavismo, Madurismo, etc. These models lead to death and misery on a massive scale, but idiots like Bernie Sanders, et al., keep propping these models up and calling them viable.

No economic system is without its problems. The same goes for government. Humans are assholes, and their assholery seeps into any and every system they create. Systems that take this badness into account fare better than systems that misread human nature as fundamentally good. Systems that prioritize sharing and selflessness over competition and selfishness lead, ironically, to disaster at the societal level. Systems that do the opposite don't. The evidence of this is strewn throughout history. Someone will, of course, bring up Scandinavia (since he can't bring up Venezuela anymore) as a model of successful redistributionism. The problem is that the Scandinavian economies are market economies, with higher ratings for things like entrepreneurship than the US's ratings. The only two sectors of Scandinavian economies that have any big-government redistributionism about them are (1) health care, and (2) education. Within a free-market capitalist context, little islands of quasi-socialism can flourish, but never the other way around. People preach socialism in capitalistic societies because they are largely immune to the consequences of their own ideology. Again and again, leftists blithely ignore the warnings coming from people who have defected or otherwise escaped from places like Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, or certain spots in Eastern Europe—people who repeatedly say, "Don't go down that road!" Reality seems not to impinge upon these useful idiots, which is why someone like Bernie Sanders enjoys a platform at all.

Conclusion: the above video somewhat critiques socialism insofar as it attacks the same misapprehension of human nature that drives socialist philosophy. Where the video goes wrong is in its assumption that the Panera experiment represents out-and-out socialism. I realize this puts me, ironically, in the position of a defender of socialism who, upon hearing about Venezuela's failure, says, "But that's because it wasn't pure socialism!" Please don't confuse me with such a person. I'd rather have widespread capitalism and its attendant existential miseries than socialism and its far worse miseries.

But, hey: if you have the perfect plan for minimizing human misery and maximizing human flourishing, let's hear it. The comments section is yours.

ADDENDUM: on a personal note, when I was teaching in northern Virginia, I wasn't far from a local Panera that some of my colleagues loved. In fact, I'd say that, at least at the time, Paneras were ubiquitous, and they seemed almost like Starbucks knockoffs that were deeply confused about what their emphasis ought to be: bread? salad? coffee? soup? cake? I left America long before this recent experiment ever happened, so I only knew Panera to be a regular "bakery-café fast-casual restaurant," to use Wikipedia's term. I have to say that I was never that impressed with the chain: their bread always struck me as churned-out, assembly-line style, and mediocre at best. Maybe it's time for Panera to wither and die. Then again, to be fair, Panera engages in other charity work that I find laudable. From Wikipedia:
Community giving

The Day-End Dough-Nation program provides unsold bread and baked goods to local area hunger relief agencies and charities. Panera Bread bakery-cafes donate $100 million worth of unsold bread and baked goods annually to local organizations in need. Panera also supports events held by nonprofit organizations serving those in need by donating a certificate or fresh bakery products.
Panera should probably stick to this more traditional charity model.

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