Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ave, Dr. V!

Dr. Vallicella has noted the same news that I tweeted about yesterday: that chess master Garry Kasparov has no patience for those who sing the praises of socialism. As someone who actually lived through applied socialism, Kasparov knows whereof he speaks. I re-quote Kasparov here:

I'm enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means! Socialism sounds great in speech soundbites and on Facebook, but please keep it there. In practice, it corrodes not only the economy but the human spirit itself, and the ambition and achievement that made modern capitalism possible and brought billions of people out of poverty. Talking about Socialism is a huge luxury, a luxury that was paid for by the successes of capitalism. Income inequality is a huge problem, absolutely. But the idea that the solution is more government, more regulation, more debt, and less risk is dangerously absurd.

Margaret Thatcher famously said, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." Socialism rests on at least two major false assumptions: (1) that the human animal, being social, is at heart sharing and cooperative as opposed to competitive; and (2) equitable redistribution is necessary because resources are finite. The first assumption is false because it ignores the fact that life has arisen, evolutionarily, in a state of constant competition: nature is red in tooth and claw, and while humans do indeed share and cooperate, this isn't the most fundamental truth of human nature, however much we might wish it to be. The second assumption is false because we routinely underestimate the power of human intelligence when it comes to finding solutions and inventing creative new methods to do things. Peak oil? Along comes fracking. The invention of electronics has created whole new industries necessitating a whole new work force. Socialists wrongly assume the pie is limited; free-market capitalists know the pie can be grown.

I've written this before, but it bears repeating: socialism, and/or its overlappingly close cousin, the command economy, doesn't bear healthy fruit. Look at what Hugo Chavez did to Venezuela, whose economy is currently in the toilet. Look at other command economies—workers' paradises like Cuba, from which thousands are constantly trying to escape, or North Korea (same deal). Look at how Romania has improved since 1989. Look at western Europe, whose quasi-socialist economies have generally been sagging for years, especially in the warm-weather, siesta-culture countries like Greece, Spain, and Portugal. "Ah, but what about Scandinavia?" you ask. As that article I'd recently cited pointed out, Scandinavia is, in some respects, more free-market-oriented than the US is. Scandinavia doesn't count. Try again. Same goes for China, which has a repressive one-party governmental system but a fairly capitalistic economy—and where the Chinese economy is faltering, the cause of the problems can always be traced to government meddling. Everywhere you look, the free market trumps the command economy. And the most powerful image that supports this thesis is:



Surprises Aplenty said...

Scandinavian countries, and Canada, are democracies, which make us far different from Gasparov's Soviet Union and your examples of China and North Korea. I can definitely see problems with socialism I think you need to consider two things and neither one is all-or-nothing. There is a continuum bounded by pure socialism and pure capitalism and another continuum bounded by democracy and dictatorship.
I think you are moving the goalposts in mid argument in cutting Scandinavia out of the discussion. Sweden (and I think guess the others) has free or cheap tuition and government funded healthcare. It has extensive maternity and paternity leave. Regarding minimum wage, the situation is complicated:
"Sweden is often touted as the poster-child for abolishing the minimum wage. However, the Nordic nation is certainly no free-market free-for-all. Instead, minimum wages are set by sector or industry through collective bargaining. Nearly all Swedish citizens belong to one of about 60 trade unions and 50 employers' organizations that negotiate wage rates for regular hourly work, salaries and overtime."
I love the inadvertent rebuttal from this article to yours ("Scandinavia is, in some respects, more free-market-oriented than the US is.")

I suggest Sanders' version of socialism is just going to be a little more to the right than previously.

All this said, I am happy to be a bystander to the US election. It affects the world but I cannot much affect it so my opinion doesn't have to be well-informed.

Kevin Kim said...

There are other reasons to think of Scandinavia's situation as disanalogous, though—foremost among them is the general lack of racial and cultural diversity, which means the core population shares most of the same assumptions about government, culture, and society, thus making it easier for everyone to move in harmony when the government decides to implement some new economic plan. This is why Scandinavian solutions can't simply be mapped onto, say, the US situation.

That said, I think you're right that there's a continuum; the Atlantic article was arguing as much. The US certainly isn't a pure example of either democracy (we're technically a republic) or free-market capitalism (Namdaemun Market again), and neither is any other country. But if you give me a choice between living somewhere that's dominated by economic and political socialism versus somewhere dominated by democracy and free-market capitalism, I'll pick the latter every time.

Surprises Aplenty said...

A good point regarding racial diversity or its lack.

I am not sure what point you are making with your comparison of "political socialism" vs democracy, if that is the comparison.

I'm a fan of inexpensive healthcare although economically, I cannot defend it. Indeed, with my economic naivete, I cannot attack it either. That spelling looks weird for the form of 'naive'.

Kevin Kim said...

"I am not sure what point you are making with your comparison of "political socialism" vs democracy, if that is the comparison."

I was inspired by you! You had posited an x-y grid with two axes: democracy/dictatorship for one axis (political), and socialism/capitalism for the other (economic). Socialism isn't purely an economic doctrine; it's also political, and often ends up manifesting itself in dictatorship form. Would you rather live in Venezuela or Canada?

I'm a fan of inexpensive health care, too, but not if cheap prices result in poor-quality care. I'm not totally convinced, especially since I live in Korea, that the quality of nationalized health care is all that solid, and I've read too many other bloggers' horror stories from deep inside the Korean system to feel any reassurance. That said, I don't believe the US system automatically guarantees a higher quality of care: we have our own horror stories, too, like those terrifying cases in which a surgeon amputates the wrong foot. When you think about it, it's hard to know where to turn, really, for good, reliable health care. Japan, maybe...?

Kevin Kim said...

Correction: I meant Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, back when he was alive and in power.

Surprises Aplenty said...

Thanks. In my mind, the economics of socialism/capitalism are separate from the politics of democracy/dictatorship so your terminology confused me.

I don't know but I guess doctors can cut off the wrong foot in any country and i suspect it happens less in the US than here (nothing to support that claim with).

John (I'm not a robot) said...

I shared this post on facebook I think you might appreciate what some who also shared your post had to say (specifically about the comments between you and surprises aplenty):

This is how mature people have political discourse. Unlike most of the crap I see on Facebook.
Read the comments under the article.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, John,

It helps that Brian is a good, decent soul. I've never met him in person, but I've followed his blog and had some exchanges with him over the years... we won't agree on everything, but we both know better than to troll each other. I've had asshole commenters who barge into my blogging space, fart out stupid, troll-like remarks, then act huffy when I reply in kind before I start deleting their subsequent comments (they never bother to read the comments policy). Much depends on how you begin a conversation. If you begin with an attack, you've already started on the wrong foot.

Thanks again. Too bad I'm not on Facebook, eh?