Beyond Capitalism


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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142 Responses

  1. Avatar jfxgillis says:


    Here’s what blows my mind. Marx was obviously right about Capitalism back when he first wrote about it. Pretty much everything he predicted would happen, did happen, with the sole exception (as John Gray pointed out in the other link) that it didn’t die.

    The reason, of course, is that the Western liberal democracies adapted Capitalism, mostly through Social Democracy, to make it so Marx was no longer right about those things.

    And after all that, the Galtian overlords and their silly high-profile spokespersons like Ron Paul want to GO BACK to exactly when we already know Marx was right the first time 140 years ago. Let’s do Hurricanes like we did in 1904. Let’s go back to Lochner says George Will.

    It’s amazing when you think about it. Do these people think Social Democrats put boundaries on Capital just because, you know, it was fun?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to jfxgillis says:

      It seems to me that there’s an important distinction that’s lost between government as a means to stabilize and push equality and government as a force to command and centrally plan economies. The social democracies of Europe are hardly centrally planned, and rank higher on economic freedom than the US, but they stabilize markets with strong social programs. This is very different from, say, the USSR…Report

      • Avatar jfxgillis in reply to E.D. Kain says:


        You don’t have to make that argument to me.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        This is a bad month to beat the Europe drum, EDK. Their system[s] are but a half-century old, and the fit is hitting the shan.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Two very different issues, Tom.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Yes, I know, Erik, but it’s not self-evident that modern Europe works even as you have limned it. As Chou en-Lai apocryphally said of the French Revolution, it’s too soon to tell.Report

            • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              This seems right only if you define “modern Europe” as “the EU.”

              I’m not claiming this definition is wrong, but I do think there’s an argument to be made that much of Europe is working rather well if you separate the effects of the entire Eurozone being handcuffed to the mistakes of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. (Yes, I realize there’s an obvious “other than that, how’d you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln” rejoinder here, too.)Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DarrenG says:

                Yes, what DarrenG said is what I was driving at.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Maybe America would be as good as the EU, if we could get rid of Greece, Portugal, and the Irish.


                We willing to pay that price?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                If Greece, Portugal, or the Irish stand for Texas, then I’m damn willing.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to DarrenG says:

                Darren, we’re tempted to think of ourselves with the top dogs like Germany. But America is also Greece and Ireland, if not more so.

                I simply think the jury’s still out on the Eurostate, even the seemingly successful ones. The OP notes that the US’ two biggest employers are Wal-Mart and McDonalds. In the UK, it’s the NHS. Is that progress?Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                OK, this one I can disagree with without hedging or qualification.

                As far as social services go, the parallel with Greece or Ireland doesn’t hold except to the extent that they, like us, were asleep at the switch as the housing bubble burst.

                Erik also quite smartly pointed out Singapore as a good non-EU example, to help forestall the inevitable “but Greece is burning and Germany, Holland, and Switzerland are all more culturally homogeneous” objections.

                The analogy with Britain is also bad, as nobody has seriously proposed a British-style health care system since Nixon was in the White House. This is exactly the sort of argument I refer to below that ignores what the vast majority of the OECD is doing on social welfare in favor of attacking a socialist bogeyman. Your specific comparison is also apples-to-oranges as Walmart and McD’s are the largest *private* employers in the U.S. — comparing all employers in both countries would pit the British NHS against our DoD for largest total employer.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to DarrenG says:

                Darren, I’ll buy the NHS/DoD counterargument. The rest not so much. The Eurostate is not a proven model, it’s just a model. We shall see.

                Island Singapore is rather a one-off, and its suitability as a model for elsewhere is questionable. As for “ethnic homogeneity” arguments, I see them generally more as social arguments, the understanding that as a nation-ethnicity, there’s a sense of obligation to each other that Americans may not share in the same way. I would expect communitarian social/gov’t arrangements to have a shot to be more successful in such milieus.

                As for Germany itself, I don’t want to generalize past the point, but they have had a history of being good at following orders, another plus for any communitarian state.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Going back to my original response in this chain, the social welfare regimes in Europe mostly predate the EU by a significant margin, so it’s not difficult to control for any EU-imposed changes.

                And while it’s not hard to pick out significant differences between any given OECD nation and the U.S., or claim that a country like Singapore is a “one-off” (it’s not as far as health care and education go, really), what’s much harder to ignore is that we’re the only remaining OECD nation that hasn’t figured out how to provide universal health care, and we’re consistently underachieving on education against a long list of nations with a much stronger public sector presence in their education system. Not to mention Erik’s laundry list of other quality-of-life issues on which we trail like maternity/paternity leave, child care, elder care, etc.Report

              • DG, I’m not big on the US being graded by Eurostatists and their standards, since we ain’t one. There is principled disagreement with how they do their “studies” and ratings of our failings. And though we fall far behind on paternity leave, I believe our record on the elderly is damned good. Better you get cancer here.

                Neither am I convinced the Eurostate is sustainable. My figure of a half-century is not based on the EU, but on things like the NHS nationalizing the entire healthcare system in 1948. Everything they nationalized is now obsolete or broken down, and they will now have to keep starting from scratch.


              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                As someone with direct experience of elder care in both the U.S. and The Netherlands, I’ll respectfully disagree with you there, too, while recognizing that anecdotes aren’t data. Given that the available data matches very well with my anecdotal experience, though, I’m biased toward accepting it as truth.

                Over a long enough period of time nothing is sustainable, according to what current astrophysics has to say about the eventual fate of our solar system.

                Again, the BHS is a lousy basis for comparison since it’s not very similar to how most OECD nations organize their health care systems, nor is anyone seriously proposing we model ours after what the Brits did in 1948. All available data seems to indicate that most EU and OECD east Asian systems are much more sustainable than our current one is, though.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                All available data seems to indicate that most EU and OECD east Asian systems are much more sustainable than our current one is, though.

                ALL available data? Well, that settles that, Darren. EDK and EI sure found a good beard in you. Thank God this isn’t RedState or Fox Nation, where everybody’s unshakably convinced they’re right.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                “all the available data seems to indicate,” said he.

                “The words of a true ideologue,” said Tom.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Well, thank, you, Mr. Drew. I think.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Wow. That’s some pedantic nit-pickery there after an otherwise-decent discussion.

                I suppose for technical correctness I could, and should, have said something more like “the vast preponderance of the data.”

                Excuse me for my lack of academic rigor in this here Internet comments section.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                if we lumped together all of our health care, we’d have more people working for ours than the NHS does for England. Probably about double. After all, what the fuck do you say about 15% GDP and increasing?Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to DarrenG says:

                Darren, bless you for trying and doing so with such decency, but the tenet that Europe Is In Grave Decline has been unchallengeable and almost metaphysically valuable for the American far-right long before the current EU drama, and it will persist long after.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Elias Isquith says:


                Recognizing that, I was, and am, hoping for a more open-minded discussion about that here than on, say, RedState or Fox Nation.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                What does “open-minded” mean to you, that you remain hopeful for a more open-minded discussion here than one you’d find on RedState or at Fox Nation?

                If you feel that you have not yet had it, what would you feel would be evidence of one?

                More people agreeing with you?Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jaybird says:

                I do think this thread is considerably more open-minded than I’d likely get at those other two venues. That’s why I chose to engage here rather than there.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think the conversation is as open-minded here as it’s like to be anywhere. It’s also about as civil as you’re like to see outside of an echo chamber.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Methinks you don’t quite get Jaybird’s ironic/sardonic point yet, Darren. You’re the new beard.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, I’m new around here and freely admit ignorance as to that accusation.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to DarrenG says:

                ain’t nobody talking about Iceland anymore. London doomed the Eurozone, moreso than Ireland greece or anywhere else. Then again, Spain was already ready to explode, and has been for centuries.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to jfxgillis says:

      What Marx was right about is worth another look. Like all theorists, his Rx-es were as bad as most anyone else’s [in his case worse than almost all], but that should not be held against the validity of his diagnoses.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to jfxgillis says:

      yarly. Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, they read their Marx. And they were smart enough not to piss everyone off. they knew when to bend.Report

  2. Avatar rj says:

    I just wish that libertarians would stop with this “barrel of a gun” business. The fact that the United States does not have an exit visa requirement is not a small point. The smug “if you don’t like it, go to Somalia” rejoinder may be a little … smug, but there is something behind it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to rj says:

      Can we tell people “if you want to live in a country with Socialized Medicine, move to England”?

      Or is that so completely different that it demonstrates how shallow our thinking is?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

        Seriously. The left has an entire continent devoted to their ideology. Why do they have to ruin this one, too?Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          the right ruins more places than the left does. Then again, America’s strength has always been science. This century, that means Brain Drain. Which shows signs of stopping… Not the least cause of which is the republicans deliberate defunding of science for political reasons (everything from herpes research, to climatology, to engineering).Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        If you want to live in a country devoted entirely to the welfare of the top 1%, move the Galt’s Gulch. And if the old hag in charge wants to sleep with you, reflect on all the economic freedom you gain for that price.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

        Can we tell people “if you want to live in a country with Socialized Medicine, move to England”?

        Right now, what else can anyone tell those people? That is what they are being told.Report

      • Avatar Jib in reply to Jaybird says:

        No, we can also tell them to move to France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Japan, Canada, Australia…. just about any industrialized nation in the world. As a person who is trying hard to get my (literally) mom and pop biz off the ground, I can tell you flat out, our health care system is the worst in the world. Not because of the treatment (which is good to great) but because of how we fund it. We pay twice as much as a % of GDP as any other country for the same coverage and even worse, biz has to do it. It is very expensive and time consuming to do it. It is infuriating that I have to spend so much of my thin capital (both time and money) on something that I only have buy here in the good old USA. Health care cost may not matter too much to the big boys but it is a huge tax on small biz, you know the people who are suppose to create all the new jobs. It is a huge penalty paid only if you are a start-up in the USA.

        No, going without health care is not an option for me or my family.

        And yes, I will take the higher taxes because taxes are only paid on profit and right now, making profit and having to pay taxes on it is a good problem to have.

        Moving myself and my biz to Canada is plan D. I have several things I want to try before I go that route but if health care cost keep rising and it becomes the difference between making it or not making it, I am out of here.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Jib says:

          know a lot of smallbusinessmen. They’re all in the same boat as you are. ‘Course, so is GM and Big Auto — they pay more than the rest of the world in health care, and they ain’t happy about the decreased competitiveness.
          Hope this health reform thingummy helps! (at least it will get a chance… Thelma and Louise are retired.)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Unfortunately, immigrating to England is tough. Immigrating to Somalia is a matter of getting on a boat and avoiding pirates, or becoming one.Report

  3. Avatar DarrenG says:

    Sadly, I think you’re making the mistake I usually make myself when discussing social and economic policy online: You assume utilitarianism as a common frame for the debate. The 2011 model-year libertarians and conservatives rarely agree with this assumed framing, and insist on theory and dogma over pragmatism and empiricism.

    Pointing out that many European and Asian countries manage to have a higher degree of economic and personal freedom than we do while simultaneously providing universal health care and a strong public education system just doesn’t parse; America is the one and only Home Of The Free, and everywhere else is either a tyranny or socialist race-to-the-bottom hellhole, facts be damned.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DarrenG says:

      @DarrenG – pragmatism looms very large in my thinking lately, I admit. Ideology, theory – these are deeply alluring, but also fundamentally flawed on their own. Ideology is inevitably tempered by political realities; theory watered down by pragmatism. So it goes.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to DarrenG says:

      “Sadly, I think you’re making the mistake I usually make myself when discussing social and economic policy online: You assume utilitarianism as a common frame for the debate. The 2011 model-year libertarians and conservatives rarely agree with this assumed framing, and insist on theory and dogma over pragmatism and empiricism.”

      Much of the debate is centered on what works best, and what is more pragmatically beneficial — government spending on stimulus or reducing taxes, government central planning and regulations so that the private market can function. To frame the latter as rigid ideology while praising the former as ultilitarian and pragmatic is political spin. I wish the Republicans were more steeped in theory and ideology, but the candidates are basically making utilitarian and pragmatic arguments — they just happen to disagree on what works best. Republicans will quickly ignore libertarian theory in favor of pragmatic tweaking — Romney just wrote a 160 pages of basically utilitarian tweaks. Ron Paul is probaly the only candidate true to an ideology.Report

      • Avatar DarrenG in reply to MFarmer says:

        Except that’s largely *not* the debate we’re having in this country.

        When you have large, influential factions that refuse to engage with facts and figures and reduce every policy debate down to just a few immutable dogmatic principles you’ve left the realm of pragmatism.

        When Republicans enter any discussion of economic policy with the idea that all taxes must go perpetually down and military spending must go perpetually up you’re not arguing a different utility function, you’re arguing religious dogma.Report

  4. Avatar Dexter says:

    Can I tell people “I think we live in a country that is supposed to be ruled by the majority of the people and I think it would be better to have a medical system similiar to Germany’s and am doing everything possible to talk enough people into it to have that become law, and if you don’t like that, you can move or stay”.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dexter says:

      You can tell people whatever you want, dude.

      If you are unwilling to hear answers such as “and I’m trying to talk them out of it because the cost of being like Germany includes such things as being like Germany”, you don’t get to feign surprise when the bill comes due.

      Ah, I’m just kidding. You should feel free to feign surprise. Blame the bill on the libertarians!Report

      • Avatar Dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

        Since the first site I went to about gdp percentage of medical outlays said that Germany spends four percent less than the US, I would like to see that bill. That site also said that Germans live longer and have almost half the infant mortality rate of the US has. If I saw what I construed as a problem and the libertarians were in charge I would blame them, but since I believe the corps are in charge I blame most of America’s problems on them. Also, it would scare the hell out of me if everbody agreed with me about anything. I would think I had died and gone to hell. The thought of living in a world of perpetual yes sir sounds so boring.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dexter says:

          What are the demographics of Germany?

          Or do you see that as completely unrelated to Germany’s culture?Report

          • Avatar Dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

            Jaybird, I give up. You are right. America is either too greedy or too racist to fix the health care problems in this country. As far as blaming the republicans, I would if I thought they were in control, but I think they work for the corps, so I blame their overlords for the problems.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dexter says:

              How do you suggest the US change its culture?

              Sufficient will?Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jaybird says:

                How much of the difference in health care cost between us, Germany, Singapore, and say, Australia do you think is explainable by differences in culture?

                Are there one or more aspects of American culture that make universal health care here practically impossible? Which one(s)?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                I think it’s due primarily to differences in the homogeneity of culture.

                So it’s not that German Culture is very much like Singaporean Culture… except that German Culture and Singaporean Culture are both very, very homogenous (as compared to, say, the US).Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jaybird says:

                How do you figure Singapore is more analogous to Germany than the U.S. as far as homogeneity?

                Singapore is quite ethnically and economically diverse, with a high percentage of immigrants and first- or second-generation descendants of immigrants.

                That’s also why I brought up Australia. There are plenty of countries with ethnically and culturally diverse populations that have managed to implement health care systems that look a lot more like Germany’s or Norway’s than ours.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                According to the wikipedia, Singapore is 74% Ethnic Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian, and 3% “other”.

                According to the same, Germany is 81% German with no immigrant background, 10% German with immigrant background, and 8% “Foreigners”.

                The US has 63% “White” (which is more of a color than a cultural demographic), 12.5% “Black or African-American” (which is more of a color than a cultural demographic), 9% “White Hispanic and Latino American” (which is kind of a cultural demographic), 5% Asian (which, I’ve had some explain to me, says *NOTHING* about culture), and so on.

                Is there reason to believe that the 74% Ethnic Chinese in Singapore is as culturally diverse as “White” is in the US given Singapore’s population of five million and size and density (Just under 19k per square mile)?

                Germany might be a bit easier, given that it’s 80 million in a *LOT* more space (just under 600 per square mile).

                The US has 312 million… and an average of just over 87 per square mile. 87.4.

                To be honest, I think that India or China (or the entire EU) would make better comparisons to the US for diversity than Singapore or Germany.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to DarrenG says:

                Those numbers are for Singaporean citizens, which is about 80% of the population, and doesn’t include the millions of non-citizen guest workers, students, etc.

                And yes, I think there is a lot of cultural diversity among the Singaporean population, much more than Germany (if perhaps not as much as the U.S.).

                I also think population density isn’t a very good proxy for cultural homogeneity in a world where mass communications media are the norm.

                And again I’d nominate Australia as another fairly heterogeneous country. Unless you want to define “heterogeneous” as “looks exactly like the U.S. in every respect” I don’t think it’s terribly hard to find a number of heterogeneous nations with social welfare systems that look a lot more like Germany’s than the U.S.’s.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                So Singapore has closer to 6.25 million instead of 5 million?

                You’ll forgive me if I see the 1.25 million folks as something that the US would consider a rounding error. (Seriously: That’s about two fifths of a percent of the US population… which is a number that also does not count non-citizen guest workers, students, etc.)Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                having met people from Germany, I’m certain you’re exaggerating. A LOT. 20% of German population is immigrants.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                Yes, yes. BlaiseP argued that Denmark was much more multicultural than the US as well.


              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Kim says:

                Look, the whole homogeneity debate is silly. We won’t have the *exact same system* as any European country, no matter what. I suspect it will be due to our political system more than to our homogeneity or lack thereof. It will also be because we have large rural populations, a different geography, etc. Many, many factors apply here. None of them mean that we can’t implement something like single-payer insurance, however. There is no direct line between racial diversity and the inability to implement universal healthcare. Of course it makes it harder to do *politically* but that says very little about whether it’s possible practically.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                I’m not talking about race per se… though I am using race as a proxy for culture.

                Culture is what I’m talking about here.

                Cultural homogeneity is very, very important when it comes to the success of a society-wide policy that will prove to be very, very expensive.

                We don’t have it.

                I see it as a prerequisite for success.

                Personally, I’d like it if folks could explain to me why it’s nowhere near as much of an issue as I seem to think it is but I understand that that is, in effect, asking people to cater to me. Which ain’t cool.

                But if people find themselves with free time…Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

                Two things with a decent “universal health care”
                1) Preventative care instead of Emergency care. That’s a 10x savings for everything we catch, minimum. (more if a phone call prevents gangrene).
                2) Electronic Medical Records — this is permanent savings, in terms of space for paper (costly in a city) and manpower (eliminate the records department).
                3) Eliminating the large perc that’s spent on evaluating insurance, making sure that insurance will cover it, and chasing down insurance to make sure that they do cover it (“death by spreadsheet”)

                It’s not like we’re talking a “don’t steal system” where it’s in individual interest to take from the system, but in group interest to give to the system. We’re talking about a system where the cost-rewards are inherent.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kim says:

                Jay, the US does have a northern neighbor that is virtually identicle in terms of homogeneity.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                According to Wikipedia, Canada’s “Visible Minority” population is less than 15 percent.

                I’d say that that’s probably identical to the states it borders…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                Pardon me, I’m innumerate. 16.2%.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kim says:

                Canada is weird. The cities are diverse, sometimes exceptionally so (as in Vancouver). The vast wastelands of the interior? Not so much.

                Also, Hawaii was U.S. soil in 1941. Just thought I’d point that out.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                Hawaii didn’t become a State until 1959. It was just a territory.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kim says:

                “Hawaii didn’t become a State until 1959. It was just a territory.”

                pffft. Yeah, like Angelina Jolie is “just” a woman.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                I’ll be damned. Territories are considered “US Soil” for diplomatic purposes.

                THAT PUERTO RICAN LIED TO ME!!!

                I mean, I am mistaken. Huh.Report

              • Avatar Dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

                The same way that gays and lesbians are slowly but surely getting all the rights that straight people have, one mind at a time. Sure, it is a slow laborious process, but I do have the rest of my life to accomplish that feat.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dexter says:

                I think it’s much easier to get people to agree to “leave people alone” rights than it is to get them to agree to “take care of other people” rights when it comes to heterogeneous systems.

                I look forward to you attempting to prove me wrong and then blaming me for it not working.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird says:

                If only people would go along with the plan. Something will have to done about recalcitrance, because such a social plan will not work unless there’s a social contract with enough people in agreement to coerce the ones who disagree. Isn’t this basically how progressive advancement works?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                Also, this plan won’t work in our two party system and our separation of powers, because that would allow political or constitutional obstruction. We’ll need a sovereign with enough power to develope, implement and protect the plan.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                We’ll also need to restrict mobility, so that wealth creators don’t move wealth out of the sovereign’s reach. There will need to be some sort of punish and reward system to make sure that the most productive in society aren’t discouraged from producing, thus joining those who desire to “freelance” or become stay-at-home child-rearers.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to MFarmer says:

                The problem with this line of argument, Mike, is that we basically already have a very mixed economy and the parts where people are given things like food stamps or medical care are quite literally the least harmful parts of that system. In fact, you could easily keep or expand those parts, and still make leaps and bounds in the “leave people alone” department. I can never really understand why any libertarian even gives a shit about Social Security or Medicare or any of that while wars rage, prohibition and mass incarceration continue apace, and so forth. Priorities!Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                What you are proposing is not a difference in degree but a difference in kind. And, why can’t we be concerned about all of it? Who says we’re more concerned about SS than wars and foreign intervention? In your attempt to make libertarians look like social meanies, you aren’t making sense — you aren’t describing libertarians, but something you’ve manufactured.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to MFarmer says:

                Mike – how am I making libertarians look like meanies? I’m saying that I don’t think actual libertarianism is very likely, and that something else will masquerade as libertarianism, speak its language, take its shape, but have far worse consequences.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                “I’m saying that I don’t think actual libertarianism is very likely, and that something else will masquerade as libertarianism, speak its language, take its shape, but have far worse consequences.”

                Why do you say this? I could say that about liberalism or progressivism or conservatism or socialism, that none of them are possible, but I’d have to make a damn good case to make sense.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                or none are likely, to be true to what you said.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to MFarmer says:

                Mike Farmer – I say this because what you demand is more radical than what I demand. You want to abolish the welfare state entirely. That’s a much larger leap than my hodge-podge of deregulated markets + robust welfare state. I’m asking for a mixed economy to stay mixed but get more free on the one hand and more socialist on the other. You want a minarchist state. Your idea, I believe, is less pragmatic – which, by the way, says nothing of the merits of the ideas themselves. I respect your ideas, I just disagree with the feasibility of their implementation.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                The combination of socialism and free market is only a means to completely destroy free markets, so I would say that a free market sans socialism is far more pragmatic if the goal is across-the-board human flourishing. Regardless, we’re on the verge of a true Reagan Revolution – one without the moderating effect of Reagan. Reagan was one personality against a powerful State machine, and the machine won. It will take a wide and deep change in representation willing to truly limit government, and a public which finally realizes our answers don’t lie in government solutions — this appears to be materializing. I think the change among young people is unreported, and I can’t help but feel that the opinions of young thinkers here are not representative of young people in general. I might be wrong, but I don’t think so. Once the public’s imagination is challenged, and they begin thinking outside the State box, many great changes are possible. The welfare state is out of touch and insufficient to meet the needs of the 21st century.Report

              • Avatar Dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, I think you are right, it is easier to get people to leave people alone in a heterogeneous system, but just because I don’t think there is an utopia, it in no way negates my need to try and reach it. As far as blaming you, when did you get any power?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dexter says:

                Out of curiosity, do you believe that we should do more to keep people from moving into our country because they consider our country a utopia compared to the one that they come from?Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

            Adjusting for demographics is racist.Report

            • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              No, arguing that universal health care or health care cost control is impossible in a racially heterogeneous society despite all the available evidence to the contrary might be racist, though.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dexter says:

          We have been over these statistics many times.

          Are the longevity statistics corrected for deaths due to violence?

          And the babies of rich white Americans don’t die any more than the babies of rich white Germans, but there are a lot more poor blacks and poor hispanics in America than there are in Germany.Report

          • I’ve spent a bit of time trying to get clean infant mortality stats. The US calculates them differently [and we save a lot more preemies, iirc], so comparisons are difficult if not impossible. And yes, there are race/culture disparities in all our stats, too. Near as I can make it, a Japanese American woman has the same health outcomes as a Japanese national. This proves much, or nothing, depending on your epistemological or ideological stance.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Dexter says:

          When it comes to health care, Singapore is to Europe as Europe is to the US, at least as far as expenditures and life expectancy are concerned. So why is the left always talking about Europe instead of Singapore?Report

          • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Objection; assumes facts not in evidence.

            “The left” doesn’t much talk about anything with one voice. The alleged obsession with turning the U.S. into Europe is largely a fairy tale spun out of whole cloth by right-wing commentators.

            Nor is Europe a singular entity for comparison. Switzerland’s health care system is very different from Italy’s or Norway’s, and very, very different from Britain’s.

            Among actual left-leaning health care policy wonks, you’re just as likely to see comparisons with Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and a ton of other countries as any individual European nation.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

              Which of those countries has a system closest to the one given us by the PPACA?Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jaybird says:

                Not sure why it’s relevant, but probably Switzerland, not that the post-PPACA U.S. is going to look all that much like any other country.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                Was Switzerland one of the countries that people were agitating that we ought to be more like?

                I ask because that’s the country that our struggle ended up with us being more like.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

                Switzerland is pretty libertarian for Europe, but even they have universal healthcare.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                We should be pleased with what the PPACA got us then, right?Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jaybird says:

                Some people, yes, and mostly because it was the path of least resistance. The Swiss use for-profit insurers with no public insurance option, and they have an exchange for individual insurance vaguely similar to the default form envisioned under the PPACA.

                I’d have preferred a market-based system more similar to what the Dutch use myself, but the Swiss system isn’t too bad, and certainly isn’t the “big government takeover” demagogued by the right.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                I’m of the opinion that this was a major giveaway to the insurance companies and, as such, worse than even keeping the status quo would have been.

                The Republicans only oppose it because Obama put his name on it.

                Ironically, I suspect that that is why many of those who supported it supported it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to DarrenG says:

                I’m of the opinion that this was a major giveaway to the insurance companies and, as such, worse than even keeping the status quo would have been.

                So, in your book an end to rescission, the start of guarantee issue, medical loss ratios of 80% or higher, an end of the employer insurance loophole, an end to annual lifetime caps, etc., etc. is worse than the status quo because it’s a ‘giveaway’ to insurance companies?

                Jesu Christo.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                Oh, is that what the PPACA has given us?

                I’m surprised that we don’t have more people wondering if we’ve started the Millennium mentioned in Revelation.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to DarrenG says:

                yeah, we’re GOING to get all that. And YES it is a big fucking insurance giveaway. That was necessary to ensure that it wouldn’t go away before we actually got to start the experiment.
                And we’re going to TRY some payments for healthy patients, as opposed to fee-for-service (which leads to people getting excessive tests).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DarrenG says:

                That’s what we’re *GOING* to get, is it?

                The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

                I expect to hear stories about the wreckers who prevented us from getting those things rather than stories about those things, myself.

                I guess we both just have to wait.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to DarrenG says:

                we have all this set to implement in 2014, I believe. Assuming we don’t get a straight republican supermajority, it gets implemented. because the insurance companies are on its side.Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Brandon – I did mention Singapore in the post, actually.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

        People are already taking that tack with Obama. “PPACA passed but didn’t fix everything? ARRA passed but didn’t fix everything? It’s all those bastard Republicans’ fault!”Report

  5. Avatar MFarmer says:


    There are people to whom monetary calculation is repulsive. They do not want to be roused from their daydreams by the voice of critical reason. Reality sickens them, they long for the realm of unlimited opportunity. They are disgusted by the meanness of a social order in which everything is nicely reckoned in dollars and pennies. They call their grumbling the noble deportment worthy of the friends of the spirit, of beauty, and virtue as opposed to the ignoble baseness and villiany of Babbittry. However, the cult of beauty and virtue, wisdom and the search for truth are not hindered by the rationality of the calculating and computing mind. It is only romantic reverie that cannot survive in a milieu of sober criticism. The cool-headed reckoner is the stern chastiser of the ecstatic visionary.Report

  6. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    What you’re describing sounds an awful lot to me like the strawman that conservatives have in mind when they think they’re criticizing libertarianism. You’re free to use drugs, and if you can’t hold a job down because you keep showing up to work high, we’ll bail you out. You can have sex with whoever you want, and if you have a child you can’t afford, we’ll bail you out. If you contract HIV, we’ll bail you out. If you gamble away your mortgage payment or retirement savings, we’ll bail you out.

    Maximization of moral hazard just isn’t a good principle around which to organize a society.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Brandon – not at all. My opinion on the theory of libertarianism is quite positive, actually. My problem, and my description here, is how I see libertarianism playing out *in practice*.

      Furthermore, while I agree that maximization of moral hazard can be very bad, providing things like universal healthcare are hardly the ways I would worry about that happening.Report

  7. Avatar Charles says:

    “In the great democratic compromises that fashion society we make choices about what is best and most practical and most humane.”

    This is most emphatically *not* how the modern mixed economy and welfare state were fashioned, and that’s the issue with this line of thinking. It would be great if we could shape our public policies to a set of morals that moves beyond individualism or materialist egalitarianism (which are probably flip sides of the same coin.)

    Perhaps European countries, with their greater degree of cultural homogeneity, have a stronger set of common values (and more social trust) to build on, making such an enterprise possible. But America is a large, polyglot commercial republic — and the nature of our state reflects the fact that policy-making here is a nasty, selfish, incoherent, ad hoc business. Personally, I think a great deal of self-described conservatives and libertarians actually have no truck with the sort of heroic, secular, Randian individualism that appears to dominate the discourse of what can generally be called the “Right.”

    But the conseqeuences of failing to hold the line on individualism and limited government are not likely to be a “One Nation”/”Red Tory”/”Eisenhower” sort of thing, nor will it be an authentically Jeffersonian turn, characterized by empowering populist localism. These things would restore dignity and quality of life to people, but they are not likely to come to pass.

    What’s more likely to come to pass are petty, distributive log-rolls, that create further labyrithine bureaucracies, entrench the state as mechanism for picking winners and losers, and increase the burden that public functions place on private actors and institutions, while making no positive, coherent changes to our culture. When faced with this eventuality, doubling down on the myth-making of “rugged individualism” looks much more attractive.Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Haque asks: “How’s Marx doing on this score? You tell me. I’ll merely point out: America’s largest private employer is Walmart. America’s second largest employer is McDonald’s.”

    This is painfully sloppy thinking. The fact that they’re the largest employers doesn’t mean that they’re typical employers. In fact, they’re pretty obviously atypical by virtue of being the largest. That doesn’t necessarily mean that their jobs are atypical, but they are. In fact, Wal-Mart in particular, but also McDonald’s to some extent (“McJobs”) are considered by many on the left to be uniquely bad employers.

    Both are national chains with a business model built around extensive utilization of low-productivity labor. Naturally these jobs are going to be at the low end of the compensation spectrum.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Do you worry at all that we’re headed toward an hourglass economy – with the very rich on one side of the scale, and a large l0w-paid service sector on the other? This seems like a natural outcome, but not necessarily a great one.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        … natural? rofl. It’s a deliberate outcome, engineered by panicky stupid rich folks. Their scheme may not work, but… they’re trying.
        And I see no-paid service/industrial sector in our future, via prison labor.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Kim says:

          Don’t confuse outcomes with intent.

          Panicky stupid rich folks make bad engineers. Put another way: I’ve seen *nothing* to indicate that *anybody* has the Evil Overlord skills required to pull off such a scheme. People that run companies have a fishing hard time keeping them from flying off the rails, they’re certainly not competent enough to pull this stuff off intentionally.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            … yes, yes, the revolution is coming. and there will be fire and brimstone.
            … well, it came all the other times, right? (french revolution)

            (What do you need to be an evil overlord? The ability to blackmail people? The ability to hold captive luscious women? What am I forgetting that fits in your criteria, that the rich don’t already do?)Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        No, because I don’t think that that’s a valid interpretation of the fact pattern. I don’t think that McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are taking people who would otherwise be engineers or mechanics or accountants and forcing them into low-productivity jobs. This is the stuff of left-wing fairy tales.

        They’re taking people who otherwise would not be doing much of anything useful, because they lack marketable skills, because they’re retired, because they’re students who can only work part-time, and/or because they live in places where there just aren’t any better opportunities, and giving them something productive to do.

        These are underutilized segments of the labor market, as evidenced by their low rates of employment, and the fact that companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart have found ways to utilize them effectively is a very good thing for everyone involved. People who wouldn’t otherwise have jobs have them, consumers get lower prices, taxpayers get a break from supporting the unemployed, and shareholders profit. This is a success of capitalism, not a failure.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          got at least ten physicists in arizona working as burger pilots for McDonalds. These people could be more gainfully employed doing something better, I believe.
          The fact that there aren’t better jobs is kinda tautological.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One interesting thing about German Homogeneity:

    Germany split into West and East Germany. After a few decades of social experimentation, they decided that they very, very much wanted to be one country again.

    Let’s say that we split the US.

    How likely is it that the two countries want to join? (If we split it down the middle, does that change the answer from if we split it across the middle? Would separating Germany into North and South Germany have changed anything?)Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

      Now that’s an interesting thought experiment indeed, Jaybird. I can tell you from personal experience that a lot of people in the southeast are deeply wary, and a little bit scared, of California, and that a goodly number of Californians, in turn, are wary and a little bit scared of Texans. Good Americans all, but it’s wrong to say that we US Americans are completely geographically integrated.

      With that said, though, I think that while the vote would be closer than anyone might have imagined, yes, we would choose to re-integrate.Report

  10. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    A human being needs a suite of goods in order to live an acceptable life.

    We might quibble about what constitutes that suite — an adequate supply of wholesome and nutritious food, ready access to clean water, sanitation facilities, shelter and clothing appropriate to the climate, and freedom from crime seem like they would be the rock-bottom minimums. Some might include access to health care, political empowerment, literacy and/or education, transportation, and so on.

    Much of the economy is still centered around producing these goods and services, and delivering them to people. Modern technology has made it possible to overcome the production and logistical feats necessary to get these things to consumers with substantially less human labor than had been required in even the early and middle industrial eras.

    Because we need relatively fewer people to make and distribute more stuff, that frees up more people to engage in luxury activities. Like academia or the arts or finance or (some of) the learned professions.

    It is not difficult to imagine the curve cotninuing to bend, and more goods and services get out into the economy with even less labor involved in the future. If literally every man, woman, and child on Earth were able to obtain, with relatively low cost, the suite of goods and services necessary for a human to thrive, employing only (say) 1% of the total population of the planet, what would the other 99% of us do? Sculpt and blog all day long?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Right – this is kind of the point of my thinking in the last couple of posts. Is it possible that we will reach a point where we simply don’t need a bunch of labor since we’re able to produce most everything without it? And if so, are we better off just letting people go unemployed, or finding something else for them to do – even if it’s just menial stuff like “raising kids” or making art or whatever.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Careful, there, you’re dangerously close to that Heritage Foundation study on what percentage of US “poor” households have refrigerators, TVs, cars, phone/cable/internet service…Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Yes, I think those concepts are related. Heritage used a flawed study and suggested a conclusion even more flawed than that. But the concept (how poverty is defined has changed with the advance of technology and time) is worthy of consideration.

        For the record, I do not subscribe to the idea that “there are no poor people in the USA,” especially not if your evidence for that is a proliferation of refrigerators. Nor am I willing to subscribe to the idea that being poor does not suck all that much because there is an air-conditioning unit in the slummy apartment you rent, so as to keep your cockroach roomates cool in the summertime.

        But I am willing to consider the idea that what it means to be poor in 2011 in terms of the fulfillment of material needs is different than what it was to be poor in 1911.Report