Friday, June 27, 2008

Blogologue with Susan Shelly on Socialism

Today I stumbled upon a post by an author named Susan Shelly on a blog called America Wants to Know that I disagreed with. The post concerned Barack Obama, but I was really more interested in her thoughts on socialism. Now, I'm an American, and as any Red-Blooded American would, I decided to engage her in a friendly blogologue regarding socialism.

As usual, I'll update this, post-by-post.
I'll also use positive-yet-readable colors. I'll go ahead and take blue, and let Susan have green, unless she has any qualms with that.
The only thing I've changed is HTML formatting links, and a tiny formatting thing ("---") on mine for clarity.

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Dear Mrs. Shelly,

My name is Ryan Culbertson-Faegre. I am a 19 year old Junior at Missouri State University.

I, and a group of other bloggers, host a group blog entitled Teh Juggernauts.

I recently stumbled upon your post titled "Barack Obama Explains Socialism," in which you explain, in brief, your beliefs regarding the injustice of socialism.

I would like to have a calm, rational, give-and-take discussion regarding the merits of socialism. I would like this discussion to be posted on my blog, and, if you want, your blog. I would like this discussion to not be an argument, but rather a sharing of ideas, and an adoption of the better ideas. Certainly, if you can display why socialism is unjust, I will feel an intellectual obligation to alter my views.

If you are interested, I can send you a brief outline of the version of socialism that I would like to defend, explain why I believe that it is just, and then answer any criticisms of it.

Thank you for your time.

-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

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Hi, Ryan,

Thank you so much for the note. I'd be honored. There's nothing I enjoy more than a calm, rational, give-and-take discussion.

Well, almost nothing.

I'd be very interested to read an outline of the version of socialism you describe, along with your defense of it. Send it to me at your convenience and I'll answer you point-by-point as best I can. I think it's great that you're open to changing your mind.

Thanks again.

Susan

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Susan,

I am glad to hear that you are interested in discussing this topic with me. I firmly believe that if more people were willing to sit down and reason through their differences, instead of engaging in stereotyping and name-calling, we'd live in a much better world.
Thank you.
I want to emphasize, once more, that I really am willing to change my opinions. That's not a talking point. I've been contemplating democracy, socialism, and free trade heavily for a few years, and only during the last semester have a begun to think that a society based around a certain level of socialization could be a solution to the problems that I see in the world.

Without further ado...


Let's begin by outlining the major advantages of the Free Market System, which emerges from Capitalism.
First, the Free Market System is an economic system that states that a worker may sell their service to the highest bidder. This is to ensure fair wages, guaranteed by the natural supply/demand of the labor market.
For an example of the labor market I am referring to, let's say I'm a plumber. If Joe's Plumbing and ACME PlumbCo both want my labor, they have to compete. If Joe's Plumbing can offer me $12.00 an hour, ACME PlumbCo will have to pay me more if they want to secure my labor. This ensures that I, as a worker, receive the highest wages possible.

In the same way, the Free Market System grants consumers the ability to choose which goods and services they consume. In this way, the Free Market System is supposed to be a tradeoff between product innovation (guaranteed by economic evolution) and fair wages (guaranteed by the natural supply/demand of the labor market.
For example, if I don't like the truck that Chevrolet manufactures, I can easily purchase a Ford truck. This leads to competition, which is good for the consumer.

Finally, the Free Market System rewards those who innovate and pay fair wages. If I make a better, less expensive truck than both Ford and Chevy, or if I pay my plumbers more, I will become economically successful. By rewarding me, we, as a society, do what's best for the good of all of us. After all, who doesn't want a better truck, or to make more money?

At least, that's the theory. The problem is, this Free Market System that emerges from Capitalism doesn't work on a large scale. What we end up with is a wildly out of control and deadly system.

First, an increase in the number of workers and a decrease in the number of jobs leads to a workforce that's unemployed, underemployed, or scrambling for work at any wage. This upsets the balance that is supposed to be maintained by the Free Market System.
Another thing that offsets the careful balance between labor and employer is the obscene wealth difference. Imagine, for instance, that I have a job working for WalDonalds, a delicious hamburger vendor. I am only making $6.00 an hour, which is barely enough to eek out a living for myself, let alone to support a small family. If I decide to strike, not only will I be replaced instantly, but my employer can maintain their business a lot longer than I can survive without food, housing, or other basic necessities.
With the invention of the technologies that allow long-distance travel, such as planes, trains, and automobiles, this situation has been exacerbated. While workers are still required, they are now a decentralized commodity. For example, the union cuts that we've experienced over the last few decades coincide with massive outsourcing to Mexico and other impoverished nations. If unions make a hard stand here in America, or even refuse concessions in their contracts, they are subject to the same outsourcing.
While some say that higher education is the way to end this widespread poverty, like Lyndon B. Johnson did, this is simply a non-sequitur on a large scale. Even if everyone in the United States had a doctorate, someone would still need to pump gas, flip burgers, clean houses, and do other mundane work.

Let's discuss products, next. The Free Market concept that ensures us great products due to competition for consumer spending has been eroding almost since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Price-fixing between competitors ensures that wages and product pricing never surpass a certain point.
Mergers between previously established, massive corporations ensure that the competition reduces itself. For example, if Exxon and Shell merge, what is the American consumer to do? Start his own oil drilling/refining/distribution service? In reality, it's nearly impossible. While competition brings us "advances" in plenty of entertainment services and products, this advancement and pricing competition rarely reaches necessities, such as food, healthcare, and housing.
Finally, monopolization allows some companies to sell their products for whatever they wish. While monopolization is illegal in America, that doesn't do much to stop it. The results can be (and have been) deadly in many industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry.

Our American political system is also plagued with corruption because of large, influential corporations who buy out politicians through lobbyists. In fact, lobbyism has run rampant in the American political system since its inception. The government, designed of, by, and for We the People now acts largely as an influence for the largest and most powerful corporations.

There are defenses of the Free Market System. The most prevalent of the ideas not listed at the beginning of this article is the idea of personal property.
I've often heard the lemonade stand example used to defend this idea. It usually goes something like this: just as we shouldn't take away a child's lemonade stand money that he earned fair and square, we shouldn't take away the profits of the people who run companies.
Let's return to this in a moment. First, however, let us dissect a hypothetical situation.
While most of us will readily agree that human beings are entitled to their personal property, we will almost all agree that there are limits. For example, let's say that my neighbor has a comic book. This harms nobody, and he's got just as much right as anyone to it. It's his property. To contrast this, let's say that my neighbor has weapons grade plutonium. Suddenly, as most people will agree, we've got a potentially world-ending situation on our hands. Most reasonable people will agree that we have, if not a right, then an interest in taking away somebody's personal property. Hence America's Iran/North Korea worries.
So how does this relate to the lemonade stand? Well, we'll generally agree that there are limits to somebody's personal property, and when they effect the lives of innocent people, they should be carefully regulated. That's why nobody's lobbying for decriminalizing the possession of weapons grade plutonium.
So, similarly, if we have a society built around a certain production and distribution system of vital resources, where the abuse of this system could mean the end of lives, we have a right, as a people, to demand control of this system.

Here it must be established that I am not talking about a bureaucratic, overzealous, controlling, Chinalike government. I believe that capitalism works wonders in the private commodity sector, and should be encouraged.
However, I believe that it is necessary that we, as a government derived from the people, begin to buy out or nationalize vital means of production, and provide our people with healthy, quality, and necessary food, housing, and clothing, fuel, vehicles, and jobs.
While there are certainly a few obstacles in the way, I do not see any other feasible option.

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Hi, Ryan,

Thanks for sending your interesting analysis.

It's an excellent illustration of how an intelligent mind can reach a wrong conclusion by beginning with false premises.

Your first false premise is your characterization of the "Free Market System" as something that was designed to achieve specific goals "for the good of all of us." You use phrases like "to ensure" and "is supposed to be," as if free-market capitalism was a product that was not living up to its ad copy and ought to be returned for a refund.

In fact, free-market capitalism wasn't designed by anybody. Capitalism is the economic system that results when the government has very limited power to take your property and restrict your movements.

Free-market capitalism is the economic system of a free country.

Your unspoken assumption, and second false premise, is that the United States government has the power to decide how much freedom individuals ought to have in order to advance society's goals.

Actually, that's backwards.

We are not a society headed up by a government with the power to grant freedom to individuals.

We are individuals who have granted some power to a government in order to establish a society.

The United States didn't exist until the people, through their state governments, formally agreed to delegate some powers to a new national government, which would co-exist with the state governments.

Some powers. And not others.

Freedom is not a privilege bestowed by government. Freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power.

Many people misunderstand the idea of freedom and think it means the absolute right to do anything, anywhere, anytime. On this mistaken premise, all government actions are the same. If the government can force people to obey a speed limit, then it can also take one of a family's three cars and give it to a family that doesn't have a car at all. And if it doesn't, it must be because the government doesn't care enough about the poor. Or because lobbyists have undue influence. Or for some other nefarious reason.

This is your third false premise.

Freedom doesn't mean the absolute right to do anything, anywhere, anytime. It means the federal government has specific powers that it cannot exceed, and you have specific rights that the government cannot infringe.

The federal government's powers and your rights are spelled out in a Constitution, which all federal officials take an oath to uphold. Officials who don't live up to their oath can be impeached by Congress or expelled from the House and Senate. The Constitution isn't just rhetoric, like the Declaration of Independence. It's a legal document representing the consent of the governed.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say the federal government will provide food, or education, or housing, or jobs, or clothes, or heat, or economic equality.

Although you wouldn't know it to listen to politicians on the campaign trail, the federal government does not have the responsibility or the power to level out the distribution of wealth in the United States.

That's because the Constitution protects what its framers called the "fundamental rights" of free men: life, liberty and property.

And when you do that, you get free-market capitalism.

So your fourth false premise is that it's possible for a free country to nationalize the "vital means of production" while remaining a free country and avoiding "a bureaucratic, overzealous, controlling, China-like government."

Rather than cite a list of all the failed socialist experiments of the past, I'd like to illustrate why socialism, or any kind of collectivism, always and inevitably fails to deliver on its glowing promises of shared prosperity.

For this exercise, it's necessary to leave the clean and orderly world of academic theory, where people are just so many faceless crash dummies sitting passively behind the wheel, and put yourself in the shoes of a person living in a collectivist-socialist society.

You work, the state takes all your earnings, and you are guaranteed everything you need in life for free.

How hard are you going to work?

Are you even going to show up for work?

Tell the truth, if you were guaranteed the same level of support whether you worked or you didn't, would you ever set an alarm clock? Would anybody?

It's day one of our collectivist-socialist experiment, and already the crash dummies are getting out of the cars.

Production requires effort, and effort requires motivation. Businesses and factories and goods and services don't just spring up under the feet of whoever is lucky enough to be standing there at the time.

In a free country, where property rights are protected, you can build and invest and farm and study and innovate, secure in the knowledge that when your efforts finally pay off, you will get the rewards.

In a collectivist-socialist country, with no financial motivation for long-term thinking and hard work, it's human nature to do the minimum necessary to avoid unpleasant consequences.

Fortunately for governments with unlimited power, unpleasant consequences are no problem.

I could give you examples, but I'll credit your intelligence.

Yet no matter how repressive the government becomes in its effort to force production, the economy of a collectivist society gradually becomes stagnant. You can't force people to think of new ideas and better ways to do things. Perhaps in theory a government-owned enterprise can be efficient; in practice, a government-owned enterprise is run by people with absolute power, and we all know how that works out.

Eventually, the society that kicked off with a promise of prosperity for all finds that there isn't enough to go around.

If you want to live in a country that enforces a one-child policy, there's your road map.

The fundamental error of collectivism is the premise that the quantity of goods in a nation is fixed and therefore it is appropriate for the government to divide it up equitably.

In fact, there are no limits to what can be produced when people have the freedom to do what they want to do and enjoy the rewards of it. Production in a free economy even generates enough of a surplus to support, through the tax code, a modest welfare state.

But it is a mistake to believe that taxes can be raised endlessly on productive people in the name of fairness. There will always come a point when the crash dummies get out of the cars.

Ryan, I'd like to thank you again for writing to me and giving me the opportunity to change your mind about socialism. I hope I've succeeded, and if I haven't succeeded, I hope you don't run for office.

Best wishes,

Susan Shelley
AmericaWantsToKnow.com

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Susan,
I was happy to receive your response. I'll try to clear up my propositions, and see if we can reconcile our beliefs regarding the morality and effectiveness of free market systems versus socialist systems.

First, I'm afraid that I haven't adequately explained the economic system that I'm proposing. As I've tried to explain, I'm not discussing a repressive Communist society. I don't believe that you can base a society around the concept of honor-based work. That's sort of retarded. I mean, come on, if I'm working at some necessary-but-bland job, like pumping gas or flipping burgers, I'm not going to want to come in unless I have incentive. So what I'm proposing is not Communism. It is distinct, in that I'm endorsing government ownership of a few key properties, and a guaranteed standard of living for all full-time working citizens.
Think of it as a continuation of the current American government. For example, in America, we have a public education system. While it has its flaws, most people will agree that you get out of it what you want. Most college students graduate from public schools.
In America's public education system, we're not asking teachers to come to school and teach for free. We offer them a government-paid salary, as crummy as it is.

I hope I'm beginning to demonstrate how this economic system seems viable. After all, America's doing okay.
The thing is, this extends past America's school systems. Look at the Post Office, for example. It's government owned and operated. It's cheap, standardized, and affordable. We pay postal workers pretty well, they show up, and we end up with a pretty good system.
For another example, look at the healthcare in most developed nations. It's socialized, and it seems to work fine. While some people argue that healthcare is better here, we need only look to worldwide rankings done by international medical boards to see that, clearly, this doesn't seem to be the case. Look at the World Health Organization's ranking, for example (http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html). We're 37th, between Costa Rica and Slovenia.

Further, I'm not suggesting that people have their personal property taken away in order to equalize people's wealth. Nobody's giving up cars, or horses, or lemons, or anything like that. Instead, I'm suggesting that we tax the ultrawealthy corporations that run America in order to give the workers -their workers- the benefits necessary to survive.

Let's forget all that for now, though. I want to discuss the morality behind socialism, since it seems to make sense from the perspective of the citizens of a society.

You don't seem to defend the poverty that results from the free market system, and I don't suppose you'll persecute many of America's equalizing advancements, such as the public school system, any more than I would support something as ridiculous as the notion of pure communism.
Instead, I believe that we now have to turn to government's role in peoples' lives.
Now, I'm not one to support big government. I believe that government, at both the Federal and State levels, should leave consenting adults alone to do whatever they fancy on their personal property. I also believe that without the right to keep and bear arms, we are at the mercy of the government (a most unhealthy position).
However, I disagree about the roles that government should play in shaping society.
I've already provided you with the uranium example. Amost nobody will agree that a man should be able to keep weapons-grade plutonium on his personal property. Why? Because it could cause harm to others. It is society's right to take that plutonium away from that man.
Similarly, almost everybody will agree that the government has some right to protect the people from pollutants. I'm not allowed to dump toxic waste on my property, for example, because it could endanger my neighbor's personal safety.
So, obviously, there are some cases where the government is justified in revoking rights to personal property. We, as citizens, need to keep a close reign on government and make sure we maintain our rights, while still making sure that government serves us. Since it seems like a lot of of pain and suffering is caused by this false idea of unerring personal property, perhaps we should consider other justifications or systems before we settle into the (apparently) most destructive one.

In America, a lot of people are born into poverty. While it may seem like a land of opportunity to anyone with a little money, the vast majority of people who are born poor die poor, just like most people who are born rich die rich. The current economic system allows the rich to exploit the poor. If the poor don't like it, they can starve. This has only changed a little bit recently, and only through "socialist" laws . Does protecting the workers' economic freedom, the so called "Freedom from want," seem just to you?

Would you be open to the idea that, since we, as a society, allow the radically wealthy to profit off of the people, we, as a society, have the right to take some of that back in order to provide for the common good? I mean, if we can keep immigrants out, 'cause it's our land, then shouldn't we be able to keep the people profiting off of us off of our land? What are your thoughts on that?

Finally, suppose the government set up its own self-sustaining system that competed with free market industry. Say, for example, that it bought and sold oil at something close to cost, and outbid the oil companies. Would this situation bother you, if it was completely government owned and operated?

Susan, the thing is, I'd like to explore all of the options before I jump into supporting a system that is clearly more harmful than the alternatives. It seems difficult to justify such a system, so I hope that I've clarified my feelings on the matter, and possible concessions that could be made. I know that we're both good people, and I'm glad we're working together to figure out the best way to manage society.

-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

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Oh, Ryan.

Do you really want to defend the idea of government-owned enterprise by citing the examples of the public schools and the post office?

I'm going to leave that alone, except to say that when you run for office, you should probably take that line out of your stump speech.

I'll address your main point, which seems to be that it is possible have a free country in which the government owns "a few key properties" and provides "a guaranteed standard of living for all full-time working citizens."

That does sound peachy.

Who could be against a guaranteed standard of living for all full-time working citizens?

Well, maybe the people who have been laid off from their jobs. You couldn't very well discriminate against people who were laid off from their jobs. What kind of a society would provide a guaranteed standard of living for people who were working and then abandon them just when they're most in need?

No, you'll have to guarantee a standard of living for people who are working full-time, and certainly you'll have to help people who can't find full-time work and are only working part-time, and you'll have to pay the living expenses for people who have been laid off.

And for people who are retired but not wealthy.

And for people who are disabled, and that includes anyone with ADD or any of the other I-need-more-time-for-the-test disorders. And also alcohol and drug dependency.

Otherwise it wouldn't be fair. It might even be immoral.

This is going to be expensive.

Good thing you've bought out the shareholders of all the major oil companies and now run the oil business with the efficiency of the post office.

Because in addition to paying for exploration and drilling and equipment and overhead and transportation and refining and environmental protections and salaries, you've got to subsidize the living expenses of everyone who works for a company like Starbucks, not to mention the 12,000 people that Starbucks just announced they will no longer be exploiting because they're closing 600 stores and firing them.

You might run into a problem when all the businesses in the United States get word that the government is going to guarantee a minimum standard of living to everyone who works full-time. You're going to have to find a way to keep them from cutting a lot of their employees down to minimum wage and letting the government effectively augment their salaries.

And you might have to adopt the kind of highly restrictive immigration policies that are common in every industrialized country except the United States. Otherwise people will be flooding into the U.S. to work full time and get in on that guaranteed standard of living.

Or were you planning to check citizenship papers?

This is going to be very, very expensive.

You might have to pass a law forcing landlords to rent to people for half the rent they were charging before, and don't forget to prosecute the ones who fail to maintain their buildings.

You might even have to impose price controls on food, because it's essential that people eat well and it's just too expensive. And when the price controls lead to shortages, as they always do, you might have to issue rationing coupons to limit what people can buy at the grocery store. It's important to make sure everyone gets a fair share of healthy food.

You're probably going to have to raise taxes.

Well, that's no problem, because the businesses that are living off all those worker-decent-living subsidies deserve to be taxed. So ratchet it up.

What's that you say? They're leaving? They're relocating overseas? They're outsourcing every possible job to India and moving the headquarters to Dubai?

No-o-o-o-o!!!!!

They can't leave! They have to stay! They have to pay!!!

Maybe if you can't keep them from leaving, you can deny them the right to do any business in the United States. Maybe you can throw the executives in jail for something. Maybe you can force them into bankruptcy and out of business.

Good idea.

That'll teach them.

Selfish, ultrawealthy corporations, responsible for all that's evil in the world, how dare they go out of business.

Don't they know people depend on them for a decent standard of living?

All right, that concludes tonight's performance of Socialist Dinner Theater. I can see that I will never convince you of the errors in your thinking, but I will answer some of your specific points.

First, your plutonium example is, respectfully, sophistry. The Constitution protects your right to life, liberty and property, but it quite clearly says that the government may deprive people of life, liberty and property with due process of law. That means what it meant in the 18th century, that the government cannot use arbitrary power against you, but it can lawfully and with due process throw you in jail for a crime and seize contraband. Unless someone convinces the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment protects the right to own plutonium, the government certainly has the power to pass a law restricting the possession of nuclear bomb-making material.

That doesn't mean it has the power to nationalize the oil industry. The Constitution says private property may be taken for public use with just compensation, but to force the sale of an entire industry would be a wildly unreasonable reading of the power of eminent domain.

Your idea of having the government go into certain businesses in competition with private companies strikes me as unlikely to be very profitable, certainly not profitable enough to pay for all the social programs you propose, even if it were found to be legally possible and politically desirable.

Next: Your health care example does not quite make the point you intended.

I looked at the World Health Organization report that was the basis for the list you cited, ranking the United States 37th among the world's health systems, behind Oman (#8) and Colombia (#22).

The rankings were based on five factors, of which "responsiveness" was one. This is an excerpt from the report:

"Responsiveness includes two major components. These are (a) respect for persons (including dignity, confidentiality and autonomy of individuals and families to decide about their own health); and (b) client orientation (including prompt attention, access to social support networks during care, quality of basic amenities and choice of provider)."

The United States ranked number one in responsiveness.

The other factors weighed by the World Health Organization to determine its rankings were "Fairness of Financial Contribution," "Overall Level of Health" (to determine this, the report says, "WHO has chosen to use the measure of disability-adjusted life expectancy [DALE]"), "Distribution of Health in the Populations," and "Distribution of Financing."

You can decide for yourself what is most important to you and your family in a health-care system.

By the way, you might not have noticed that the list you cited is titled "The World Health Organization's ranking of the world's health systems." It's not titled "The World Health Organization's ranking of the world's health systems by quality and availability of care."

Something else to remember when you run for office.

Now, let's talk about poverty, which you suggested I did not want to address.

First, I take issue with your characterization of poverty as something "that results from the free-market system."

The U.N. is full of well-dressed ambassadors from countries that are not free and do not have free-market capitalism, places where vast numbers of people live in a grinding, oppressive poverty much worse than anything that exists in the United States or any free country.

If the free-market system causes poverty, why is poverty even worse in countries that are not free?

Maybe there's a hint in this excerpt from a 2004 World Bank report, "Fighting Poverty: Findings and Lessons from China's Success" (http://go.worldbank.org/QXOQI9MP30):

"Across China, there were over 400 million fewer people living in extreme poverty in 2001 than 20 years previously. By 2001, China had met the foremost of the Millennium Development Goals — to reduce the 1990 incidence of poverty by half — and it had done so 14 years ahead of the 2015 target date for the developing world as a whole."

There are two things I'd like to point out from that paragraph: first, there were hundreds of millions of people living in "extreme poverty" in a country that did not have a free-market system; and second, China discovered a method to reduce poverty by half in eleven years.

What was the method? The World Bank report said this:

"Consider the specific situation in China at the time reforms began: the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution had left a legacy of severe, pervasive rural poverty by the late-1970s. Arguably, there were some important but relatively easy gains to be had by simply undoing failed policies, notably by de-collectivizing agriculture. Much of the rural population that had been forced into collective farming with weak incentives for work could still remember how to farm individually. Returning the responsibility for farming to individual households brought huge gains to the country’s poorest."

I think this demonstrates the fallacy of your assertion that poverty "results from the free-market system." In China, poverty resulted from collectivism. It was reduced by moving toward free-market principles.

I also take issue with your characterization that "the current economic system allows the rich to exploit the poor."

Why is it exploitation to offer someone a job?

You are operating on the premise that everyone is entitled, by virtue of living in the United States, to be subsidized by someone else. You're arguing that people have a moral right to make more money than anyone is willing to pay them.

By logical inference, you are arguing that what no one is willing to pay them, someone must be forced to pay them.

Now you are in the position of having to think of a justification for force. You can call it by a sweeter name, and you can spread it out so everyone only feels a little pinch, but it is still going to be force.

Conveniently, you've already come up with this: "Since we, as a society, allow the radically wealthy to profit off of the people, we, as a society, have the right to take some of that back in order to provide for the common good."

When you say "the radically wealthy" who "profit off of the people," you apparently mean businesses and the people who run them. You're making the argument that businesses take from the society, or they take from their workers, so it is reasonable and fair that they should be required to "give back."

The fallacy of this argument can be seen in the frantic efforts made by cities to lure businesses inside their borders. Businesses bring jobs, tax revenue, and economic development. The closing of a factory doesn't bring a happy end to exploitation and oppression. It brings poverty.

This is why politicians give tax breaks to businesses. If they don't, and the businesses pack up and go elsewhere, economic pain is the result.

The point I'd like to leave you with is this: All forms of collectivism can be placed on a continuum somewhere between freedom on one side and totalitarianism on the other. The closer it is to freedom, the more likely it is that the failures of collectivism will be masked by the surplus from the capitalism that surrounds it. But as you move further away from freedom -- by asking or allowing the government to become more powerful -- the economic stagnation worsens and the government becomes more and more repressive.

You can certainly argue that the welfare state is not the same as socialism, and socialism is not the same as communism.

Belladonna is not the same as arsenic, but what they have in common far outweighs the significance of their differences.

If you are interested, I can suggest a couple of books that you might find thought-provoking, or aggravating.

I wish you nothing but success in all your future endeavors, and I sincerely hope the government allows you to keep most of what you earn.

Best regards,

Susan Shelley
AmericaWantsToKnow.com

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Susan,
I'm glad to hear from you.

I'm deeply concerned that you don't believe that I am willing to change my mind. It is a matter of personal pride that I change my mind whenever I am wrong. I've done it before, on numerous large ideas and issues, and I'll no doubt do it again. I don't pretend to know everything. I only hope that you can give me the benefit of the doubt and address my concerns before you expect me to change my mind. After all, if you are correct in your defense of the free market system, then it should only be a matter of time before you whittle my objections down to nothing.

First, let's touch on post office and public schools. Are the ineffective? To certain degrees, yes, as I've readily conceded in my last letter. But they are consistently improving over time, as we figure out ways to make them more efficient. While I probably couldn't win a political campaign based around the idea that the public school system and the postal system are perfect, I doubt that you could win a political campaign based around dissolving those systems. I mean, when you get down to it, are you willing to publicly disavow support of our public school system, on the grounds that it steals from rich corporations?
Next, let's touch upon healthcare. While the speed and effectiveness of healthcare is important, there are other necessary issues, as the World Health Organization affirms. In other areas, such as Fairness in Financial Contribution, the United States is still embarrassingly behind other countries at 54th-55th place. In Overall Level of Health, we've taken 72nd place. Frankly, we may be leading the way in medical advancements, but what's important is applying those advancements to sick people. We're not very good at that. So, if anything, that 1 you cite means that some of the other numbers are much higher, as I've demonstrated.

Regarding China: You'll remember from my last few letters that I don't support public collectivism. As I've previously stated, I'm talking about either government-run industry or a government-guaranteed minimum standard of living for everyone willing to work.
While I thoroughly enjoyed that episode of Socialist Dinner Theater, which I heartily endorse as a viable script for an animated series, most of the outcomes you discuss deal in speculation based upon anti-communist talking points.
The thing is, socialist societies, or capitalist societies with a healthy safety net, do not deal in these draconian concepts.
May Socialist societies do quite well, comparatively. Look at Venezuela, for example. While it is on shaky economic ground due to the inherent unpredictability of oil, it is doing much better now that the oil industry is nationalized, and has been pouring its oil profits into social programs.
(Cool Graph Stolen From Wikipedia and Compiled With World Bank Statistics)

Further, some of the problems that you're citing are beneficial to a free trade system. High unemployment rates are to the employer's advantage, as they guarantee a minimal rate of worker compensation.

Really, the problem with most small, impoverished countries seems to be that large international companies, often working with U.S. military powers, economically invade and conquer them, making their rich richer, and their poor poorer. There's an interesting Wikipedia list of U.S. Military actions. It's surprising how many of them are against democratically elected leaders fighting for local change.

Look, Susan. Let's be frank. I don't care if some people are making more money than other people. I don't care if somebody wants to drive nice cars or own lavish houses. I don't want to turn the entirety of the known universe into a hippie commune. I don't want to enslave America under some sort of red empire. I really don't. I'm just trying to figure out a way to ensure that people aren't dying from lack of food, housing, healthcare, and other basic necessities while other people are living like kings off of their poverty. What I'm looking for is a way to ensure that people are living decent lives free from economic subjugation. So far, you've only took issue with my ideas. What I would like you to do now is present me with some solutions to the problem of extreme poverty.
Believe me, I want to change my mind and find solutions as much as you do. So give me a solution. Give me a reason to embrace free trade.

-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

---

Sorry, Ryan, you're going to have the last word on this. My spec script
for Socialist Dinner Theater just got me a job offer to write for
Communist Radio Cavalcade, and as I am paying for my own health insurance,
I am very motivated to work.

I'll stand by what I've already
written to you. I think I've given you ample illustrations of how and why
free-market capitalism is a solution to extreme poverty, while
collectivism is a path to greater poverty and government repression.

You certainly have the right to express your own opinion and
advance your own policy proposals. You live in a free country.

Very best wishes,

Susan Shelley
AmericaWantsToKnow.com

---

Susan,
I honor your desire to end this conversation.

I'd like to thank you again for taking the time to speak with me about free market capitalism and socialism. While I'm sad to say that you have not changed my mind on the subject, I appreciate your willingness to discuss these important matters as openly and as honestly as you have.

Best wishes,
-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

14 comments:

Leah said...

"...as any Red-Blooded American would, I decided to engage her in a friendly blogologue regarding socialism."

I seriously wish this was something Red-Blooded Americans frequently did. That would be so cool.

JT Eberhard said...

This is brilliant. I can't wait to read more.

JT

Jeff said...

Oddly enough, I had about that same conversation with a friend the other day.

Jeff said...

And of course, we're going to base a candidates entire plan off of how he explains something to a five year old. That's going to be a mighty in depth plan right there. Some intellectual honesty on her part.

JT Eberhard said...

You should get Amber to add this to the "Ongoing Projects" bar on the right side of the site.

JT

Adamgv said...

Very good blog. I wish you much success.

JT Eberhard said...

Hrm, she seems to be arguing about what is official, and not arguing for what is best.

All the same, our government does sanction and regulate business. Monopoly laws are one impediment on the freedom to which she is referring.

She really seems to be responding to arguments that Ryan never made. It's as though you are arguing two different things: Ryan is arguing that some aspects of socialism will result in greater societal happiness, while she is arguing that the government does not have an obligation to adopt particular policies - even if they are better overall.

I'd like to see her just confirm that you both share that goal, and move on from there - making almost her entire response superfluous.

Man, I don't believe you ever advocated a system in which the government takes all your money. Talk about a failed premise - that's one that isn't even relevant. This is more of an assault on full-out communism, which nobody here is arguing for.

...after reading further, I'm honestly wondering if this lady knows what socialism is, or if she is aware of some of the capitalism/socialism hybrid systems that are working very well in countries like Canada and many European nations.

Enjoy the softball Ryan.

JT

Jeff said...

Also, I think she might have missed the point where capitalism existed in various forms before the United States or any "free" government did.

Just once I'd like to meet a conservative that actually understands the differences between Communism, Marxism, and Socialism.

JT Eberhard said...

Again, solid retort.

JT

Jeff said...

Wow, if we're just going to argue examples without any facts other than socialist country versus capitalist country then perhaps I'll just go Enron and California's Electrical Shortages. Also roads, pretty damn good socialist enterprise we have going there. Pretty much negates everything she said.

Maybe she also missed the massive exploitation and interference in socialist countries that forced them into poverty before they became socialist.

And it's wonderfully so expensive that many countries have managed to do it.

It's nice to see she'd rather be a patronizing Fox News style journalist rather than try to present an argument.

JT Eberhard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JT Eberhard said...

There are few things in this world more amusing than condescending people who either fail to present arguments for what they believe, or present arguments that have nothing to do with the ones you have brought up as though they didn't even read your response.

Good work, Ryan. You are ahead so far, and have not resulted to "nuh uhs" with no evidence (throw in some condescension as the cherry on top) in order to get your point across.

JT

JT Eberhard said...

I think this is easily a victory for Ryan, not only as far as content and ability to respond to his opponents arguments goes, but also in remaining respectful of his opponent - even as he had to bring her back to point.

Conversely, Mrs. Shelley is condescending and bordering on mocking at times (particularly in her close, posted on her site).

Well met, Ryan.

JT

Jeff said...

Congratulations on your victory. I almost even wrote a letter to Susan, but figured it wasn't worth my time pointing out how condescending and irrelevant her arguments were being then concluded it wasn't worth my time and decided to read a book instead.