Archive for April 2017
Well it happened again. Something I’ve run into from time to time starting in college.
Apropos of something I forget I remarked that after the catastrophic collapse of socialism worldwide in the late 1980s early ‘90s I thought socialism would never again be a viable movement.
Subsequent events have proven me wrong.
A very intelligent and articulate person with as I have, years of experience living in Eastern Europe, said those countries weren’t socialist, they were communist.
I countered they called themselves socialist and officially considered themselves as working through the transitional stage of socialism towards true communism.
He replied there are plenty of prosperous democratic socialist countries such as the Scandinavians, and if you wanted to see capitalism look at Russia today.
Stop me if you’ve hear this before.
“Oh the Nazis weren’t socialists.” Although National Socialist German Workers Party doesn’t sound like a right-wing trope to me.
“Oh they were communist, not socialist.” Though Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sounds, well… kind of socialist.
So what is going on here? Why is a political label associated with some of the most brutal tyrannies in history respectable, even popular again?
Firstly, I think there is a problem of definition. Those European countries cited as examples of democratic socialism are not socialist according to most dictionaries. They are welfare states, the desirability of which is an argument for another time.
The original and still primary definition of socialism is government ownership of the means of production. There are arguments about how much government ownership. Some insist the government should own only “the commanding heights” of the economy but us little folks would be free to own shops with a few employees.
Many people who call themselves democratic socialists don’t advocate this. One even asked me, “Where’d you get that idea of socialism?”
(I told him, “The dictionary.”)
One Englishman said, “Nah, socialism means taking care of your mates.”
OK, I can get on board with that. But it sounds not much different from a church committee or a neighborhood association. Church social = socialism.
What a lot of people seem to mean by “socialism” is “not capitalism.”
Again, we’re running into problems of definition here. By capitalism many mean what we’ve got now; private ownership of the large scale means of production by powerful interests which wield great political influence through funding political campaigns, regulatory capture, lobbyists, and every way legislation – and legislators are bought and sold. Plus socialization of loss through bailouts, subsidies, etc.
To counter this, modern socialists advocate taking large-scale economic decisions away from individuals and put in the hands of “democratically elected officials.” That is to say, curing the problem by doubling down on what caused the problem.
Free market advocates break their hearts and work themselves into early graves trying to explain that’s not what they mean by “capitalism” and what they advocate is something else entirely. That in fact the modern idea of capitalism is pretty close to Musolinni-style fascist economics.
A free market rests on a few basic principles. Among them: property rights, voluntary trade, and personal responsibility.
Property rights. What’s yours is yours to use as you see fit. Simple in principle though often complicated in practice taking into consideration your neighbors’ property rights, and legitimate public interest such as roads, bridges, levees, etc.
Voluntarism. That to the greatest extent possible trade of labor, goods, and services should be carried out by mutual consent, without force (robbery, extortion) or fraud.
Responsibility. You assume the risks, you reap the rewards – or incur the loss. This also means you do not inflict your costs on your neighbors. Again, simple in theory and complicated in practice. We all do this a little when we drive our cars, which nobody minds much. We tend to notice when a neighbor starts up a pig farm though.
Though markets are complex and prone to error, mistakes of judgement and unforeseen consequences, any argument for a command economy has to explain why the choices of the many should be overruled and controlled by the few.
It’s as simple as that.
When the Nazi occupation government of Denmark announced the Yellow Star order, within days every patriotic Dane wore a yellow star. Denmark was the only occupied country the Nazis had to rescind the edict.
When a sympathetic German diplomat warned the Danish underground Jews were to be rounded up and shipped to concentration camps, the resistance smuggled almost all the Jews in the country to Sweden in a single night.
I hope I would have their courage in the same circumstances.
This is an article that appeared on the website of The FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Educaton). It begins:
Wichita State student government refuses to recognize libertarian student group because of First Amendment advocacy
By FIRE April 7, 2017
Student senators quizzed student group leader about her group’s stance on “free speech zones,” “hate speech,” and “safe spaces”
Student senator: “We’ve seen very dangerous statements being said in the name of free speech”
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that viewpoint-based discrimination against a student group is unconstitutional
This is the letter I wrote to the university president.
Dear President Bardo,
It is with some concern that I read of the recent decision by the WSU student government to deny recognition to the Young Americans for Liberty student group. I was particularly disconcerted to read the decision was apparently motivated by the group’s strong support for the First Amendment.
I am a journalist. I got my start in journalism while living and working as an English teacher in Eastern Europe in the years immediately following the fall of communism (1991-2004). I have worked with dissidents and former dissidents in Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus, and was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights in 1997.
Free speech means a great deal to me, because I have lived in countries where brave men and women spoke out for human rights at considerable risk to themselves.
I strongly urge you to overrule the decision of the student government and recognize Young Americans for Liberty as a student organization.
Stephen W. Browne
This is the reply I received:
Thank you for your email. President Bardo understands and appreciates your concerns and has asked me to forward them on to the appropriate parties at Wichita State who will review the decision and respond to you shortly.
Anna Lanier Weyers
Director of Operations
Office of the President