Monday, February 19, 2018

The startup cost of communism is too damn high - and other closing words (part IV)


(this is a continuation of the conversation which began here, and left off here)

Me: Regardless of which system is preferable once established, overthrowing existing capitalist institutions would require such massive bloodshed and economic upheaval, and be so unlikely to succeed for long, that attempting the transition is highly irrational.

Communism as most of you seem to be defending it (as opposed to more moderate intermediary states like socialism) is necessarily an all-or nothing proposition. It requires revolution. It requires that capitalism be overthrown, and that private property be abolished or seized. It requires a “dictatorship of the proletariat” incompatible with existing government institutions. And if it is to last, that dictatorship requires defense from neighboring states, domestic uprisings and internal corruption that threaten to re-impose class domination.

All of the above requires violence, and all of the above can fail. Because capitalism is the dominant economic system in the status quo, this risk and startup cost to communism has to be factored in to it’s merits on the aggregate. If the only way to get to communism is to BOTH overthrow the existing state AND prevent any other capitalist state (either internal or external to the revolutionaries) from eventually replacing it, and only a handful of countries have ever successfully done this for long, the odds of successfully communist implementation appear pretty slim.

Furthermore, the consequences of falling short in armed revolution against capitalist states are likely to be tragic: thousands if not millions of deaths, millions impoverished, only for capitalism to stay in power or ultimately return anyway. So now we have a high risk of failure + severely negative consequences for that failure. In order for attempting communist revolution to be rational, the potential marginal improvement in quality of life for humankind must be so large as to outweigh a cataclysmically high risk of disaster; literally “give me the complete dissolution of class inequality, or give me millions of deaths.” Is that a noble gamble?

From my view, libertarians (and most other enemies of the existing political order, for that matter) can offer a much more appealing sales pitch, because our ideology is compatible with incrementalism. Even if I prefer anarchy in the abstract, for the time being I’ll settle for ending the drug war and isolated deregulation of some economic sectors. Liberty exists on a spectrum, and we can make things better in our lifetime by gradually nudging in that direction. If our kids and grandkids can keep doing that, great: the final transition to anarchy or classless society will go almost unnoticed. But if they fall short somewhere along the line, and the capitalist state proves too stubborn to dissolve entirely, we’ll at least have made things better for the effort. We can erode and contain oppression by stages without resorting to bloody revolution. Isn’t that a more promising model for enacting social change?

Daniel: communism doesn’t necessary require revolution. The idea is we go from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism, not necessarily murdering everyone.

I agree that armed global communist revolution became a very bad idea since like 1945.

For now can I please just live in a globalized Keysian utopia with a robust welfare state, free education, free medicine and mars colonies and y’all will peace out with your extreme stuff

Steve: Communism does require revolution, it just doesn't necessarily have to be bloody and violent (though it is silly not to expect that very real possibility.

You are correct that nobody ever said a revolution would be easy though.

Sean: Andrew are you familiar with mutualism? Its a way of coordinating labor between individuals still mediated via labor units or credit of some kind, in a fully decentralized or distributed manner. This in combination with workforce relations being co-operative rather than competitive, can be one of the various non-violent forms of revolutionary activity or transformation of the mode of production.

Me: I read the Wikipedia page on mutualism and mostly, I like it. I’m admittedly skeptical that different sorts of labor can be fairly broken down into comparable units, with widely accepted exchange rates across all the immense diversity of skilled and unskilled labor conducted in the modern economy. I think currency as we understand it today probably does a better job of facilitating mutually beneficial exchange, by removing the need for a double-coincidence of wants if two people are to help one another, while also compensating people in proportion to the value of the work they do (rather than just the duration or difficulty of the work they do). And, I think the distinction between “private property” and “personal property,” revolving around whether the property is being currently used, is a bit contrived (although it’s also almost Lockean!).

But, I do like it’s reliance on markets of some kind, relative to the competing forms of communism I’ve seen. And mostly, I love that it’s wholly voluntary, which from my view makes it compatible with the libertarian world I envision. I’d be excited to see how it works, so long as (like you suggested) that segment of society wishing to try it pursues it peacefully, without wielding violence against whichever segment of society remains un-enticed.


(My OP) 3. I’m arguing that even if you disagree passionately with points 1 and 2, libertarians and communists trying to reach their ideal worlds have a common enemy in a powerful state, and thus a shared interest in containing and dissolving state power.

Steve: To address your third point, you don't understand what function the state serves. So long as class antagonisms exist, which is to say so long as classes themselves exist, a state will exist to enforce the will of the ruling class. Communists, while aiming for a stateless and classless society, recognize that there will be need for a state so long as these class antagonisms remain present. Maybe it is true that the state is an obstacle to both our political objectives, but it is for different reasons. In my case, the state is an obstacle because it serves as the organized class interest of the bourgeoisie and I seek to replace it with a state organized around the class interest of the proletariat. In your case the state looks like an obstacle because you don't understand that you can't have stateless capitalism.
Me: I don’t quite want stateless anything; I’m more a minarchist than an anarchist, and I’m glad to at least have a night-watchman state to arrest murderers and rapists, etc. You are right that capitalism cannot exist without clearly defined and enforced property rights, which probably requires a state too.

But supposing you meant I “don’t understand that you can’t have capitalism without extensive state involvement to the benefit of the rich,” you’re right again – I don’t understand that. Enlighten me: why is that so?


Steve: Because a state that enforces the property rights required for capitalism (i.e. bourgeois property rights) is one controlled by the bourgeoisie (which very roughly translates to the rich, for clarity's sake). They will inevitably use that state for their benefit.
Daniel: Your final point isn’t something I’m interested in arguing, because again, I like strong state. I think it doesn’t stand though, because in classical Marxism you need to increase state power, get into socialism, and wait for state to dissolve voluntarily, while libertarians wanna just jump straight into anarchy?Sean: One of the most important facets of Marx’s critical project was the exposition of the systematic logic of capital accumulation; what can be called the “systematic dialectic” of capital. Actually taking the commodity form as a given in the beginning, he unfolds the logical development of the contradictory character of the commodity form (the contradiction between a commodity’s use-value and its exchange-value) and shows how the capital-labor class dialectic is a result of the transposition of value from labor to capital (exploitation). The capital-labor dialectic is a contradictory one because of the contradictory interests of each aspect of the polarity, but capital is the superior pole that continues to subsume labor into itself, moving towards absolute subsumption and the elimination of labor (though “labor” is cognized as “variable capital” from the horizon of the valorizing perspective, as if it doesn’t exist, as if it’s another part of capital inputs). However, since capital and proletarian labor co-constitute each other (since it is precisely the extraction of surplus value that allows capital to appear as though it generates value from its own moving being, to have the pretension of being self-valorizing value), the dialectic by which capital subsumes labor is also the means by which it destroys the conditions for its own possibility; the logic of capitalist development is also the logic of its self-negation.

Yet this is only the systematic dialectic of capital; it exists in the abstract, and as such it is the “pure” logic of the process of capital accumulation. This is different from the “pure free market” ideology of right-libertarian thought because it employs a dialectical way of thinking about processes, which is to say that it identifies contradictory logics behind actual processes and builds a systematic totality to understand the whole and how these contradictions unfold in the whole, and how the whole and parts reinforce each other. The actual analytic process behind the systematic uncovering of the dialectic is not concerned with the unfolding of these logics in a linear causal framework but actually performatively validates each developed category through the retroactive evaluation of the antecedent category via the efficacy of the consequent one (for example, the capital-labor relation not only results from the contradictions of the commodity form but the former also retroactively supports the latter in a systematic way; the development of the class relation out of the commodity form retroactively reinforces the hegemony of the commodity form) The systematic logic of capital is timeless, though its exposition occurs in time.

The error of right-libertarian thought is the upholding of an abstract conception that is grounded in time; that we only have “crony” capitalism and that “true free market” capitalism will develop in time, and that the state is an entity external to market forces which appears as an obstacle to capitalist development. This is to confuse an internal logic of a system of particular forces with the way that it plays out externally, in history, with the totality of relations not immediately related to the economic; this is why Marx’s project is a critique of political economy, not merely “economics”.

The historical dialectic of capital accumulation reveals that the function of the State was always to reconcile contradiction by mediating between the capital-labor polarity, prioritizing one over the other depending on the historical moment in question. This is why I would generally differ from state-centered interpretations of communism or even socialism, since I think the retroactive historical account of the function of state-socialism in the development of global capitalism could show that state-socialism provided the ideological and geo-political countervalence that allowed neoliberalism to emerge. There is no going back to that interpretation of socialism and any apparently “actually existing socialism”, while probably immediately beneficial to the national proletariat (only in the sense of fending off capitalist imperialism & extractivism), only functions to mediate between the capital-labor dialectic and thus cannot hope to transcend the system, which is a transcending of the dialectic itself. In fact, I would think that the state-socialist line of thought wrongly identifies the primary contradiction of capitalist society as the class division, rather than the abstract relation to time which allows for the possibility of extracting surplus value (since nominal time is the lowest common denominator that commensurates the otherwise incommensurable; by time we quantitatively relate qualitatively different labors that otherwise can’t be compared). Fixing this issue is a matter up to labor itself with its own capital in its own hands, not an abstract state mechanism (“proletarian” lead or not) which can only register labor in terms of some quantifiable unit; utils in bourgeois economics or “abstract labor” in marxism. The immanent forces of liberal market relations is replaced by a transcendent management of capital by the party-state; both are two sides of the same coin.

Communism is an ideal, but this ideal is approached scientifically. Revolutionary activity is the science of socio-technical craft, of the development of socialistic relations of production in an efforts to generalize and universalize these relations until they overcome relations governed by the logic of capital (what is called the “law of value”), much in the way that mercantile/trade relations existed in feudalism but it wasn’t until their eventual generalization that capitalism emerges as the hegemonic system. And as with all experimental activity, this science will necessarily have failures, but ones it can only learn from. So there is no “ideal” against “ideal”, there is only lofty mystification v.s. praxical science. You talk of ideality, actuality, but no talk of what these really entail. Don’t repeat memes, think for yourself.

Me: So my first observation is that this is written in a different language. I don’t say that dismissively: it’s a fair critique of my ideology, and I appreciate the time and thought you put into levying it. But on my end, considering your critique required some serious translation. I’ve read the Manifesto enough (once, quickly, for a class) to recognize and decode Marx’s language, but not enough to respond in it, and I don’t think I should have to (just as you may or may not have thoroughly scoured FA Hayek or Milton Friedman or Robert Nozick, and shouldn’t have to). To expect debates between Marxists and non-Marxists to take place on Marx’s terms is to slant the tables from the outset. I hope we can proceed a bit more colloquially, not just for my convenience but for the sake of any undecided third-party that may be reading with interest.

My second observation is that the labor theory of value is hogwash. Value is just a word people dreamed up to describe how badly they want things. Not everyone wants things equally badly, so it isn’t contradictory for a commodity to be objectively worth one thing on a market (what you call its “exchange value”), but subjectively valued higher or lower by a given user (what you call its “use value”). Neither are fixed. Likewise, labor has no inherent value. I could labor as much as I please making snow angels or mud pies in my backyard right now, but if there is no demand for my labor and no demand for my mud pies, both remain worthless. As such, “the extraction of surplus value” is a nonsensical phrase. Value has no physical existence, and cannot lie latent in a thing until it is extracted. Capitalism most certainly generates things people want “from its own moving being,” and there are many more of those things lying around today than there ever could be without private property rights.

My third observation is that communism is no more objective than competing ideologies. You closed with a certain conceit among communists, that Marx and the adherents of his “project” are just dispassionate social scientists describing provable facts, while his enemies are puppets on a string, reciting the lullaby theories our masters ingrained in us. Any opinions not “rooted in history” are dismissed as absurd – as if your own interpretation of history were anything more than opinion!

The study of history is not a lab experiment. There is no controlled environment, and no mechanical cause and effect replicable in different environments. The interaction of social forces is not comparable to the interaction of physical forces like gravity and friction. The progression of history is neither natural nor inevitable. “Historical materialism” is just a fancy term for Marx’s highly subjective interpretation of historical causation.

You say my error is: “upholding of an abstract conception that is grounded in time…to confuse an internal logic of a system of particular forces with the way that it plays out externally, in history, with the totality of relations not immediately related to the economic.”

*played. Ftfy.

The way something *played* out externally, in history, with the totality of relations not related to the economic, is an objective fact. The way it *will play out*, in the future, with a NEW totality of relations not related to the economic, is conjecture. The function of the state in relation to capitalism historically is not determinative of its function moving forward. Observing “the historical dialectic of capital accumulation” can at best inform your guess about how the internal logic of my system would play out in a future world. But my having a different guess than yours, or a different interpretation of historical causality, does not amount to an error in logic. It amounts to you and I having different biases.
I applaud you for differing from “state-centered interpretations of communism”. But if history is determinative of how these internal logics play out externally, doesn’t the “retroactive historical account of the function of communism” show that a state is inseparable from it?

Why is saying “I differ from state-centered interpretations of communism or even socialism” different than saying “I differ from state-centered interpretations of capitalism,” considering that both have only proven possible in state-centered versions thusfar?

Real-world capitalism is better than real-world communism (part III)


(this is a continuation of the discussion that began here, and left off here)

Erica: I'm going to respond to this putting my PLAS major hat on.

Let's compare Cuba to it's peer countries. Now I'm not saying Cuba has no problems nor that people haven't had bad experiences with its government. I'm looking at data here.

According to the CIA, which can hardly be said to have a pro-socialist bias:

  • Cuba's maternal mortality rate is #106 globally
  • its infant mortality rate is number #181 globally
  • it has 7.5 physicians per 1000 citizens, and 5.3 hospital beds per 1000 citizens
  • 93.2% of its population has sanitation facility access
  • 95% of the population has improved drinking water access
  • a HIV prevalence rate of 0.4%.  Less than 200 deaths from HIV per year
  • a literacy rate of 99.9%
  • ranked #131 globally for unemployment
  • has a 99.9% electrification rate (100% for urban areas, 95% for rural areas)
These statistics are superior to every single peer country across the global and every country in Latin America, including every capitalist country.

But we don't even have to compare to peer countries. If we compare to United States stat by stat, the United States, the world's richest and most powerful country, Cuba still beats it on some of the stats:

  • USA maternal mortality rate is #131 globally (better than Cuba)
  • infant mortality rate is #170 worldwide (worse than Cuba)
  • 2.55 physicians/1,000 population (worse than Cuba)
  • 2.9 beds/1,000 population (worse than Cuba)
  • 99% access to clean drinking water (better than cuba)
  • 100% access to sanction facilities (better than Cuba)
  • (CIA doesn't have USA HIV stats for some reason)
  • 97% literacy rate (worse than Cuba)
  • ranked #68 for unemployment (wrote than Cuba)

  • 100% electrification rate


Also, reminder of the trade embargo against Cuba.


Me: 
There’s a recurring theme in some of these comments that sort of fascinates me and that I’d like to draw the debate towards, which is the apparent belief among communist sympathizers that the success of an economy should be measured primarily by outcomes in education and healthcare. I’m happy to talk about those sectors if that’s all you care about – but why is that all you care about? Why are those two particular sectors of the economy some ultra-important benchmark for success that warrant extra weight in our comparison? I have two arguments related to that.

First, healthcare and education outcomes should NOT be the metric by which we evaluate an economy, for several reasons. One is that healthcare outcomes like life expectancy are determined as much by non-economic factors like cultural diet and exercise levels, car accident levels, and crime rates as they are by the actual quality of the healthcare received. Cuba had high literacy rates even before Castro and higher life expectancy than many European nations. But more importantly, healthcare and education are simply a poor proxy for “prosperity” as most people understand it.

Nowhere is this clearer than Cuba. Erica provides all these stats about Cuba’s mediocre healthcare as if they’re some dagger to the heart of capitalism – but healthcare notwithstanding, their people remain dirt fucking poor! The average income is less than $25 a month; that’s pretty austere no matter how healthy you are. They remain one of the least internet-connected societies in the world; until 2015 it was basically nonexistent unless you paid $7 an hour on a slow, censored hotel connection. They’re still not allowed to have home internet, nor private internet, and hourly rates remain. Their only source of entertainment is black market American TV shows and a baseball league full of players who can’t wait to escape to the US. Food shortages are common, and the (legal) food is plain and uninventive (they only just legalized pizzerias…) It’s telling that the single biggest improver of this quality of life for Cubans is the massive, thriving black market, where Cubans have access to better clothing, better food, and better entertainment, and where prices are set by those evil capitalist forces of supply and demand. The same is true in North Korea.

Don’t try to blame the embargo for this. The embargo is only from just one country – they remain free to trade with the rest of the world – and for most of their history it was more than offset by massive subsidies from the Soviet Union (without which their economy crashed in the early 90s). What limited gains they’ve had since resulted primarily from the Castro brothers backtracking and easing off state control of the economy, allowing self-employment, etc. Fidel admitted “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore”

I shouldn’t need to elaborate on how the conditions I described above are even worse in North Korea. It’s clear communist nations’ “accomplishments” in healthcare and education come at the expense of prosperity in every other facet of life. Their governments made deliberate decisions to funnel much bigger portions of their productive energies into providing healthcare and education than consumers armed with the same funds would have elected to purchase for themselves. That’s Pareto inefficiency by definition.

Erica: if this is the response to the Cuba stats you have to compare Cuba to its peer countries.

Me: Does Chile qualify as a peer nation? Because it's the richest country in Latin America. Of course, have to say it, I'm by no means endorsing Pinochet nor his brutal murder of a few thousand political dissidents...but since the Castro and KJU and USSR apologists in here are happy to ignore political repression to isolate economic performance, it bear's mentioning that Pinochet’s reforms indisputably helped the economy relative to his socialist predecessors. Today the average Chilean’s income is four times the average Cubans, and they’ve doubled income growths since 1980 relative to Cuba.

It's even more fun to compare Chile to Venezuela. According to Marian Tupy from Capx:

"Between 1974 and 2016, average annual GDP per capita (PPP) rose by 230 percent. It shrunk by 20 percent in Venezuela.

Today, Chileans are 51 per cent richer than Venezuelans. Unemployment in Chile stands at 6 percent. In Venezuela it stands at 17 percent. Chile’s inflation is 3 per cent and Venezuela’s 487 per cent. In 2016, the Chilean economy grew by 2.7 percent. It shrunk by 10 percent in Venezuela. Chile’s debt is 17 percent of its GDP. Venezuela’s is 50 percent.

In 1974, life expectancy in Venezuela was 1 year higher (66) than that in Chile (65). In 2015, an average Chilean could expect to live 8 years longer (82) than an average Venezuelan (74).

In 1974, infant mortality in Chile was 60 out of 1,000 live births. In Venezuela, it stood at 43. Since then, Chile reduced infant mortality by 88 per cent (to 7) and Venezuela by 70 per cent (to 13). Last, but not least, Chile has received a perfect score (10 out of 10) on a democracy index compiled by the Center for Systemic Peace, while Venezuela languishes at 4 out of 10.”

Sam: If you don't see why healthcare, education and housing are more meaningful indicators of an economy's health than raw profit and raw production, you may want to consider what function an economy is meant to serve.

Me: 
The function an economy is meant to serve is the enrichment of its members and the improvement of their lives. What you denigrate as “raw production” is mostly that.


Steve: It really isn't. There is a difference between looking at just how much an economy produces vs what it produces, who has access to that production and who doesn't.

How well has Puerto Rico fared under capitalism? Which island recovered from a hurricane in two weeks and which is still fighting to open its schools while vulture capitalists bid for resort contracts and its inhabitants are forced to flee to the mainland?

Daniel:  I’ll write a serious answer later, but here’s a pic I took at the pulsing heart of capitalism — World Bank’s Youth Summit. The participants from all over the globe were asked what they think is the most important step for ending poverty the WB group should do.  E D U C A T I O N.

Oh, also lol at the only source of entertainment in Cuba being black market US shows, Cuban cinema is lit. WHO KNEW FILM MAJOR WOULD HELP ME IN A FB DEBATE?

highly recommend watching soy Cuba which is a Cuban-Soviet 60s film which has better longtakes than birdman or the revenant


SteveI'm not done reading all of his responses but all I see is regurgitated neoliberal ideology. There are no facts in these arguments, only vague assertions of starvation (in a country with a lower malnutrition rate than capitalist Mexico) and other horrors that I'm shocked people still believe (human feces as fertilizer, really? Will you be bringing up execution of musicians by anti-aircraft guns next?).

There is also the trend of attributing anything good to capitalism, even when the great capitalist powers fought it tooth and nail (national liberation struggles in Africa for example), and everything evil to communism, with no analytical framework to draw the line.

Me: The World Food Programme says between a quarter and a third of North Korean children 6-59 months old suffer from chronic malnutrition, and that North Korean pre-school children are up to 5 inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than South-Korean pre-school children. The index Emeline posted earlier reported DEATH-rates by malnutrition, which North Korea was middle-of-the-pack on (supposing you believe its numbers, which may be intuitively harder for the WHO to verify than they are elsewhere). But you can be malnourished short of starvation (particularly when you have plenty of foodstuffs like rice and Chinese corn, but no fruits nor protein to speak of).

Here are three recent sources confirming that North Koreans use human feces to fertilize their crops. Is Reuters spewing fabricated bourgeoisie propaganda too?

http://www.businessinsider.com/poverty-north-korea 

https://www.reuters.com/.../injured-defectors-parasites

http://www.newsweek.com/kim-jong-un-may-have-caused

My analytical framework for attributing evil to communism was found in my longest comment under point #2 – you’ll have to scroll up. My analytical framework for attributing wealth creation and dispersion to capitalism has admittedly been piecemeal throughout, but the most recent installment can be found in my comment below with the refrigerator example.

Me: Second, even if healthcare and education were the most important metrics by which to evaluate an economy, capitalism still holds its own.

I freely grant that the United States’ systems for PAYING for education and healthcare were designed by the devil
himself. But firstly, the United States is not the only capitalist nation in the world. Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, South Korea, Japan etc. each have private ownership of the means of production, and yet world-class education and healthcare systems (top 25 or so). Most of those nations beat out Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and even China (if you count them) handily by any sensible measure of education or healthcare.

And even in the United States, the quality of the education and healthcare itself (again, not considering why it costs so much, which I’d be happy to talk your ear off about later) is among the best in the world. For healthcare, the American life expectancy *once diagnosed* with a given disease or ailment (a much better measure of healthcare quality than life expectancy overall, for the aforementioned reasons) is consistently first in the world. Elite students from foreign nations flock to our colleges and universities. Even our K-12 system, while falling behind on test scores, typically offers a range of well-funded extracurricular activities unparalleled in most communist nations.

Inversely, to boast that the DPRK has provided every person with a free “education” is to make a mockery of what that word means. DPRK provides every person with a free brainwashing. The entire project of the North Korean state – and really communist state medias in general - has been to prevent their citizens from engaging in any sort of critical thinking whatsoever. That is the antithesis of education. The only thing that might educate them is the internet and the internet is illegal.


Steve: "The entire project of the North Korean state – and really communist state medias in general - has been to prevent their citizens from engaging in any sort of critical thinking whatsoever."

Again these kinds of statements are rich coming from the US,
as if we don't have the biggest propaganda machine in the world between corporate media and Hollywood.

The tactic of comparing imperialist powers to their former colonies is not only flawed it is insulting. Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Korea, even China to a lesser extent, were colonies of European nations, the US or Japan before their liberation struggles. Colonization is characterized by underdevelopment of the colonized nation and a systematic extraction of wealth, either in raw materials or in later stages labor. To compare nations that have freed themselves of the chains of imperialism, and proceeded to develop at previously unseen rates, to the countries that held those very chains, and still hold them for the rest of the global south. is only useful if you want to defend the global imperialist system. How does Cuba hold up to the rest of the Caribbean or Latin America? These comparisons are meaningful because you can actually measure the effects of socialist economic planning compared to a similar starting point that has continued to develop under anarchic capitalism.

Me: The former colonies are the places currently benefiting most from globalization and experiencing the fastest poverty reductions over the past 40 years - except the communist ones.

Alejandro: although I tend to agree with your sentiments--namely that capitalism is not inherently problematic--I disagree with the above claim. Since neoliberalism became the norm, inequality has swelled throughout democracies in the global south. To claim that there is poverty reduction is simply incorrect.

Me: Poverty and inequality are not the same thing. Neither indicates the extent of the other. I am referring to absolute poverty (not relative) because that is much more morally meaningful. Swelling inequality and poverty reduction are perfectly compatible.

Alejandro: In no way is absolute poverty more "morally meaningful" than relative poverty, hence my focus on inequality.

I think it's always necessary to focus on the larger issues than on anecdotal evidence. Failure to do so is no different than the claim that "my grandfather suffered in the ussr therefore all non-capitalist systems are bad." While I disagree with neoliberal policies, I nonetheless think it's vital to focus on the larger consequences--the IMF, WBO, WTO, and team of related NGOs sank the global south into insurmountable debt that continues to hurt them. The structural adjustment policies in these countries further inequality and ensure that the poorest citizens remain impoverished. As such, I don't think our discussion misses the point.

Me: I passionately disagree with you that relative poverty is as morally meaningful as absolute poverty. I care much more about the material conditions under which human beings live and how many of their physical needs are met than I do about how rich the richest in their country are. But supposing I’m wrong, I still win the argument, because the communist nations upheld by my opponents in this debate (except @Kazi, thankfully) are and were abysmal failures EVEN by their own preferred measure of equalizing wealth.

Members of the Soviet politburo and their families are widely known to have received perks and lifestyles the rest of their comrades did not. They had access to special shops, schools and hospitals, unsupervised trips abroad, access to Western publications, and a longer leash of immunity from political persecution. The same favors were extended to certain especially useful citizens, like nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov (by his own admission). Since @David Savliev likes it so much when I cite Orwell, I’ll do it again: “some animals were more equal than others.” The old class structure was merely replaced by another.

The same was true in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. It remains true today in Cuba, and certainly remains true in North Korea. Top members of ruling communist parties always enjoy privileged lifestyles that ordinary people do not, replicating the conditions of material inequality they originally railed against.

Sean: it's perfectly fun for you to play with mental abstractions about the conceptually meaningful difference between absolute poverty and relative inequality within an ahistorical frame of reference...until you find yourself as a farmer in latin america, having most of your existence determined by the neoliberal core (WTO/IMF) and its Washington Consensus.

Me: it’s perfectly fun for you to use those presently afflicted by absolute poverty in faraway places as a prop for the *equally conceptual* argument you typed on your laptop or iPhone, seated comfortably in your heated home or job or university.

It’s less fun for those farmers in Latin America – say, Venezuela, for example – to go without basic products and services readily available in nearby nations – say, Chile, for example – because their leaders prioritized combatting inequality instead of combating poverty. Perhaps they’ll be comforted by the knowledge that they’re all equally poor, so most of their neighbors are going hungry too?

I don’t mean to be condescending – just answering snark with snark. The point is that the stakes are high no matter which of us is right, so neither of us get a monopoly on leveraging the emotive plight of the poor in service of our argument on how to best help them.


Sean: Fair point.


Jacob: Andrew, why do you think 1. countries are closed systems 2. China is a capitalist country?


Me: I think neither of those things.

1. It is precisely because countries are NOT closed systems that international trade between economies of scale, with market prices set by supply and demand (read: capitalism) can raise people from poverty even in nati
ons that are not inwardly capitalist (so long as those nations remain open to global trade).

2. China is not a purely (and probably not even a primarily) capitalist country. Capitalism and socialism are not a binary with a thick black line in between. They are opposite poles of a spectrum depending on what portion of the economy is government run. China is indisputably closer to socialism than pure laissez-faire capitalism, but also indisputably more capitalist than it used to be. And the most important regard in which the latter is true is that after Mao Zedongs well overdue death, it finally liberalized its trade markets after centuries of economic isolationism. The massive capital investment that followed - from all those greedy, robber barons capitalists looking to exploit cheap labor and make sweatshops and yada yada yada - is what created a robust manufacturing and technology sector which so improved the condition of China's poorest citizens.

This is not some kooky libertarian crackpot theory; it is the mainstream economic consensus.


Jacob: Funny enough i already had this convo here today. They've baited the western bourgs into letting them absorb all of the Western tech and on a path to over take the US, hopefully in order to destroy this shitty imperialist nation. China is still under control of the communist party which runs their businesses. They heavily teach Marxism and have not strayed too far out of dialectical materialism.

Not a fan of Deng, but this is how the CCP viewed the reforms.

Which lead to this Not the type of socialism I'd personally advocate for, but people like Xi know better than I and they are doing well.

(I let him have the last word at that.  Moving on...)

Me:
Daniel brought up scientific progress and asks why capitalism gets the credit for it.  The answer is that it not only motivates technological innovation, but also mass produces new technology at ever-lower prices, making it accessible to the masses in ways that wouldn't be possible without capitalism.

As I mentioned in my earlier comment about the internet (scroll up to find it) technological innovation is not a sufficient condition for those innovations to become accessible to the
bulk of society. To make this new technology accessible, you need something that can efficiently mass produce it without sacrificing quality, all while incessantly driving down cost in order to make it widely affordable. Capitalism does that very well.

Take refrigerators, for example. I hope I don’t need to explain what massive improvement in quality of life refrigerators provide us, so I won’t until somebody inevitably questions it. The first self-contained refrigerator – the aptly named “Frigidaire” – was released in 1919. It stored 5 cubic feet (a mini-fridge by today’s standards) and cost $775 – over $11,000 in today’s money – at a time when the average hourly wage was $0.43. As such, it took the average American 1,802 hours of work to afford, and of course very few could. The scientific innovations necessary to invent the refrigerator were insufficient to expand its access.

Today, any Sears holds dozens of different refrigerators to choose from that are much bigger, cheaper (even without adjusting for inflation!). A quick google search showed new refrigerators ranging from $300-$900, at a time when the average hourly wage is $26.55. You do the math. Even in a country with a 13.5% poverty rate, 99.8% of American households own at least one refrigerator. This is a direct result of the price decrease, which was a direct result of profit-hungry capitalist mass production and competition.

The same stats could be replicated about computers and internet and video games and cell phones and televisions and cars and radios most of the other advances of the 20th century. That’s why capitalism gets the credit.

Daniel: Soviets did quite well in sci and tech progress too though.  I can dedicate an entire post to the achievements of soviet sci and tech which benefited an average soviet and sci-tech progress at large, from metro, electrification and food tech to EVM, AES and Sputniks. Little known fact — in academic and technical papers the second most widespread language after English is Russian, solely because of the USSR. This stuff is literally my Wilson research