FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #39: “Socialism is easier said than done.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 9th, 2010

Capitalism vs. Socialism

Socialism as a political/economic theory is pretty involved.  With an involved history.  And if you’re suffering insomnia one night I recommend reading some of it with a glass of warm milk.  Should put you right to sleep.

Let me simplify it a bit.  To begin with, by ‘socialism’ I mean any form of collectivism (socialism, communism, fascism, statism, social democracy, etc.).  They’re all similar.  Just variations on a theme.  And they all suffer the same defects.  Three of which I summarize here:

  • Public (instead of private) ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange
  • Put the common good before individual wants or desires
  • Equality of outcomes

That’s not everything.  But it’s the 3 big reasons why socialism fails.  Basically, socialism is the opposite of capitalism.  In fact, socialism was created to defeat capitalism.  The East-West rivalry during the Cold War was the final showdown between the two systems.  And we know how that turned out.  (In case you don’t, capitalism won).

Public (instead of private) ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange

Mikhail Gorbachev asked the great Margaret Thatcher how she fed her people.  Her reply stunned him.  She did nothing.  The Soviet Union was struggling to feed her people with their socialist command economy.  And they couldn’t do it.  They who had great tracts of some of the most fertile farmland in the world.  And yet they still had to import grain from their arch nemesis.  The United States.  To keep famine at bay.  The free markets of capitalism didn’t have to struggle to feed her people, though.  The United States had food to spare.  And even though Great Britain is an island nation that had to import much of her food, there were no famine fears in Great Britain.  The socialist just couldn’t understand how that was possible.

One of the problems with socialism is that it ignores market forces.  And perverts the economic decision making process.  In a free market, market forces maximize the use of scarce resources that have alternative uses.  The market does this through the laws of supply and demand.  And prices.  Things high in demand but low in supply have high prices.  This ensures there is enough of that supply available for those who really need it.  Anyone who pushed a car to the gas pump during the gas shortages in the 1970s understands this.  When the Nixon administration kept prices artificially low, everyone bought and used gas until the supply ran out.  If we had let prices rise to their true market price, those who didn’t absolutely need gas would have cut back on their purchases, leaving gas available to those who really needed it and were willing to pay a high price for it.

When the state takes over the economy, politicians make economic decisions for political reasons.  They ignore the ‘invisible hand’ of the market place.  In the Soviet Union, the state boasted about its industrial output and filled stores with tractor parts no one wanted to buy.  Meanwhile, people stood in line for hours in hopes of buying soap or toilet paper.  And no matter how hard they tried they just couldn’t increase the yield of some of the world’s most fertile farmland.

Put the common good before individual wants or desires

Doing what’s best for the common good sounds noble.  And easy to do.  We all agree our children should be safe.  And should have enough to eat.  And that our schools should serve them breakfast each morning.  And teach them about contraception.  Well, okay, it’s not that easy to do.  Because different people want different things.  And different people think different things are better for the common good.

This is the problem of putting the common good before our individual wants or desires.  Few can agree on what the common good is.  We know our own wants and desires.  But we have no idea what other people want or desire.  Unless we ask them.  But does that even help in determining the common good?  Get a group of your friends and family together.  Make it at least 10 people.  Now get the ten of you to agree on a movie to see.  You know what will happen?  First of all, you’ll waste a lot of time saying, “I don’t care.  What do you want to see?”  Then people will start suggesting movies.  And for every one suggested, someone will vote it down.  This will go on until you finally arrive at a movie that no one wants to see.  But because it’s the movie everyone hates the least, everyone’s willing to settle for it.

Now imagine that little exercise with a thousand people.  The agreeing process will be even more difficult.  In fact, it may be impossible.  It is very unlikely that one thousand people will agree to anything.  And if they try they will waste an enormous amount of time in the process.  No.  Someone will have to decide for the group.  Someone will have to weigh everyone’s opinion and decide what is best for the common good. No matter how many people disagree with this one person’s decision.  F.A. Hayek wrote a book about this.  The Road to Serfdom.  He said socialism ends in dictatorship.  Because there’s no efficient means to determine what’s best for the common good.  He predicted this would happen in Germany with their creeping state socialism.  And Adolf Hitler proved him right.

Equality of Outcomes

If a business has a good year, they tend to be more generous at the holidays.  Let’s say a business owner wants to give out some Christmas bonuses to thank her employees for all their hard work.  She goes to her accountant.  Asks what’s the maximum she can give out without giving herself any cash-flow problems at the beginning of the new year (taxes, insurance, etc.).  The accountant crunches some numbers and says $50,000.  If she has 15 employees, that’s about $3,300 each.  Which should make for a pretty Merry Christmas.  Now, let’s say she has 125 employees.  That works out to a $400 bonus per employee.   Which won’t be quite as merry.

The lesson learned?  The more people included in the getting of something, the less each one gets.  And so it is with socialism.  The only way to get equality in outcomes is to give everyone less.  Sure, we can afford to give Congress people a Cadillac health insurance plan.  But we could never afford to give the same coverage to everyone.  To be able to give coverage to all the people, each person will have to get less.

And they will continue to get less.  As costs go up, it is difficult to maintain the same level of government benefits.  Eventually, they’ll have to raise taxes to cover the higher costs.  And when they can’t raise taxes anymore, they’ll have to reduce the amount of benefits.  Or, in other words, they’ll have to ration benefits.  A bureaucrat will have to decide who should get what.  Which could easily turn health care into politics.  A political opponent needs an expensive cancer treatment?  So sorry.  We’ve already reached our quota this year.  Try again next year.

Socialism is Slavery

What it comes down to is this; socialism really fails for one reason.  It goes against human nature.  It only works when we sacrifice our wants and desires so that others may have their wants and desires.  It’s not trying to keep up with the Jones.  It’s helping the Jones get ahead of you.  It’s living your life to serve others.  And there’s another word for that.  Slavery.  Hence the title of Hayek’s book.  The Road to Serfdom.  For socialism to work, the state must become a dictatorship.  And we must become its slaves.  But few willingly volunteer for servitude.  So, given the choice, we will ultimately choose to make socialism fail.

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Revising Language and History to Help the Agenda

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 20th, 2010

Barack and Big Brother

“Have you heard, brother, about the summer of recovery?”

“No, brother.  Heard what?”

“Millions of jobs were saved.”

“Doubleplusgood, brother.  Doubleplusgood indeed.”

For inner-party members, perhaps.  For us regular party members, though, not a whole lot has changed.  But we don’t complain.  We continue to drink our Victory Gin and praise Big Brother.  Because we don’t want to be summoned to the Ministry of Love and feel the wrath of the state.  Or be audited by the IRS.

Of course, the proles, the masses, get to indulge in their pornography, drugs, music, prostitution, alcohol, cigarettes and other crimethink.  Anything to quell the unruly masses.  The lucky bastards.  Well, the ones not sent to joycamps, at least.  A few privations will always trump forced labor in my book.

The purpose of Newspeak in Oceania is twofold.  First it provides a political correct language to communicate in.  And, second, this simplified language simplifies the people so they’re little more than automatons of the state.  Makes it easier for the state to lie.  To twist the meaning of words.  To change their meaning.  And to change history. 

Unemployment is higher today than it was during the Bush administration.  But we’re not going to return to the failed policies of the past.  Things are better today and moving in the right direction.  Loyal party members believe this.  They know this.  This is blackwhite.  To believe in things that contradict.  The bad economy of today is better than the good economy of the Bush administration.  Despite what the numbers say.  Or until the numbers can be revised to agree with the new truth.  This is the power of Newspeak.

War is Peace

In the past it took a constant state of war to consume the economic output so everyone had less. Everyone was equal (other than inner-party members who were more equal than others).  Everyone was poor.  Lived in fear.  And sacrificed.  For the common enemy.  Today, we don’t need constant war.  We have the welfare state.  The war on poverty.  Which consumes the economic output.  And makes us dependent on the state.  Where we live in fear of losing our benefits.  And shared sacrifice leaves everyone with less.  For the common good.  Except, of course, the inner-party members.

Freedom is Slavery

Imagine a world where you never have to worry or think about where to work, finding healthcare, what to wear, where to live, what movies to watch, what music to listen to, what books to read, what cable news program to watch, what websites to visit or what to do with your spare time (because you won’t have any).  This is true freedom.  Freedom from choice.  You will never have to think again.  Or provide for yourself.  Because to be a slave is to be truly free.

Ignorance is Truth

What you don’t know can’t hurt you.  Obedience to the state is easy when you don’t question what they tell you.  When everything you hear is the truth.  And it is if you don’t know any better.  The era of Reagan is over.  Trickledown economics doesn’t work.  And if you don’t look at the numbers and see the robust economic health of the Reagan years, it is easy to accept the lie.  If you don’t know the truth then you accept what they tell you as the truth.  And you become good party members.

Newspeak Today

This word play doesn’t only exist in George Orwell’s classic book 1984 or in totalitarian regimes.  It exists wherever states want to revise history.  To alter your perception.  The way you think.  To bring you more into the party fold.  The latest is the revision of ‘global warming’ to ‘global climate disruption’ as noted in White House: Global Warming Out, ‘Global Climate Disruption’ In on the FOX News website.  To try and rescue a favored liberal cause from ridicule and charges of junk science it receives today.  Past examples of Newspeak include the following revisions: ‘terrorism’ to ‘man-caused disaster’; ‘war on terror’ to ‘overseas contingency operation’; and now that the Left wants to extend the Bush tax cuts, these have been revised from ‘tax cuts for the rich’ to ‘middle-class tax cuts’.

For further study on revisionism and abuses of state power, you can read 1984, watch the movie or follow the Obama administration.

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LESSONS LEARNED #29: “The problem with doing what is best for the common good is that few can agree on what the common good is.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 2nd, 2010

COYOTE UGLY

We’ve all heard the joke.  What’s coyote ugly?  That’s when you wake up with an extremely ugly person in bed lying on your arm.  After a night of heavy drinking.  You’re fairly certain you had sex.  You’re not 100% sure because you can’t remember anything.  But here the two of you are.  Naked.  The circumstantial evidence is pretty damning.  You want to get out.  Fast.  Instead of waking your lover, you chew your arm off so you can slip away quietly.  Like a coyote will do if caught in a steel-jaw trap.

The lesson here is, of course, to drink in moderation.  For when we drink to excess, we sometimes do things we wouldn’t normally do sober.  But we do.  Drink to excess.  And get drunk.  And, boy, when we do, some of us really do.  Make a real mess of their lives, too.  You see, drunken husbands do not make happy wives.  Or good fathers.  Especially when drunken husbands beat up their wives, spend their paychecks at the corner saloon, have sex with prostitutes and catch syphilis (which they then pass on to their wives and soon to be born children). 

For these reasons, wives have been behind various temperance movements throughout history.  And they have had modest success.  If you ever found yourself in a dry county thirsting for an adult beverage, you can thank these ladies.  But Prohibition?  That’s a different story.  That took Big Government.  The Progressives.  Who thought they knew best what was for the common good.

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO

Wives have suffered unfairly from the affects of alcohol.  But during the 19th century, their power was limited.  They had to rely on grass-roots movements.  And their churches.  Which had moral authority as we were much more religious back then.  Most drunken husbands knew they were behaving poorly.  When sober.  But things changed in the 20th century.  The powers of the government grew.  This power and new sciences (like eugenics) made some believe they could make a better society by passing enlightened laws.  (And make better people in the case of eugenics).

We call it social engineering.  Using the power of the state to change human behavior.  Well, change it for those who are not apparatchiks of the state.  The elite Progressives, including the ladies of high society, still drank.  For it wasn’t illegal to drink adult beverages.  Only to manufacture, sell, or transport them.  So it was the poorer elements of society who felt the impact of Prohibition.  And the immigrants.  Who the social elites blamed for all the drinking woes.  For people in their strata of society didn’t have drinking problems.  So there was no reason to punish them.  The elites.  They weren’t the problem.  It was the poor.  And the immigrants.  They’re the ones government needed to keep from drinking themselves to ruin.

So while the elites still enjoyed their intoxicating beverages in the safety of their mansions and clubs, Al Capone and other bootleggers fought for turf.  For control of the illegal liquor trade.  Shooting each other with Thompson Machine Guns in our public streets.  That’s a .45 caliber round.  It makes big holes.  And shatters bone.  A lot of these rounds were flying through our public streets.  And they hit more than just gangsters.

Prohibition modified some behavior.  But at great cost.  Congress repealed it in 1933.  In part to stem the liquor violence.  And part because the Great Depression was too depressing sober.

JUST SAY NO

I once worked at a small office in a bad part of town.  One day a woman knocked on the door.  She asked if that ‘short guy’ that opens the gates in the morning was around.  I said no.  Then she asked me if I wanted to have a little fun.  I said, “Thank you, but no.”  My secretary had come to the door while I was talking to her.  After I closed the door, she told me that woman just lost a lot of weight.  And that she probably had AIDS.

Women like her were common in the neighborhood.  They sold sex for drug money.  When they weren’t with a John they were getting high.  Men, too.  One time, this 6-foot-plus behemoth in a skirt was walking in the street shouting something incoherent.  Our driver discovered he was a guy.  When he lunged through his open window while turning at the corner.  I don’t know what scared him more.  The assault.  Or the fact that she was a he. 

By the way, that short guy that opens the gates?  He was married.  And had a couple of daughters.  God only knows what he gave his wife.

Drug addiction is not good.  No one’s life ever got better by being addicted to drugs.  None of these people ever planned on drug addiction.  It just happened.  Somehow.  One day you’re just partying with some friends.  Then the next thing you know you’re turning tricks or stealing to support your habit.  If you have money it’s a different story.  Then you can party until you kill yourself.  John Belushi overdosed from a heroin/cocaine cocktail called a speedball.  Chris Farley, too.  It’s unlikely that the speedball was their first high.  They probably started out with something less potent.  Like marijuana.  The entry drug of choice.  Only when that drug loses its charm do people step up to something a little more potent. 

Of course, if you don’t start, chances are you won’t move up to something more potent.  This was the idea behind Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug program.  Stop the kids from starting.  To resist peer pressure.  To just say no.  Her program did modify some behavior.  Kids did use fewer drugs.  But she was Ronald Reagan’s wife.  The Left didn’t like him.  Or her.  So they ridiculed her program as being simplistic.  Discontinued it.  And drug use by kids increased.

GANGSTA’S PARADISE

Like Capone and his fellow bootleggers, the illegal drug trade is controlled by gangs.  And they, too, fight over turf.  But those involved at the street level of the drug trade today are a lot younger.  During the days of Prohibition, kids played with toy guns.  Today, they’re playing with real guns.  Not so much playing but killing each other.  And innocent bystanders.  In drive-by shootings.  Why?  Because drugs get you money.  And money gets you power.  Put all that together and it’s very seductive to kids from broken homes in the hood.  Who have nothing.  And have nothing to lose.  It’s almost romantic.  Fighting.  And dying.  A regular gangster.  Living in a gangster paradise.

Once in, though, it’s hard to get out.  The song Gangsta’s Paradise (by Coolio featuring L.V. from the 1995 Movie Dangerous Minds) laments about that paradise.  “Tell me why are we so blind to see.  That the ones we hurt are you and me.”

You get higher up in the echelon and the violence gets worse.  You can see that on America’s southern border.  And further south.  Kidnappings.  Beheadings.  And other unspeakable things.  Because of the big money in illegal drugs.  Like there was in bootlegging.  Make something illegal that people still want and will buy, and that something becomes a very profitable commodity indeed.

DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON’T

So what’s the answer?  What is the best course of action for the common good?  We can keep drugs illegal.  And continue to fight the war on drugs.  And watch the violence escalate as people fight to control this illicit trade.  Or we can decriminalize drugs.  Make them easily accessible.  And cheap.  The drug gangs would go the way of the bootlegger gangs.  And the crack/meth whore in the street won’t have to perform as many sexual acts to support her habit.

Alcohol is legal today.  And there are a lot of social costs because of that.  But the majority of people who do drink are not driving under the influence or beating their wives.  Or getting syphilis from a prostitute hanging out at the corner saloon.  Wouldn’t it be the same for drugs?

Kids drink.  Even though they can’t legally buy alcohol.  But the worse thing they can do is kill someone while driving a car.  Or get killed in a car driven by another drunken kid.  Or kill themselves from binge drinking.  Or get pregnant because they got drunk at a party.  Or get infected with a venereal disease because they got drunk at a party and had sex.  These are very bad things.  But they’re not an addiction.  Sure, you can become an alcoholic, but a lot of kids don’t like the taste of the adult beverages they’re consuming.  They’re just doing it for the party buzz.  And vomiting after.  It takes awhile, for some, to get over that hump where those awful tasting beverages don’t taste so awful anymore.  But drugs?  They’re tasteless.  There isn’t a delivery system ‘hump’ to get over.  Which makes the addiction process that much easier.  And where there is only one kind of drunk, there are all sorts of highs.  New and different drugs to explore.  When you get bored with the drug du jour.  So, no.  It probably wouldn’t be the same with alcohol.  It would probably be worse.

THE LESSER OF EVILS

Often the choice comes down to a lesser of evils.  So, to do what is best for the common good, we just need to determine which is the lesser evil.  So which is worse?  The violence from trying to keep something illegal?  Or the social costs of decriminalizing something that is already causing a lot of harm while being illegal?  It comes down to what you, as an individual, think.  And that is, must be, a subjective decision.  And therein lays the problem of choosing what is best for the common good.  It’s an opinion.  Choices aren’t right or wrong.  There’re just different opinions.

And that’s why so few can agree on what is best for the common good.  Different people think different things are better.  And different things are worse.  And, at best, they can agree to disagree.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #29: “The problem with doing what is best for the common good is that few can agree on what the common good is.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 31st, 2010

CHOOSING IS EASY WHEN ONLY ONE IS CHOOSING

Lunch groups can be a pain in the you-know-what.  Ass.  I mean, if you’re hungry, you can go and eat whatever you want.  If you want pasta you can eat pasta.  But if you’re dragging 3 others with you, there’s a chance at least one of them doesn’t want pasta.  He or she may want Thai.  And be the only one who wants Thai.  Another may be trying to lose weight and wants a healthy vegetable sub.  Which may be the last thing someone wants if they have their heart set on a good, juicy piece of dead cow.

So you know what happens.  You don’t have pasta, Thai, the sub shop or the steakhouse.  You end up going to that greasy diner that smells like an old, unwashed ashtray.  The food’s not that bad and they have a huge menu.  Which never ceases to amaze you.  And worries you.  Just a little.  (You know they’re not selling broiled haddock every day and you wonder just how long it’s been in the freezer.)  There’s something for everyone.  It may not be the best.  No one is particularly happy with the choice.   But it was the best compromise everyone could agree to. 

Picking a movie can be just as fun.  “What do you want to see?”  “I don’t care.  What do you want to see?”  And this can go on and on.  And on.  An action thriller?  Too violent.  A romantic comedy?  Too sappy.  That r-rated comedy?  Too many boobs.  That 3-hour movie that’s like Steel Magnolias only sadder?  I can sleep at home for a hell of a lot less. 

And round and round you go.  Finally, you settle on a compromise.  Great Moments in Opera History – a film of a live performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto that includes some nudity.  There’s singing, a sad story, some comedy, a tragic ending and, of course, boobs.  No one was bursting with anticipation to see this movie.   No one is particularly happy with the choice.   But it was the best compromise everyone could agree to. 

When you’re deciding for one, you only have to please yourself.  The more people involved with the decision-making process, the less you please yourself and the more you try to please others.  Key word being ‘try’.  Because the more people in the decision-making process, the less likely anyone is going to be pleased.

E PLURIBUS UNUM (OUT OF MANY, ONE)

They call America the melting pot.  Canada is a mosaic, but we’re a melting pot.  America became a mixture of the different immigrants that came to this country.  These people assimilated into being Americans.  People with different nationalities and religions melted together and made a singular national identity.  Out of many, one.  (In Canada, there’s no melting.  Hence the mosaic.  And no singular national identity.)

Many say our diversity is our strength.  We’re not conformists.  Just look at the explosion in television channels.  We’re so diverse that we can’t agree on what to watch on TV.  So there are hundreds of channels to choose from.  To satisfy our very different tastes and interests.

We like different things.  Television shows, restaurants, movies, books, newspapers and blogs.  To name just a few.  There is, in fact, little that we really agree about.  Other than agreeing we should be able to enjoy the things we wish to enjoy.  And not be forced to endure the things we don’t.  Mosaic or melting pot, however you want to look at it, individuals make up the whole.  Persons with individual tastes and interests.  With individual hopes and dreams.

WHO’S TO SAY WHAT’S BEST?

Now put the two together and what do you get?  A lot of people who don’t agree with each other trying to agree with each other.  It’s sort of like drawing a square circle.  You can’t do it.  Now take that group and ask them to make a decision for the common good.

Sounds easy, right?  Most are willing to sacrifice a little.  If it’s for the common good.  We just need to list the things that everyone would agree are important for the common good.  Like better fuel economy in our cars to reduce pollution and our dependence on foreign oil.  Or making cars safer so people get hurt less in accidents.  Both of these appear to be for the common good.  But they also conflict with each other.  More of one means less of the other.  Little boxes with sewing-machine engines will give great fuel economy.  But they can get blown off bridges (like that Yugo that blew off the Mackinac Bridge in 1989) and don’t fare well when struck by an 18-wheel truck. 

Which is the greater good?  It depends on your definition of the greater good.  Which is, must be, subjective.  Big, heavy cars are safe.  Light, little cars have good fuel economy.  Some people so hate the internal combustion engine that a rise in highway fatalities is acceptable to them.  Others would rather give up a few MPGs for a safer car for their family.  These people aren’t likely to agree.  They’re probably not all that willing to compromise either.  For, unlike the lunch group, there’s no real motivation to get along with each other.

Now multiply this by thousands of other issues.  More arts funding.  A stronger military.  Stem cell research.  Lower taxes.  The Decriminalization of drugs.  Better border security.  Abortion.  AIDS research.  High-speed rail.  Etc.  Each of these has strong proponents.  And hefty price tags.  Or provoke bitter social/moral/ethical debate.  Can we agree which of these is the greater good?  Ask 10 of your family, friends and coworkers and find out.

SHARED SACRIFICE

Getting people to agree that we should do what’s best for the common good is easy.  Getting those same people to agree on exactly what that common good is, well, is impossible.  We’re too many people with too many diverse interests.  I know what’s best for me.  But how does my neighbor know what’s best for me?  And how do I know what’s best for him?  We can’t.  And the more we try the more we must settle for something less. 

When we start deciding for others, some will have to sacrifice for the greater good.  But that’s okay.  Because everyone is for ‘shared’ sacrifice.  If it’s for the common good.  As long someone else’s share of sacrifice is bigger than yours, that is.

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