Thursday, August 2, 2018

Socialism and its sub-textual meaning

This is Joseph.

I want to start with this tweet:

And then point out this article:
The reason this generation of democratic socialists are willing and able to do that is not simply that, for some of them, the Soviet Union was gone before they were born. Nor is it simply that this generation of democratic socialists are themselves absolutely fastidious in their commitment to democratic proceduralism: I mean, seriously, these people debate and vote on everything! It’s also because of the massive collapse of democratic, well, norms, here at home.

Part of it also might be that programs that are quite compatible with a primarily capitalist country are labeled as socialist.  It's a devastating critique when the Soviet Union, and all of it's human rights abuses is around, but it runs the risk of making the label . . . non-specific.

In any case, I think it is pretty clear that almost any functional government with control some aspect of the economy: by printing currency, buying military equipment, or enforcing laws.

The interesting debate is where does government have a comparative advantage.  Clearly full state control of industry would be bad.  But does anybody see the medical market as completely libertarian?

Food for thought.


  1. Joseph:

    Here's the definition of socialism I get from a quick web search: "a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."

    This seems about right.

    In the above twitter quote, I'm not quite sure what was meant by "state control of the economy." I see three differences between the dictionary definition and the twitter quote:

    1. "the community as a whole" vs. "the state." I guess if you're talking about the entire U.S., these two terms would be interchangeable, as I don't really see any way for "the community" to own, regulate, etc., without it being done by "the state." For smaller organizations, though, "the community" could be different than "the state."

    2. "owned and regulated" vs. "control." These seem different to me. The government could own and regulate an organization without controlling it, no? I mean, sure, owning and regulation implies some potential for control, but it's not the same as control.

    3. "the means of production, distribution, and exchange" vs. "the economy." This seems like a big difference. Or maybe I just don't really understand what "control of the economy" is supposed to mean.

    In any case, I don't know what they're teaching everyone in schools these days, but I don't think they ever taught us the subtleties in socialism, back when I took economics in 11th grade!

  2. One of your links isn't working.

    @Andrew Gelman:

    That definition seems pretty good, but a lot of socialists I talk to emphasize worker control of businesses, like a co-op. In that case, the community would be much smaller than "the state", smaller than even a city government. I think it's a pretty strong argument against the idea of socialism being anti-democratic when you compare a co-op where every worker has a vote on the business's policies to a traditional corporate hierarchy.