Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why I write about socialism and communism

I read a powerful post today from Alex Tabarrok today about Chinese farmers in the village of Xiaogang who started a secret pact in 1978. They saw that collectivist farming was failing them and made a pact to split the communal land up secretly, much like the solution to the tragedy of the commons. They would keep the surplus they grew, which would motivate them to grow more.

It wasn't a blind love of capitalism that motivated them. The risk of being caught was death by firing squad, which shows how dire the situation was that they would risk death to bring private property to a communist nation.

“Back then, even one straw belonged to the group,” says Yen Jingchang, who was a farmer in Xiaogang in 1978. “No one owned anything.”

At one meeting with communist party officials, a farmer asked: “What about the teeth in my head? Do I own those?” Answer: No. Your teeth belong to the collective.
This is not my first post about why socialism, communism and Marxism are wrong, nor will it be my last. It's not because I think President Barack Obama is a socialist - I don't. It's not because I think there's a commie plot to take over America - there isn't.

But man oh man, is there a lot of Marxism still squirming about.

All the scientific support for collectivism rotted away in the twentieth century. The intellectuals who believed collectivism would replace capitalism embraced the USSR and China, claiming they achieved great improvements in the standard of living for the poor. The grinning skulls of the Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Cubans and other victims have shown how wrong they were.

This revelation has hit home with most people. They know that the hammer and sickle are tools to kill people, not liberation for workers.

But unfortunately, those maggoty ideas thrive with the college crowd, both starry-eyed clueless students and strung-out idiot English professors. They cling to the philosophy of Marx and use special pleading to ignore the lessons of history.

If you hear someone say "real socialism has never been tried," the only appropriate response is to walk away. This is an intellectual cult that's not restricted to the corners of the Internet. It was openly displayed at my college's weekly "Marxist luncheon series," it hung banners and cardboard signs at the 2011 Organized Trespassing protests and it's trendy with the sneering hipster daydreamers in metropolitan areas.

I write about these ideas because they're still shuffling about and the next generation needs to be reminded before it makes the same mistakes.

What's telling is that the specific examples of societies previous generations of Marxists listed as successes have been completely abandoned by the current generation. Check out this hep cat from 1978 talking to Milton Friedman. He thought Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward in China was a success.

He's talking about the same system the farmers of Xiaogang rebelled against. Since you don't hear any Marxists today hold up China as a positive example, what does that say about what future Marxists will say about Cuba, Venezuela and "Democratic Korea?"


  1. The most irritating part of my university education was how often I had to suck up to Marxists to get through my day. I'm still thankful I went through for linguistics, where you can avoid ever discussing politics if you're insightful enough not to enroll in Language and Gender. Even then I had to deal with Critical Discourse Analysis.

    I'm glad socialism and communism no longer have any real influence in the West, but it bugs me to no end that their apologists don't experience the same public shaming that jihadis and Nazis receive.

  2. Not to get things off subject, but you mentioned Cuba. Shouldn't it be obvious that lifting the embargo would be the best way to eliminate socialism there?

    1. As an avenue to eliminating socialism through trade, your notion is a noble one once shared by George F. Will, Richard M. Nixon, and many in-between (including me, if that matters).

      On a Charlie Rose show appearance a couple of years ago, he seemed to have changed his stance completely (his topic was Red China, but the same can be applied to Cuba). I forgot what he said exactly, but my version is: The only thing trading with regimes like that is give the slaves a wider choice in which sunglasses to wear on the way to the factory.

      Nobody in the PRC is more "free" now than they were under Mao, they just have better wardrobes. That is about all that would happen with Cuba too.

  3. That sounds somewhat plausible, but it's not a subject I know much about.

    I always thought the embargo was a reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I just looked it up and the embargo predates it and was a response to the Cuban government stealing assets from Americans.

  4. It's not the first time I've heard someone say that about the embargo, it seems to be a fairly common mmisconception.

    I think it's probably because we improved upon the embargo during the missile crisis by blockading the island. That in and of itself was a new sort of embargo where we essentially imposed embargo's on other countries without one of their own by limiting trade.

    But that's exactly right, the original embargo had nothing to do with the missiles.

    I'm all in agreement with the idea that our embargo actually bolsters socialism in Cuba, rather than weakening it. I know Michael and Hortensio, and I are all in agreement with you that economic sanctions are counter productive, in 99+ out of 100 cases.

  5. I am agnostic on sanctions effectiveness. I see them as an alternative to war. They hurt everyone, but not as much as drafting workers to kill other workers at great material expense.

  6. At least war typically spurs innovation and advancement out of necessity. Whereas sanctions tend to merely reduce everyone's well-being in both the short and long terms.

    I think the threat of war has solved more problems than both war and sanctions put together.

  7. Through business, Rod Holt of Apple Computers became one of my clients (he used to own a wooden sailboat that I detailed). He and I used to have some stellar political/economics talks. I had to chuckle reading this entry because there was a point at which he said to me, "Anyone who says that they know what socialism looks like is lying because real socialism has never been tried." If only I hadn't had such veneration for his capitalist success, I could have thought up some wittier comebacks...

    1. I just heard of Rod Holt through an email exchange with Bob Cringely. Holt came up by accident, Bob had him confused with another early Apple employee from his days there.

      Is he the same Holt of the Holt Labor Library in San Francisco and did he write for Socialist Viewpoint? I am including him in something I am writing and wanted to make sure it was the same fellow.

  8. I'm not convinced war "spurs innovation and advancement." War has an opportunity cost too. On his deathbed Einstein said:

    "I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification — the danger that the Germans would make them..."

    The Nazi threat aside, I wonder what Einstein might have cooked up in the six years he spent advocating and then researching for the Manhattan project.

    If we stopped funding the war machine now... where would those engineers at General Dynamics or Lockheed Martin go? Oblivion? No. They'd reorient their innovation towards something that I would say is more useful.

  9. I'm not suggesting otherwise, I'm just saying that war is not a wholly destructive process and can have economically beneficial effects.

    Unfortunately they tend to be hard to spot through all the destruction, but not always. I see some great things coming out of the unmanned vehicles the DoD has been pumping money into the last decade.

  10. War is often an unfortunate necessity, but its primary benefits seem to be geo-political. The main benefit of American military spending is for the stability it provides for Western nations, not for the technological advances. (Technological advances which often have no practical civilian use e.g. stealth technology.)

    As Jeremy says, it's not as if military engineers are going to stop engineering if they have to work in the civilian sector. Add to that the destruction caused in individual wars and the economy is at a net loss.

    Again, the geo-political benefits are often worth the costs of war. But in-and-of-itself war and even the threat of war isn't particularly beneficial.

  11. Nothing from stealth? I see noise abatement and thermal management. It's 6 of one or half a dozen of another. We get technological advances, that doesn't mean those engineers wouldn't have engineered something else, that's exactly what it means, they would have engineered something else.