Pharyngula

Carnivalia, and an open thread


The Tangled Bank

Don’t forget—there’s another Tangled Bank coming up on Wednesday, 2 August, at Science and Reason, so mail those links to Charles Daney, host@tangledbank.net, or me.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    Can someone explain to me why socialism should be viewed as any more rational than creationism? The salient empirical fact about national economies is that every wealthy nation has a capitalist economy. And there even is decent economic theory to explain that: capitalism is essentially a genetic algorithm for evolving business processes.

    Mind, my question is not about smaller political issues such as the desirability of single-payer health care or public provision of college education, and similar questions. These issues are smaller, because they are issues primarily for wealthy nations. Which is to say, capitalist nations. From Sweden to Japan, the nations where these questions loom large, and regardless of how these smaller questions are answered, the underlying basis for such discussion is a capitalist economy that can fund that kind of public spending. Or to put it in a way that is relevant to this blog: there is a direct causal relationship between a nation having a stock market and also having the kind of collective research programs where good biology PhDs want to work.

    Socialism is not social democracy. Unless you’re using the word in some sense so nebulous that it has almost no meaning, socialism means at least the demise of capitalism: most means of production are owned by the government or publicly controlled, equity markets don’t determine investment results and direction, there are no credit markets as we know them in modern economies, etc.

    Show me the economy where this works.

  2. #2 Damien
    July 29, 2006

    Specific sectors aren’t just for richer nations. Amartya Sen credits China’s boom to the base laid down by the more socialist era in basic education and health care for all, as well as to the reforms of the post-socialist era. (He contrasts with India, which has been democratic, and has more college education, but also higher illiteracy, and less growth.) Cuba’s had big success in health care and longevity as well, despite a minimal GDP/capita; they might have research as well.

    But in general I think you have a point, and that socialism is more valuable for its critiques and highlight of injustice than for its recommendations.

  3. #3 Caledonian
    July 29, 2006

    But in general I think you have a point, and that socialism is more valuable for its critiques and highlight of injustice than for its recommendations.

    Say what you mean, Damien: socialism may attract those willing to point out social concerns, and as an application it may even be good at creating social stability, but it fails as an economic system.

    Anyone can critique, regardless of their theoretical orientation. Anyone can highlight injustice. It’s the effectiveness of its designs that determines the value of a theoretical system. Socialism is not valuable.

  4. #4 quork
    July 29, 2006

    The salient empirical fact about national economies is that every wealthy nation has a capitalist economy…
    Socialism is not social democracy…

    If you admit that social democracy is not socialism, you should also admit that it is not capitalism. Countries with pure capitalist economies are very hard to find. “From Sweden to Japan”, economically successful modern nations have “mixed” economies with elements of both capitalism and socialism. If you want to find out what pure capitalism was about, read Dickens.

  5. #5 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    Along the lines of Caledonian’s and Damien’s comments, let me emphasize that I am a liberal, not a free-market fundamentalist. Various social programs, from funding college tuition for all who academically qualify to health-care, should be argued on social benefit, economic cost, and similar practical grounds. The free-market fundamentalists who dismiss them merely because they deviate from some ideal free market society strike me as similar to other kinds of fanatics. There is no a priori reason that the free market should be held up as the ideal model for society. When I say capitalism works, I mean that in a purely pragmatic sense, in much the same sense that one might point out that the internal combustion engine works. The first is good at producing wealth. The second is good at turning fuel into powered motion. I think there is a lot of historical evidence that it works, and significant economic theory about why it works. That makes it a fact to use, not an ideal to worship. The free-market fundamentalists who complain about public education are somewhat like a motorhead, who never would put a muffler on an engine, or pollution controls, because he worships raw horsepower.

    On the other hand, I view socialists (not mere social democrats) as much like those who deny the Carnot cycle. Or like creationists.

  6. #6 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    quork writes: “If you admit that social democracy is not socialism, you should also admit that it is not capitalism. Countries with pure capitalist economies are very hard to find.”

    Not being the least bit religious, I’m not much interested in purity. There are core elements of a modern capitalist economy that are pretty easily recognized, both historically, and in most modern nations. In a capitalist economy: most capital and most workers are engaged in the private sector, there is a fluid labor market, there is well-developed law that defines expectations for investors, workers, creditors, and businesses, there are low regulatory barriers to business creation and extermination, there is a mechanism for separating business ownership from business management, and for trading units of ownership, there is an equity market based on that, there are both commercial and consumer credit markets, there are low regulatory barriers to investment, and a business’s trajectory is determined by how well it satisfies consumer demand and investor expectations. It is traditional to use the word capitalism to describe such an economy. Social democracy, in the sense that it has been applied in Sweden, for example, doesn’t fundamentally rework this. If you were to move to Sweden, you would find something quite recognizable there, as a worker or investor. If you needed to earn some income, you would find yourself searching for a job among a set of employers, each of whom would offer you employment or not depending on their needs. If you wanted to invest, you would have a range of options among banks, credit instruments, and a stock market. If you make bad investment decisions, you’ll lost your shirt.

    Now, you and the free-market fundamentalists can both complain that neither the US nor Sweden a “pure capitalism” because of the share of production that goes to public purpose, and the various social programs that includes. I’ll point out that there never has been a pure free-market. Economies — real economies — work within a social and legal context.

    There are people who are opposed to capitalism. They don’t just want some set of social programs, be it single-payer health care or funded maternity leave or free college education. They don’t like the features I describe above, and want some fundamental reworking of the economy. Traditionally, they are called socialists. For the most part, I think they make about as much sense as creationists.

  7. #7 steve s
    July 29, 2006

    Socialism is similar to creationism, as Russell mentions. Organization flows from the top, rather than through competition. The great disaster for liberals in the 20th century was the loss of respect for individual rights which makes possible support for socialism/communism.

  8. #8 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    Steve s writes, “The great disaster for liberals in the 20th century was the loss of respect for individual rights.”

    Say, what? Seems to me that liberals have steadfastly pursued individual rights. As one example, the long line of US court cases in the 20th century, that incorporated various parts of the Bill of Rights into the 14th amendment, and that brought us defenses of everything from free speech to abortion to the right to marry without regard to racial divisions, was pursued entirely by liberal groups and organizations, such as the ACLU.

  9. #9 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    BTW, not all theories of socialism are “top down.” Anarchists like Proudhon and Bakunin theorized something very different. Of course, I think those theories have about as much contact with reality as phlogiston and irreducible complexity. But that’s an entirely different criticism.

  10. #10 j
    July 29, 2006

    Finally an open thread.

    1. On my browser, all comments that use the blockquote tag get a font change. Reading comments in two different fonts makes my head hurt. Just thought I should complain.

    2. There are a lot of people named Steve among the Pharyngulites. I think that’s funny.

    3. According to the site meter, somebody using a missouri.edu computer reads Pharyngula. To this person, hi!! Can’t say I love Mizzou, but it’s funny to think I might actually know someone who reads Pharyngula.

    On-topic:
    Ever since I experienced an extreme and unacceptable form of educational socialism in public schools, I have been unable to accept socialism as an economic system. I figure it is hypocritical to accept socialism when it might benefit me and reject it when it hurts me. Reading Ayn Rand also changed my perspective (not that I’m a crazy Objectivist, mind you).

  11. #11 steve s
    July 29, 2006

    Russell, I’m a liberal, and a member of the ACLU. I didn’t mean “all liberals…”, but I definitely see a number of people who erroneously call themselves liberal, but jump on any excuse to give government more power and rights. Such as with socialism and communism, where you basically agree to surrender your individual property rights in the hope everyone will be taken care of. It’s a sad affliction of many so-called liberals.

  12. #12 iGollum
    July 29, 2006

    Uh, Russell, it seems to me you’re comparing apples and pears… Creationism is supposed to explain how the natural world came to be as we know it. Socialism is an ideology suggesting how to organize human society. The two are completely different concepts. Drawing any kind of direct comparison of the ‘rationality’ of either and of their proponents makes no sense. The first has propositions that can be scientifically proven to be wrong, while the second, imho, can only be disagreed with on ideological grounds.

  13. #13 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    Steve, I see what you mean. I might put it a little differently: we liberals have done a poor job at guarding the meaning of the word “liberal.” This partly is the fault of the right, which has tried to attach the word to everything from socialism to fundamentalist Islam. That last is especially absurd, and in the case or the religious right, hypocritical.

    But we liberals also carry a part of the blame, for we have inadequately failed to separate ourselves from ideologies and movements that innately conflict with liberalism. And in the US, I think this has harmed us politically. It’s tempting, in this regard, to make an analogy with the right and racism. In the 1960s, the two were more strongly linked than they are today. The political right opposed everything from civil rights legislation to interracial marriage. But times have changed, and the conservative movement has repositioned itself on those issues. We might argue the extent to which that separation is authentic or show, but nonetheless, few conservatives today running for office in the US worry about such linkage.

    Alas, the same is not true of liberals and socialism. No matter how unreal that linkage is, it remains for the right an effective political tool. It’s a shame that it’s necessary, but it is, for liberals to say more loudly and often, “Socialism? No, that’s nuts. And it’s not liberal.”

  14. #14 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    iGollum writes, “Socialism is an ideology suggesting how to organize human society.”

    Historically, many socialists at least thought they were making empirical as well as normative claims. Do a Google on the phrase “scientific socialism.”

    Most folks who make recommendations about how to organize human society do so at least partly on the basis of what they think will be the result of such organization. That inevitably leads to a mix of empirical and normative claims. For example, the empirical claim I have made about capitalism is its efficiency, vis-a-vis other economic system, at generating wealth and technological progress. That, by itself, doesn’t say anything about its desirability or how it should be included, if at all, in how we organize society. As a liberal, I’m fond of wealth and technological progress, and so I think capitalism is an important feature of modern societies. (“Feature,” not “sine qua non.”)

    Socialists traditionally have also extolled the benefits of increased wealth and technological progress, which led to a debate that is at least partly was empirical: Do socialist economies produce that? I think the clear answer to that question, from both the empirical, historical evidence and from economic theory is that socialist economies do not perform well in those regards. The 20th century was pretty much the death knell of traditional socialism, for precisely that reason.

    Now, it is true that one might advocate socialism for reasons entirely independent of the production of wealth and technology. Indeed, some groups believe we have entirely too much of both, and their opposition to capitalism is motivated largely by a desire to return society to a state, or carry it to a new state, that is materially poorer and technologically less advanced, though presumably better on some other scale important to them. That is a purely normative dispute.

  15. #15 steve s
    July 29, 2006

    Alas, the same is not true of liberals and socialism. No matter how unreal that linkage is, it remains for the right an effective political tool. It’s a shame that it’s necessary, but it is, for liberals to say more loudly and often, “Socialism? No, that’s nuts. And it’s not liberal.”

    Posted by: Russell | July 29, 2006 12:59 PM | kill

    Part of the success of the Right is to take advantage of how some so-called liberals championed authoritarian socialists. Show some idiot wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, and then paint the rest of us as supporters of blood-drenched authoritarians.

  16. #16 Steve Quork
    July 29, 2006

    2. There are a lot of people named Steve among the Pharyngulites. I think that’s funny.

    Try it, you’ll like it. I presume you are familiar with Project Steve.

    .

    Bush: Lebanon clash brings hope for change. I have hope that it will contribute to change at the ballot box in November, and in 2008.

  17. #17 Riversider
    July 29, 2006

    So-called Socialist economies have failed as democracy in these countries was crushed – just as capitalism needs the free market to make allocation decisions, socialism needs the direct democratic involvement of ordinary people in decisions about how society is run, otherwise the planned economy becomes overburdened with bureaucrats and stagnates.

    Having an economic system based on bitter and destructive competition is crazy when the challenges facing the human species mean we need to cooperate far more than we need to compete.

    Capitalism – which favours the interests of small groups of shareholders over the interests of the whole of human society – is an irresponsible system that creates war and environmental destruction – state attempts to reign in harmful emissions will always be hampered when that state is run by tweedledee and tweedledum political parties funded by the heaviest emitters of carbon.

  18. #18 386sx
    July 29, 2006

    Finally an open thread.

    I second that. I think open threads are pretty cool because people get to post pretty much whatever they feel like posting. It’s not like those other threads where everybody has to stay on topic. I think that’s pretty nifty.

  19. #19 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 29, 2006

    I would like to take Russell’s question one step further. I’ve heard that according to statistics capitalism and democracy works well economically and socially. I’ve even heard that those regions, time periods and countries that used something approaching freetrade (low and equal tariffs, I presume) worked best and decreased the number of poorest people fastest.

    If that is true (but is it?), I would like to know how to motivate social programmes at all, if they are a loosing proposal economically, and socially for the weakest parts of society? It seems against common sense, but if the statistics says so. Maybe social programmes are for the benefit of the middle class?

    Regarding Sweden, it is a lousy example. Since one indeed looses ones shirt by bad investments, but can be unemployed for ever without loosing the last couple of shirts, not many are interested in starting own businesses. It is safer to be an employé than going bankrupt. Have you seen the dive in economical and many other statistics Sweden has done since WW2? It’s hard to think that is a coincidence.

  20. #20 David Harmon
    July 29, 2006

    I’d say that pure socialism, much like communism, can represent an adequate governance for very small and close-knit groups. An tribe consisting of up to 500 people in a few extended families sounds about right. Of course, there was a time whem most of humanity lived in such groups, and there are some swatches of territory where people still do In larger groups, both seem to inevitably get hijacked by power-seekers, control freaks, and other authoritarian sorts.

  21. #21 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 29, 2006

    “I’ve even heard that those regions, time periods and countries that used something approaching freetrade” and democracy – IIRC there was periods with freetrade without democracy which didn’t work well socially.

  22. #22 steve s
    July 29, 2006

    So-called Socialist economies have failed as democracy in these countries was crushed – just as capitalism needs the free market to make allocation decisions, socialism needs the direct democratic involvement of ordinary people in decisions about how society is run, otherwise the planned economy becomes overburdened with bureaucrats and stagnates.

    In 1944, Hayek–with whom I disagree on some things–theorized that socialism would typically lead to authoritarianism. The 62 years since he published that have featured socialist-turned-authoritarian Mao, Guevara, Castro, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot… So I would say there’s some validation of his theory. I haven’t read The Road to Serfdom, so I can’t really discuss the various reasons why he thought this transition would often take place, but it does not surprise me that governments who take away economic rights, find it easy to take away political rights.

  23. #23 steve s
    July 29, 2006

    I would like to take Russell’s question one step further. I’ve heard that according to statistics capitalism and democracy works well economically and socially. I’ve even heard that those regions, time periods and countries that used something approaching freetrade (low and equal tariffs, I presume) worked best and decreased the number of poorest people fastest.

    Most political and economic thinkers now accept that regulated capitalism is the way to go. The arguments are now about the regulations. Too few regulations cause problems like pollution, too many cause economic stagnation and corruption.

  24. #24 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    Torbjörn Larsson, “Regarding Sweden, it is a lousy example. Since one indeed looses ones shirt by bad investments, but can be unemployed for ever without loosing the last couple of shirts, not many are interested in starting own businesses. It is safer to be an employé than going bankrupt. Have you seen the dive in economical and many other statistics Sweden has done since WW2? It’s hard to think that is a coincidence.”

    I’ll have to take your word for that. I suspect that you are right, that social programs can be generous to such an extent that they inhibit to some extent the entrepeneurial activity on which economic productivity depends. Still, there will always be some who want more than just a guaranteed last shirt, and capitalism is remarkably productive given even a little opportunity to work. If by some measures Sweden has lost its competitive edge since WW II, it nonetheless has had a growing economy that now produces $30,000 per capita, about the same as the UK, though quite a bit behind the US.

  25. #25 steve s
    July 29, 2006

    The per capita GDP number is important, but you also have to look at what things cost. $30,000/year isn’t much if a Pizza Hut pizza costs $30.

  26. #26 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    That number is supposed to be adjusted for purchasing-power parity. Of course, the individual Swede pays more of that in taxes, and receives less in their private pocket, than does a citizen of the US. And since the American is starting with about a third again more before that divvy, the average Swede does indeed have quite a bit less take-home income. (We’re blurring GDP per capita and average income, which aren’t the same, but likely vary closely.)

    Maybe the Swedes will decide they want a bit more economic growth, even if that requires a bit less social support. I’m not familiar with the political situation there. Is this an issue? Or do they like things the way they are?

  27. #27 steve s
    July 29, 2006

    Sweden is not socialist, though they are closer to it than we are. They’re still a regulated capitalism. It’s hard to find an actual socialist country at the moment, most have collapsed. Cuba is one, though.

  28. #28 MikeM
    July 29, 2006

    Hi all. Been away all week for pretty much the worst of all possible reasons.

    Woke up barfing pretty hard on Sunday morning at 4 a.m. Had a temp of 103, which is pretty harsh when you’re 48. Wife away at a work party. Had the two kids to take care of.

    Made my appointment for 2:45 Sunday, and the docs agreed I needed an appendectomy. Woke up an hour after surgery and the docs told me, “Well, your appendix was normal, but you have gastroenteritis”. Stomach flu. I had an appy because I had the stomach flu!!

    Lost a week+ of work, and am just now feeling normal, and had an appy because I had stomach flu!!

    And now they want to charge me for their work. Since I’m insured, they need the 10% deductable (I have Kaiser). This makes me sooooo steamin’ mad.

    See? This is why PARTS of our economy need to be socialized. But not all of them. Communist economies fail. When central governments tell everyone from Doctors to peapickers what they’re worth, the majority of the people will head toward the least work/most money jobs. That’s a stupid way to run a country.

    I think what makes a country wealthy isn’t how many millionaires it has, but how many people live in unacceptable conditions (poor water, low access to education, bad air, bad medicine (can’t think of any examples of that right now), and so on). If too many of your people live in unacceptable conditions, that means your country is not rich.

  29. #29 gregory
    July 29, 2006

    Riversider says:
    “Capitalism – which favours the interests of small groups of shareholders over the interests of the whole of human society – is an irresponsible system that creates war and environmental destruction – state attempts to reign in harmful emissions will always be hampered when that state is run by tweedledee and tweedledum political parties funded by the heaviest emitters of carbon.”

    Capitalism isn’t an irresponsible system in and of itself. There are plenty of ways to manipulate companies into cleaning up their acts, ranging from direct ways (i.e. government intervention), to subtle ways (i.e. manipulating supply and demand). Direct methods work when the government tries to work for the best of people, which I’m afraid doesn’t seem to be the #1 priority right now. Indirect methods can be implemented by having a well-educated and coordinated population. For example, if people boycott a specific company for being extremely wasteful and destructive to the enviornment, the company will have a huge incentive to change its ways. Unfortunately, I don’t think the American population is as coordinated as it needs to be, with global warming deniers and all that. But it is possible for consumers to force companies to clean up their act.

    By the way, does socialism even allow for individual people to make a difference, cause if it doesn’t, then I would think the ACLU would be pretty mad.

  30. #30 Caledonian
    July 29, 2006

    If by some measures Sweden has lost its competitive edge since WW II, it nonetheless has had a growing economy that now produces $30,000 per capita, about the same as the UK, though quite a bit behind the US.

    Is that before or after the 50% tax rate is subtracted?

    There is an excellent political reason not to favor such systems: when the government directly controls so much of the economic power of a nation, the nation becomes dependent on that government’s existence. Eventually the government couldn’t be changed even if everyone desires it because the disruption would wreak havoc on the economy. And that’s not even touching the issue of waste and corruption.

  31. #31 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    Caledonian asks, “Is that before or after the 50% tax rate is subtracted?”

    GDP per capita is before taxes. Sweden does indeed take a very large slice in taxes:

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/tax_tot_tax_as_of_gdp-taxation-total-as-of-gdp

    “There is an excellent political reason not to favor such systems: when the government directly controls so much of the economic power of a nation, the nation becomes dependent on that government’s existence. Eventually the government couldn’t be changed even if everyone desires it because the disruption would wreak havoc on the economy.”

    Hmmm. I’m not sure I buy that. Economies change. It certainly would wreak havoc on dependent sectors. But history is full of large sectors in the private side of the economy decline or disappear, getting replaced by the new. Not only does that not hurt the economy, it is essential to it. There might be political resistance to that, for a public sector. That indeed is a real risk. Had electronics been nationalized in the 40s, we might still have a Department of Vacuum Tubes, that no politician dare touch. No matter how economically beneficial it would be to eliminate. It’s that political inertia that seems more dangerous to me than the actual economic risk from change.

  32. #32 Peter J. Nyikos
    July 29, 2006

    Hello, PZ Myers. Do you remember me? I had a long absence from the USENET and now I am back. We certainly have a lot of catching up to do, and I definately remember all the good times we had a talk.origins newsgroup. You have attained a large throng of people who are willing to read your thoughts, and they are quite interesting.

    – Peter Nyikos

    University of South Carolina

  33. #33 PZ Myers
    July 29, 2006
  34. #34 Paguroidea
    July 29, 2006

    Since this is an open thread I’ll take the liberty of changing the subject. Does anyone know any good atheist/freethinking types of songs to request radio stations play? I’ve been hearing a lot of music that is very religious and I’d like to suggest something different.

  35. #35 Peter J. Nyikos
    July 29, 2006

    I’ll stop pretending to be Peter Nyikos, but I’ll keep using the name as I like it! I wish the contemporary IDers were more like him. Now all ID has is Slavador T. Cordova and Casey Luskin. Nyikos wasn’t a dumbass, atleast.

    So did I do a good job sounding like an egomaniac?

  36. #36 Steve LaBonne
    July 29, 2006

    You sounded much more rational than the real item. I thought maybe he’d finally gotten the psychiatric care he so badly needed.

  37. #37 Peter J. Nyikos
    July 29, 2006

    Lol, so are you refering to me, Steve LaBonne?

    Well, Peter Nyikos wasn’t an ID proponent, and personally, I think he would not be happy to associate himself with Luskin and Cordova. At least, he has some integrity in that fashion.

  38. #38 reasoninrevolt
    July 29, 2006

    Thank you Prof Myers for posting a link to the Carnival of Socialism #7. I had quite a spike in traffic today, blogging about socialism isn’t a particularly popular topic. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to see how many people have an opinion about socialism even when they have done no research on the topic (I mean, other than watching the Hunt for Red October). Marxist socialism is based on reason and science and still today Marx’s scientific analysis of capitalist political economy is by far the most advanced and accurate.

    The question is for us to decide whether we wish to have a poltical/economic system which benefits the exploitation of the many by the few, or one that is designed to democratically advance the entire human race.

  39. #39 Russell
    July 29, 2006

    Marx’s analysis of capitalism — leaving aside his normative notions of exploitation — are much better than his, or any socialist’s, analysis of socialism. Anyone who wants to claim that a socialist economy can produce wealth or technological advance on anywhere near the scale as capitalism is rowing against both all the empirical evidence to the contrary, and significant economic theory as to why that is. I’ll say again, advocating socialism on such assumption is much like advocating creationism. (Now, if your desire is to take human society back to some more materially and technologically primitive state, then we simply have a disagreement on purpose. I’ll accede to the empirical claim that socialism is a fast route to that.)

  40. #40 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 30, 2006

    steve:
    “Too few regulations cause problems like pollution, too many cause economic stagnation and corruption.”

    Fine – pollution costs (besides the moral complications), corruption costs (besides the moral complications). But how to find the balance? Are social programmes merely for the middle class, or is that an apparent effect for developing countries? The middle class hypothesis would also be consistent with electorate and internal economical pressures.

    Russel:
    “Still, there will always be some who want more than just a guaranteed last shirt, and capitalism is remarkably productive given even a little opportunity to work.”

    True. It is by relative measures Sweden has dropped from being #3 in GDP per capita in the world to the lowest part of Europe, IIRC. #27 in the world, or something such? There are ~ 110 nations…

    “do they like things the way they are?”

    Conservative alliances, necessary to break the social-left-green alliances, haven’t been economically or political successful. Hopefully this will change in the coming selection, if only to vary the ruling party. The unions provide cash for the social democratic party – it is a form of open and lowgrade corruption. (Not that the conservatives doesn’t get money from funny places…)

    steve:
    “They’re still a regulated capitalism.”

    That is true. The main differences are in amount of social programmes, and how they are intended to work.

    Caledonian:
    “Is that before or after the 50% tax rate is subtracted?”

    Before. People produce, governments reduce, statistics confuse.

    “There is an excellent political reason not to favor such systems: when the government directly controls so much of the economic power of a nation, the nation becomes dependent on that government’s existence.”

    That seems to be Sweden, on the money. 🙂

    “I’m not sure I buy that. Economies change. ”

    And of course we have probably left measurable and nonconfused correlations and effects, so who knows? Caledonian seems to have a point due to correlation with what is, but we can’t really know IMO.

  41. #41 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 30, 2006

    “Sweden has dropped from being #3 in GDP per capita in the world to the lowest part of Europe”

    I probably mean NDP, if there is such a beast.

  42. #42 Damien
    July 30, 2006

    When looking at money taken by the government in taxes, don’t forget to look at what comes back in services. For example, health care. Or child care.

  43. #43 quork
    July 30, 2006
  44. #44 Russell
    July 30, 2006

    Torbjörn Larsson wrote, “I probably mean NDP, if there is such a beast.”

    There is indeed. There are more measures of production than Carter has liver pills.

    BTW, I agree with you that Sweden likely has gone overboard in its social spending. It seems to me, on the national level, this is very much a matter of immediate gratification winning out over long-term ambition. The hard problem is when a nation decides it wants to lean the other way, that GDP can’t be changed over night. What you produce tomorrow is very much a function of what you produced yesterday.

    In an increasingly global economy, there also is the matter of how the rest of the world views a nation’s policies. A nation that decides too much to go the route of comfort over competitiveness will find its brightest young people wanting to work abroad, and investment capital looking to brighter venues.

    Still, as long as Sweden has an underlying capitalist economy, it can make this choice without suffering too much, and it has the flexibility to change such policies in the future. Were it to move to a socialist economy — i.e., nationalize its industry, eliminate its investment markets, and otherwise tear down the infrastructure of capitalism — it would enter a long, dark night with a long time until dawn.

  45. #45 Keith Douglas
    July 30, 2006

    I do find it interesting that in many online (and otherwise) discussion of economic systems nobody discusses the fact that whole swathes of ideas and parts of the “possibility space” that have simply never been tried, except perhaps at extremely small scales. For example, most people assume that either the means of production will be owned by the state in some sort of top-down fashion or they will be privately held as they are more or less everywhere now. There is, of course, at least one other alternative, namely that that they are worker owned. Moreover, even there there are two alternatives. Some think that mangement should be abolished too because it can become authoritarian. The reason is correct, however, that only suggests that management can be viewed as a source of “horizontal” expertise, rather than vertical. As far as I know this has never been tried in a genuinely worker owned enterprise.

  46. #46 Russell
    July 30, 2006

    Keith Douglas writes, “There is, of course, at least one other alternative, namely that that they are worker owned.”

    There are plenty of worker-owned enterprises. That describes every sole proprietorship, most partnerships, and quite a few other companies. Or to put it another way, worker-owned businesses are not a third alternative, but fall under some of the other alternatives already discussed.

    So why aren’t socialists satisfied with the worker-owned enterprises in today’s economy? Because there are other alternatives. The socialist vision requires not worker-owned enterprises, but only worker-owned enterprises. That entails a long list of restrictions on how businesses operate. Workers can’t be allowed to sell their share of the business, even if they are old and want to diversify their retirement, because the moment there is any way of severing ownership from ongoing work, there goes the socialist vision. For the same reason, workers can’t carry their ownership in an enterprise with them, when they decide to switch jobs. This pretty much eliminates the notion of growing equity as one stays with an enterprise, or traps long-time workers with one enterprise, for fear of losing it. Businesses will also have a hard time capitalizing any new venture. Creditors will be loathe to lend money to a business, because there is so little recourse in case of default. There can’t be any form of venture capitalization, or equity capitalization, or equity markets, so important to economic growth, since those all require the severance of ownership from labor.

    The problem isn’t that capitalists foreclose the notion of worker-owned enterprise. Far from it! Most of us have participated in that, in some fashion. I was a worker-owned enterprise for many years. Rather, it is that socialists want to exclude all the many other ways of structuring a business. These restrictions require a significant regulatory apparatus, to ensure that businesses find no way around them, and if effectively enforced, will put a large damper on economic progress. The magnitude of the regulatory apparatus will be such that a worker-owned enteprise in a nation where nothing else is allowed will yield the workers far less control than in a capitalism where other opportunities are open to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if some workers in such a system feel more that the regulatory apparatus owns the enterprise, and the enterprise owns the worker. No doubt, the few who still believe in socialism as a system never yet tried, rather than one that was tried many times, will insist that that was not the course it followed. Or that that course was due to poor leadership.

  47. #47 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 31, 2006

    Russell,

    It seems the need for regulations is misused by socialists. I’m also curious about how large need there is, being naive about economy and economical theory.

    For example, restricting or prohibiting monopolies allows for a better market situation. Now, it seems to me every market run the risk of having monopolies. Is this a specific pathology of what you call “essentially a genetic algorithm for evolving business processes”? Or is the regulation unnecessary, for example by being too sensitive to bad markets, which furthermore perhaps may deterministically (complacent monopoly) or statistically (competition) correct themselves in time?

  48. #48 Keith Douglas
    July 31, 2006

    It is true that many small businesses of various kinds are worker owned. But I specified production for a reason: here is where there is substantially less. Most worker owned businesses of the sort you described are service or retail. You are also importing many notions that need not occur, either – this is what I mean about people not thinking things through too much. For example, you assume economic growth, too.

  49. #49 Russell
    July 31, 2006

    Keith Douglas writes, “you assume economic growth, too.”

    Not at all. In fact, I explicitly point out that the kind of restrictions that socialism requires would dampen or destroy economic growth. Economic growth is not a given.

    As a liberal, I view economic growth as desirable. I would like to see our children to have better lives, for knowledge to increase, for technological progress to continue, for computers and communications to get smaller, faster, and cheaper, for nanotechnology to become commonplace, in short, for the economy to grow. But I recognize that that growth is not guaranteed. It is a function of the choices we make, and bad decisions — and especially a turn to socialism — are quite capable of putting us on a downward spiral. (Let me be clear, for anyone dropping into the end of this thread, that we are discussing socialism as an alternative to a capitalist economy, not social democrat policies implemented on top of a capitalist economy.)

  50. #50 quork
    July 31, 2006

    Ideal Gas Law Repealed


    Bourque, an engineer, said he has seen a 1 to 1.5 mile-per-gallon increase since he began filling his tires with nitrogen, which is touted as maintaining tire pressure longer and resisting heat buildup on hot summer days.

    For Bourque, his tire pressure remains constant — 40 pounds for his fully loaded truck — even on hot days when tire pressure normally fluctuates.

    I suppose there might be some benefit to filling tires with pure N2 instead of air, but I don’t think that elimination of heat-induced pressure rise is one of them. PV=nRT, or something like that.

  51. #51 quork
    July 31, 2006

    Conger cuddling cancelled

    LONDON (Reuters) – An English fishing town has banned the sport of conger cuddling after an animal activist complained.
    .
    The tradition, once described as the most fun a person could have with a dead fish, involves one team trying to hit another with a conger eel tied to a rope.

    But the sport has now been banned after an animal rights activist complained that it was “disrespectful” to dead fish and threatened to campaign against the event.

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