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Samizdata quote of the day

Socialism is tribal economics.

Guy Herbert

(These four words suddenly clarified something I’ve been trying to explain for years with mixed success.)

45 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • CaptDMO

    HEY! I know, let’s all just spend our work days campaigning for unimpeded “access” to the treasury!
    It’s NOT about the money, it’s about the FREE STUFF!
    “Socialism is tribal economics”?
    So, like, an Animal Farm, …or something?

  • I can see describing it that way, but I prefer to think of socialism as “fairy godmother economics.”

  • Ferox

    Three children sit in a playground. One has a lollipop. The second had a lollipop, but has already eaten it. The third couldn’t be bothered to go inside and get one in the first place.

    The second and third child are crying and demanding that the first child give up his lollipop, “’cause it ain’t fair that he has one and we don’t”.

    That’s socialism.

  • James Strong

    ‘Socialism is tribal economics’ is true, but there are better ways for opponents to attack it than using this idea.

    Somebody once said something like ‘Politics is not the arena of morals; it is the arena of interests.’

    The interests of honest taxpayers are opposed to the interests of people who want lots of free stuff. The reverse is equally true – the interests of people who want lots of free stuff are opposed to the interests of honest taxpayers.
    So- ‘free stuff’ people are in a tribe, honest taxpayers are in a tribe. And humans are tribal. If you doubt that then have a look at football supporters.

    If the ‘free stuff’ tribe gets too big then disaster follows. But you’ll have real trouble getting people to abandon their tribe once they have identified with it. Better to persuade them never to join.

    So, identify young people whose ideas are still developing. Point out that capitalist countries have never needed to build walls to keep their own people IN. Point out the different economic success of South and North Korea. Point out the death toll of Stalin and Mao. Point out the economic history of the UK in the 1970s. Use as many examples of the outcomes of socialism as you can.

    Left-wing friends of mine have said ‘there is no parliamentary road to socialism’. To me that means that they acknowledge that they can’t persuade people of the merit of their ideas, so the have to compel them. Point that out to people whose ideas are still being formed.

    But to dismiss socialism as ‘tribal economics’ will get you nowhere.

  • Ferox (June 28, 2017 at 2:42 am), when speaking to propagandists, and to their victims well-trained in parrot phrases, one must prepare for the mindless rejoinders. As regards your three kids with lollipops, you could add something like:

    – When the second child is reminded he’s already eaten his, he says his mum told him she never had lollipops when she was young, so he’s owed for her deprivation; he’s sure the first kid’s mum had lots of lollipops. (The first kid’s Jewish mum arrived in the UK in 1945 after surviving a somewhat difficult time on the continent.)

    – When the third child is reminded he didn’t bother to go and collect his lollipop he says its more tiring for him because he’s fat and wheezes (the result of overeating and a couch-potato lifestyle) and demands favour for his disability.

    … or one could doubtless think of something better.

    If you don’t prepare for it, lefties will create PC back-stories for kids two and three before you can say “Social Justice Warrior”.

    I agree with James Strong that while “Socialism is tribal economics” makes a lot of sense as a summary of what many of us here already see, it is useless as an opening gambit with anyone in danger of falling for socialism. I like his proposed gambit: If socialism is so great and capitalism so evil, why do socialist countries build walls to keep their own people in but capitalist countries build walls to keep benefit scroungers out.

  • Jacob

    “But to dismiss socialism as ‘tribal economics’ will get you nowhere.”

    “Tribal economics” is a more empty and vague concept or slogan than the one it supposes to define – socialism. What’s wrong with “tribal economics”?

    People have gathered into tribes out of necessity – the necessity for mutual protection and assistance. Since tribes exist, “tribal economics” exists too.
    Is it bad? Is there “good” tribal economics?

  • TDK

    I don’t think people on the left would object to the insult.

    They do not believe in the good faith of people who disagree with them. The whole idea of identity politics is that there are visible and invisible power relationships. So of course, any economic system is tribal, they would say. Ergo Socialist economics is based upon recreating the power relationship to suit the dispossessed.

    [PS: I started reading a long Nick Cohen piece (again) because I assumed I would find find the quote in the link. :-(]

  • Paul Marks

    Guy is correct – socialism is COMMUNAL tribal economics, some tribes allow private property, including in land, and so me do not. Communal tribes, by definition, do not tolerate private property – at least not in land.

    The recent fires in Utah are yet more evidence of what happens when the government (the collective – the tribe) controls land – the land is neglected and overgrown (land needs management – trees must be thinned out, brush must be cleared….) and becomes a fire trap. Government comes under the influence of “Green” activists (such as the people who demanded that nine million Pounds be spent on a local government owned building in London – installing a communal heating system and external cladding – i.e. turning the building into a fire trap) worshipping Gaia, or the “Great Spirit” and wreaking the thing they claim to love. Activists in Brazil (by preventing the large scale private ownership of land) are destroying the very rain forest they claim to love – because if “everyone” owns something, then no one owns it (and it gets abused and destroyed – by people seeking short term gains on land they do not own).

    One also gets the idea of “Social Justice” in a Communal tribe – the idea that income and wealth should be “distributed” according to some principle of “fairness”. As Michael Oakeshott points out in a footnote in “On Human Conduct” – that is not what justice traditionally means in court of law (“I took his stuff because he has more stuff than me” is not a defence against a charge of theft) and the Rule of Law is not a rule of “distribution”.

    However, the “mainstream” media (and the education system, the schools and universities, that produce the media and much else) lie and lie and lie.

    For example both the BBC and CNN (yes CNN – the Fake News Network whose Russia lies have recently been exposed by undercover reporters for Project Veritas) have implied that Republican opposition the Senate Bill is from people who are opposed to “cuts” in government spending and against “tax cuts for the rich”.

    Actually Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson (the original four Republican Senators to denounce the Bill) have all made it clear that they think the Bill does not go far enough – not that it goes too far.

    In short the BBC and CNN coverage is not just a lie – it is the opposite of the truth.

  • Monoi

    Talking about lies, this is a perfect example: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/world/europe/uk-grenfell-tower-fire-deregulation.html?partner=bloomberg

    Socialism in all its glory, doing what it does best,ie rewriting the story.

  • Cal Ford

    There’s no link to the original quote. Was it in conversation?

    Anyway, did Guy mean tribal economics in the sense of ‘economics for my tribe rather than yours’, or in the sense of ‘economics as practised within a (primitive) tribe’. The latter was criticized well by Matthew Parris (who grew up in Africa) in this extract from his autobiography Chance Witness:

    “In particular I noticed how tribalism — really only an anthropologist’s term for an extreme form of communitarianism — seemed to have dinned the individualism out of people, so nobody cared or dared to take a lead or differ notably from the others. Some people will tell you tribe (or village, or community) humanizes, brings comfort and security, I thought it was stifling, and brutal in its way.

    I began to understand why eyes looked brighter and steps lighter in those areas where a missionary was at work. Because Christianity teaches a direct personal relationship, bypassing heirarchy and tribe, with God, it can represent a release to those oppressed by their tribe and its panoply of brooding and often vengeful spirits. I do not myself believe in God but can still see how Christian monotheism can act to liberate. I think we sometimes sentamentalize tribe. In my experience is was bound up with conformity and with fear, crushing the individual. Tribe flattens.”

    (Reading this again reminds me that Parris used to be worth reading.)

  • NickM

    Spot on. It is utterly tribal. Also what Paul said. Especially about land. I am a Quaker Warden. The Quakers have a tendency towards the left. But they like their very nice meeting house and garden. It is only nice because it is owned. It is only nice because of years of me and my wife tending it. The previous wardens were not good. I don’t do this out of niceness. I do it out of pride. I do it because like a yoga group comes round (I think we have five hiring the gaff – more than the local Buddhists) they all say, “What a lovely place!” It ain’t a lovely place because it just “happened”. I did it and my wife and the Quakers (I am not one, neither is my wife) and our contract gardener and other folks did a Jean-Luc Picard – we made it so. And we did because this is our place. The council couldn’t organise an embuggeration in a Kurdish knocking shop. Which is why we have more hirings than the community centre. Much more.

  • Mal Reynolds

    I’ve also found having the most success with the line: “Capitalist countries have walls to keep people out. Socialist countries have walls to keep people in.”

    It does not work with actual socialists as they see no problem with walls to keep people in (stopping the evil capitalists moving to lower tax countries) but to anyone else it works a treat.

  • bobby b

    “If socialism is so great and capitalism so evil, why do socialist countries build walls to keep their own people in but capitalist countries build walls to keep benefit scroungers out.”

    Obviously, socialist countries care deeply enough about the welfare and lives of each and every one of their comrades such that they devote many resources towards protecting those comrades from making huge and basic mistakes, such as falling for the false siren of capitalism to their own ruin.

    And capitalists keep people out because their systems depend on keeping the lower classes uninformed, and so people coming in with outside knowledge is a huge danger.

    (These were the explanations given to me in college by a professor. Of history. With a straight face.)

  • Runcie Balspune

    Capitalism depends on people being greedy, socialism depends on people being generous, but you can always rely on people being greedy, whereas you have to eventually force “selfish” people to be “generous”, so at its heart socialism is violent and coercive in this regard, not kind and fluffy and liberal with ideas, it is nanny in a gray dress packing a Kalashnikov for the naughty children.

    If the boss of socialism thinks you’re greedy, because you earn 3x average salary, despite that being half as much as the boss’ own earnings, then he’ll happily have armed police round your door demanding you hand it over. The objective concept of “not being generous” is highly volatile, anywhere from “you earn more than me” to “you are nearly earning as much as me”.

    The idea that all the nasty greedy people will vaporize out of existence once socialist utopia takes hold is disingenuous, especially when the nasty greedy people are behind its implementation.

  • Watchman


    To be fair, the implementation might be done by idealists (dangerous in their own way), but once the system is implemented the nasty greedy people will rise to the top. I always wonder why people never figure this out – the nasty greedy capitalists are not ideological capitalists but those who play the system, and would be the same under a socialist system (or would be replaced by others with the appropriate skills set). It’s not as if the history of the world doesn’t show that every time a system settles in place (and that includes permanent revolution, as that wierdly never gets rid of its leaders…) then people will start to acquire power at the top.

  • Jacob

    Socialism is not tribal economics.

    It is rather a religion that believes in the magic, supernatural, god like attributes of government – i.e. – a religion that worships government force.

    They believe that their god (government) is omniscient, and omni-benevolent, and omnipotent, and will lead society toward some utopic state that they dream of, a state of infinite plenty and happiness for all.

    So, no, socialism is not “tribal economics” – it is much more than that – it is the religion of “total government”. It is paradise on Earth by government (i.e. by force).

  • Cesare

    If anything Socialism is feudalism in modern dress. As De Lampedusa’s eponymous hero the Leopard says, ‘in order for things to stay the same everything will have to change’. Just as his nephew goes off to join Garribaldi in a family carriage with a man servant, we now have the champagne socialist lecturing and hectoring constantly about how we must live and above all think. The majority of a population is treated en masse, now referred to as ‘folks’ or ‘the people’ since terms like peasantry might be a tip off. The rules for ‘the people’ are not only different but far more numerous than for the nomenklatura, have a quick glance around DC and Northern Virginia for common, live examples. Equally the access to those lofty upper reaches must be jealously guarded. At least in feudalism you could rely on defense against the Vikings or Turks, the local Chevalier would actually have to saddle up. Now, well, not so much. Just keep those taxes and fees coming and quit all that griping about a little disorder here and there, after all it won’t be disturbing the beautiful people.

  • Peter r

    Irvine Welsh @IrvineWelsh

    When you’re not doing so well, vote for a better life for yourself. If you are doing quite nicely, vote for a better life for others.

  • Watchman

    Peter r,

    My grandparents, both from East London slum families, took that ideal to heart. They took a look at Labour and became tribal Conservatives (along with a fair chunk of their siblings – which never mapped to the more vigorous Arsenal-West Ham divisions in the family; the one thing to learn from this is that no-one chooses to be a Spurs fan).

    You do realise that a better life is one without the state constraining it? One where the state does not load the bases in favour of the middle classes and then try to justify its existence by exploiting the opportunity gap it has created. The state has spent huge amounts of money and done nothing to resolve problems of inequality, so how can we justifiably claim supporting any party that wants to spend money to solve a problem will work.

    It’s the same problem as I note above about dishonest people coming to the fore of any system of government. A related issue is that everyone will game the system to benefit their own family (how many Labour MPs educate their children at private or free schools because they are humans and care for their children’s futures). Most will do it honestly, but frankly I (thanks to my grandparents and parents) am middle-class and educated, and whatever the government does I have the ability and skills to manipulate it to my benefit should I choose – I doubt an equally naturally talented ( 🙄 talented – I wish) person whose parents were wasters and had not encouraged them to learn and think would be able to do the same thing.

  • Charlie Suet

    Peter r – do you understand the difference between intentions and outcome?

    It’s the easiest thing in the world for some leftie rabble-rouser to say that they want a utopia where all can prosper (as if anyone would argue for the opposite). But the fact is that (warmed-over, 1970s) socialism not only doesn’t achieve this aim, it actively achieves the opposite.

    Consider the minimum wage. The Jeremy Corbyn Cult (formerly the Labour Party) wants to equalise it between those over and under 25. They propose this in the apparent belief that the Low Pay Commission (by no means a right wing body)is either an ‘ageist’ organisation or has been got at by corporate interests. In fact under 25s are paid less on a sliding scale primarily because they are less skilled. Free Marketeers would make the point that this is true of anyone to whom a minimum wage might apply, but the NMW is clearly a bit of a compromise.

    Suppose the Messiah of North Islington gets into power, and enacts his policy. Because low skilled under-25s are now priced out of the labour market, they can’t even get a start in life. They are earning the true minimum wage, which is zero. They’ll be replaced with machines, if their employers can afford them, or boarded up shops if they can’t. Still, old Corby acted with the best of intentions, eh?

    The pattern is always the same:
    1) Assume that some basic fact of life is such due to bad faith on the part of your political opponents.
    2) Wade in, assuring yourself that because you meant well, the outcome will be what you expect.
    3) When the (entirely predictable) result is not to your liking, blame the kulaks, wreckers and hoarders for acting badly.

  • James C. Bennett

    Socialism is voting to send your neighbors to prison if they refuse to donate to your favorite charity.

  • Peter r

    Charlie there is an even more practical solution you have overlooked. As you seem to have a binary focus on such matters. At the moment our young people have the option of low pay or accruing substantial debt by pursuing the academic route. Why not invest in our young people. There is a huge skill shortage, that will become apparent even more as immigration rates potentially change. Just listen to industry leaders on the shortage of skills.

    Labour are serious about apprenticeships and aim to improve the quality and the quantity. The idea in their manifesto was to double apprenticeships. We need to make apprenticeships sexy.

  • Watchman

    Peter r,

    You realise that the currnet UK University loan system is actually a personalised tax liability not a substantial debt (unlike my older loan) – it comes off your pay, it only kicks in at a threshold, it does not affect your credit rating (unless you don’t pay, just like tax…) and it is written off when you stop working. In fact it is preferable to use general tax revenue because it does not take money from those who do not directly the benefit (we can argue about indirect benefits if you like, but I am pretty certain the direct benefits of a university education are for the person who received it). How is taking money from the low-paid who didn’t go to Univeristy to fund those going in any way a sensible investment?

    As to investing in young people and skills – you have heard of the degree apprenticeships haven’t you? Designed to meet the problem of the skills shortage (as it was centrally-designed initially I have my doubts, but that is what you are wanting) without falling back on the old model of apprenticeships that was not abandoned because of any central conceit but because it didn’t work in the modern world (note that if you want to follow a traditional craft such as carpentry or masonry, apprenticeships still exist because they function in these industries where you have to slowly learn skills hands on). Very few industries, including state ones, can justify supporting someone who is not actually in a job – on-the-job training works a lot better than having someone around whose only objective is to learn.

    Anyway, if we can’t do something in this country, why not just pay someone in another country to do it – that’s how international trade works: where one thing is unavailable in one place, another place can provide it. And you may be surprised to find many of us here are very pro-immigration anyway, so you may be having the wrong argument there.

    And there is something of a joke in Labour, who were heavily involved in the 50% going to University ideal, now wanting to make apprenticeships sexy… It kind of encapsulates the folly of central planning.

  • In the early years of Blair and Brown, Labour did try to make apprenticeships sexy; they had a huge scheme to fund training initiatives with government money. It would be to Peter r’s advantage to research why it ended in a way no-one in Labour wants to remember. There has been many a government scheme from left and right that disappointed in action but this one was something special. (Short version: its design was begging to be scammed and it was scammed in spades.)

  • Peter r

    Some valid comments, Watchman. I’m not here to defend Brown and Blair but surely you have to acknowledge even we can’t blame them for not planning for us to leave the European Union in the manner that the present political leaders would prefer. So is that a central planning issue or… It is quite clear we need a more balanced workforce now we are where we are are. We can’t compete with the likes of India and China on numbers so an emphasis in getting the correct balance of people with the right skills is essential.

    I would add that you are right to raise the issue of are people who don’t attend education subsidising others. I would add that society benefits from having a high skilled workforce.

    As for debt on student loans my understanding is, when you apply for a mortgage this is obviously assessed in the affordablity assessment. This is an obvious hindrance in obtaining credit but what are the unintended consequences of a sizeable amount of people having 9% less disposable income (amount paid back above 21k). Secondly you raise the issue of the loan being written off. When you calculate the intial loan then add rpi the outstanding amount is huge, compound interest is a bitch. Throw in the freeze on recent loans and all sorts of shenanigans. By my calculations people earning not much more than the minimum wage will be paying back student loans in a few years. So whilst some may never pay off the full sum they will probably in most instances pay back more than they borrowed. I would suggest there are numerous other unintended consequences that will play out. People starting families later etc. Another is disgruntled graduates working overseas and we are losing not just the repayment but the braindrain. What financial issues are we storing up when people don’t pay back. The student debt is forecast to rise to 200billion in six years.

  • Peter r

    Has the tripling of student loans created a generation of people more likely to vote Labour?

  • Laird

    “society benefits from having a high skilled workforce.”

    Obviously, but I would posit that having a worthless university degree is not “skilled” and is of no benefit to “society” (whatever that actually means). Fewer people should go to college, and more directly to work (with or without apprenticeships).

    “when you apply for a mortgage this is obviously assessed in the affordablity assessment.”

    As it should be. If you can’t afford to pay for a house (and not just the mortgage, but also the taxes and upkeep) then you shouldn’t own one. Fewer people should “own” houses (sneer quotes because people who acquire houses with little or no money down, and hence little or no equity, aren’t really “owners” at all; they’re pretentious renters), and yes, that means lower-income people shouldn’t get into the game until they can really afford it. The idea of somehow encouraging low-income people to buy houses is economic lunacy, and in the long run is often of no real benefit to them either.

    “they will probably in most instances pay back more than they borrowed.”

    Well, duh! That’s called “time value of money.”

  • Ferox

    Obviously, but I would posit that having a worthless university degree is not “skilled” and is of no benefit to “society” (whatever that actually means). Fewer people should go to college, and more directly to work (with or without apprenticeships).

    If students themselves bore the cost of their educations, I suspect we wold see a precipitous decline in -Studies degrees.

    But if Uncle Money is picking up the tab, why not spend a few years of extended adolescence partying and learning about multicultural pottery?

  • Laird

    Of course, Ferox. We would also see a precipitous decline in the cost of tuition (that’s microeconomics 101), and undoubtedly the demise of more than a few of those “institutions of higher learning”, also a great benefit to society.

  • Watchman

    Peter r,

    Does society benefiting actually benefit the low-cost members who are subsidising the obvious beneficiaries. It is a bit of a cop-out to just say society benefits without analysing how. It might be that the benefits are increased wealth and exposure to new ideas but these are actually restricted to those who went to university. On paper this looks like society benefiting, but in reality it is only one section benefiting whilst being subsidised by non-beneficiaries.

    I assume you don’t believe trickle-down economics work. It seems logically incoherent to believe the benefits of education will trickle down if wealth won’t. It needs to be proven that it will, not assumed.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I don’t understand what “trickle-down economics” means. I would automatically take the phrase to be a snide and diminishing reference to the fact that as the wealth created by producers increases, so do the benefits to the members of society at large as well as that of the producers and such capitalists as helped to find their enterprises. This is both because of diminishing costs-to-purchase — which has been the usual process in “consumer electronics,” and would be much more usual than it is if not for governmental “money”-“printing” and its various rules and regulations on who can do business with whom and when, as well as how, and its various interventions and shenanigans, and so on and so forth — and because of the increase in available jobs.

    But as I say, it seems nowadays be a snide, cheap-shot sort of phrase, so I assume I’m misinterpreting somehow.

    Really, the late Pres. Kennedy at least got one thing right, it seems to me: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

    Enlightenment please?

  • Watchman: If you want to say “society benefits,” the only objective, impartial meaning I can see for that is that some people become better off and no one becomes worse off. So, for example, society normally benefits from voluntary exchanges: Both parties to the exchange are better off (or they wouldn’t have agreed to make it) and, in general, third parties aren’t affected. (This doesn’t apply if, for example, one of the parties is agreeing to break someone’s leg!) Freely made gifts make society better off: The recipient has gained something, and the giver presumably values the act of giving more than the gift, or they wouldn’t have made the gift.

    On the other hand, if one person becomes better off, and another becomes worse off, society does not benefit; part of society benefits and part in injured, and saying that “society” benefits involves taking sides between them, which is not impartial. So, for example, nonconsensual redistributions of wealth never make society better off. Nor does punishing people for voluntary exchanges.

    The late Murray Rothbard spelled all this out pretty clearly in “Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics.”

  • Laird

    I’ll second what Julie and WHS said. The phrase “trickle-down economics” is used as a pejorative, but only by the economically ignorant. Of course it “works”. It is merely classical economics, which was understood long before that mountebank J.M. Keynes came along with his idiotic, irrational and internally inconsistent theories. It posits that capital investment (which is possible only by those who actually possess capital, i.e., the relatively wealthy) increases the overall prosperity of society. If that benefits some more than others, so what? It’s Julie’s “rising tide” in action. “Trickle down economics” is the physical manifestation of Say’s Law (look it up).

    As to whether “trickle down education” is an overall benefit to society, that’s a much more difficult question. It depends upon the nature of the education, as well as its application. It could be a societal benefit, or it could be an utter waste of resources and a societal detriment. You’d have to examine the specifics in each individual case.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Indeed, Laird. :<)

  • Laird: I think the real counterargument to mockery of “trickle-down” economics is not so much Say’s Law (important though that is) as Ricardo’s Law. Ricardo demonstrated that if person A is x times better than person B at one activity, and y times better at a different activity, both activities being productive, then as long as x and y are not exactly equal, person A will be better off specializing in the activity where they have the greater superiority, and outsourcing the other activity to person B. In other words, it’s advantageous for the most productive to exchange with the less productive; this provides both groups with a bigger “pie” to divide up.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Being a contrarian, I’ll offer a rather different definition:

    Socialism is the response to gross disparities in wealth stemming from state cronyism toward persons and classes.

    Some of this wealth comes from immediate and recent favors. For instance, the Russian oligarchs whose wealth comes from the looting of the Soviet state, or Carlos Slim, who acquired Mexico’s national telephone company on highly favorable terms. Many fortunes have been made in recent years by the recipients of licenses to operate mobile phone service.

    Sometimes this wealth has historical origins. For instance, families whose ancestors were awarded large landholdings in the Middle Ages, or were tax farmers, or held lucrative royal patents.

    Laird is correct in writing that “…capital investment (which is possible only by those who actually possess capital, i.e., the relatively wealthy) increases the overall prosperity of society.”

    But when large portions of a society’s capital are already held by a few, that group is positioned to reap a disproportionate share of the increase. This effect is enhanced by the extra political influence that group has from its wealth.

    Thus, while the Industrial-Transportation-Communication-Information Revolution generated enormous new wealth, which enriched the people in general, and rewarded the makers of the Revolution, it also enriched the heirs of rent-seekers of previous eras, and provided lavish new opportunities for rent-seeking.

    The socialists saw this, and it made them angry. But they didn’t understand it. They blamed capitalism rather than abuses of the state.

  • peter H

    Socialism is slavery.

  • Paul Marks

    To take a modern example…..

    Jon Huntsman SENIOR started life in a house made of cardboard. He built a great chemical company (by reducing costs and improving products) and used the profits to build the leading hospital fighting cancer.

    People who oppose such “capitalists” are not good people who happen to be from a different school of thought. Such “anti capitalists” are WICKED people who need to be opposed.


  • Mr Black

    For a long time I’ve described socialism as being not an economic system, but a political power system that uses economics to destroy its opponents.

  • NickM

    Here’s an odd one for you. Do you recall Mitchell and Webb (alleged comedians) advertising Apple Macs. The thing was one is allegedly cool (Mac) and the other is a geek (PC). Hipsters and generalised bellends who buy “craft” ales served in clogs in Hoxton at extraordinary prices. And one is good and the other is bad. The ad is almost moralising.

    There is just one problem. I don’t recall the patron saint of the turtle neck giving a red cent to charity. I do recall the mocked geeky one – Bill Gates – saying he wants to give pretty much his entire fortune away including to do to malaria what was done to smallpox. Malaria has killed more people than anything else ever.

    Would that not be an unalloyed good? Recently in India guess how many cases of polio there were in an entire year. Zero. Part of that was down to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

  • Jacob

    “socialism as being not an economic system, but a political power system”

    Of course it is a power system
    It uses envy, demagogy and the promise to give people something for nothing to gain and maintain power.

  • Jacob

    “Socialism is the response to gross disparities in wealth stemming from state cronyism toward persons and classes.”

    Socialism is (in part) the response to gross disparities in wealth … wherever they stem from (whether “deserved” or not). In other words: socialism is envy enshrined into an ideology – coupled with the lust for power.

    As to where wealth comes from – sometimes from inventiveness and industry (deserved), sometimes from cronyism and corruption (undeserved, criminal), sometimes from sheer luck… it’s often difficult to tell them apart, and the mere notion of “deserved” wealth is very nebulous.

    The more blatant cases of crime and corruption should be, and are, prosecuted under capitalism too.

    But socialism denigrates all wealth as a sin, as proof of wrongdoing. Socialism is the anti-rich ideology – and, consequently – the ideology of poverty. (It usually achieves poverty…). Nowadays they have added a layer of “sustainability” as justification to their quest for poverty.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Jacob: “The more blatant cases of crime and corruption should be, and are, prosecuted under capitalism too.”

    But they often aren’t. In many cases they can’t be prosecuted, because no law was violated. (“The real scandal isn’t what goes on that illegal, it’s what goes on that’s legal.”) And given the ubiquitous power of government, and the flood of new wealth in the last two centuries, it has often been possible to usurp great riches without going much beyond the law.

    And I think that ultimately it’s that appearance of unearned or minimally earned wealth that set socialist juices flowing. Because AFAICT, even the most extreme Reds rarely denounce the wealth of successful artists, or actors, or athletes. Because such people most clearly earn what they have. They may say it is ridiculous for an athlete to be paid many times the income of a school teacher, but that is society’s flaw – they never denounce the athlete for cashing in on his hard-won success or living large.

    At least I’ve never seen it.

  • Jacob

    “And I think that ultimately it’s that appearance of unearned or minimally earned wealth that set socialist juices flowing. “

    No. All the “rich” are condemned (“how can you own such a big house while some people are homeless?”). All rich are taxed out of the money, socialists like to tax “the rich” and did impose 90% taxes and inheritance taxes, in the US too.
    Socialism pretends to impose equality, so the rich are bad guys just for being rich, i.e. “unequal”. Like the white people are bad for being “privileged” or “not diverse”.

    Anyway: cronyism and getting rich out of government and corruption (out of money taken by force from other people) is a characteristic of socialist regimes, where the government controls many businesses and great part of the economic action.

    Socialism is ignorant about how wealth is created. They think that wealth just exists (or is a natural resource) and all that is needed is to redistribute it in a “just” way. So riches is a sign of sin, of failure of just redistribution.

  • Paul Marks

    Nick M. – yes I know that many people regard which sort of computer they buy as a moral statement (“virtue signalling “) – and, yes, I am baffled by this.

    I do not even like Bill Gates (his political opinions are light years from mine – he is actually much closer to the leftists who hate him), but how is not buying a computer with his operating system a great moral statement? Like you I just do not understand this.

    Apple is just as much a big capitalist operation as Microsoft.