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Socialism is socialism until it turns nasty (because if it’s nasty it can’t be socialism)

Via Instapundit, a tweet:

Rand Paul: “Well if you vote for a Socialist, you might get Socialism”.

Ana Navarro: “Maduro is not a Socialist. He’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.”

But Maduro is – or certainly was – a socialist. And, he’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.

As Instapundit might say, Kristian Niemietz smiles.

Earlier this year, Niemietz did one of my last Friday of the month talks, on the subject of his recent book about how socialists think and act – “it’s socialism”, “it’s not socialism” – every time, time after time. Read the book for a ton of patiently assembled chapter-and-verse details along these lines.

The point Niemietz made that I especially liked was how socialists simultaneously define socialism by its processes, and by its outcomes. So, socialism begins with socialist processes – stealing the property of property owners, goodies for the poor, fixing prices in accordance with a central plan, taking over corporations and replacing capable corporate managers with party hacks, monopolising the media, and so on – therefore it’s obviously socialism. But then it turns nasty – far worse poverty than before, violent repression, corruption, savage inequality, and so on – therefore, equally obviously, it can’t be socialism. That we critics of socialism had predicted exactly these outcomes from these processes doesn’t register. Only the obvious non-socialism of what had earlier and equally obviously been socialism registers.

I sort of knew all this, of course I did. But Niemietz explained it better – “socialism also defined by its outcomes” – than I’ve ever heard it explained before. Or then again, maybe I just got there myself, and he merely said for me the thought I had arrived at. (What you hear best is that which you are best prepared to hear.)

39 comments to Socialism is socialism until it turns nasty (because if it’s nasty it can’t be socialism)

  • Snorri Godhi

    The proper response to Ana Navarro would have been: What’s the difference??

    Not that i’d have been quick-witted enough to deliver!

    The rest of the post is quite sensible, but i can’t think of anything to add at the moment.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I vote for Explanation 3, the Synthesis:

    Maduro is a socialist and a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.

    So what else is new. Anybody ever heard of H. Chavez? Or various others of the type?

    Brian, you put the meat of it beautifully clearly and concisely. Worth repeating:

    “[S]ocialism begins with socialist processes – stealing the property of property owners, goodies for the poor, fixing prices in accordance with a central plan, taking over corporations and replacing capable corporate managers with party hacks, monopolising the media, and so on – therefore it’s obviously socialism. But then it turns nasty – far worse poverty than before, violent repression, corruption, savage inequality, and so on – therefore, equally obviously, it can’t be socialism.”

    More or less echoing Snorri, what more is there to say.

    * * *

    MODS: Missing link fixed. Thanks.

    (When I were a lass, talk about the Missing Link was the all over the place. Was Piltdown the Missing Link? Etc. etc. (Don’t in fact remember when Piltdown was, um, revealed.) LOL

  • Fraser Orr

    If anyone wants to make a successful argument against socialism I think it is necessary to stop attacking strawmen, or at least perceived straw men. When the left says “socialist” they mean Sweden not Venezuela. So to give Venezuela as a contrary example is not at all effective. It is like arguing for free markets, when you are thinking Hong Kong (of days past) and they are thinking of Somalia (where the lack of government means there are no regulations at all.)

    So I think we do need to improve our arguments and try to present the case against socialism by doing so against its best instances rather than its worst excesses. (And part of the argument is that Sweden is a lot less socialist that it appears to be.)

  • Eric

    If anyone wants to make a successful argument against socialism I think it is necessary to stop attacking strawmen, or at least perceived straw men. When the left says “socialist” they mean Sweden not Venezuela.

    You’ve pretty much conceded any argument in which you allow the other side to redefine words at will.

  • Lee Moore

    I’ve seen Kristian Niemietz mentioned here before and Brian’s piece provoked me to listen to this :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zauNsf6IMM

    on the subject of the nastiness of socialism being inherent in the design, rather than necessarily in the nastiness of the designers and advocates. (Though it is no sign of genius to spot why in a system based on force the, er, forceful have a tendency to rise to the top.)

    As well as being rather sensible and articulate, he also seems to be rather a nice bloke and not at all snarky about people who would no doubt happily accuse him of being a fascist. Also quite realistic in accepting that free marketism appeals to the head not the heart, while socialism is the other way round.

    When he was discussing socialists’ attempts to provide counterexamples to the steady stream of socialist failure and brutality – ie when socialism can work – he mentioned kibbutzes. Making the point that kibbutzes are small and simple economically, but also that they are peopled by volunteers – folk who share a common outlook and objectives; and contrasting that with a country, where people have all sorts of different ideas.

    I think he missed a trick here in failing to point out that this distinction “community of like minded volunteers” vs. “motley assemblage of folk who happened to be born in roughly the same place” is precisely why socialist regimes always finish – if they do not start – by trying to remould the population, and weeding out those who cannot be remoulded. They understand Niemietz’s point – only a community of true believers could, even in theory, make socialism work. If you are not a true believer, what can they possibly do with you but put you in a camp or confiscate your grain and leave you to starve ?

    His example of Britain At War as being an exception to the rule was explained by reference to the fact that an all out war for survival produces a temporary “community of like believers” who do share a common goal – avoiding defeat and conquest. Which is fair enough, but still incomplete IMHO. There’s an economic point here. Let us postulate the existence of a genuine nationwide shared objective united around the goal of National Health held with a fervor equivalent to the national desire to beat Hiter.

    It still wouldn’t work. In a war like WW2 not only is there a shared objective but there is also a single final consumer for the main output of the nation – military material and force. In an NHS fervour there may still be a shared objective, but there are millions of final consumers. The government is just the middle man providing services to individuals – that cannot work because of the conflicts of interest between different individuals, as we see all the time with the NHS. There is constant conflict between taxpayers, government, bureaucrats, different producer groups and different patients (by illness, by age, by area etc.)

  • Lee Moore

    Fraser : If anyone wants to make a successful argument against socialism I think it is necessary to stop attacking strawmen, or at least perceived straw men. When the left says “socialist” they mean Sweden not Venezuela. So to give Venezuela as a contrary example is not at all effective.

    Not sure if Fraser’s tongue is in his cheek here, but assuming it’s straight – Brian’s point is that people DO mean Venezuela is socialist, until it turns pear shaped, when they don’t. When it’s the bright shiny new socialist thing, it’s socialist. When it’s people eating their dogs, it’s not socialist. Why is the idea of socialism so popular that people repeatedly refuse to remember that this year’s “non-socialist” disaster, where people are now eating the leaves off the trees*, was last year’s bright socialist hope.

    I think Kristian Niemietz put at least half a finger on it in the talk I limked above. In a free market system, nobody is going round saying, OK let’s improve the health of the poor, let’s raise average incomes, let’s do some good. All of these things kinda happen incidentally as butchers and bakers try to make a profit from your desire for dinner. Whereas socialists are always going round saying “we” – ie the community – must do this good thing and that good thing. Cnsequently they must be good people with their hearts in the right place.

    I forget who it was, but there was a businessman who joined the Blair government as an industry Minister, who after he resigned, a bit bemused by his experience of goverment, produced one of the great lines about the difference between business and government. Something along the lines of “They seem to think that coming up with a plan is the same as implementing it.”

    * there’s a good account somewhere of a late 1950s Chinese Potemkin village where useful idiots were taken to see prosperity in the Chinese countryside. The only journalist who knew that the plump villagers were party hacks and that the real villagers were starving and out of sight, was a Russkie. He – from Russian experience – knew what conclusions to draw from a “prosperous” village in summertime, where there were no leaves on the trees.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Eric
    You’ve pretty much conceded any argument in which you allow the other side to redefine words at will.

    Nonsense. Most arguing is over clarify the meaning of words, bridging the gap between what two people mean by words. What gives you the right to define what words mean? The meaning or words comes from how people use them synthetically. “Socialism” doesn’t have laser sharp boundaries, in fact in truth socialism is a spectrum, a country is not socialist or not, it is socialist to the degree the government owns the means of production of wealth. Even in Venezuela some private industry exists (I know, I have hired programmers there), and even in free market Singapore the government owns some means of production such as the public transportation system.

    If you are debating someone solely for pleasure of doing so, knock yourself out, but if you actually want to convince anyone “AOC/Corbyn will turn the country into Venezuela” will convince none one, in fact they will think you are a loon.

  • Lee Moore

    Fraser : Most arguing is over clarify the meaning of words, bridging the gap between what two people mean by words

    That’s true of most honest arguing, but honest arguing is a small subset of arguing. Most political arguing is about concealing your real meaning with dishonestly handled words (see “liberal”) or damning your enemies with dishonestly handled words (see “right wingers like Franco, Hitler and Daniel Hannan”.) This may not convince the person you’re arguing with, but it may well convince onlookers that your side is the one to be on.

    Anyway, back to socialism. A hundred years ago socialism meant state control of everything. Fabian socialists did not believe in an end state of capitalism softened by old age pensions and some environmental regulation. They believed in state control of everything (except themselves who would be the “ipsos custodes” of the piece.)They just believed in boiling the frog slowly.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clause_IV

    was not an aspiration of “extreme” socialists in 1918. But it had become so by 1959 and more so 1995 when it was replaced by Blairite soapy stuff :

    The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

    Over time “socialism” is another of those words whose meaning has changed. But not in a search for clarity. In a search for obfuscation. Those who want old age pensions and a bit of environmental regulation still like to call themselves “socialists” because – astonishingly after the last hundred years – they think it still has a cachet. And they’re probably right. The young in particular like boldness, vision, remaking society. As ideas. If you’re a boring old centrist, you’re not going to enthuse people with “We’re boldly going to twiddle at the edges.” Hell, no. We’re going to be radical.

    So of course there are Blairites who wear “socialism” as a coat. And then there are Corbyns. What do they believe ? Well, whatever they say they believe now, ten years ago they were praising Venezuela. How quickly do leopards change their spots ?

    The discussion from 19:45 onwards in this :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zauNsf6IMM

    deals with this amnesia aspect very well. At about 22:45 the interviewer mentions that recently when she was going through Niemietz’s book and tracking down his references to journalists praising Venezuela only a few years ago – the links no longer worked, the articles had been taken down. George Orwell – call your office !

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    I think that Socialism is a return to tribalism, and tribal values. We all used to belong to family clans. Aborigines still do. So something like Socialism might always be the genetic ‘fall-back’ position inherent in all of us. We might always need to struggle to be individuals.

  • bobby b

    “I think that Socialism is a return to tribalism, and tribal values.”

    Makes sense. Those times when socialism actually works, it’s usually because there’s a shared sense of tribe within the society. It takes a lot of mutual trust (warranted trust, actually) to be able to pull off the whole “strive for the group” theme. You have to believe that you’re not just working for the slackers’ benefit.

    The religious communities in the Dakotas can pull off a socialist community because they’re strong and group-oriented communities.

    So, true-believer socialists work to develop that sense of tribe. They just usually do it very poorly.

  • Chip

    Sweden isn’t socialist. Period. Socialism is the centralized control of the economy whereas Sweden ranks 19th in Heritage’s economic freedom index, higher than Germany, Japan and South Korea.

    They flirted with socialism in the 70s and it was a disaster.

  • Dr. Caligari

    True Scotsman at best.
    Thats the way socialists legitimate socialist tyranns.

    For normal people it is very clear that the “socialization” of private property inevitably has such consequences. Which newspaper, which TV station will ever critically report on a government action as long as it pays his salary?

    Looking at the socialist nations around the world. No freedom of speech, no rights, no real elections.

  • Julie near Chicago

    WORTH REPEATING:

    This, from Clovis Sangrail, April 18, 2018 at 6:48 pm:

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

    😆 😎

  • TomJ

    When the left says “socialist” they mean Sweden not Venezuela.

    Funnily enough, Dr Niemietz has looked at that argument and found it wanting, certainly for UK values of “the left” and “they”.

    https://iea.org.uk/no-socialists-are-not-nordic-style-social-democrats-they-are-socialists/

    https://iea.org.uk/if-scandinavia-is-a-socialist-paradise-so-is-britain/

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    What socialists believe in is Venezuelan processes, followed by Swedish outcomes.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The argument against socialism should on the basis of whether state control of industry is a good idea or not (TL;DR it isn’t).

    it should be obvious that getting 100 individuals to find solutions with 100 ideas and most of them failing is a far better strategy than 100 individuals all following the same solution by 1 person, especially when that 1 person is a moron, and double especially when you can’t get rid of them.

    Bad ideas that cause death and suffering are particularly prominent, whereas non-state actors are very unlikely to follow these routes and would be stopped short well before they have extensive effect, a state controlled institution would have no problem pursuing the bad policy even whilst the pile of corpses grows higher.

    You don’t need to study this in great detail, history, even recent history, provides plenty of examples.

    The worry of a murderous thug is only an issue when you give power to a small group of individuals, it is not a problem in a free market as most murderous thugs don’t get very far, most of them end up leading some form of anti-capitalist protest group and are easily identifiable as common thugs by their attitude and lack of concern for the disruption to individuals around them, so much for socialism being kind and caring.

    I am quite sure you can have checks and balances in a socialist system, but the risk of not having these (or them being abandoned shortly after power is usurped) is high, if you really care about outcomes then logically a state controlled system is the wrong way to go.

  • Stonyground

    I can remember Venezuela being discussed here years ago when lefties were predicting a people’s paradise and commenters here were predicting that it would be a disaster. Doesn’t being proved right prove that you were right? I’m sure it does.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    According to my wife:

    An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

    The professor then said, “OK, we will try an experiment in this class on that plan”. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the averaged grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).

    After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.

    The second test average was a D ! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

    To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

    Lessons for the class?

    1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

    2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

    3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

    4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

    5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser, good point, but I firmly believe it needs both. I daresay lots more stress on the point that Sweden is hardly a haven of socialism anymore, having tried socialism-relatively-“lite” and the populace having gotten largely fed-up with the results. IIRC, as always.

    If I had several years ahead of me for research, it would be interesting to find the branch-points in the history of Sweden where it could have turned Venezuela-ward but didn’t, or where, if anywhere, it had put a step or two on that path and then come to its senses and retreated. Of course if you search the Toob for

    “Johan Norberg” Sweden economics

    there is a fair number of hits in which he discusses this. (A lot are published by either the “Free to Choose Network” or Libertypen.)

    (Though I daresay most here have seen either the Stossel or “Sweden: Lessons for America,”

    https://www. youknowtwhere .com/watch?v=jq3vVbdgMuQ&list=PLTplBPPoWdX3BdoAt_GXv9cAJrepALUYD

    and likely more. By the way, Mr. Norberg also has one about Sweden as “the rape capital of the world”:

    https://www. youknowtwhere .com/watch?v=tS7t38mUvEI

    If anybody’s curious, the Great Foot on Swedish taxation:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_in_Sweden

    Sweden has a progressive income tax, the general rates for 2018 are as follows (based on yearly incomes):

    0% from 0 kronor to 18,800 kronor
    Circa 32% (ca. 11% county and 20% municipality tax which is the Swedish average): from 18,800 kronor to 468,700 kronor
    32% + 20%: from 468,700 kronor to 675,700 kronor
    32% + 25%: above 675,700 kronor[4]

    I went to a conversion page. 675,700 kroner = $ 68,827.67.

    .

    Well and good, but not enough to capture the attention of the 50% or so of eligible American voters.

    We should cheer up. Truthdig has an article, “How Swedish Socialism Failed.” I’m sure we’ll all find it uplifting, or at least (in some sense) inspirational.

    . . .

    Lee, thanks for the link. Will watch.

  • Rudolph Hucker (October 14, 2019 at 11:59 am), I much admire the professor, who seems actually to have taught the class something. It is good merely as a story, but if you can provide an actual link, reference, whatever, I’m sure people here would be interested.

  • Fraser Orr (October 14, 2019 at 12:05 am et seq), there is nothing straw-mannish about the OP’s point. The OP phenomenon is so common that whether a particular self-identifying socialist means Sweden but not Venezuela, or does indeed mean Venezuela in the sense of the OP, is usually easy to tell for all but the youngest and newest socialists.

    – If you are taking to an Owen-Jones-style socialist, their tweets and etc. will show them delaying as long as possible (or longer) making the OP switch from “glorious socialist achievement” to “not real socialism” (and there is usually a revealing period of talking about other things between “glorious” and “not”, then a revealing desire to get swiftly off the subject after claiming “not”).

    – If you are talking to a George-Orwell-style socialist, they will be similarly on record as opposing the “not real socialism” state early – in the days when the Owen Joneses were praising it.

    It makes perfect sense to throw the former views of socialists in their faces. If discussing with an Orwell, that will merely show their relatively better judgement, so it is the fundamental problems of socialist economics and politics that must be your theme. But in most cases, the fact that the socialist’s own words show they cannot distinguish “real socialism” from dangerous lookalikes until it is too late is a very valid issue to raise.

    Further, because the phenomenon is so very common, it is a very fair question to ask, when talking to a self-proclaimed socialist too young to be on record about Venezuela, “How would you recognise a Venezuela? How would you recognise something that called itself socialism but will become ‘not real socialism’ in the future?” You can’t support “Sweden, not Venezuela” if you cannot distinguish between them when it’s early enough for your vote still to matter.

  • Stonyground

    I’ve heard variations of the grade socialism lesson so I suspect that it is an urban myth. It doesn’t have to be true to make the point though does it? It still works as a kind of parable.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Niall Kilmartin
    Fraser Orr (October 14, 2019 at 12:05 am et seq), there is nothing straw-mannish about the OP’s point.

    My comment was not about the OP but about the commenters that preceded mine though re-reading my comment that was not clear. I think the OP has a fair point, I agree there is a lot of “not a true scotsman” going on there, and a lot of revisionist history, but I’m not sure it advances the argument.

    I don’t have a study to cite or statistics to demonstrate, what I do have is twenty or thirty years discussing this with people. When people say socialist they mean “high taxes for the rich to fund high government services and a large welfare state”. Some people will favor the nationalization of certain “crucial services”. In my experience most people aren’t tuned in enough to really think about socialism in the sense of “the government owns the means of production.” Tell them that is what socialism means and they will equivocate or say that isn’t what they mean.

    I haven’t lived in Britain for quite a while, but somehow I doubt there is much groundswell to renationalize British Telecom or British Leyland. Though I hear the British Rail privatization has been a bit of a disaster (From what I hear because they did it in a half assed way.)

    So if you want to convince people on free markets it is the Swedish example you have to start with, because that is where, most likely, your interlocutor will start. And I’ll admit that I don’t really know enough about the state of the Scandinavian economy to make a good case. I think i did watch an interesting video on the subject, but don’t much remember the details. I’ll try to find it.

    And FWIW I know that politicians like Corbyn and Sanders have flirted a lot with Venezuela. Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around that. I really can’t understand the mental process that would have them do that. Sanders went to the Soviet Union for his honeymoon. That should disqualify him from being President on the basis of utter lack of romantic capability and lack of imagination, irrespective of the communist ties. I seriously don’t understand how these people’s brains work. What I know is that your average Joe in the street doesn’t think that way, and doesn’t take his honeymoon in Soviet Murmansk.

  • bobby b

    As it has been explained to me by a True Believer, “socialism” isn’t the means and methods used to attain some resulting state (using “state” in the same sense as “electric charge is a state”), but instead it is the resulting state itself, and so the Corbyns of the world mistakenly call a system “socialism” out of optimism because that system’s means and methods are supposed to bring them to that state, but they end up disappointed in the means and methods and never attain their desired state?

    IOW, they use the label “socialism” when what they really mean is “a system designed to bring us to socialism.” “Socialism” is still perfect, they just haven’t got there yet.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “IOW, they use the label “socialism” when what they really mean is “a system designed to bring us to socialism.””

    In the original Marxist theory, Socialism was just a stage on the way to Communism.

    Communism is where the workers own the means of production. Socialism is where the State owns the means of production on behalf of the workers. It was considered necessary because the bourgeoisie would obviously never relinquish their power and wealth voluntarily to let a Communist state be set up, so the intermediate state called ‘Socialism’ implemented a temporary ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ to force society into its new structure. Once the bourgeoisie have been deposed and removed, and the new Socialist system is up and running, the State can relax its grip and the workers take over.

    The basic problem is not so much that conceptual errors by Marx mean it doesn’t work economically (resulting ultimately in famine and collapse), but that this failure to work is commonly interpreted by the government as the remnants of the evil old capitalists resisting and sabotaging the glorious new order. This results in ever harsher attempts to crack down on the supposed resistance, which leads steadily to totalitarianism. They never fully achieve the Socialist state, as they define it, because the economic problems never go away.

    So you see, the assumption that socialism works, and the interpretation of anything that doesn’t work as not socialism, is at the heart of its descent into hellfire and damnation. If they could try it, see that it doesn’t work, and give up, it wouldn’t be a problem. (For example the British tried it, got 20% inflation, the three day working week, streets piled with garbage, and routine power cuts – until we’d had enough of it and voted in Maggie.) It’s the sort of fanatical socialist that never, ever gives up that’s the real problem.

  • Itellyounothing

    Are we forgetting the mendacity of revolutionaries?

    If we had full magic socialism, wouldn’t the same people be agitating for capitalism to put them on top?

    Socialism only results in an excess of corpses, but power grabbers only wanted power away.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post.

    There are some socialists one can reason with.

    And then there are the socialists who BOTH deny that anything that does not have a pleasant outcome is socialism – AND demand that the collective (the state, “the people”, whatever – but collectively) determine prices and so on – which can not have a pleasant outcome.

    One can not reason with such people. They demand the methods of socialism (and will not budge from this demand), but they deny any evidence that these methods produce bad results.

  • neonsnake

    In my experience most people aren’t tuned in enough to really think about socialism in the sense of “the government owns the means of production.” Tell them that is what socialism means and they will equivocate or say that isn’t what they mean.

    Fraser is 100% correct here. This entirely matches my experience.

    I have some additional thoughts around people thinking “capitalism hurts the little guy”, that people believe, understandably, which is why not all of us describe as “capitalist”, but it’s not important. Point is, Fraser is right.

  • Snorri Godhi

    When the left says “socialist” they mean Sweden not Venezuela.

    Several comments have addressed this quote, from Fraser Orr. Let me add (what i think is) another view, related to the distinction in the OP between policies and outcomes.

    When an anti-anti-socialist says that (s)he means “Sweden not Venezuela”, the 1st thing to do is find out whether they actually know anything about Sweden and Venezuela.
    NB: by ‘anything’ i mean primarily policies, outcomes only as an afterthought.

    My bet is that you’d have to meet close to a hundred “socialists” before finding one who does know what policies are implemented in Sweden AND wants those policies in their own country.
    Does Bernie Sanders really want to privatize the education system, for instance? Do the teachers’ unions know about it?

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT the Johan Norberg video link from Julie: Johan seems like a jolly good chap, decent enough to reply to a couple of short, humorous emails which i sent to him; and he is correct in saying that rape stats for Sweden are not comparable to those in most other countries.

    (Added in proof: Johan also spoke for Denmark in his blog when the Swedish establishment was turning its collective back of Denmark because of the Cartoon Jihad. I won’t forget that.)

    Still, there must be a reason why Denmark is hardening the border with Sweden. Though apparently this has more to do with gang violence and terrorism than rape.

    In general, i think that wannabe “socialists” would do better to take the other Nordic countries as models, rather than Sweden. They can’t have Norway’s oil into the ground by government fiat, of course; but they could adopt the more free-market policies, and more sensible immigration policies, of Denmark and Finland.

    And then there were those links between the Swedish Social Democrats, the NSDAP, and Mussolini, that Swedes do not like to talk about.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Snorri Godhi
    My bet is that you’d have to meet close to a hundred “socialists” before finding one who does know what policies are implemented in Sweden AND wants those policies in their own country.

    I don’t think that is entirely fair. When people say “socialist” in a non pejorative way, they generally mean “a large government run welfare and social services system, funded by steeply progressive income taxes”, that is an entirely fair description of the Scandanavian model even if there are some aspects of it that don’t fall under this purview.

    As to your claim that Sweden has a privately run school system… I don’t think that is true at all. From what I read it has SOME private schools but the large majority are run by municipalities, much as the school system is in the United States. (I has changed a lot in the UK since I went to school there, so I don’t quite know what it is set up like today.) I could be wrong about that, I am not, it might surprise you all to know, an expert in the Swedish school system, but this claim doesn’t correspond with what Wikipedia says.

    Just to be clear, I am not at all in favor of this sort of pseudo socialist system but we should at least acknowledge and fairly address what people mean when they talk about socialism among the general population. (Such a system is socialist in the sense that the government owns the means of production of some extremely important goods such as medical care, education, pension funding, transportation routes, and charity work.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Last year John Stossel put up a 5-minute video up on “Sweden’s Socialism: Not What You Think” (IIRC). Seems it’s less of a factor than formerly. Mostly it’s clips of Johan Norberg, presumably from his documentary “Sweden: Lessons for America.” In particular, ~ 3:22 on the video, Stossel says Sweden went to a voucher system for schools. Mr. Norberg (clip) then says, “… and not only that, but even the public schools that are not privatized improved [because of competition].” (Perhaps not word-for-word, but very close.)

    At one point, sayeth Stossel, Swedes got very upset about the state of their taxes and the economy. They included Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking stories, who wrote a flaming Letter to [Some] Editor about her 102% tax bill.

    (Stossel begins with a bunch of individuals, including Bern the Sanders and, um, that bastion of rightwingnutism, Cenk Uyger, who think Sweden’s socialism would be just wonderful fine & dandy here.)

    Speaking of which. No doubt y’all remember the story (apparently false — might one say “fake but accurate”?) — that the U.S. Gov wasn’t able to run the Chicken Ranch in Nevada? Well, per Stossel, in Sweden the Gov wasn’t able to run Absolut Vodka at a profit.

    Tell it, Brother! Tell it, Sister!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1i9FQ834yFc

    . . .

    Aha! Now I see your comment above Fraser’s, Snorri. I’ll go read it.

    .

    And having done so, glad I did. And, I daresay you’re right about some of the other Scandinavian countries’ being better. Curiosity, please feel free to keep it to yourself: Which country do you inhabit?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, you ask

    “Does Bernie Sanders really want to privatize the education system, for instance? Do the teachers’ unions know about it?”

    Why on earth would anyone think he knows anything about it? He’s a politician, and his work experience is in getting votes. SNARK! (I don’t really believe all politicians are dumb nogoodniks. OTOH….)

    –That’s a good question actually. My Proud Progressive relative can’t send an e-mail without some version of Vote for Bernie! in it somewhere, but he’s also a former high-school teacher and I’d fall over from shock if he’s not a strong supporter of the NEA….

  • even if there are some aspects of it that don’t fall under this purview. Fraser Orr (October 16, 2019 at 10:11 pm)

    The point of saying, “Oh, you mean school vouchers?” to someone who says they’re a socialist and then claims to support Sweden is not because you think that is what they mean but (as they will grasp, if able to be talked to at all) to communicate to them that they know less than they think about this ‘Sweden’ which they claim to favour, as a preliminary to communicating that they know less than they think about socialism either.

    – In the unlikely event they reply, “Yes, indeed; my socialism is the kind in which the state funds but does not attempt to run things”, then be glad they do indeed have a less virulent form of the disease and encourage them to convert other socialists to this limited form. (A discussion of why the state should not run can in time lead to a discussion of why more than they think should not be funded.)

    – In the more likely event they are surprised that a ‘socialist’ country uses school vouchers, some discussion of how being a socialist might involve knowing something about socialist countries, or just knowing something, might (perhaps more tactfully) be suggested.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Looks like Julie and Niall have said all what i had to say, and more.
    In particular, Julie has corrected my mistake in saying that education has been “privatized”, when the privatization is only partial.
    Introducing school vouchers, however, is an important step in the ‘right’ direction, compared to the US and UK.

    Mind you, i agree with Fraser in principle, that one makes a fool of oneself by attacking strawmen instead of engaging with the arguments of the opposition. But this is not the case here. Take Fraser’s characterization of what most people mean by “socialism”:

    When people say “socialist” in a non pejorative way, they generally mean “a large government run welfare and social services system, funded by steeply progressive income taxes”

    The problem with this definition is that it is true not only of Sweden and Denmark, but also of Venezuela, not to mention Greece and Argentina. The question then is, how are you planning to achieve the (limited, in my opinion) success of Sweden while avoiding the (very serious) problems of Venezuela?

    NB: that Venezuela is not a true socialist country, because there is no public ownership of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange, has been said, not only by Ana Navarro, but also by Tyler Cowen. So the question in the previous paragraph is particularly cogent.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Another remark about the Nordic countries:
    Chip and TomJ preceded Julie in remarking that Sweden is nowhere as socialist as it used to be. I believe that the heydays of socialism were the 1970s and 1980s; in the early 1990s the Swedes, like the other Nordics, realized that deregulation and cutting spending were in order.

    This is perhaps what is most remarkable about the Nordic countries: it is possible for them to cut spending and regulations without generating the sort of visceral hatred that Thatcher, Reagan, and Trump had to endure. Even multiculturalism remains up for discussion, except perhaps in Sweden.

    And yet another thing: Sweden is too close to being a one-party state, for my taste. If you look on Wikipedia at the list of Swedish PMs, you’ll see that, from Sept. 1932 to now, Sweden has had only the following periods of non-Social-Democratic PMs:
    june to sept. 1936
    oct. 1976 to oct. 1982: 6 years
    oct. 1991 to oct. 1994: 3 years
    oct. 2006 to oct. 2014: 8 years

    Even if you begin counting from oct. 1976, that’s 26 years of Social Democratic government, 17 years of ‘center-right’ government.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I wasn’t planning to comment so much today, but i’d still like to address the last comments by Julie and Niall.

    Julie: Bernie might not know anything about Sweden or Venezuela, but he knows something about the Soviet Union.
    And since you asked, i live in Estonia now, in Soviet housing at the moment, so i also know something about the Soviet Union.
    This is my 7th country, and that is not counting Iceland and Austria, which have influenced me through books and music. (I believe that Einstein only managed 6 countries.)

    Niall:

    In the unlikely event they reply, “Yes, indeed; my socialism is the kind in which the state funds but does not attempt to run things”

    Matt Yglesias might be one person who would say something like that: i remember that he used to advocate both redistribution and deregulation. But that was before Obamacare.

  • neonsnake

    Niall – I agree wholeheartedly with your “Owen Jones” Vs “Orwell” comparison. That seems very sensible.

    In a very practical sense, I avoid your “Owen Jones”. I won’t persuade them, and we’ll get into a “quote-mining” fight. Does that make sense?

    I will, however, spend an amount of time on your Orwells. I fancy my chances of persuadion here. If you read Down and Out, or The Road To Wigan Pier, it’s very easy (and sensible) to see why he supported Democratic Socialism.

    Except…it’s now 2019, and we have more evidence now than Orwell did in the 1930s.

    I’m basically fine with those guys. They have the right ideas, but the wrong methods. These are “good faith” socialists. I’ll happily spend the time with them. They’re good people.

    I’ll add a 3rd class – the anti-Conservative.

    These are the “Sweden not Venezuela” guys. My Mark from Purchase Ledger.

    They want Free Markets (eg. For their mate Candice to be able to open her own artisanal cupcake shop without stupid regulations preventing her), but also a safety net (remember: we all grew up in the UK under the NHS and various Social Security programs. Why pull the ladder up now?). And they think that Capitalism disadvantages the Little Guy.

    These are the Sweden (or Nordic) guys.

    On my experience, this is the most common type of *ahem* socialist. They’re not advocating for the state to own the means of production. They don’t really know what Socialism means.

    They certainly don’t think that it’s the transitional stage between capitalism and communism.

    They just think it means not being “capitalist” or “Conservative”, or other “nasty heartless positions”.

    These guys are our target audience, and represent the majority.

    These are the guys we should bringing in, not alienating and pushing away.

    That’s my opinion, anyway.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, thanks for indulging my curiosity. :>)

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