Chomsky v. Silber, a Classic Exchange

Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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104 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Chomsky is notorious for understating the crimes of the opponents of the U.S. (and this is not simply true for communists;. see, e.g., Kosovo). However, Chomsky is not, nor has he ever been a Marxist (much less a Communist), and his support for the state of North Vietnam, say, was strictly a result of our unjust war against it.

    Chomsky is about as anti-statist as one can get, in fact. He’s probably much, much closer to principled libertarianism than anyone in either major American political party.Report

  2. greginak says:

    I’m not really clear on point 2. Is there an equivalence between Commie death squads and right wing dictatorship death squads. I don’t really think so. Were Guatemalan death squads kinder and gentler then Nicaraguan ones? Not really seeing it. Now in a broader sense we were certainly the good guys but we did some bad things. The murderers we supported didn’t just have a slightly tarnished halo because they killed with M16’s instead of AK’s.

    I agree with Chris about Chomsky. He wouldn’t be the person i would look to for a fair representation of all sides of an argument.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    Anti-anti-communism was, indeed a thing.

    The wacky thing about it is that it’s one of those things that it is possible to be even after communism has disappeared.Report

    • Roland Dodds in reply to Jaybird says:

      Ironically, some of the Far Right we talked about last week fit into this anti-anti-communist framework. They want to avoid moralizing about a specific’s system justness over others. Perhaps it shouldn’t chock me that folks like Alexander Dugin, a prophet of the New Right, describes himself as an anti-communist, but still has a thing for Stalin.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        There’s a weird thing where it sometimes seems like some people who think of themselves as anti-communist, nevertheless still have some weird fascination for the “strong man” who sits at the top. This has bubbled up from time to time with “shirtless Putin” as well.

        It’s almost like the critique of communism is that it is a system for the weak sheep of the general populace, but *I’m* more like the wolf who’s running the show.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        Once you start getting anti-anti-anti-communists, and the people who oppose them, and the people who oppose them, and the people who oppose *THEM* showing up, it becomes evident that “anti-” doesn’t work the way that “not” does in propositional logic.

        There was a tweet that blew my mind a few months back:

        When I look at stuff like “The New Right” (and “The New Left” (and “The New New Left”)), stuff like this comes really seriously into sharp focus.

        All that to say:

        Hegel totally talked about this.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      Anti-anti-communism was, indeed a thing.

      Indeed, and when the anti-communists being opposed were Joe McCarthy and HUAC, it was a good thing.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    Many Communist nations did have huge abuses of power. Communism as a form of economics might just sound great on paper but fails in reality. I think libertarianism and anarchist-capitalism (or any form of anarchist society) has the same flaws. Utopian forms of ideology need perfect people and people are not perfect. We are far from perfect.

    I do think that people who critique communism downplay and soft-peddle the horrible governments that proceeded many communist overthrows though. There was nothing great for the masses in Tzarist Russia. Neither was Batista’s Cuba great for the majority either. These were also corrupt and authoritarian governments as well.

    What libertarians often don’t seem to get is that people are not willing to suffer just because people above claim that said misery is part of the natural process of things. Capitalist adherents seem to think that low wages and potentially horrible living conditions are a natural need in economic progress. This seems to be a worldview difference in terms of liberal and libertarian thought. For example, child labor. Liberals claim that it is only human action and legislation which ended child labor and long hours (8 for labor, 8 for rest, 8 for what we will). Libertarians say that low wages, crushing conditions, and other miseries were necessary to produce the technological innovations which led to higher wages, the end of child labor, shorter hours, etc.Report

    • Roland Dodds in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      @saul-degraw “What libertarians often don’t seem to get is that people are not willing to suffer just because people above claim that said misery is part of the natural process of things.” This is the inherent failing of American libertarianism. Its focus on rules often makes libertarians sound logical and “correct” in a debate when it comes to organizing a society around their principles, but they fail to understand that when you are at the bottom, you are not going to buy the “logical” explanation for why you are at society’s bottom-rung.

      The libertarian impulse towards quantifiable explanations often misses the emotional desire in an individual to feel justice. I know not all libertarians use this type of mathematical focus when advocating their position, but when I hear it, I find it off-putting and ahistorical.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        but they fail to understand that when you are at the bottom, you are not going to buy the “logical” explanation for why you are at society’s bottom-rung.

        You think we don’t understand that pandering to people’s desire for handouts is an effective electoral strategy?Report

        • SaulDegraw in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          once again you and Damon seem incapable of being anything but snide. This is why there will never be a liberal-libertarian alliance. You accuse liberals of lacking in sincerity. The social safety net only exists to grab power, not because liberals might be sincere in their beliefs in the need to safeguard against capitalism and the boom-bust cycle. This is not asking you to believe as liberals do but your constant attacks on the sincerity of liberalism are snide, arrogant, trollish, and disgusting.

          You are basically proving Roland’s point. The left saw the abuses of the Industrial Revolution and Financial Capitalism needed an equally powerful counterbalance. All you see is a power grab and pander and love to pretend you are a brave teller of “hard” truths and how it really is. Your hard truths are nothing more than your ideological preferences.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to SaulDegraw says:

            Until libertarians get better at making liberals feel better about their choices, there will never be a liberal-libertarian alliance.Report

            • SaulDegraw in reply to Jaybird says:

              That is not quite what I am saying. There is a big difference in saying “I disagree with your policy preferences” and “I think you don’t believe in what you are saying and it is merely a pander.”

              I don’t agree with the Republican Party but I don’t doubt their sincerity. What Brandon is saying is “I don’t think liberals really believe in the welfare state. I think they just want power and this is how they appeal to the unwashed and unenlightened masses.” It never occurs to Brandon that the majority might not want what libertarians are selling, so he has to come up with alternative explanations about why there is no politically viable libertarian party in the United States. Or rather it can’t occur to Brandon because what would it mean to admit that you are selling a good that very few people want?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to SaulDegraw says:

                So there needs to be a better job of acknowledging the good intentions of policies that don’t achieve their stated goals?Report

              • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, at least some evidence that the policies aren’t actually achieving their stated goals, and that the failure stems from the actual policies and not other problems.

                But it’s really nice to speak in broad generalizations wink wink nod nod and not get too specific when saying stuff like that; means you’re never lying; right? Just speaking truth.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to zic says:

                But we didn’t even get that far, Zic. We’re talking about why there will never be a liberal/libertarian alliance.

                According to Saul, it’s because libertarians are too snarky.

                Not because they’re wrong. Not because they’re immoral. Not because their theories work in theory but not in practice.

                But because of rudeness.

                And given that I’ve recently had a couple of interactions where I’ve tried to talk measurable numbers and gotten responses of how other people have heard other things entirely and self-refuting articles posted with corrections written by the author explaining that the article, as written, didn’t understand the numbers it was analyzing, the accusations of winking and nodding will elicit shrugs similar to those that providing numbers seems to generate.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh this is easy Jay. Libertarians are wrong about more than they are right. Some good ideas, but to much ivory tower theory stuff. The strawmaning and general insult stuff is just the fun of the Internet that people on every side engage in.

                Pointing out when one person throws poo at or strawmans another is like one of the top causes of comments here.

                There will never be a large scale liberal/libertarian alliance because a lot of libertarians are far more conservative ( in the american political spectrum usage) then they want to admit. They aren’t a neutral group above the partisan squabble but strong leaners towards the right. That is why you see far more strawmanning of liberals then conservatives among libertarians.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                And such a comment would have elicited a shrug.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                A shrug?…how many bitcoins is that worth now?

                Hmmm that seems solidly snarky although i’m not even sure what it means.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to greginak says:

                “There will never be a large scale liberal/libertarian alliance because a lot of libertarians are far more conservative ( in the american political spectrum usage) then they want to admit.”

                There’s a lot of truth in this, I think.

                “No, I’m libertarian not a conservative” as a self-identifier has picked up steam from conservatives in the late-aughts/teens in the same way “no, I’m progressive not a liberal” did with liberals in the late 80s early 90s.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                The decades-old libertarian-conservative alliance has something to do with it as well.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

                No doubt. Also too, there is the problem that the messaging nomenclature is now pretty firmly in place.

                “Libertarian” has become so synonymous with “anti-government” that I don’t know it two can ever be untangled. Partially because now whenever someone I might call a classic libertarian tries to say “I think government has to step in and solve that” people don’t listen to them (I’m thinking of pretty much every post by Jason here), and more importantly because that nomenclature has called a large populist population to libertarianism that is largely become it’s most public face.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod, I think there’s a spectrum of libertarianism that moves pretty fluidly between purely Theoretical Libertarianism thru practical Policy Libertarianism, and while the purely theoretical side does strike me as being driven largely by exploring the limits of a certain type of anti-governmentalism (Christ, I’m making up words left and right) in practice certain Policies may require government intervention (or the continuation thereof) based on contingent facts of the matter or states of affairs (etc). But those concessions are, as I said, contingent, and leave the Theoretical side (for those Theoretisticians) unscathed.

                (Usual disclaimer that that’s how things seem to me.)Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                @tod-kelly @stillwater

                Here is what I am thinking.

                Liberals and Libertarians agree on many issues like police brutality, the oversized (in our minds) budget of the American military and intelligence communities, the drug war, criminal justice, etc.

                Yet libertarians (and it has happened here) can’t seem to resist taunting liberals that their desire for a welfare state just increases state power or some such. There is just a lot of ignoring that states like Sweden and other places have good welfare states without having all of America’s police and drug war problems. Some of this countries have more liberal laws towards drugs and sex work but not all.

                There is also the taunt among libertarian types that they are trying to reclaim the word “liberal” via things like calling themselves “classical liberals”. This variant of liberalism stopped being dominant around the time that David Lloyd George was first elected to Parliament in the late 1800s. Classical Liberalism existed for less than a century before it started getting replaced by Welfare-State Liberalism so modern liberalism is better.

                Add to this the Bleeding Heart Libertarians who always seem to find ways of saying that libertarianism is always the solution and that is it.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                I’m not sure I see any of what you describe as taunting myself (and from my pov I really don’t care if it’s taunting or not). I see it as more as the expression of a general frustration about status quo politics/policy formation from their perspective. And that’s fine, yeah? People disagree about a whole slew of stuff, and if they get pissy about certain things then … well, they can have at it just like the rest of us who get pissy.

                But I sorta disagree that there is much of an overlap between liberals’ and libertarians’ policy preferences. There are points of contact to be sure, but (to take one example) libertarians and liberals actually don’t agree on the gay marriage debate. (I won’t get into why.) Nor do they agree on the use of military power, for example, when used for “humanitarian” reasons (scare quotes thrown in for the libertarians). Maybe you and I agree with libertarians on the general assessment that our criminal justice system is fubar, but that’s probably as far as it goes between us, and that’s leaving out all the liberals who really aren’t paying any attention to C&P or do pay attention and think the system is broadly working as intended with only a few minor hiccups.

                But to get back to the main point, I don’t think libertarians engage in any more taunting (per capita, say) than any other ism does. And it may be that what you perceive as taunting about liberal’s conception of the welfare state is rightly deserved – on the assumption that we’re talking about your conception of it. I mean, I gotta be honest here: I don’t agree with very much of what you write on those topics. And I’m a belieber in social programs and safety nets.Report

              • LWA in reply to Stillwater says:

                This is kinda where I land.

                The claims for individual autonomy pretty much cleave apart liberals from libertarians at the root level. Even agreement on a specific issue like SSM or the drug war occurs only on a superficial level.Report

              • Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Add to this the Bleeding Heart Libertarians who always seem to find ways of saying that libertarianism is always the solution and that is it.

                You were thinking that bleeding heart libertarians would meet you half way policy-wise. But Bleeding Heart Libertarians has always been about Libertarianism being the best solution to poverty. Which, given their manifesto, should have been obvious. After all, they are at the end of the day, still libertarians. It just turns out that they are libertarians for social justice related reasons.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                There will never be a large scale liberal/libertarian alliance because a lot of libertarians are far more conservative ( in the american political spectrum usage) then they want to admit.

                Well, I’m not so sure about that, what with the everchanging meaning of “conservative” and all that. I do agree that libertarians are more ideologically akin to conservatives than liberals, tho, for one pretty central reason: libertarianism (in general!) as a political ideology is more or less fundamentally opposed to the state whereas Liberalism (and again with the everchanging meanings) as a political ideology is more or less fundamentally accepting of the state.

                Or in other words, libertarians will accept state power based on “only if” conditions, whereas liberals merely need an “if”.

                COnservatives loves em some uses of state power to be sure, but on the economic side as well as the “rights” side (especially the property rights side) they’re at least rhetorically aligned with libertarian goals. And because of that, they both really really (like reallyreally) don’t like Liberals.

                So it seems to me, anyway.Report

              • Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

                I thought it had more to do with how sometimes people who have more in common with each other fight more than those who are very different. Trotskyists and Maoists are supposedly always at each others’ throats right?Report

              • Roland Dodds in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird “According to Saul, it’s because libertarians are too snarky.

                Not because they’re wrong. Not because they’re immoral. Not because their theories work in theory but not in practice.”

                I would say their ideas are wrong. Snark I can enjoy.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to SaulDegraw says:

            Many libertarians adopt this position from Ayn Rand’s book. In Rand’s novels, the villains and opponents of objectivism were always mere power grabbers in the hand. It was inconceivable that a person could oppose Rand’s ideas from a basis of sincere disagreement. Libertarians like to hide this, but their ideology is absolutist in many ways. Not only does it have exact limits on what the government should do. but it holds that any attempt to interfere with market forces will have dire consequences. This is so obviously correct to some of them that they simply can’t conceive of honest disagreement.Report

          • Damon in reply to SaulDegraw says:

            Let me state for the record here, since you dragged me into it, that I DO believe that liberals were/are sincere in the beliefs that in ” the need to safeguard against capitalism and the boom-bust cycle” and all that jazz. I’ll also admit that, in addition, it has because a useful tool to grab power and influence by politicians and others . And further, that it appears to me, that the default liberal response to any issue of substance, is that “gov’t must do something to fix it”. The last two I have serious objections to.Report

            • Joe Sal in reply to Damon says:

              I deplore the current liberal idea that “the right people” acting through the authority of state/institution will fix the flaws in society.

              That people should try and align their personal universal truths to make a mob of rules by law. It charts ass backards to what I consider a free state should be.Report

              • greginak in reply to Joe Sal says:

                Actually what you seem to hate is democracy. The Big D does certainly have problems and is far from perfect just like people.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to greginak says:

                I would question if it is wise to conclude that a liberal democracy leads to a free state.Report

              • LWA in reply to Joe Sal says:

                I wasn’t aware the state was oppressed and in need of freedom.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to LWA says:

                Thanks for demonstrating my point.Report

              • greginak in reply to Joe Sal says:

                Ummm i can’t really tell what you mean by that. I’m guessing “liberal” and “democracy” don’t = “free state”. But you haven’t explained that nor how you get to a free state without electing free state kind of people. So should i assume there are free states that aren’t democracies?Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to greginak says:

                Free state, that is a question isn’t it? It sounds like you would assume there would be elections. Why?

                What is a free state in your perspective?Report

              • greginak in reply to Joe Sal says:

                Oh the answering a question with a question thing? You used the term “free state” saying we couldn’t get there from a liberal democracy. So i was wondering what you meant.

                And my original comment still stands. People electing people to do things they want is democracy. It may fail or flail or flop, but that is democracy. It isn’t a liberal or conservative or libertarian thing and has been around for quite a while now.Report

              • Damon in reply to greginak says:

                People love democracy when it gets them what they want, and it’s a “travesty of democracy” when it doesn’t get them what they want.Report

        • zic in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          You think we don’t understand that pandering to people’s desire for handouts is an effective electoral strategy?

          And do you think that crony capitalism isn’t an effective electoral strategy? We’ve currently got the best elections money can buy.Report

        • Chris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          This is my favorite perpetual OT debate: how liberals always mischaracterize libertarianism, but libertarians have liberals’ number, or vice versa. “Libertarians are always…!” “How dare you?! By the way, liberals are always…”Report

        • Francis in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Pandering to people’s desires for handouts is a GREAT electoral strategy — if the person with the hand out is Exxon, or a coal company, or an insurer, or obtains the bulk of his / its revenue from something that might be capital gains if you look at it funny and squint a little.

          Pandering to poor people’s desires for handouts as an electoral strategy? In this country?Report

    • Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I think it’s fairly easy to sum up all the human butchery the communist regimes perpetrated and get to a 50 million dead figure-and that’s just the “big” numbers. Some how I don’t think that the Tsar’s, or the Emperors of China, had the body count that Stalin / Lenin / Mao did.

      It’s one thing to live under a despot and another to live under Communism. Communism is a “way of thinking”. Those not thinking correctly were to be eliminated. How many despots cared what the peasants thought as long as they obeyed?Report

      • greginak in reply to Damon says:

        ummm Hitler and the Nazi’s seemed to care how people thought.

        But really, debating who were the absolute worst kind of mass murdering bastards seems like a pretty stupid argument.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Damon says:

        I don’t disagree that 20th-century Communism had an appalling body count, but I wouldn’t be so confident that Tsars and Emperors couldn’t have rivaled it. Maybe 20th-century communications, bookkeeping and tallying tools just give us more solid numbers on the audit end.Report

        • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

          The Tsar and later the Whites were working on it.Report

        • greginak in reply to Glyph says:

          20th century wars also had far more appalling body counts then previous wars. Modern weapons and such greatly aided the age old human hobby of killing other humans.Report

        • H. Rhohrer in reply to Glyph says:

          The best accounting is by Rummel. The communist regimes of the USSR and the PRC did kill the most (and in Cambodia, the fastest), but then they had longer to do their work than the Nazis did, and the fascist bodycount is considerably higher than most people realize (because of the focus on 6 million deaths among a single ethnic group).

          His book also gives some accounting of pre-20th century democide. Inferior technology clearly played the leading role in the generally lower numbers.Report

        • InMD in reply to Glyph says:

          Without getting into the tenets of commmunism I think that the debates about how murderous it is tend to be too removed from the historical context of the times and places in which these conflicts occurred. I would argue, for example, that the greater lesson from the Russian revolution and subsequent events illustrates the dangers both of maintaining a backwards political system that is unable to adapt to modernity but also of trying to forcibly change a backward society in radical ways in a very short period of time.

          There’s an interesting alternative history where the revolution of 1905 leads to slower and more moderate changes and prevents the much more radical revolution once the Tzarist state had been weakened by World War 1.

          I have the feeling that most of the communist revolutions and counter revolutions of the Cold War could be similarly dissected.Report

          • Glyph in reply to InMD says:

            That’s interesting, and I think coupled with the comments about concurrent advances in weapons technology, probably goes a ways towards explaining why 20th-century regimes really racked up the numbers.

            ETA: I say all that without absolving Communism itself, at least as it was practiced and understood in those times/places, of responsibility for the bloodshed.Report

            • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

              Interestingly, much of the death at the hands of Communism, particularly in the Soviet Union, was via famine, and while there were modern tools than enabled it (e.g., trains to carry large amounts of grain away rapidly), in practice it didn’t look much different from the British imperial famines in India in the preceding centuries. The main difference is that the Soviets strung them much closer together in time than the Brits.

              Also, WWII enabled, and to some extent motivated (e.g., in the treatment of escaped or returned POWs), mass murder in the Soviet Union in a way that might not have been possible without it.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to InMD says:

            Another interesting counter-factual would be if Alexander II isn’t killed by the Nihilist terrorist. Just before he got assassinated, the Tsar-Liberator was going to create a national legislative body for the Russian Empire. It’s powers would have been limited but it would still be a step in the right direction. A bunch of radicals decided that violent overthrow would be better. This meant that the very reactionary son of Alexander II came to the throne and the rest is history.Report

        • James K in reply to Glyph says:


          Don’t forget the surge in population due to improved agricultural technology in the early 20th Century. It’s easier to commit mass murder when there are more people alive to be murdered.Report

        • Murali in reply to Glyph says:

          Better medicine and hygiene also gave us more people to kill. I mean if 50% (I pulled the number out of my ass) of your population is dead of natural causes. You only have half the number you would otherwise have to torture, maim and kill.Report

          • Chris in reply to Murali says:

            I’m not sure rural Ukraine and China had seen all that much population growth in the first 35 years or so of the 20th century. At least not any more than you would expect from their historical trajectory.Report

    • Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      There is nothing sacred about the 40 hr work week. In fact I believe that most professionals put in at least 60 hrs. Do you hear doctors, or lawyers or accountants or anyone else insisting on only working 40 hrs?Report

      • David Parsons in reply to Murali says:

        (raises hand) When I was working as IT migrant labor I averaged 40 hours a week for about 8 years working for three different companies. Admittedly, in two of those jobs official policy was to not let the $150/hour staff work more than 40 hours (though management winked at that restriction and said what I was working on was urgent (it wasn’t) and needed more hours now now now!) but my put-up-with-my-corporate-masters timer ran out pretty much at 40 hours on the dot.

        So here’s evidence that at least *one* professional insisted on working no more than 40 hours a week.Report

      • SaulDegraw in reply to Murali says:

        There is an issue in the type of work involved. Being a professional is hard but it is a lot less hard on the body than manual/physical labor that could involve dangerous substances and equipment. This is like when Very Serious People talk about the need to raise the retirement age for social security benefits. It is easy to be a lawyer or opinion writer into your 70s at six figures or higher. It is much harder to be a construction worker or baker or food server, the body tends to wear out and there are not enough positions to transition people into.

        Work as a baker or construction worker for 70 hours for a year or two and then come back to me with this observation.

        Also isn’t the whole point of economics to get more productivity out of fewer hours. What is with your 19th century beliefs in 14 hour days? BTW office workers in the 19th century spent a few hours at their club every afternoon. Factory workers got 15 for breakfast, 15 for lunch, and 30 minutes for dinner and these could be canceled if the machinery needed to be fixed.

        Your observation lacks historical fact.Report

        • Murali in reply to SaulDegraw says:

          What is with your 19th century beliefs in 14 hour days

          I was raised in in a Confucian society. When I hear factory workers complain about having to work more than 8hrs a day, my automatic response (in my head. I’m too polite to say it out loud) often tends to be in the ball park of “If you didn’t want to do factory work you should have studied harder.”

          I find it hard to sympathise when the sort of people who socially ostracised me in my school days for being a nerd end up in dead end horrible jobs. There is probably something karmic about their current situation.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Murali says:


            I think you need to study way more about the West and see what educational opportunities were available to which people, the attitude of the poor laws, and other constraints on the labor of people, etc. The answer you are giving is nothing more than zero-sum. Either you make it or you don’t. There are much better and much more democratic ways or organizing government and society.Report

            • Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              I get that I am being unfair and snobbish in blaming the working class of my generation for their predicament (or perhaps not so much given that they had pretty much the same opportunities I did educationally speaking. I went ot government schools just like they did). But I don’t see how I’m being zero sum here.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Murali says:

        There is nothing sacred about the 40 hr work week. In fact I believe that most professionals put in at least 60 hrs

        Available evidence suggests that 40 is about the maximum without dropping off productivity. Might even be a bit high.

        You can stay in the office 60 hours a week. But you’re not as productive those last 20 hours as you are the first 20. That’s been known for decades.

        So…um..why would you? “I work 40 hours and then I work another 20 hours, but you get maybe 12 hours worth of work out of me for those 20 and it’s error prone. And I don’t start off fresh the next week unless I get a few days of downtime, so back to back 60s is…well, gosh, let’s just say if I’d just taken three weeks instead of two I’d have gotten a lot more done”.

        Why people refuse to admit it is beyond me. I guess we all believe we’re above such plebian things as “statistics”. The masses might drop off in productivity, but I am a superior person who laughs in the face of such things!Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Morat20 says:


          I think it is something engrained into us through thousands of years of civilization and society. We started out needing to work long and brutal hours just to survive. There were also several centuries in the West that thought and maybe still think that “idle hands are the devil’s plaything” and that leisure of any kind is bad (for the masses). The Puritans and Calvinists loved profit but hated pleasure. So this is still engrained in our brains. Also having a good job is a status symbol in itself.

          People also see leisure as being kind of indulgent. Planet Money recently did a story on why we are working more than 15 hours a week despite John Maynard Kaynes’ famously wrong prediction. The answer might be psychology and that many people like their jobs. They interviewed a Harvard professor who is the expert on this and asked the professor what he would do if he worked less hours. The Harvard economist wanted to devote his free time to writing poetry and plays but he said this felt indulgent because his students needed help, lessons needed to be planned, etc.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Morat20 says:


          I think the issue is that sometimes there is 50 hours of work to do in a given week and no system in place for accounting for the breakdown in productivity so one guy does it over 60 hours.

          And not all jobs can just be divided up among multiple people. A typical teacher’s week probably entails 40-50 hours. A busy week can easily push past 60. But you can’t just bring in a temp to share the responsibilities.

          I don’t doubt the data you cite. I just don’t think there is always an easy solution in jobs where the work ebbs and flows or can’t be shared.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Kazzy says:

            The thing is — a lot of that can be mitigated through proper management and planning. You know, thinking ahead. Hiring the staff you need. Not routinely ensuring some poor schmuck has to put in 60 hour weeks (often for free, ’cause he’s salaried. Or for that lovely 4 to 1 comp time. Hooray. I got five paid ours off for 20 extra hours of work. The joy) which seems to be the habit.

            And in any case Murali seems to find nothing wrong with requiring it anyways, despite the fact that it’s been proven to be highly sub-optimal. It’s a weird, Purtian-style concept — work more and longer, for apparently no other reason than to suffer.

            Certainly not for getting things done. It’s proven you’re getting less done.Report

  5. Tod Kelly says:

    All I can think about when I watch this now is that if the Contra-Sandanista debate were going on now, we’d likely be watching Louis Gohmert and Willie Giest go toe to toe on national television over what to do.


  6. Kolohe says:

    Saul Degraw: Libertarians say that low wages, crushing conditions, and other miseries were necessary to produce the technological innovations which led to higher wages, the end of child labor, shorter hours, etc

    Really? Just about every libertarian I know (and most non-libertarians) I know says that technological innovation come from a combo of a natural desire for tinkering and a natural desire to make a buck. *High* wages, not low wages, lead to technological innovation to reduce the labor input in the production process (and make more bucks). (heck, even Marx believed this). For instance, what Henry Ford famously did – pay unskilled labor a generous wage – in normally completely misinterpreted. He paid unskilled labor a substantial wage because he automated processes that got even higher paid skilled labor out of the production chain.

    and “Capitalist adherents” – unless you yourself believe in the State owning the means of production, you yourself are a Capitalist adherent.Report

  7. Stillwater says:


    “I’m’a make a deal with the bad wolf
    so the bad wolf don’t bite not more.
    I’m’a make a bad wolf,
    I’m a I’m a bad wolf,
    I’m’a make a bad wolf….”

    Whooops. That was supposed to place way upthread, in response to Glyph saying “It’s almost like the critique of communism is that it is a system for the weak sheep of the general populace, but *I’m* more like the wolf who’s running the show.”

    Now it just sits alone, devoid of contextually dependent meaning.Report

    • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

      The Bad Wolf is always present everywhere and throughout time so she can save Dr. Who. So you always have context.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

        Funny you say that greg. My wife and I just started (binge) watching the new Dr. Who and we’re lovin it. Just got to the part where we meet Captain Jack Harkness, who I loved in Torchwood. Fun stuff. But as yet, I haven’t heard any Awolnation songs in the sound track.Report

      • El Muneco in reply to greginak says:

        I have always wondered, what with the repeated “Bad Wolf” motif, and some of the other imagery that calls to my mind at least a couple of the adventures of Eleven and Twelve, if the whole thing is a big kind of Whovian riff. I haven’t googled it because I just know that I’ll be disappointed when I find out it was all a coincidence.Report

        • greginak in reply to El Muneco says:

          @el-muneco Bad Wolf was a long story arc. It was mostly just teased for most of the season with a reference here and there, then a major part of the season finale.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:


            This always annoyed me about Doctor Who screening writing styles. The big stuff gets teased out but I always found the endings to be too tidy and wrapped up.Report

            • greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              @saul-degraw Yeah there are plenty of criticisms of NuWho. It’s a really fun show with lots of great bits but you have to be charitable with it. Each of the two showrunners of NuWho has real gaps in their skills. When they are on, they sizzle. But their flaws are very apparent.Report

            • Morat20 in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Bad Wolf was a good one, I think. It…fit. A lot of “eh, okay” episodes try to mimic the feel of it.

              Bad Wolf illustrated the nature of time, and illustrated what it means to be truly outside it, to see it all at once, to be everywhere and everywhen at once. It didn’t create a complex paradox or twist people’s brains trying to follow. It was fairly simple and powerful as far as time travel goes. And in a way that Doctor Who can’t often do — the whole ‘fixed points’ stuff generally prevents the fun of the future interacting with the pastReport

  8. Jon:

    indeed, some studies show that smart “psychopaths,” which Silber most certainly was not as he had a big heart, tend to flourish in such positions

    What studies show that?Report

    • That sounds confrontational, but I’m really curious. One reason is that I hear a lot of statements (yours being one of them) that seem to imply that “bureaucrats”–variously defined as low-level government employees, middle managers, or high level administrators–are somehow uniquely power grabbing or petty people instead of people who work in an environment and respond to incentives while also having the full share of human capabilities and failures.

      Also, and this is a bit of an ad hominem but I’ll say it anyway, the people who seem to make those statements have careers or jobs that depend in some way on, or are serviced by, bureaucracies of some sort. Which, on the one hand, suggests that they must know what they’re talking about when it comes to the frustrations of dealing with them, but on the other hand also suggests they don’t acknowledge how caught up they are in the system that employs and depends on the people they’re criticizing.

      Or conversely…the people who make these criticisms tend to be so independent that they don’t fully realize the constraints that “bureaucrats” (variously defined, as noted above) work under.

      That’s not to say that all bureaucracies are good or that all bureaucrats are good, or that some systems don’t reward or encourage bad, pathological, or “psychopathological” behaviors. Just that I get skeptical of the motivations behind such statements and of what sort of arguments those people who make those statements are trying to make, usually in a drive-by fashion, without claiming a lot of responsibility for making the arguments in the first place.Report

      • Jon Rowe in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        “Which, on the one hand, suggests that they must know what they’re talking about when it comes to the frustrations of dealing with them, …”

        That would be me. My job now doesn’t for the most part involve me as a bureaucrat. I still have to work within the system; but I don’t “administer” as I did for about two years. When I was administering I was inside the belly of the beast and it wasn’t pretty. I tried to be a good guy bureaucrat. Yes they do exist; but you can’t always count on them.

        I saw a statistic on federal government grants. Out of every 500 billion granted, 200 billion is spent on administrative costs.

        System of byzantine mazes are often involved. It’s not good.Report

      • Jon Rowe in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Put “leaders” and “psychopaths” into a search engine and see what comes up. Among other links, this one.

        • Thanks, @jon-rowe . I know my comment was kind of punchy. Perhaps because most of my jobs have been as a operative in some sort of private or public bureaucracy, I tend to be touchy about this stuff.

          That’s not an excuse, mind. And it’s interesting how you might come up with one criticism from working in the belly of the beast, and how I’d come up with a slightly different, somewhat more sympathetic bureaucracies, reaction from working elsewhere in the same belly. (I’ve never been very high up on the totem pole, although I’m better placed now, though still contingent and 50/50 chance to be let go in a week or so, depending on funding and other decisions from on high.)

          Thanks for the link, too, and I’ll try to read it over.Report

  9. Mike says:

    The big difference is that we have systems and whole segments of society not only trying to whitewash and ignore massive crimes against humanity, from British empire to the US empire, but on the flip side trying their hardest to maintain and promote it.
    We’re not talking about vague books or articles written by think tanks making accusations. Since WW2 we had wars like the Vietnam war = two million people slaughtered, just to send a message to China… for a decade or two. Or the two million people slaughtered between Afghanistan and and Iraq. Middle East was largely secular, and some of it communist. But we couldn’t have that, had to overthrow governments, arm radicals, etc.

    All these wars and poverty were not only 100% preventable, but 100% manufactured. You don’t have a massive global military empire, and massive wealth inequality without very real thought out plan and design for it.Report