New Ideas From Dead Political Systems

by Daniel on June 2, 2012

Back in the days before I had realised that a guy who takes five years to deliver a simple book review probably ought to rein in the ambition a bit when it comes to larger-scale projects, I occasionally pitched an idea to publishers of management books. It was going to be called “Great Ideas From Failed Companies”, the idea being that when you have the perspective of the entire history of a corporate story, you’re probably going to get a more honest appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses, and that although companies like Enron, Northern Rock and Atari clearly had major problems, they quite likely also had some good points too, or how did they ever get so big in the first place?

Obviously, carrying out a similar exercise on failed social and political systems is a bit of a minefield, since most social and political systems which have been tried and failed have tended to take down a hell of a lot of innocent lives with them as they did so. I don’t think anyone but the most studiedly mindless (and tasteless) contrarian would bother to ask the question “but what did the Nazis get right?” at any great length[1]. But there’s always a temptation to do so with Soviet communism.[2] It killed quite a lot more people than Nazism but (for the most part, and after the 1920s) in a less obviously criminally insane way, and as a system it does have the characteristic that lots of people and countries at various times did want to have a go at it for themselves, more or less of their own free will. Which is why one of the big draws of “Red Plenty” is the promise to take us, as the subtitle of my edition reads, “Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream”, or even to help us learn “lessons from the Soviet dream“.

But this cheque never really gets cashed by the book. “Red Plenty” isn’t, or at least not directly, a book about the Fifties, Gargarin and the years of 7% growth. Only two of its chapters are set before Sputnik; one is a vignette of the career of Kantorovich as he was starting the work on linear programming, and the other is set out in a recently famine-stricken rural area of the sort that never really had the boom in the first place. By the time the action gets going in Red Plenty, the dream is basically over. Some of the characters seem to realize this and some don’t; as always the economists are the most romantic and least realistic of characters, persisting way up into the 1960s with the dream that the underlying model is basically sound, and a few technical changes will make it possible to achieve the vision of plenty. Elsewhere across the system, people cheat and swindle, do what they must do to survive, and often fail and get crushed by the system, in a terribly realistic and human way which is all the more elegiac because we know how it all turned out. I’m fascinated (as in the Greece choose-your-own-adventure post we ran a while back) with this approach to history – in many ways the novelistic method gives a much truer picture of what it must have been like than a simple recitation of facts and acts. Nearly all of Spufford’s characters, even most of the baddies, are not acting out of sheer cackling evil; they’re trying to find a way through a set of constraints and incentives put in front of them, often making decisions that are morally shitehouse and obviously so, but always explicable as decisions that you can see a normal person making. The massacre at Novocherkassk, for example, appears in a normal history book as a senseless atrocity. Which it was, of course, but Red Plenty helps you think your way into it and it becomes an at least slightly comprehensible senseless atrocity (the very long reports of inquiries, such as those into Bloody Sunday and the Stockwell shooting also have this characteristic). And then of course, there are one or two characters who are just pure and simple motiveless bastards. Because they exist too.

It makes me wonder what a sort of prequel to Red Plenty which did actually deal with the go-go-Gargarin years would be like. A lot of the dysfunctional behavior described in the Soviet system of the Khruschev years (particularly the gaming of targets and the wheeling and dealing between factory managers for spare parts) would have totally different mood music if we knew that it was leading up to the triumphs of industrialization, saving the world from Hitler and the Space Race, just as a lot of the behavior in “The Right Stuff” and “Patton” is actually pretty unforgiveable when you consider it in isolation from the overall project. But I don’t think that such a book would actually be an honest work. As I hinted above, the novelistic first-person-shooter approach to history is so potentially powerful that you have to be careful about the sort of character and system you’re humanizing, and the sad truth of Soviet communism is that the only honest way to write about the “Fifties dream” is in a way which makes it clear it was a great big lie, and that the only lesson from that system is not to do that again.

Because, as the book makes clear, there was no bloody great economic miracle. The Soviet economy grew because of the vast increase in resources thrown at it; there was an enormous increase in investment, much of it highly suspect in its productivity. There never could have been a golden future of plenitude and consumption just the other side of the hill, because the economic growth and the repression of domestic consumption were the same thing. It was all a con game.

And in my view, the original mistake made was the one which is also covered wonderfully in the chapter on the visit to the World’s Fair – the decision to adopt America as the competition. It just makes no sense for Russia in 1950 to be thinking of the USA as its benchmark for performance. It’s like a small town football club deciding that they’re going to regard Manchester United City as their rivals. If Russia had been judging the improvements in output and living standards by reference to Spain, or Ireland, there might have been more sensible and realistic decisions made. But comparing to the USA was immediately setting an impossible goal to achieve. And comparing against the USA also meant that the Soviets had to be unduly wedded to having their own economic system and tactics – after all, if you started using market prices, you would end up with similar allocations of resources to those used by the USA, and given the massive difference in initial endowments, this would have written defeat into the numbers. In order to have a nonzero chance of overtaking the USA, the USSR had to use different tactics, and this fact was a major psychological obstacle to ever realising that those tactics were fundamentally – even mathematically – mistaken.

So although I like the idea, I don’t think that there are any really great ideas to be learned from the Soviet system, and “Red Plenty” is basically correct in finding the whole thing to be similar to one of those rather depressing Russian fairy tales in which the moral is “try not to be an idiot all your life”. A better world is, and was, possible – but this wasn’t it.

[1] At short length, the answer is “monetary policy”. The rather embarrassing introduction to the first German-language edition of the General Theory is quite thoroughgoing in its endorsement of Hitler and Schacht’s adoption of broadly Keynesian policies. So now you know.

[2] The exercise is probably best carried out by someone who, like Francis Spufford, has never been a Communist themselves. As Mark Steel notes in his autobiography “Reasons to be Cheerful”, on the subject of old Stalinists constantly finding themselves post-1989 in conversations where they ended up backsliding into wondering whether there weren’t a few progressive elements, Communism is like smoking in this way, you’ve really just got to give it up cold turkey.

{ 176 comments }

1

Cranky Observer 06.02.12 at 10:39 pm

= = = But comparing to the USA was immediately setting an impossible goal to achieve. = = =

Why? Compare the USofA in 1850 to that of 1875, and consider that the USSR had greater natural resources than North America and was starting from a much more capable industrial base than the US of 1850.

Cranky

2

marcel 06.02.12 at 11:06 pm

This is not really a review of the book, more a review of the Soviet Russian “experiment”. Classic d^^2 piece, with lots for the reader to learn, wonderful understatement and self-deprecation, but only at the end does it appear that he thinks well of the book:

So although I like the idea [which - socialist revolution or the trope/conceit underlying the book?], I don’t think that there are any really great ideas to be learned from the Soviet system, and “Red Plenty” is basically correct in finding the whole thing to be similar to one of those rather depressing Russian fairy tales in which the moral is “try not to be an idiot all your life”. A better world is, and was, possible – but this wasn’t it.

3

Chris Bertram 06.02.12 at 11:17 pm

_It killed quite a lot more people than Nazism but (for the most part, and after the 1920s) in a less obviously criminally insane way_

I think I can’t be parsing this sentence correctly. The really criminally insane killing in the USSR happened after the Kirov assassination, which is 1934 ….

4

Matt 06.02.12 at 11:19 pm

If Russia had been judging the improvements in output and living standards by reference to Spain, or Ireland, there might have been more sensible and realistic decisions made.

In the late 90’s/early 2000’s Russian officials often said that their goal was to catch up to the living standards of Portugal within some fairly short period of time. I suspect that if they give Portugal a few more years like the last several, Russia will catch them, if they haven’t already.

5

marcel 06.02.12 at 11:42 pm

I think I can’t be parsing this sentence correctly. The really criminally insane killing in the USSR happened after the Kirov assassination, which is 1934 ….

What about the “destruction of the kulaks” and associated “famine” in the Ukraine starting after 1929? Millions died in that, 3 million I think. So I agree that the dates are not quite right either, but I think bad things started before 1934.

6

rf 06.02.12 at 11:48 pm

Initially I read it the same way, that it was “less obviously criminally insane” after the 20s.
But it seems to say it killed more than the Nazis, after the 20s…..fwiw

7

Daniel 06.02.12 at 11:59 pm

by “after the 20s” I clearly meant “after the war”, although apparently not so clearly that I realised the mistake before posting, sorry.

8

Brett Dunbar 06.03.12 at 1:48 am

@4

Russia doesn’t even get close to Portugal on per capita GDP. Looking at wikipedia the nominal GDP of Portugal is either twice Russia’s (according to the World Bank) or ~1.7 times Russia’s according to the IMF and the CIA Factbook. The PPP figures are a little closer. The World Bank has Portugal at about 1.25 times Russia with the IMF and CIA Factbook have Portugal at about 1.4 times Russia.

9

P O'Neill 06.03.12 at 2:05 am

Shorter D^2: It really was Upper Volta with rockets.

10

Maynard Handley 06.03.12 at 4:05 am

“as always the economists are the most romantic and least realistic of characters, persisting way up into the 1960s with the dream that the underlying model is basically sound, and a few technical changes will make it possible to achieve the vision of plenty.”

It’s hardly fair to call these characters unrealistic.

As has been pointed out in other comments on the book, they share this sort of deranged belief detached from reality (“the dream that the underlying model is basically sound, and a few technical changes will…”) with plenty of economists in the US and Europe today.

11

M 06.03.12 at 4:35 am

“as always the economists are the most romantic and least realistic of characters, persisting way up into the 1960s with the dream that the underlying model is basically sound, and a few technical changes will make it possible to achieve the vision of plenty.”

It’s hardly fair to call these characters unrealistic.

“The characters’ views were unrealistic,” not “the characters were unrealistically drawn.”

12

Maynard Handley 06.03.12 at 4:46 am

Ahh. Fair enough. Thanks, M

13

David Wright 06.03.12 at 5:25 am

Having grown up in Germany, I can vouch that “what did the Nazi’s get right?” discussions are quite commonplace, although usually amongst trusted friends rather than in public media. By far the most common and widely accepted answer is: the Autobahn. Fiscal and industrial policy (repudiate debt, subsidize national champions) is also often brought up. National pride (patriotic spectacles, cool uniforms, rhetoric of unity and rejuvination) is sometimes mentioned. I’ve personally never heard someone call out monetary policy.

14

The Raven 06.03.12 at 6:48 am

“It was all a con…”

Might one also reasonably say this about the Reagan-era regulatory and financial reforms, and apply similar reasoning.

Except it con-tinues.

15

Walt 06.03.12 at 7:21 am

13: Germans are constitutionally incapable of understanding or appreciating monetary policy, as recent events have demonstrated yet again. I don’t want to speculate, but clearly it’s genetic.

16

Peter Dorman 06.03.12 at 11:26 am

What did the Nazi’s get right? Read The Nazi War on Cancer by Robert Proctor. A great book, fascinating and disturbing, about the brown side of being green.

17

J. Otto Pohl 06.03.12 at 2:02 pm

There was a lot violence in the Civil War 1918-1920, but it was on a much smaller scale than what happened later in the 1930s and 1940s. It is hard to come up with good estimates, but excluding the massive famine of 1921-1922, the Bolsheviks might be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths during this time. The mass waves of repression in the USSR were concentrated between 1928 and 1953 under Stalin. There were three big ones. The first was the 1930-1931 “dekulakization” followed by the 1932-1933 famine. Officially recorded deaths by the OGPU for kulak special setters during the 1930s are just under 400,000, but they don’t include the years 1930 and 1931. Oleg Khlevniuk estimates that the real number including these first two years is closer to 600,000. The three million figure for famine deaths is too low and would only be excess deaths in Ukraine. If you include the losses in the Volga, Kuban, Kazakhstan, Crimea (which was part of the RSFSR not Ukraine then), and other areas it is around five million. Then there was the Great Terror of 1937-1938. The recorded number of death sentences is a little under 700,000. Finally there were the mass deportations of nationalities during WWII. The Russian-Germans in 1941 constituting about half of this number followed by various North Caucasian groups, the Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetian Turks in 1943-1944. The best estimates of excess deaths here comes from Dalkhat Ediev and is close to 500,000. The official GULag death toll including both Corrective Labor Colonies (ITK) and Corrective Labor Camps (ITL) is a little over 1.6 million for 1934-1956. One often sees figures that only include ITL deaths from 1934-1953 which bring down the number significantly to less than 1.1 million. But, these figures are incomplete and do not include transit deaths or deaths after release and release of prisoners about to die was an official policy. GUPVI the other camp archipelago (POWs and foreign internees) recorded in excess of another 500,000 deaths. But, only people who actually survived transit from the Front Camps to the GUPVI camps were ever registered. Those that died before arriving were never registered. Given the existing gaps in the data is quite probable that the number of excess deaths due to communism in the USSR probably over 10 million. That puts it numerically in the same ball park as the Nazis. But, I wouldn’t argue that it was a lot more.

18

Data Tutashkhia 06.03.12 at 2:02 pm

I dunno, the book and this post approach the phenomenon from the “plenty” angle, the level of production and consumption. But there’s obviously more to the story. Restrictions on private ownership did not exist to facilitate central planning; central planning existed as a way to cope with consequences of these restrictions.

19

DaveL 06.03.12 at 2:40 pm

… as a system it does have the characteristic that lots of people and countries at various times did want to have a go at it for themselves, more or less of their own free will.

This seems an odd statement, especially given the “more or less” qualifier. How many countries “had a go at it” without it being the result of “vanguard” revolution, outside conquest, or coup? I doubt that “lots” is the correct word for those that remain.

Lots of people, yes; Machiavelli and Barnum could jointly sort out why. Quitely rarely a majority, or even a plurality, though.

20

mpowell 06.03.12 at 3:04 pm

DaveL@19, I think D2 would count vanguard movements here, though not outside conquest, of course. I think the relevant point to make is that most systems of government are not reached by a majority of support by the civilian population. However, there are usually a large collection of individuals and organizations with a loyal power base and you generally need the support of a plurality of these to succeed at a government takeover.

21

mds 06.03.12 at 3:15 pm

Might one also reasonably say this about the Reagan-era regulatory and financial reforms, and apply similar reasoning.

Indeed, we seem to still be in the grip of a neoliberal “dream that the underlying model is basically sound, and a few technical changes will make it possible to achieve the vision of plenty.” When the technical changes were progressive taxation funding a welfare state, the system admittedly did work for a while, until enough of those at the top decided that they’d just as soon keep it all, thanks. Whereupon we got the technical changes of deregulation, privatization, disempowerment of organized labor, and “trickle-down.” Since the vision of plenty is thereby once more reserved for a tiny elite, what new ideas might we learn from the results of our current zombie political system?

22

Watson Ladd 06.03.12 at 4:02 pm

mds, given that even Krugman thinks Friedman was right. (Monetary policy and fiscal expansion will solve this mess) it is difficult to say that anyone thinks neoliberalism was wrong. Carter began neoliberalism after Nixon’s disastrous economic policies. At this point any sort of left position was not really viable. The answer remains much the same today as in 1917.

23

William Timberman 06.03.12 at 4:12 pm

If I were to say that present conditions in Europe and the US remind me of the Brezhnev era in the Soviet Union, I’d have the germ of a clever bumper sticker, but not much that could be offered as a substantive contribution to CT’s seminar.

Even so, emotional reactions to our present difficulties aren’t entirely without value in making some sense of where we’re headed. When you look at the bloated toads of both parties in the US Senate, and the much younger, but equally smug LibDems and Tories in the British Parliament, how can you not be reminded of the fur-encased and totally dead mugs atop the Lenin’s tomb reviewing stand in days gone by?

Daniel, as always, argues with panache, and with a sense of the inevitable triumph of good sense as he defines it, but I find him unconvincing nevertheless. Even enveloped in the sardonic moral tales of one so thoroughly done with socialism, I find myself dwelling morbidly on the young waitress taking our orders last Spring in a local restaurant, bursting into tears when she realized that we were discussing the merits of single-payer health care plans. It turned out that the younger of her two children had developed a serious, chronic illness. Although both she and her husband were working, they couldn’t afford health insurance, and our state’s version of Medicaid had just dropped them. I also think of President Obama and his kill lists, and Angela Merkel and her stern scheitert der Euro, scheitert Europa, and the smirk that came at the end of it. Just a year and a half ago was that last? Honestly, it seems at this point like a century ago.

Anecdotal evidence, contentless emotional responses, yes. On the other hand, it could be worse doesn’t seem to me like much of a consolation, or very credible as a way to address the realities of our situation.

24

Walt 06.03.12 at 4:57 pm

Watson, what in God’s name are you talking about?

25

The Raven 06.03.12 at 5:28 pm

William Timberman, #23: I think there are political parallels here that are worth paying attention to. Not only the parallels between Western representatives and the “the fur-encased and totally dead mugs,” but also in the ideas about economics.

Keynes skewered Trotsky in 1926 for, basically, having no workable way to implement his ideals and so resorting to ultimately pointless violence. Decades ago, I commented that perhaps we could now start writing articles about the failure of capitalism in Russia, and perhaps we could now write articles about the failure of capitalism in the West. Did Western economists of, say, 2005 understand Western capitalism any better than the Soviet economists of 1955 understood Soviet communism?

The Soviet economists repressed (“were in denial” is the pop-psych term) the knowledge that they were not, in fact, in the dictatorship of the proletariat but in a system dominated by an elite which had little interest in the professed goals political of communism. There was some sincere idealism in the elite, but it was the system was overwhelmingly corrupt and corrupting: liberalization was a slow process, and almost immediately hijacked by the same neo-liberal economists that have so thoroughly wrecked the Westerns systems and the criminals who now dominate Russian economic life.

Having written that–and I am not sure I will believe it in 20 minutes–some parallels with the current situation in the West seem to me overwhelming and heartbreaking. The recognition that the system was increasingly a plutocracy, dominated by people who gave only lip-service to the stated Western political goals of equality and democracy, was something that eluded most Western economists–and, indeed, political scientists and historians–until the new depression hit, and it became clear where the real power lay.

The failed dreams of academics are perhaps farcical threads in the broader tragedy of the retreat from the democratic dream in the West. It seems to me that Red Plenty, in telling the story of a failure of political ideals in the Soviet Union, mirrors that tragedy.

26

William Timberman 06.03.12 at 5:45 pm

The failed dreams of academics are perhaps farcical threads in the broader tragedy of the retreat from the democratic dream in the West. It seems to me that Red Plenty, in telling the story of a failure of political ideals in the Soviet Union, mirrors that tragedy.

At the risk of composing yet another trivial variation on the dominant theme of my comments on each of these quite remarkable reviews, yes, I agree that for the most part this is indeed the case. I can’t agree, though, that the failed dreams of academics are farcical, except to the extent that all of our failed dreams are farcical. It may be sentimental of me, but I see academics — many of them, anyway — as the canaries in the coal mine, historians of the future, antennae of the race, or whatever other cleverness one finds most readily to hand — that artists are traditionally purported to be. Most of us cry after the tragedy. Academics are condemned cry beforehand. I don’t think we give them enough credit for that service, which, after all, so many of us have profited from in one way or another.

27

Ken MacLeod 06.03.12 at 5:54 pm

Strange how it seems to escape almost everyone that every Allied combatant casualty in WW2 was a completely innocent victim of the Nazis. As, of course, was every Allied non-combatant casualty.

28

William Burns 06.03.12 at 6:09 pm

Ken, you seem to forget the existence of the Pacific War. Surely some Allied casualties were victims of the Japanese?

29

Bruce Wilder 06.03.12 at 6:18 pm

Daniel’s naive notion that social and political systems can be tried and fail, with finality and an “end of the story”, seems at odds with the actual cycles of history. All systems of political economy experience entropy, just as physical systems wear out; this is independent of the death toll as well as other measures of performance.

As I think Watson Ladd might be pointing out at 22 (how delphic is the Ladd!), Friedman and neoliberalism seems almost inevitable by the 1970s, in the beginning of the breakdown of the New Deal system. Friedman’s ideology is basically a denial or obfuscation of the mechanisms that made the New Deal work, and fed into the know-nothing economics of neoliberalism, which has rationalized the rise of kleptocracy and predatory finance, while denying what it has been doing to destroy democracy.

I think one could outline a similar story for the course of the dream of European integration. The ideal of a European community began in the 1950s with great idealism and earnestness and no small degree of genuine technocratic competence, and now it seems to be ending, in an amazing degree of elite incompetence and irresponsibility.

Shall we say that these systems have been tried and failed, the story’s over and done, and there’s nothing to learn, or we shall recognize that they had a natural life, as all of us do?

30

Data Tutashkhia 06.03.12 at 6:58 pm

or we shall recognize that they had a natural life, as all of us do

Yes, but which ones go to hell and which ones to heaven?

31

dilbert dogbert 06.03.12 at 7:20 pm

@21 mds
I can read the title now: “Capitalist Plenty”

32

Stephen 06.03.12 at 7:33 pm

“It just makes no sense for Russia in 1950 to be thinking of the USA as its benchmark for performance. It’s like a small town football club deciding that they’re going to regard Manchester as their rivals … But comparing to the USA was immediately setting an impossible goal to achieve.”

Objectively, yes. But very probably the USSR in the 1950s were not comparing themselves to the USA as it actually was (through the false appearances of bourgeois so-called democracy, tovarich, and you know where not denouncing that will send you to) but to the USA of unspeakably oppressed workers, continual immiseration, top-hatted capitalists, martyred socialists, and so forth: a tyranny fated to collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions. Anyone who believed that, or failed to realise that not seeming to believe that was lethal, had better agree that competing with and surpassing the main capitalist adversary was predestined to success.

33

Stephen 06.03.12 at 7:34 pm

dammit. Failed to realise = realised. Too many damned negatives.

34

PJW 06.03.12 at 7:46 pm

Lenin supposedly said the capitalists would sell the communists the rope with which they would hang them. Or something close to that.

35

Plume 06.03.12 at 9:15 pm

It was, of course, a major mistake to use America as an aspirational goal. Actually, using any capitalist nation would have been a mistake. Because the way capitalist nations judge “success” in no way gives a true measure of human health, happiness, educational attainment, etc. etc.

Material abundance should never be the goal. Especially when it can never come true for the majority without completely overwhelming the planet’s ability to sustain us. The richest 20% of the world’s population consumes 85% of its resources, which obviously means we are only able to consume as much as we do because most of the world does not. As in, if that bottom 80% consumed as much as the typical American, it couldn’t. An existential sort of Catch-22/paradox. Full on rationing would have to be instituted to prevent the end of clean water, food supplies, arable land, etc. etc. if the developing world ever comes close to matching our consumption rates.

So, the Soviet Union, or any alternative state would have to measure “success” differently. Get things back to basics. Supply safe, healthy food, shelter and clothing for everyone to start out with. From that foundation, add universal education, health care and renewable energy and clean transportation. Provide universal access to cultural/arts and learning centers. Gear scientific research and development toward sustainable, healthy living, in harmony with nature — finite nature.

That’s success. Not creating a dozen different ways to access your email and facebook page.

Start with the most basic material needs, make sure you have universal coverage, and then test the boundaries for each additional step. Don’t do it if you can’t provide universal access as a part of the deal. Don’t do it if its very nature demands exclusion and rationing based upon scarcity and limited supply. For the chosen few. If something requires the existence of a chosen few in the first place, don’t do it.

36

Joe Smith 06.03.12 at 9:51 pm

@13 David Wright

It seems that what was successful under the Nazis is what was also successful in the United States during the Second World War – suppress the standard of living of the still employed middle class and use the proceeds to employ the previously unemployed and to fund retooling of the manufacturing sector.

There is an irony in Germany viewing the repudiation of foreign debts by Germany as a great success given the current German hostility to Greek or Spanish default.

37

MQ 06.03.12 at 11:15 pm

Because, as the book makes clear, there was no bloody great economic miracle. The Soviet economy grew because of the vast increase in resources thrown at it; there was an enormous increase in investment, much of it highly suspect in its productivity….It was all a con game.

I think this is much too dismissive. First, mobilizing investment and making it actually produce (even at the previous level of productivity) is no small thing. The examples of communist success in underdeveloped countries (most notably China, Mao’s development successes are still underestimated here) have to do with creating national unity and mobilizing resources by force when traditional regimes could not even do this. Second, the comment seems to ignore the very considerable Soviet successes in productivity and innovation in military hardware. The fact that Russia outproduced Germany in both quantity and quality of military output is remarkable — and even given the butchery of WWII it still saved millions of Russian lives compared to what would have happened in a Nazi victory.

Also, though Stalin was clearly brutal and destructive, any estimate of his death count is critically dependent on the baseline used. Most of Stalin’s ascribed deaths are not executions but famines and disease. You certainly can’t say the baseline level of famine or disease in Russia is zero in a non-Stalinist regime. Otto Pohl @17 seems to be drawing on a literature that makes some effort to set a baseline for excess deaths, but any calculation will depend very critically on the details of that baseline. I’d love to see the calculation. In any case, once you count the deaths from the war Hitler started I strongly doubt Stalin comes out worse.

38

Maynard Handley 06.03.12 at 11:19 pm

@29
“All systems of political economy experience entropy, just as physical systems wear out; this is independent of the death toll as well as other measures of performance.”

I have to admit that I do not find this method of talking useful. It’s no different from going on about how “the state is like a body, and just like in a body the head is the most important organ” and similar medieval analogies. To call the gradual failure of states “entropy” and to analogize it to machines wearing out offers no useful insights, no useful predictions — it’s no different from “well, you see, the mind is like a steam engine and so…”.

Why do states fail? There are CONCRETE mechanisms, common patterns that we see — capture of resources by elites, the replacement of outwardly directed ideologies (“what’s best for society”) with inwardly directed ones (“what’s best for me”), marginalization of expert voices in favor of those which can be guaranteed to offer up the desired answer, and so on. Heck, I’m even happy to throw things like Toynbee’s “challenge and response” into the list. But these are SPECIFIC mechanisms, they are not some sort of generic “heat death of the universe”. They are a consequence of the way human beings interact, not a consequence of statistical mechanics.

39

William Timberman 06.03.12 at 11:47 pm

They are a consequence of the way human beings interact, not a consequence of statistical mechanics.

And as such, not really reducible to something a physicist would find congenial….

40

William Timberman 06.03.12 at 11:50 pm

…or a statistician, for that matter, pace both Kantorovich and the DSGE folks.

41

John Quiggin 06.04.12 at 12:49 am

“Competing with the US as a mistake”

But, as was pointed out in another thread in this symposium, competing with Sweden, or even Britain, would be even less appealing. The postwar social democracies achieved what the Communists only promised, in terms of a high material standard of living combined with historically unparalleled security from poverty arising from old age, unemployment, illness and so on, and without any bloodshed.

As has been pointed out in previous threads of course, the existence of Stalinism was an important reason for capitalist acquiescence in social democratic reforms. But it’s better that Western social democrats have to fight against longer odds than that nearly half the world should live under the likes of Stalin and Mao.

42

Watson Ladd 06.04.12 at 1:14 am

Bruce is correct about my views of the advent of what Harvey calls neoliberalism. The crisis of 1973 was a classic Marxist crisis, and provoked changes in the form of capital as well as in the Left. But I disagree with him about the natural decline of society. Assyria had periods of external domination and changes in government structure over its 3,000 year history, yet the succession remained largely unbroken. All Assyrian kings were descendants of Narram-Sin. More on point, I cannot hear calls for sacrifices on part of society without wondering if those doing the calling are sacrificing. The people of England have done a great good for the world by abandoning dreams of empire. Asking whether the sums spent on war and national aggrandizement could be spent on chickens for the poor is a worthwhile question.

Plume, the New Kingdom of Egypt would seem to be a society where massive consumption of stone and rock by a small segment of society existed, with the logical conclusion being that no more growth was possible. But today Egypt has 25x the population it did in the time of the Pharao. Why do you think this is impossible today?

43

Plume 06.04.12 at 1:40 am

Mr. Quiggin,

First off, want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your recent book, Zombie Economics. A fine work, and quite accessible to those of us who aren’t economists.

As for your comments in #41. Is it really fair to compare post-war European social democracies with Russia in 1917? Did not Sweden and Britain et al already have 20th century economies as foundation by the 1940s? Whereas Russia was basically a feudal society when it tried to thrust itself from the 18th to the 20th century. Marx said you couldn’t skip stages. You couldn’t go from feudalism to socialism. Russia attempted a bastardized form of just that leap, without any allies, without any help, without a Marshall Plan, and in the middle of a World War. It also had to fight a civil war, expanded and sustained via foreign powers. Under the circumstances, I think it’s amazing that it ever got off the ground and lasted 70 plus years.

In short, if Russia had had the advantages and the international help afforded those European social democracies — and the lack of aggressive enemies fomenting civil strife — chances are it would have done much better. Chances are good that it wouldn’t have felt the need, tragically, for extended dictatorship and draconian, anti-democratic actions, decade after decade.

I once was a supporter of Social Democracy, meself, along the lines Tony Judt proposed. I still think it far superior to neoliberalism. But, after further reflection over the course of the last decade or so, I now see it as weak tea and insufficient for what ails us. Basically, it has no answer whatsoever for the (apocalyptic) conflict between rising human consumption and diminishing, finite resources. It has no answer to the deadly clash between humans — our accelerating numbers and global footprint — and nature. And I find myself repulsed even by the idea that the haves can find massive inequality, poverty and sickness “acceptable”, as long as we have basic welfare protections. For us, of course. Not for the billions of people whose lack of consumption makes our excessive consumption at least temporarily possible.

In short, Social Democracy is a compromise and it settles for far too little. We can do better, and we owe that to present and future generations, as well as the planet.

44

Watson Ladd 06.04.12 at 1:53 am

Plume: Stagism was a Stalinist invention. The Russian economy of the pre-Soviet period was rapidly industrializing, and certainly by the end of the war was industrial. Furthermore, Russia was offered participation in the Marshall Plan but declined.

Social Democracy is of course nationalistic. A party of international socialism, by creating a truly global society, would naturally advance the material condition of those currently most disposed. But their poverty is not simply a matter of missing consumption, but rather exclusion from production. To merely equalize consumption is to reinscribe the divide between production and consumption, work and leisure, humanity and society.

45

Plume 06.04.12 at 2:02 am

Watson Ladd,

Pretty basic. The math doesn’t work out. Again, the richest 20% consume 85% of the world’s resources. Obviously, it would be impossible for the bottom 80% to consume at any where near the levels of the richest 20%. Again, the math doesn’t work out. The World Wildlife Fund estimates we’ll need two entire earths to meet demand by 2030, while other environmental groups estimate four.

Two to four earths to support demand by 2030. And that’s not taking into consideration the possibility that developing nations might increase their consumption at faster rates, as they grow in size and technological reach.

Species are dying off at rates not seen since the Ice Age. Fish stocks all over the world have reached endangered levels. Safe, drinkable water is disappearing all over the world, including the American Southwest. Human pollution threatens land, sea and air.

(And I’m not even factoring in Climate Change and its effects.)

And all of this is happening while we have massive inequality and more than two billion people living off just $1.50 a day. All of this is happening when billions of impoverished people around the world have a smaller global footprint than a few million Westerners and the wealthy from other developed nations. Imagine the pressure on the earth’s resources when those billions start to consume even a fraction as much as the working poor in developed nations.

IMO, we have a moral and ethical duty to end poverty, inequality, sickness and lack of access to health care and education around the world. But we have so drained the world of its resources, we can not do so without first reducing our own obscene footprint on this planet. The rich nations must radically reduce consumption, reverse the damage done by our growing pollution levels, and work toward “steady state”, sustainable, green, clean economies, agriculture, energy and transport.

I’m not talking about rocks here. I’m talking about safe food, drinkable water, breathable air. I’m talking about sustainability.

46

LFC 06.04.12 at 2:11 am

I pretty much agree with Maynard Handley @38. Would add only the semantic note that B. Wilder spoke of “systems of political economy” not “states.” The two are not synonymous. That said, I don’t think all social-political-economic systems necessarily have natural lives like humans — it’s not a very useful analogy. (Basically just warmed-over Spengler, ISTM.)

47

Plume 06.04.12 at 2:17 am

Watson Ladd,

@44

No. Marx talked about stages and said socialism could not follow directly upon feudalism. He also said communism could not come before socialism, which in turn needed late capitalism’s surplus. Which makes sense. If we attempt a truly egalitarian system, we need a surplus to distribute. It won’t work if we distribute a deficit — of production, food, clothing, housing, etc. etc.

Also, you totally misread me about consumption. I don’t see inequality as the gap in consumption at all. I see it as the gap in quality of life, and the things that make up that quality of life: Access to health care, safe shelter, food, water, high quality education, access to cultural/arts venues, etc. One doesn’t need to buy Ipods and have 50 pairs of shoes to have a high quality of life. One’s overall health, safety and access to education are far more important. One’s safe and healthy environment is far more important.

Where are the most toxic centers of our accumulated pollution? Among the poor. And in the poorest nations. Right off the bat, that’s a huge gap in quality of life.

NIMBY is the Western Way.

When I spoke of consumption, I did so to demonstrate that we are “free” to consume as much as we do because most of the rest of the world does not. There are too few natural resources to sustain all of us consuming at the rate developed nations do. Our selfishness, our greed, makes that certain and drives the planet closer and closer to catastrophe.

48

LFC 06.04.12 at 2:25 am

W. Ladd
their poverty is not simply a matter of missing consumption, but rather exclusion from production.

What on earth can this possibly mean? Poor farmers in “the developing world” are NOT “excluded from production”: they do produce, just not very much. Poor factory workers in “the developing world” are NOT excluded from production: they do produce, but for low wages. Whereas I believe only roughly 20 percent of the US work force, if that, is engaged in agriculture and manufacturing and mining, meaning ~80 percent of the US work force does not produce anything except paper, blips on a screen, various services and other intangibles.

49

Maynard Handley 06.04.12 at 2:54 am

@45
“Pretty basic. The math doesn’t work out. Again, the richest 20% consume 85% of the world’s resources. Obviously, it would be impossible for the bottom 80% to consume at any where near the levels of the richest 20%. Again, the math doesn’t work out. The World Wildlife Fund estimates we’ll need two entire earths to meet demand by 2030, while other environmental groups estimate four.”

I agree with your point, I disagree with your conclusions.
(a) It is a CHOICE for humanity to decide that it is more important to sustain 7 billion lives in abject misery than to sustain .5 billion lives in wealth. For you to claim that the one choice is better than the other just because it is is not very convincing.

(b) You seem to be trying hard to make the claim (without actually making it) that it is somehow the fault of neoliberalism and capitalism that the earth is so overcrowded. This strikes me as a ludicrous claim. There are many things to fault about neoliberalism and capitalism, but the belief that everyone can have as many kids as they like forever without ill consequences is a delusion shared by almost all societies past and present, no matter what their social organization.

50

Bruce Wilder 06.04.12 at 3:17 am

Maynard Handley @ 38: “To call the gradual failure of states “entropy” and to analogize it to machines wearing out offers no useful insights, no useful predictions . . .”

You will excuse me, if I disagree.

The most important “useful prediction” is that an institutionalized system of political economy will tend to follow a kind of developmental life cycle, punctuated by crises and breakdown and reinvention. My point, in relation to the OP, is that the fact of crisis may be unrelated to the alleged merit or virtues of the system. Development, decay and crisis are properties of every institutionalized system, and relate to the fact that societies must rest upon the backs of passing generations, and that institutions, by their nature, have their own internal dynamics as a result of the strategic gameplay that drives their operations. Such strategic dynamics and decay is characteristic of all institutionalized systems, as social mechanisms, which must adapt and reproduce themselves.

The Soviet Union lasted 72 years: 36 years from the Revolution of 1917 to the death of Stalin, and another 36 years to the Fall of the Berlin Wall. That’s a pretty normal pace, I think.

To illustrate a standard of comparison, U.S. history demonstrates a kind of anacyclosis, on a regular 72-year cycle, with inflections on the midpoint: 1788 – 1824 – 1860 – 1896 – 1932 – 1968 are years, which a student of American history will readily recognize as marking out, crises and phase changes in American political economy, with implications for institutions as disparate as the party system and institutional basis of money. I don’t read this pattern as implying any kind of magic at work; nor am I denying any of the details and specifics of movements and issues. I am saying that the passing of generations matters. I am saying the inevitable internal dynamics of institutions matter. And, when largely unperturbed by external forces, their endogenous development follows a pattern, almost a schedule, as a result, and that pattern ought to inform our understanding of historical context.

With only a little less regularity, one can pick out dates of similar political significance for Great Britain, at regular intervals. 1688 — 1725 (the Rise of Walpole) — 1760 (George III, the Tories, the Empire after 1763) — 1796 (the Napoleonic Wars and paper money) — 1832 (the Great Reform) — 1867 (the Second Reform Act) — 1906 (the Liberal triumph that destroyed the Liberal Party and led to the emergence of Labour and the The Parliament Acts 1911), etc. Again, no magic is alleged. Change is continuous, and there’s nothing special alleged about specific years, but choosing years 70 to 75 years apart can help to highlight the long cycle of institutional development, decay and reform.

It took the French 40 years to get from the Revolution to the July Monarchy and 40 years after that to get to the Third Republic; seventy years from First Consul to the Third Republic, and seventy years more to Vichy.

There’s a rhythm to revolution.

51

Plume 06.04.12 at 3:45 am

Maynard,

@49

You present false choices. There is no reason on earth why 7 billion people would have to live in abject poverty. We could easily feed, clothe, educate and provide quality health care to every human being on the planet, if we, in the developed world, radically reduced our consumption, stopped stripping poorer nations of their natural resources, stopped exploiting them, stopped exploiting our own poor and dispossessed.

And, no, I’m not blaming capitalism for over-population. I’m blaming it for stripping acre after acre of natural resources in pursuit of profit. Take away the profit motive, and we have no need to wipe out fish stocks, grain stocks, treat animals in the most disgusting ways possible, destroy clean water and on and on and on. Profit drives over-consumption and waste, and the added layer of profit increases the need to strip the land of its riches. Capitalism creates unnecessary garbage by the trillions of tons, because it can not grow if it isn’t producing that garbage. Capitalism is easily the most wasteful, exploitative economic system ever conceived, as it’s based on endlessly increasing consumption at a profit. Conservation is its enemy. Sensible, logical, essential reductions in consumption kill profits. It will not abide reducing global footprints, because there is no money in conservation or pulling back, obviously. That means buying less. That means producing less. That means producing and buying what we need, instead of what Madison Avenue tells us we want. Instead, it wants to endlessly expand markets and produce more and more consumption.

Capitalism has the Grow or Die imperative, which runs completely counter to any hope we have of sustaining life on this planet long term. Our resources are obviously finite and shrinking by the minute. As the effects of pollution grow and swamp acre after acre, destroy rain forest after rain forest, we have less and less safe water, secure food and so on.

I honestly can’t understand how anyone could miss this fact. It’s a big old snake, biting us all on the nose, but very few people see it. Yes, we would certainly have conflicts between humans and nature even without capitalism. But no economic system has ever accelerated, intensified or added fuel to that conflict like capitalism. Its very essence is in direct conflict with the health of the planet. Its very meaning is to subjugate and rape that planet in pursuit of dollars and nonsense.

We must end capitalism and replace it with an alternative, or this planet will go under.

52

Bruce McCulley 06.04.12 at 3:53 am

@ 31 dilbert dogbert
‘I can read the title now: “Capitalist Plenty” ‘

The plutocrats’ wet dream: plenty for us, a pittance for everyone else.

53

Maynard Handley 06.04.12 at 4:09 am

@51

(a) And Plume, in your replacement world, what stops people from behaving the way they have throughout history and having as many children as they want?

(b) Once again you simply assert that a world with 7 billion people living an impoverished lifestyle (and spare me the strawman arguments about iPods and 50 pairs of shoes; the issue is things like eating meat, or being able to drive and fly as convenient — things that people, including people in poor countries, WANT) is better than .5 billion people who DO all share these abilities.

The issue is very simple.
(1) Do you agree that there has to be SOME limit to how many people live on the earth?
(2) If you agree that such a number does exist, why does it make sense to set that number high (with everyone living with limited resources) rather than low (with everyone have many more resources available)?

54

Plume 06.04.12 at 4:12 am

Another huge problem with capitalism. And it’s beyond obvious.

It naturally, as a matter of the mechanics of the system itself, concentrates wealth in the hands of a few. With this goes power. And with this power goes a desire to maintain and expand this arrangement. In short, capitalism creates plutocracy, and plutocrats do not want to give up control. Giving up control to the many would mean they would no longer have their excessive wealth, and that is the reason they go into business in the first place. To create wealth for themselves.

Another snake that bites us on the nose. No system could possibly be worse when it comes to creating even the semblance of fairness, equality. No system could possibly be worse when it comes to promoting social justice. It is the epitome of a hierarchical, anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, anti-social-justice system. Because if we have actual democracy, the majority would never put up with being subjugated by a tiny minority. It would never put up with CEOs making 400 or 1000 or 10,000 times as much as the rank and file. It would never put up with plutocrats tanking the entire economy and then stealing trillions of dollars from taxpayers to bail them out for their greed and their idiocy.

If we have plutocracy, we can’t have social justice. They’re mortal enemies. Capitalism leads inevitably to plutocracy.

55

Plume 06.04.12 at 4:31 am

Maynard,

@53.

No, I’m not asserting it. You are. I’m saying there is no reason why those seven billion people have to live in poverty. None whatsoever. Hell, the Fed handed out 16 trillion dollars to bankers and fat cat private citizens recently. It did so and there wasn’t a blip on the inflation screen. Add to that the fact that there are several hundred trillion dollars in derivatives floating around the world now — if not more — and that tells us all we need to know about the complete absurdity of money and who controls it.

As David Graeber showed us in his Debt, governments created coinage. And they still create it. They still print it, and it’s largely arbitrary. We could easily switch to a system whereby money finally takes the next logical step and becomes infinite. It might as well be that way now, with the absurdity of several hundred trillion in derivatives, etc. etc. But instead of limiting the distribution of that absurd amount of money to fat cats and banksters, everyone gets a living wage, and education is free and health care is free and no one goes hungry and no one goes homeless.

Do away with profit, do away with money as we’ve understood it in the past. We go to virtual digits, which are infinite, and we distribute those virtual digits equally across the board to all who labor and we will never lack for jobs. Four wage levels set in stone. Prices for everything set in stone. No greater ratio than 4 to 1, top to bottom for wages. Apprentice, Apprentice-Artisan, Artisan, and Artisan-Organizer. Something like that. You work, you get digits added to your account. You purchase something, you subtract them. We all own the means of production, together, equally. No ruling class. No political parties. Just a new constitution, full equality under the law, full, true, participatory democracy, and no private sector. One’s home is off the grid of the Commons, but all production remains inside the sphere of the Commons.

No one goes hungry, or thirsty, or homeless. Ever. No one lacks health care or education or access to cultural venues.

It’s there for the taking, if we just give up the immoral, unethical practice of capitalist exploitation and the birth lottery.

56

Maynard Handley 06.04.12 at 4:46 am

OK, Plume, so in your world there’s enough oil for everyone, if only the evil capitalists would give up their secret maps of where it is located, and this oil will keep being regenerated forever? Got it.

Oh, no? Everything’s going to be powered by sun and windmills? You know nothing about the actual engineering of this, but you’re quite sure it’s possible to do it — at western level scale, for 7 billion people, and not just generating electricity but also creating fertilizer and cement, and manufacturing artificial transportation fuels?

Good luck with your plans for utopia. They seem eminently grounded in physical reality.

57

Plume 06.04.12 at 5:03 am

Maynard,

@56

Who said anything about oil? You have a very bad habit of projecting your own demons onto others. Please make an attempt to argue against something I actually said, as opposed to what you project out of your own imagination.

Yes, we could get what we need from wind and solar and geothermal. We will be needing far less when we do away with profit and the consequent rape of the planet due to its pursuit. We will need far less energy when we switch to growing food organically, via small, local farms, as opposed to massively wasteful and inhumane factory farms. We will, in fact, need less of everything when we dump capitalism for something that actually fits human nature and the limits of this planet.

Humans passed through 200,000 years of communal living, before capitalism hit the scene. And we still, even with its brainwashing and destruction, continue to organize our families communally. We share. We distribute pretty much equally across the board within the family structure. We often do so even with neighbors. We invite friends over and share amongst them equally. We don’t charge them for their meals. We don’t have a tier for pricing or access. Hell, even at work, we’re constantly helping out our neighbors in the next cubicle without charging them a thing, sharing our knowledge and expertise, receiving the wisdom of others at no charge.

Capitalism is the antithesis of human nature. It “fits” the minority of sociopaths in our midst, but not the majority. The majority wants to get along, and has no desire to subjugate others or rape the land. Small “c” communism, in fact, is far more natural to our species.

It’s time we admit it and d0 what is natural and what is best for nature. And a major bonus for the switch? Time. We gain enormous amounts of time. If we are no longer working to make ownership rich, we can work far fewer hours to produce what we need.

Capitalism is cancer.

58

guanxi 06.04.12 at 6:46 am

… there was no bloody great economic miracle. The Soviet economy grew because of the vast increase in resources thrown at it; there was an enormous increase in investment, much of it highly suspect in its productivity. There never could have been a golden future of plenitude and consumption just the other side of the hill, because the economic growth and the repression of domestic consumption were the same thing. It was all a con game.

The obvious analogy isn’t the modern US or Europe, it’s China. The above describes contemporary China very well.

59

Walt 06.04.12 at 7:09 am

I’m not sure how you think thing work, Plume. Let’s say everyone in the developed world died tomorrow. What do you think would happen? Do you think the developed world is so rich entirely because the world is full of tasty natural resources, and the developed world steals them?

60

Matt 06.04.12 at 7:17 am

Exponential growth can’t continue indefinitely, whether that growth is in consumption per capita or total human population. There’s not enough fossil fuels to indefinitely power industrial civilization, not for 7 billion people nor for 0.5 billion, and there are severe side effects to even attempting it. But there’s more than enough non-fossil energy to maintain industrialization for several billion people. The solar resource vastly exceeds what fossil fuels can provide. Ironically it is renewable resources that are at greatest risk of permanent loss: mineral resources can always be recycled, but species and ecosystems are too complicated for humans to fully restore once they are lost.

61

Data Tutashkhia 06.04.12 at 7:20 am

The Soviet economy grew because of the vast increase in resources thrown at it; there was an enormous increase in investment, much of it highly suspect in its productivity. There never could have been a golden future of plenitude and consumption just the other side of the hill, because the economic growth and the repression of domestic consumption were the same thing. It was all a con game.

Why is it a con game, though, and how was it highly suspect in its productivity?

I reckon, any large, national scale project involves the repression of domestic consumption. And why shouldn’t it lead to at least somewhat higher level of it just the other side of the hill? What about, say, construction of interstate highways?

62

Tim Worstall 06.04.12 at 9:31 am

“The examples of communist success in underdeveloped countries (most notably China, Mao’s development successes are still underestimated here)”

Eh? According to Angus Maddison GDP per capita in China in 1978 was $600 a year. Around and about the long term average (from Brad Delong) of humanity from around the Pharoahs onwards.

What development successes?

63

J. Otto Pohl 06.04.12 at 10:56 am

37

There has been a lot of calculations on Soviet excess deaths. But, I am not sure how fruitful they are at this stage. Everybody now has access to the recorded numbers and everybody still disagrees on the ratio of excess deaths to birth deficit when looking at demographic losses. But, the range range been narrowed considerably. The number is certainly in the millions. Even extremist revisionists like J. Arch Getty who claimed in the 1980s that the Great Terror of 1936-1938 had less than 50,000 victims have conceded on this matter. David Irving went to prison for Holocaust Denial, but nobody has ever suffered any reproach for denying Stalinist crimes.

64

soru 06.04.12 at 1:06 pm

Again, the richest 20% consume 85% of the world’s resources.

Don’t know the exact sourcing for that figure, but whatever it is, it is clearly not talking about complex and irreplaceable resources like ecologically-sustainable land. A moments thought would show that while parts of the west have an obesity problem, and eat too much luxury food like meat and organic vegetables, we would have to be literally the size of elephants to maintain a 20-1 food consumption ratio.

Even in terms of food, the Central African Republic, not a notable food exporter, has twice as much arable land per capita as Ireland. The big difference comes from yield per hectare, which in turn is mostly a function of crop breeding, capital machinery, energy inputs, educated labour, irrigation, etc.

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.ARBL.HA.PC/countries

If you have energy, minerals, metals, and so on can all be recycled, sourced from deeper mines, the ocean floor, or whatever. So it really all comes down to energy. Producing several times as much energy as at present wouldn’t be that difficult, especially if there were the corresponding number of extra rich people to pay for it.

The relevant limit is almost certainly climate change; there seem to be more cheap and dirty frackable gas, oil sands etc. than there is room in the atmosphere to put the CO2.

Which makes predictions for the future nice, simple and binary: we solve the clean energy problem at a technical level, and don’t actively screw up the politics and economic (e.g. by just doubling rich-country consumption again) and things look ok.

Fail, or declare success impossible and give up already, and thing will get nasty, brutish and rather long; something like a several thousand year period during which the human population is capped by a gradually diminishing resource.

65

LFC 06.04.12 at 1:22 pm

B. Wilder:
I am saying the inevitable internal dynamics of institutions matter.

There is nothing inevitable about institutional dynamics. Talk of cycles, patterns, rhythms, schedules is, IMO, ahistorical (with the possible exception of Kondratieff cycles, but they’re limited to economic data). You can pluck out one set of dates and someone else can pluck out another set of dates. (Pieter Geyl is still worth reading on these sorts of issues, IMO – Debates with Historians.)

Yes, there are eras and periods that can be marked out in retrospect but they do not fall into predetermined intervals. You say you are not talking about magic but every mention of regular schedules, patterns, etc. is close to magic, IMO. It’s what Strauss and Howe do with their simplistic notion of generational change: if you like that, fine. (Admittedly at least one good historian, David Kaiser, does.) I find it quite unconvincing.

66

Bruce Wilder 06.04.12 at 3:35 pm

LFC @ 65

Many criticisms of cycles in history are well-founded. When it all goes millenial and histrionic, I get off the train, and when someone starts talking of “world-historical” importance . . . well. The assertion that the alleged cycle, itself, is determinative of anything, in particular, is suspect, and the idea that a cycle is, itself, *in* **HISTORY** seems delusional. I like David Kaiser, but his fondness for assigning almost astrological “characteristics” to distinct generations, and making those generational character traits into prime causative factors, seems misguided to me, and prone to fanciful rhetoric. Kondratieff cycles I’ve never been able to “see” in the data, though I credit the idea that innovation is realized in long waves of sunk cost investment; Schumpeter, it seems to me, was projecting constellations onto scatterplots.

I’m not claiming, though, that the observed cycles are *in* history, per se. I am saying that institutional systems have a life cycle, rooted in their nature as institutional systems, for several reasons somewhat analogous to why an animal (species) has a life-cycle. Generations matter, because the careers of officials matter. And, the strategic gameplay within an institutional framework alters an institution over time in a way analogous to cycles of developmental growth and subsequent aging and decay. So, when we observe, say, the gaming of the Gosplan, under Kruschev, well, we ought to realize that that happens with every institutional system — it happens over time with the New Deal institutions, as well: it is the story of financial deregulation leading to the GFC, for example.

It is more ridiculous to think that economic systems are ergodic, and communism was a failed experiment (or that capitalism is a failed experiment), than to recognize the dynamics of emergent development.

67

William Timberman 06.04.12 at 4:00 pm

I wonder about the effect of ritual continuity on these cycles. The Roman Church still has its Popes, the US still has its Constitution. Meanwhile, France has gone through five Republics in 250 years, and Germany and Russia, well…. Does this have any significant effect on who or what we think we are, and does it matter, do you think — or have I been reading too much Gibbon lately?

68

Watson Ladd 06.04.12 at 4:12 pm

Bruce, why those dates? If I pick out a bunch of dates at random from the United States then there will be something going on. Even if you force a 36 year cycle, then why not 1814, 1845, 1881, 1917, 1953, 1989? These seem to have just as much relevance as the years you put down, if not more (mine include several major wars, the advent of manifest destiny, etc.)

soru seems to nail what I am getting at in terms of exclusion from production. Peasant farmers have to labor a lot to eat because of low productivity, because they are outside of modern agriculture and accompanying social relations.

69

Plume 06.04.12 at 5:21 pm

Walt,

@59,

I did not say “entirely”. But, yes, that’s a huge part of it. Once Europe’s ruling classes stripped Europe of much of its natural wealth, it moved on to other places overseas and stripped them, exploited them. From the British and Dutch “tea companies”, to the conquest and subjugation of the Americas, to the conquest and subjugation of the Pacific islands, Africa and so on. In search of wealth, European powers stripped the land and the sea of its natural beauty and riches. The dawn of capitalism pretty much coincides with the so-called “Age of Discovery.”

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

And all of that prepared the way for the Industrial Revolution, which would be more aptly named, Industrial Subjugation.

But, no one’s talking about everyone in the developed world dying. I am saying that our lifestyle is not sustainable, and it’s totally dependent upon the fact that billions of people aren’t consuming as much as we do. Again, if they did, there wouldn’t be enough to go around for us to party like it’s 1999. Basic math and physics. It’s a kind of perverted musical chairs. With fewer chairs available and an existential crisis on deck.

We have X amount of natural resources. The developed world, especially the well to do in that world, gobble up the majority of all resources, and put many times more pressure on the environment than their fellow humans in the developing world. They produce the majority of pollution in the world, even though their populations are much smaller. The United States, for instance, creates 33% of the world’s pollution with less than 5% of its population. If the folks in the developing world ever consume or pollute as much as a typical middle classer in the West, then the earth will collapse. It will reach its breaking point and won’t be able to sustain existing populations.

Capitalist industrial production did make a small percentage of the world filthy rich. But the costs were apocalyptic. My guess is that if there are still humans around in a thousand years to write histories — and I have my doubts — they will not have good things to say about the industrial age. From their blighted hovels, I imagine them writing that the final nails in the coffin of humanity were hammered home in the late 21st century, perhaps the early 22nd, and that the period from roughly 1800 – 2100 sealed our doom.

It didn’t have to be this way.

70

Plume 06.04.12 at 5:33 pm

Soru,

Methane gas is even worse for the environment than Carbon Dioxide, and cattle produce the majority of it. Our love affair with slaughtering countless beef cattle is every bit as dangerous for the environment as vehicle emissions. Both must be curbed radically.

If the entire world could suddenly become Buddhist vegetarians*, we would all be better off, and the planet would have a chance.

*On personal note, I’m a Buddhist non-vegetarian. While Buddhism preaches that we should not kill any sentient being, it does not strictly prohibit the consumption of meat — as long as we don’t do the killing ourselves. Buddha was obliged to eat whatever was put in his begging bowl, for instance, including meat if offered.

That said, I am truly conflicted about the whole deal, and do my best to eat only “free range” products and reduce my meat consumption overall. Better road would be veganism for me. Something to work on.

71

Barry 06.04.12 at 6:26 pm

tim Worstall: “Eh? According to Angus Maddison GDP per capita in China in 1978 was $600 a year. Around and about the long term average (from Brad Delong) of humanity from around the Pharoahs onwards.

What development successes?”

Considering that China achieved massive levels of urbanization two thousand years ago, I think that this statistic is not trustworthy.

72

Watson Ladd 06.04.12 at 6:27 pm

Plume, it’s not possible to make a trillion dollars by robbing people who only have a dollar each: you run out of people pretty quickly. The wealth of England lies not in its colonies, which ultimately lost money, but in its invention of the loom, steam engine, insurance, and above all, the transformations of society from one where industry was despised and theft praised to the reverse. That Queen Elizabeth appointed not courtier and nobles, but men of industry and talent to government is all one needs to explain British dominance of the world.

73

Nathanael 06.04.12 at 6:43 pm

“The Soviet economy grew because of the vast increase in resources thrown at it;”

Actually, there’s a lesson there. The crashes of the current period and of the Great Depression are caused by the willingness to let massive amounts of resources — namely labor — lie idle. For no good reason.

Moral: when there are a bunch of people with no jobs who want to work, the government should directly employ them doing something useful. (Like, right now, maybe they could insulate houses, install solar panels, etc.) Dopey lesson — but very important.

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Nathanael 06.04.12 at 6:46 pm

“Everything’s going to be powered by sun and windmills? You know nothing about the actual engineering of this, but you’re quite sure it’s possible to do it—- at western level scale, for 7 billion people, and not just generating electricity but also creating fertilizer and cement, and manufacturing artificial transportation fuels?”

I know plenty about the engineering of this. With solar power, it’s absolutely straightfoward. Trivial even. A command economy could do it in a couple of years.

Now, the 7 billion people can’t be FED, as food production is far more limited (by various chemical factors) than solar energy, but that’s a different problem. We can manage a slow decline of population through birth control to a level which can be fed.

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Nathanael 06.04.12 at 6:48 pm

Maynard: in brief, institutions fail because the principal-agent problem is not solvable in the long run. You could also say that it’s because too many people are greedy and power-hungry — which is the reason for the principal-agent problem.

People will always game an institution until the institution is run for the benefit of those in the institution, rather than for its original purpose. They can last a few hundred years; then you have to reform them or replace them.

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Nathanael 06.04.12 at 6:51 pm

Oh, and yes, Maynard, given economic independence education, access to birth control,and the right to use birth control, along with low child mortality rates, women will *voluntarily* reduce the birth rate to below replacement level.

It’s only *men* who, historically, try to have a bazillion children.

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Plume 06.04.12 at 6:54 pm

Watson,

@72. What reversal? Profit is theft, and it’s praised to the high heavens.

And your first sentence is just baffling. Can you translate?

Plume, it’s not possible to make a trillion dollars by robbing people who only have a dollar each: you run out of people pretty quickly

Obviously, the colonial powers weren’t stealing dollars (or local currency) from the conquered. They stole land, minerals, timber, plants, animals, etc. etc. Land being the greatest of their thefts. See Lewis Hyde’s recent Common as Air for a sharp take on Britain’s destruction of the Indian commons, for example — as well as its own history of Enclosure.

And your last sentence strikes me as truly naive, not to mention pure hagiography. Britain had its time of dominance in the world like all other empires. Through force of arms. But if you choose to believe in myths, so be it.

78

Plume 06.04.12 at 7:00 pm

Nathanael,

@76

Very true. Wherever feminism takes hold, birth rates go down. Wherever patriarchy is dominate, they go up. If given full autonomy over their bodies, women will natural decline to be barefoot and pregnant. It is men who strive to keep them that way, through archaic religious texts, political power and arbitrary social conventions.

The best form of population control is a hearty, vital feminism, full rights for women, full autonomy over their own bodies.

79

J. Otto Pohl 06.04.12 at 7:20 pm

72 and 77

Theft of land was greatest in the settlement colonies like Rhodesia. These colonies, however, were limited due to tropical disease. The number of British settlers in India, Ghana, or Nigeria was very small. Land in these places for the most part remained owned by locals. For these colonies the main profit was from the extraction of cheap raw materials which were then made into much more expensive manufactured goods. Palm oil into soap, cocoa into chocolate, and cotton into textiles. But, it turns out that actual political control of colonies is not necessary to maintain this type of economic arrangement. Unilever and Cadbury still buy cheap raw materials from Ghana and sell relatively expensive finished products in the UK and elsewhere in the world including back to Ghana. In contrast Kingsbite has effectively no market share in the UK. There is no need to buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.

80

Shatterface 06.04.12 at 7:47 pm

*On personal note, I’m a Buddhist non-vegetarian. While Buddhism preaches that we should not kill any sentient being, it does not strictly prohibit the consumption of meat—as long as we don’t do the killing ourselves. Buddha was obliged to eat whatever was put in his begging bowl, for instance, including meat if offered.

Sorry, but that’s like saying you can be a Buddhist but support a war so long as someone else does your killing for you. If you think its wrong to slaughter animals then its also wrong to financially support the slaughter of animals.

I eat meat. I don’t kid myself that I’m a better person because I don’t slaughter the animals myself.

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Plume 06.04.12 at 7:56 pm

Shatterface,

Buddhism goes back 2500 years. I described established Buddhist doctrine/practice.

As I said, I’m conflicted about it as well, but eating meat is accepted Buddhist practice. Buddha himself did.

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Stephen 06.04.12 at 8:09 pm

Barry@71

I think you’re misextrapolating from modern US/western Europe. Where highly urbanised areas have a high per capita GDP.

Now look back at C18 Naples or Cairo …

83

Tim Worstall 06.04.12 at 8:16 pm

“We have X amount of natural resources. “

No, really, no we don’t.

We have some number of renewable resources which are, by their name, renewable and thus not limited over time.

We also have some number of not renewable resources which are indeed limited. But there are two very different limits. Just to take, as an example, the tellurium we use to make a certain kind of solar cell:

1) The number of atoms of Te on the planet. Even though this is indeed a very rare metal in crustal abundance this is some 120 million tonnes.

2) The interesting or important limit. Almost always an economic one. For example, with Te, given that we use some 125 tonnes a year, it is the cost of extraction which is the limit, not the gross availability.

Agreed, 2) does fail when we talk about some potentially renewable resources. We’re entirely and shit out of dodos for example…..

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Shatterface 06.04.12 at 8:19 pm

As I said, I’m conflicted about it as well, but eating meat is accepted Buddhist practice. Buddha himself did.

He ate what was put in his begging bowl. You are chosing to eat meat. He was a passive recipient of meat; you are an active participant in the slaughter because you fund it.

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Bruce Wilder 06.04.12 at 8:41 pm

Watson Ladd @ 68 “Bruce, why those dates? If I pick out a bunch of dates at random from the United States then there will be something going on. Even if you force a 36 year cycle, then why not 1814, 1845, 1881, 1917, 1953, 1989?”

In one sense, I suppose it doesn’t matter. History doesn’t end, or even pause — as you say, something is always going on. Even completely arbitrary dates at least give one perspective, relief from short-sightedness. Tracing a long journey, pace by pace, doesn’t let one see the path; milestones are better and crossroads better still, for marking progress and direction. Arbitrary dates, an arbitrary distance apart would be milestones. What’s intriguing, though, is how particular pairs of dates link events in the evolution of institutions: countries are rarely in throes of revolution, and, yet, the revolutionary moments do seem to be spaced fairly evenly. That regularity gives more force to notions of institutional anacyclosis in political history and is intriguing to students of the business cycle and the recurrence of financial crises. The crossroads of history, where institutions are remade and nation-states choose their destinies, do seem to be encountered at regular intervals. In U.S. history, 1788 – 1824 – 1860 – 1896 – 1932 – 1968, in retrospect, stand out, and one can hang a narrative of long phases of political and economic history on them, covering the party system and economic institutions. Nothing happens instantly, and if you shifted the dates forward by 8 years, say, your narrative would still be identifying the same phases, just centering on those phases differently — you might be talking about Reconstruction and enacting the 14th amendment, or the gold standard, instead of the election of Lincoln and secession, for example. The important thing isn’t the dates qua dates — the dates aren’t magical — the important thing is recognizing the path, getting perspective on the evolution of institutional systems of politics and economics. Institutions are a kind of meta-bargain resolving conflict and setting the terms of cooperation, but the conflict, and its associated struggle, does not ever just go away. Institutions work by channelling and constraining the strategic jockeying, but that strategic jockeying wears away at the institution, itself, changing it, wearing it out, much as sugar in your bloodstream fuels your body, energizes your youth, but also ages you, contributing to the breakdown of your old age, in diabetes and arthritis and yellowing teeth. Political institutions can become progressively paralyzed, and/or corrupted, depending on how the game plays out; as Minsky (and Kindleberger in a similar vein, or Mancur Olson in a different one) argued, financial and economic institutions can be initially stabilizing or otherwise successful, and, then, their success in achieving stability can lead to de-stabilizing patterns of risk-taking, or the vesting of interest in success breeds corruption and hidebound conservatism. Or, they simply fail in particular respects, and the consequences of those shortcomings are amplified by repetition, until a restructuring is forced by breakdown. The regularity of generational change and the limits human life-span places on official careers are an important factor stabilizing the expiration dates on institutional systems.

1809 – 1845 – 1881 – . . . 1989 would be pretty revealing dates for Russia, but much less so for the U.S. For the U.S., they are milestones; for Russia, more of them come close, I think, to the crossroads.

Relatively few countries are so independent of their neighbors, that their development can be driven forward by endogenous forces alone. There’s a lot of jostling going on, particularly in continental European history, and increasing synchronicity as the industrial revolution spreads out as globalization. A war or famine can accelerate the turnover of generations, concentrating power for a long period after in the hands of a narrow cohort, sharpening the effect of generational turnover on the later crisis, and the stresses can precipitate early and deep institutional collapse or reforms on foreign models. 1648 or 1848 or 1918 or 1945 — these are red-letter dates in a lot of national calendars.

In relation to the OP, or some of the other comments, I suppose I am objecting to the excessive reliance of re-ifying “Communism” or “Capitalism” as a “system”, without recognizing that institutional systems come and go, as dynamic adaptations to circumstance and perennial conflict, and with a fairly predictable sell-by date, built-in.

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Plume 06.04.12 at 8:57 pm

Shatterface,

Buddha chose to eat meat as well. How can one “passively” eat meat? Especially a Buddhist, who never does anything passively. “Mindfulness” and the utmost awareness of one’s environment, plus every thought, every feeling, the interconnectedness of all things — those are keys to the Buddhist path. That total awareness and mindfulness is the pathway to ridding oneself of the delusion that we are not already/i> “one with everything.” One can not find that pathway, or realize they never lost it, passively.

The Buddha chose. There is no difference between the Buddha and me. I already am the Buddha. We all already have Buddha-mind. We just need to remove the debris to find it. Like Michelangelo and the sculpture already existing inside the stone. That is what he taught and what Buddhism still teaches.

87

Plume 06.04.12 at 9:02 pm

Again, I wish the comments section had a preview window. It would help reduce coding errors like mine above.

88

Walt 06.04.12 at 9:20 pm

Plume, if you took the total world output of today, and compared it to 500 years ago, do you think it’s the same? Gone down? Gone up?

89

Bruce Wilder 06.04.12 at 10:22 pm

William Timberman @ 67 : “I wonder . . . ritual . . . Roman Church . . . France . . .”

Julius Caesar was Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Church, before Christ! And, if the idea of France could be destroyed by military failure, surely it would be dead by now.

There are many aspects of identity and social and political organization, with significant purchase on the present, which have improbably long historical life.

I think its odd that our contemporaries have so little interest in either history or institutions. A book like Graeber’s Debt seems to stimulate, and there’s a general sense of decline, and, with Peak Oil and Climate Change, of being on the verge of some new, dark epoch, but, to me, surprising little interest in the Big Picture.
We actually might be in civilizational decline — for real, man! — yet we have no Spengler. Our institutions are failing us, but our dominant mainstream policy ideology, Neoliberalism, is profoundly anti-institutional and ahistorical.

The idea of the Roman Empire was regularly trotted out as an organizing principle for centuries, from Charlemagne down to the Kaiser and the Czar, who were still using Caesar’s name for a title. Qin Shi Huang was invoked for similar purposes through two millenia of imperial Chinese history. Watson Ladd, in an earlier comment, mentioned in passing how the 3rd millenium BCE Akkadian empire of Sargon the Great became a model for Mesopotamia, and the Assyrians used his line as a standard of legitimacy for many centuries.

Maybe, I’m wrong, but I wonder just how anchored we are, in any of that sort of thing, and, if not, why not?

90

Plume 06.04.12 at 10:55 pm

Walt,

@88,

Of course it’s greater today. Our population has increased by several billion. It would be impossible for output not to have increased in 500 years, given the massive increase in the number of people adding to total output.

And your point is?

91

Bruce Wilder 06.05.12 at 12:26 am

Plume: “It would be impossible for output not to have increased in 500 years, given the massive increase in the number of people adding to total output.”

As you add to the number of people fishing the same lake, at some point, adding more fisherman will decrease the number of fish caught.

92

Plume 06.05.12 at 1:04 am

Bruce Wilder,

@91

“As you add to the number of people fishing the same lake, at some point, adding more fisherman will decrease the number of fish caught.”

Yes, of course. Very true. I’ve been arguing the same thing. But Walt asked about aggregate output, not output per individual, and not just fishermen. With billions more people on the planet, aggregate output would have to be much greater during the time frame mentioned. It could not possibly be less than it was 500 years ago. Five hundred years ago, we still had vast areas of the earth untouched. Today, 500 years later, there is virtually nothing untouched.

Perhaps in another 500 years, if we’re still around — and I don’t think we will be — aggregate output will be less. But if we’re going from large regions of virgin land, to virtually no regions of virgin land, and we add billions of workers to labor under the sun . . . . aggregate output will go up. Technological change will also factor in. Modern collectivization methods — as in capitalist organization — will lead to increased output until resources dry up. As mentioned, we are heading in that direction and already have wiped out countless species and most of our fish stocks.

I’m still not getting Walt’s point.

93

Bruce Wilder 06.05.12 at 1:25 am

I cannot speak for Walt, but I suppose, as an on-looker, that he, and others, have been trying to get you to be a little less morally outraged, and a little more analytical.

94

Plume 06.05.12 at 1:48 am

Bruce,

@93

I’m both. Outraged and very analytical.

Perhaps your sense of my “moral outrage” blinds you to that. That appears to be the case, as I see little relationship between their objections (and yours) and what I’ve actually said. Instead, I see projection and straw men.

Again, it would be nice to read an argument that accurately assesses what I said and responds to that. But I’m not holding my breath. Experience has taught me that when the capitalist system is criticized and its effects are noted, far too many people lose their balance, and their analytical abilities. They start making major assumptions, reading a host of different demons into those criticisms, and basically fail to debate what is on the page.

That’s what the system does to most Americans. Everyone swims in a capitalist soup, and can’t really see through the fog of chicken noodles.

I’m used to it. Used to the blindness. But I expected a little more from Crooked Timber. Ah, well.

95

LFC 06.05.12 at 2:26 am

W Timberman 67
“The Roman Church still has its Popes, the US still has its Constitution”

And Britain still has its monarch! Sorry; but I felt that, between the call for a new Spengler and the fog of chicken noodles, what this thread needed was a reference to the Diamond Jubilee.

96

Colin Danby 06.05.12 at 3:00 am

Plume, I’m sure I speak for everyone who comments on CT in offering contrite apologies for our collective failure to live up to your expectations. Please write many more comments on how dreadful we are, because we deserve it.

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Bruce Wilder 06.05.12 at 3:10 am

Crooked Timber is a pretty sympathetic forum, on the values, but it is also a place, where a premium will be placed on analysis, carefully modulated rhetoric, and something resembling good conversation. I think the passion of your moral outrage blinds you to some of the qualifications and distinctions necessary to careful analysis. It makes it hard for you to make yourself understood, and hard also, to make yourself pause long enough to understand what someone else is saying.

In your reply @92, to my single sentence comment @91, you write no less than 10 breathless sentences — two of them starting “But . . .”, and not counting three sentences of politeness. In my single, plain sentence, I did not distinguish per-fisherman output from total output (both would be true) — but you felt it necessary to correct me.

Walt wrote two brief comments, making no assertions — basically just asking (Socratic?) questions, and you’ve worked yourself into a wordy exasperation. @92 you thought my single sentence @91 “very true” and identical to what you’ve been arguing, but by @94, that same single sentence is, in your mind, an “objection” to what you’ve said.

Anyway, I’m done here, with this post and thread. I just wanted to give you a little feedback.

98

Donald Johnson 06.05.12 at 3:11 am

J. Otto Pohl covered this already, but Hitler and Stalin’s civilian bodycounts were similar , according to Timothy Snyder (a Yale historian)–

<a href="http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/jan/27/hitler-vs-stalin-who-was-worse/"hitler vs stalin who was worse

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Donald Johnson 06.05.12 at 3:12 am

My link is broken. Trying again–

link

100

Plume 06.05.12 at 3:42 am

Colin,

I have no idea who you are, nor did I address any comment your way. But feel free to jump in and make gratuitous comments if it makes you feel better. Pile on. The more the merrier.

;>)

101

Plume 06.05.12 at 3:50 am

Bruce Wilder,

You said:

“but it is also a place, where a premium will be placed on analysis, carefully modulated rhetoric, and something resembling good conversation”

I saw no careful analysis of my comments. Just silly projections and assumptions, based upon nothing on the page. I saw straw men. Nothing more. And if you think it’s “good conversation” to patronize another poster with “trying to get you to be a little less morally outraged, and a little more analytical” . . . then I suggest you reassess.

You might as well have asked me to be less “emotional”, like some castaway from the 1950s.

Stop digging, Bruce.

102

Maynard Handley 06.05.12 at 4:38 am

@78
“Very true. Wherever feminism takes hold, birth rates go down. Wherever patriarchy is dominate, they go up. If given full autonomy over their bodies, women will natural decline to be barefoot and pregnant. It is men who strive to keep them that way, through archaic religious texts, political power and arbitrary social conventions.

People love to make this claim. It has ZERO relationship to reality.

The most one can say is that when women in EXTREMELY FERTILE societies gain more rights, they reduce their number of children. That is a completely different claim from the claim that is assumed in this thread, that, @76

“given economic independence education, access to birth control,and the right to use birth control, along with low child mortality rates, women will voluntarily reduce the birth rate to below replacement level.

Don’t believe me? Look at the damn data.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependent_territories_by_fertility_rate
Who are the countries at the bottom of the list?
Such beacons of feminism as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, BVI, South Korea (my god — do you have any idea how they treat women there!), Japan, Greece, etc etc.

What I take from this list is that the primary thing that stops people from having kids is
(a) a country that is way too overcrowded [the extreme bottom of the list] OR
(b) a country that has made the transition to modernity but is now collapsing [the countries a little higher --- mostly Russia and satellites]

These are hardly promising indicators of what the future holds, if the only way we voluntarily reduce our numbers is when it’s too late for the reduction to matter much.

103

Matt 06.05.12 at 6:55 am

The most one can say is that when women in EXTREMELY FERTILE societies gain more rights, they reduce their number of children. That is a completely different claim from the claim that is assumed in this thread, that, @76

“given economic independence education, access to birth control,and the right to use birth control, along with low child mortality rates, women will voluntarily reduce the birth rate to below replacement level.”

Don’t believe me? Look at the damn data.

The claim was that they will reduce birth rate to below replacement rate, i.e. less than TFR of about 2.1. The claim wasn’t that the lowest TFR in the world is found in the nations with the best conditions for women. Neither was it claimed that TFR could not decline under other conditions. What nations on that list are supposed to be counterexamples, i.e. they provide women education and economic and reproductive independence, but still have TFR > 2.1? The only one I count is Israel.

104

Walt 06.05.12 at 7:02 am

I should have asked output per capita. Do you think output per capita is the same? Gone down? Gone up?

I’m really just trying to understand your worldview, which I find quite foreign to me.

105

Plume 06.05.12 at 7:41 am

Walt,

@104

To be honest, I’ve never looked at the data regarding your question. But if I had to guess, I’d say per capita output has risen over the course of the last 500 years as well as aggregate output. A lot of factors no doubt come into play there. Again, capitalist organization, which is collectivist by design, has much to do with that. Mechanization, assembly lines, etc.

More adults work for other people now than they did 500 years ago, and their productivity is stressed to a far greater degree from above. It’s regimented, managed, pushed hard by management. That management, in turn, has output goals to meet.

Centuries ago, most adults worked their own farms, or owned their own small shops, or worked for very small employers, and their every move was not micromanaged like it is today. What we do now in the workplace is put on Excel sheets, with numbers crunched and pressure to improve quarter after quarter. The “management revolution” and complex divisions of labor are very recent developments, as is the enormous stress involved in late capitalist calls for endless productivity gains.

The complexity of tools to measure gains is fairly new as well, and certainly must drive increased goal-making. The software revolution and the Internet Age have put even greater stress on productivity improvements, which I know about first hand. It’s my line of work. And my own experience tells me that the obsession with data collection by management can actually increase workload and decreases productivity at times, as it adds stress to the front lines and no doubt management as well.

So, yes, overall, I’d say output per capita is up. But I don’t see a corresponding increase in quality of life or health or happiness with that increase.

But that’s just my take on the matter.

106

Plume 06.05.12 at 7:54 am

That increase in output obviously ties into earlier points I made. Capitalism demands more and more and more — from the earth, from workers and from consumers. Its essential nature is to ignore the finite nature of things, extract away regardless, and act within the context of infinity. Forever extending the day of reckoning into the future or onto another country. Without a plan for anything more than individual or corporate gain.

David Harvey has written excellent books on the subject of Grow or Die and the endless shifting of pain from region to region. He’s given Marx a geographical face and added spatiality to the Marxist critique of capitalism. I find his work revealing and thought provoking, and agree with the vast majority of his analyses and conclusions.

107

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 7:57 am

Yup, division of labor leads to both greater productivity and greater alienation. Bummer.

But at least with the internet now we all can criticize after dinner. That’s something.

108

Jim Rose 06.05.12 at 8:58 am

Contradicting suggestions in this tread and others, Assar Lindbeck has shown time and again in the journal of economic literature and elsewhere that ‘Sweden became a rich country before its highly generous welfare-state arrangements were created’.

See http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-three-swedish-models
1. Sweden moved toward a welfare state in the 1960s, when its government sector was then about equal to that in the United States in size.
2. Sweden could afford to trial a welfare state at the end of an era which Lindbeck labelled ‘the period of decentralization and small government’. Sweden was one of the fastest growing countries between 1870 and 1960.

Swedes had the third-highest OECD per capita income, almost equal to the USA in the late 1960s, but higher levels of income inequality.

By the late 1980s, government spending grew from 30 percent of gross domestic product to more than 60 percent of GDP. Swedish marginal income tax rates hit 65-75% for most full-time employees as compared to about 40% in 1960.

Swedish economists encountered a new phenomenon they named Swedosclerosis:
1. Economic growth slowed to a crawl in the 1970s and 1980s.
2. Sweden dropped from near the top spot in the OECD rankings to 18th by 1998 – a drop from 120% to 90% of the OECD average inside three decades.
3. about 65 per cent of the electorate receive (nearly) all their income from the public sector—either as employees of government agencies (excluding government corporations and public utilities) or live off transfer payments.
4. No net private sector job creation since the 1950s, by some estimates!

In 1997, Lindbeck suggested that the Swedish Experiment was unravelling.

Sweden is a classic example of Director’s Law. Once a country becomes rich because of capitalism, politicians look for ways to redistribute more of this new found wealth to the middle class.

Government spending grew in many countries in the 20th century because of demographic shifts, more efficient taxes, more efficient spending, a shift in the political power from those taxed to those subsidized, shifts in political power among taxed groups, and shifts in political power among subsidized groups.

The recent Swedish economic reforms are an example of a political system converging onto more efficient modes of income redistribution as deadweight losses grow.

Improvements in the efficiency of taxes or spending reduce political pressure to suppress the growth of government and thus increase or prevent cuts to both total tax revenue and spending.

The same motives drove reform and saved the welfare state in Australia and NZ. Sweden was just another rent-seeking society, not a social democratic beacon.

109

Peter Erwin 06.05.12 at 9:19 am

Donald Johnson @ 98:
J. Otto Pohl covered this already, but Hitler and Stalin’s civilian bodycounts were similar , according to Timothy Snyder (a Yale historian) …

Note, though, that Snyder is specifically restricting himself to the period 1930-1945; it’s a comparison of Hitler and Stalin during the time both were in power (with an extension back to 1930 in the case of Stalin, to accomodate the famine of 1930-33).

He is also, I think, deliberately excluding those who died in labor camps on both sides (going by the quotation in this letter from Snyder: “My purpose in Bloodlands was to describe and explain the deliberate murder of fourteen million people by German and Soviet policy in the lands between Berlin and Moscow between 1933 and 1945. This figure does not include casualties of war, nor people who died as laborers in camps.”) Anne Applebaum, in her book Gulag, suggests that the best (highly uncertain) estimate for those who died in the gulag/labor-camp system during the entire history of the Soviet Union may have been closer to 2.7 million. (Which as she points out, may underestimate the total slightly, since camp administrators would sometimes release prisoners who were on the brink of death, so that their deaths wouldn’t officially count in camp records.)

110

Peter Erwin 06.05.12 at 9:20 am

Ack — apologies for the runaway failed link. The letter from Snyder I was referring to can be found here:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/dec/23/worst-madness/

111

Peter Erwin 06.05.12 at 10:31 am

Matt @ 103 (& Maynard Handley @ 102):
The claim was that they will reduce birth rate to below replacement rate, i.e. less than TFR of about 2.1. The claim wasn’t that the lowest TFR in the world is found in the nations with the best conditions for women. Neither was it claimed that TFR could not decline under other conditions.

Actually, Plume’s claim was: “Wherever feminism takes hold, birth rates go down. Wherever patriarchy is dominate [sic], they go up. “

In reality, the surest precondition for lower birth rates/fertility rates seems to be the combination of urbanization and affluence (which very often go together). One suggested explanation is that extra children are economically useful to families in a farming society — more hands to help with chores — but an economic burden for city dwellers. As societies become more affluent and developed, the cost of raising children (more and fancier clothes and toys, schooling expenses, etc.) also goes up.

More freedom and autonomy for women — including general education — undoubtedly helps, as does lowering the cost and increasing the availability of contraception via family planning initiatives. But it’s probably misleading to suggest that it’s only the prevalence of feminism that matters.

In fact, there’s a weak trend in Europe where the countries which have most strongly implemented feminist policies — e.g., places like the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries — have higher TFR than more traditional-minded countries like Italy and Greece. It’s been suggested that this is because policies like generous maternal and paternal leave — including in some cases forced paternal leave –, state-supported child care, and social attitudes which encourage men to take more child-raising and household responsibilities lessen the burden on women, which makes it easier for them to contemplate having a second child….

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Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 11:59 am

One suggested explanation is that extra children are economically useful to families in a farming society—more hands to help with chores—but an economic burden for city dwellers.

Also, where there is no strong old age security program, you’ll need children to take care of you when you’re old. Italy used to have, for a few decades, a very generous pension system. It’s still pretty good, I think.

113

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 1:13 pm

Improvements in the efficiency of taxes or spending reduce political pressure to suppress the growth of government and thus increase or prevent cuts to both total tax revenue and spending.

We are doomed, doomed, I tell ya.

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J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 1:20 pm

109

I think if we include deaths in labor camps we still get a rough parity of about 12 million for both the Soviets and the Nazis. The Soviet figure being 2-3 million and the Nazis considerably lower (note I am not counting extermination camps like Aushwitz or POW camps which were already included in Snyder’s tabulation) at 500,000-750,000. So the nine million Soviet victims in Snyder’s original calculation becomes 11-12 million and the 11-12 million for the Nazis becomes 11.5-12.75 million. The area where there starts to be controversy is when Stalinist revisionists like Stephen G. Wheatcroft only count direct killings so they reduce the Stalinist death toll to only the one million or so people shot. The other 11 million deaths being considered only “involuntary manslaughter”. In contrast Wheatcroft includes all 12 million direct and indirect victims of the Nazis as first degree murder. This is a clear double standard. Snyder is correct to reject it, but I think it is the orthodox view in the left wing academy. The other area of controversy is the claim that the Nazis were more evil because they targeted people on the basis of race and ethnicity and the Soviets allegedly did not. This is the line established by Deborah Lipstadt (the women who established the politically correct line on the Holocaust in academia) at Emory who claims that anybody who believes that the two regimes are comparable is a “Holocaust Denier.” As Snyder notes contrary to Lipstadt Stalin did target many people on the basis of ethnicity. Fortunately Snyder has tenure at Yale and can do these type of things. But, the standard line in American academia is still that there was never any racism or genocide in the USSR. It is better then in the 1990s, however, when Lipstadt’s dominance meant that anybody claiming that there other cases of genocide as horrible as the Holocaust was branded a “Holocaust Denier.”

115

Pascal Leduc 06.05.12 at 1:53 pm

Improvements in the efficiency of taxes or spending reduce political pressure to suppress the growth of government and thus increase or prevent cuts to both total tax revenue and spending.

This is why we cant have nice things.

116

William Burns 06.05.12 at 1:54 pm

J. Otto,

Can you cite a single American academic specializing in Soviet studies who claims that there was never any racism in the USSR?

117

Adrian Kelleher 06.05.12 at 2:30 pm

@J Otto Pohl

SS General Von dem Bach Zelewski, who certainly ought to have known, told the Nuremberg tribunal that “a speech made by Heinrich Himmler at Weselsburg at the beginning of 1941, prior to the campaign against Russia, when … spoke of the purpose of the Russian campaign, which was, he said, to decimate the Slav population by 30 million”. Every single Jew in the areas under Nazi control, everybody with one Jewish parent and an unspecified number judged to exhibit “Jewish traits” can be added to this target. These plans were interrupted, and that rather than some strange and purposeless evilness tally is the decisive difference between Nazi and Stalinist crimes, to say nothing of the fact that Hitler launched a World War.

Nazism made a virtue of murder. Nobody could put a ceiling on the numbers that might have died had it not been destroyed in war.

Who might have been cast in the role of Khruschev in the event that Hitler had achieved his objectives? Himmler? Heydrich?

118

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 2:58 pm

I don’t think there was any hard racism in the USSR. Persecutions based on ethnic origin are not necessarily racist, at least as I understand the word. Wherever the authorities suspect (rightly or wrongly) that a significant part of an ethnic group has strong undesirable/dangerous nationalist loyalties, they are likely to do something about it. Granted, it’s not a good thing, but if you call this ‘racism’, then you need to invent some new word for racial supremacism and ethnocentrism, which is what ‘racism’ means, according to the dictionary.

119

Katherine 06.05.12 at 3:25 pm

Persecutions based on ethnic origin are not necessarily racist? You have a strange understanding of the word. Judgements and courses of actions taken on or against all individuals in an ethnic group based on a supposed characteristic of that group isn’t racism? I don’t know what dictionary you are using, but it’s crap.

120

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 3:27 pm

116

Francine Hirsch for starters. She not only denies that there was any racial component to any of Stalin’s actions such as the national deportation she in contrast to scholars of race for every region of the world outside the USSR denies that race can be constructed along cultural rather than biological lines. In other words she claims only Nazi Germany was racist.

See http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2012/04/john-rex-on-race-and-why-francine.html

117

I don’t judge regimes by intent or motive, but rather by actions and results.

118

We have been over this before. But, any action which denies certain civil rights to groups of people determined to be members of immutable groups based on ancestry relative to other such groups is racist. Or if you want to be more specific an act of racial discrimination. Institutions that restrict rights along these lines are also racist. Thus the Soviet special settlement regime like the apartheid laws of South Africa or the Absentee Property Law in Israel are racist or if you prefer racially discriminatory. The 1965 International Convention on Racial Discrimination defines the term racial discrimination in the following words.

_In this Convention, the term ‘racial discrimination’ shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other sphere of public life._

The national deportations and special settlement regime certainly entailed restrictions based upon ethnic origin that had the effect of impairing the exercise on an equal footing of a number of rights.

121

Adrian Kelleher 06.05.12 at 3:34 pm

@117

Trite and evasive. You can’t just wave away the well documented plans the Nazis had set in motion or the fact that Nazi violence was the logical outcome of Nazi ideology rather than some incidental fact.

The cooperative planning of of tens of millions of murders is an action.

122

Adrian Kelleher 06.05.12 at 3:35 pm

Previous @120 rather than @117

123

mattski 06.05.12 at 3:35 pm

Plume, here’s some feedback from a fellow Buddhist: I don’t think you’re as analytical as you believe you are. Statements like these,

“Profit is theft” or “Capitalism is cancer” are empty rhetoric. Worse than empty, they hinder us from subtler understanding.

And the statement, “There is no difference between the Buddha and me” is reckless beyond comment.

The word “capitalism” doesn’t have a precise meaning. People use it in many different ways. Many of those uses refer to completely legitimate human activities. And “profit”? The Buddha used the word too, and not pejoratively.

124

William Burns 06.05.12 at 3:42 pm

So “Official actions in the Soviet Union were motivated by social-historical attitudes towards ethnicities, rather than biological attitudes towards race” is equivalent to “there was never any racism in the USSR”?

125

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 3:56 pm

124

Read Hirsch’s article. She adamantly denies that racial discrimination can ever occur along lines constructed along ethnicity or nationality as opposed to biology identical to the way the Nazis perceived race.

126

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 4:03 pm

Or if you want to be more specific an act of racial discrimination.

Yes, I certainly do prefer ‘racial discrimination’. Just like with the persecution of individuals of Japanese, German, and Italian ancestry (but not Chinese, or Greek, for example) in the US during WWII, I don’t see any racist component in it.

127

Sebastian H 06.05.12 at 4:12 pm

So killing twelve million for “the good of the revolution” is so much better than for ” the good of the master race” that it is worth arguing about at length? Sounds like quibbling over the ideological mask rather than any true difference in brutality.

128

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 4:24 pm

Persecutions based on ethnic origin are not necessarily racist?

‘Racism’ according to dictionary.reference.com is

a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others

that is an irrational belief.

However, the hypothesis, the assumption that a person of recent German ancestry is somewhat likely to have a degree of loyalty to Germany is a perfectly rational assumption. If identifying and neutralizing loyalists is deemed important, and resources are limited, the authorities may decide, for the sake of expediency, to isolate all the persons of recent German ancestry. This would constitute racial discrimination, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with racism.

129

Adrian Kelleher 06.05.12 at 4:33 pm

@Sebastian H

So killing twelve million for “the good of the revolution” is so much better than for ” the good of the master race” that it is worth arguing about at length? Sounds like quibbling over the ideological mask rather than any true difference in brutality.

A tedious strawman argument.

Engaging in a conspiracy to murder tens of millions as an objective in itself and in pursuit of core ideological goals is different from the murder of millions in a ruthless but ultimately tangential campaign in pursuit of other objectives.

It is a fact of history that the USSR reformed itself without engaging in genocide. On the other hand, Nazi plans actually set in motion but ultimately curtailed by their enemies in war encompassed much greater violence. Seeing as J Otto Pohl has not attempted to answer the question, do you imagine Nazism would have ultimately produced its own Gorbachev? Or would the campaign against Jews, Slavs, Roma, “Asiatics” etc. have continued without limit?

130

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 4:39 pm

128

It was not just people of recent German ancestry deported to special settlements. It was all people of German ancestry going back to 1764, a full six generations, and it included thousands members of the Communist Party and Komsomol and tens of thousands of members of the Red Army. There was a claim by the Stalin regime that Soviet citizens descended of German speaking immigrants six generations ago were inherently disloyal regardless of party membership, military service, or position. This is an irrational belief.

131

Adrian Kelleher 06.05.12 at 4:51 pm

@J Otto Pohl

I don’t judge regimes by intent or motive, but rather by actions and results.

Very well. Himmler and Von dem Bach-Zelewski engaged in a conspiracy to murder 30 million people as “the purpose of the Russian campaign”. That was an action.

Yet again: Do you imagine that the Nazi regime might in the end have produced an equivalent to Kruschev, let alone Gorbachev?

132

JP Stormcrow 06.05.12 at 5:00 pm

125: Read Hirsch’s article. She adamantly denies that racial discrimination can ever occur along lines constructed along ethnicity or nationality as opposed to biology identical to the way the Nazis perceived race.

I do not have access to the full paper, but from the preview I can read and an abstract of the volume it appears in this seems to be a tendentious reading of her argument at best (caveat: the body may go in a completely different direction). For instance it did not practice what contemporaries thought of as “racial politics”. Emphasis added. In fact her main point seems to be methodological with regard to how comparisons should be made in a historical context.

I see nothing rated to absolution, excuse-making or what-have-you. In fact I would be interested in your completing the sentence which gets cut off at the bottom of the page for me: To argue that the Soviet regime practiced nationality politics and not racial politics is not to romanticize the Soviet project. If anything, the Soviet case has demonstrated that politics based

133

Plume 06.05.12 at 5:02 pm

Mattski,

@123

I’m a Zen Buddhist, to be specific. When I say there is no difference between the Buddha and me, I’m not speaking in terms of virtue, accomplishment, circumstance, history. I’m talking in terms of the actual teachings. That we are all one. The essential teaching of Buddhism is just that. There is no “other.” There is no duality. There is no self. Buddhism teaches there isn’t even a difference between mind and body, which extends to all things. How can there be non-duality and oneness with all things if I am not the same as Buddha.

Again, I’m not speaking literally. I’m speaking paradoxically.

As for “profit is theft.” That statement is the result of decades of analysis, observation and direct experience. It comes after deep and careful analysis, as does “capitalism is cancer.” I’m in my fifties, and I’ve done the work to back up that statement.

I’ll try to quickly break down the profit is theft in the next post, to shorten this one.

134

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 5:09 pm

There was a claim by the Stalin regime that Soviet citizens descended of German speaking immigrants six generations ago were inherently disloyal regardless of party membership, military service, or position. This is an irrational belief.

I think this was just an irrational statement (and there were plenty of those), made to justify their brutal expedience.

You’re the expert, but weren’t they not simply “descended of German speaking immigrants six generations ago”, but those who actually lived together and preserved elements of the culture, and the language? I’m sure there were many decedents of German immigrants who, over the centuries, moved away, assimilated, and became Russians (or whatever). Those were not targeted.

135

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 5:11 pm

131

I am an historian not a writer of alternative fantasy novels. I have no idea what might of happened if the Nazis were not defeated in 1945 and it is irrelevant. I do know that Naziism died permanently on 9 May 1945. Stalinism, however, is alive and well. The USSR also did engage in genocide. What do think the deliberate deportation of the Chechens to deadly material conditions in Central Asia on Red Army Day in 1944 where nearly a third of the population died in less than five years was?

136

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 5:25 pm

134

The targeting was based upon passport nationality. So yes a number of people of Baltic German descent in places like Moscow who had given up German for Russian, Lutheranism for Orthodoxy, and changed their names from German ones to Russian ones in the 18th and 19th centuries undoubtedly escaped deportation. I am sure some people who had a Jewish great grandparent also escaped the Nazi genocide. On the other hand the USSR was officially a multi-national state and the Volga Germans had a high level of recognition in the form of the Volga German ASSR up until 1941. The fact that they continued to speak German, live in German communities, and maintain German cultural practices should have had no bearing on the regime’s perception of their political loyalty. The Soviet Union was supposed to be an international workers’ and peasants’ state not a Russian nation-state.

137

Adrian Kelleher 06.05.12 at 5:35 pm

@J Otto Pohl

I refer you to Neville Morley’s posts on contingency on this board over the last few days.

Back in 1941, all that has transpired since was contingent. “The purpose of the Russian campaign” was the murder of 30 million, a number to which the entirity of Europe’s Jews can be added. No equivalent Soviet conspiracy can be pointed to because none existed. In spite of the repression they have suffered, the Chechens live on even though it cannot be seriously disputed that Stalin had the means at his disposal to effect their genocide.

Your arguments are only tenable because you work to a dictionary of your own devising where words like “racism” and “genocide” posses definitions not shared with anybody else. For example your blog post that you linked to above states:

As an example [Rex] notes, “the essentially ethnic relations of Northern Ireland actually have much in common with black-white relations in other countries.” (Rex, p. 72). That is the discrimination against Catholics by the dominant Protestants in Northern Ireland during the 20th century was racial discrimination even though the groups involved are “sociohistorical” ones rather than “racial-biological” ones.

“That is” not what you claim it to be. “That is” nothing resembling what Rex actually wrote.

One of the very few understandings the communities in conflict in Northern Ireland shared was their common ethnic origin, a matter of historical record rather than folklore and the reason they each laid claim to a shared inheritance that was material (the Book of Kells, the Broighter Hoard, etc.) and symbolic (e.g. the Red Hand of Ulster, an Uí Néill emblem) as well as ethnic.

It is total nonsense to redefine this as a racial conflict. Likewise, simply employing agreed definitions of common words causes all your claims to dissolve into gibberish.

138

Plume 06.05.12 at 5:37 pm

The statement “profit is theft” assumes a few basic things. The most important being that we are not talking about a single craftsman or artisan, without employees. From my studies, observations and experience — and of course there are exceptions to this — the only realm of “fair trade” is the realm of the single proprietor. In that realm, someone builds something with their own two hands. They charge a customer value for value. They charge them for what they’ve actually done, their time, their skill and their parts. Virtually nothing is extraneous. The customer is not paying for shareholder profits, lobbyists, marketing campaigns, salespersons, call centers, unsold merchandise, stolen merchandise, etc. He or she is paying for a specific object, made by the seller, sold directly. Value for value.

When, OTOH, the realm changes to a business with employees, shareholders and the like, the chance for any kind of “fair trade” dies. The customer now pays for things that add zero value to the product, like ad campaigns, lobbyists, unsold stock, etc. If the cost for those added layers of bureaucracy is not born by the consumer (because the traffic won’t bear it), it must be stripped from the already reduced wages of employees. In our capitalist system, the cost is born primarily by workers through a reduction in their wages. This creates the “profit” for ownership. Actually, this is how they get their compensation prior to profit.

In order for ownership to profit, it can never pay its workforce value for value. It can never pay them as much as they actually produce for ownership, and the more ownership takes, the less value employees get for their work. That’s theft.

Back in the 60s, the level of theft was much lower. A typical CEO made roughly 25 times the rank and file. Today, it’s 400 times. In some multi-nationals, it’s 10,000 to 1. For instance, Larry Ellison of Oracle made one billion in compensation last year. Again, that’s theft. Ellison makes his obscene salary by grossly underpaying his workforce. He strips them of wages in order to pad his own pockets. There is no other word for that but theft. And when you add in shareholders, who have zero “sweat equity” in the company, you get more theft. In order to pay dividends to those shareholders, workers must be stripped even more. Again, theft.

In fact, in our system, the theft comes prior to the profit. Profit is what ownership has leftover after they’ve paid themselves massive compensation, shareholder dividends and overhead. It’s what is left after they’ve already ripped off workers and customers. Profit is, in fact, an additional act of theft. If they paid fair wages to begin with, and if they priced their product or service at its true value, there would be no remainder. Everything would equal up math-wise. There would be balance.

Profit is an indication that a company has either charged too much for a good or service, or paid too little to its employees. Generally, it’s both, but again, with that weighted dramatically toward the cheating of employees.

Profit is theft for many reasons. Chief among them is that the workforce creates a surplus ownership takes for itself. Second to that would be that consumers, when they buy from companies, not single proprietors, pay for things that add zero value to their product, like massive compensation for executives, ad campaigns, shareholders, lobbyists, unsold stock, etc. etc. They always already get less than they pay for.

That equal theft.

139

Plume 06.05.12 at 5:49 pm

A quick addendum. In recent years, another form of cheating has exploded. Making the customer add value to the product they buy.

The “self service” revolution, basically. This is a company’s or industry’s way of passing on costs to the customer indirectly, in ways they probably do not even notice. Dressed up as “convenience”, businesses get to cut back on workers, increase their own compensation and profits even more, because they get consumers to both buy and service goods themselves.

For example: ATM machines. Self-serve gas stations and checkout lines. Surveys after transactions. Businesses get to cut back on the labor force of bank tellers, gas attendants and check out personnel. They get to save on marketing firms because customers do a lot of the work for them via surveys.

Most consumers don’t realize this is happening, that they’re actually being forced to add value — in a sense work for companies that sell them stuff — along with buying products and services. The Do it Yourself movement is pure capitalist genius in this regard, because customers actually “save” a lot less than they think they do. They leave their jobs and go buy something, but they still have to work. And capitalism follows them everywhere.

That’s another reason for the statement, Capitalism is Cancer.

140

Plume 06.05.12 at 5:55 pm

J. Otto Pahl,

@136

“The Soviet Union was supposed to be an international workers’ and peasants’ state not a Russian nation-state.”

This is true, but not for the Bolsheviks. They hijacked the Revolution from the true communists/democrats. It has always been inaccurate to the extreme to call the Soviet State “socialist”, much less communist. There was never any democracy and workers never owned the means of production. We still have never had one single real-world example of a truly socialist nation-state, much less a communist one.

That said, could you elaborate on what you mean by “Stalinism is alive and well”?

141

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 5:59 pm

The fact that they continued to speak German, live in German communities, and maintain German cultural practices should have had no bearing on the regime’s perception of their political loyalty.

You must be confusing me for someone who believes otherwise. I’m simply disagreeing with you that what happened there should be classified as ‘racism'; I completely agree that it was wrong.

But in fact the regime started questioning their loyalty only when the war started. The war with Germany. Germans – Germany. Is this not an obvious clue? Is it even remotely possible that the Soviet authorities turned anti-German racists overnight on June 22, 1941?

142

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 6:01 pm

137

I directly quoted Rex so I am not sure how I misquote him. He says the conflict in Northern Ireland is “essentially ethnic.” Since religion is part of ethnicity I think this is correct. But neither Rex who is South African or myself are specialists on Ireland. Rex also in the essay says it is a race relations type situation having “much in common with black-white relations in other countries.” You can disagree with Rex, but I did not misquote him. Here is the full quotation of the paragraph of Rex below word for word so that it can be seen that I did not misquote him.

_So far as the first objection is concerned, I accept that what it says is true. My argument, however, is that it is worthwhile separating out situations of group exploitation as a special field, because they have important characteristics of their own which they do not share with situations of benign ethnicity. On the second point I am quite happy to divert attention away from phenotype as such to that group of situations which, whether it rests upon phenotypical or cultural differences, actually involves exploitation and oppression. It seems to me that in the relatively peaceful relations between black and white members of the Parisian bourgeoisie there is little to interest a student of race relations as I understand the subject, on the other hand, the essentially ethnic relations of Northern Ireland actually have much in common with black-white relations in other countries._

John Rex, “The Role of Class Analysis in the Study of Race Relations – A Weberian Perspective” in John Rex and David Mason, (eds.) , _Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations_, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 72.

Rex does not make more than this passing reference to Northern Ireland and he does argue it is a race relations situation. The fact that you disagree with Rex does not change that fact.

My definition of genocide is the 1948 UN treaty and the works of Raphael Lemkin from which the treaty received its inspiration. I believe that under article 2 (c) that the deportation of the Chechens does qualify as genocide. It certainly qualifies under the earlier definition laid out by Lemkin in _Axis Rule in Occupied Europe_.

143

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 6:03 pm

140

I am referring to the revival of Stalin’s cult in Russia during recent years.

144

JP Stormcrow 06.05.12 at 6:10 pm

Holy heck, J Otto, Adrian did not say you “misquoted” Rex, her point was all about your sentence (mis)characterizing his. Wow.

145

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 6:17 pm

144

There is no way from the quotation that I provided from Rex that it can be interpreted in any other way than Rex claimed that Northern Ireland had a “an essentially ethnic” conflict that was a race relations situation with “much in common with black-white relations in other countries.” You know there is a whole literature on similarities of Northern Ireland to South Africa. Maybe it is all wrong. But, I did not mischaractarize what Rex wrote.

146

Donald Johnson 06.05.12 at 8:01 pm

Peter Erwin’s link up above has two letters hashing out the debate about the differences between Hitler and Stalin. Here it is again for anyone interested–

link

147

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 8:10 pm

146

But, Snyder’s whole point is that the differences are not as great as the official line suggests. A lot of Stalin’s killings were ethnically based. Much of the grandiose plans of the Nazis could not be fulfilled. So the actual numbers killed are pretty close and the reasons for those killings are not as different as Western scholars have claimed in the past. People trying to rehabilitate Stalin by demonizing the Nazis for things they actually did not do have greatly distorted our view of history. Having a plan to kill 30 million people is not the same as actually killing 30 million people.

148

Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 9:17 pm

I don’t disagree that Stalinism killed some people because of who they were, but Applebaum’s argumentation in response to the letter linked in 146 is ridiculous, as usual: one officer spoke of the need to shoot national minorities like “mad dogs.” … Stalin spoke at the time of “Polish filth.” – right, QED, case closed.

People trying to rehabilitate Stalin by demonizing the Nazis for things they actually did not do have greatly distorted our view of history.

Oh, man, what are you talking about. You are confused. I honestly don’t think it’s possible to demonize the Nazis more than they deserve. Go rent Come and See.

149

J. Otto Pohl 06.05.12 at 9:28 pm

Data 148:

Sobolev the head of the CPSU in Krasnoyarsk Kray is the person the letter is referencing. The quotation is below.

_Stop playing internationalism, all these Poles, Koreans, Latvians, Germans, etc. should be beaten, these are all mercenary nations subject to termination…all nationals should be caught, forced to their knees, and exterminated like mad dogs._

Quoted in Marc Jansen and Nikita Petrov, _Stalin’s Loyal Executioner: Peoples’ Commissar Nikolai Ezhov 1995-1940_ Stanford, CA, 2002, p. 60.

Herr Kelleher keeps talking about Nazi plans to kill 30 million people that actually were not killed as the reason why Hitler was infinitely worse than Stalin. The actual murder of 11 million people by the Nazis being insufficiently evil to make Hitler orders of magnitude more evil than Stalin. The fact that 11 million people is about the same number people Stalin murdered makes it hard to make an argument regarding orders of magnitude.

150

Donald Johnson 06.06.12 at 4:09 am

J. Otto Pohl–

You seem to think I’m taking a position when all I did was post a link. But since you seem to care–

Morally I don’t think there is that big a difference between the two, but if I’d been around in the 40’s and had to pick between supporting Stalin vs. supporting Hitler, I’d go with supporting Stalin because of the argument that a victorious Hitler would probably have been worse than a victorious Stalin. That’s the only reason for arguing about which was worse. I don’t actually have much interest in arguments about why killing X million people for reason Y is worse than killing X million people for reason Z, but if Hitler intended to kill 3X and Stalin only intended to kill X, that particular difference does matter.

151

Aulus Gellius 06.06.12 at 5:25 am

I really don’t see that it would be valuable to settle, once and for all, whether Hitler and Stalin are in the same circle of hell, or different ones. So the hell with that.

It is kind of interesting that people are so invested in making the distinction, defending Stalin from the charge of being Hitler, but it doesn’t seem that hard to explain, based on my very limited knowledge of the relevant history. Both Nazism and Communism were international movements as well as the ruling ideologies of countries. The people who supported Nazism or fascism outside of fascist countries were, generally, a bunch of revolting thugs who nearly all of us now are happy to throw into the trash along with Hitler himself. But the Communists (including those who supported Stalin) outside of Communist countries were a very different matter; their politics included nice things like racial equality, women’s rights, egalitarianism and so forth. Some of them wrote smart things that are still interesting[1]; some of them helped to accomplish real changes for the better in their countries. This doesn’t mean it was okay to support Stalin, of course, but it does explain why people want to defend those who did, and why there’s a real desire to distinguish them from Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. And one way to do that is to try to distinguish Stalin from Hitler.

Am I wrong about any of this? And is there really anything more to this argument?

[1] My assumption is that this is not true of Nazis: I’ve never heard anyone argue for some lasting value in Nazi or fascist political writings. But I’ve literally never read any of them either, so I can’t say that with much confidence.

152

Sebastian 06.06.12 at 6:41 am

“their politics included nice things like racial equality, women’s rights, egalitarianism and so forth. “

Communism and racial equality have a spotty history, as does their concept of women’s rights in practice (though ‘formally’ it isn’t awful in some cases). Egalitarianism *inside the party* is an interesting case of self deception, and of course outside the party it didn’t even pretend to exist.

Pretty much the only thing interesting in a non-evil way that is distinct about communism is that it is anti-capitalist. Whether or not that is worth contorting oneself for rather than just ignoring communism and taking capitalist critiques in a more productive direction is up for debate.

153

Data Tutashkhia 06.06.12 at 7:01 am

The discussion is not about Hitler and Stalin, but about two ideologies, that both caused mass atrocities. Some say they are essentially the same. Others say one functioned as intended, while the other just went off the rails, due to a design flaw.

This is a significant difference of opinions. My sense of it is that the first approach is itself indicative of an ideology, ideology called anti-communism, ideology that itself has been guilty of committing plenty of atrocities all over the world.

154

Jawbone 06.06.12 at 7:16 am

Stalin’s treatment of various national minorities makes the anti-racist claim for the Soviets just insane.

155

Data Tutashkhia 06.06.12 at 7:39 am

Dogmatic liberal ‘anti-racists’ also advocate treating various minorities in a special way. And yet they are infuriated when they are called racists. They feel there could be a very good reason to make race- or ethnicity- based distinctions. If you insist on redefining ‘racism’ as ‘treating minorities differently’, then: good for the goose, good for the gander, as they say.

156

Sebastian 06.06.12 at 8:06 am

I’m not a fan of affirmative action, but even still I can see a difference between helping people go to college on the basis of race and sending them off to death camps on the basis of race. If you’re having trouble with that distinction, I’m surprised you can make such fine distinctions between Stalin and Hitler.

157

Data Tutashkhia 06.06.12 at 8:31 am

Sure, I can see the distinction. So it’s called ‘racism’ depending to where you send them, is that it? To college – not racism, to a death camp – racism, got it. But I want to know more. Do you have the whole list?

158

ajay 06.06.12 at 8:33 am

But there’s always a temptation to do so with Soviet communism.[2] It killed quite a lot more people than Nazism but (for the most part, and after the 1920s) in a less obviously criminally insane way, and as a system it does have the characteristic that lots of people and countries at various times did want to have a go at it for themselves, more or less of their own free will.

But the same is true of Nazism – look at all those strutting dictators in the Middle East and Africa and South America in the 50s and 60s. Most of them reckoned that Hitler had the right idea. Some of them, like Sadat, had actually worked for him.

159

Peter Erwin 06.06.12 at 10:08 am

But the same is true of Nazism – look at all those strutting dictators in the Middle East and Africa and South America in the 50s and 60s

Not to mention Fascist-inspired or -influenced movements in various countries all over the world in the 30s and 40s, some of which gave rise to parties that survive (in altered and no-longer-Fascist forms) today: e.g., the Kataeb Party in Lebanon, or the RSS, which later gave rise to the BJP.

And the “Hitler did good things for Germany” trope, unfortunately, turns up now in then in the mouths of some (postwar) politicians. Bal Thackeray, founder of the Shiv Sena party in India, has done this on more than one occasion.

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mattski 06.06.12 at 12:23 pm

Plume,

133 Again, I’m not speaking literally. I’m speaking paradoxically.

As I said, I think you’re speaking recklessly. You’re throwing claims at the wall and hoping you can sell it as art.

The statement “profit is theft” assumes a few basic things.

Sure, if you ignore every sense of the word “profit” which doesn’t fit your preconceived ideas then you can make your case. But what is the point of making a case which denies the legitimate uses of “profit”? If a musician sells out a show and after paying her costs she finds $100,000 in her bank account, that’s profit, isn’t it? If a farmer gets lucky with weather & markets he might make a profit over and above his costs, no? If I build a house and you pay me rent to live in it… is there something inherently wrong with that?

The most important being that we are not talking about a single craftsman or artisan, without employees. From my studies, observations and experience—and of course there are exceptions to this—the only realm of “fair trade” is the realm of the single proprietor.

I’m sorry, but this is amateurish in the extreme. In this and other remarks you seem to deny the value of ideas and/or creativity. You seem to imply that it would be wrong of me, as a designer/manufacturer of furniture–to take an easily understood example–to pay an employee less than what I earn myself. I think of a design, I figure out how to build this design, I set up the machinery to execute the design, but I need to hire people to help me build my products. But you are implying that if any of my employees are making less money than me, then I am stealing from my employees. That’s not an argument many people will find convincing.

Here, schematically, is what you are missing: there isn’t any clear line between profits which are obviously fair & just on the one hand and profits which are obviously rapacious on the other. We are faced with essentially 3 categories of “profit”. The obviously fair & just, the obviously rapacious and unjust, and those which fall into the gray zone between. Unfortunately for your simplistic worldview, most of life falls into the gray area.

You contradict yourself at the most fundamental level. You say that profit is theft. In the next breath you say, In fact, in our system, the theft comes prior to the profit. You call this analytical?

You complain that “ad campaigns” add no value to a product. Then you complain that marketing surveys allow businesses to spend less on marketing!

I think Bruce Wilder @ 97 said it quite well. And I would add one more thing. At 69 you wrote, “It didn’t have to be this way.” I’m not sure how, as a Buddhist, you can assert this. Think about it.

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Peter Erwin 06.06.12 at 1:04 pm

Please ignore the strike-out marks in my post @159; I hadn’t realized that starting a separate word with a hyphen would do that…

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Barry 06.06.12 at 2:16 pm

J. Otto Pohl: “Having a plan to kill 30 million people is not the same as actually killing 30 million people.”

Yes, which doesn’t apply to Nazism, since they had the means motive and (partial) opportunity to kill 30 million people. They got a pretty solid start on that in only several years. Given a victory over the USSR, there is no honest doubt that they’d have hit 30 million by 1950.

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MQ 06.06.12 at 3:24 pm

It’s just a fact that a supposed equation between the body counts of Stalin and Hitler is frequently used to minimize the Holocaust and actually used directly as an anti-semitic trope (by ascribing all deaths under Communism to some Jewish/Bolshevik conspiracy).

I think it’s actually pretty clear that Stalin, while horrible, was not as bad as Hitler. One cannot ignore the massive developmental differences between Germany and Russia; comparing death counts in the two is like comparing death counts in India and Italy. Ascribing all famine deaths in the 1930s to Stalin is like ascribing all of Russia’s historical underdevelopment to Stalin. Germany could have been expected to be a fairly advanced and successful country absent Hitler, the same is not true of Russia absent Stalin.

If you want clear proof of the differences between the two systems you need only look at the treatment of Germany and Eastern Europe under Soviet rule compared to what would have happened to Russia and Eastern Europe under Nazi rule. The Soviets raped and pillaged but there were no mass executions or exterminations of Germans or Poles. Hitler’s explicit intent was to wipe out most of the Slavs and reduce the rest to complete slavery as forced laborers. The Russians instituted represssive dictatorships but not human slavery.

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Sebastian H 06.06.12 at 3:33 pm

I don’t understand this emphasis on ‘plan’ here. Does anyone think that setting up the gulag was an accident? Do people still deny that the famines were intended to break political counter movements? Communism had lots of plans, duly executed, to kill millions of its own people. Just like nazism, these plans to kill were justified as essential parts of the scientific progress toward a better world. In nazism it was Jews often demonized as rapacious shopkeepers. In communism it was demonized shopkeepers who were often identified as Jews. Both were cases of alleged scientific rationalism based on pseudo scientific garbage. In nazism the pseudo science was organized around genetics. In communism it was organized around economics. Because it is harder to disprove pseudo scientific thinking in economics, communism got to try its hand for a longer time before its death-cult nature became as evident to some people. Both acted as religious movement replacements, complete with conversions, obviously anti factual orthodoxies, heresies, and purges of the heretics. Nazism is to bad genetics what communism was to bad economics. Their methods in trying to implement their better world were the same.

Yes, capitalism needs critiquing. But you don’t have to stand anywhere near communism in order to do so any more than you need to become a Christian or Muslim or Jew to do so (all of which have more useful critiques of capitalism imbedded in them than Marxist communism and it’s successors.)

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Sebastian H 06.06.12 at 3:39 pm

To bring it back to Red Plenty, we see an excellent example of what happens when various believers try to grapple with how their faith and the faith of their leaders intersects with reality. The humanizing thing it shows is that sometimes you can be a good and dedicated person, but if you have a faith which is too far from reality it can suck.

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Plume 06.06.12 at 4:17 pm

Mattski,

Talk to a Zen master and ask him if he thinks it’s reckless. He’ll tell y0u no. Or, in the spirit of the old koan, perhaps mu.

Being the same as Buddha is the goal. The goal realizing that we already are. All of us. We all are already Buddhas. That is what at least Zen Buddhism teaches. The path gets you to that realization, once you get rid of your delusions, debris, attachments.

Sounds like to me you have not yet. You are attached to the idea of difference and separateness. As in, duality. Time for you to reassess.

As for profit. I never said that an owner in a capitalist economy shouldn’t pay his workers less than he or she makes. I said he/she should pay them for what they produce, the value of that production. Certainly, ownership adds in the value of the environment they create for their workers, but not endlessly, not as a kind of “rent.” They should do this fairly, with real costs in mind, not manufactured, year after year after year to pad their own pocket.

Gotta run. Will flesh this out more later.

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Plume 06.06.12 at 6:32 pm

Mattski,

Quick addition to the comments about being the same as Buddha. Zen teaches this, but they don’t teach it in order to avoid working with supreme, even sublime effort to attain enlightenment. There is such a thing as understanding something conceptually and intellectually, and understanding it with every fiber of your being. I have reached the first part of that place. I am far from the second, which will take me Buddha knows how long to reach. Zen teaches the Eightfold Path as well as the importance of Zazen. Zazen is actually emphasized about all other things as a way, a path to achieve true enlightenment. Some Zen masters took dozens of years to find enlightenment. Others, apparently, reached it during their first sesshin, though this is rare. Regardless, a conceptual understand is vital for me to pursue the real task ahead.

It’s not reckless in any way to teach the concept that we are all already Buddha. It might be reckless if that teaching did not also demand that we go far beyond the conceptual, the abstract, the intellectual and into the realm of our whole being and its “understanding.” Again, on a personal level, I am very far from that place.

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Plume 06.06.12 at 6:44 pm

Mattski,

@160

Quite a few insults in there for a Buddhist who is hopefully attempting “right speech.” :>)

But let’s get beyond that. You obviously missed the part where I talk about single proprietors. A musician, an artist, a writer is such a being. He or she produces something with their own hands, their own minds, and they don’t, typically, achieve their wealth through the underpayment of wages to a workforce. Business owners do. They generally don’t get paid for the work others do for them. They get paid for their own. Unlike business owners and CEOs.

And in today’s financialized capitalism, it’s even worse. Why? Because more and more companies are owned by shareholders, banks and the like . . . and then “managed” by hired CEOs. Those owners (individual shareholders) change often. They rarely stay the same. And in modern, shareholder capitalism, ownership doesn’t make anything. They don’t produce anything for that company. They invest in it, expecting profits, which must be derived from the underpayment of the workforce. As in, the people who actually do produce for that company.

Now, if you think that a hired manager, the CEO, is not stealing when he or she makes 400, 1000, 10,000 times as much as the rank and file, then you have never “analyzed” the hours of the day and the work that goes into those hours. It is impossible for someone to work 400 times harder or longer, obviously, than the rank and file. They haven’t “earned” that gargantuan gap in pay. And, given the fact that wages for the rank and file have been stagnant or have actually fallen since 1973, while salaries for those hired managers have skyrocketed, I don’t think any other word but “theft” applies.

Think about it. “Analyze” it. Worker productivity has skyrocketed since 1973, but wages have remained stagnant or have fallen. Salaries and compensation have skyrocketed for executives during this period of time, while their own tax rates have plummeted. Again, there is no other word for this than “theft.”

If there is, I’d love to hear it from you.

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Soru 06.06.12 at 6:51 pm

Doesn’t the golden dawn party in Greece have a larger share of the vote
than any party that might legitimately be called Stalinist?

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Plume 06.06.12 at 7:11 pm

Sebastion H,

There is Communism and there is communism. In reality, communism has never been tried on the scale of any nation state. The Soviet System was far from it, by definition, as it means the withering away of the state and an end to all classes. The Soviets didn’t even establish real socialism, which is the essential precursor for communism. The workers much less the citizenry didn’t own the means of production and there was no democracy. Both are essential to socialism. Instead, it had a party dictatorship or a “strongman” dictatorship. Workers were under the thumb of that dictatorship and had no say in the matter.

Worker co-ops in capitalist nations come much closer to real socialism than Russia or China ever did, etc. etc.

The main reason why we should want to try for the real thing? Because it’s the only way to finally get us to social justice, and it’s just far more natural to our species. Capitalism is only natural to a very small fraction of the population, and it actually encourages predation. Yes, predators are natural to our species as well, but, again, they make up a very small percentage. Logically, we should create a system that encourages the natural (and best) tendencies of the vast majority — the non-predators, essentially. Creating one that encourages the worst of our species is pure idiocy.

In short, we have a natural fit between democracy and socialism — on the way to communism. The majority of us want to live in peace and harmony and are not desirous of stealing from others or making a killing. Most of us are content with making a living, instead. It is not “natural” for most of us to want our own empires. So it is an unnatural fit to create a hierarchical system that enables predators, lesser and greater, because they will never be the majority but will harm that majority. As mentioned before, this predator-enabling system also clashes with the natural limits of our planet.

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mattski 06.07.12 at 12:06 am

Plume,

This is for you.

Calling your economic ideas amateurish is not an insult, it is a valid characterization. You show not the slightest awareness how much hangs on your use of the word “fairly” @ 166. “Fairly” according to who?

You’re quite right, we’re told that we all have the Buddha nature. It’s a shame that our suffering seems utterly indifferent as to whether we have it or not, don’t you think? But I didn’t get into this conversation to debate abstruse philosophy. I was trying to echo some other participants in this thread to the effect that you might have more influence with a less overheated, self-righteous approach.

From the story of the mustard seed:

“He who seeks peace should draw out the arrow of lamentation, and complaint, and grief. He who has drawn out the arrow and has become composed will obtain peace of mind; he who has overcome all sorrow will become free from sorrow, and be blessed.”

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Plume 06.07.12 at 1:51 am

Yes, Mattski, your words were insulting, and you just repeated them.

As for “fairly.” According to whom is fine. That’s why I’m in favor of putting up prices, wages, local, regional, national needs and goals to a vote. I want full, actual, real participatory democracy that includes the economy. I want the economy to be fully democratized. Locally, regionally, and nationally, with an emphasis on the first. All inputs weighed equally, with no sector getting more say than any other. Equal individuals under the law, with equal say under the law.

Why should the ownership class decide for the rest of us? Especially when that class is so tiny. Workers have no say, much less the citizenry at large in our current system. To me, that’s absurd. It should be up to the entire society, not just one small class, and definitely not one small part of that one small class.

But, all of that brings me back to something rather obvious. You have been busy trying to insult my thoughts and characterize them in a demeaning way. Fine. I can take it. But at the same time as you’ve done that, you have yet to offer your own views on the matter, and you haven’t done one iota of “analysis” showing why you think my views are “amateurish”, much less overheated. Judging from your responses, I’d say the heat is all on your side of the ledger.

So, a challenge: If you think my views are amateurish, demonstrate why. Don’t just slam them as if your take is self-evident. It isn’t. Not by a long shot. Offer up a real analysis of why you think I’m wrong, and then putyourself on the line. Open yourself up to scrutiny. Put your own cards on the table.

I have already. I don’t see you and the other couple of respondents doing like-wise. If you did, if they would, that would be an excellent example of “fair.”

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Sebastian h 06.07.12 at 3:41 am

I refer you to cosma’s post a few down the way on the problems of the command economy. It sounds as if your suggestion would have all the same problems only worse.

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Plume 06.07.12 at 3:55 am

I’m talking about local control. Democratic, local control. Citizens own the means of production together, equally, individually and together. Integrated with regional and national general assemblies, but local control takes precedence. Constitutional guidelines, national, regional and local goals, and integration of the whole. But there would be no “command economy.”

Too many people seem to believe we have just two choices. Private sector capitalism, or public sector command economies. We can do away with the former and localize the latter. Small and local is beautiful, etc.

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geo 06.08.12 at 4:13 pm

Bruce @89: We actually might be in civilizational decline—for real, man!—yet we have no Spengler.

We do, actually: Morris Berman. See his trilogy on America’s decline and fall: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/how-bad-is-it/.

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Peter T 06.09.12 at 3:31 am

Apologies if I have overlooked something in comments, but two points re D2’s post seem worth making:

- there seems to be an assumption (in Red Plenty and in the discussion) that states/regimes are/ought to be primarily about the material well-being of their populations. But this is often a secondary consideration. The Russian state was, from its inception, primarily about security. The alternative to a strong state in Russia was to be endlessly screwed over by Mongols/TatarsPoles/Lithuanians/Swedes/Germans/French….But the price of a state in a poor, open country demanded extracting more from peasantry than they would willingly give, and forcing the elite into state service. The communist regime was born out of the failure of the Tsarist state to maintain security, and itself engendered strong ideological hostility – so making security again the prime need. By the standard of meeting this need, communism succeeded – it recovered the lost borderlands, defeated the greatest threat Russia has ever faced, and then secured a band of satellites that precluded any similar threat. In the Russian/Soviet system, tanks had a much higher value than toasters, so more and better were produced.

Its also worth looking at what the regime did well – it extended a reasonable standard of health care to the entire population (something that continues to elude the US), educated just about everyone to a high standard (often in two or three languages, including in areas where mass education was at first resisted with force), and moved a population whose politics had been notably violent and bloody-minded to a situation where they accepted major system change and territorial loss with little more than a shrug. These are not small achievements.

By contrast, the Nazi regime was centrally about war. The economy and everything else were subordinate to the demands of conquest. Every war death in Europe – including 25 million Soviet dead – is down to them, because this was what the regime was about.

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