Monday, May 12, 2008

The Definition of Socialism

1. a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.
3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.
Pretty Lady posts this definition, merely to remind her readers that there are precious few countries on the face of the earth where the government owns the means of production, and the majority of the citizens are still living relatively comfortable lives. The last time she checked, corporations which produce things are still, in fact, corporations, with CEOs and everything. Many of them may be hand-in-glove with certain government officials, but at the very least, a pretence of separation between state and industry is being maintained.

In fact, as her Gentleman Friend pointed out just yesterday evening, the debate between Pure Socialism and Pure Capitalism no longer exists, in a practical sense. He quoted some theorist or other (Pretty Lady is so bad with names) who stated that 'two seemingly opposing ideas will battle it out for awhile, then they will integrate and move on to the next level.'

Indeed, as dear P.J. O'Rourke discusses in his classic 'Eat the Rich,' Pure Capitalist Freedom is doomed to a collapse into unchecked pyramid schemes and chronic civilian gun battles, without the balancing Rule Of Law. Good government, in other words, tempers the natural human instinct to lie to one's neighbors, steal their savings, and shoot them when you're done.

For the way Pretty Lady sees it, the way the Founding Fathers saw it, and the way more and more countries are seeing it, is that any human system which attempts to adhere to rigid dogma is bound to collapse under a Fatal Flaw. It is not within the capacity of the human consciousness to devise a perfect system, whether this be Capitalist, Communist, Socialist, Libertarian, or Anarchic. To maintain balance, systems must be continuously self-adjusting. They may adopt new elements, under exigency of circumstance, and discard those which no longer serve a purpose.

Additionally, the balance of a system is best served when every individual element of this system is able to provide feedback. It is to the system's advantage to have efficient and sensitive feedback-delivery systems, for when feedback from a particular element is ignored, that feedback becomes ever more dire. In extreme situations, this leads to Violent Revolution.

This is why, contrary to the Dire Prognostications of various of her readers, Pretty Lady remains doggedly optimistic about the future, not only of her beloved America, but of the planet in general. For in case you had not noticed, we are communicating upon the most egalitarian and sensitive feedback-delivery system in human history; the Internet.

As recently as five years ago, Pretty Lady had precious little recourse when brutalized by a Big System, such as an exploitive degree program, a job from hell, or a lousy healthcare system. These days, she simply writes up her case, and it is heard by the Entire World, or at least those with the wherewithal to type their concern into Google.

Big Systems, particularly the exploitive ones, are not particularly thrilled by this fact, as is shown by various attempts by government and industry at Internet regulation, control and censorship. Singularly, however, these attempts have met with limited and temporary success. The network of connectivity, and the commitment of its individual elements to maintaining those connections, is now larger and more extensive than any lumbering, monolithic, dogmatic system can control.

Balance, then, is on its way to becoming ever more precise, rapid, and fine-tuned in its adjustments. If transparency is not official, it is achieved on an ad-hoc basis by courageous individuals.

That is why, when she is the recipient of hyperbolic warnings regarding the Evil Dangers of Socialism, her response is along the lines of, 'Oh, phoo.' Pure Socialism is so nineteen-fifty-five.


Desert Cat said...

That would be one definition, or a partial definition.

Wikipedia has more, in particular: Some socialists have championed the complete nationalization of the means of production, while social democrats have proposed selective nationalization of key industries within the framework of mixed economies.

So if we must niggle over definitions, I will clarify that I was primarily referring to social democracy when I used socialism previously. And far from being "precious few" the countries practicing this form of socialism are numerous.

Anonymous said...

I also think it fair to call the idea of socialism that which defines the fruits of your labor as belonging to the masses rather than yourself. If the argument is what percentage of your income is to be taken and if you have to justify every aspect of your business practice then the elements of socialism are there.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that those big companies with their "capitalist" CEOs just love the big-government interventionism that is the trapping of socialism if it is (1) displacement of the various burdens and cost of their business onto the tax payer (2) used to bully their competition out of existence or (3) used to establish prohibitive barriers to entry so as to squash entrepreneurs and small businesses from entering the field.

Increased regulation and government interference in any particular industry squeezes out the entrepreneurs and innovators at the edges, strengthens and consolidates the power of larger corporations, and establishes the strange and incestuous public-private partnership idea.

Governments control the major means of production by having selected the few winners through weight of regulation. And, don't forget -- that corporations are creatures and tools of the government, created and chartered by the government, and, ever more arms of the government.

Anonymous said...

We use Socialism because Fascism has a bad name. What is commonly called Socialism is usually Fascism. Fascist economics is the famous "Third Way", with private ownership but government control.


Anonymous said...

I also think it fair to call the idea of socialism that which defines the fruits of your labor as belonging to the masses rather than yourself.

This where the idea of capitalism breaks down for me. It is fair to benefit from the fruits of your labor. All the way down the production line. Which means the you, as an instigator, have an obligation to those that you hire. Those that are a part of what enables your company to bear fruit.

That seems to me to be the crux of what socialism is trying to do: enforce the ethical treatment of "the masses".

Anonymous said...

And what if we differ on the nature of that obligation? Let us extend this concept out... For example, assume as a parent I feel you are obligated to provide personal attention to your child until school age without the use of daycare... most would cringe if this was given the weight of law. Why is your preference worth more than someone else's.

I will expound on this later... after work.

Pretty Lady said...

You people are all entirely ignoring the second half of Pretty Lady's post--the one about BALANCE and FEEDBACK. My point was that there is no such thing as Pure Socialism; there are elements of socialism being tested all over the place, with greater and lesser results. Thus this blind screaming panic when anybody says anything that, when taken to an extreme, could be seen as socialistic, is irrational and inappropriate.

Also, being an extremely small businessperson myself, I am very much alive to the dangers of government-supported corporatism. Thus I am highly encouraged by the increasing transparency in citizen access to governmental machinations, and to our increased ability too, say, blog about it.

And I will say that it would greatly increase my fortitude and viability as a small businessperson if I didn't have to worry about affording health insurance on top of everything else, but just, you know, had it. I went eight years without it, and now that I've got it, the payments are half as much as my rent. I'm considering dispensing with it again.

Oh, and the philosopher the GF was referring to was Hegel. Thesis/antithesis/synthesis.

Desert Cat said...

And I will say that it would greatly increase my fortitude and viability as a small businessperson if I didn't have to worry about affording health insurance on top of everything else, but just, you know, had it.

And this would be different from the corporation seeking the displacement of the various burdens and cost of their business onto the tax payer in what way?

Pretty Lady said...

1) I'm not incorporated.

2) I AM the frickin' taxpayer.

Corporate responsibility for health insurance is a legacy of the fifties, when big corporations like GM used the lure of health benefits to attract and retain employees. It is always more cost-efficient to have risk industries like health insurance in a pool; it makes far better economic sense to have health insurance in a large risk pool that does not depend on financing by a single employer, who might go out of business, and is portable if the employee switches jobs. Nefarious political machinations ensured that this sensible option did not happen.

Now, we see older corporations crippled by insurance and pension obligations incurred decades ago, and desperately attempting to scrape off these obligations in order to remain viable. Meanwhile, faithful employees lose both their health insurance and their retirement when these overextended corporations dump them or go bankrupt.

Basically, businesses shouldn't be responsible for providing health benefits. It cripples small businesses, and larger corporations usually find a way around the law, such as hiring 'temporary' and 'contract' workers. If every business pays taxes according to the income it makes once it has become profitable, without the drag-down of having to pay for insurance up front, and health insurance is guaranteed by the Large Risk Pool, i.e. the Evil Government, this can both encourage entrepreneurship and keep everyone healthy.

And of course I'm still in favor of federally subsidized health savings accounts, but I still can't get anyone to listen to me. Most likely because of the axiom, "You cannot get a person to understand a concept if his livelihood depends upon his not understanding it."

Anonymous said...

The business involvement in health insurance was a result of government action on wages... it was a tool allowed to be used by business as they could not use wage incentives... thank you FDR... HMOs... government creations... so, the situation caused in large part by the government is now to be solved by the government. Behold the situation in MA... waiting times for primary care appointments (those preventive medicine things that are supposed to drive down costs) are being extended further and further out. Doctors are not entering into family practice at the rate of other areas... will they be forced? A large part of the problem in this area was caused by the Medicare reimbursement schedule... on and on it goes...

Anonymous said...

One of the key problems I have with government involvement (and we already have a great deal) in the health industry is that it necessarily invites my interest in your personal life. Multiple sexual partners has been shown to relate to HPV which relates to cervical cancer... should I have a say on your sexual behavior? You cost me more if I do not... or what if you are morbidly obese... should I be able to mandate your diet and exercise through law? If not, why? Wherever the government feels it has a financial stake it increases its control. Seatbelt laws... smoking laws have come about in this way. Always for the public good... always at the loss of freedom... the freedom to be who you want... not what avoids cost.

Anonymous said...

Another problem I have with the 'health insurance is a right' crowd is that with the people whom I personally know they prioritize many things above health insurance. My brother for example had a job with health insurance... he dropped that job because he did not like it even though he knows that he has a condition that makes getting insurance more difficult. Another couple I knows does not carry health insurance even though they pay for cable tv and cigarettes... PL here indicates that she has insurance but might drop it because of the amount it costs. While I obviously cannot speak for the entirety of her finances, she seems to speak of a reasonably active social life. If health insurance is such a priority, where is it prioritized in the budget? If it is not more important than eating out and socializing to her, why should her having it be important to me? The point of my statement here is that this line of inquiry is invited when another party is made to feel obligated to support another. Why should one get to pursue occupations such as artist which rarely is likely to have 'benefits' when others made choices to pursue more mundane pursuits with the idea that those pursuits brought in more regular income and benefits?

Anonymous said...

These are not attacks on people's choices? I obviously for example like some of PL's art... I wish to acquire 'Thistle'... But asking another to subsidize our choices invites the attacks on those choices.

Anonymous said...

We continue to move in a direction where all 'necessities' (an ever expanding category) are expected to be assured to all... leaving our income (whatever would be left) to seemingly be free for entertainment. How is this sustainable? How much debt can Western Civilization carry, particularly with its demographic trends? Make the math work...

Anonymous said...

Now, libertarian minded people do have some questions to answer... one of those would be related to their sacrosanct contracts... if an employee had an agreement with a corporation for lifetime health care and a pension and the employer tries to default on that, what is their recourse? Perhaps a lawsuit... but what if the business cannot afford it? Was the employee just stupid for believing what he was promised... should the company be broken up and sold to meet these past obligations? What effect does this have on the present employers and the macro economy? These are the real issues I wish libertarian minded people would address... too many are pie in the sky theorists who live in a never never land of words and visions... the people want meat... give them meat.

Desert Cat said...

And conveniently, health savings accounts, even subsidized accounts to a degree, avoid or mitigate many of those problems. For the major health catastrophes there is still a shared burden, but for day-in day-out healthcare, HSA's force people to be consumers again, making wise (or foolish) choices about their own personal health with the resources at their disposal, rather than living under the dictates of a bureaucratically bogged-down system. In short, it leaves the free market intact, with all the attendent efficiency benefits.

McCain's plan for subsidized HSA's is one of the better ones I've seen in a while. I certainly hope he makes it a key part of his campaign. My only concern is that most people have no idea how an HSA works, and haven't done the math like I have to realize what a tremendous value it can be.

Anonymous said...

Always subsidized... everyone wants one... business... working 'poor'... farms... religion... other nations... why don't we just issue checkbooks to the U.S. Treasury to everyone and let them write checks out for whatever they need a subsidy for... I for example need some money to subsidize my travels...

I need to stop posting at the end of these threads lifespans... not sure anyone even reads them.