Life in a Socialist Future (updated)

I’ll be talking at the Ngara Institute’s Politics in the Pub event in Mullumbimby tonight. Unfortunately, their website appears to be offline today, but I’ll link if it comes up.

The talk won’t be quite as utopian as the title might suggest, but it will be a  “light on the hill” vision rather than short-term politics . I’m trying to think about how life might look 30 years from now, if Australian society returns to the progressive path we seemed to be following from the 1940s until the defeat of the Whitlam government.

For those readers unable to make it to northern NSW on short notice, there should be a YouTube of the event later and I am working on some articles that I hope will clarify my optimistic vision of a possible future.


Updated: Here’s video from the Facebook livestream.

13 thoughts on “Life in a Socialist Future (updated)

  1. the progressive path we seemed to be following from the 1940s until the defeat of the Whitlam government.

    The left wingers of the time didn’t think there was much progressive about Menzies’ Australia. (Reds under the beds, women being forced to resign their jobs when they got married, extensive censorship, Vietnam, Protestant v Catholic sectarianism everywhere, Aboriginals and TSI people treated like farm animals, mentally ill people locked up for life as a matter of course, gay people jailed, the only available abortions being the backyard variety…)

  2. What would I like to see over the next 30 years?

    Electricity generation that does not add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Presumably transmission and distribution infrastructure would be publicly owned.

    Transport should be electrified. This is simple for road and rail and will prevent thousands of excess deaths a year from pollution. (Thousands as in more than two thousand.)

    I would like Australia to be carbon negative by this point. We should be drawing down at least a little of the CO2 we have emitted over the past couple hundred years.

    Some sort of guaranteed minimum income would be good. This could be a Universal Basic Income but doesn’t have to be to get pretty much all the benefits. There could be a job guarantee as well, but just a job guarantee by itself is not enough.

    At the very least can we reduce the number of jobs people on unemployment benefits have to apply for? It’s bad for the unemployed and it’s bad for business. It’s a waste of resources to have to constantly throw out resumes. Wait a minute — is the government trying to force companies to hire someone to shovel resumes into the rubbish?

    I want infectious disease massively reduced worldwide and absolute poverty eliminated. I want Australia to have significantly contributed to achieving this.

    I want would peace. If Australia could hold back from actively working against this it would be nice.

    I’d like a pony.

    An end to — at a minimum — overt racism, sexism, and cruelty in general.

    An end to supernatural influence on policy. But at the same time, if people want to hold private beliefs in the supernatural they should be free to do so. But acting on supernatural beliefs in a way that hurts, kills, or otherwise appreciably harms people should definitely be discouraged and hopefully will be much reduced in 30 years time.

  3. Life in a socialist future? You mean the type of ideal society that would result if left-wing intellectuals and trade unionists ran our lives? I hope you don’t think this. We need the market economy and we need to address externalities such as climate change and a few distributional issues – perhaps indigenous inequality. Beyond this it has always proven difficult. Do we need to regulate second-hand car dealings and food shops. In WA last week a couple were heavily fined for selling cars from their backyard and restaurants have been driven out of business because rats were found in a kitchen area. Yet I don’y want the restaurant industry tightly regulated. The mad right is quite small – perhaps the Catallaxy crew – they see unbridled markets as desirable everywhere. The crazy left don’t want markets at all and I think this group is down to the individuals you could count on one hand. I think an intermediate group of almost-as-bad extremists see the public/private sector choice as a simple one. I don’t think it is. When do we put up with significant market distortions to gain more significant efficiencies? How much inequality is appropriate? The resolution of these issues revolves thinking about freedom and encouraging initiative as opposed to seeking perfecton through orchestration. These are issues of social values as well as hard-nosed questions about economic efficiency.

  4. Harryrclarke, fortunately, John has already described it so there’s no need to guess:

    “As a socialist, I support a mixed economy in which both public and private ownership play important roles. The evidence of the past century shows, in my view, that most large-scale infrastructure should be publicly owned, and operate on a statutory authority model, accountable to the public through governments, but with politicians kept at arms length from day-to-day decisions. On the other hand, small business should be left to private ownership. That leaves a large share of the economy to balance between large for-profit corporations and public enterprise. The design of a mixed economy involves getting that balance right.”

    And this is probably important:

    “If there is one policy that clearly distinguishes socialists from their (or rather our) opponents, it is support for public enterprise as a way of organizing large-scale production, and, in particular, as the preferred model for industries characterized by natural monopoly or other major market failures. The opposite view, dominant since the 1970s, is the market liberal framework that favors comprehensive private ownership, with “light-handed” regulation as the response to market “imperfections”.”

  5. Fair enough Ronald but his is only talking about ownership not regulatory effort. The last sentence n the quote you give is the essence of my point – getting the balance right. Its not an all-or-nothing privatisation/public-ownership issue but a regulatory issue. And a difficult one.

  6. Allow me to be an idealistic dreamer for a moment. I hope people can live more like we did for 99% of our evolution. We need to bring back what has been lost as the basic framework for life ,whilst using modern tools and techniques to augment that -not to replace it with wholesale . For example – antibiotics are good, no-trust social isolation is bad. For the foreseeable future we are stuck with this biology and psychology ,ignore it at your peril. Homoeconomicus is sick. There ,you asked for it !

  7. Thanks, sunshine. You reminded me of something else I want. Australia should be actively working to reduce antibiotics resistance. It’s just another externality we’re not properly dealing with. Of course, it will be tricky to do in some cases.

  8. Let the no nonsense sunshine in.

    “I believe that these corrosive moral claims derive from a fundamentally flawed understanding of how market capitalism works, grounded in the dubious assumption that human beings are “homo economicus”:  perfectly selfish, perfectly rational, and relentlessly self-maximizing. It is this behavioral model upon which all the other models of orthodox economics are built. And it is nonsense.”

    Dont worry sunshine, Michalia has it covered in Plan O; ” “The 2030 Plan has already greatly informed the Government’s investment decisions and will continue to do so.”

    But! We have dropped ‘innovation’. I can hardly believe I just wrote ‘dropped innivation’. How much do they hate MT? So much they removed a word making Orwell unproud.

    “”Following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet shuffle, engineer MP Karen Andrews was appointed Minister of Industry, Science and Technology. Notably missing from the refashioned ministry title is the word ‘innovation’ which was retired alongside Malcolm Turnbull’s party leadership. Minister Andrews explained, “It’s not about abandoning innovation. It’s about further defining it”.”

    Minister for Orwllian Innovation Karen Andrews. ” In an interview with Sky News, Andrews declared that coal would play a major role in Australia’s energy mix in the future.[5]
    According the Parliament’s registers of financial interests, she has 9 investment properties.[6]”

  9. The crazy left don’t want markets at all and I think this group is down to the individuals you could count on one hand.

    You can’t get markets. Full and free competition drives the clearance price below the cost price; if you want a sector to generate profit:
    + it can only be a result of rent opportunities
    + the fall in transport and communication costs means that there aren’t really any significant naturally-occurring rent opportunities left
    + artificially creating rent opportunities means that the distribution of rent/profit/”market” is a result of explicit government action

    There’s no large-scale independent private sector left, no potential for any in future: either the government runs everything, the government tells the private sector what to do and guarantees the “owners” risk-free profits, or the economy collapses. Three choices, and “market economy” isn’t one of them.

  10. Collin Street: a competitive market can temporarily drive prices below those that assure a minimum return in capital. The capitalists making the biggest losses exit the market. Those still in stop investing. With lower production, glut turns to shortage, prices rise again, and profit returns. Investment rises and more capitalists return to the sector. Production rises , glut returns, and profits fall. Rinse and repeat. This process is called the trade cycle, and was pretty well understood 200 years ago. Look it up.

  11. With lower production, glut turns to shortage, prices rise again, and profit returns.

    This is rent. Specifically it arises out of finite transport costs; globally, there’s never a shortage of suppliers, it’s just a matter of them not being where they’re needed and the actual local market only having a finite number of players. Lower production -> fewer suppliers -> barrier to entry -> rent. Actual competition means unprofitability, as your model itself states explicitly.

    But in the modern world transport costs are so low that the rent from avoiding them isn’t enough to kick your business into profit: even at the bottom of the business cycle there are still too many potential suppliers.

    [also, looted money can’t be kept as cash; it needs to be “invested”, even if the rates of return are as low as -90% or lower. And there’s enough people looting enough money from governments and quasi-government firms that there’s no shortage of capital to throw at loss-making businesses.]

    Nobody can make money unless there’s a barrier to entry, and with the collapse of transport costs and the widespread growth of education the only barrier possible is overt government regulation.

    Or we can go socialist.

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