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Cosplayers and gamers

Some Guido commenters were wondering why socialists in the UK are so far removed from “working class” people. One pointed out that the left is mainly “wealthy people cosplaying socialism”. Another replied: “The Marxists gave up on the working class when they realized they were too comfortable under capitalism to lead the revolution.”

I wondered if the idea of cosplaying socialists was new, and Google instead led me to an article about what computer games might be like under socialism, written by a socialist. It contains this somewhat honest rephrasing of the mantra that real socialism has not yet been tried:

the lack of images of a socialist future is a huge challenge to the Left because it leaves us only with the failed examples of “actually existing socialism” from the 20th century.

And the naive idea that problems can be solved by people Just Getting Along and Working Together:

the institution of horizontal structures and regular assemblies on the workplace would create a culture of cooperation and participation

I wonder why, if workplace democracy produces a better product, there are not successful companies that practice it. Perhaps the idea is that capitalists want more profits, not better products, and the two are unrelated. In any case it does all sound rather wonderful: this vision of workers under no pressure to perform yet performing to their full ability, all sharing resources and maintaining creative control, funded by government art funding when there is work to be done and supported by universal basic income and Flexicurity schemes when there is not.

Except that there will always be work to do because cyclical layoffs are “due to poor planning or to the inconsistency of game development cycles”, and in Socialist Game Development we will have instead “a low level of competition between companies and a high level of coordination between projects”.

The article goes on to explain how by “letting citizens democratically decide what to produce, how to produce it, and what to do with the surplus” we can avoid planned obsolescence while still enjoying “fast developments in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics” which will give us more time to play games in the first place. We can all stay at home and claim our UBI while contributing unpaid labour in the form of “user generated content and modding”. And if the bosses refuse to pay the UBI, “it’s the socialists’ duty to constantly remind them of the possibility of their heads ending up on a spike”. See? Socialism not only works, it is also nice.

It does all sound a bit risky, though, what with those failed examples, and I am comfortable. I think we should stick with letting people discover greater efficiency in the search for increased profit, and then we can all enjoy creating new games in our spare time when capitalism makes everything cheap enough.

28 comments to Cosplayers and gamers

  • James Strong

    I don’t play computer games so I can’t comment on that matter, but I do want to comment on –

    ‘capitalists want more profits, not better products, and the two are unrelated’

    What is ‘better’ is subjective as well as objective. A Rolls Royce is better than a Skoda, but for my circumstances right now the Skoda is better for me.

    Capitalism can provide both.

    The quest for profit is good, because profit only comes from providing goods or services that people are willing to pay for. The voluntary aspect of this exchange is also morally superior.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    I expect I’m preaching to the choir, but the Skoda analogy goes further. As a state-owned manufacturer, the cars were complete and utter carp. Let’s not forget the old joke: “Why do Skodas have a heated rear window? To keep your hands warm while you’re pushing it.”

    A bit like Jaguar in the deeply sorry days when it was part of British Leyland.

    Skoda (and Jaguar) now produces very good cars that people willingly buy, not because it’s the cheapest rubbish. By being part of a capitalist group (VAG) that produces much better products. And contributes more to the state by way of taxes (and fines) 🙂

  • Stonyground

    I am intrigued by the ability to dismiss the real life examples of how socialism actually works in practice and instead focus on some kind of imaginary world in which it is a huge success. Ground breaking and innovative products pour onto the market, rather than poorly made copies of obsolete capitalist designs. Presumably reality is all Thatcher’s fault.

  • Why do we need to move beyond Tetris and Q-bert, anyway? Nobody needs 23 kinds of video games.

  • Sam

    Although the common trope is saying, “socialism sounds wonderful, but…”, I can’t be the only one who thinks it sounds awful even in theory. Like when your school teacher announces a group project. I suppose in both instances it is appealing to those who know they will mooch off the productive, and terrifying to people with honor and a sense of fairness.

  • Brian Swisher

    Ah, Ted S., the Bernie Sanders National Video Game Lab will produce for you the very latest version of Pong.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . the institution of horizontal structures and regular assemblies on the workplace would create a culture of cooperation and participation . . . “

    Much like how government directives on equality have cured mankind of racial animus.

    Socialism would likely work if everyone were kind, selfless, and charitable.

    Capitalism works because it acknowledges that we’re not.

  • Umbriel

    @Sam — I agree with the first part of your statement, but I was never especially “terrified” by school group projects that were within my areas of expertise — That others were free-riding in that limited context merely gave me a chance to show off a bit. Such projects didn’t mean any more work for me than working separately would have, and amounted to a sort of charitable act, of which I generally found the beneficiaries appreciative.

    But school “group projects” that I experienced were collaborative rather than compartmentalized. The hazard lies in situations where the work truly has to be divided (as is typically the case in the working world), and there are incompetent or lazy “weak links”. That’s actually closer to the “choosing teams in gym” situation. I never took being picked near-last especially personally in those cases, because I recognized the predicament of the choosers having to allocate us “dead weight”. And, of course, while such dead weight could mean the loss of a fairly meaningless game, it didn’t effect the actual grades of the more competent.

  • The linked article is hilarious, but also (alas) perhaps worth studying because this kind of ‘argument’ is what today’s young (and very ignorant) socialists will offer. This unwitting comic thinks socialism will apply

    the scientific method to social problems — that is, science as a self-correcting system based on concrete data

    (but never if the correction would be to restore capitalism, of course).

    from the point of view of the Silicon Valley ruling class, the UBI is a reasonable alternative to having their heads put on a spike by hordes of unemployed.

    Oh come on! Silicon Valley’s ruling class thinks UBI would be worth paying in exchange for the recipients not voting for Trump. Indeed, they might think so even if they were not confident of arranging that the payers would be other Trump voters, not themselves. It is so supererogatory to threaten them with impaling – but revealing that he nevertheless does.

    Marx and Engels admired the power of capitalism to organise production and create an unprecedented surplus – they just couldn’t get over the inequality and the inefficiencies of a free market system.

    Since their followers managed to get over the inefficiencies of the socialist systems they created, I don’t thing it was inefficiency they hated in capitalism. And while inequalities of wealth were (they said) offensive to them, inequalities of power were very much their thing.

    This view of socialism/communism as an acceleration of productive forces is being revived by some currents within the contemporary left.

    Revived as an act of faith, in the extreme absence of any reason for holding such a view.

    It’s a vision that works against the conservative meme of the economy as a zero-sum-game.

    That shoe is on the other foot. It’s their belief in zero-sum that tells socialists that whatever one has, another has not. And vice versa: anyone who thinks conservatives believe in zero-sum shouts loudly they know quite literally nothing of the ideology they oppose.

    Obviously, a comprehensive redistribution of wealth would have to take into account reparations for centuries of racial, patriarchal and colonial oppression,

    but not, of course, rewards for centuries of effort to make these things rare in the world, nor reparations from others for having done more in the oppressing line and less (often less than nothing) in the making-rare line.

    But I have left the best till last.

    Think about the material and spiritual wealth that could be created by the two million able-bodies incarcerated in the US!

    Open the jails; release every criminal. What, other than “material and spiritual wealth”, could come from this. After all, it’s not as if socialism ever imprisoned those who could have worked. To be fair, socialists usually make their prisoners work, though, as physicist Weissberg told his interrogators after they’d sent all the other competent professors at his institute to dig the White Sea canal, “Can’t you imagine what expensive navvies men like Shubnikov and Obremov are?” This socialist gamer evidently can’t – though he can imagine how wonderful the world of socialism will be.

  • Paul Marks

    Collectivism has always been a thing of upper class intellectuals.

    Plato was not known for his manual labour, and the Abbe De Mably (the inspiration of Rousseau) was an “Abbe” a high ranking member of the French Roman Catholic Church (in France the Church was really under the King and rejected the discipline the Council of Trent tried to impose – so there were, for example, some atheist Bishops).

    As for Karl Marx and Frederick Engels – well I do not thing either of them would be exactly Wicksteed Park litter picking or car park material.

    To be fair I do not think “costume play” is quite right – as socialist intellectuals do not (generally) even pretend to be workers. People such as Professor Laski were full of ideas of how “the workers” should live – but he did not pretend to be one, and I do not think Jeremy Corbyn does either.

    Remember the “General Will” of Rousseau is not the opinions of ordinary people – that is the despised “will of all”. The “General Will” is what people SHOULD think, and is to be laid down by the “Law Giver”. It is all quite consistent – evil (horribly evil), but consistent.

  • Regional

    Venezwailer is a paragon of Socialism so much so that’s its importing oil from the Great Satan on using some to prop up thriving Socialist Cuba. But at least their supermarkets are empty and not propping up capitalism.

  • Stonyground

    That has always been my view. It doesn’t even sound good in theory. Punish hard work and enterprise while rewarding laziness and failure. Yeah, that’s the way to get everyone motivated to build a better world.

  • Slartibartfarst

    Well, I dunno. It always confuzzles me when I read something suggesting that some religio-political ideological theory, or crack-brained economic theory or other (untested or otherwise) offers a better – but always unproven beneficial path to improved worker productivity, reduced cost, greater profits, happier workers, increased market share, or similar.

    The reason for the confuzzlement is what seems to be the predominance of a lack of any provable facts/observations of statistical veracity to substantiate that there is a cause-effect connection between what is being proposed and what the supposed benefits are.
    It’s all going to to work because of “magic”, it seems.
    The proponents are always so sincere, so sure, so believing though. All you have to do is believe. It’s depressingly moronic.
    The tenaciousness of ego/conviction/belief is stronger than any statistically verifiable data/evidence to the contrary.

    Yet the Japanese were given the proverbial answer to “life the universe and everything” – in business production processes (of all types) at least – after the end of the war, by the US government statistician (Deming) who was sent to help them rebuild their shattered economy (see notes on economic status at foot).
    In his own words, all Deming essentially did was to simplify and teach the Japanese industrial engineers the practical application of Deming’s own teacher’s (Shewhart’s) theoretical work on processes in statistical control – a simple mathematical model.
    “The rest”, as they say, “is history”, and the Japanese awarded their teacher (Dr. W.Edwards Deming) the highest honour they had – the Emperor’s Imperial Ribbon of Honour (the first and – I think -so far only instance of this being awarded to a non-Japanese citizen).
    Why, exactly? Because “the post-war Japanese economic miracle”.
    Each year, JUSE (Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers) award the Deming Prize to the most deserving company for that year.

    Western corporations and governments still don’t seem to “get” it. Deming challenged the classical approach of management theory and so-called “best practice” with his simple 14-point philosophy. The first sacred cow to the slaughter was MBO (Management By Objectives) – no more setting imaginary (irrational – QED) “targets” and then applying MBO. Since MBO is fundamental to Western management thinking and MBA course funding, Deming’s philosophy represents an unwanted danger to the status quo. Many/most people will therefore automatically reject it out of hand – simply because it runs counter to and contradicts conventional thinking. This is an intellectual bind of confirmation bias and I have noticed that people seem to be unable to understand or accept Deming’s philosophy when they are in this intellectual bind. It’s like they are literally watching another movie through the lens of their own peculiar paradigms.

    I was fortunate to attend one of Deming’s 4-day seminars in 1984. He was about 82 at the time and – judging from his performance in presentations/lectures and the Q&A sessions – clearly an intellectual giant far ahead of anyone amongst the 347 attendees.

    Yet I would have walked out at the end of the 4 days blissfully unaware that, secure in my belief that I understood what he had been talking to us about, I was completely in error. It was the morning of the 4th day, and Deming had again repeated the phrase “What I am teaching here is very simple, but it seems very difficult for people to understand. What I have done is spent a good part of my life teaching in the simplest way possible what Shewhart taught me.” (or words to that effect).
    And I thought to myself that at least I was secure in the knowledge that I understood it all, but I wondered if that was a false sense of security – what it might be that I couldn’t see or comprehend..
    With those thoughts running through my head, I watched as Deming took the audience through the Red and White Beads demonstration and I suddenly had an epiphany. All the pieces of the jigsaw fell neatly into place and I understood that the theory was clearly based on statistical veracity. It was a repeatable experiment, with the same provable results every time.
    Hyper-inflation and economic losses
    Infrastructure – 40% of the nation’s industrial plants and infrastructure destroyed.
    Material loss – 25% of national wealth.
    Industrial production – dropped to 1/10 of the prewar level.
    Human loss – 2,8 million deaths (4% of entire population).
    Natural resources – oil, ion, wood, etc.
    Commodity shortages.

  • John B

    ‘his vision of workers under no pressure to perform yet performing to their full ability, all sharing resources and maintaining creative control, funded by government…’

    The (World Class) NHS.

  • John B

    ‘…“letting citizens democratically decide what to produce, how to produce it…’

    People who think up this drivel are not in touch with the real World and know no history of Man’s development.

    Innovation is what drives economic and social progress, and innovation is not about democracy, it is about ideas, many obvious only to one person, many quite crazy, like making a steam engine small enough so it can go on wheels and pull wagons along rails instead of being pulled by horses, or developing a vaccine to prevent polio rather than building a better breathing machine for its victims, or electric street lights instead of gas lamps, or GPS instead of maps. It’s a long list.

    How would citizens democratically decide these particularly if the new thing decided would put you out of work? I wonder how many citizen canal operators and barge men would have voted for steam railways, or workers in iron-lung’ factories vote for vaccines, or lamp-lighters for electric street lamps.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Socialism would likely work if everyone were kind, selfless, and charitable. Capitalism works because it acknowledges that we’re not.

    Capitalism is driven by greed, socialism is driven by generosity, whilst you can almost guarantee people will be greedy in some form, you cannot argue such with generosity, therefore you have to “force” people to be generous for it to work, it’s the “force” bit that is the problem, and one that – unfortunately – many socialists see as a feature not a defect.

    The other problem with socialism is it cannot function as a community without direction (and power) being placed in the hands of a few over many, and if those few are wrong or incompetent then the disasters are huge and have long-term generational consequences, Mao’s Four Pests campaign or the one-child policy are good examples, and, of course, being socialists, the few cannot be sacked and therefore continue to make one devastating mistake after another.

    The “pitfalls” of capitalism prevent this kind of thing (unless it becomes crony-fied).

    Many socialists have blind spots in their plans, the recent example of Mr Corbyn proposing raising a government bond to buy off the water companies and run them as nationalized industries that can use the massive profits to pay off the bond and generate social spending, other than this “bond” is actually underwritten by “other people’s money” that has forcibly been taken from them, the idea that a government run industry can create a massive profit of any kind is somewhat unbelievable given past history, and what does Mr no-qualifications and never-had-a-job Corbyn propose on this great scheme of doing what has eluded government economists of far greater intellect for centuries?

  • How would citizens democratically decide these particularly if the new thing decided would put you out of work? (John B, August 18, 2018 at 12:00 pm)

    It would be even worse than that. I have seen how that kind of democracy works in mergers (which is the reason I think organic growth of a company is often better than growing bigger by merging).

    Example: two companies in the same domain merge. In one company, a given function is done by 5 people using an easily-expandable system. In the other, the same function is done less well by 50 people using a system that is harder to expand.

    Guess which system has more managers in the middle-level meeting ordered by the high-ups to decide how to effect the merger on the ground for this particular function? Guess how the discussion goes when the 5 managers from the clunky system realise that the one manager from the agile one can data-fill their function in a month (eliminating any further need for their system, their ‘skill’ with it, or for any of them in their prior roles)? Guess who wins the vote on what to do?

    When the contrast is too painful to be just denied, and the high-ups express explicit interest in the first company’s lower overhead for this function, I’ve seen it end with, ‘Let’s have a whole new system (whisper – that will put us all back on a level at the start gate, and take years to build during which we can each do our own thing). I speak from personal experience – I have been an observer of such things (luckily for me, never a principal).

    (Of course, the linked-article idiot will claim that flexicurity will free them from their fear of unemployment, but that’s not the issue. These things come from pride in its worst form: envy. This is about status and never admitting you did a poor job in the past. This is about cheering for your own tribe. It was in an rising economy and an expanding company that I first saw this.)

    The kind of democracy the linked-article idiot is talking about won’t just impede implementing new ideas. It will squash existing ones, as each is merged into the all-embracing one.

  • lucklucky

    “Socialism would likely work if everyone were kind, selfless, and charitable. Capitalism works because it acknowledges that we’re not.”

    Seems we continues this lie from socialist propaganda…

    People interests, wants and needs are different. People are not equal, it has nothing to do with being “kind, selfless and charitable” or whatever feel good trope.

    Why every socialist society reinforces the unkindness, unselflessness, uncharitably and violence?
    At least if the trope was true even if was less efficient than capitalism would show an improvement in all those variable, but it doesn’t. Why?

    Because Socialism is just an argument to justify totalitarian power.
    I call Socialism a primitivistic argument, since i think the main civilization advance is an individual, a community recognizing limits to their power.
    A socialist does not recognize that, because Socialism is in fact a reactionary ideology to get us back to discretionary power.

    The Revolution is recognizing limits of own power. That is the sea change in human concepts living in community. Then came the Reactionaries.

  • Snorri Godhi

    “The Marxists gave up on the working class when they realized they were too comfortable under capitalism to lead the revolution.”

    I assume that the 1st “they” refers to the Marxists, while the 2nd “they” refers to the working class. Under this interpretation, the sentence works as a rather coarse first approximation.

    It seems to me that it would be more accurate to say: the socialists did some good for the working class, at least in the short term, as long as they were in opposition. That is why the working class used to support them.

    Once the socialists got to power, they had to choose: either they kept acting in the (short-term) interest of the working class, as in Britain from Attlee to Callaghan, and even worse in Venezuela beginning with Chavez; or else they had to act in the interest of the State, as in the Soviet Union and similar societies. In the 1st case, the economy would collapse; in the 2nd case, the economy would collapse anyway, eventually, but in the meantime the socialists would come to be (rightly) hated by the working class as the new exploiters, worse than the old. In either case, the working class would stop supporting socialism; so the ex-socialist parties (sometimes still nominally socialist) had to find another principle of legitimization; which they found in their support for minorities (which automatically rules out the working class).

    The above does not contradict what Paul Marks wrote: i agree that “Collectivism has always been a thing of upper class intellectuals.” What i am trying to explain, is why collectivists used to seek, and obtain, the support of the working class; and now they don’t.

  • lucklucky

    Snorri, i think there are 2 reasons

    1 -Marxists realized they could not get the working class to support their revolution, Reagan won, Thatcher won, capitalism keep giving more and more products to the “working class”…

    2- Marxists changed, as Paul Marks say that “Collectivism has always been a thing of upper class intellectuals.” but not to the level of today.
    Where are the Marxists today? Academia, where they always have been but also Journalism, Publicity, Lawyers.

    They lost contact with real, physical world because real world responsibilities were bad to them: Soviet Union failed.
    Physical world is a world of hard choices. Factories have to produce, ships have to run, distribution have to work… If the products do not arrive in day X it cannot be fudged with a newspaper article. It did not arrived. Hard cut.

    But who writes in a newspaper, or is a teacher, makes commercials does not face that physical feedback from reality. There are many degrees of grey to get away with failure. Soft world. If a bridge falls the engineers and the construction company are in the hotspot. If a journalist, teacher continuously shows only a partial part of a subject nothing happens.

    So the new Marxists went out of physical world, and went to the priesthood.
    That is why many Marxists are comfortable with capitalism as long as they can have the pulpit to say what is right and wrong and berate capitalists.

    Many don’t want anymore responsibilities of running a nationalized factory.

  • Paul Marks

    Japanese economic success came AFTER the wild money printing was stopped in the late 1940s.

    In the 1950s and 1960s private property was secure in Japan (unlike so much of Latin America were armed gangs take what they want (at least from people too poor to be able to afford bodyguards – and even many rich families have been the victims of “Social Justice” kidnapping gangs, – making a nonsense of “tax as a percentage of GDP” figures), and taxes and government spending were low – much lower than in the United States (let alone Britain).

    As for MITI (the ministry of industry and trade) when it, for example, told Mr Honda to stick to producing motorcycles he IGNORED them.

    In short there was nothing magical on Japanese success – it rested on low government spending and low taxation, secure private property rights (law and order), and private enterprise.

    By the way – in spite of the vast growth of Japanese Welfare State spending since the start of the 1970s and the orgy of “infrastructure” spending from the late 1980s onwards (Keynesian madness), Japanese government spending still takes less of the economy than it does in Britain.

  • Sam Duncan

    “‘his vision of workers under no pressure to perform yet performing to their full ability, all sharing resources and maintaining creative control, funded by government…’

    The (World Class) NHS.”

    Also the BBC. “We’re running about ten minutes late here on BBC1 this evening, because f*%# you, we’re funded through taxation and don’t have to answer to anyone except the government once a decade, and we can always wangle that by pointing to Children in Need and waving Proms tickets under their noses.”

    “[L]etting citizens democratically decide …”

    By “democratically”, he means, of course, “by means of majority vote”. As opposed to everbody’s purchasing decisions cumulatively directing the entire market, in multiple directions at once, in order to satisfy as many people, and disappoint as few, as possible. ‘Cos telling half the population to like it or lump it is way better.

    “Public funding for the arts, despised by free-market fundamentalists and widely supported by progressives, would support the most original projects and help build a thriving independent community.”

    Oh, my sides! Is this guy for real? Has he seen the sort of dull, unoriginal junk that gets arts funding? Not just the opera-in-trenchcoats mob; I’m talking about games. Terrible, terrible, games.

    And that’s in the modern West. Let’s not even talk about the old Soviet bloc, or modern Cuba, once one of the most vibrant artistic communities in the world, now preserved in 1960s-radical aspic. Without videogames.

  • Alisa

    Collectivism has always been a thing of upper class intellectuals.

    Not necessarily: ideas (bad and good) did tend to originate with the educated (including the self-educated – i.e. not necessarily wealthy, but still with enough means to leave them with free time for reading and thinking). But when it came to picking up those ideas, it really took all kinds. Most early Bolsheviks were not upper-class by any definition of that time and place, and most of them could not even be described as ‘intellectuals’ – they were mostly opportunists from the lower-middle and the working classes, who were clever enough to recognize an opportunity for self advancement, and ruthless enough to take advantage of it.

  • madrocketsci


    Although the common trope is saying, “socialism sounds wonderful, but…”, I can’t be the only one who thinks it sounds awful even in theory. Like when your school teacher announces a group project. I suppose in both instances it is appealing to those who know they will mooch off the productive, and terrifying to people with honor and a sense of fairness.

    Nope, I’m right there with you. About both socialism and “group projects”. (I *never* had as much trouble in a work environment being a ‘team-player’ as I had on just about every disastrous academic tribal-psychology exercise). Socialism has *always* sounded fatally horrible to me. Why would anyone, especially *creative people* (or people who aspire to be creative) want to be *owned as chattel by a bureaucracy*?!

    Why would they want to place themselves under orders, and give up everything they create to someone else to dispose of? Why would they want to tie something painfully private and personal, the creative process, in to some committee-led (or alpha-sadist dominated) collective process? (One of the reasons why tech companies have so much trouble being innovative these days is the unholy war on privacy they conduct with their open-plan rat experiments and intensive other-engagement and micromanagement.)

    Empiricism alone should clue these people in to the fact that something is rotten with the theory of socialism (perhaps the only controlled political science experiment in history). But the theory itself is plenty rotten, and it’s always been pretty obvious to me why.

  • William Newman

    “Collectivism has always been a thing of upper class intellectuals.”

    Perhaps it has often been strongest among upper class intellectuals, but it’s often recognizable in other groups and coalitions too. Consider three anticapitalist themes: colonial exploitation, intolerable ecological devastation of energy industry killing birds (when it’s a recognizably productive oil company operating under market rules, but not when it’s a wind^Wsubdidy farm), and the success of various various hungry upstart enterprises (Wal-Mart, various post-deregulation airlines, charter schools…) being entirely predatory exploitation and nothing significant to do with better price/performance ratios.

    All of those are enthusiastically pushed by upper class intellectuals, but in my experience they are also enthusiastically pushed and even embellished by people who are neither intellectuals nor upper class — people who seem to be bottom 50% along both axes.

    There are old stories and jokes based on resentment and envy among ordinary folk, and they seem to me to have more than a grain of truth behind them. Two spring to mind…

    [one I heard told on East Europeans or Central Asians:] A farmer is digging a post hole, and unearths an old, battered lamp. When he tries to pick it up, whoosh! at his touch a genie emerges. “You have freed me, and so it is my responsibility to grant your wish, but as I was trapped two thirds on your neighbor’s property, and only one third on yours, I must grant twice as much to him as to you.” Hmm. Hmm. Aha! “I wish to go blind in one eye.”

    [one I heard told on English, Americans, and French:] Three men are walking along a road when one of those new motorcars that they’ve heard of comes around the corner and zooms past them. One says “how wonderful it must be to have a car like that!” One says “someday, I will have a car like that!” One says “someday, we will pull him out of his car and make him walk like us!”

  • William Newman

    “Empiricism alone should clue these people in to the fact that something is rotten with the theory of socialism (perhaps the only controlled political science experiment in history). But the theory itself is plenty rotten, and it’s always been pretty obvious to me why.”

    Things like forced-collaboration nastiness in our rotten education system are a good illustration of how collectivist arrangements can easily be horribly broken from the get-go. Still, screwups by jackasses that also manage to screw up feasible things like the teaching of literacy are not necessarily indictments of the screwed-up thing, there’s an important alternative possibility that the jackasses could be at fault. And indeed, I think socialism doesn’t need to be quite as broken as that. There is still a very strong pattern that socialism fails even when the people trying it are not notorious jackasses otherwise, but I think it’s at least a little bit subtle why socialism done carefully even by people of ordinary competence and integrity will does so poorly.

    Note that many of the really severe inescapable problems seem to come with scaling. (Conversely, note that economic partnerships involving a sharing between a small number of people, especially two people, are a persistently competitive arrangement.) Such “but it doesn’t scale” limitations are not too hard to see in history, and are very very common in the modern world. I have personally encountered comfortably more than a hundred arrangements that can work OK on some small problems but consistently bog down on bigger ones. (I have encountered them especially in software development, but also in fields that are further from economics and organization theory, such as algorithms, computer networks, evolutionary biology, and the game of Go.) And I’ve spent my share of time talking with people about them, and watching other people deal with them, and I observe that it really seems to be very difficult for some people to appreciate such tradeoffs, think sensibly about them, and intelligently work around them.

    Consider how common it is for people to have trouble making sensible functional choices about delegation and systematization when they get just enough authority that it becomes an important issue. That’s like wetting one’s toes shallow end of the organizational theory pool, so if people aren’t nearly as good at that as they fondly imagine they would be, it’s pretty natural that they fail to appreciate the perverse weirdness that can easily grow to crisis proportions when trying to command and control an army or a duchy or a modern industrial economy. (E.g., underlings cynically distorting personnel promotion decisions and progress reports, and lack of bandwidth for the overlord to understand and follow any large fraction of the relevant information.)

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    The appeal of Socialism is that it says we are all one large family. Families help each other out, so socialism seems friendly, and comforting. It will probably always be the default position of people. We will probably always need to keep on reducing its’ size. I don’t think there is a killer argument to get rid of it, but we can always ameliorate it, and water it down.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yeah, “families help each other out” as long as they’re not at each other’s throats. (And sometimes even if they are.)

    But I agree with you as a practical matter, Nicholas.