Tag Archives: capitalism

Remembering Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the greatest mass murder in history

Ilya Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University, writes at the Washington Post that it’s important to remember the abuses of communism as we do for fascism, for the same reason — so history doesn’t repeat itself.

The horrendous history of China, the USSR, and their imitators, should have permanently discredited socialism as completely as fascism was discredited by the Nazis. But it has not – so far – fully done so.

Just recently, the socialist government of Venezuela imposed forced labor on much of its population. Yet most of the media coverage of this injustice fails to note the connection to socialism, or that the policy has parallels in the history of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other similar regimes. One analysis even claims that the real problem is not so much “socialism qua socialism,” but rather Venezuela’s “particular brand of socialism, which fuses bad economic ideas with a distinctive brand of strongman bullying,” and is prone to authoritarianism and “mismanagement.” The author simply ignores the fact that “strongman bullying” and “mismanagement” are typical of socialist states around the world. The Scandinavian nations – sometimes cited as examples of successful socialism- are not actually socialist at all, because they do not feature government ownership of the means of production, and in many ways have freer markets than most other western nations.

These are excellent points. But it is also true that capitalism seems joined at the hip with imperialism, genocide, and mass poverty, with slavery of one kind or another endemic to capitalist societies the way hip dysplasia is common to some breeds of dogs.

So if both socialism and capitalism are broken, then what?

Somin makes another point that’s inarguably true: The Great Leap Forward and other abuses of communism must be remembered because their survivors are still alive, and deserve respect and financial compensation.

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Pokemon Go takes money out of local communities and centralizes it to big corporations, and that’s what’s wrong with late capitalism, says Timothy B. Lee at Vox:

If you were looking to have fun with some friends 50 years ago, you might have gone to a bowling alley. Maybe you would have hung out at a diner or gone to the movies.

These were all activities that involved spending a certain amount of money in the local economy. That created opportunities for adults in your town to start and run small businesses. It also meant that a teenager who wanted to find a summer job could find one waiting tables or taking tickets at the movie theater.

You can spend money on Pokémon Go too. But the economics of the game are very different. When you spend money on items in the Pokémon Go world, it doesn’t go into the pocket of a local Pokémon entrepreneur — it goes into the pockets of the huge California- and Japan-based global companies that created Pokémon Go.

There are, of course, some good things about this. Pokémon Go can be a much more affordable hobby than going to a bowling alley or the movies. In fact, you don’t have to spend any money on it. And the explosion of options made possible by online platforms creates real value — the average teenager has vastly more options for games to play, movies to watch, and so forth than at any time in American history.

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If not capitalism, then what? Just 33% of young people surveyed say they support socialism.

“The word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t mean what it used to,” said Zach Lustbader, a senior at Harvard involved in conducting the poll, which was published Monday. For those who grew up during the Cold War, capitalism meant freedom from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. For those who grew up more recently, capitalism has meant a financial crisis from which the global economy still hasn’t completely recovered.

A subsequent survey that included people of all ages found that somewhat older Americans also are skeptical of capitalism. Only among respondents at least 50 years old was the majority in support of capitalism.

Even conservatives don’t defend capitalism much anymore. When they talk about “capitalism,” it’s likely to be the phrase “crony capitalism.”

John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard, went on to personally interview a small group of young people about their attitudes toward capitalism to try to learn more. They told him that capitalism was unfair and left people out despite their hard work.

“They’re not rejecting the concept,” Della Volpe said. “The way in which capitalism is practiced today, in the minds of young people — that’s what they’re rejecting.”

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Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing calls shenanigans on attempts to cast arguments about privilege in terms of class rather than money:

If you live near a Whole Foods, if you don’t have a relative in jail, if you don’t know anyone on meth, you’re not in the one percent.

“We are the 99 percent” was a godsend to the left: a slogan that was “both inclusive and oppositional.” It united the legendarily divided left behind a banner that “put a relatively complex critique of class society in the populist language of American egalitarianism.”

A recent editorial in Vox argues that if you’re not living in dire, desperate circumstances, you’re probably in the one percent. If most of your friends went to college, if your parents only married once, and so on, the article goes, you’re enjoying one percent privilege and need to check it.

This is simply not true. The American one percent has a household income of $343,000 and up. That income is overwhelmingly derived not from labor, but from ownership — owning property, owning stocks, owning bonds and T-bills. These assets get more valuable as the labor of all working people — including the middle class people who constitute the 30 percent of Americans within driving distance of a Whole Foods — gets cheaper.

I propose a simple litmus test: Do you, or the breadwinner in the family, have a choice between working, government benefits, and homelessness? If those are the only three choices you’ve got, then you’re in the working class.

If on the other hand you have enough investments and savings to never work another day in your life, then congratulations! You’re part of the (metaphorical) 1%, and probably the actual, mathematical 1% as well.

Exception granted for pensioners and other people who’ve retired after long working careers. But the 1% is working on taking that away from the rest of us too.

Karl Marx is making a comeback

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Donald Harvey wants you to imagine life without capitalism. Harvey, a professor of anthropology and geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism.

The book represents a distillation of Harvey’s 40-year study of Karl Marx, and in its own way a bid to change the conversation about what’s not working and what’s possible—especially when many have consigned Marx to history’s dustbin.

“I was tired of hearing Marx quoted in ways that struck me as completely wrong,” Harvey says in his office at CUNY, around the corner from the Empire State Building. “Who I am writing for is, in a sense, anybody who says, Who is this guy Marx? I wanted to make it simple enough so that people could get into it, without being simplistic.”

Mapping a New Economy: The geographer David Harvey says fixing inequality will take more than tinkering