All posts filed under: Economics

Don’t Get Fooled Again: The Continuing Necessity of Anti-Communism

Socialism is having an unprecedented moment in America: opinion polls show its increasing popularity, especially among youths; membership in the Democratic Socialists of America continues to swell; mainstream publications, such as the Washington Post, publish pieces arguing that it is time to give socialism a try; and academics articulate the merits of taking an anti-anti-communist stance. The root cause of each is the same: all people in all times are concerned with flourishing to the greatest extent possible and in darker times the ever-optimistic views of socialism’s proponents have an attractive force not unlike that of the flame to the moth. As history has shown, this attraction is equally dangerous. Most contemporary socialists—such as Kristen R. Ghodsee and Scott Sehon, in defense of their anti-anti-communism position—do not dismiss the historical crimes of communist states and recognize that “states governed under communist ideology did many bad things.” Instead, they seek to defend Marxist socialism against the charge that it is inherently authoritarian, meaning that all such experiments “will always and inevitably end with the gulag,” and thereby to …

A New Kind of Economy—An Interview with Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang is a 43-year-old American entrepreneur who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020. His campaign focuses on solving the problem of job losses to automation—an issue many politicians seem happy to ignore. Starting right now, Yang wants to create a whole new kind of economy from the ground up, in which automation is transformed from a threat into the foundation for widespread human flourishing. Briefly, his policy proposals include implementing a form of Universal Basic Income (also known as UBI, or what he calls the “Freedom Dividend”), universal healthcare, a “digital social currency,” and a redefinition of GDP that more accurately reflect the health of the nation. If this sounds like socialism then, according to Yang, your thinking about the economy might be antiquated. He contends that the capitalism/socialism spectrum is no longer relevant or useful if we take an honest look at the modern world. The following is a transcription of my phone conversation with Andrew Yang, lightly edited for length and clarity. *     *     * Peter …

Democratic Socialism is a Scam

When I attended a rally with my family in Little Havana for then-Senator Barack Obama in 2007, our old neighborhood greeted both us and the future 44th president as if we were traitors. Older, conservative protestors yelled “Comunistas!” at us from across the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. We brushed off the attacks because we knew they came from understandably traumatized exiles and, to paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, as Cuban Americans, we know socialism when we see it. Obama was no socialist. In fact, his message resonated with us, in part, because of his emphasis on helping those who were struggling by giving them a hand up, rather than a hand out—that was our story. My mom came to this country shortly before I was born and worked as a social worker while she studied English. The pay wasn’t great, and she sometimes had to work a second job, but the hours were flexible and she had good healthcare benefits for our family. After 15 years, she was able to save enough money …

Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap

There is arguably no racial disparity more striking than the wealth gap. While the median white household earns just 65 percent more income than its black counterpart, its net worth is fully ten times as high. And, unlike income, which individuals earn in their own lifetimes, wealth accrues over generations, and whites are more than three times as likely as blacks to inherit money from their families. In the public debate on racial inequality, the wealth gap is among the sharpest arrows in the progressive quiver. When conservative commentators argue that America is a meritocracy, or that blacks lag due to cultural factors, progressives can retaliate with a single statistic that seems to prove the reality of white privilege beyond the possibility of doubt. But statistics don’t interpret themselves, and the wealth gap is no exception. A recent wave of scholarship—including Mehrsa Baradaran’s The Color of Money, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations”—has converged on the interpretation that the wealth gap is caused by two factors: slavery and …

The Limits of Expertise

“People are sick of experts.” These infamous and much-derided words uttered by UK Conservative parliamentarian Michael Gove express a sentiment with which we are now probably all familiar. It has come to represent a sign of the times—either an indictment or a celebration (depending on one’s political point of view) of our current age. Certainly, the disdain for expertise and its promised consequences have been highly alarming for many people. They are woven through various controversial and destabilising phenomena from Trump, to Brexit, to fake news, to the generally ‘anti-elitist’ tone that characterises populist politics and much contemporary discourse. And this attitude stands in stark contrast to the unspoken but assumed Obama-era doctrine of “let the experts figure it out”; an idea that had a palpable End of History feeling about it, and that makes this abrupt reversion to ignorance all the more startling. The majority of educated people are fairly unequivocal in their belief that this rebound is a bad thing, and as such many influential voices—Quillette‘s included—have been doing their best to restore …

Growing Up in a Progressive Utopia

I grew up in one of the most progressive societies in the history of humanity. The gap between the rich and poor was tiny compared to the current gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ we find across much of the West. Access to education was universal and students were paid to study and offered free accommodation. Healthcare was available to all and free at the point of use. Racial tensions were non-existent, with hundreds of different ethnic groups living side by side in harmony under the mantra of ‘Friendship of the Peoples.’ Women’s equality was at the very heart of Government policy. According to the prevailing ideology “all forms of inequality were to be erased through the abolition of class structures and the shaping of an egalitarian society based on the fair distribution of resources among the people.” You are probably wondering whether the idyllic nation from which I hail is Sweden or Iceland. It was the Soviet Union. In modern Britain the top 10 percent earn 24 times as much as the bottom 10 …

Two Arguments for Inequality

Social inequality is amongst the most contentious and prominent social issues in the twenty-first century. After declining significantly in the mid-twentieth century, inequality has now reached stark levels. A recent Credit Suisse report indicated that the globe’s richest 1 percent are on track to own half of the world’s wealth. In November 2017, Forbes reported that the three wealthiest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 160 million. The disparity between those who have a great deal, and those with much less, has grown so stark that in his bestselling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century economist Thomas Piketty warned that we might be entering a new “Gilded Age.” It would be driven by a global class of individuals who enjoy vast inherited wealth, demonstrate little allegiance to the nation state and its tax laws, and commit themselves to further entrenching their social power. These prompts raise the question of what can possibly justify such stark inequities; especially in a global context where the World Bank estimates that in 2013 roughly 767 million individuals lived on …

Does Religion Impede Economic Development?

In the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses that propelled the Protestant Reformation, it is timely to recall that the shockwaves were not just confined to Christian doctrinal matters but were central to the rise of industrial capitalism that transformed the whole world. This thesis was set out in the most famous link between religion/ethics and economic development by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published in 1904. I should like to make the claim that it has relevance in the present day in regard to the development of the Global South. In the introductory chapter, Weber makes some forceful observations that are of considerable importance to the goal of global development: “Only in the West does science exist at a stage of development which we recognize today as valid … A rational chemistry has been absent from all areas of culture except the West … [A] rational, systematic, and specialized pursuit of science, with trained and specialized personnel, has only existed in the West in a sense at all approaching its …

Crown and Consternation

A UK survey conducted in 2014 found that, in the previous year, only 1 in 50 actors had made more than £20,000 (the UK mean income was £29,172). 46 percent of actors made less than £1,000, and a further 30 percent only made between £1000 and £5000. With this context in mind, consider the outrage produced by the recent revelation that the £40,000 Claire Foy received for every episode of The Crown in which she appeared was less than the amount paid to her male co-star, Matt Smith. Foy played Queen Elizabeth in the hugely successful Netflix drama, and Smith played the Duke of Edinburgh. Apparently, the large sums involved do not affect the principle at issue. And that principle is important. Confusingly, however, it has been impossible to discern what this principle actually is. A variety of alternatives have been offered, but none of them makes much sense. For example, Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, by now well known for her views on equal pay, tweeted the following: This is beyond parody. She played the most powerful woman in the …

What Has Capitalism Ever Done For Us?

When bemoaning the evils of capitalism, often from the soapbox of internet-connected smartphones or laptops, opponents of the free market are wont to wax lyrical about increasing income inequality. The rich are richer than ever before, because they hog obscene amounts of wealth that could be put to better use by plebs who are slaves to ‘the man,’ oppressed under the obligation that they toil endlessly for their wage. Like Reggie in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, they demand to know: “What has capitalism ever done for us?” In the mouth of the anti-capitalist activist, ‘capitalism’ has become a dirty word. It conjures images of bloated, greedy, rich one-percenters reclining behind piles of cash as they exploit their low paid workers, hoarding profits borne of the ethic of consumerism, which manifests itself in millions of brainwashed souls mindlessly handing over their meagre earnings for the instant gratification that comes from buying the next unneeded gizmo. Such a dreary summation sells capitalism short. Capital itself is nothing more than privately owned money or assets used …