Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Socialism, Capitalism Seen in New Light by Younger Americans (wsj.com)
24 points by todd8 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments

As far as I can tell, the traditional American litanies about capitalism and communism pretty much require accepting that every bad thing that happens under socialism and communism is because of lack of capitalism, while every bad thing that happens under capitalism is in spite of capitalism. In other words, it's the classic "X can't fail, it can only be failed" pattern of thought. I think that's a hard sell if you didn't grow up with a lot of propaganda about how being American means being capitalist and being socialist or communist means being anti-American. It's an even a harder sell looking at post-Soviet Russia and seeing political repression and corruption that appears to be no better at a fundamental level, rather than being less severe due to being less systematic.

So it falls to more general arguments evaluated in light of our current context, which is inherently messy because we don't have the answer sheet yet.

To some exuberant commenters in this thread: Young Americans are NOT accepting Communism. Most wish a slightly more socialist direction, not the full blown state ownership of the means of production. For example, many would like to see is single payer medicine; that's not the same thing as the government running the hospitals and employing the doctors. Many would like to see municipal broadband. They'd like to see a bit more consumer protection. Many would like to see more water systems remain under municipal control rather than being sold to a private, for-profit entity. In short, they'd like to see a bit more community works. I've yet seen anyone seriously advocate for government seizure of the means of production.

If you must think in terms of duality, state or privately controlled, there is perhaps a good rubric: If the industry is inherently monopolistic due to it controlling a singular resource (like a central park, or water), then the resource should be owned democratically by its community of users. In contrast, if the field can be competitive, then government should only be regulating the fair competition within that market. Note that even within a singular, monopolistic market there are always subordinate markets that are, in fact, competitive (e.g. parts & labour).

Democratic control need not imply centralized control. Even in the singular resource case, a democratically-controlled user or consumer cooperative specific to that resource is often a better organization structure than making it operated by an arm of a governmental entity. For example, rural electric companies are consumer cooperatives that serve their local area; often times they own & operate only the power lines and transmission (the monopoly part) and leave power generation (the competitive market part) to independent for-profit entities. Regional electric companies are not really part of a centralized government, yet they are democratically controlled by the subscribers who purchase electric service from them.

The problem is the old one: who watches the watchers? Who ensures the regulators are doing the job instead of perverting the system for gains?

Systems can be built based on mutual trust (actual communism) or distrust (rule by jury law), distributed (like marxism or democracy) or centralized (oligarchy, autocracy and monarchy). A hybrid tends to get dominated by one or another extreme or gets unwieldy.

Currently centralization is winning despite what is a sham of a de jure republic.

That's why we need to reform our political system. In the US our democracy is very weak and subject to attack by special interests. A more robust democratic system like MMP could be trusted with more power. Though IMO, we should go even farther than MMP and incorporate some degree of sortition into government.

>Systems can be built based on mutual trust or distrust, distributed or centralized. A hybrid tends to get dominated by one or another extreme or gets unwieldy.

This is exactly what full-blown socialists believe, it's actually the core reason they think we should transition to a socialist state.

By socialist do we mean statist socialists yes? Towards more of a republic or just buying up votes and voters with promises?

Many unanswered questions lie this way.

I don't know why what I said would require statist. Even the left libertarians would agree. Socialism is just changing who owns the means of production, that's independent of how centralized the government would be.

Seeing young americans accept communism is terrifying to me. They are showing the same level of historical ignorance that Bernie Sanders showed when he claimed the american dream was more alive in plces like Venezuela. It really sounds like young Americans haven’t seen enough of history not to take the fruits of capitalism for granted. It’s like they have forgotten how bad things can get if you let political ideologies like communism run amok. It’s even alive here on HN with a commenter claiming the life of a Japanese Salaryman is somehow equivalent to a communist distopia. You really need to be judicious when deciding to change a system that works as well as the US does for its people. There are plenty of injustices and grievances that we must address but It’s truly hartbreaking seeing young amricans turning on the ideals that made America into the great country it is today.

To play devil's advocate, young americans have also seen the worst of capitalism run amok in America, coupled with tax policies that are skewed towards age cohorts differently. I'm not saying things would be better under socialism, but people really need to understand that A) the current system has failed young people and B) it's on capitalism to either correct these failings or people will seek alternatives. This just boils down to basic human psychology, adapt or die.

I don't think they even know what communism means. They just want everyone to be taken care of. Children want to be taken care of by their parents. Communism is when government seizes control of means of production. There are not many businesses that would be better ran by government than by private citizens with skin in the game. Only institutions where profit motive is not helpful, like prisons, should be run by government. I am against private prisons, but for private almost everything else.

>Only institutions where profit motive is not helpful, like prisons, should be run by government. I am against private prisons, but for private almost everything else.

In telecom we've got companies screwing over their customers in a myriad of ways, in gaming we've got companies turning their games in slot machines for kids, in medicine we've got $1000 pills that cost $2 in India, in tech we've got the indiscriminate gathering of every piece of consumer information we can gather (and subsequent lack of security placed on it), agriculture's struggling with dicamba drift and so on. It doesn't seem clear to me that you can draw a strict line between the profit-seeking behavior of those private enterprises and that of a private enterprise like prisons.

Yea, at times, I've thought it might be good if the internet was more like a utility. Perhaps there could be a public option, without `seizing means of production` of existing companies, ala communism.

Prescription stuff is probably one of the most screwed up parts of our country. The fact that weed is illegal because big pharma wants it to be. I don't think the situation would be much improved if the government siezed control of pharma companies, but it would be improved if pharma companies no longer had control of the government.

>I don't think the situation would be much improved if the government siezed control of pharma companies, but it would be improved if pharma companies no longer had control of the government.

Seeking control of the government is a side effect of profit motive, it's a symptom of capitalism. Seizing the means of big pharma seems totally fine to me, it's a public good and our world where the amount spent researching a cure is proportional to how much money we can milk out of those afflicted seems a lot worse to me than a world where the amount spent researching a cure is proportional to the misery of those afflicted.

I'd rather stop all government funding of their research, have a public option. Let the government compete with them. First we need to stop big pharma dollars from influencing politicians.

>I'd rather stop all government funding of their research, have a public option. Let the government compete with them. First we need to stop big pharma dollars from influencing politicians.

Compete on what merits? Corporate pharma is going to win on profit created and government pharma is going to win on any altruistic measurement. At that point why even bother with the corporate pharma? The money that goes into corporate pharma is still my money, it's what I'm paying at the pharmacy. I'd much rather my tax go up a little bit and we get full on government pharma research than getting good prices on some drugs (gov created) and getting gouged on others (corporate created).

Your people are idealists.

I'd like to see a programme where some of these young kids get sent to Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea in a kind of political exchange programme and see what they think after a year of existing in those governments amongst the locals.

For most the fervor would become flat, some might double down, but for most reality would become apparent.

That's not to day we can't improve our own system. There is much room. But at the same time, the grass is brown on the other side, while you just have some weeds you gotta clear.

It seems to me you presented zero arguments why socialism is bad and capitalism is good (and why people should keep believing in it).

To quote some famous developer, talk is cheap.

I recommend you talking to your average Joe (or Pablo, or Petr) living (or that lived) in places like Venezuela, Cuba, the hole Eastern Bloc, Albania, Cambodia, Mao's China, or any sub Sahara African state (except Botswana and RSA) that actively pursued the Marxist dream.

These have a thing in common. They were poor when communist and still poor when capitalist. (Except China, but there the problem was mismanagement and embargoes.)

>It’s like they have forgotten how bad things can get if you let political ideologies like communism run amok.

They haven't forgotten. They grew up in a world where the US was hegemon.

Young people, except for a small fringe, do not accept communism. Most just want a more left wing mixed market economy.

As I look at how the US, China, Russia, and Japan run themselves and their economies; I start to think that the distinctions aren't what we think they are. The life of a Japanese salaryman sounds like a communist distopia, even though Japan is fiercely capitalistic. China is a single-party "communist" state, but their economy looks and acts like capitalism.

China abandoned communism with Deng Xiaoping's reforms. They are fiercely capitalist, with strong authoritarian political structure.

Half of China's economy are state-owned enterprises (SOEs). China is still way more centrally planned than people think, including good old Soviet-style 5-year plans. Most of strategically important industries have not been "liberalized".

When compared to places like Venezuela, which people love to bring up as socialist disaster of sorts, but which has way more people employed in private enterprises than China, China looks more socialist by your standard mainstream definition of "socialism".

China is something new. It's capitalism without freedom and with a Soviet "politburo" type structure acting not as agency of the proletariat but as a hyper-Keynesian backstop to markets.

Tangent but: I think this really killed Libertarianism. Libertarians and classical liberals from Adam Smith to Ayn Rand said this wasn't possible. Capitalism and freedom are inseparable, they said. China proves that Capitalism works perfectly well and in fact may work better under a more authoritarian system. Freedom is not required beyond a few degrees of freedom to act economically. The presence of a totalitarian ruler willing to constantly backstop markets prevents panics and actually makes the system work better.

... or seems to so far. History isn't over. China could crash.

>The presence of a totalitarian ruler willing to constantly backstop markets prevents panics and actually makes the system work better.

Not really. Remember this? https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonchang/2014/01/19/mega-def...

If the government backs everything, people will engage in riskier behavior because they don't accurately assess risk. That creates a massive bubble of risky investments until it's too large for the government to effectively control.

There's an interesting book on the subject you might want to check out:


I think you are right, but it hasn't happened yet. China keeps growing and developing with what seems to outside observers such unbelievable might that it's psyching people out. I think the rise of strong man rule and neo-fascist ideologies in the West and elsewhere is a reaction. "We need to become more totalitarian now or we will be left behind!"

Bubbles always psych people out. They always go higher than anyone expects. They always make the nay-sayers look like fools... until they don't, and the nay-sayers end up looking like prophets.

My brother in law lived and worked in China for about 10 years. He went from thinking China would conquer the world in the first few to thinking China is Enron.

I would not define what China does as "capitalism without freedom and with a Soviet 'politburo' type structure acting [...] as a hyper-Keynesian backstop to markets". Compare the Chinese government form to the following bullet list:

- Exalts nation and race over the individual? Mostly true.

- Centralized, authoritarian, and often dictatorial government? True.

- Strong and charismatic leader? Mostly true (strong yes, charismatic no)

- Strict governmental control over opposition, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly? True.

- Severe social regulations? True.

- Crucial role of heroes? Partly true, less so now than in the past.

- Strong attachment to moral, nationalistic values? True.

- Glory of the state over the individual? Mostly true.

- The individual is required to put the interest of the state before his personal goals/needs? True.

- Strong governmental involvement in economy an production? True.

- The State has strong influence over investment and industries? True.

- In order to receive the support of the government, businesses need to promise that their main interest is the enhancement of the country? True.

- Opposed to free market economy? Mostly true, freedom within the confines of what the state allows is not true freedom.

This list comes from a definition of fascism [1], not capitalism or socialism. There are many ways to make such lists and none of them have veritable claims to authenticity but in general China does tend towards fascism and state capitalism more than it does towards capitalism. They actually seem to follow a course laid out by Benito Mussolini who claimed that "...dynamic or heroic capitalism and the bourgeoisie could be prevented from degenerating into static capitalism and then supercapitalism only if the concept of economic individualism were abandoned and if state supervision of the economy was introduced. Private enterprise would control production but it would be supervised by the state. ..."

This closely resembles current-day China, more or less exactly where it concerns 'state capitalism' and to a large extent where it concerns fascism.

[1] http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/politics/ideo...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism#Economy

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_capitalism#Use_by_Italia...

> freedom within the confines of what the state allows is not true freedom.

I guess most nations have regulations of what is or is not allowed. I can't, for example, buy my neighbor and press him into forced labor, or buy a meth lab and sell meth to my neighbor's kids in the US.

I guess I'd have to go to some failed nation state like Somalia to have that kind of freedom—a true libertarian paradise.

The reality of most nations is that they exist on a continuum. China is more authoritarian / curtailing of freedom than most, but less so than, say, North Korea. The US is less authoritarian / curtailing of freedom than many but more so than many developing countries that lack regulatory protections.

Economic policy is a spectrum, from total absence of regulation (laissez-faire capitalism or libertarianism) to total control. At certain positions on this spectrum markers have been placed to make it easier to describe them. Both the positions of these markers as well as their meaning are open to debate but it is clear that a restriction on enslaving your neighbour lies on a different position of the spectrum than the type of 'deep interest' the Chinese government takes in the economy.

At different levels, right? There's still a party; they still run things. So at the local level its capitalist, but not at the city or federal planning level?

It's murky because they call themselves communist, but it's in name only. If anything I'd call it state capitalism, where the government is the biggest player in the market, but it's a market nonetheless.

With benevolent and competent leaders, I believe this is the optimum approach, which is one of the main reasons China will be the undisputed global leader very soon. Obviously this requires ongoing benevolence and competency though.

With benevolent and competent leadership, it's the most efficient approach. Unfortunately, benevolent and competent leadership has never lasted in the history of human civilization. Sooner or later, usually sooner, someone really nasty or incompetent takes over.

People should be mindful of the sample size they're dealing with when making predictions based on the history of civilizations.

Sure...roughly 11,000 years of history, hundreds of cultures and civilizations; that work?

Can you find a civilization that has lasted with continuous benevolent and competent leadership? Because I can give you hundreds that haven't.

> Sure...roughly 11,000 years of history, hundreds of cultures and civilizations; that work?

No, not for me to draw conclusions with extreme certainty as so many others do, especially considering the complexity of the systems involved and the unreliability of the historic record. It's certainly not enough data for an arrogantly overconfident position.

> Can you find a civilization that has lasted with continuous benevolent and competent leadership?

I cannot, hence my usage of the phrase "I believe".

To me, it's an interesting idea to ponder, not a showdown.

>It's certainly not enough data for an arrogantly overconfident position.

If that is not enough data, I doubt any amount of data is.

Interesting ideas to ponder are all well and good, but you're positing that a system of government is the best one and making a fairly outlandish claim about China with absolutely no supporting evidence of such a system being sustainable.

> If that is not enough data, I doubt any amount of data is.

I wonder if that same logic holds in medical trials, which are a far more simplistic and controlled study.

Like they did in the US therefore capitalism failed it?

(No, I am not talking about current politics but economy.)

I don't really understand your question.

I'm saying that if you concentrate power into one person's hands, it's awesome and efficient if that person is competent and benevolent. If he is not, it's really bad. Unfortunately, in the history of the world, there has been no government continuously run by benevolent and competent leaders.

The US arguably concentrates too much power into the hands of a single person, but not nearly to the same extent as a centralized and managed economy does. This has nothing to do with capitalism.

Nor does it have to do with communism. Specifically communism does not require nationalisation nor centralization of power. In fact the Marxist roots expect the workers to own and run the factories collectively and resolve conflicts by vote and consensus.

The ideology called "communism" in the US is actually national socialism. Not to be mistaken with fascism, but close. (Yes, it is Nazism. Soviet ideology was actually identical.) Alleged soviet collectivism was actually nationalisation.

I wasn't talking about that, though - I was talking about State Capitalism and the efficiency of a concentration of power, responding to a person that said that was the optimal system.

If only we had a benevolent, competent AI to run things.

It'd probably be pretty efficient, but my ideal is as close to the state of nature as possible balanced with the benefits of a human society, so it's not really the way I'd want to go.

For this reason, I'm curious how much the headline change is a change in concrete goals versus a change in terminology.

It feels like I know a lot of people who think "socialism is evil, and therefore we need a market economy made safe via government regulation and state control of essential services."

And then I know a lot of other people who think "capitalism is evil, and therefore we need a market economy made safe via government regulation and..."

At a certain point I just shrug and ignore the words; they often end up predicting more about team allegiances than what actual system someone wants to see established.

Japan is an odd case, as what you describe seems to be culturally/socially enforced by tradition, &c. rather than directly and explicitly by a central power.

Other than that though, are you talking about the distinction between totalitarianism and democracy?

There has been a (imo very odd) tendency in the US to confuse Communism with totalitarianism and Capitalism with democracy (despite counter-examples like Chile), and I've seen same rhetoric in Eastern Europe (where Communism-branded totalitarianism is a recent experience) but this tendency isn't universal.

exactly, mutually exclusive concepts

many things about American society changed in the 50s to support this false dichotomy, primarily to draw a clearer distinction between communism, but most of them have nothing to do with anything related to the frameworks of nations, or any of the philosophical writings that underpinned these societal experiments.

Regulation is designed to save capitalism, but lack of regulation and a fair chance at success will destroy it. I'm afraid many people are so disheartened by capitalism in the US that they are willing to abandon it without thinking about a replacement.

Lack of skin in the game is killing capitalism.

We've had 20-30 years of ever escalating bailouts. Heads: you win. Tails: the public looses.

"Capitalism", or rather the free market, works by moving from failure to failure. Without "Tails: you get taken to the woodshed", failure doesn't lead to learning and improvement. No amount of regulation will change that.

Quite the opposite: most modern regulation is so complex that lawyers can't get enough of it. Not to mention the revolving doors between regulators and their targets.

Same thing put differently: we already have socialism. It's just socialism for the rich.

"It is moves tax it. If it keeps moving regulate it. If it stops moving subsidize it."

More regulation is not always better. If there are too many regulations, only companies that can afford an army of lawyers survive. Too little regulation is also bad.

I think that it's less the quantity of the regulations that matters and more the quality of the regulations. Poorly designed regulations and create big problems even if they're really brief.

Prohibition, for example, gave rise to the mafia. Marijuana prohibition is another example of over-regulation, imo.

Its the best means of managing resource scarcity, unfortunately our best isn't very good for many people. In the very distant future when we can eliminate scarcity, we will be able to move away from capitalism.

That’s an almost psychotic level of unfounded optimism, all founded on being a relatively rare “winner” in the system you describe. That of course probably goes some way to explaining your equanimity with its indefinite continuation a the expense of billions of others.

I believe in the very distant future when we tap into the energy of the sun through something like a Dyson sphere then energy markets will eventually crash once the investment is recouped. With unlimited energy that opens the door for a lot potential like rearranging protons, neutrons, electrons to create any elements we want. From there gold markets etc... crash. It keeps going.

I don't believe we'll see this in my lifetime or even 200 or 300 hundred years, but I believe it could happen one day. And when that happens, capitalism will be rendered useless, and we'll go towards something more like communism or socialism.

As for today, show me something else that works better at managing resources than capitalism. It's shitty, I'll entertain hypotheticals and theories, but capitalism is the only thing thats worked so far. In the distant future I root for its demise.

I think people in America vastly over generalize when speaking of the nordic social democracies. They have a very outdated notion of how socialistic they are and the direction they are headed. All the exemplar social democracies have been making large market strides in the last 20+ years. This is just as true of China too. These economies are going well now because they are becoming more market based (and American). China would still be struggling without market reforms.

Planned economies can be excellent at going in a straight line or when everybody is the same. That is why they look good on paper and seduce technocrats and academics who think they can plan something as big and complex as the economy. However they are horrible at adapting to new situations because of everything from bureaucracy to new technology to balancing competing goals. So planned economies tend to do well now but fail as the world they were built for changes. Capitalism requires some amount of faith in that we believe solutions will come but don't know what they are yet. Capitalism is said to harness the power of necessity and imagination, and those are impossible to predict.

The nordic countries had to change or fail and they have adopted market based changes. The jury is still out on China and what will happen when the world changes underneath it - become more market oriented or wither.

There has been pushback from the nordic leaders for calling them socialism: https://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/denmark-tells-...

> The jury is still out on China and what will happen when the world changes underneath it - become more market oriented or wither.

My gut tells me that the sheer size and competency of China plus their authoritarian political system will be such a juggernaut that it won't matter what anyone else does, they are near unbeatable. They can still fail on their own though.

Huh? They are failing right now - their unsustainable bubble will burst within a year or two, to the horror of everybody. Their money is in so many places, everything will turn to shit.

Yawn....where have I heard this before.

Then there was no such thing as capitalism as every country plans its budget and every big company has at least a five year plan and mid term strategy.

Capitalism does not harness innovation at all, because at some critical mass such capitalist notions like patents, royalties and exclusive contracts get involved to freeze the market and boost the big existing players at the cost of incumbents who are actually innovative.

What you cannot sell gets neglected too.

The market and agora gets converted into an authoritarian oligarchy. (Nonetheless capitalist.)

People who never had to live under socialism think that it works. News at 11.

It has been observed time over time that over regulating and over complicating a large and complex economy ends up in either run-away corruption to the point of modern feudalism or some form of totalitarianism

It's a shame they don't have parents who actually lived in the Soviet Union.

The United States is a mixed economy with aspects of socialism and aspects of capitalism. We are far more capitalist than socialist.

You can have a mixed economy with a lot more socialism than the US and still have a great society (see Europe for examples).

Now the Soviet Union was pretty horrible, and it’s a shame we’ve decided that it should be the poster child / cautionary tale for any socialist policy in a mixed economy. It’s a shame because I think the Soviet Union was actually a poster child for some things far worse than, and not necessarily intrinsic to, careful application of socialist policies:

- Command economy where production was governed by a combination of ideology and information systems (human and technological) that were comically ill-equipped to attempt such a thing.

- Horrible autocratic leadership. I’m open to the possibility that an economy, past some hypothetical ratio of socialism, results uniformly in autocracy. But... in the Soviet Union’s case, I think we need to consider the proud, nearly homogeneous, legacy of horrible autocratic rule and horrible living conditions in Russia.

But maybe we will soon have the IT capability to efficiently run a command economy. Imagine a world in which Amazon captures an even larger share of global sales... eventually handling the vast majority of all economic transactions: Amazon insurance payments to Amazon networks of doctors. Homogeneously decent quality inexpensive Amazon Basics cookware, clothing, televisions. Amazon News Network. How would that be different than a command economy?

Maybe no one corporation would ever capture anything like the full economy. But maybe an oligopoly of corporations could...

I actually think we need to figure out some form of (partial) socialism that is compatible with a democratic society, because the capitalist economic end-game starts to looks rife with potential for exploitation. If Amazon and Walmart carve up the world’s economy and resources, I want damn sure I can have equal representation in electing their leadership.

It's a shame that you conflate socialism with authoritarianism. Implementing socialist ideas like providing health care and education to all, regardless of income, are not steps towards becoming Soviet Russia.

>Implementing socialist ideas like providing health care and education to all,

Sir, you are a noble soul! Where can I send a cheque to you, so that you can implement healthcare and education for all?

Most people understand that the choice is not between Ayn Rand style capitalism or Soviet style communism. Between these two extremes is quite a large space. There are examples of successful capitalist economies with good social programs.

Ayn Rand style capitalism wouldn't allow the "heads I win tails you lose style" of capitalism we're living under today, which is by far one of the biggest problems.

It would also eliminate a lot of the unnecessary laws that benefit those who hold power (selective enforcement, tying smaller players in red tape, etc). It does benefit monopolies though, that could be fixed with fairly enforced regulation, which granted would be contrary to her beliefs afaik.

Most people who criticize Rand don't know very much about her philosophy in my experience.

With the anti-regulatory view Ayn Randians have it most certainly would lead to a heads I win tails you lose style of capitalism. A wild west approach to capitalism would be disastrous. A society without proper regulation of corporations (especially ones as rich and powerful as currently exist in the world) would be a horrible one to live in.

Virtually all regulations are based on nonobjective standards, meaning that businessmen must constantly defer to the judgment of bureaucrats.

The above is the from the Ayn Rand institute.


> With the anti-regulatory view Ayn Randians have it most certainly would lead to a heads I win tails you lose style of capitalism.

That sounds a hell of a lot like the system we have today. Wall street has a great run and pockets all the money, then boom and they get bailed out by the taxpayer. I don't know who "Ayn Randians" are, but they certainly aren't followers of her original writing. I consider myself a bit of an an old school Randian, and if I was running the show most people on Wall Street would be scared shitless, because a lot of them would be going to prison.

But then, perhaps she was less than honest, she was drinking buddies with Alan Greenspan, who I think is a criminal of the highest order.

> A wild west approach to capitalism would be disastrous.

Completely agree.

> Virtually all regulations are based on nonobjective standards, meaning that businessmen must constantly defer to the judgment of bureaucrats.

I agree with that more or less. People on the left tend to disagree with this because they want to regulate according to their personal beliefs, as if they were passed down from god. Personally, I'm more than happy to negotiate a compromise, but I sure don't get that feeling from today's left.

I don't think a lot of Rand's beliefs stand up to the test of time, or would be pragmatic in today's world - philosophy should change with the times. But an example of one of her beliefs that I disagree with is the FDA - while I think it has more power than it should, if I recall correctly she believed it should be abolished entirely. Not that this is impossible or would be the end of the world, but I consider it sub-optimal, considering the dishonesty of westerners. But then, we didn't used to be this dishonest either.

She also had a tendency to put principle before pragmatism, I disagree somewhat with that as well.

One should be fairly open minded about these sorts of things.

Is every attempt to establish communism going to end up like the Soviet Union?

There are quite a few attempts at communism that have failed very severely when it comes to human rights. The risk of becoming like the Soviet Union is a great one. To know the extents of how people thought about their government, there is an example from the Gulag Archipelago...

A woman was accused of saying things against the state and was sentenced to death. She lied to her daughter and told her daughter of her guilt, so that her daughter would not think bad thoughts against the state, the same state that was going to falsely execute her.

They used to bury people in mass graves, alive. Burying them alive was not out of cruelty, but convenience. They found that live bodies were easier to take from the carts into the graves than if they had to lift dead bodies.

The worst thing about capitalism is so much better than the worst thing about communism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gulag_Archipelago

Given the use of slave child labor on cocoa plants, blood diamonds and the chopping off of hands, abuses in the pursuit of rubber in Africa, the willful dumping of toxic chemicals that cause birth defects, etc. that occur in the pursuit of profit by capitalists I’m not sure one can conclude that the worst thing about capitalism is much better than for communism.

Perhaps you could say that capitalism does a better job of dispersing the benefits but it’s worst aspects are quite bad. Overall, the thing to fear is concentrated power in too few hands and unregulated markets.

If someone is a hand chopper-offer, people will not want to do business with them. Capitalism will punish him. And he does that not as a result of capitalism, there is no competitive edge to hand chopping off, it's just evil.

Also, lets pretend the hand chopper-offer is not an individual running a business, lets say he's in charge of an all-powerful communist government. When you centralize power too much, you risk a tyrant seizing control of that power.

I believe your first paragraph is naive. There are lots of examples of bad actors in capitalism that are never punished by the market or the government. Your belief in the wonders of the market correcting abuses is especially hard to understand when not everyone has perfect market information. As an example look at De Beers and how many people bought diamonds from this company that willingly did business with the hand choppers.

I believe you aren't objectively comparing the ills of capitalism with the ills of communism, or you simply can't do math.

Communism means the government seizes control of the means of productions. There are few businesses that I would rather see ran by the government than by a citizen with skin in the game.

I haven’t added the sum total of all misery (how can this be meaningfully quantified?) caused by capitalists and compared with the sum total of all misery caused by autocracies. Both are horrible and good people ought to strive for a world in which neither occur. Capitalism is better overall in that it does a much better job of dispersing benefits. But the misery caused by capitalists in the pursuit of profit ought not be overlooked. I believe the Bible is correct when it says that the root of all evil is the love of money (which includes power).

Hm, the starvation of millions during Mao's control were pretty bad. Not sure mistreatment even comes close to 30 millions dead?

The worst of capitalism is sort of like death by a thousand cuts. It occurs in pockets and has a much more diverse set of bad actors. But a few slaves here and a few deformed babies there and pretty soon we are talking about misery On a grand scale. It’s just spread out over the planet in pockets and doesn’t have a single person to blame. The worst of Mao and Stalin was more concentrated and was more efficient. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that the worst of capitalism is anything less than evil and abhorrent.

Its all tragedy, agreed, every life is important. But nothing is more tragic than well-meaning people trying to run everything themselves, because they know better than the rest of us. E.g. Communism etc.

Yes. And E.g. Ayn Rand style capitalism and capitalism without proper regulation.

No, it could end up like China, Cuba, Vietnam, or Cambodia.

Or it could end up like Sweden or Denmark. (Referring to socialism as the article does, not communism as the comment does. It's Denmark that Bernie & his supporters want to emulate, not communism)

Sweden and Denmark are often described as socialist countries because they have major political parties with historical ties to classical socialism but the reality is that classical socialism and social democracy (what Sweden and Denmark currently practice) are really different. Socialism involves the state control over the entire economy whereas social democracy is basically a market system with an especially large welfare state. If your goal in the United States is just to increase the size of the welfare state then there is a good change that it won't end up in dictatorship, but if your trying to completely suppress the market system, you'll have a more difficult time of it, I think.

Well, Nordic countries are usually called Social Democracies, though Americans usually don't make the distinction.

Those are very homogeneous cultures. America is perhaps one of the least homogeneous cultures. Everyone does not value the same things, so having a state enforce that everyone values the same things would only be the result of too much force.

Fair. I still view those countries as capitalist though, its still how most of their markets operate. They are just huge welfare states with a vast social safety net. Not disagreeing with what they do, just my 2 cents on what they actually are.

Social Democracies are not remotely socialist. They're capitalist, with welfare.

I'm not sure if a country as large as the US can faithfully emulate Denmark.

As a lot of people will point out, neither of those countries are socialist.

It doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is the policies of the people who the young people in the article are hoping to elect. That's Bernie, and the Danish welfare state.

There isn't one communist country in our history that I would ever want to live in. Even a modern communist country like China would be a terrible place to live.

Modern China isn't communist.

Yes, I would say they are a brutal authoritarian socialist country

Yes. Or worse. Human nature exists and it doesn’t change. Ignoring the Invisible Hand is to ignore what it means to be human.

Read the book Animal Farm if you haven’t already. That captures the psychology of communism perfectly and demonstrates why it never, ever works.

If that's what you took away from the book then I'm afraid you did a shallow reading of it. Animal Farm was specifically a critique of Stalin and the USSR, and how Stalin hijacked the revolutionary vanguard and turned it into a fiefdom for the loyal party members.

Orwell himself was a left anarchist and staunch antifascist and anticapitalist. His critique is that of authoritarianism. If you take away from Orwell that he supports capitalism in any form then you may have missed his point.

Animal Farm is not an anti-communist book. The first half captures communism working perfectly well under the rule of the Lenin-Trotsky analogue - the animals work hard, are well-fed, and organise themselves to create new industry - the windmill - with the goal of eventually eliminating the need for labour.

Everything goes to pot when the Stalin-analogue takes over, because the book is a reflection of Orwell's opinions of the Soviet Union and his experience fighting with the communes in Spain and the subsequent purges committed Stalinist factions against the Trotskyists. If you read the Ukranian prologue, which is included with most modern published editions, Orwell even outlines that Animal Farm is an attack on Stalinism, and he firmly believes in socialism.

The takeaway of Mao, Stalin, Kim Jong Il, etc. is not that communism is bad but rather that concentrating too much power in too few hands is bad. For instance Hitler, Shah of a Iran, etc. Especially when the leaders have simplistic notions. For example, Idi Amin, Maduro, Baby Doc Duvalle, etc.

Sure - communism simply requires the centralization and concentration of power and so is incredibly vulnerable to authoritarian takeover.

Since when a prerequisite for communism is nationalisation? As far as I'm aware the actual communism was supposed to be ran by worker committees and not "party" or "leader". And does not have to involve central planning at all. Do not confuse it with authoritarianism. Or stalinism which was a variant of it.

I'm not confusing it, I'm going from what Marx and Engels said.

"Only conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect, in the same way that production in general has done this for men in their aspect as species. Historical evolution makes such an organisation daily more indispensable, but also with every day more possible."

"If it should become necessary for communist society to regulate the production of men, just as it will have already regulated the production of things, then it, and it alone, will be able to do this without difficulties. It seems to me that it should not be too difficult for such a society to achieve in a planned way what has already come about naturally, without planning, in France and Lower Austria. In any case it will be for those people to decide if, when and what they want to do about it, and what means to employ"

Organization and planning are not the same as centralization and concentration of power. It would be absurd to conflate the two. So do these quotes justify your claim or not?

In order to effectively execute such planning and transition from capitalist to communist, it required concentration of power in the federal government - further management was required to maintain equitable distribution of population, labor and resources.

That's why, in the transition period, power would end up concentrated in the hands of a small group of people.

Obviously eventually the idea was that the State would cease to be anything more than a mechanism for distribution of resources and stop managing people, but there are an awful lot of problems with that, conceptually.

Also, the guy I responded to said it didn't have to involve central planning. It kinda does, at least Marx and Engel's version does.

purposed organizations were worker committees or what is essentially the more democratic version of worker union. With some relatively minor central oversight. Sometimes committee of experts (not government ones). Definitely the policies were not supposed to be subsumed by national ideology or ideas of people in charge.

I’m upvoting this comment because it would be a shame for the excellent responses to lose their context.

Do you have parents who lived in the Soviet Union?

Can you put that card back in the deck please? Socialism is not equal to Soviet Union, who cares who have parents where.

It's you who should take the "No true Scotsman" card back.

If only someone had come up with a reasonable middle ground.

Like something that treats the market economy as a tool that works rather well to maximise production, but doesn't mistake it for an end itself. If only...

Market Socialism?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact