Saturday, March 9, 2019

Socialist Surrealism

Drawing most likely from the time of Milwaukee's first Socialist mayor, Emil Zeidel,  1910-12, though the city had two more of them, from  1916 to 1940 and 1948 to 1960. Via Milwaukee Independent.

Six weeks ago there was presidential candidate-flirt Michael Bloomberg:
Speaking with reporters after a second New Hampshire event, Bloomberg was asked about the wealth tax proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. He said the presidential contender's plan was potentially unconstitutional, and compared it to socialism. "It's called Venezuela," he added.
Only there are no wealth taxes in Venezuela.

Then around the same time there was Mr. Bret Stephens, economic theologian, laying down the catechism of orthodox socialism ("Yes, Venezuela is a Socialist Catastrophe"):

some of Chávez’s erstwhile defenders... would prefer to forget just how closely Venezuela followed the orthodox socialist script. Government spending on social programs? Check: From 2000 to 2013, spending rose to 40 percent of G.D.P., from 28 percent. Raising the minimum wage? Check. Nicolás Maduro, the current president, raised it no fewer than six times last year (though it makes no difference in the face of hyperinflation). An economy based on co-ops, not corporations? Check again. As Naomi Klein wrote in her fawning 2007 book, “The Shock Doctrine,” “Chávez has made the co-ops a top political priority … By 2006, there were roughly 100,000 cooperatives in the country, employing more than 700,000 workers.”
I have no contact with the socialist archimandrites, protopresbyters, and patriarchs who decide, so all I really know about orthodox socialism is that they celebrate Christmas at the wrong time, right?

But back during the Cold War, when I was in 11th grade and Mr. Gallucci gave us our anti-communism lectures, he taught us that socialism is an economic system where the state owns the means of industrial production. Co-ops, where the workers own the means of production themselves, are communism, like the dairy co-ops up where I was raised, although those farmers, fiercely Republican, did not recognize themselves as communists, which just goes to show you. The Soviet Union had cooperatives, though they only began to grow beyond the manufacture of tourist tchotchkes during the late perestroika period starting 1988, but there were extremely mixed feelings about whether they were socialist or not, by 1990:
What's involved in the cooperative movement in the USSR at the present time must be examined in the light not only of the earlier Western type of cooperative, but of the historical development since the October Revolution. At the present time, there is widespread--one may say frenzied--public hatred of the cooperative movement by the working class, and especially by the poor in the rural areas. Instead of serving the public, these institutions have become a means of gouging the public for the private profit of the handful of "cooperators" who run them.
A symptom of the public hatred of the cooperatives was the recent election of Ivan Polozkov, the Communist Party First Secretary from Krasnodar, to be General Secretary of the newly formed Russian Communist Party. He had characterized the cooperatives as a "social evil--a malignant tumor," and virtually called for them to be shut down. However, the Soviet parliament had earlier passed several laws relating to the definition of property which seemingly sanctioned a further mushrooming of these types of cooperatives.
The USSR didn't have any minimum wage laws, either, though there was tons of wage planning starting around the time of the thaw in 1956. Those unorthodox socialists of the Nordic countries—Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland—don't have minimum wage laws either, though France, which is surely more orthodox-socialist than any of them, with its many state-owned enterprises, does have one, roughly equal to Germany's at about €1500 a month, but rising at less than the consumer price index. Social spending in the USSR on the other hand was definitely on the high end, at sometimes as much as 30% of GDP comparable to France and Finland. Then again Bolivia has been one of your more successful socialist experiments since 2006 but social spending rarely goes as high as 17% of GDP.

Now nobody even cares about Venezuela any more, apparently Rubio and Trump got whatever it was they wanted out of it, but socialism panic continues, and Mr. Bret is still on it today ("Capitalism and the Democratic Party"):
An economy in which private property is protected, private enterprise is rewarded, markets set prices and profits provide incentives will, over time, generate more wealth, innovation and charity — and distribute each far more widely — than any form of central planning.
his is not a theory. It’s as true in Nordic countries like Denmark (often mislabeled “socialist”) as it is in hyper-capitalist Singapore. It’s the empirically verifiable conclusion from the 20th century’s bitter contest between capitalist and socialist states. It’s not a race we should have to run twice.
Oh Bret, yes, Denmark is more properly referred to as social democratic, whereas France, as I was saying, is more democratic socialist, but you really don't want to get me talking about Singapore, do you?

Where 80% of the population lives in government-built housing, on the 90% of the country's land area that is government property, "owning" their apartments the way you might own a condo if the government was the property manager, where all hospitals, polyclinics, and specialty centers have been government-owned corporations since the 1990s, and virtually all the mass media are owned by a "privatized" company called Mediacorp which is in fact owned by the state-owned investment group Temasek Holdings, and other government-owned industries and services include a shipping line, the national airline, the telephone company and the post office and the post office savings bank, the integrated engineering group ST Engineering, the infocomm giant IDA International, and the government-to-business public e-procurement center GEBiz, and where the entire economy has been centrally planned to the millimeter for nearly 60 years?

Singapore is as socialistically managed as the former Yugoslavia was, maybe more so, the main difference being that in Singapore the People's Action Party decided long ago that they didn't mind inequality (registering after-tax GINI coefficients more like "hypercapitalist" Japan and UK than "socialist" France and Germany), and provided many opportunities for the privileged to buy shares in the system and suck rent out of it.

Admit, Mr. Bret, that that's what you really like; not capitalism vs. socialism—you hardly know what either one of them is, as it turns out—but the chance America gives you to be almost infinitely richer than your neighbor.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

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