Socialist utopia 2050 …

by John Quiggin on January 18, 2019

what could life in Australia be like after the failure of capitalism?

That’s the title of my latest piece in The Guardian . It’s had quite a good run, but of course, plenty of pushback, mainly along the following lines

  • General objections to any kind of utopian thinking, even the very modest version in my article
  • Political impossibility
  • What about Stalin/Venezuela ?

What I haven’t seen, interestingly, is any suggestion that continuing expansion of financialised capitalism (aka neoliberalism) would produce a better outcome. Feel free to discuss this and other issues

{ 64 comments }

1

RobinM 01.18.19 at 10:12 pm

It all sounds good to me. Certainly much better than what seems to be our fate should the system remain pretty much the same as it is, driven by the same priorities and mode of thinking.

But what seems to be missing is any answer to the sort of question posed by Jeff Sparrow, whose Guardian piece “Is socialism the answer to the climate catastrophe?” comes up in the left-hand side-panel to your discussion there.

I’m not sure I’m playing devil’s advocate or being realistic (and maybe I just haven’t read you carefully enough), but might it not be the case that climate change, population growth, more and more hideous weapons in more and more hands, etc., mean that socialism—which to my mind shares some basic assumptions with capitalism (e.g., an emphasis on production of more and more)—can at best merely slow down for more of us for a while longer the things that threaten to overwhelm us? Have we already gone so far down the road to destruction that socialism cannot save us?

2

Hidari 01.18.19 at 10:23 pm

The old Zizek line about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has become a cliche.

In any case it obscures the fact that some people would prefer the end of the world to the end of capitalism.

Guardian commentators (dread phrase!) can snark all they want, but, 100 years ago Rosa Luxemburg wrote it’s ‘socialism or barbarism’.We chose barbarism and got….well you all know what we got.

Now the choice is ‘socialism or total environmental destruction’ and many people are intent on making the wrong decision. Again.

The key point, as the OP pointed out, is that no one actually believes in capitalism any more: hence all the blah blah Stalin, Chavez blah blah Utopian blah blah guff.

It’s literally ‘Project Fear’ because there’s no positive case to be made.

3

Matt 01.18.19 at 11:26 pm

I like it! While I suppose it’s not utopian to think that the NBN will finally be finished by 2050, I do like that you didn’t try to claim that internet speeds in Australia would reach the pretty bad (by world standards) speeds that most people in the US get now by 2050, as most days here I’d think that was just being too hopeful.

More seriously, while it would probably be unreasonable to do this in a short newspaper article, I would like to hear more on the relationship between UBI, work, and entrepreneurship. The photo of a surf shop that illustrates the piece is good here. I would really like to take more surfing lessons. But, they are currently too expensive for me to take more than once in a while. I expect that there are quite a lot of people who would enjoy making a living by giving surfing lessons, but, at a rate that would even minimally support people, there isn’t enough demand for surfing lessons to support more than a tiny fraction of the people who would like to, and could, provide the lessons. With a UBI of the sort you suggest, though, it seems like new options open up – people can either offer surfing lessons (or whatever) on their own for lower rates, or work for a company that organizes this, but doesn’t have to pay so high of wages that only a few people can afford to take the lessons. The pay is on top of the UBI, making it (when the task is one you enjoy), worthwhile to do, even though it doesn’t pay extremely well on its own. This sort of ability to devote time to activities that one finds enjoyable seems like it would be one of the best aspects about such a society. Does that seem like it would fit in your plan?

4

J-D 01.18.19 at 11:57 pm

General objections to any kind of utopian thinking, even the very modest version in my article

Reading your article I feel one plausible response is that you haven’t actually tried to describe a utopia, so general objections to utopias don’t apply, but I would be interested in any response you have to those general objections.

What I haven’t seen, interestingly, is any suggestion that continuing expansion of financialised capitalism (aka neoliberalism) would produce a better outcome.

Continuing expansion? What would that be? Heute die Welt, morgen das Sonnensystem!?

Ali’s partner, Sam

I see what you did there.

Instead of free education, Sam received a grant of $100,000 at age 20, to be used in starting up a small business, in Sam’s case, a coffee shop. (A society without coffee shops would be a pretty poor excuse for utopia.)

In your version of 2050, what’s the failure rate for small businesses started by twenty-year-olds with grant funding, and how do the failed proprietors cope?

Like most workplaces, Ali’s credit union is open for the standard four-day, 30-hour week. With Monday as a regular day off

Why Monday? Why not Friday, or Wednesday?

I thought it might be worth trying to imagine life in Australia in 2050, a few decades into a socialist resurgence, though well before the emergence of society that could truly be described as socialist. In the utopian vein, I’m going to look at a future where everything has gone as well as could reasonably be hoped. However, I’m going to make every effort to be realistic in terms of the economic constraints involved, and not to invoke radical and unlikely changes in human nature.

In your version of 2050, what do the history books say about 2019?

RobinM

Have we already gone so far down the road to destruction that socialism cannot save us?

Yes. We are all going to die, the human race is going to become extinct, and the planet is going to become uninhabitable. If you were not already aware of these facts, I don’t think there’s any way of breaking them to you gently.

Hidari

The old Zizek line about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has become a cliche.

Maybe John Quiggin and I have stronger imaginations than you or Žižek.

In any case it obscures the fact that some people would prefer the end of the world to the end of capitalism.

I don’t think there are any such people. I think you’ve just made that up.

The key point, as the OP pointed out, is that no one actually believes in capitalism any more

I decided to test that proposition by doing a search on DuckDuckGo for “I believe in capitalism”. It turns out there are lots of people who are prepared to avow their belief in capitalism, some of them in significant detail.

5

b9n10nt 01.19.19 at 2:58 am

The case for hope: external circumstances part 1:

It may be hard to imagine a world after capitalism, but isn’t it just as likely hard to imagine an unintended radical material transformation NOT causing a social/political transformation to occur under conditions of 1) ecological stress 2) a cultural-political hegemony gone to seed (see part 2) ?

In other words, the gods are disrupting our survival while sapping the hegemonic vitality from our culture. Although comfort and entertainment have induced a religious-like trance over most of us (and manifested genius, to be sure), this trance is by nature fragile in a crisis. There are new opportunities to organize ourselves around new stories.

Meanwhile…

This is all occurring in a contemporary context of unprecedented material human flourishing. The depth and reach of learning and cultural transmission that our societies have conspired in is unprecedented. It may be that the heights from which we fall are themselves a safety net, in terms of cultural transmission. Any dark age to come is falling upon modern societies that are far more resilient than ones past.

6

artifex 01.19.19 at 3:11 am

Your piece, John Quiggin, wishes away scarcity. The outcomes it portrays are not what will actually happen if the policy changes you describe are enacted. Citizens of countries with a higher degree of economic freedom are richer. You can verify from the World Development Indicators and the Economic Freedom of the World index that freer countries have higher GDP per capita at purchasing power parity. You can verify that their citizens do benefit from this higher GDP per capita, as freer countries also have lower income inequality, as measured by income Gini coefficients. Incidentally, consumption inequality is the metric that one should be looking at. But the World Bank doesn’t provide data on that.

It is mainstream economics that taxes not on land value cause deadweight loss. As a rule, interventions by governments in an otherwise free market destroy potential wealth. The exception is when they correct for market failures. I interpret your recent book as suggesting that you agree with this. Your article has spent few or no words showing that your policy changes correct for market failures. Yet that is the only thing you should have been discussing.

Dictatorship and nationalism are bad. In a modern civilization, though, the main alternative to democracy is free markets. The kind of socialism you advocate is primarily about giving more importance to democratic markets and less to free markets. In a democracy, when you vote for a policy, only a small fraction of the costs and benefits come back to you personally. Therefore, you are not very incentivized to vote for good policies and against bad policies.

Costs and benefits incurred in a democratic market are massively externalized. As a consequence, voting systems are a bad aggregation mechanism. The market mechanism is a more efficient way to aggregate the individual decisions of many economic agents. It is not perfect because the real world features transaction costs and irrationality. Some transaction costs, and some irrationality, can be worked around using consensual contracts, or democratically enacted laws. Some cannot. A market of chimpanzees is not going to produce impressive outcomes, but neither is a democracy of chimpanzees. Transaction costs and irrationality are constraints of our universe. To say that markets are not perfect under these constraints is just to say that they are lawful: they do not create rationality out of nowhere and they cannot work around irreducible transaction costs; you cannot use them to create a perpetual motion machine. Your vision of social democracy should be lawful, too.

Contracts and laws are the same kind of thing. You can see them as Turing machines that implement a commitment device. They need to be supplemented by some enforcement mechanism that makes the commitment binding. The only difference between them is how they are created: consensually by multiple parties, through representative democracy elected with first-past-the-post voting, or any other mechanism of aggregation. That anything that can be done with laws can be done with contracts is part of the correct interpretation of the Coase theorem.

I do not object on principle to utopian thinking. I do not reason from surface analogies with the USSR or Venezuela. I do reason that, given economic reasons to believe that socialism is bad in general, observing bad outcomes from particular instances of socialism is more likely if the general reasons are correct than if they are not, and thus bad outcomes observed from particular instances of socialism are evidence that socialism is bad in general. That said, I consider the economic reasoning sufficient on its own to dismiss socialism, if not to forbid all socialist experiments forever, especially not by consenting people (similarly, I would like it if experiments in radical libertarianism were possible, which they are not under the system of Westphalian sovereignty). Finally, I know that political impossibility is not required for social desirability. Unilateral free trade, open borders and NGDP level targeting are great ideas, yet they are politically impossible.

If people have pushed back on your piece along those lines, it is likely that their arguments were bad. If that is the case, you should ignore them entirely and spend all your time responding to the arguments of your strongest intellectual opponents.

7

b9n10nt 01.19.19 at 3:23 am

the case for hope part 2:

our suffering is almost just as pyschological/internal as it is experiential/situational. this is seen experientially through self-reflection, and reinforced through exposure to diverse cultural expressions, but this truth remains virutally ignored in public life.

even amidst great tragedy there is the opportunity for incredible human flourishing. and should new societies form, by their newness they might better know and empower the delicate snowlfakes that we each are.

tl dr: cultural evolution might compensate for material hardship

8

John Quiggin 01.19.19 at 5:15 am

artifex @6 I checked over the correlations with the Economic Freedom Index 15 years ago. They don’t work as commonly claimed.

http://crookedtimber.org/2004/07/24/big-government-is-good-for-economic-freedom/

9

Murc 01.19.19 at 5:44 am

The only objection I have to your article, John, is that you wrote it from the perspective of upper-middle-class, highly educated property and business owners who are part of the management class.

Why them? Why not from the perspective of the actual laboring classes? Someone is pulling shots at the coffee shop. What’s life like for them, and their fellow workers?

10

John Quiggin 01.19.19 at 6:39 am

@Murc I don’t think “credit union office worker” has ever been an upper middle class occupation. Certainly it isn’t in Australia today, and won’t be in 2050.

As for the coffee shop, I thought I made it clear that
(i) the owners would be doing a fair bit of the work of pulling shots
(ii) the employees would be unionised and protected by laws mandating things like double time for weekend work (“penalty rates” in Australian parlance)

11

J-D 01.19.19 at 7:02 am

artifex

Citizens of countries with a higher degree of economic freedom are richer. You can verify from the World Development Indicators and the Economic Freedom of the World index that freer countries have higher GDP per capita at purchasing power parity. You can verify that their citizens do benefit from this higher GDP per capita, as freer countries also have lower income inequality, as measured by income Gini coefficients.

Your comment can only be relevant to the extent that John Quiggin is proposing a reduction in economic freedom. Since it’s far from clear that John Quiggin is proposing any reduction in economic freedom, it’s also far from clear what relevance your comment has.

12

P.M.Lawrence 01.19.19 at 7:50 am

Inter alia, on 01.18.19 at 11:26 p.m. Matt wrote “… I would like to hear more on the relationship between UBI, work, and entrepreneurship … The pay is on top of the UBI, making it (when the task is one you enjoy), worthwhile to do, even though it doesn’t pay extremely well on its own …”.

In my view, the latter part brings out the key issue for the former: to be viable over the long term, a U.B.I. should be set at less than enough to live on by itself, but enough to provide a top up to otherwise inadequate wages, so people at the margins could price themselves into enough work to live on with that top up but would still have to seek and take that work. That would ensure enough entrepreneurship, productive work etc. was done to keep everything viable. This sweet spot would only fail if Malthusian constraints blocked it.

Unfortunately, there are also transitional issues – how to get there from here. That is why I prefer a Negative Payroll Tax approach like that of Professor Kim Swales of the University of Strathclyde and his colleagues (in the UK – see http://www.faxfn.org/feedback/03_jobs/jobs_tax.htm#23feb98a). There is also the related approach of Nobel winner Professor Edmund S. Phelps, McVickar Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University (in the USA – see http://www.columbia.edu/~esp2/taxcomm.pdf, or his book Rewarding Work).

If there is any interest I will provide some links to related work of my own, but this is enough to be going on with.

On 01.19.19 at 3:11 a.m. artifex wrote “It is mainstream economics that taxes not on land value cause deadweight loss. As a rule, interventions by governments in an otherwise free market destroy potential wealth. The exception is when they correct for market failures. I interpret your recent book as suggesting that you agree with this. Your article has spent few or no words showing that your policy changes correct for market failures. Yet that is the only thing you should have been discussing.”

For what it’s worth, that is precisely what my own investigations of Negative Payroll Tax suggested: that it would be a Pigovian fix for labour market imperfections. A simple thought experiment also suggests that U.B.I., Negative Income Tax and Negative Payroll Tax are long run equivalent in this respect, and also that Distributism would be a Coasian fix if it were ever achieved.

13

nobody 01.19.19 at 7:58 am

Have you ever written on the specific question of how numerous small businesses would be less subject to a culture of competitive forces than a handful of monopolistic large businesses?

That concept isn’t something that is obvious from Two Lessons

14

aristos 01.19.19 at 7:58 am

… and then the government was forced to call the IMF. The prime minister condemned the bloodsucking parasites of international finance, signed the massive austerity measures imposed by the IMF and transferred his own money to an offshore account before the devaluation…

15

Hidari 01.19.19 at 8:10 am

@4 ‘In any case it obscures the fact that some people would prefer the end of the world to the end of capitalism.

I don’t think there are any such people. I think you’ve just made that up.’

I literally took that idea from a previous CT comments thread a few days or weeks ago (I think it was the one on global warming) in which a commentator stated that a relative of his, given the choice between having lots of money now, and his grandchildren having their future destroyed by climate change, stated that, yes, they didn’t care. They would rather have the money now and if his grandchildren inherited a blackened and charred planet…that was their problem.

I can’t find be bothered finding the link now, so the epic debate about whether I just ‘made that up’ will doubtless go on for decades.

16

Hidari 01.19.19 at 8:25 am

@6

‘In a modern civilization, though, the main alternative to democracy is free markets’

Well this is unarguably true.

17

Matt 01.19.19 at 8:50 am

the employees would be unionised and protected by laws mandating things like double time for weekend work

This actually goes to a point of J-Ds that I think is worth thinking about a bit more, though in fact I think it’s more an Australian prejudice than a “socialism” thing. Why double time for weekends? Why Monday off and not Friday or Wednesday? Is it a good idea to mandate what days, or hours, are special? Not that I see. Where that leads (as it does in Australia now) is that it’s pretty hard to do certain things if you’re working, because those are the times when everyone else is working, too. So, you need someone in your life (maybe… a wife, despite how this is set up) who isn’t working, and can do things doing the times when “everyone” is working. But, if you don’t favor particular times or days, this gets easier. So, pay people extra if they work more than X hours a week. That’s great. But why is Saturday or Sunday better than Tuesday? (That just forces everyone to compete for beach spots on the weekend!) Why is 8pm better than 2pm? Different people have different life style choices, and more would if they were not forced into overly bureaucratic and conformist frame-works. If you’re going to be utopian why not allow people to decide on these things, too? Shutting it off too early is going to make things harder for you, and for people, too. (This is so even if they don’t realize it at first, because they are used to a particularly narrow way of doing things.) It’s actually neither necessary nor desirable to have everyone taking the same days off, working the same shifts, etc. That shouldn’t be cooked into the system.

18

Louis N. Proyect 01.19.19 at 12:47 pm

This definitely sounds better than the status quo but why call it socialism? Isn’t it nothing more than a very nice and gentle kind of capitalism?

19

JimV 01.19.19 at 3:09 pm

“anything that can be done with laws can be done with contracts”, but “They need to be supplemented by some enforcement mechanism that makes the commitment binding.” At which point (it seems to me) the distinction between laws and contracts becomes moot.

I am guessing the issue is between joint (governmental) and individual social action. Joint has always seemed more efficient to me. Example: People would often ask me for money on the streets of a small city where I worked. I had a brief moment to decide whether the act would be useful or not; whether the story I was given was truthful or a scam. I wished there was an agency with a local office and trained personnel which I could refer them to, and to which I donated. (I didn’t dream of wishing for a UBI.) In general, it seems to me that people working together can accomplish more than “every man (and woman) for themselves”.

Anyway, presumably the enforcement mechanism above would need to be a joint one.

I’ll second Hidari that I asked a friend of mine if he wouldn’t be willing to give up some things now to make his grandchildren’s lives better, and he said he wouldn’t. Of course, he may have only been trying to give me agita, and he certainly wouldn’t prefer the end of the world if it were going to happen in his lifetime. (Also there was Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson: “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” which I take to be more or less the same sentiment as my friend.)

20

Thomas P 01.19.19 at 4:44 pm

@17 More flexible working hours is a good idea, and as an additional advantage you can use infrastructure more efficiently. Instead of having two bank offices open half a week and empty the rest, you have one office open seven days a week with both staff and customers rotating depending on which days of the week they work. Less wasted space will be extra important if you want to avoid cars and rely more on walking or public transit. Same with beaches etc where you can avoid the weekend crowding.

The disadvantage is that it will be harder to organize social events where everyone in a group is free at the same time, but with shorter working hours that should be easier than today.

When it comes to the “rather dead than red” crowd, I think the current crop of billionaire survivalists are a good example. Those who spend their money on bunkers to survive the collapse rather than use it to try to avoid it.

21

ccc 01.19.19 at 7:39 pm

John Quiggin in Guardian: “But it would provide nearly everyone with a better life, and more opportunity to pursue their own path to happiness, than we have today.”

Not true for the simple reason that Australia has a population of about 25 million human individuals and the proposed policies in the article are exlusively aimed to promote the interests of those individuals. Yet:

“Every year in Australia, 520-620 million animals are killed at abattoirs, mostly for meat (direct human consumption), roughly broken down as follows:
460-550 million broiler (meat) chickens (see http://www.aussiechickens.com)
3-5 million turkeys (see http://www.aussieturkeys.com)
8 million ducks (see http://www.aussieducks.com)
4-5 million pigs (see http://www.aussiepigs.com)
11-12 million layer hens (see http://www.aussieeggs.com)
4 million bulls, bullocks and steers
3 million cows and heifers
7 million cattle
700000-900000 calves (“waste products” of the dairy industry)
5-7 million sheep
17-19 million lambs”
https://www.aussieabattoirs.com/facts

Your vision for the future does not even with a single word mention any of these up to 600 million non-humans or the prospects for their interests to not be harmed, confined or killed.

A vision for the future bodes ill for those deemed not even worth mentioning in that vision. There is then no reason to think the quoted part from you above to is correct since 25 million out of about 600 million is not by a long shot “nearly everyone”.

22

Stephen 01.19.19 at 8:06 pm

Can’t find the comments on the Guardian site, but one detail in the original post worries me.
“When Sam and Ali had their first baby, they were entitled to three full years of paid leave, to be shared between them.”

Very nice, but when Sam and Ali had their second baby, 17 months afterwards, were they also entitled for an equal amount of leave? And so on, and so forth?If not, why not?

To avoid criticisms of racism/sexism/Islamophobia: same argument applies to Allegra and Silvio, Sean and Aoife, Stephanie and Armand, Steve and Annie …

Over to you, JQ

23

EB 01.19.19 at 8:10 pm

Very few 20-year olds are capable of (or want to) start their own businesses. I agree that we are sending too many young people to college, but they need alternatives other than entrepreneurship subsidized by the state. Even if all you do is have them wait until they demonstrate readiness, the outcomes would be better.

24

Omega Centauri 01.19.19 at 9:09 pm

“anything that can be done with laws can be done with contracts”
Maybe thats works if it is drawn up between two parties with equal power, but thats rarely the case. Too often a rich man holds almost all the cards, and the poor man has to accede to a very unequal contract because he needs to eat.

25

steven t johnson 01.19.19 at 10:12 pm

The $100 000 grants reminded me instantly of Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice.

The notion that good antitrust laws can produce a quasi-utopia I’m afraid strikes me as very professional economist.

The notion that Australia can abolish excessive world finance along its own excessive world finance manages to be both bold and vague. It’s not clear but it also seems that central banking is to be abolished. Is it a gold standard then? Nor is it clear the central government will be able to collect tariffs.

It is interesting to know the place of rents in this system. At any rate, as business cycles cause concentration of economic assets, the owners will find new ways to centralize them. As economic development gives the owners of some lands greater capital, others will be left behind. Banks holding more valuable real estate will buy the assets of weaker banks when they collapse. If not, what is the bankruptcy law?

Government infrastructure investments will face ever increasing opposition from the richer areas and industries against wasting money on the losers. Indeed as social differentiation proceeds, it is not even clear whether such a highly restricted government can even acquire the information it would need to effectively create large physical capital investments.

Truthfully, this seems like a good bit of nineteenth century populists against the national bank, or trusts, or gold, that keeps both the good honest businessmen and the working people down. And the rest seems to be a version of Yugoslav market socialism. Jefferson never saved the people by stopping Hamilton’s full program. Jackson never saved the people by stopping the Second Bank. The populists never saved the people with antitrust and soft money. All US precedents of course, but surely the argument isn’t really that Australians are people with the virtue to make it work?

As to debate on socialism in general, all the strong arguments against socialism are the strong arguments against democracy, or against industrial development. I just can’t help but see this as really an argument for going back to the past, with fewer people, especially the lesser orders. That really is a utopian program in my view.

26

J-D 01.19.19 at 10:33 pm

ccc

It’s rude to burst into other people’s conversations to insist that they should be discussing a different topic because it’s more important than the topic they were discussing.

It’s still rude even if your topic is actually more important than theirs.

27

Mark 01.20.19 at 1:55 am

The line about “it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” isn’t Zizek, it’s Frederic Jameson – and even he starts is by saying “Someone once said…”

28

Andrew Murphie 01.20.19 at 2:23 am

I enjoyed this article and your thinking here very much.

* The continued expansions of financial are other capital are always possible, if those involved don’t care about anything else (which despite my general belief in the goodness of most, is already often the case among some). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how capital—and not only financial capital in the current sense but all modes of capital, could become more “efficient” not only by automating as much as possible when it comes to labour (thus getting rid of pesky workers or at least making them desperate enough to accept often dramatically worsening conditions, which is kind of happening in some ways already) but by automating forms of consumption (thus getting rid not only of pesky/finicky consumers but also some of the inherent “contradictions” of capital that are supposed to pull it apart .. as in “how can you have consumers buying your stuff when they’re not working or not getting paid much). Amazon Go, etc, are heading this way. If you put this kind of thing together with where these post-consumer/post-human operations are almost happening already (that is, algorithmic financial trading from which humans are in many ways excluded), something unpleasant appears quite clearly. You can perhaps imagine a complex intertwined set of simulations of consumption that would supplant consumption as it has commonly been conceived and lived. In short, far fewer consumers needed if any, for the capitalists in their enclaves to do pretty well. For me this is a nightmare not a dream. For some sadly, it is already a dream scenario.

* Much as I like socialism/anarchism I don’t think that the choice is between socialism or environmental destruction—necessarily. Socialism has not been so crash hot on the environment. It is true, and this is why I liked the article, we need a lot of new ways of bringing the best aspects of socialism and whatever else into the situation, but I do have some fear of the remnants of old-fashioned socialism getting in the way, not because they’re bad per se, just because the environment often becomes just another add-on for some socialists of the old guard. Actually let’s put that differently. Although I’m pretty resolutely anti-capital, or at least post-capital, I think the decisions we are supposed to make *between* a lot of existing modes of thought are kind of tired (thus “Venezuala!” etc … on another site the other day I was told that if you didn’t like Capitalism, we’d end up with socialist dictatorship in China, the commenter failing to even know that China is currently awash with what Kai-Fu Lee calls something like a “cutthroat entreprenerial environment”, i.e. of venture capitalism). There are lots who think differently and usefully here, .. I like Kate Raworth’s thinking a lot. McKenzie Wark has detailed some in Molecular Red, which is an interesting and valuable book. There’s ECSA and (surprisingly many) other alternative startups and Michel Bauwens and the P2P people, etc etc. Then there are the likes of Haraway, Jason Moore and I think e.g. some younger thinkers immersed in the questions such as Stephanie Wakefield. They don’t of course all agree with each other—but whether things totally are in accord with each other or us is an academic question that we can probably do with a lot less of when it’s all hands on deck.

* I guess I also think that what too few are thinking about, probably because everyone is looking for *the* solution, often drawing from the solutions that have now become part of the problem, and often to individual problems, is that we are often avoiding the bigger picture (though I see the Socialist Utopia 2050 article and John’s other work as usefully heading towards this). The bigger picture is simply something like “catastrophic multiplicity”. Most of my friends hate this term, and I get why, but I think it’s currently perhaps useful. That is, at all levels, including people just trying to live their lives, no one’s going to be dealing with just one of these wicked problems (climate change and other environmental problems; a massive media and communications revolution that includes AI and big data and automation but exceeds these; social and economic and political shifts including some serious [in]justice issues; etc). Although all of these things do need specific expertise applied (all of them are themselves “multiplicities, however), we also have to somehow, and very quickly (see anything by Kevin Anderson, the UK based climate scientist), be able to deal with all together, and help others deal with them together. Which comes down, simply to, e.g., why is anyone going to deal with climate change if they can’t get a job (but it’s obviously a lot more than this). This is again why some of the suggestions in utopia 2050 are useful.

29

nastywoman 01.20.19 at 3:14 am

For anybody who already lives ”the future where society’s focus has moved from consumption to quality of life” –
four day weeks are self decided –
in a society with free education – payable universal health care and a (local) environment where the environment has already started ”to recover from the damage inflicted by unsustainable economic growth” – not only Cynics observe that Australia just has to catch up with conditions – available – already – not only in Sweden –
for quite some time.

And – for sure – any ”continuing expansion of financialised capitalism (aka ”neoliberalism” or called whatever else?) – won’t get Australia – to a future – where lot and lots of well paying –
and utmost important –
”satisfying” jobs – finally will have failed ”racist and stupid Populism”.

And @18 –
why not calling it ”socialism” – as it definitely sounds better than some ”very nice and gentle kind of capitalism”?

Or as a famous (Petty) philosopher used to sing: ”the sky’s the limit…”.

30

nastywoman 01.20.19 at 3:24 am

– and about:
what could life be – after the failure of the current ”racist and stupid Populism”…

Just as GREAT as in any multilingual – multinational and openminded society – with plenty of well paying –
and utmost important –
”satisfying” jobs.

31

John Quiggin 01.20.19 at 6:14 am

Matt @17 I guess I should have called it “socialism with Australian characteristics”

Stephen @22 The socialist utopia will certainly need bureaucrats and public policy wonks to anticipate and deal with details like this. Perhaps you are young enough that you will be around to fill this role. Sadly, I am not.

32

Dr. Hilarius 01.20.19 at 6:40 am

“anything that can be done with laws can be done with contracts”

Libertarian utopia, every person their own lawyer.

33

James 01.20.19 at 9:30 am

Thread hijacking deleted. As a general reminder, no one at CT has any obligation to write about any topic, no matter how important it may be. OT, but tangentially relevant comments (like that of ccc above) will be politely ignored. Demands to write about some unrelated issue will be deleted with prejudice.

34

ccc 01.20.19 at 10:18 am

@J-D #26: Good then that I stayed true to the topic explicitly set by the author: outcomes for “nearly everone” in Australia 2050.

35

J-D 01.20.19 at 10:26 am

James

It’s rude to burst into other people’s conversations to insist that they should be discussing a different topic because it’s more important than the topic they were discussing.

It’s still rude even if your topic is actually more important than theirs.

36

Stephen 01.20.19 at 7:40 pm

JQ@31: doubt I’ll be there either in 2050, but in a general sort of way, what would be your preferences?

37

oldmunni 01.20.19 at 8:28 pm

J-D@35 here I thought James @33 was ribbing ccc in roughly the manner you were…

38

Murray Reiss 01.20.19 at 9:21 pm

The most utopian aspect of this, of course, is the assumption that Australia has not been ravaged by the effects of Global Warming, aka Anthropogenic Climate Disruption.

39

J-D 01.21.19 at 12:19 am

ccc

Good then that I stayed true to the topic explicitly set by the author: outcomes for “nearly everone” in Australia 2050.

You understood just as well as other readers do what the author meant, in context, by those words, but deliberately chose to misinterpret them because you wanted to change the topic, which, as already mentioned, is rude.

oldmunniYou may be right, and if you are I may owe James an apology; but apparently ccc didn’t bite. Anyway, having responded the way I did to ccc I would have felt dishonest if I had not responded in the same way to James.

40

nastywoman 01.21.19 at 3:05 am

– and about staying ”true to the topic explicitly set by the author” and ”utopia” –

As in 2050 the whole of Europe will have turned in a wonderful entertaining ”Amusement Park about the Romantic Past” and every ”old” city will have masterly restored every historical center – street and building – and the most important ”industry” for the whole of Europe will have become ”Tourism” – Australia still will be kind of lagging behind – as so called ”modern” or ”nature” ”Amusement Parks” like Bondi Beach or Sidney are no match for Paris, Rome, London or Venice –
AND Sidney wouldn’t be able (yet) – to charge the high entrance fees as Venice, Rome, Paris or London.

41

nastywoman 01.21.19 at 3:23 am

– AND if we -(for a moment?) –
just think that even in an area where currently the most successful machinery and car industry of this world is concentrated –
(Southern-West Germany)
– ALREADY more ”workers” are employed in the so called ”Tourism Industry” than in car manufacturing – and in spring and in summer all these pretty little cities are bursting with visitors and tourists to such a degree – that on the Swiss-German-Austrian Lake of Constance the many new hotels ALREADY are struggling to find enough ”Personal” for ”Service” –
there could be a major ”crisis” in 2050 by NOT finding enough ”Service Personal” in the whole of Europe – finally only solved by importing some more from… ”US” or even Australia?

42

Peter T 01.21.19 at 3:46 am

This vision comes across to me as an updated version of the Australia/NZ of the 50s and 60s – high equality, strong government, laid-back. Minus, of course, the racism, misogyny and other disfigurements of the period. Within an economics framework, what made that period work (and it did work, although definitely not for everyone)? Among other things, industry policy, tariffs, and controlled exchange rate were crucial. So Sam and Ali get a high wages and strong social support, but more expensive TVs, less state of the art cars and fewer overseas holidays?

43

John Quiggin 01.21.19 at 9:26 am

Following up on James @33, a particularly annoying kind of threadjacking is “why hasn’t CT deplored this obviously deplorable thing that is happening in the world”. Short answer: because no one could possibly deplore everything deplorable, even without the expectation that we should have something new to say about it.

44

nastywoman 01.21.19 at 10:50 am

@40
”AND Sidney wouldn’t be able (yet) – to charge the high entrance fees as Venice, Rome, Paris or London”.

My goodness I forgot BERLIN – and as already tons of Americans and Australians and even Chinese are moving to Berlin and only cities which attract the utmost diverse and entertaining ”fureigners” will turn into the GREAT Amusement Parks of the future – BERLIN will be right there – especially after NYC has become just too expensive for the ”artistic crowd of Progress”! – and the fact that the fanciest Bakers in New York around 2030 will make more money than bankers will NOT – and I repeat NOT STOP Berlin to be in the forefront of the Great Green New Deal!

45

ccc 01.21.19 at 12:43 pm

@J-D #39: “You understood just as well as other readers do what the author meant, in context, by those words, but deliberately chose to misinterpret them because you wanted to change the topic, which, as already mentioned, is rude.”

The topic set by the author is “Socialist utopia 2050”. The author chose to pose generally phrased questions such as “what could life in Australia be like” and make generally phrased claims that some policy changes would “provide nearly everyone with a better life”.

Readers can then examine if the arguments explicitly given support those generally phrased claims.

If the author only wants to claim that some policy changes will improve the prospects for a 5% subset of the morally relevant individuals in Australia 2050, while continuing to subject hundreds of millions of others to needless harm and suffering, then he can clarify his text by making that claim very explicit.

It is on topic to point out things like this, for multiple reasons.

First, *who* matters in a socialist vision for the future is a crucial, relevant and unavoidable normative issue that no author writing on the topic can settle implicitly (nor by question begging topic enclosure). It has to be made explicit and argued. Is the socialist vision for Australia 2050 really Dominion forever ( https://www.dominionmovement.com/ )? If not, how will fundamental changes to the currently very powerful social and economic patterns of exploiting non-human animals interact with other aspects of some socialist policy vision?

Second, talk about improving things for “nearly everyone” is rhetorically powerful (after all who could be against *that*?) and therefore deserves extra scrutiny, since such rhetorics can obscure that some, perhaps the most vulnerable and powerless, are omitted.

A final note: I’ve read a lot of posts by John Quiggin here and always find his arguments interesting. Since I’m making a critical point today it is important to stress my appreciation of much in his writings.

46

Matt_L 01.21.19 at 3:43 pm

Sounds great! sign me up! I want to make that happen for my kids and the coming generations.

47

Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.21.19 at 5:12 pm

Please consider this a complete tangent. Nothing to do with the topic at hand, except…

Right now I’m following the news from Venezuela very closely. Today, a group of some 40 soldiers decided to rebel and take a barracks in Caracas. They have since then been neutralized, but the neighbourghood and some other near are protesting in their support and are still being repressed. The Supreme Tribunal made a declaration saying the Assembly doesnt have something or the other and all its acts are null and void, specially the ones when they declared Maduro an usurper. The AN president is touring the country in “open town meetings” calling for support to actually take the position of interim president.

All that and your usual dire economic non-news at this point, in which each week sees worse numbers than the other.

And… well. This is all that it ends up being. A talking point for right-wing idiots to scream to anybody one micron to the left of Ayn Rand, and lots of people in the left doing their very best to ignore it or make it like it is not important (not talking about you here, really), when a few years back it was the proof that Socialism work (so, mirror , mirror)

In the end, the situation either explodes, keeps rotting, or worse explodes and then keeps rotting, and nobody really will care much, the only use for it being cheap rethorical attacks.

48

Stephen 01.21.19 at 5:52 pm

JQ@31: not at all hijacking your thread, rather trying to continue your train of thought.

In the example I gave, surely the correct Green system would be to say that sure, you can have a long period of maternity/paternity leave for your firstborn, but after that, the one-child policy applies, stringently enforced. Got to keep the population down for sound environmental reasons, right?

49

John Quiggin 01.21.19 at 8:51 pm

Stephen @46 Your first comment was on-topic, if nitpicky and a bit snarky. @46 is just snark. Please nothing more like this.

50

Orange Watch 01.21.19 at 9:31 pm

ccc@45:

Language doesn’t work how you’re suggesting it does. If “everyone” is construed to mean – inclusively or exclusively – the inhabitants of the Great Barrier Reef, then your narrow “expansive” focus on human-reared morally relevant beings has no relevance. Likewise, if I am a WASP oligarch and assume “everyone” strictly means other WASP oligarchs, your conception and JQ’s become irrelevant. Words derive meaning from context, and acting as though non-existent context is present – or existing context is absent – specifically so that you can re-word utterances to your liking is reading in bad faith.

Equally importantly: the sociopolitical changes you want to see could occur or be denied under capitalism or socialism. Whether or not animal rights are dramatically expanded is of no moment to the economic posture adopted between homo sapiens. Animals will not be independent agents in any political system in 2050, so insisting that we redefine “everyone” to include them when in context “everyone” can unambiguously understood to refer to independent political agents is very much an attempt to change the subject.

51

John Quiggin 01.21.19 at 11:53 pm

Jésus @46 I don’t follow Venezuela at all closely, but Maduro strikes me as being more or less the same as Orban, except with left-wing rhetoric instead of rightwing. Both of them buy public support with windfall money (oil or EU transfers) and both are running into trouble as the tap is being turned off.

As I said in the article, I’ve worked to ensure that my version of utopia is realistic in terms of economic constraints.

52

Howard Frant 01.22.19 at 12:44 am

A few comments:

Moreover, many of the wasteful and unproductive activities of the market economy have disappeared, so that the social value of production has increased even more.

There is a familiar technique of utopian literature in which it is just asserted that because the old way was inefficient, the new way will be much more efficient. Your piece is mostly free of this, but not here. For example, why should advertising be different in your world?

Also: Are we getting rid of markets, then? That seems unlike you. Or just getting rid of “the market economy”? If so, what’s that? How are we getting rid of it?

Such community groups have flourished, with generous public support for a wide range of causes and ideas.

“…except, of course, in the area of education, where they were known as ‘charter schools’ and were ruthlessly extirpated.” I never understood your attitude toward nonprofit charter schools in the book– you seem to have viewed them as as a sort of Privatization Lite rather than as “like government provision, except when they’re really bad they go out of business and go away.” In any case, there’s a definite inconsistency between your words about community control and your attitudes toward charter schools.

This approach contrasts sharply with that of the early 21st century, in which the public sector sought to harness the energy of the community sector to reduce the costs of achieving predetermined policy.

“Of course, some people referred to the process of predetermining policy as ‘democracy,’ but those people were beheaded and everyone continued to be happy in Happy Valley.”

There are just inescapable conflicts between preferences of the community and the polity (and the unions– take a look sometime at the community schools movement in New York City in the 1970s). You’re of course aware of this, and it’s not your responsility to write a lengthy essay about it, but it seems here a bit as if you’re papering over it.

I have no particular problem with the 5 to 1 wage ratio, but it does make it a lot harder to soak the rich. How are you paying for all this?

You’re pretty breezy about the abolition of intellectual property, considering how much importance you attach to technological progress. How’s that going to work?

53

Map Maker 01.22.19 at 12:48 am

I find socialist utopias to be quite conservative. All the restrictions on commerce, banking, etc. leads to a world where things don’t change too much, or too fast. May be a good thing, but may also lead the economy to fail to meet the demands of the consumers in the face of changes in technologies, tastes, or environment.

What your utopia leaves out is the assumption that either life in the rest of the world is either 1) so much better than Aussie that a brain drain occurs and the long run sustainability of the system breaks down, or 2) the rest of the world is so much worse that unconstrained migration causes the UBI to breakdown and the economic system to collapse.

54

feliquid 01.22.19 at 7:42 am

Your article didn’t mention Aboriginal Australians. How do you see them fitting in?

55

John Quiggin 01.22.19 at 7:45 am

Howard Frant @52 You appear to have misread my book. My views on charter schools are here

Shorter JQ: Innovative, community-based charter schools, good. Union-busting, pseudo for-profits, bad. AFAICT, the latter have predominated under current policy.

56

nastywoman 01.22.19 at 9:35 am

– and after some of these – shall we say: ”a bit pessimistic outlooks”? I HAVE to share the very optimistic ”Utopia” of my Greek Cousin.

He thinks – that by 2050 – HE -(and all the other hoteliers in Greece) – can charge so much Euros for their rooms that ”the Greek Crisis” –
(which nearly evolved into a major EU crisis –
which nearly evolved into a world economy crisis) –
will be just ”a faint memory” –
(if some crazy Anglo-American Economists don’t come up with the idea again that the Greeks should exchange their very valuable Euros into a ”Mickey Mouse Currency”?) –

AND so my Greek Cousin thinks – that latest by 2030 EVERY Greek will be able to afford one of these very climate-friendly E-automobiles – AND to create ALL energy Greece uses by solar -(or other climate-friendly-sources) – and thusly his homeland will become THE ”Socialist Paradise of Europe” –
and thusly of the whole wide world!
-(take that Sidney!!)

57

ccc 01.22.19 at 11:25 am

@Orange Watch #50: Any socialist vision for the future has substantive normative content re who matters and in what way. Substantive normative content is fair game for critical argumentative examination. Trying to gatekeep against such examination by definitional fiat is question begging.

“Whether or not animal rights are dramatically expanded is of no moment to the economic posture adopted between homo sapiens. Animals will not be independent agents in any political system in 2050, so insisting that we redefine “everyone” to include them when in context “everyone” can unambiguously understood to refer to independent political agents is very much an attempt to change the subject.”

Now we’re getting to substance, I like it. I also disagree with you here though. You sound similar to some socialists who back in the day tried to dispel feminism as an irrelevant distraction or splinter issue, not in any way pertinent to the specification of socialist ideals, practices or policy goals.

Non-human animals, like millions of children and also many older people with from age/illness strongly reduced cognitive capacities, are not independent political agents, though they have some agency in a less cognitively demanding sense. Yet I still think the animal issue and other social justice issues interact and overlap in interesting ways, both in the area of normative ideals and arguments and, increasingly, in the are of political activism. How non-humans interests and rights are perceived, what strategic paths the growing movement for animal rights takes, how the normative ideal for future human-animal social interaction is specified have massive ramifications for other macro level social projects and visions. If you disagree then I’d like to hear more in detail why you think that. For example what is your take on the political philosophy arguments in Kymlicka & Donaldson’s Zoopolis on similarlities in the disability rights an animal rights literature re representation, notions of citizenship and more?

58

Orange Watch 01.22.19 at 1:32 pm

ccc@97:

You’re ignoring the key point of the second paragraph. If the point is considering whether capitalism or socialism is the preferable socio-economic outlook for the future, trying to turn the conversation into one about how the socialism proposed isn’t pure enough is changing the subject. The systems being contrasted are not JQ’s imperfect socialism vs. your preferred socialism, they’re current capitalism vs. JQ’s imperfect socialism.

There are multiple subjects worth discussing. Not every conversation needs to be about you. You’re doing what you always do. You’re trying to hijack a thread onto your single issue, and you’re doing it to leftists because you perceive us as being easier to convince than the capitalists currently in power.

59

Orange Watch 01.22.19 at 3:14 pm

(I should add to my last comment an acknowledgement that trying to ride others’ coattails is really common in leftist circles, but that doesn’t make it any more reasonable for a random activist/slacktivist to decide the issue they’re centered on trumps the issues that someone else went to the trouble of securing a platform to address, and that as a result they’re entitled to direct the conversation. Everyone trying to say everything at once just makes it so no one is heard; if you want a platform to focus on your issue, develop it yourself rather than trying to hijack someone else’s.)

60

nastywoman 01.22.19 at 3:59 pm

@
”For example what is your take on the political philosophy arguments in Kymlicka & Donaldson’s Zoopolis on similarlities in the disability rights an animal rights literature re representation, notions of citizenship and more”?

Now this question really threw me for ”a loop” – as I anyhow have this problem to focus -(on any subject) – and as a big fan of the concept ”Gesamtkunstwerk” if people like to talk about ”politics” I much rather like to talk about food – and as I really like ”food” and ”cooking” -(as it is undoubtedly an ”art” too) – and I anyhow try to cook more and more ”vegetarian” – and try to eat mostly vegetarian it all might work out?

That most of the so called ”advanced world” will eat more and more ”vegetarian” and that by 2050 we will have a lot of progress on this (YOUR) front too and you don’t have to ask such tremendously difficult questions anymore?

61

Howard Frant 01.22.19 at 10:43 pm

JQ: Schools: I confess I did not read your final draft, to my regret at the time. But the only thing I appear to have missed is your penultimate paragraph which allows that nonprofit charters may be OK; the overall message of the chapter is: “The only problem is that, according to the empirical evidence, they don’t work. “

My comment was, in any case, intended as hyperbole.

62

John Quiggin 01.23.19 at 2:37 am

feliquid @54 I definitely should have mentioned indigenous Australians, and will do so if I manage to write an expanded version of this piece. Participation income would provide a basis for maintaining traditional skills, language and culture. I would also see a break with the neoliberal orthodoxy that says that remote communities must pay their way on a market basis.

63

feliquid 01.23.19 at 7:00 am

Thank you! I look forward to reading the longer piece someday.

64

ccc 01.23.19 at 10:29 am

@Orange Watch #58: “the point is considering whether capitalism or socialism is the preferable socio-economic outlook for the future”

Precisely, and to do so we should examine how each policy set impacts the diverse interests in the wide set of all morally relevant individuals in the spatiotemporal slice under scrutiny. I’m participating in that substantive discussion. If you have some substantive arguments on that then I’m happy to discuss with you.

I’ve read most of the texts on Crooked Timber for the last 10 years and commented intermittently throughout that period. I visit, read and comment here because I’m broadly aligned with the progressive/egalitarian spirit of much of the writing and find the contributors’ work in political theory thought-provoking and important. Most of my comments over the years have been silent on non-human animals. I perceive the frontier of contemporary political theory to in recent years finally have dropped its blinders re non-humans (some decades behind moral philosophy!) and that side-lining “them” as a “separate issue” (set aside for some other time, which somehow never comes) is, to put it politely, no longer as reasonable a move as it once was considered to be in political theory.

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