The Stalinist delusion (repost)

There’s been a lot of discussion on the Monday Message Board, responding to a piece by Gerard Henderson asking why Australian ex-Communists aren’t treated with the same disdain as ex-Nazis (Louis Nowra has said something similar). Meanwhile over at Catallaxy, they’ve been debating Mark Lilla’s book The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics This gives me a chance to repost my thoughts on this topic from last year.

Tyler Cowen says

If I could have the answers to five questions in political science/sociology, the appeal of Stalinism to intellectuals would be one of them.

I don’t think this is as difficult a question as is often supposed.

Most of the intellectuals who professed support for Communism during the rule of Stalin (and Lenin) were primarily victims of (self-)deception. They supported the stated aims of the Communist Party (peace, democracy, brotherhood), opposed the things the Communists denounced (fascism, racism, exploitation) and did not inquire too closely into whether the actual practice of the Soviet Union and the parties it controlled was consistent with these stated beliefs. I developed this point, and the contrast with the relatively small group of intellectuals who supported the Nazis, in a review of[1] Mark Lilla’s book The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics

Two very different types of people have ended up as Communists. First, there are those for whom the central appeal was the cartharsis of a revolutionary smashing of the existing order. This was essentially the same appeal offered by the Nazis, and many of this type changed sides when the mandate of Heaven appeared to shift from one totalitarian party to the other.

On the other hand, there were large numbers of liberals and social democrats who were dissatisfied with the obvious failings of their own countries and accepted, at face value, the claims of the Soviet Union to be a peace-loving, democratic and socially just alternative society. Beatrice and Sydney Webb are prime examples of this sort of ‘fellow-traveler’.

The fellow-travelers may fairly be accused of gullibility and wishful thinking in their assessment of the Soviet Union, but this does not imply that their own ideas contained the seeds of totalitarianism. In fact, unlike the Nazi sympathisers discussed by Lilla, the vast majority of fellow-travelers, including those who took the formal step of joining the Communist Party, ultimately realised they had been deceived. Some repudiated their previous views entirely and became, in the American parlance, neoconservatives. Others simply accepted they had made a mistaken judgement, and adopted a more skeptical view of life, while retaining their old ideals.

There is nothing similar among those attracted to fascism and Nazism. Although Nazi propaganda was mendacious in every detail, it never concealed the fundamentally brutal nature of Nazism. The closest parallel to the ‘fellow traveler’ on the right is supplied by the many decent Catholics who supported Franco as a ‘soldier for Christ’.

After writing this, I recalled something Orwell had to say in response to an early Cold War description of the typical Communist as a fanatical ideologue, subordinating all personal values to the global struggle against capitalism and democracy. As he said (paraphrasing from memory here), “this all sounds convincing, until you try to apply it the Communists you actually know. With the exception of a couple of hundred hardcore members, they are nothing like this. Most drift in, become disillusioned after a while, and drift out again”.

fn1. And also of a couple of books by Christopher Hitchens

51 thoughts on “The Stalinist delusion (repost)

  1. As I said at Catallaxy, Lilla is not a careful reader, often caricaturing the thought of the writers he discusses. To my mind, he also doesn’t answer his central question adequately either through comparison or through a sociology of intellectuals and politics.

    If you follow the Amazon link, and have a look at the reader reviews, those who point out that Lilla is an unacknowledged Straussian are on the money. His affiliation with the Social Thought mob at Chicago is a giveaway as well.

    John, in your review, you’re wrong to say that Lilla’s characterisation of Schmitt is “good”. It’s one of the worst chapters in the book. He consistently misrepresents Schmitt, and fails to come to grips with the stakes of Schmitt’s critique of liberalism. I’ve published on Schmitt and he is a key element of my PhD thesis, and I’ve read almost all of the English-language literature on him (nowhere near as extensive as that in German). I’d invite you to read a couple of discussions of Schmitt at Troppo from Don and myself. Don’t post is a good place to start:

    Gary Sauer-Thompson also has some good stuff on Schmitt at

  2. In the discussion on Catallaxy Lilla’s scholarship, at least on Straus, took a battering, so I felt a little silly about putting up my largely uncritical summary of his book. However there was a sting in the tail of my commentary because Lilla ended up perplexed about the persistence of totalitarianism in the heart of western scholarhip.

    If Karl Popper is correct there is no mystery about this, his explanation is that the older Plato of “The Republic” and ‘Laws” was the archetypical totalitarian intellectual. So the mystery is not to explain why so many intellectuals lapse into totalitarianism, but instead why any do not.

    In my view the antidote to this situaton has only been available for about 40 years, since Bill Bartley developed Popper’s ideas on the authoritarian structure of Western thought.

  3. There is one key difference between supporters of communism and supporters of fascism identified by a British Guardian journalist a few years ago: “No one ever became a fascist in order to do good.”

    This explains why former supporters of communism are treated differently to former supporters of Nazism.

  4. As the review indicates, I haven’t read Schmitt, so my endorsement of Lilla is confined to the general point that leftists have given what seems to me to be unduly favorable treatment to authoritarian/Nazi critics of liberalism such as Schmitt, Heidegger and de Man, apparently on the basis that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. I don’t think the traditional socialist and social democratic critiques of free-market liberalism require or benefit from the assistance of thinkers like these. But I’ll take a closer look at the posts you’ve linked to and see what I come up with.

  5. John – Schmitt in my view is useful for a political critique of liberalism’s tendency to reduce politics to questions of economics or ethics. He certainly doesn’t add anything to a social democratic critique of free-market economics.

  6. No one ever became a fascist in order to do good. Ouch … most hard core capitalists as well as most fascists/nazists became communists did not join the communist party in order to become guardian angels.

    Where there is a change or regime you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs whatever party machinery you happen to serve … The difference between communism, fascism and other totalitarian isms and open society is the way freedom of the press is accommodated. If we can laugh openly at Balmain boys who join any political party that guarantees them ministerial position or some kind of position of power and still walk freely on the streets of Sydney then it is very hard to state that we live in a police state…

    As George Orwell wrote so well: One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words socialism and communism draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, Nature-cure quack, pacifist and feminist in [Australia]… We have reached a stage when the very word socialism calls up, on the one hand, a picture of airplanes, tractors and huge glittering factories of glass and concrete; on the other, a picture of vegetarians with wilting beards, of Bolshevik commissars (half gangster, half gramophone), or earnest ladies in sandals, shock-headed Marxists chewing polysyllables, escaped Quakers, birth control fanatics, and Labour Party backstairs-crawlers. “If only the sandals and pistachio-colored shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaler and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly. As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.

  7. Peter, I would argue that some people did become fascists or fascist sympathisers because they wanted to do what they considered “good”, but that a key difference is that their conception of “the good” involved, in principle, elements which were authoritarian, anti-egalitarian, discriminatory and/or exclusionary on the basis of race, nation and/or sexuality. In other words, the fascists were anti-democratic, anti-libertarian and anti-egalitarian at the level of ends as well as means, whereas the communists were subjectively democratic, libertarian and egalitarian at the level of ends, but all too often believed that these ends justified means which were a million light-years from embodying these values.

  8. Is it the same art critic julie burchill who wrote: Whenever I am sent a new book on the lively arts, the first thing I do is look for myself in the index?

  9. Paul, your point is well-taken.

    Regarding ends and means, our focus has usually been on whether the ends justify the means. But it may be better to ask whether the means vitiate the ends. Indeed, the means may even preclude the ends even being achieved, as perhaps is the case with the current military intervention in Irag to bring about democracy.

  10. If they are truly EX communists or EX nazis, why are they treated badly at all?

    Are people forever defined by their past beliefs?

  11. Jozef —

    I continue to be suprised at the Left’s admiration for Orwell. The quotation you cite is typical of his anti-liberal views. He even wrote an essay urging us all not to use foreign words, for heaven’s sake. Socialism for all, provided we speak only anglo-saxon and disdain any words with Latin or Greek roots! How more “Little England” (indeed, racist) could one be?

  12. Alphacoward, and the recognition of the contribution of the Red Army on the Eastern Front to winning the war was the basis of Roosevelt’s acquiescence in a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe in Yalta.

  13. As an Australian of Lithuanian descent and one very aware of how communists treated Lithuania I must admit to feeling offended when seeing someone wearing a hammer and sickle t-shirt in the same way as I’m sure Jewish people didn’t really appreciate seeing those Hitler European tour t-shirts which got a run in the late 80’s. The problem is that the Russian treatment of its satellites has never ever been treated to the same sort of analysis as the holocaust perpetuated against the Jewish people. People can say Soviet/Communist style apparel has a kitsch retro feel to it, but I don’t like it all that much and do get a bit annoyed that people tell me I can’t feel that way and that communists are more sensitive. A reading of Animal Farm and/or Lord of the Flies should be enough to remind people of what happens in closed societies.


  14. Peter –

    I must admit that like Churchill, Orwell was not a saint. However, I prefer George any day to many thinkers as he walked to talk and like me washed the dishes … (smile)

    I also prefer Dewey to many other classifications although he failed to include a big chunk of the world in his system …

    Each categorizer brings his or her life knowledge and prejudices to the process. The Dewey Decimal System’s Religion category has nine subsections, seven of which are on Christianity. The rest of the world’s religions are lumped into one subsection: Other. Language has nine subsections; seven of them cover European languages. Looking at the Dewey decimal system will tell you in which part of the world John Dewey grew up…

    As Nowra so well noted, may I move that the Telstra’s marketing department be outsourced to Korea since the Lenin poster will go nicely with the latest trend for short haircuts. My spies inform me that long hair is rather trendy in that division of labour.

    Any seconders (sic) to my two pounds?

  15. As David Tiley knows I have been rather obsessed with the toilet paper this week. First it was the revelations of the secret search for a soft version for the English diplomats, then the Beatles’ roll rocked the ebay, and then … Barista pore oil on the paper too…

    At the risk of trivialising this serious discussion, I have come across a number of characters from the west who I used to teach skiing in High Tatra Mountains. They loved the way every hotel was cheap and the way they could spend weeks pretending to be in the worker’s paradise, but I never get seek of quoting O’Rourke (preemptive appologies to the brothers – Gary and Jim)

    These were people who believed everything about the Soviet Union was perfect, but they were bringing their own toilet paper.
    – P.J. O’Rourke

  16. Morphing Peter M/Julie Burchill’s point a bit, I’d suggest one difference is that Nazism was a poisoned doctrine from the get-go whereas Communism (was a well intentioned idea, originally designed for European industrial workforces, but which was too flimsy a construct to handle the very real forces of historical determinism and which was hijacked by some very bloody-minded dictators.

    Oh, and I’ve got a joke for you Jozef.

    A Czechoslovakian midget, on the run from the secret police, frantically pounds on a stranger’s door. It opens a crack and a suspicious eye peers out.

    “What do you want?�

    “Please, I’m desperate. Can you cache a small Czech?�

    Thank you, thank you. Don’t forget to tip yer waitress. She’s taking me out after the show.

  17. It is no secret that communism recruited both the best of people and also the worst. The problem for good people was to work out what to do when they realised that the worst were almost always going to run the show.

    Unfortunately for people who took to socialism and communism with good intentions (or more to the point, unfortunately for the mass of people who had to live and die with the consequences) the socialist analysis was fundamentally flawed by the false perception that free markets were the cause of suffering and disadvantage. That basic error has haunted and frustrated the socialist, communist and social democratic social reform programs to the present day.

    The question is, are the socialists and social democrats of the world prepared to face the possibility that they have got it wrong? Do you/they have enough confidence in the process of critical and open-ended inquiry and discussion to re-think from first principles and form critical preferences for potentially revolutionary new views on political economy, as scientists are supposed to do when sufficient evidence turns up to overturn old paradigms?

  18. The problem here, Rafe, is that while communism has failed, social democracy and socialism have not, at least in the senses you mention. There is more poverty (people below an absolute poverty line) in the US than in any of the European social democracies. So, perhaps some rethinking is needed on the free-market side of the debate.

  19. Yes Nabakov I love the way you insert the real forces of historical determinism into this volley …

    As you would be well aware, cancelling cache czech is like performing an abortion (smile)

    Is your bloody minded waitress Anna Kournikova look alike with yellow submarine bikinis?

    Sir Desmond: The blogosphere’s a funny place you know Prime Minister, if you spill the beans you open up a can of worms. How can you let sleeping dogs lie if you let the cat out of the bag. Bring in a new broom and if you’re not careful you’ll find you’ve throw the baby out with the bath water. If you change horses in the middle of the stream next thing you know you’re up the creek without a paddle.
    Jim: And then the bouncing czech balloon goes up.
    – A Conflict of Interest modified –

  20. “Do you/they have enough confidence in the process of critical and open-ended inquiry and discussion to re-think from first principles and form critical preferences for potentially revolutionary new views on political economy, as scientists are supposed to do when sufficient evidence turns up to overturn old paradigms?”

    Yep, Rafe, they crtainly should. As should exponents of unbrindled capitalism.

  21. Thanks for your comment John, I wonder how much the New Deal contributed to poverty in the US by keeping the country in depression for the whole of the 1930s?

    Hello Nabakov, you are keeping me up past my bedtime, I knew it was a mistake to peek at the site again. I will need to find out whether anyone is advocating unbridled capitalism, laissez faire was essentially free trade under the rule of law and it also assumed a background of moral values including honesty and charity.

    Good night:)

  22. Peter McBurney’s original comment was on the right track. Stalinism was brutal and perverse but had common roots with social democracy, and – if only in its rhetoric – common ideals, to do with the brotherhood of mankind and the elimination of exploitation. Fascism, on the other hand, is, and always was, sick at the very core, based on the worship of bullies and the elimination of the weak and unworthy: in short, a philosophy devoid of any noble element whatever.

  23. The Graveyard of Ideologies Past
    At the half-way mark of the Twentieth Century, in 1950, the French Annales historian Fernand Braudel wrote, “what an endless century it has been, indeed, leaving its bloody mark on Europe and on the whole world”. Eric Hobsbawm describes…

  24. And Patrick Cook once drew a cartoon of the Devil, sitting at a dining table in a restaurant, being asked by the waiter:

    “And how would Sir like his twentieth-century?”

    To which the Devil replied:

    “I’ll have the burnt bits at each end, please.”

  25. Purely at the level of theory, Marxism/ communism/ socialism has the moral advantage since in theory it offers a place of equal citizenship for every human being. In principle, the capitalist can give away his (or her) ownership of means of production, endorse collective ownership, and be a member of the New Marxist Society in good standing, without the need for reprisals, forced confessions, purges, and everything else that comes in buckets in every single society where self-proclaimed followers of Marx have actually held power. … Uh, yeah, I did say “in principle” and “theory”.

    Whereas Nazism, the “pure” (no pun intended} German version, from the word go writes off large sections of the human race, from birth, regardless of anything they ever did or even said, as unfit to be members of society. Nazism defines the untermenschen as by definition fit for slavery or extermination.

    “Fascism” (in the strict sense of the sort of society that Mussolini and, arguably, Franco wanted) is marginally less evil, since what matters most — within, if not between, nation-states — is unquestioning loyalty to the State and its leader. “Impure blood” would be a handicap but could be outweighed by showing blind allegiance. I recall reading somewhere that Mussolini was not especially interested in purging or persecuting Italy’s Jews qua Jews, but went along with his alliance with Hitler.

    For all three of the above I’m talking in terms of a few degrees hotter or colder in a blazing furnace, of course. This doesn’t excuse those Marxists who were culpable in actual crimes, even in pursuit of so utopian an ideal, but it does mean that non-complicit people who express admiration for the Marxist ideal (Che T-shirts, Phillip Adams’ Mao cap, Manning Clark’s reputed Order of Lenin, etc) are committing a less reprehensible thought-crime than those who admire the Nazi ideal, from which the crimes are not separable, even in theory.

  26. “… socialist analysis was fundamentally flawed by the false perception that free markets were the cause of suffering and disadvantage.”

    I would be interested to know when free markets have ever demonstrated their capacity to obviate suffering and disadvantage.

    British domination of international trade in the nineteenth century stimulated ferocious tariff retaliation from the United States and Germany. These statist, anti-market policies enabled rapid economic development.

    Financial markets suffered periodic panics and collapses until states stepped in to regulate and to underwrite them in the years before the Great War and especially in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

    The British had no means to force Americans and Germans to act “rationally.”

    Financiers and mums and dads with bank accounts could agree that it might be a good idea for their imprudence to be underwritten by the tax payer.

    In view of the perception that free markets favour only the advantaged minority it seems that statist interventions will persist, waxing and waning according to circumstance.

    So free market fundamentalists will never face the crisis of communists — the humiliation of witnessing their utopia crash and burn.

  27. Tom, the story of Manning Clark’s reputed Order of Lenin was pretty much debunked within days of its being aired in the Courier-Mail. Amongst others, Robert Manne did an excellent job on this furphy in a Quadrant article which was later published in his collection “The Way We Live Now”. Manne also made the point that, in order to have earned the Order of Lenin, Clark would have had to have knowingly and wilfully done far more serious service to the Soviet State than simply “express[ing] admiration for the Marxist ideal”.

    Based on my reading of Clark’s History of Australia (the one-volume version) and of Manne’s summary of Clark’s Meeting Soviet Man, I have concluded with confidence that Clark was never a member of the Communist Party of Australia, and that his acquaintance with Marxism went little further than admiration of the ideal and did not extend to a serious grasp of historical materialist methodology. The CPA of 1958 would never have allowed any of its members to write a book like Meeting Soviet Man on an issue as central to the party’s mission and identity as the nature of Soviet Communism was to the CPA at that time. And a comparison of Clark’s History with the major works of Marxist historians like E. P. Thompson, Perry Anderson and Eric Henderson will bear out the latter point.

  28. Paul, I did say “reputed” — would “alleged and debunked” do? I think you’re correct. In one 1977 piece I remember reading (a chapter in Change the Rules! ed Sol Encel et al), Manning Clark attacked the Soviet Union for its “spiritual popery and gray conformity”. That would seem to make it unlikely he’d take pride in wearing in an Order of Lenin or any other award conferred by the then USSR govt, even if he admired Lenin personally — the combination is common among many Trotskyites and other anti-Stalinists on the Left. My main point still holds. Had — say — Geoffrey Blainey been accused of wearing a swastika badge, it would have attracted much more controversy.

  29. “spiritual popery and gray conformityâ€? – a nice turn of phrase, Tom, as one would expect from Clark.

    The ‘Order of Lenin’ thing was an absolute disgrace to Australian journalism IMO. Paul is right that Manne’s treatment of it is good. Humphrey McQueen also wrote a quickie book defending his mentor, but I can’t remember the title off hand. Anyone know?

  30. Both communism and fascism used totatlitarian means – particular the use of the all powerful one-party state. Both communism and fascism inherently produce dystopias because they rely on totalitarian means subjugate the individual and engage in systemic conflict.
    But fascism differs from communism in being intrinsicly, rather than incidentally, wicked to certain persons because of who they are – not what they do.
    Fascism glorifies in totalitarianism, individual subjugation & militarism as good in themselves.
    Communism merely tolerated totalitarian methods as machiavellian tactics on the road to a liberal and egalitarian society of universal brotherhood.
    Fascism is the totalitarian version of communitarian nationalism and tended to worship the (reproductive) folk race. It was romantic, racist and aimed at creating antipathy.
    Communism is the totalitarian version of egalitarian socialism and tended to worship the working (productive) class. It was rationalistic, humanitarian and aimed at extending sympathy.

    But communist, more so than fascists, pursued humanitarian ends.

    Both produced dystopias but for different reasons. Marxism’s fatal flaw was precisely its utopianism, based on a literal implementation of its Enlightenment values of equality and rationality. It took little account of the nature of human beings, and did not have a functional and elaborate moral sense.

    There have been plenty of repentant communists who became apostates once the abuses of communist power became apparent.
    But the notion of a repentant fascist is inherently absurd.

  31. Tom Round (post 30) mentions Mussolini’s more benign treatment of Jews. Not only did El Duce resist Hitler’s pressure to impose anti-Jewish laws, when these laws were eventually enacted, they were enforced feebly. Only when Nazi Germany ran the Italian Government directly, prior to the Allied Invasion, were Italian Jews arrested and carted off to death camps in large numbers. (This happened, as John Cornwell has shown, with the clear knowledge of, and against no protests from, the Vatican.)

    But noting that Fascism, just like Communism, was subject to national cultural influences in its implementation does nothing to mitigate the evil at its heart.

  32. Jack, your latest comment assumes that egalitarian socialism is a desirable end, worth pursuing. I would argue that that is not necessarily correct.

  33. Just to pre-emptively clarify one possible misinterp of what I’m arguing:

    I’m not taking the full-on Hayekian view that a govt can punish people for any conduct at all that it dislikes, as long as it’s voluntary conduct and the govt gives clear warning in its laws. Obviously a govt that legislated — say — “No one shall refuse to eat 1 kilo of bacon per day” would be acting unjustly, even though one could say that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists (?), Sikhs, and vegetarians/ vegans who refused to obey would be “choosing” to face the penalty (“you can be as Muslim as you like, but you still must eat your daily bacon ration”), and even if the govt put forward a wholly secular rationale for the law (“we’re concerned about low iron levels in the populace, and we need to support our pig farmers”). I expect no debate that this law would be unjust. However, less blatant cases of laws that offer us a choice — “If you choose to engage in conduct X, you impliedly consent to punishment X” — are more open to debate.

    There is no debate, however, any more in Western democracies that subjecting people to criminal punishments (or treatments that are indistinguishable in practice — prison, forced labour, execution) for traits over which they have no control, is absolutely wrong.

    (Yes, people can be still legally disadvantaged because involuntary traits — confined because you’re psychotic, for example, or denied a driver’s licence if you’re liable to epileptic fits — but these have to meet a very strict test of individualised necessity: Are you in fact psychotic, and dangerously enough psychotic to justify confinement? And we now try as a society to differentiate these treatments from punishment as much as possible).

    So, like I said, the Marxist ideal — that every single human being, even Scrooge in his spats and top-hat, can be a full citizen of the Workers’ World Republic if they agree to renounce their propertarian grasping — in principle, excludes no one, unlike the Nazi “ideal”. On the other hand, many would argue that private property, acquisition, competitiveness, and other “capitalist” desires are so deeply engrained in human nature, that any govt that thinks it can legislate them away will have to resort to ever harsher measures, and that in practice these may come full circle to resemble the “ethnic cleansing” sought from the outset by the Nazis, especially if certain ethnic groups are viewed as especially reactionary in their resistance, or as a fifth column for the counter-revolutionary enemies (Ukrainian Kulaks, Cambodian Hmong, Mesquite Indians, and you could go back to include the Vendéens in that list).

  34. Re post 40: In the very early days of Nazism, many Jewish Germans, including WWI veterans, were quite nationalistic and conservative and who would have been happy to serve Hitler just as they’d served the Kaiser. (Germany had previously been one of the most liberal European nations in assimilating Jews). For example, the chemist Ernst Haber had helped Germany develop poison gas as a weapon in WWI. However, their political sentiments didn’t redeem their ethnic “impurity” in the eyes of the Nazis, and Haber et al were exiled or locked up. A “fascist” regime in the strict sense, like Mussolini’s or Franco’s, would probably have turned a blind eye to their racial origins as long as they were willing to serve the state unquestioningly.

    Re post 38: “But the notion of a repentant fascist is inherently absurd” — What about David “I Was A Teenage Fascist” Greason?

  35. For Ray, comment 17, on the limited recognition of Soviet attrocities including the suppression of the Baltic states, compared with the universal condemnation of the Holocaust.
    The Cinema of Witness: Extract: A victorious army marched into the Nazi death camps and exposed them to the eyes of the world. No such merciless exposure was ever visited on the numberless camps in the Gulag Archipelago (which, after all, belonged to our World War II ally) and for this reason the ‘peculiar institutions’ of the Soviet penal system have always had a more nebulous existence in the Western mind.

  36. John Quiggin says, “The problem here, Rafe, is that while communism has failed, social democracy and socialism have not, at least in the senses you mention. There is more poverty (people below an absolute poverty line) in the US than in any of the European social democracies. So, perhaps some rethinking is needed on the free-market side of the debate.”

    I don’t buy that for a minute. The U.S. definition of “poverty” comes close to Europe’s definition of “middle-class”. “Poverty” in the U.S. can mean owning a car, owning a house, having a job, going to higher education, always having a full belly, clothes on your back, etc. “Poverty” is pretty nice here in America compared to the rest of the world.

    And I suggest you look at where the highest level of poverty stricken areas of the U.S. are. They’re in the major Democrat controlled metropolitan areas. Socialism and redistribution is the source of the strife (among other things), not the free-market.

    You’re an “economist”? *shakes head*

  37. John Quiggin says, “The problem here, Rafe, is that while communism has failed, social democracy and socialism have not, at least in the senses you mention. There is more poverty (people below an absolute poverty line) in the US than in any of the European social democracies. So, perhaps some rethinking is needed on the free-market side of the debate.”

    I don’t buy that for a minute. The U.S. definition of “poverty” comes close to Europe’s definition of “middle-class”. “Poverty” in the U.S. can mean owning a car, owning a house, having a job, going to higher education, always having a full belly, clothes on your back, etc. “Poverty” is pretty nice here in America compared to the rest of the world.

    And I suggest you look at where the highest level of poverty stricken areas of the U.S. are. They’re in the major Democrat controlled metropolitan areas. Socialism and redistribution is the source of the strife (among other things), not the free-market.

    You’re an “economist”? *shakes head*

  38. likwidshoe, these points have been examined at length here and elsewhere, and to put it as simply as possible, you’re wrong. The poorest part of the US is Mississippi, and being poor in Mississippi (or anywhere in the US) is a lot worse than being middle-class in Europe. To check your facts, start here and work back.

  39. What is more, likwidshoe, we don’t learn much from correlations between poverty stricken areas and more or less left wing approaches (comparatively – none count as left wing to European viewpoints).

    First, the direction of causality might be the other way around, with more “socialism” stemming from more problems.

    Second, there are spillovers, so right wing approaches might well cause across the board suffering with local gains, so comparisons don’t bring out anything about the across the board harm (or lack of it). But we do know that the mobile poor head for states with better support for them, and move away from states that make local gains from downsizing.

    For what it’s worth, my personal opinion is that social democratic policies also cause harm, rather more than “right wing” ones, but that the right wing ones are themselves crawling with market imperfections that cause harm. We ought to have genuine free enterprise, without the institutions that divert gains to those on the commanding heights. Privatisation etc. disputes aren’t about letting individuals back but about who shall act in their name – and benefit from it.

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