Quotulatiousness

December 24, 2017

QotD: Religious and literary depictions of happiness

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It would seem that human beings are not able to describe, nor perhaps to imagine, happiness except in terms of contrast. That is why the conception of Heaven or Utopia varies from age to age. In pre-industrial society Heaven was described as a place of endless rest, and as being paved with gold, because the experience of the average human being was overwork and poverty. The houris of the Muslim Paradise reflected a polygamous society where most of the women disappeared into the harems of the rich. But these pictures of ‘eternal bliss’ always failed because as the bliss became eternal (eternity being thought of as endless time), the contrast ceased to operate. Some of the conventions embedded in our literature first arose from physical conditions which have now ceased to exist. The cult of spring is an example. In the Middle Ages spring did not primarily mean swallows and wild flowers. It meant green vegetables, milk and fresh meat after several months of living on salt pork in smoky windowless huts. The spring songs were gay Do nothing but eat and make good cheer, And thank Heaven for the merry year When flesh is cheap and females dear, And lusty lads roam here and there So merrily, And ever among so merrily! because there was something to be so gay about. The winter was over, that was the great thing. Christmas itself, a pre-Christian festival, probably started because there had to be an occasional outburst of overeating and drinking to make a break in the unbearable northern winter.

The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain. But clearly we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable. But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.

George Orwell (writing as “John Freeman”), “Can Socialists Be Happy?”, Tribune, 1943-12-20.

November 14, 2017

Paradise, the Fall, and the Second Coming … Marxist style

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, Sarah Hoyt draws a few parallels between traditional Christian beliefs and modern-day progressive ones:

First, I’m going to say that this is to an extent the result of self-selection that has nothing to do with politics.

The left has a narrative that is a just so story. It is, as was pointed out here, in the comments, a Christian heresy, but one that caters to fake “rationalism.” What I mean is that the narrative of the leftist/communist/socialist story includes all the comforting high points of Christianity but avoids the opprobrium of “superstition” cast by enlightenment onto traditional Christianity.

Leftism, whatever they call it, has its roots in Marxism, and Marxism offers a comforting view of paradise (primitive times, when property was communal and blah blah blah. If the flavor is feminist, it was communal property and ruling matriarchs) fall (we discovered something that changed us. These days it’s fashionable in academic circles to blame agriculture, which apparently was no good, very bad, terrible for us, even though, you know, it allowed us to colonize the Earth and have a vast and varied population. In the seventies it was war. There are as many candidates for the liberal sin that caused human fall, as there is for the Christian sin, and honestly, none of them make a heck of a lot of sense) and redemption (here it’s different from Christian redemption, where each individual redeems himself, but the species can’t be redeemed till the second coming. Um… scratch that. Perhaps not that different. It is assumed that the evils of the human species are because we are not designed to live in “capitalism” which these dodos seem to think is any kind of trade or hierarchy. They actually do call monarchies “capitalist” even absolute monarchies. And because we are distorted and made “evil” by this structure, when the communist state withers away into a perfect classless, communal society, we’ll be redeemed, as surely as by the second coming. Frankly, at least the second coming is more plausible from a scientific point of view. At least it doesn’t require a bloated, totalitarian state to behave in ways that no totalitarian, bloated state ever behaved. And while our species might have no experience of the Son of the Creator returning again in full glory this time to rule over us, we do have endless experience of totalitarian states.)

However, all of this mystical belief is dressed up in “science.” History is taught with the idea that it has an arrow and the arrow leads inevitably to collectivism, and because they only teach select portions of history, the poor kids are convinced of it.

This is partly what I meant by self-selected. The people who tend to gravitate left, PARTICULARLY those older than say 25, are the GOOD kids. This is something that is rarely appreciated, and poor things, they view themselves as daring rebels. It’s sort of pathetic, actually. (Having grown up in a village, I’ve had a great chance to observe human nature, and one of the inevitable funny twists of the human mind is that the most flexible of humans like to think themselves steadfast and inflexible. The kindest flatter themselves they’re cruel. Meek women think they’re termagants. I’m not sure why, really. It just seems to be an invariable part of the human “package.”)

They’re the people who went to school and listened really well, and answered what the teachers wanted to hear. They’re the ones who internalized lessons, and explanations, and the ones who want to have a system in which to integrate everything they learn. Everything has to “fit” in their world view.

I kind of understand that because I too like “grand unified theories.” It’s just that after the age of fourteen, I started discovery too many things that didn’t fit anything they’d taught me.

November 4, 2017

The death toll of a century of Communism

Filed under: China, History, Politics, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Yuri Maltsev on the human cost of the Russian Revolution and its follow-on upheavals worldwide:

The horrors of twentieth-century socialism — of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, and Pol Pot — were the offspring of 1917. Seventy years earlier, Marx and Engels predicted the overthrow of bourgeois rule would require violence and “a dictatorship of the proletariat … to weed out remaining capitalist elements.” Lenin conducted this “weeding out” using indiscriminate terror, as Russian socialists before him had done and others would continue to do after his death.

The late Rudolph Rummel, the demographer of government mass murder, estimated the human toll of twentieth-century socialism to be about 61 million in the Soviet Union, 78 million in China, and roughly 200 million worldwide. These victims perished during state-organized famines, collectivization, cultural revolutions, purges, campaigns against “unearned” income, and other devilish experiments in social engineering.

In its monstrosity, this terror is unrivaled in the course of human history.

Lenin’s coup on November 7, 1917, the day Kerensky’s provisional government fell to Bolshevik forces, opened a new stage in human history: a regime of public slavery. Collectivist economic planning led to coercion, violence, and mass murder. Marx and Engels had defined socialism as “the abolition of private property.” The most fundamental component of private property, self-ownership, was abolished first.

[…]

The Marxists’ biggest targets have always been the family, religion, and civil society — institutional obstacles to the imposition of the omnipotent state. With the Bolsheviks in power, Lenin set out to destroy them.

Murder of children became a norm after he ordered the extermination of Czar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their five children. Millions of families were rounded up and forcibly relocated to remote and uninhabited regions in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Hundreds of thousands of children died of starvation or disease during their journey into exile and were buried in mass unmarked graves.

In 1935, Stalin introduced Article 12 of the USSR Criminal Code, which permitted that children age twelve and older be sentenced to death or imprisonment as adults. This “law” was directed at the orphans of victims of the regime, based on the belief that an apple never falls far from the tree. Many of these kids, whose parents had been jailed or executed, were commonly known as bezprizorni, street children. They found themselves living in bare, dirty cells in a savagely violent gulag, where they were mixed with dangerous criminals and were brutalized and raped by guards and common criminals.

On a lighter note, here’s a review of The Death of Stalin from Samizdata:

The Death of Stalin opened recently across the UK. It is an excellent black comedy, 5 stars. The film opens with a musical performance for Radio Moscow, Stalin likes it, and asks for the recording. There is none, so, in true Soviet style, the recording is ‘faked’ by the terrified producer, who resorts to desperate measures. The backdrop to this is nightly NKVD raids, roaming through apartment blocks with the citizenry knowing what to expect, Beria adds his own touches to the minutiae of the raids. We see Stalin’s inner circle, all desperately keeping track of what they have said, and striving to please their master.

Then Stalin collapses, with a little sub-plot device thrown in. Beria is the first to find him, and gets his head start on the race for power. The others in the Praesidium arrive, and the plotting begins. Efforts to get a doctor for Stalin are complicated by the consequences of the Doctors’ Plot, with the NKVD rounding up whoever they can find instead. But it becomes clear that Stalin is in a terminal condition and he then dies.

It should be noted that the film is by the writers of The Thick of It, something, not having a TV, I have never seen, but it has the flavour of a much coarser version of an Ealing Comedy. Beria’s raping and torturing is a major theme, and anyone who sits through the first 15 minutes should by then be under no illusion about the nature of the Soviet Union and socialism. Another excellent aspect of the film is the use of various accents, Stalin is a cockney (perhaps he should have been Welsh, an outsider, emphasising his Georgian origins). Zhukov a bluff Lancastrian (or Northerner), Malenkov and Khrushchev have American accents.

Dierdre McCloskey on populism

Filed under: Economics, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A recent paper, “Populism Is Zero Sum Under Majority Rule” [PDF], prepared for the Stockholm meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society:

Populism revives the ancient ideology of zero sum for an age of majority rule. Liberalism, by contrast, is a recent ideology of positive sum, with rights for minority groups, which often generate the positive sum. The pioneering management theorist of the 1920s, Mary Parker Follett, called it “win-win.” Populism speaks instead of “win-lose,” and darkly suspects that the minority groups are the source of the “lose.”

Populism can be given what the philosophers call an “ostensive” definition, that is, pointing to instances one after another until the point is clear. All right, to speak only of those who achieved substantial if often temporary political power, the Gracchi, Savonarola, William Jennings Bryan, Mussolini, Juan Peron, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, Hugo Chávez, Silvio Berlusconi, the Tea Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Marine Le Pen, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump. Zero sum prevails. Italy in the 1930s can be rich and, especially, glorious only by foreign conquest, incompetently pursued. Southern whites in the 1880s can only be dignified if blacks are not. America in the late 2010s can only be made richer if China and Mexico are made poorer.

What has been odd and definitive of populism during the past couple of centuries, though, is not the zero sum, an old and commonplace assumption about the economy, but majority rule as the default in politics. “Democracy,” after all, has only recently become a good word. Majority rule was until the nineteenth century regularly described as mob rule. Odi profanum vulgus. It was to be disdained, and only a tiny group of radical priests and levellers disagreed. “When Adam delved, and Eve span/ Who then was the gentleman?” John Ball asked in 1380, for which he was drawn and quartered. In 1685 the Leveller Richard Rumbold, facing the hangman, declared, “I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.” Few in the crowd gathered to mock him would have agreed. A century later, many would have. By 1985 virtually everyone did, at least in declaration.

Populism, then, is democracy in the polity when obsessed with zero sum in the economy. Socialism is a populism with a grand theory attached. Neither is strange. After all, zero-sum thinking is deeply natural. It is the default, certainly, for humans and for other great apes. Herd animals and social animals behave “charitably” towards their herd or society, it may be, though all animals will fight for territory, or else avoid the fight from a sense of justice. A dog will not steal another’s bone.

Modern populism was expressed by the Louisiana governor Huey Long in 1934 as “Every man a king.” A classical liberal can warmly agree, as against the affection for hierarchy among conservatives. In the eighteenth century kings had rights, and women had none. Now, thankfully, it’s the other way around.

But Huey’s way of achieving the rights was that of both Bad King John and his enemy Robin Hood, characteristic of the feudal and now the socialist and populist order, of violence. “It is necessary to scale down the big fortunes,” he said, “that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.” Scale down by governmental violence one person’s earnings by trade and betterment, in order to give to another person, and all will be well. Zero sum. Win-lose.

October 22, 2017

New Zealand’s PM-elect will save the country from the evils of capitalism

Filed under: Economics, Government, Pacific, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Catallaxy Files, Steve Kates views the statement of the next Prime Minister of New Zealand with disdain:

The stupidity of some people plumbs depths that are always hard to fathom. Is it really all that hard to learn from history? Jacinda Ardern: ‘Capitalism has failed New Zealanders’. Listen to this bewildering idiocy and marvel how someone can remain so ignorant in the midst of a world of socialist horrors.

    New Zealand prime-minister-elect Jacinda Ardern has described capitalism as a “blatant failure” in the country, nominating poverty and homelessness as her priorities when she takes office.

    Speaking in her first sit-down interview, on TV3’s The Nation, Ms Ardern said New Zealanders were not feeling the benefits of prosperity. Asked if capitalism had failed New Zealanders on low incomes, Ms Ardern was blunt: “If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that’s a blatant failure. What else could you describe it as?”

    “When you have a market economy, it all comes down to whether or not you acknowledge where the market has failed and where intervention is required. Has it failed our people in recent times? Yes.

    “Wages are not keeping up with inflation (and) and how can you claim you’ve been successful when you have growth at roughly 3 per cent, but you have the worst homelessness in the developed world?”

I personally had no idea that the economy was so terrible in New Zealand, with literally hundreds of thousands of New Zealand’s children living in starvation conditions. According to Wikipedia, there are less than five million people in all of New Zealand, and roughly 20% of the population are under the age of 15: that means at least two-hundred thousand children are starving right now! That’s nearly Venezuelan levels of privation. How has such a shocking humanitarian crisis engulfed a modern, first-world economy with no warning from the media or our political leaders? We must organize help immediately!

October 20, 2017

QotD: Culture wars of the 20th century

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[Libertarians have] always been strong on analysis and criticism. We have our philosophers and economists and historians, and these are among the best. We aren’t wholly without our novelists and musicians and artists. There’s you. There’s Heinlein. There’s Rand. There are many others.

But we haven’t so far put cultural production at the top of our list of things to do. It’s been treated as barely even secondary to uncovering and explaining the workings of a natural order. So far as this has been the case, however, it’s been a big mistake. There’s little benefit in preaching to an audience that doesn’t understand why your message is important.

The socialist takeover of the English mind during the early 20th century was only in part the achievement of the Webbs and J.A. Hobson and E.H. Carr and Harold Laski and Douglas Jay, and all the others of their kind. They were important, and if they hadn’t written as they did, there would have been no takeover. But for every one who read these, there were tens or hundreds who read and were captured by Shaw and Wells and Galsworthy and Richard Llewellyn, among others. These were men who transmitted the socialist cases to a much wider audience.

Just as importantly, where they did not directly transmit, they helped bring about a change in the climate of opinion so that propositions that were rejected out of hand by most thoughtful men in the 1890s could become the received wisdom of the 1940s. They achieved a similar effect in the United States, and were supplemented there by writers like Howard Fast, and, of course, by the Hollywood film industry.

More recently in England, the effect of television soap operas like Eastenders has been immense and profound. Their writers have taken the dense and often incomprehensible writings of the neo-Marxists and presented them as a set of hidden assumptions that have transformed the English mind since 1980. No one can fully explain the Labour victory of 1997, or the ease with which law and administration were transformed even before them, without reference to popular culture.

Though I’ll say outright that she’s never been one of my favourites, there’s no doubt that Ayn Rand was a great novelist and a great libertarian. And there’s no doubt at all that her novels did more than anything else to revive libertarianism in America — and perhaps even in England. But what I’m talking about at the moment isn’t long didactic novels where characters speak for three pages about the evils of central banking. What I do believe we need is good, popular entertainment of our own creation that is based on our own assumptions.

I think the most significant objective propagandist of my lifetime for the libertarian and conservative cause in England was the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian. I’ve read all his historical novels, some more than once, and I don’t think he ever sets out an explicit case against the modern order of things. What he does instead is to create a world – that may once have existed largely as he describes I – that works on different assumptions from our own. If this world is often unattractive on account of its poverty and brutality, its settled emphasis on tradition and on personal freedom and responsibility has probably done more to spread the truth in England than the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Ideas combined.

Sean Gabb, quoted in “Wayne John Sturgeon talks to Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance”, Sean Gabb, 2013-08-26.

October 13, 2017

LITERATURE – George Orwell

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The School of Life
Published on 25 Nov 2016

George Orwell is the most famous English language writer of the 20th century, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. What was he trying to tell us and what is his genius?

October 12, 2017

QotD: The Progressive vision

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make the government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau. What an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight!

Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944.

August 27, 2017

QotD: Communism wouldn’t have worked any better with modern computers

Filed under: Economics, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

At the New Republic, Malcolm Harris asks an interesting question: Was the Soviet Union’s problem that Communism can never work? Or did the Soviets just need a lot more MacBook Airs?

Actually, Harris is channeling Paul Mason, the author of the book he is reviewing, and unfortunately, he doesn’t really try to answer the question. Instead he makes the stridently timid argument that this won’t happen because the capitalists won’t let it, at least without a healthy dose of revolutionary action.

I’ll swing for the fences and argue that no, even with better computers, Communism isn’t going to work. Nor some gauzy vision of post-capitalism that looks like Communism, but with YouTube videos.

In retrospect, Communism seems wildly stupid, or at least, incredibly naive. Did the people who dreamed up this system not understand the enormous incentive problems they were creating? As Ayn Rand dramatized the problem in Atlas Shrugged: “It’s miseries, not work, that had become the coin of the realm — so it turned into a contest among six thousand panhandlers, each claiming that his need was worse than his brother’s. How else could it be done?” The incentives of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” drive toward falling production, which means there won’t be enough to cover the needs.

Or as a former colleague who fled Communist Poland once told me, “They pretended to pay us, and we pretended to work.” There is a reason that basically all the Communist and Socialist regimes ended in some degree of authoritarianism.

How could anyone who had, y’know, met some people in their visit to our planet, not see that this was coming? Large swathes of Communist and Socialist writing was naive and impractical. But the idealists weren’t entirely unaware that when monetary incentives disappeared, they would need to find other ways to get people to do things.

Megan McArdle, “Yes, Computers Have Improved. No, Communism Hasn’t”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-02.

August 25, 2017

QotD: The “job” of literature between the wars

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Until round about WWI when the wheels came off European culture (and in that strata, American taste always molded itself on European taste, starting before the revolution) “high culture” and “proper taste” which defined “quality literature” involved the author making sure the upper classes knew he was one of them. That is, the story would be full of literary references, to either classical literature (a lot) or to various artists and writers which had become hallmarks of high culture. (Shakespeare or Chaucer, not “quality” or high class in their own times, but rendered more difficult and therefore more rarefied a taste by the change in language.)

Then the wheels came off. There was some insurgence and some of this type of thing before then, mind, but it was after WWI that self-loathing became the hallmark of the upper classes in Europe. Then, because they were still the elite and (in their own eyes) the taste makers, the mark of rarefied good taste became the nostalgie de la boue. Where Shakespeare and his like had written about kings and queens or at least Lords and Ladies, increasingly the “modern” and cutting edge literature bypassed even decent middle class who were despised as bourgeois and concentrated on ne’er do wells, the criminal element, the lowest of the low in morals more than in money. Alternately it concentrated on the corruption and bankrupt morals of the [nouveau riche], the noblemen, those that could be seen as winners in life.

This is what Agatha Christie in her Miss Marple books more than once characterizes as “Unpleasant people in unpleasant circumstances, doing unpleasant things.”

This trend, roughly akin to an adolescent reveling in writing things that upset his parents, as communism became an established thing and the USSR reached out tendrils of propaganda to the west, turned into a mess of set-pieces, the “international realism” of socialists, about as artistically relevant as the national realism of the fascists. It became set pieces to the point that you REALLY need to question your cultural assumptions to get at the truth.

The “literature” of this type has given us the exploited mill workers, for instance, living in horror and squalor. While this is absolutely true when compared to the conditions of our time, those mill workers didn’t get the chance to live in our time, in the conditions of our time. They had the choice of living off the land or going to the city and living in factories. Life on the land has been painted with the soft tints of the romantics and the glorious tints of the early Marxists, but if you actually LOOK at the industrial revolution going on before our eyes in China or India, you realize people are coming to the cities and getting factory jobs because life is BETTER there than in the rural fastnesses they come from. Sure, their lives as industrial workers would horrify American workers, but they’re relatively good for what they have available.

In this sense, the literature of that time did its job which was to sell a socialist future (though most of the authors who were trying to write quality were probably unaware of what they were doing or how the dictates of “quality” came from a self-hating and often outright traitorous elite.) It shaped even the minds of those who are naturally suspicious of socialist tripe.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “The Quality of Writing”, According to Hoyt, 2015-10-11.

August 7, 2017

QotD: Communism, competition, and the socialist calculation problem

Filed under: Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Competition turns out not to be so wasteful; it makes a system resilient. That misunderstanding was a symptom of a larger issue called the socialist calculation problem. We think of prices largely in reference to ourselves, or other individuals, which is to say that we mostly see them as the highest barrier to getting something we want. But as we pull back to look at society, or the globe, we see that they are in fact an incredibly elegant way to allocate scarce resources.

This was best explained by Friedrich Hayek in his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Some good like tin becomes scarce, perhaps because a large tin mine has failed, or perhaps because there is a new and very profitable use for tin that is soaking up much of the supply. The price rises, and all over the world, people begin to economize on tin. Most of them have no idea why the price of tin is rising, and if they did, they wouldn’t care; they just switch to another metal, or start recycling old tin, finding a way to bring global demand closer in line to global supply. A lot of that is possible only because of price competition.

You can think of this as something like a distributed computer network: You get millions of people devoting some portion of their effort to aligning consumption with production. This system is constantly churning, making billions of decisions a day. Communism tried to replace this with a bunch of guys sitting around in offices, who occasionally negotiated with guys sitting around in other offices. It was a doomed effort from the start. Don’t get me wrong; the incentive problems were real and large. But even if they could have been solved, the calculation problem would have remained. And the more complex an economy you are trying to manage, the worse a job you will do.

The socialist calculation problem is not fundamentally an issue of calculating how to produce the most stuff, but of calculating what should be produced. Computers can’t solve that, at least until they develop sufficient intelligence that they’ll probably render the issue moot by ordering our toasters to kill us so that they can use our bodies for mulch.

Megan McArdle, “Yes, Computers Have Improved. No, Communism Hasn’t”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-02.

August 5, 2017

At least someone on the left is willing to find fault with Venezuela’s leadership

Filed under: Americas, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Of course, when I say “find fault”, I mean “criticize for not being even more horrible“:

Ken Livingstone, a former mayor of London, has blamed the turmoil in Venezuela on the unwillingness of the former president, Hugo Chávez, to execute “oligarchs” after he came to power.

Livingstone, who is suspended from the Labour party, also blamed the economic crisis in the country on the government’s failure to take his advice on investment in infrastructure, which he said would have reduced the Latin American state’s dependence on oil.

The former mayor, a longtime supporter of the late president Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, said the socialist leader’s enemies wanted to restore their power.

“One of the things that Chávez did when he came to power, he didn’t kill all the oligarchs. There was about 200 families who controlled about 80% of the wealth in Venezuela,” Livingstone told Talk Radio.

“He allowed them to live, to carry on. I suspect a lot of them are using their power and control over imports and exports to make it difficult and to undermine Maduro.” When pressed, Livingstone said he was “not in favour of killing anyone”.

Livingstone visited Venezuela during his time in office as mayor of London, striking a cut-price oil deal with Maduro to supply Transport for London. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has also regularly expressed his admiration for Chávez, saying in 2013 he was “an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe”.

August 4, 2017

Short memories and willing self-deception over Venezuela

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Los Angeles Times, James Kirchick took the pundits to task for their adulation of Venezuela’s government as it plunged deliberately into a humanitarian disaster:

Shaded relief map of Venezuela, 1993 (via Wikimedia)

On Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed victory in a referendum designed to rewrite the country’s constitution and confer on him dictatorial powers. The sham vote, boycotted by the opposition, was but the latest stage in the “Bolivarian Revolution” launched by Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. First elected in 1998 on a wave of popular goodwill, Chavez’s legacy is one of utter devastation.

Thanks to Chavismo’s vast social welfare schemes (initially buoyed by high oil prices), cronyism and corruption, a country that once boasted massive budget surpluses is today the world’s most indebted. Contraction in per capita GDP is so severe that “Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the U.S., Western Europe or the rest of Latin America” according to Ricardo Hausmann, former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank. Transparency International lists Venezuela as the only country in the Americas among the world’s 10 most corrupt.

Socialist economic policies — price controls, factory nationalizations, government takeovers of food distribution and the like — have real human costs. Eighty percent of Venezuelan bakeries don’t have flour. Eleven percent of children under 5 are malnourished, infant mortality has increased by 30% and maternal mortality is up 66%. The Maduro regime has met protests against its misrule with violence. More than 100 people have died in anti-government demonstrations and thousands have been arrested. Loyal police officers are rewarded with rolls of toilet paper.

The list of Western leftists who once sang the Venezuelan government’s praises is long, and Naomi Klein figures near the top.

In 2004, she signed a petition headlined, “We would vote for Hugo Chavez.” Three years later, she lauded Venezuela as a place where “citizens had renewed their faith in the power of democracy to improve their lives.” In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, she portrayed capitalism as a sort of global conspiracy that instigates financial crises and exploits poor countries in the wake of natural disasters. But Klein declared that Venezuela had been rendered immune to the “shocks” administered by free market fundamentalists thanks to Chavez’s “21st Century Socialism,” which had created “a zone of relative economic calm and predictability.”

Chavez’s untimely death from cancer in 2013 saw an outpouring of grief from the global left. The caudillo “demonstrated that it is possible to resist the neo-liberal dogma that holds sway over much of humanity,” wrote British journalist Owen Jones. “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people,” said Oliver Stone, who would go on to replace Chavez with Vladimir Putin as the object of his twisted affection.

June 21, 2017

QotD: Profit

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

While capitalism has a visible cost – profit – that does not exist under socialism, socialism has an invisible cost – inefficiency – that gets weeded out by losses and bankruptcy under capitalism. The fact that most goods are more widely affordable in a capitalist economy implies that profit is less costly than inefficiency. Put differently, profit is a price paid for efficiency.

Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (fifth edition), 2015.

May 23, 2017

Venezuela’s American “useful idiots”

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Marian L. Tupy on the American apologists for the ongoing economic and humanitarian disaster unfolding in Venezuela, thanks to that country’s embrace of socialism:

… all socialist countries eventually come to experience similar economic and political problems. And, just as surely, there will always be those in the West who will jump to socialism’s defense. Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, called such people “useful idiots”.

I was reminded of the immensely seductive nature of socialism this week, when Tucker Carlson, the host of the eponymous show on Fox News, hosted a young socialist from The Students and Youth for a New America. To give you a sense of the conversation between the two, I have transcribed some of Dakotah Lilly’s statements below:

    “We need to acknowledge that what Venezuela is facing right now is terrorism at the hands of the opposition. Opposition has bombed schools, they have bombed buses, [and] they have taken wiring and strung it across roads to behead cops on motorcycles. These are not choir boys. These are violent extremists, hell-bent on taking away the progress that Venezuela has made over the past few years.”

    “If you look at the casualties that have happened in the past few months in these protests, the majority of those that have been killed have been trade unionist leaders, have been dedicated Chavistas, have been people on the Left.”

    “In terms of economics, the sanctions that the United States has put on Venezuela and the hoarding done by multi-national corporations in Venezuela, certainly does not help the [economic] situation.”

Almost everything that Lilly says here is demonstrably false. Extensive reporting by the New York Times, hardly a promoter and defender of “unbridled capitalism”, shows that most of the victims of political violence in Venezuela have been anti-government protesters.

Prey for Socialism’s Siren Call

Moreover, the sanctions imposed by the United States on a few individuals connected to the Venezuelan government have nothing to do with that country’s economic meltdown.

Aside from oil exports, Venezuela does not have or make anything that anyone in the world wants to buy. Thus, when the oil price collapsed from $140 to less than $50 a barrel, the country lost most of the foreign exchange it needed to purchase food and consumer goods abroad. Shortages ensued.

Admittedly, it is not entirely fair to criticize American millennials for their almost unfathomable ignorance. The state-schools system is, by and large, broken. American pupils can go through years of primary and secondary “education” without learning about communist crimes and socialist economic failures. Solutions to these problems are not easily to find. History and economics are not the most popular of subjects, and more often than not, the faculties are Left-leaning.

To make matters worse, young people, such as Dakotah Lilly, are deeply idealistic and easy prey to the siren call of socialism. They see the imperfections of free-market democracy at home and assume that countries with the opposite economic and political arrangements, such socialist Venezuela, must offer a better life to their people.

As Steven Horwitz pointed out earlier this month, “you can’t deny that Venezuela is a socialist calamity“:

This humanitarian disaster has raised the question of who or what to blame. That question puts self-proclaimed socialists and their progressive sympathizers in a difficult spot. After all, one can easily find lots of examples (from Michael Moore to Bernie Sanders) of people on the left praising or endorsing Chavez’s economic policies. So what can people who took that position say in the face of this disaster? And what can the defenders of free enterprise say as well?

Many on the left will start by denying that socialism is at fault. Sometimes they’ll deny that the Chavez-Maduro policies were “real” socialism. In other cases, they’ll argue that while their intentions might have been good, corruption and poor implementation doomed good policies to failure.

Both of these arguments have real problems.

If those policies were not “real” socialism, then why did so many sympathetic to socialism express so much support for them and argue that they would be transformative in ways socialists value? Chavez himself made such claims.

Do all of them not understand what socialism is? The variety of attempts Chavez made to prevent markets and prices from working and to substitute some form of economic planning in the name of the people have been broadly consistent with socialism since Marx. If that’s not socialism, what exactly is meant by that word anymore?

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