January 6, 2017

Venezuela’s journey from the “Bolivarian Revolution” to “Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty”

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jack Staples-Butler on the moral accountability for outside supporters (particularly the British left) of what has turned into a huge humanitarian disaster in Venezuela:

DENIAL in the face of catastrophic failure of one’s ideas is a predictable reaction from a believer, as per Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction in response to the failure of one’s beliefs. Denial in the face of shame for one’s actions is an experience well-studied by psychologists and criminologists. One 2014 study summarises the role of ‘shame’ in creating both denial of responsibility and recidivism among offenders:

    “Feelings of shame… involve a painful feeling directed toward the self. For some people, feelings of shame lead to a defensive response, a denial of responsibility, and a need to blame others — a process that can lead to aggression.”

Combining both faces of the phenomenon of denial is the behaviour of the supporters, apologists and promoters of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, the late Hugo Chávez and the PSUV regime in Venezuela, and their response to the present state of the country. Humanitarian catastrophe of an apocalyptic scale is now unfolding in the most oil-rich state in the world. The magnitude of human suffering is indescribable. The scenes of bread queues and shortages familiar to Eurozone-crisis Greece are long since surpassed. Venezuela has become a ‘Starvation State’ which “today drowns in a humanitarian crisis”, with lawless cities and hunger for the majority. It extends beyond humans, as the country’s pets are left in skeletal starvation and the zoos of Venezuela become graveyards of wild and endangered animals. […]

The response of the Venezuelan government to a crisis entirely of its own making has been systemic and organised psychological denial of its own, and particularly to externalise blame through conspiracy theories. Fantasies of ‘economic warfare’ waged by ‘hoarders’ led by the United States are played out in government seizures of foodstuffs and crippling price controls. The most disturbing recent development is the prospect of Venezuelans becoming a population of forced labourers in government-run agricultural projects, a solution that would take Venezuela from Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty to Cambodian levels of state-led starvation.

H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.

January 2, 2017

QotD: A key to Hitler’s early success

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

[Hitler] grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

George Orwell, “Review of Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler”, 1940.

December 25, 2016

QotD: Lefties and Randians

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

Lefties always seem especially afraid of Ayn Rand supporters. I think that’s because — at least until recently — Randians were almost the only people on the right who were both unafraid of lefties and willing to call leftism, even in its comparatively mile FDR form, immoral. Both traits can be very triggering.

Glenn Reynolds, “ACTUAL HEADLINE IN THE WASHINGTON POST: Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow objectivists”, Instapundit, 2016-12-13.

December 12, 2016

QotD: Don’t mess with the market

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

Please note that this is nothing to do with a debate about capitalism or socialism: they are descriptions of who owns the productive assets in a society. It’s also nothing at all to do with whatever the correct level of taxation, state provision or anything about what redistribution should be in a society. It’s purely a point about how you try to achieve the goals that you’ve set yourself.

It’s entirely possible to alter or ameliorate the outcomes of market process. But the temptation to direct those market processes is where the problems come in. Take Venezuela: as I’ve repeatedly said there’s nothing immoral or necessarily undesirable about increasing the incomes of the poor or of reducing inequality. It’s just that the method that one uses to do this has to be taking money from richer people and then giving it to poorer people. Not, as they have done, attempting to do a whole series of price fixing. This was something that New Labour, under Blair and Brown, largely did get. Allow the economy to hum along and tax it to then pay for the results that you want.

Miliband was arguing the other way. That we should be doing that price fixing, that interference directly into the market, in order to achieve our goals. And that is the Venezuelan mistake.

We do in fact have in front of us an example of what most leftists consider to be a generally desirable outcome: the Nordics. They’re high tax, high redistribution states, oh yes they are. But they’re also, underneath that, markedly more classically liberal than either the UK or the US. That’s what makes the places tick. They don’t have minimum wages for example, let alone price fixing for energy. As Scott Sumner has pointed out Denmark might be the most classically liberal economy on the planet.

The real lesson I think the left needs to learn is that markets work. You can change the outcome through tax and redistribution if you wish: but don’t mess with the workings of the market itself.

Tim Worstall, “Under Miliband Britain Would Have Become Like Venezuela”, Forbes, 2015-05-09.

December 2, 2016

QotD: Socialism

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

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1850.

September 26, 2016

QotD: Jewish intellectuals and communism

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

As Eugene Volokh’s sources note, a disproportionately large number of the original Bolsheviks were Jewish. Karl Marx was ethnically Jewish, though his parents had converted to Christianity. It is impossible to study the history of Marxism, Socialism, and Communism without noticing how many Jewish names crop up among the leading intellectuals. It is equally impossible not to notice how many of the Old Left families in the U.S. were (and still are) Jewish — and, more specifically, Ashkenazim of German or Eastern European extraction. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg didn’t come out of nowhere.

It’s not even very hard to understand why this is. There is a pattern, going back to Spinoza in the 1600s, of Jewish intellectuals seeking out the leading edge of certain kinds of reform movements. Broadly speaking, if you look at any social movement of the last 300 years that was secular, rationalist, and communitarian, somewhere in it you would find nonobservant Jews providing a lot of the intellectual firepower and organizational skills. Often a disproportionate share, relative to other population groups.

Communism was one example; there are many others. One of my favorites is the Ethical Culture movement. Today, we have the Free Software movement, not coincidentally founded by Jewish atheist Richard Stallman. There is an undeniable similarity among all these movements, an elusive deep structure having to do not so much with shared beliefs as a shared style of believing that one might call messianic social rationalism.

Anybody who thinks I’m arguing for a conspiracy theory should check their meds. No, there is something much simpler and subtler at work here. Inherited religious myths, even when they no longer have normative force, influence the language and conceptual frameworks that intellectuals use to approach other issues. The mythologist Joseph Campbell once noted that thinkers with a Catholic background like mine gravitate towards universalizing mysticisms and Protestants towards individualist redemptionism; he could have added that thinkers with a Jewish heritage tend to love messianic social doctrines. (One can cite exceptions to all three, of course, but the correlation will still be there after you’ve done so.)

Thus, assimilated Jews have a particular propensity for constructing secular messianisms — or for elaborating and intellectualizing secular messianisms invented by gentiles. But you can’t say this sort of thing in academia; you get called a racist if you do. And you especially aren’t allowed to notice the other reason movements like Communism sometime look not unlike Jewish conspiracies — which is that the IQ bell curve for Jews has a mean about a standard deviation north of the IQ bell curve for Caucasian gentiles.

In cold and sober truth, in any kind of organization where intelligence matters — even the Communist movement —, you are going to find a disproportionate number of Jews with their hands on the levers. It doesn’t take any conspiracy to arrange this, and it’s not the Jews’ fault the goyim around them are such narrs (Yiddish for “imbeciles”). It just happens.

Eric S. Raymond, “Communism and the Jews”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-11-14.

July 5, 2016

From Socialist to Fascist – Benito Mussolini in World War 1 I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

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

Published on 4 Jul 2016

Benito Mussolini was a well known Socialist before World War 1. But the lead up to Italy’s entry into the conflict caused a split between the Socialists and the pro-interventionist Fasci. During the war, Mussolini was sent to the Isonzo Front where he became even more popular. After being sent home, he continued his agitation with great financial support from France, Britain and Italian industrialists.

June 27, 2016

Media fans of Chavez

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

Theodore Dalrymple on the unfailing ability of some political pundits to not only be wrong, but to be proven wrong so completely and so quickly (and yet to seem unable to learn from the experience):

In 2000 [former literary editor of The Guardian, Richard Gott] wrote a book about Chavez that I thought startling in its adulatory idiocy. The Bourbons may have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing, but Gott was far worse than any Bourbon. Despite it being obvious that Chavez’s crude and demagogic economic notions were capable of producing a sand shortage in the Sahara, Gott saw in them a rainbow with a pot of social justice at the end of it. As late as 2012, Gott wrote an article in The Guardian with the title “Chavez’s economic lesson for Europe.” Its subtitle was “Hugo Chavez’s rejection of the neoliberal policies dragging Europe down sets a hopeful example.”

Chavez’s policy was simply to use Venezuela’s large oil revenues, in effect its unearned income, to subsidize the standard of living of millions of people, while at the same time antagonizing foreign and even domestic capital. Oddly enough, it did not occur to the learned author of the article that Greece, for example, had no revenues from a resource comparable to oil to distribute, though for a time borrowed money played the role of those oil revenues; nor that an economy utterly dependent on the price of oil was extremely fragile, and that to distribute largesse on the assumption that the price would remain high forever was improvident, to say the least.

The article ends as follows:

    Greece has a wonderful chance to change the history of Europe and to throw their caps of Bolívar into the air, as once the Italian carbonari did in Paris all those years ago. Lord Byron, who planned to settle in Bolívar’s Venezuela before sailing off to help liberate Greece, named his yacht Bolívar; he would certainly have been pleased with contemporary developments.

What this omits, apart from the chaos into which Venezuela has only too predictably fallen, is Bolívar’s own miserable end as a fugitive from what he himself had brought about, and his deeply despairing though splendidly lapidary last pronouncement: He who serves the revolution ploughs the sea.

It was never very difficult, even for persons such as I ungifted with foresight, to predict that Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution would end in tears, with shortages of practically everything and corruption on a Brobdingnagian scale. For any person possessed of the most minimal common sense, Gott’s own book about the Venezuelan mountebank provided enough evidence that this would happen. Gott’s economic utopia is a place in which everything for everybody is subsidized, and nothing has a real price. A cynic, said Oscar Wilde, is a person who knows the price of everything; a Gott is a person who thinks there should be no prices, and everything should be distributed according to everyone’s wishes.

But perhaps we should not be too hard on poor old Chavez and his Guardian acolyte, praise-singer, and sycophant. Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution was only European social democracy writ large and loud, a tropical parrot to Europe’s more soberly plumaged crows. After all, what is most of Western politics about other than the size and distribution of subsidies, the state, as the great French economist of the 19th century, Frédéric Bastiat, put it (he is the only economist in the history of the world who makes you laugh on practically every page), the means by which everyone seeks to live at everyone else’s expense?

June 11, 2016

QotD: Socialism

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

Socialism, like the ancient political ideology from which it emanates, confuses government with society. That is why, every time that we do not want a thing to be done by the government, the socialists conclude that we do not want that thing to be done at all. We are opposed to state education; hence, we are opposed to all education. We object to a state religion; hence, we do not want any religion at all. We are against an equality imposed by the state; hence, we are opposed to equality; etc., etc. It is as if they accused us of not wanting men to eat, because we oppose the cultivation of grain by the state.

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1848.

April 14, 2016

QotD: “Dehumanism”

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

What is Dehumanism?

Dehumanism is a term I have coined to describe that soft-edged cloud of modern thinking beloved of the Progressive elite. There is no rigorous definition of dehumanism for the same reason there is no Magisterium for the Wicca, and no Supreme Ruling Council of Anarchists. We are talking about a loose and incoherent alliance of incoherent thinkers. The central principle of Dehumanism is that it lacks principle. It is a disjointed admixture of Machiavelli, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Nihilism.

Its Machiavellian view of morals says that the ends justify the means, and says that noblest ends, such as world Utopia, justify the basest means, such as genocide; Its Darwinian view of history says that races and bloodlines are locked in remorseless and eternal war to extinction, that men should be bred like dogs, and the weak and unwanted be exterminated; Its Marxist view of economics is that the free market is a Darwinian war between economic classes which must regard each other as implacable foes; Its Freudian view of ethics says that to repress the natural and selfish impulses in a child leads to neurosis, therefore ethics is unnatural, whereas pride and lust and greed and ire and perversion are not only natural, but healthy. Its Nietzschean theology says that God is dead and therefore Power is God. Its Nihilist philosophy says that nothing means anything, therefore no philosophy has meaning and no reasoning is reasonable.

Let me hasten to add that no one person holds all these beliefs, or to the same degree. The beliefs contradict each other and contain lunatic paradoxes, so of course no one can embrace all Dehumanist ideals simultaneously or with equal fervor.

Some wax and wane. The theme of Eugenics, for example, was quietly dropped from the Dehumanist diapason after Hitler betrayed Stalin. Eugenics is no longer welcome in polite society unless disguised as a concern about overpopulation.

Eugenics is not gone forever, of course. The notion is built into the world view of Progressivism, which sees reality as an endless war of race against race, selfish gene against selfish gene. The National Socialists celebrated this alleged reality and sought the totalitarian power to throw the victory of the Darwianian war to the Teutonic race; whereas the Fabian Socialists abhor this alleged reality, and seek the totalitarian power to impose a cease-fire on the Darwianian war.

The Christian idea of a brotherhood of man, or the Enlightenment idea of limits to government, is alien to Progressive thinking and abominated by them. They think colorblindness permits un-umpired competition between the Teutonics and their dusky inferiors; the duskies cannot win; and not to win means to be oppressed; hence, by the twisted logic of Progressivism, a non-racist government or a non-totalitarian government unable to umpire the competition between races leads inevitably to Teutonic triumph and ergo is racist. The only way to stop pro-White racism is by anti-White racism. This requires Whites to act against their own personal self-interest or Darwinian clan interest. Such interests, oddly enough, by the Nietzschean and Machiavellian theology and ethics, is the only source of life’s moral code. It is merely a matter of time before another variation Progressivism arises with some new formulation of Eugenics in its van. The selfish gene demands no less.

The average Progressive or National Socialist or Leftist or New Ager or Lover of Imbecility does not buy fully into these beliefs simply because no one could: these beliefs are deadly, and only the dead could practice them consistently.

The average Progressive or Leftist or New Ager or Imbecilophiliac does not except in small ways support them: he is like a man who burns his leaves and his trash in his backyard, and empties his spittoon off the dock, while the smokestack factories of Academia fill the air with gassy smog, and the overflowing sewer of Hollywood pours liquid sludge by gallons unnumbered into the flood.

He is himself neither truly a Nihilist nor a Marxist; his contribution to the general moral and mental pollution of the age is minimal, but real, and every little bit hurts. He is someone happy to call M. Night Shyamalan a racist for not hiring blue-eyed Eskimos to play the roles of hydrokinetic tribesmen from a make-believe world.

But such is the poisonous moral atmosphere of the modern age. I call it Dehumanism because ours is the first era in history which holds, as its basic postulate of moral reasoning, that there is no moral code, merely arbitrary or useful social myths, and no such thing as reasoning.

John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.

March 26, 2016

QotD: The “Futurians” – the rise of the “New Wave” in science fiction

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

Hard SF was an art form that made stringent demands on both author and reader. Stories could be, and were, mercilessly slammed because the author had calculated an orbit or gotten a detail of physics or biology wrong. The Campbellian demand was that SF work both as story and as science, with only a bare minimum of McGuffins like FTL star drives permitted; hard SF demanded that the science be consistent both internally and with known science about the real world.

The New Wave rejected all this for reasons that were partly aesthetic and partly political. For there was a political tradition that went with the hard-SF style, one exemplified by its chief theoretician (Campbell himself) and his right-hand man Robert Heinlein, the inventor of modern SF’s characteristic technique of exposition by indirection. That tradition was of ornery and insistent individualism, veneration of the competent man, an instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering and a rock-ribbed objectivism that that valued knowing how things work and treated all political ideologizing with suspicion.


The New Wave was both a stylistic revolt and a political one. Its inventors (notably Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss) were British socialists and Marxists who rejected individualism, linear exposition, happy endings, scientific rigor and the U.S.’s cultural hegemony over the SF field in one fell swoop. The New Wave’s later American exponents were strongly associated with the New Left and opposition to the Vietnam War, leading to some rancorous public disputes in which politics was tangled together with definitional questions about the nature of SF and the direction of the field.

But the New Wave was not, in fact, the first revolt against hard SF. In the 1950s, a group of young writers centered around Frederik Pohl and the Futurians fan club in New York had invented sociological S.F. (exemplified by the Pohl/Kornbluth collaboration The Space Merchants). Not until decades later did the participants admit that many of the key Futurians were then ideological Communists or fellow travellers, but their work was half-understood at the time to be strong criticism of the consumer capitalism and smugness of the post-World-War-II era.


The new hard SF of the 1980s returned to Golden Age themes and images, if not quite with the linear simplicity of Golden Age technique. It also reverted to the libertarian/individualist values traditional in the field. This time around, with libertarian thinking twenty years more developed, the split between order-worshiping conservatism and the libertarian impulse was more explicit. At one extreme, some SF (such as that of L. Neil Smith) assumed the character of radical libertarian propaganda. At the other extreme, a subgenre of SF that could fairly be described as conservative/militarist power fantasies emerged, notably in the writing of Jerry Pournelle and David Drake.

Tension between these groups sometimes flared into public animosity. Both laid claims to Robert Heinlein’s legacy. Heinlein himself maintained friendly relationships with conservatives but counted himself a libertarian for more than a decade before his death in 1988.

Heinlein’s evolution from Goldwater conservative to anti-statist radical both led and reflected larger trends. By 1989 depictions of explicitly anarcho-libertarian future societies were beginning to filter into mainstream SF work like Joe Haldeman’s Buying Time. Haldeman’s Conch Republic and Novysibirsk were all the more convincing for not being subjects of polemic.

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

March 20, 2016

QotD: The Antinomianism of the post-war world

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

So what are they fighting for, this modern elite?

After the Great War, Europe went through their Crazy Years period, and during the Cold War, America followed, and the elite opinion makers, politicians, writers, thinkers, intellectuals and entertainers, all those who control the imagination and the deliberation of Western Civilization became enamored and fascinated by the series of ideas the previous two generations of philosophers and literati had conceived: the idea that God was Dead and that life meant nothing, and that life was unfair.

The great moral crusade of that generation, the so-called Sexual Revolution was the main rebellion against morality. In the name of freedom and progress, the progressive bent every effort to undoing the progress of all previous generations of saints and sages and moralists, and enslaving the world to addictions and sins: Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, a heady mixture of self-indulgence and socialism. The great moral crusade was Antinomianism.

Antinomianism, the idea that moral rules have no meaning, is a logically incoherent idea, easily refuted by human experience. Progressivism, the idea that the rules of the science economics can be replaced by wishful thinking, is likewise incoherent, and likewise alien to human experience. Progressivism and Antinomianism are Siamese twins, since the promised revolution of the Progressivism involves an overthrow of basic principles of justice, such as the maxim that forbids stealing, forbids envy, forbids treason, forbids lying. The more violent and radical version of Progressivism, Socialism, also refutes the principle of justice that forbids murdering the innocent masses in their millions who all have to be trampled underfoot for the Marxist and Maoist revolutions to succeed. Socialism is the first code of conduct in history where to show disrespect to one’s elders and ancestors, and to hate and uproot one’s own history and institutions is regarded as a virtue rather than a vice.

Adherence to incoherence has several consequences for any mind willing and able to carry out the logical corollaries implied: civility, history, politics, and reason are all involved in the downfall of morality.

Simple civility is the first casualty of this world view, for it presupposes a degree of respect, if not for persons, then for rules of courtesy, but in either case for norms. One cannot consistently be an Antinomian and be in favor of norms.

(One also cannot respect the victims of one’s lies: contempt is the only logical way to regard those one lies about or lies to.)

History is simply ignored by the Progressives: they regard it as a principle of Hegelian or Marxist or Darwinian evolution that the past has no control over the future, no merit, and need not be consulted. The extraordinary and risible inability of the Progressives of any age to learn from their mistakes, their astonishing parochialism, and their revolting inability to honor even their own founding members are all explained by this philosophical amnesia.

As a political philosophy, Progressivism is not a political philosophy, and does not pretend to be: it is a psychological strategy to scapegoat others for failures and dissatisfaction. As the National Socialists were with the Jews, as Marxists are with the Capitalists, as Race-baiters are with Whites, and Feminists are with Males, as Jihadists are with the Great Satan, and as everyone is with the Roman Catholic Church, the Progressive scheme of things consists of finding someone to blame and expanding the power of the State in order allegedly to rectify these allegedly blameworthy evils.

Nothing is ever blamed on the nature of things, or natural limitations of reality, or on historical facts: these entities do not exist in the Progressive mind.

John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.

March 6, 2016

European Socialists During WW1 – Frontline Medics I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Mar 2016

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This time we are talking about the German parliament, the European socialist movement and frontline medics.

February 16, 2016

How Sweden got rich

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Johan Norberg talks about the economic state of Sweden 150 years ago:

Once upon a time I got interested in theories of economic development because I had studied a low-income country, poorer than Congo, with life expectancy half as long and infant mortality three times as high as the average developing country.

That country is my own country, Sweden — less than 150 years ago.

At that time Sweden was incredibly poor — and hungry. When there was a crop failure, my ancestors in northern Sweden, in Ångermanland, had to mix bark into the bread because they were short of flour. Life in towns and cities was no easier. Overcrowding and a lack of health services, sanitation, and refuse disposal claimed lives every day. Well into the twentieth century, an ordinary Swedish working-class family with five children might have to live in one room and a kitchen, which doubled as a dining room and bedroom. Many people lodged with other families. Housing statistics from Stockholm show that in 1900, as many as 1,400 people could live in a building consisting of 200 one-room flats. In conditions like these it is little wonder that disease was rife. People had large numbers of children not only for lack of contraception, but also because of the risk that not many would survive for long.

As Vilhelm Moberg, our greatest author, observed when he wrote a history of the Swedish people: “Of all the wondrous adventures of the Swedish people, none is more remarkable and wonderful than this: that it survived all of them.”1

But in one century, everything was changed. Sweden had the fastest economic and social development that its people had ever experienced, and one of the fastest the world had ever seen. Between 1850 and 1950 the average Swedish income multiplied eightfold, while population doubled. Infant mortality fell from 15 to 2 per cent, and average life expectancy rose an incredible 28 years. A poor peasant nation had become one of the world’s richest countries.

Many people abroad think that this was the triumph of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, which somehow found the perfect middle way, managing to tax, spend, and regulate Sweden into a more equitable distribution of wealth — without hurting its productive capacity. And so Sweden — a small country of nine million inhabitants in the north of Europe — became a source of inspiration for people around the world who believe in government-led development and distribution.

But there is something wrong with this interpretation. In 1950, when Sweden was known worldwide as the great success story, taxes in Sweden were lower and the public sector smaller than in the rest of Europe and the United States. It was not until then that Swedish politicians started levying taxes and disbursing handouts on a large scale, that is, redistributing the wealth that businesses and workers had already created. Sweden’s biggest social and economic successes took place when Sweden had a laissez-faire economy, and widely distributed wealth preceded the welfare state.

This is the story about how that happened. It is a story that must be learned by countries that want to be where Sweden is today, because if they are to accomplish that feat, they must do what Sweden did back then, not what an already-rich Sweden does now.

February 10, 2016

“It is as if the world had suddenly, mysteriously, begun to clamour for Dumbledores and Gandalfs”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh suspects we’ve just hit “Peak Bernie”:

You are reading this on what is the probable date of Peak Bernie. Although you never know. The 74-year-old Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has become the unlikely sex symbol of American politics, fighting Hillary Clinton to a draw in last week’s Iowa Democratic caucus voting. Sanders has been in Congress for a quarter-century as an independent socialist who voted with the Democrats and participated in their seniority structure for the purpose of taking committee assignments.


What is the secret of Sanders’ success? It’s a combination, I think, of closely related phenomena that are hard to distinguish, and that are related to his advanced age. First, there’s what I like to call John Waters’ Law, after the movie director from Baltimore: if you do the same thing over and over again for long enough, people will reach the irresistible conclusion that you are a genius. Especially if you stay put in the same place.

But there is a form of this general principle specific to politics, which is, broadly, that what goes around comes around. It is close enough to the truth that there are no new ideas in politics — that we are just reiterating debates that were already stale in old Sumer. So if some idea seems temporarily discredited by experience — like democratic socialism! — you can just wait long enough, if you have the nerve and the time, for a bunch of people to be born who have not had that experience.

It is hardly a coincidence that Sanders is popular with young students, with his improvised nostrums for cheap health care and free education. Those fanbros don’t have a strong sense of how socialism makes the world drab and crummy and creates a civilization of queues, shortages and political pull. They certainly don’t know what a hundred different countries could tell them, if countries could speak, about how giving political authority to a fanciful, ambitious studentariat works out.

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