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Fully Automated Luxury Communism—A Review

A review of Fully Automated Luxury Communism by Aaron Bastani, Verso, 288 pages (June, 2019)

In one of the opening chapters of Fully Automated Luxury Communism, Aaron Bastani cites a famous passage from the Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie […] has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian Pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

This quote conveys a sense of Karl Marx’s ambivalent attitude towards capitalism. Disgusted as he most famously was by capitalism’s excesses, he was clearly also impressed by its immense productive potential. He reconciled these conflicting impulses by dreaming up a theory of history in which capitalism represented a necessary but transient stage in the story of human progress. Marx believed that capitalism was a powerful engine of economic development up to a point. But beyond that point, it would increasingly become a hindrance. Understood in this way, there is no contradiction between acknowledging—or even marvelling at—the progress capitalism has achieved to date, while also predicting its imminent downfall, and advocating its replacement with something else.

I get the impression that Aaron Bastani sees a lot of himself in that Marx quote. Bastani is clearly fascinated by technological progress; in fact, he talks more about that than about communism. Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) is really two books in one—a technology book, and a communism book. In the technology sections, Bastani marvels at recent advances in areas such as information and communication technology, Artificial Intelligence and automation, energy generation, space exploration, agriculture, and medicine. Bastani not only believes that the current pace of progress is going to be sustained, he is convinced it will accelerate—the best is yet to come. There is nothing particularly communist about these passages; in fact, a lot of them could easily have been written by a libertarian tech-optimist (although the latter would obviously have drawn completely different conclusions).

My guess is that, if pushed, Bastani would probably (if somewhat grudgingly) concede that this cornucopia of technological wonders is, to a very large extent, a product of capitalism. Yes, publicly funded research has also played a role. But there is a rather large difference between developing the basic outlines of a technology, and turning it into a useful, scalable product that customers want to buy. The latter requires entrepreneurship, competition, and consumer sovereignty.

But, as mentioned, acknowledging capitalism’s achievements, and advocating its replacement, need not be contradictory in a Marxist perspective. Marx believed that capitalism was already past its prime, and that the end was nigh. Bastani believes that, even though this did not come to pass, Marx’s predictions were still essentially correct—he just got the timing and the exact reasons for capitalism’s demise slightly wrong.

Marx thought that the technological advances brought forth by what Bastani calls the “Second Disruption” (the Industrial Revolution) were creating the conditions for socialism. Bastani argues that this was premature, and that capitalism first had to reach a higher stage—a stage Marx could not possibly have foreseen. Bastani calls this the “Third Disruption,” by which he means, loosely, the technological changes we are experiencing today. This, he insists, is the stage that finally makes it possible—and necessary—to move beyond capitalism.

Why?

FALC offers a number of reasons, one of which is that technological advances are replacing scarcity with abundance, or what Bastani calls “extreme supply.” Capitalism, he claims, does not cope well with abundance, since it leads to a collapse in prices, and potentially, of entire markets. Capitalists see abundance as a threat, which they will fight tooth and nail. They will try to create artificial scarcity where scarcity no longer needs to exist: “[U]nder conditions of abundance,” he announces, “capitalism pursues a form of rationing in order to ensure profits.” This, in the FALC version, is how capitalism is transformed from an engine of progress into a hindrance.

Bastani also believes that under capitalism, automation will lead to widespread “technological unemployment.” Capitalism thus turns advances, which should be a huge boon for all of us, into a source of economic anxiety. He rejects the notion that the lost jobs will simply be replaced with new ones. So far, he says, this has not happened: “Eighty percent of today’s professions existed a century ago […] [T]he lines of work nearly everyone performs […] aren’t particularly new.”

In FALC, the demise of capitalism is not something that will occur in the distant future, but something which is already well underway. He identifies 2008 as the crucial turning point, the beginning of capitalism’s inevitable demise: “What we know for certain is that the status quo can’t hold. There is no consent for a system which, on nearly every measure, is going backwards. […] [The] economic crisis, beginning in 2008, […] only presents the first stage of a prolonged period of global disorder. Over the coming decades we will […] endure the aftershocks of the failure of this economic model.”

So, what would the path to Fully Automated Luxury Communism look like? Bastani sketches out a partial roadmap. Firstly, at the national level, there would be an immediate end to outsourcing by the public sector. Public sector organisations would provide the full range of services they are supposed to provide in-house, rather than involving external contractors. There would, for example, be no private rail operators anymore.

At the local level, meanwhile, there would be a programme of “municipal protectionism.” Public sector bodies and related organisations would spend as much of their budgets as possible locally, in order to retain money in the local economy, rather than allowing it to leak out. He calls this the “Preston Model,” after a city in the North of England, where, according to Bastani, a small-scale version of this approach has triggered “a multiplier effect taking off in the city as pounds [are] continually recirculated throughout the local economy.”

He wants to see the Preston Model replicated across the country, but with a wider remit:

[L]ocal, worker-owned business would be actively favoured […] [T]he only companies able to bid for specific local contracts would have to meet specific criteria, whether it is being based within a certain distance (perhaps ten kilometres or within a county or state); being a worker-owned cooperative; offering organic products or being powered by renewable energy.

There would also be a network of state-owned local and regional banks, pursuing similar objectives:

In keeping with the new ethos of municipal protectionism, these banks would be similarly restricted in their lending both by amount and geographical area. What is more, their remit would be to maximise social value as well as returns, focussing on energy transition and accelerating specific sectors as well as financing a new wave of worker-owned businesses.

Bastani briefly toys with the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI), but quickly dismisses it in favour of the in-kind version, Universal Basic Services (UBS). This is mostly because variants of UBI have also been advocated by people he dislikes, namely Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, which makes the idea suspect. He also he sees UBS as yet another way to reduce the role of the market and increase the role of the state in economic life. Under a UBS system, the state would provide the necessities of life, generously defined, to everyone free at the point of use.

Central banks would also play their part: “[I]n the transition to FALC the role of central banks will change once more, the emphasis moving away from low inflation […] to rising wages, high productivity and affordable house prices.”

Taken together, such measures would create a heavily state-dominated, hyper-politicised economy. This is where Bastani’s road map ends. What the final steps towards full communism would look like—or, indeed, what FALC itself would look like in practice—does not become clear.

But hasn’t communism been tried in the past? Not according to Bastani:

While it is true that a number of political projects have labelled themselves communist over the last century, the aspiration was neither accurate nor […] technologically possible. “Communism” is used here […] to denote a society in which work is eliminated, scarcity replaced by abundance and where labour and leisure blend into one another.

And later:

FALC is not the communism of the early twentieth century […]

[U]ntil […] the Third Disruption, communism was […] impossible […] Instead it was socialism, still defined by scarcity and jobs, which became the North Star for hope across the World. The technologies needed to deliver a post-scarcity, post-work society […] were absent in the Russian Empire, or indeed anywhere else until the late 1960s.

There are a number of major problems with all this. Firstly, the idea that capitalism cannot cope with “extreme supply” is absurd. Visit any supermarket, and you will find hundreds of products that would once have been quite expensive, and which anyone can now purchase for a trivial sum. (In a variety store, that is true of practically every single item.) “Extreme supply” simply leads to the adoption of a high-volume/low-margin business model.

That, at least, was the old-fashioned way. Today, some of the richest people in the world, such as the founders of Google or Facebook, have made their fortunes by offering services that are essentially free at the point of use. They do not need to charge individual users for individual transactions. They have found other, more creative ways to make money from offering those services. One of the great strengths of capitalism is that it allows experimentation with a plethora of different business models, including a variety of different pricing and revenue-raising strategies.

This is not applicable to every sector, and there are indeed examples of “extreme supply” leading to the disappearance of an industry. Travel agents are a good example. Until about 20 years ago, travel agents were ubiquitous. Their business model rested on the fact that, before the widespread use of the internet, the information someone needed to plan a holiday properly was in short supply, and hard to access. It therefore made sense to have a specialised middleman. The emergence of online booking forms, price comparison sites, online ratings, and so on has created an “extreme supply” in information, which has obviated the need for travel agents. As a result, the sector has shrunk drastically. In the same way, the emergence of streaming media has created an extreme supply in movies and television series, which has led to the disappearance of DVD rentals.

But this is simply the “creative destruction” of the market economy in action. Business models and industries become obsolete and disappear, and new ones emerge to take their place. The technological developments Bastani describes will, no doubt, trigger further changes of a similar kind in the future. But the mistake Bastani makes is that he confuses threats to specific business models, specific incumbents, or specific industries with a threat to “the system” as a whole. Creative destruction is not a threat to “the system”—it is the system.

What about Bastani’s policy programme?

Virtually all economists, including vocal left-wingers such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, agree on the benefits of free trade, and the inadequacy of protectionism. If this is true at the national level, it must be a fortiori true at the local level, which makes “municipal protectionism” a complete non-starter. The idea that cities can get rich by preventing money leaking out is so preposterous that it does not deserve a serious rebuttal. Let’s just say this: if protectionism works for Preston as a whole, why not go a step further, and stop the north of Preston from trading with the south of Preston? Would that not make both them even richer, because North Preston’s money would no longer leak out to South Preston, and vice versa?

Bastani’s claim that outsourcing is, in some way, central to neoliberalism is equally silly. If it is so central, why does he not produce a single quote from a pro-market economist advocating it? I am a free-market economist. I have no view whatsoever on whether St Thomas’s Hospital should employ its own cleaners and catering staff or buy those services from specialised external providers. It simply depends on the specifics: the relative cost of each option, the quality and reliability of the available service providers, the hospital’s management capacities, and so on. It would be absurd for an economist, “neoliberal” or otherwise, to have a general ideological preference either way. Such decisions should simply be left to the organisation in question. There does not need to be a national policy on this at all.

UBS suffers from the same problems as UBI, plus various additional ones. Most Western welfare systems are not particularly well targeted now, and a UBI would exacerbate that by an order of magnitude; it would essentially mean handing out billions of pounds to people who do not need it. The same is, by extension, true of UBS. But UBI at least gives recipients freedom of choice—it is up to them what they want to spend their UBI on. UBS denies recipients that freedom—it is like a version of UBI in which every pound is earmarked for a specific purpose, only worse. It would lead to the creation of vast new state bureaucracies, which, for all the talk of how FALC is allegedly incomparably different from earlier socialist projects, sounds suspiciously like old-fashioned socialism again.

Bastani’s proposed system of hyper-politicised banking and hyper-politicised local government contracting, meant to boost worker cooperatives and other types of organisations of which he approves, is a surefire recipe for patronage, nepotism, subsidy fraud, and waste. What he describes is not new, and it is very similar to what happened in Venezuela (as I have explained in more detail here, pp. 228-232), except that they did it using oil money rather than state-owned banks and local government finance. But the result would be the same.

Bastani claims that “communism” has never existed, because “communism” is defined as a post-scarcity economy, in which people no longer need to work for a living. Public ownership of the means of production is not enough; on its own, that is just socialism, not communism. This is, of course, technically correct, but it is a technicality just the same. Bastani knows as well as anyone that we sometimes informally describe systems (the Soviet Union, Maoist China, North Korea) as “communist” when the technically correct term would be “socialist.” But linguistic pedantry does not save his case.

Bastani’s argument is not that we should wait for another 100 years or so until the technology is sufficiently advanced, and then move straight from capitalism to communism. He wants the transition to start today—or, better still, yesterday—and he envisages a long transition period, during which our economy would no longer be capitalist, but not yet communist either.

There is a word for this: socialism. Like almost every other communist before him, Bastani wants to reach communism via socialism. Thus, the fact that socialism has already been tried more than two dozen times, and failed every time without exception, should be somewhat relevant to this book. But on that issue, Bastani has next to nothing to say. Like most socialist manifestoes, FALC ultimately boils down to “next time will be different, because I say so.”

 

Dr. Kristian Niemietz is Head of Political Economy at the Institute of Economic Affairs. Follow him on Twitter at @K_Niemietz

86 Comments

  1. NashTiger says

    And, inevitably, in a few decades, some rich son of the lazy bourgeois class wannabe radical in an AOC T-shirt will come along and explain again (No True) Communism’s utter failures and excuse away the immensity of the suffering it created in the 21st century – by theorizing that it won’t work until the coming FOURTH disruption (man-machine singularity?)

    • SerenityNow says

      Wait’ll Trump gets re-elected because the GOP paints AOC as the face of the Democrat party. The moneyed interests in the Dem party will have her out of office quicker than you can say means of production.

  2. E. Olson says

    Good review and fits nicely with the other essay today on gun violence in Democrat led cities. Democrats want more “common sense” gun laws, but all Democrat led cities already have these laws and the Democrat led police and district attorneys generally choose to not enforce them because doing so would be deemed racist since most of those arrested would be black or Hispanic. Some evidence suggests a stronger police presence can reduce violence, but Democrat run cities almost always have deficit problems because they promise overly generous salaries, benefits, and pensions to city workers including the police, which means they never have enough money to hire more cops. Furthermore, Democrats support “social justice”, which means they often order their expensive police to not enforce laws if the laws are being broken in the name of “social justice” – see beating of journalist Ngo in Portland as police looked on as a recent example.

    In other words, we don’t even need to get into true “socialism” but merely “heavy government” (which is always Leftist) to see that government if expensive, ineffective, and strongly biased (in a Leftist direction), which will mean it will always piss off at least 50% of the population and result in electoral or violent overthrow.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Dems also suggest that the rich really do want to pay more in taxes (but of course choose not to do so today because they only agree to do it if everyone else is also forced to do what they claim is a good idea), that citizens want all these services, but of course are afraid to actually tax those citizens to pay for grand schools, sufficient policing, nice homes for vagrants and drug addicts, etc.

      • Curly4 says

        Yes the rich democrats say that that the people wants to pay more taxes to get these new entitlements however when the taxes are increased these rich democrats do every thing that they can to pay less taxes.
        The citizens that want all these services are not so pron to say so when they learn just how much more they will have to pay in taxes. Now those on the lower end of the economy most do want all these services and entitlements because they will not be taxed to provide so for them these will be freebie. But the increase cost are not all monetary some are freedoms that are lost.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @E. Olson

      “Some evidence suggests a stronger police presence can reduce violence, but Democrat run cities … never have enough money to hire more cops.:

      Putting more cops on the streets means little, if all they’re going to do is ride around in their squad cars and refrain from “provoking more violence”.

    • rnt says

      Refusing to prosecute gun law violations is a feature, not a bug. Not finding a solution to the epidemic of black on black murders is a feature, too. The Democrats WANT people murdered because then they can call for gun control. Democrats WANT black and hispanics to fail in school because then they can implement their racist anti-white and massive wealth redistribution agenda.

  3. David of Kirkland says

    “Bastani argues that this was premature, and that capitalism first had to reach a higher stage—a stage Marx could not possibly have foreseen.”
    Yet unsurprisingly, Bastani doesn’t think he suffers this inability to know the future.

    If “pure” communism has never been tried, it’s likely true that “pure” capitalism with free markets has never been tried either. Both systems are run by humans, and thus both are full of people vying for power over others, for taking your money for their interest, for giving benefits to “friends” and targeting “enemies,” create laws to protect an industry from another, create other laws to make some businesses illegal (while said business has no complaining customers), etc.

    As I get older, I wonder if maybe I should switch sides and join the chorus of a better society that takes full care of it’s elderly at other people’s expense.

    • Ramin Abbaszadeh says

      Thank you. This comment so far was the most logical comment summing up our problem. We have to admit that we all don’t know what the future will bring. Our only hope is too look at our past progresses and interpolate our future ones.

      Warning; as its written at the bottom of every investment site; “past performances are not indicative future ones”

  4. Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

    You don’t kill millions with the communism you want; you kill millions with the communism you have.

      • Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

        Not mine. Something someone else had observed in this same context . TIt is one of the better responses to these clueless privileged authoritarian fucks that want to control people like cattle because REAL socialism has never been done right. What a load of BS.

        Fuck off slavers is another great response.

  5. bumble bee says

    Is this guy tripping on shrooms? He left out the biggest and most important factor in his so called plan. That being Human Nature, our own ingrained flaws, egotistical, selfish, violent nature will destroy and make oppressive any social structure that does not pander to these qualities.

    It is so obvious that he is looking at a new social construct that is coming from his own personal perspective, projections, and lack of utter awareness of the vast differences of human behavior. There will be such collateral damage, civil unrest, even outright wars not between countries but between groups within a so called community. Like in the movie Jerry Maguire, you can put forth a mission statement that on paper sounds fantastic, but in reality is laughable. Why is it laughable?, because the web of society is too interwoven with so many dynamics, unknown causes and effects, that to actually implement it would be the total destruction and chaos of civilized society.

    Then of course, there is the power dynamic of human nature that will thwart any attempt at creating a just and equitable society. No one is going to give up any real or perceived power they hold, as well as indirectly encourage new attempts to create power from those who feel they have none. Human nature demands, whether we like it or not, a hierarchical structure which can be reduced to leaders and followers, the haves and the have-nots and who decides that. This plan will create more tyrants, more oppression, more violence, because to create an equitable society everyone must be equal. Joe can never have more than Tom, Mary cannot have less than Jane.

    What we have here is another unicorn attempt to sprinkle fairy dust on the problems humanity faces by destroying freedoms, personal determination, and big brother bureaucracies creating anger, and revolution. Why we are still discussing this time tested blather and nincompoopery is beyond comprehension.

    • Heike says

      Yeah, it’s amazing how little these highly educated authors know about people. Why is it these people always dream of pie in the sky and not of planning the details of their operations? That’s where these all fall apart, the implementations. Then they can wash their hands of the millions of deaths and claim, “Well obviously that wasn’t what we had in mind!” It’s a very useful rhetorical device that allows them to cling to their cherished ideals while failing to learn anything from history. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

      • rnt says

        The devil is always in the details. Who’s going to get the plum jobs and housing? Who’s going to get stuck collecting garbage or cleaning toilets? Are the rich going to be able to keep their palatial estates? Will Bernie keep his three houses?

        With all the racial spoils ideas, we know how that is going to work out.

    • MMS says

      @bee – You said it all and so succinctly – Withering! Little more need be said!

    • Photondancer says

      @bb

      People have given up power plenty of times. Your claim that this never happens is ludicrous as well as false.

        • @Kencathedrus Well, of course people have given up power … in the millions, in fact. Oh, it takes some coaxing to be sure … starvation, beating into submission, extermination en masse, slavery in a gulag, or just a bullet to the back of the head while kneeling in front of a mass grave. I’m sure Photondancer just overlooked these minor details.

  6. Capitalists want to enslave us for profit and for the fun of it, Communists want to enslave us for our own good.

    • Alex says

      “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” (John Kenneth Galbraith)

      • tom Ruut says

        Nothing changes except the elites who occupy the positions of power,this is all that is up for grabs.

  7. Chip says

    The debate between “Socialism” and “Capitalism” rests on a faulty premise, that either one of these things exist in pure form.

    Almost all economies around the world are a mix of socialized and privatized elements. We use socialized electricity, water, sewer and natural gas; We enjoy socialized parks, roads, rail lines, airports and harbors. Most developed nations have socialized healthcare.

    And further, the outcome of all these various economies- that is, their level of freedom and prosperity doesn’t correlate to the degree of socialization versus privatization.

    The entire argument over socialism/ capitalism seems like an artifact of the 19th and 20th centuries.
    It didn’t drive politics before then, and doesn’t appear to be capable of driving it much longer.

    • Pretty much. Most American “socialists” only want to create a third world hellhole, like Sweden or New Zealand.

      • Chester Draws says

        True, L. Except when you look harder you discover that Sweden and NZ are very capitalist. Apart from national healthcare, they are examples of how free enterprise is allowed to compete in every sphere — private schools, private hospitals, private electricity etc.

        The Nirvana those “socialists” think they are aiming for doesn’t exist.

        • Andy Espersen says

          Exactly. Those small social-democratic countries (and the many others like them) are quietly showing the way to societies in which the huge majority of residents are very happy to live in – where few own too much and fewer own too little – where bad luck or illness may rob you of everything you own, and yet you are always guaranteed adequate food and housing – where you have complete personal freedom and freedom to speak – where you have a highly developed free capitalist system, only legislatively interfered with by Government for sensible and thoroughly debated reasons – where rule of law is highly respected, etc., etc..

          Utopia?? Why are so many countries ideologically opposed to ordinary social democracy – a system proved excellent in so many places??

      • staticnoise says

        @ L
        Um, that’s a ridiculous statement. For one Sweden is not socialist – it’s capitalist with a welfare state attached. And two – both Sweden and NZ are minuscule in relation to the U.S. making such comparisons absurd. And last, most American socialists hate America making them the last people I’d be likely to listen to and follow.

      • rnt says

        Then why haven’t any of the blue states recreated their own Sweden? I’m sure the middle class in CA would enjoy having 70% of their income taken in the various taxes like $7/gal gas, 23% VAT, and houses half the current size. The way CA is run, all that money would go into the pockets of public unions and benefits for illegals.

    • Curly$ says

      We use socialized electricity, water, sewer and natural gas; We enjoy socialized parks, roads, rail lines, airports and harbors.
      Most of these items you listed are provided not by nations states buy by private industry. At the most there have been some state regulations controlling these businesses but it was still private money that provided them. Now roads is one area which has been more socialist and state money have been used to build them but even now states often do use private money to build roads and and the private money then operates these roads as a toll road for XX number of years then the state regains control over the road. In some states and times the state is the one that uses the taxpayers to finance the bonds that will be used to build the roads and retain control of it. Then they contract out the operation of the road to business to a private company to collect the tolls for the state. In this case the taxpayers of that state are taxed weather or not they benefit of the road.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Chip

      “Almost all economies around the world are a mix of socialized and privatized elements.”

      Yet folks like to talk as if it was a binary — either John Galt or Venezuela. This is scaremongering. The idea is that if we take one step to the left, we must end up in North Korea, and — on the other side — if we take one step to the right we must end up back in Dickensian Manchester. Wouldn’t it be better to be reasonable? The best of all imaginable worlds would be highly centralized — efficient state owned entities avoid the duplications and waste of capitalist competition and would provide products and services that are not as shoddy as they can get away with, but built to last with no planned obsolescence. In the worst of all imaginable worlds people are nothing but devil fish and the only question is whether you are eating your neighbors or they are eating you. In the best of all possible worlds we should get as close to ‘socialism’ as we can, but not one inch too close, because we all know what happens, and yes, it does.

      • Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

        “The best of all imaginable worlds would be highly centralized — efficient state owned entities avoid the duplications and waste of capitalist competition and would provide products and services that are not as shoddy as they can get away with, but built to last with no planned obsolescence.”

        You back in the USSR? You don’t knw how lucky you are, boy….

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Weasels Ripped My Flesh

          Please note the caveat: ‘in the best of all imaginable worlds’. One could imagine that working. I myself prefer reality, and in the real world it doesn’t work. MInd, the Russians did produce the best off road truck the world has ever seen.

  8. Farris says

    “Capitalists see abundance as a threat, which they will fight tooth and nail. They will try to create artificial scarcity where scarcity no longer needs to exist: “[U]nder conditions of abundance,” he announces, “capitalism pursues a form of rationing in order to ensure profits.”

    As opposed to real scarcity and rationing that Communism offers.

    When comparing socialism/ communism to the free market the best indicator is innovation. The leading innovation of countries like Russia and China is theft. These countries continually steal or borrow technology from free market economies. How many people outside of Russia drive Russian made vehicles? Which countries developed the iPhone, personal computer, Amazon and FedEx? In terms of innovation the free market surpasses socialism. A socialist/communist future would be a future with limited innovation.
    Socialist/Communists write books explaining the logic of killing and eating the goose that laid the golden egg.
    When people claim that socialist/communism has never been tried, they mean their own personal version of it. This is just another arrogant way of saying, “make me dictator and I will fix it”.
    Mr. Bastani is pitting government efficiency against private sector efficiency. That is always a losing proposition.

  9. Heike says

    But, as mentioned, acknowledging capitalism’s achievements, and advocating its replacement, need not be contradictory in a Marxist perspective. Marx believed that capitalism was already past its prime, and that the end was nigh. Bastani believes that, even though this did not come to pass, Marx’s predictions were still essentially correct—he just got the timing and the exact reasons for capitalism’s demise slightly wrong.

    “After the Prophet’s prophecy of doom failed to come to pass, his modern acolyte has retconned the canon to put the doomy date comfortably in the future of the present.”

  10. TheSnark says

    Why is anybody bothering to review this nonsense of a book? All you are doing in publicizing it. Ignore it and it will disappear into well-deserved obscurity, and we will all be better off.

    • Chris Morriss says

      It does seem to be advocating the sort of society we see in William Morris’s famous 19th century utopian novel, “News from Nowhere”.

      There is a big difference between an idealised utopian romance and the real world it would appear.

  11. Geary Johansen says

    Good article. Suitably critical.

    But I really wish that these socialists did there research better, both in terms of understanding how economics and markets work, and more importantly how people work. In recent months, I have been trying to gather information about the Spanish worker co-operative Moondragon, because it appears to possess several characteristics that appear to differentiate it from other work run businesses, most notably the size and success of its operations, by comparison to most of the organisations that loosely-fit into the 100 million strong non-profit or co-operative sector worldwide, but have found myself incredibly frustrated in terms of the information that is out there.

    First and foremost, it seems to recognise the individual value of highly able, trained or professional employees, with the most talented or knowledgeable earning up to eight times the salary of the average worker. Now this may seem low, but I imagine there may well be non-monetary compensations to being highly thought of by your fellow employees and believing in what you are doing, especially if you feel that your work is valued as a public service. From personal experience, I have known a high functioning headteacher who interrupted a lucrative career in industry, to transfer into the UK schools system to become a crisis manager of sorts, and have heard of a senior police officer who, although disproportionately well-paid for his role, would have probably found far better renumeration in the private sector.

    Second, Moondragon appears to operate on the basis of a form of community capitalism. This again tends to provide incentives, as the hyper-productive tend to consider a harmonious workplace, with high morale and a common sense of shared goals and ethos a distinct plus, when considering whether to stay or whether to go. We know that faith communities give about 7% of their income to charity, by comparison to 1.5% for the general public and that this is primarily for reasons of reputation gain. I have always wanted to see a study done, in which managers and supervisors present the incentives of productivity-related pay, as a benefit to their fellow workers, emphasising shared hardship and how that little bit extra might help a colleague struggling with debt, or someone working next to you, with a patchy relationship, with the opportunity to take their partner out for a romantic dinner for two. I have always believed that the general diagnosis of man as an essentially selfish being as a diagnosis singularly lacking in subtlety and distinction, in that we are peculiar in our selfishness, and will often take feelings of high self-worth and a happy environment in lieu of compensation.

    But my biggest frustration, the area that I am most curious about and have been unable to obtain information about, is details of the worker-owner education system that Moondragon uses. Two salient facts have emerged. First, in relation to foreign plants and outside labour, these employees are excluded from Moondragon co-operative status, because of the stated belief that the model would not work outside the community it serves. Second, workers are willing to accept hardships when business is bad and reap the benefits when business is good- something you often do not find in private enterprise.

    My suspicion is that the Moondragon model, educates it’s workers in the constraints and necessities of capitalism and markets, in terms of competition, capital expenditure and the need to increase productivity and reduce labour over time. The reason why I believe it works so well, is because workers are not going to be disincentivised to work hard and potentially lose their job us a result, when they know that their labour will be re-allocated into new ventures or distributed into other areas of the business- especially if the fact that their innovation or high productivity, will likely result in a promotion.

    The reason why I am so interested in Moodragon, is because it may well provide the solution to the inefficiencies and problems with government. The British system is unwieldy because it is administratively heavy in bureaucracy, with little thought given to new legislation, as to how much it will cost to implement. But the American system is far less benign. The British economy suffers because we systemically fail to monetise innovation. America does not have this problem. Instead, regulatory burdens disfavour small business enterprise. Bureaucratic rent-seeking is a well-established practice in creating poorly-considered jobs in the public sector. You have great areas of government such as the National Weather Service, or the often underfunded FEMA system, but these are buried under a morass of top-heavy appointee-run bureaucracies. Our own problems in this vein tend to stem from publicly funded or assisted quangos or ngo’s.

    What Moondragon might represent is a means to reform government bureaucracies, by removing the fear of job less, and replacing it with incentives to find efficiencies to increase career prospects. It might finally be a way to mirror the super-efficient allocation of resources and labour that the market possesses, at least in part. Citizens could demand that systems that they deem intrusive or rent-seeking, be re-allocated into more productive labour providing services that they might actually want and which the market is ill-equipped to provide. Democrats would get to fulfil their constant urge for new program, and Republicans would be comforted by the fact that it finally halts the growth of government in it’s tracks. Who knows, it might even be possible to reduce government in the long run, through more talented workers migrating into more lucrative careers in the private sector, through public/private partnerships.

    • rnt says

      It’s not Moondragon, it’s Mondragon. I’m not crazy about their products. I bought a Fagor pressure cooker and it broke within 6 months. I ended up buying a German made Fissler to replace it, a much, much better product. There’s a reason why Spain is lumped in with PIGS.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ rnt

        Cheers for the correction. Sometimes I see words the same way I pronounce them in my head. My brothers dyslexic, perhaps I inherited a milder form. I often used to spell hegemony as ‘hedgemony’. I think their electrical goods division ceased trading recently. Apparently, of the original workforce, they were able to incorporate all bar 60 employees into their other businesses.

  12. This is half a review. What of technological unemployment? When machine labour is capable of replacing at a lower cost the jobs that most people are capable of doing, they’ll have to receive a UBI (or some needs-based payment). The economic case for inequality of human incomes will then have largely vanished.

    • Peter from Oz says

      L

      Up until about 1930 there was a large leaisured class and members of that class were not required to work in order to live because they could survive well on invested capital. The poor on the other hand needed to work very hard in order to survive. But since 1930 the rentier class has almost disappeared. Plus women have now entered the workforce in huge numbers. In these circumstances it is really remarkable there are many people in gainful employment as there are, especially when we consider that many of the lower paid jobs have gone.
      What people are now contemplating is recreating a leisured class, but instead of being made up of relatively well-off people, it will instead be made up of anyone who cannot or will not seek full time paid employment.
      The good thing about the old leisured class was that they were able to lead society. They did charity work and supported the arts and fashion. I’m not so sure a government-created leisure class would be as socially useful.
      I would like to see a new social movement whereby it becomes acceptable for the well-off to stop working and let those who need the money take the jobs.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Peter from Oz

        ” But since 1930 the rentier class has almost disappeared.”

        I’d say it has never been bigger. I wonder what the numbers are, but I suspect that very many rich people want to increase their wealth simply by forcing it to breed at 15% PA and that the entire financial system is designed to make that happen. Alas, wealth can’t be imagined, it has to be actually produced (by workers). Thus if the Rockefellers are getting richer and richer it is because workers are giving more and more of what they make to them. Rich people like this, naturally, and they say that it is right and proper and they persuade the electorate to vote for Trump, who in return gives the rich tax breaks. The rich naturally assure us that they’ll use the money wisely and for the good of all. Some believe this.

        “The good thing about the old leisured class was that they were able to lead society.”

        There’s no small truth in that. But are we thinking of Paris Hilton or Chelsea ne Clinton?

        • Peter from Oz says

          Ray
          The old leisured class included much of the middle class (in the British sense) and was much broader based than it is today.

    • David says

      Yeah, that explains the roving bands of elevator operators who beg on every corner and all the former switchboard chicks reduced into lives of prostitution. And all those idle blacksmiths are just the worst, constantly asking me if i want my horse reshod.

      The fear of mass unemployment due to automation is ridiculous.

  13. Robert W. says

    The fundamental flaw with all socialism and/or communism advocates is that they ignore the critical element know as incentives. Without an incentive, most humans will not work harder, longer, better. Monetary incentives are a key ingredient of capitalism and absolutely missing from socialism/communism.

    Case in point are the cities of Seattle and Vancouver (BC). Only 200 km (125 miles) apart, Seattle is an incredible success thanks to capitalism, with numerous headquarters. But look north to Vancouver and you find few major headquarters and the entire economy is propped up by technology offshoring and illicit real estate investment. If the latter were absent and the former (capitalist activities all) were removed, the economy of the city would be more akin to a large town.

    If too many naive Americans listen to the likes of Bastani and AOC, one wonders how many more millions will have to die to prove these folks to be empty headed vessels?

    • ArbutusJoe says

      It’s true, but that critique is based on a fact about the current state of human preferences. Imagine a world in which the majority of people had the interests of the group rather than their individual interests at heart. Now that condition does not and is not likely to exist, but we can certainly speculate that it isn’t logically impossible for such a condition to hold, making the critique contingent, not fundamental.

      Alternatively, the economist Ludwig von Mises proposed a truly fundamental critique: rational economic calculation cannot occur in the absence of private ownership of the means of production an thus socialism, by definition, cannot work. See his book “Socialism” for an exhaustive presentation of the argument. Basically, without prices determined by a market system, there can be no understanding of where resources are most dearly needed by society. And prices can only form through the choices of actors who control those resources (i.e., through private ownership of producer’s goods, or as Marx would call them, the “means of production”.)

      Many economists have attempted to refute Mises; few in my opinion come close to understanding the critique much less refuting it.

  14. ga gamba says

    Okie dokie. Farfetched? Who knows? You know what happens in technology? Alpha in-house testing and beta versions. I encourage Bastani to establish the community of Superluxurycommunistville as a test bed of his idea to implement his take on communism. Organise and run it according to Bastani’s principles to expose the bugs, which always exist, and make the improvements. It’s not to make it perfect, a condition that doesn’t exist, but to reveal dire outcomes. There may be the equivalent of thalidomide hidden in there. Let’s see if it not only endures at a bare minimum but thrives for a prolonged period.

    Bastani also believes that under capitalism, automation will lead to widespread “technological unemployment.”

    He’s not the first to declare technological change will do so. The Luddites thought this… more than 200 years ago. Golly, were they wrong. This is not to say disruption and even dislocation didn’t occur in some business sectors and in certain communities, but these changes due to innovation pre-date capitalism as well.

    This is mostly because variants of UBI have also been advocated by people he dislikes, namely Milton Friedman…

    An objection. Friedman’s negative income tax (NIT) is certainly not a variant of UBI as thought of and implemented in test cases. Firstly, it’s not universal; only those who incomes are below x are eligible. Secondly, it also not basic in the way UBI’s proponents state each person gets the same $x irrespective of all other earnings. Under NIT, as a person earns more through his/her own money earning endeavours the less income s/he is given by government.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @ga gamba

      ” The Luddites thought this… more than 200 years ago. Golly, were they wrong.”

      So they were. Statistically speaking luddism fails. But will it always be so? You can play Russian Roulette several times and live, but is it really a safe game?

      “Under NIT, as a person earns more through his/her own money earning endeavours the less income s/he is given by government.”

      But over some income level, UBI would be entirely taxed back, so what really is the difference? I see it as six of one half a dozen of the other, minor quibbles aside. MInd, minor quibbles can matter, it should be done the best way possible; perhaps NIT is better.

      • ga gamba says

        But will it always be so? You can play Russian Roulette several times and live, but is it really a safe game?

        Too clever by half.

        Just about any action may end in disaster. In the US each year, 480 people die cooking food at home, 355 perish using ladders, 450 deaths are due to falling out of bed, 19,000 people die bathing (100 of whom are scalded to death), and car accidents kill about 40,000 people. Would you liken cooking food, using ladders, bathing, and traveling in a car to Russian Roulette? You could, but would it be understood by others as a realistic analogy?

        But for fun, let’s examine this more deeply. When the revolver is loaded with only one bullet, the chances of survival are 83.3%. Can you think of an activity in the economy where one has a 16.7% chance of death or destruction? Logging is an economic activity, and it’s also the most deadly one. The death rate is 135.9 per 100,000, which is 0.136%.

        Let’s look at what Bastani and other doomsayers claim. From the article: “Bastani also believes that under capitalism, automation will lead to widespread ‘technological unemployment.'”

        OK, widespread. Meaning what exactly? If we quantify this, is it more than 50% unemployment? Eighty per cent? Ten?

        If we look at the history of work, we find many incidents of disruption due to technological change. The Luddites were upset by advances in milling and weaving. More recently, we find telephone switchboard operators were largely replaced by automated switching devices. Directory assistance is handled mostly by computers and voice recognition. The secretarial pool is a thing of TV dramas set in the ’60s. Few visit travel agents to buy their airline tickets and book their holidays. Automobiles are now painted by robots, removing humans from one of the most dangerous occupations in auto making. Welding in auto manufacturing and other industries is also done by robots because it’s more precise.

        These changes were no comfort to tin smiths, cordwainers, fullers, stevedores, wagon wheelwrights, street gas-lamp lighters, and many other occupations. Yet, with all of this disruption and wails that the end is near, all kinds of new jobs were created.

        We have to remember that 85% of employers employ 20 or fewer workers; 99.7% of employers have fewer than 500 workers (both figures for US). Yes, GM and Toyota can afford to invest in robots that paint and weld. and they use standardised processes typical of the assembly line that robots are easily programmed to perform. But most car repair and body shops either cannot afford the expense or the varied nature of the work makes automation difficult.

        The consultancy McKinsey studied the future of workplace automation and its effect on work. It found that less than 5% of occupations may be completely automated. Many other jobs will be aided by automation, allowing workers to be more productive, reduce difficult or dangerous tasks, inspect for precision, etc. Highly structured and predictable environments, such as assembly lines and fast food counters, are good candidates for automation.

        The American Enterprise Institute interviewed Prof James Besson of Boston University, who studied ATM’s affect on banking and the employment of bank tellers.

        Basically starting in the mid-1990s, ATM machines came in in big numbers. We have, now, something like 400,000-some installed in the United States. And everybody assumed –including some of the bank managers, at first — that this was going to eliminate the teller job. And it didn’t. In fact, since 2000, not only have teller jobs increased, but they’ve been growing a bit faster than the labor force as a whole. That may eventually change. But the impact of the ATM machine was not to destroy tellers, actually it was to increase it.

        Well, the average bank branch in an urban area required about 21 tellers. That was cut because of the ATM machine to about 13 tellers. But that meant it was cheaper to operate a branch. Well, banks wanted, in part because of deregulation but just for basic marketing reasons, to increase the number of branch offices. And when it became cheaper to do so, demand for branch offices increased. And as a result, demand for bank tellers increased.

        We ought to also look at skill shortfalls in some business sectors and how employers are forced to seek technological solutions to address these. Often we think of these in medicine, but they also exist in the trades. Machinists, HVAC technicians, skilled construction workers, electricians, plumbers are all well-paid jobs once the person completes an apprenticeship and often have union representation to secure decent benefits, yet these occupations are looked down upon in the Anglosphere. In the US, 12.7% of the workforce is employed in manufacturing whilst in Germany its 27%. We need to look at how Germany provides itself a skilled workforce and maintains an industrial sector.

        The World Economic Forum polled people in thirteen countries about the future of automation and work. In the US, 61 per cent of respondents think AI and other tech will replace people in repetitive work. In Germany only 39% think so.

        These alarmist proclamations that everyone is going to be made redundant by the robots tend to come from those who are anti-capitalist, often advocates of socialism, or, at a minimum, call for more state intervention in the economy. Rather than fear technological transformation, I think it’s wiser to understand AI and other technologies in aggregate will complement rather than eradicate the workforce.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @ga gamba

          That was more hectoring than necessary ga.

          I know economic progress must be disruptive. I know that Russian Roulette is a poor analogy to many other things. Perhaps the Boy Who Cried Wolf is a better analogy. Yes the doomsayers tend to be wrong, but it does not follow that some situation could arise where we really do have an employment crisis. No need to say exactly how bad. Bad enough to worry about. Employment tends to become a problem fairly regularly as it is.

          It seems that displaced workers are absorbed, traditionally, but expansion in the economy. However I don’t think infinite expansion is possible, therefore the rules could fundamentally change when we run out of gas. In particular, driverless trucks seem poised to disemploy millions. Same with cashiers. These are jobs for folks who are not noticeably bright. There are people who are not going to learn to code. I don’t think worries can simply be dismissed out of hand. Or maybe things will work out like they usually do.

          • ga gamba says

            In particular, driverless trucks seem poised to disemploy millions.

            Maybe. Possibly not. Seems to me it’s catastrophising. More than likely, they’ll travel the motorways beyond urban areas and deliver goods to depots outside densely populated centres for onward distribution by actual human drivers.

            Here’s something that puzzles me. For all the demands for regulation of this and that, I’ve yet to hear anyone call for the banning of autonomous vehicles. It’s just taken as inevitable. If democracies can force business owners to ban smoking in their workplaces, demand they write messages on baked goods, and require x% of board members to be female, it seems to me banning driverless vehicles, or strictly limiting them to certain motorways, is a possible legislative action. Government already directs business in ways thought by many to be heavy handed. The justification for doing so? All of these vehicles are connected to communications networks, and we know these can’t be secured, which makes them vulnerable to hacking, be it by schoolboys or more malevolent actors.

            This leads me to another question. Given the proclivity of the left to demand (over)regulation, why is it that on this particular issue the left isn’t doing so? It’s playing up the “threat” of automation to call for the expansion of welfare schemes like UBI that create more passive dependency rather than appeal for easily implemented rules, ones the public is already accustomed to. Extremist leftists such as Bastani call for toppling the entire economic system. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far this hasn’t been offered.

            There are others way of cracking this nut. In the US some states enacted family-farm laws to protect them from corporate take over, which established a precedent of setting aside some business activity for “the little guy”. Moreover, to give a leg up to “economically disadvantaged” groups (determined by race, gender, and disability rather than an examination of the owner’s finances, which would be the sane way) the federal gov’t sets aside a portion of loans and contracts as well as also requiring a prime contractor hire people of the people of as sub contractors. Eighty-four per cent of the US trucking fleet is owned by small independents, owning from one to six articulated lorries. Could they be declared economically disadvantaged? Or does this offend a sacred cow? If many of the owner-operators convert their truck(s) to autonomous mode, this may allow them to spend their time at home collecting a cheque whilst their trucks are on the road. Isn’t money for nothing the leftists’ dream?

            On the other hand, perhaps protective regulation is unnecessary. Presently the US trucking industry is experiencing a significant shortfall of drivers, and it’s expected to continue on due to their advanced average age. This is found elsewhere too; Germany is facing a shortage of 45,000 truck drivers, with around 30,000 leaving the profession every year. If humans are less and less inclined to be on the road for half a year, which is the average for the US independents, then autonomous trucking is a solution for an industry that has little appeal to the younger generation. The Wapo reports: “The lifestyle is rough. You barely see your family, you rarely shower, and you get little respect from car drivers, police or major retailers. Michael Dow said he has been divorced twice because of trucking. Donna Penland said she gained 60 pounds her first year from sitting all day and a lack of healthful food on the road.” Of course, it should be recognised the Wapo is owned by Amazon’s Bezos, and the retailer is understood to want the automation of trucking and parcel delivery, so it may be this article, and others like, serves to groom the public to accept this.

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ ga gamba

          Great comment. You really do possess a great deal of in-depth knowledge on a broad range of topics. On Germany, I would suggest that the German system of streaming off 57% of their schoolchildren into vocational training, during secondary education has a great deal to do with their success. So does one often neglected aspect of welfare capitalism, in Germany employers still have a statutory requirement of continuous education in the workplace- a necessity born of the historic tendency of 14 year olds to end their education prematurely to earn a wage, but continued into the modern era, with benefits for both employer and employee.

          It did have it’s drawbacks during the Second World War, according to German Aircraft Industry and Production 1933 – 1945, apparently the constant need to tinker and improve, lead to a vast array of sub-types, and in one instance two planes of the same model and sub-type from the same assembly line, showed a difference in weight of over a tonne. Quite difficult for determining fuel loads and range, I imagine.

          I find your observations on automation somewhat reassuring, especially given that here in Britain many delivery drivers are relied on by retail customers to unload goods especially in the instance of supermarkets. I do think that there is a giant hole matching labour forces to employment, though. The liberal view that anyone can be taught to do any job is naive at best, and at worst downright dangerous.

          One of the principle negative aspects of freedom of movement in the UK, from a societal perspective, was that it removed the need to train young men from difficult backgrounds in vital apprenticeships in trade and maintenance jobs- as employers made use of off-the-shelf pre-trained employees from Eastern Europe in particular. In a recent Question Time, one inner-city mother, bemoaned that there were plenty of jobs in London, but none that suited her son, or the young men in her community. In America, there is also the issue of geography- a problem that goes back all the way to Adam Smith, in his observation that those in coastal areas generally had greater opportunity to employ their labour gainfully.

          I’ve thought of two business ideas to tackle these problems. The first is almo’s providing expert business advice to communities looking to set-up a form of community capitalism. They could use population-level psychometric tests through STEAM, to test aptitudes and abilities, backed by high school gym assessment roadshows for manual and fitness assessments. Instead of building white elephants, local government could busy itself with the commissioning of neat little low-rent industrial and loading units. A sort of ingredients-based economics.

          The second is archaeological mining of Companies House style data, for historic, now defunct, businesses. My point being that there could be plenty of business that might have been wiped out by innovation and mass production, that might now find a niche in a far more affluent and wealthy world. I know that it’s already been done for repro furniture, you can pick up a fairly nice repro coffee table for £120 on Google, but there must be other domains in which this is possible. The reason why these jobs might be all-important, is that IQ only governs the speed at which you can pick up skills (within limits), not the eventual proficiency you can reach.

          And that’s the real problem. How to develop businesses that create value, but also provide jobs to those who are economically dispossessed by location or the inability to compete in a market that is increasingly becoming either a skills or knowledge economy. Or, to use an old Norfolk saying- it’s sixpence for doing the job, and nineteen and sixpence for knowing how.

  15. Nick Podmore says

    As always Quacks and Ideologues like Bastani never ever ask ME what I want….I don’t want what he wants as do a very very large number of people so basically he will have to force us to comply…at first using words and arguments, then using laws and threats then finally at the end of a barrel of a gun….and then some of us will say F***k that and pick up our guns and then we will just repeat the same cycles again and again. Capitalism works, not because it is perfect but because it is the best we have and it has lasted because the vast majority of us agree it should. People like Basani with their patronising I know best attitude are basically narcissistic megalomaniacs….spilt children really!

  16. C Young says

    So a grab bag of contradictory ideas. Capitalism has been spectacularly successful. Until the apparently randomly chosen date of 2008, when everything changed. Suddenly, we had “a system which, on nearly every measure, is going backwards”.
    Of course, the date isn’t random. It corresponds to the date that Bastani was 20 years old, at university, believing anything was possible.
    This is a generational phenomenon. Almost everyone falls for millenarianism at some point in their early twenties. We confuse the reality of radical change in our own lives, for the possibility of radical change in broader society.

  17. Chucky says

    Bastani’s idea of providing basic services free is simply absurd.

    Energy and water, if provided free, will result in horrendous waste. Why bother turning off lights or taps?

    The massive over-consumption will strain provision of these services beyond breaking point. His ‘luxury communism’ would take an abundant resource and make it scarce.

    Just on this factor alone Bastani would force essential services to be rationed, impacting the environment, leading to unnecessary suffering, potentially some loss of life, and a lot of anger.

    The man is a complete idiot.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Chucky

      “Energy and water, if provided free, will result in horrendous waste. ”

      Water here is unmetered, which makes it ‘free’ in a practical sense. But when summer restrictions are in place, consumption goes down. That’s because most people do have some sense of civic duty.

    • Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

      Venezuelans had practically free electricity and water and gasoline and internet. Now they have none of these things at any price. But, of course, this is because of the evil imperialist sabotage.

      Cubans had the USSR to prop them up; then that “special period” of losing weight. Then they managed to save themselves by taking control of Venezuela and Chavez. Sooner or later, the parasite kills the host. Now the Venezuelans are enjoying the Maduro diet. Just as well there is no food, since there is no toilet paper. Cubans are back to special period number two, until they find their next host to feed off of.

      And this fuck nut sits here in the lap of first world privilege, courtesy of capitalism, of course, and wants to wave his magic fairy wand and everyone will ride unicorns and fart rainbows of magic communism. He needs to spend some time at Tuol Sleng. Maybe it can be arranged for Duch to welcome him. Brother No. 2 approves.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Weasels Ripped My Flesh

        Poetry.

        “Cubans are back to special period number two”

        Maybe the Americans could cancel the embargo? Starving the Cubans into loving capitalism seems not to have worked. America is best buddies with Saudi Arabia after all, so we know that ‘human rights’ have nothing to do with anything. Let Cuba alone and within a decade or two they’ll throw out the commies all by themselves.

        • Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

          Ray,

          If it was/were up to me, there would be no US “embargo” of Cuba. And, yes, human rights have nothing to do with it, although Florida electoral college votes have everything to do with it.

          The embargo just gives the leftists of the world an excuse. Communism means shortages and misery. But, of course, only because the US wont subsidize the crooks that run the sho. Venezuela is trying the same propaganda: “The US embargo is the cause of all their problems. Not the years of corruption, stealing everything, ruining of their oil business by not making any new investments and replacing qualified professionals with crooks wearing red shirts and Che hats. Not the total economic mis-management. Not the endless printing of money to destroy their currency. Not the attempts at fixing prices and currency exchange rates. Not the expropriation and looting of all the former producing companies to render them useless. Not that the country is run by an inept criminal mafia. Not the intense crime and cultural malaise caused in great part by the best and brightest having gotten the hell out of there years ago when they saw this coming with Chavez. Nope. Not any of that. Just the US hatred of glorious socialism and Chavismo and our highly trained force of CIA controlled iguanas causing havoc on their revolution.

          Cuba can trade with Canada, Europe, China (No. 1 US trade partner). But trade what? Sugar? They don’t produce anything near what they did in the 1950s. The 1950s! They’ve got little of interest beyond sex-tourism.

  18. Guy says

    Dr. Niemietz,

    I would like to hear your opinion on whether or not you would have considered the mormon pilgrimage into the Utah Territory as a communist venture. In my view, I see their entire settlement as such, and it was rather successful in the sense that it provided for the entire community. It was later abandoned, rightfully so, as the vassal state correctly adopted its slogan of industry.

    I tend to disagree that communism hasn’t been successfully attempted, but grew quickly as the community grew to include trade with nearby settlements. Thus, I believe communism has proven itself as a viable economic theory in the microeconomic arena in exactly one place…a commune.

  19. Albigensian says

    If there is a huge mass of technologically unemployed who live off UBS/UBI then presumably there must be an elite who keep all of this running.

    It’s impossible to see such a place as a democracy as the proles, who likely will fail to see the vast beneficience of this elite, just might decide to remove them. The only real decision would be whether it was a “soft” dictatorship (think Brave New World) in which the proles are conditioned to appreciate their lot in life or a “hard” one along the lines of 1984. Or some mix of the two, perhaps: soft so long as things remain in control, with the hard fist reserved for those who won’t or can’t conform.

    In any case, it’s very difficult indeed to not see the life of idleness led by the proles as dystopic, for who would wish to live to live such a life? “Yes, we’ll maintain amusements for you, and housing and food, at least until your maintenance become unreasonably costly when you’ll be offered Compassionate Euthanasia.” Would you wish to live such a life?

    (Well, OK, perhaps you should ask your dog. And perhaps people can be bred (Oops, eugenics?) to be human dogs who will be fully appreciative of (as well as wholly dependent on) their masters.)

  20. Ray Andrews says

    “The idea that cities can get rich by preventing money leaking out is so preposterous that it does not deserve a serious rebuttal. ”

    Ok, but does that justify globalism, where jobs are exported to the 3d world? I’d say that trade should be entirely free between countries that have comparable standards of living.

    “Bastani’s claim that outsourcing is, in some way, central to neoliberalism is equally silly.”

    Maybe not. Outsourcing is a good way to break unions. When my province switched from a socialist to a hard right government a few decades ago, one of the first things they did was to contract out all support work in our hospitals. Folks who had made maybe (adjusted for inflation) $21 and had benefits and a pension were rehired by nasty little contractors for maybe $13 and with no benefits or pension. Some like this kind of thing. I don’t.

    ” and a UBI would exacerbate that by an order of magnitude; it would essentially mean handing out billions of pounds to people who do not need it”

    Except that for 90% of us it would all be taxed back.

    “There is a word for this: socialism. and failed every time without exception”

    But soft, moderate socialism has succeeded brilliantly many times. The entire civilized word now understands that socialized medicine is the way to go. America should join the civilized world, it’s embarrassing that she remains on the outside with a health system that is twice as expensive per unit of service provided as any other. But it’s one of those things like guns — it doesn’t matter the carnage, it’s a cultural totem.

    • DiamondLil says

      Ray: The affordable, popular, and more-or-less sustainable forms of nationalized health care that Canada and the UK have today work precisely BECAUSE they were put into place decades ago, before the health care costs could spiral out of control, and at a time when their populations were comparatively small and homogeneous. The problem in the US is how to get that toothpaste back in the tube now and in a huge, highly diverse, highly polarized population.

      Think about it, Ray. US medical professionals making $200+ a hour now will be hired by the government to work for some fraction of that under a UK-type system. Will they be any happier than the “folks” you describe? Currently the national health system in Britain is offering bonuses to any doctor who is willing to return to the UK to work. Few are taking them up on it because of much higher compensation elsewhere.

      Add to that the fact that private health insurance is a multi-billion dollar business employing hundreds of thousands of people and representing thousands (if not more) small investors. How does one deal with the disruption that their elimination would represent?

      Medicare works now (albeit with massive fraud issues) because doctors and hospitals cover the reduced payments from Medicare by overcharging everyone else. When there is no one to overcharge, Medicare costs will have to go up. How far? Who can say? Will some pensioner on a fixed income happily pay more in premiums and deductibles so that younger people (who haven’t paid into the system for decades like they have) can have cheaper insurance?

      • molinas says

        I don’t quite understand what does a homogeneous society have to do with nationalized healthcare? In what way homogeneous? Economically, culturally or politically? Why would it matter if 10% is black, 20% is Hispanic, 50% is White or whatever? Don’t all people get sick? Do these people vote differently? Because in Britain majority is white and british it means they could agree on national healthcare, but once you have blacks, asians, whites, middle eastern etc. you can’t? It seems rather dumb.

  21. Ray Andrews says

    BTW, where can I find the rules for text modification? I’d like to indent quotes, rather than use quotation marks, so how’s that done?

  22. Dan Addison says

    “What is striking about the rise and fall of civilizations is that societies pass through specific phases whose transformations signal decline. These are the transformations from simplicity to luxury.” (Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, 81-2)

  23. Out of Nowhere says

    “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” – why does this bring to mind gulags efficiently controlled by computers, receiving your daily dose of propaganda on your smartphone, living in a system of perfect totalitarian control? Can’t wait for this to come true…

    By the way, I can really recommend Dr. Niemietz’ book “Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies”. And I’d especially recommend it to anyone who wants to try it again.

  24. Yeppit Yeffen says

    Charles Eisenstein – The Ascent of Humanity PDF book part two

    How Paris Gave Rise to Cubism (and Picasso):
    Ambiguity and Fragmentation in Radical Innovation
    HOW CAN I ARGUE WITH YOUR DREAM???????????

    https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2014/01/technological-singularity-and-transhumanism-new-world-for-old/

    All spinning and turning, wherther in the microcosm or macrocosm, disparity is the nature for input and output between objects, which are the substance(s) for production.
    (po·lar·i·ty Virtual/Chaos-Real/Order vice-versa)

    Create a comic series & contrast it with capitalism!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCeRNpR09es
    12:36 PM

  25. DiamondLil says

    “Capitalism pursues A FORM of rationing in order to ensure profits,” while communism pursues ACTUAL rationing.

    The Venezuela that Chavez imagined, and Sanders admired, is not the Venezuela that exists today. But it is the Venezuela that Chavez and Maduro created. What are the chances that the luxury communism that Bastani imagines will be the same one that is created?

  26. X. Citoyen says

    Marxism has gone from an ersatz religion to a commodity. Like the Christian televangelists of the 80s, the Marxist web-evangelists of the 00s have realized how to monetize salvation. To judge by this review, the standards seem to slipping.

  27. Ron S says

    How would the transition that Bastani wants be accomplished?

    Can anyone think of any way other than massive government force? I can’t.

    Personally, even with a totalitarian state, I don’t believe his desired transition could be implemented. (Even if the necessary level of technology could be reached, which I doubt.

  28. Gregory Thomas Bogosian says

    The idea that automation will destroy capitalism is backwards. So long as there are workers, there is a chance for the workers to seize control of the means of production. But if capitalists don’t need workers anymore at all, then there really isn’t anyone to oppose capitalism. So what he calls “technological unemployment” isn’t capitalism losing. Its capitalism winning.

  29. A. Marotta says

    “[T]he idea that capitalism cannot cope with “extreme supply” is absurd. Visit any supermarket, and you will find hundreds of products that would once have been quite expensive, and which anyone can now purchase for a trivial sum.”

    The book’s author isn’t mistaken about the consequences of extreme supply and how businesses have created artificial scarcity to protect their margins. The “Disney vault” was a real phenomenon for decades, and it was intended to protect the profits of the old movies at the date of re-release. Likewise, the diamonds of the DeBeers company are being hoarded to protect their steep price. The majority of medicines on store shelves have expiration dates that mislead the consumer to discard the medicines before a certain date so that the more medicine will be purchased sooner. Does anyone notice how much of a challenge it is to find important computer software these days that is available to the consumer as a one-time purchase? That’s no accident. Consumers are being coerced to become subscribers who pay a percentage of their income to the software company every month for the rest of their lives. A decade ago, most software purchases were one-time purchases of physical disks. The used software was still salable. It’s going to become like it was decades ago when customers couldn’t actually own their own landline telephones. The parasitic behavior of the app makers won’t stop until new regulations are imposed as they were for AT&T.

  30. One of the great things about capitalism is that it decentralises power, by moving it into the hands of businesses, which are then at the mercy of their consumers. Communism basically centralises power in one place, which has been the defining feature of broken systems throughout history.

    As far as I can see, this “new” communism has the same old goal of centralising power and the consequences are predictable.

    So while new forms of communism and socialism are possible with new technologies, their possibility of succeeding in creating their utopia remains the same: non-existent.

  31. Harry Powell says

    The book is on Library Genesis. I’m sure Bastani would approve.

  32. Roger says

    Spot on: “The idea that cities can get rich by preventing money leaking out is so preposterous that it does not deserve a serious rebuttal.”

    The author’s Venezuela analysis is seriously flawed though, has no original insights, just quotes some communist or socialist morons with no mention of US sanctions. For those who care about regime change wars, including economic ones, his story is definitely lacking.

  33. The question arises: how do books like this get published, anyway? There are so many just plain blunders and failures of analysis evident in your description of its content that there’s hardly any need for rebuttal!

  34. The author claims that “socialism has already been tried more than two dozen times, and failed every time without exception“.
    Depends what you mean by socialism.
    For a long time Sweden was regarded as a socialist country, and in a sense it was. There was public assignment of many goods and services. Did it fail? Not really. Instead, growing prosperity diversified consumption patterns so that they were less susceptible to central allocation.
    In the 1960s and 70s France had a more or less planned economy, only it was “indicative“ planning instead of “imperative“ planning. Did it fail? Certainly not.
    Both these specimens of socialism were abandoned, not because they had failed, but because capital had grown more powerful than the state during the Keynesian capitalism phase between 1945 and 1975.
    Keynesianism itself was a very successful quasi-socialist experiment in which government established the ground rules for capitalist development. The stagflation of the 1970s was blamed on Keynesian statism and was seized on to justify reducing the state’s role in the economy under the slogan of monetarism, the predecessor of neoliberalism. But empirical research has revealed that stagflation was actually the long-drawn-out effect of the 1973 petroleum price hike as it worked its way through the economy. It wasn’t the fault of Keynesianism at all.
    If there hadn’t been an Arab oil boycott in 1973, Keynesianism would have been ditched on some other pretext, because the power of capital had grown so much that it was heading for a showdown with the state in any event.
    There are no general laws determining which parts of the economy should be run by the state and which by private business. That must be decided depending on the technical setup. But in practice it is not determined by technical considerations but by the relative strength of capital and government.

  35. ALAN WHITE says

    Venezuela know how well communism manages an economy built by capitalists. Have a look at China The Chinese communists knew better; they handed a big part of the economy over to private business, and the country boomed. Now they have rune out of money and will need to retrench.

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