We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

First, as much as the authors insist that previous examples of socialism were not “really” socialist, none of them can tell us what exactly they would do differently. Rather than providing at least a rough outline of how “their” version of socialism would work in practice, the authors escape into abstraction, and talk about lofty aspirations rather than tangible institutional characteristics.

“Charting new destinations for humanity” and “democratizing the economy” are nice buzzphrases, but what does this mean, in practice? How would “the people” manage “their” economy jointly? Would we all gather in Hyde Park, and debate how many toothbrushes and how many screwdrivers we should produce? How would we decide who gets what? How would we decide who does what? What if it turns out that we don’t actually agree on very much?

These are not some trivial technical details that we can just leave until after the revolution. These are the most basic, fundamental questions that a proponent of any economic system has to be able to answer. Almost three decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall—enough time, one should think, for “modern” socialists to come up with some ideas for a different kind of socialism. Yet here we are. After all those years, they have still not moved beyond the buzzword stage.

Kristian Niemietz

13 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Well, I think that some people must interpret it as a challenge! Nobody else before us has managed a fully-centralised economy, so we’ll earn extra credit by being the first!

  • bobby b

    “How would we decide who gets what?”

    Not to worry. We have several generations of college students who have devoted years of study to just this task. They’ll take everything off your hands and make sure the distribution is just and fair. You just keep producing.

    Ivy Starnes lives.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Q. How many college students would it take to change a light bulb?
    A. None! They don’t want to change light bulbs- they want to change the world!

  • Steve

    In my experience, people who espouse socialism do not understand these questions, or the form that the answers would take. They are concerned with broad principles and do not care to dirty their hands with boring details. OK, the aim is to climb Everest. Don’t worry about the details, just go ahead and die. But please don’t take the rest of humanity with you.

  • AKM

    My experience matches yours, Steve. They’re mostly intelligent people yet entirely clueless about basic economics while lacking an understanding of their own cluelessness. The Dunning-Kruger effect writ large.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The basic premise of socialism rests on Friedman’s forth way of spending money, as yet unproven to be any better than the other three ways, no matter what the trivial details are.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    Sadly, it’s not so much a case of “socialists gonna socialise” as “idiots gonna ideologise”.

  • Johan Schoone

    They talk about “Democratizing the economy”? That has been done. That is what markets are for.

  • Eric Tavenner

    Socialism is a lovely idea.
    The problem is that it leaves out one of the essentials of human existence, self interest. And also the fact that economies, beyond the village level, are far to complex to manage centrally.

  • Alisa

    Socialism is a lovely idea.

    Not really.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Socialism starts as a good feeling, being friends to all. When you start thinking about it, then that leads to trying to enforce niceness, and socialism turns into statism.
    I think of myself as a sociable individual, and would have no trouble socialising with other libertarians, but I don’t want to be forced to be sociable.

  • Fraser Orr

    The fundamental problem, I think, with the proponents of socialism is that none of them seem to have actually run anything. AFAICS none of them has run as much as a coffee shop, and yet they seem to think that they know how to run the economy as a whole? It is hubris raised the the power of chutzpah, really, if you think about it.

    I, on the other hand, have run things. And one of the things you learn by running things is that your great plans rarely translate into the results you expect. And one common cause of this is that employees often don’t share you vision and have something else in mind. Now this happens in an employment situation where, if I don’t like your attitude I can fire you. How much more when you can’t really fire a non cooperative citizen. Why does this happen? Often because employee incentives often do not line up with corporate goals. We have all sorts of mechanisms to make employee incentives line up with corporate goals — profit sharing, bonuses, company strategy meetings, appealing to better nature etc. — however they are at best blunt tools.

    Now here is the thing you know if you have ever run anything. The larger the organization gets the degree to which this problem happens grows exponentially. The bigger the organization the more distant an individual’s goals are from the corporate goals, and the less effective these mechanisms are. Add to this the fact that the quadratically growing costs of communication means that the larger the organization the more the transaction costs within the firm begin to dominate other costs.

    This is not some brilliant insight on my part. It is something that anyone who has ever actually run anything knows intimately. It is also why gigantic companies are really bad at innovating. They tend to either buy their innovation by buying start ups, or protect their innovation in Skunkworks type organizations. Again, this isn’t my brilliant PhD thesis. This is something that anyone who has actually run something knows.

    Now, consider these facts in light of the idea of centrally managing a whole economy. Plainly speaking, the only people who would advocate central management of an economy are people who have never actually run anything, because, from the perspective of people who actually have run things, the whole notion is utterly, ridiculously, laughable. Simply speaking, the idea that the central authority declares its goals and plans, and somehow, by magic, every jumps in line to do their part, shows a level of ignorance so huge that only a tenured college professor could have it without starving to death.

    So, the answer to people advocating socialism is simply this: “Demonstrate your ideas work by starting a chain of candy stores operating on those principles. When you are all billionaires, come back and we will talk, otherwise stop spouting your immature, ungrounded nonsense.”

  • Thailover

    One need not get any deeper than the fundemental injustice of government robbing the productive, keeping the lion’s share to fund it’s own mastery over the people, and giving a pittance to the “have nots”, using the latter for a “reason” or rather, an excuse for this “redistribution of wealth”. Not only does this fund a robber government, not only does it harm the productive, it (perhaps most importantly) harms the unproductive, offering a financial and social incentive for failure.

    I offer by example the state of “the black community” in America compared to Asian Americans. The latter who, by family, earn substantially more than white people.

    It’s not an accident that the ‘bastard rate’ of Black Americans is about 76%. How could there not be a social breakdown under those conditions?