Conversations on Political Economy

Capitalist: Capitalism provides for the most efficient allocation of resources, wealth creation and individual choice. It’s the best economic system we’ve got.

State Socialist: There are other values than efficiency, prosperity and choice. Capitalism tends toward oligarchy and monopoly. As industries concentrate and gain economies of scale, wealth creation is concentrated for the benefit of society’s elite, and non-elite individual choice declines, and over a long enough time period, with limited or no competition, resources are not allocated efficiently. State socialism solves these problems.

Capitalist: State socialism is inefficient. There are few incentives and options to create wealth, and it limits individual choice. State socialism tends toward dictatorships and state monopolies. When the state takes over an industry, it benefits elite government officials rather than society as a whole. Bureaucracy and corruption lead to a squandering of resources, and kills individual initiative.

Small Socialist: Small socialist enterprises — such as employee ownership, cooperatives, and collective ownership — solve both the problems of Capitalism and State Socialism at the cost of economies of scale. Decision-making is distributed across the industry or enterprise. Employees and/or customers are also owners and have incentives aligned with the business. What’s not to like?

Capitalist: Without economies of scale, small socialists remain small. Some industries cannot exist without economies of scale. In others, it is impossible to compete with capitalist or state enterprises without them. Small socialists will stay small, with all the poverty that entails. Capitalism solves this problem.

State Socialist: Small socialists also have the problem of capitalists, except it concentrates power into decision-makers hands. They, in-turn, have incentives to collude to extract benefits for themselves or for their industry at the expense of the enterprise or society as a whole. Good stewards and state ownership solves this problem.

[Continue, ad infinitum and adding in small capitalist, communist, anarchist, fascist, etc.]

Discussions of political economy are ultimately discussions of what you value and which system you believe is most likely to give it to you. See also: Revolution for One.

Joe Biden Profile

“Richard Ben Cramer wrote a great book about the 1988 presidential campaign, entitled “What It Takes: The Way to the White House.” It may be the best book about an American presidential campaign ever written. Mr. Cramer followed six candidates who ran that year — George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, Joe Biden, Dick Gephardt and Mike Dukakis. The Bush and Dole portraits are hands-down the best profiles of those two men that you will ever read. The book’s added value this time around is Cramer’s profile of Biden. You feel like you know him after you read it.”

—John Ellis, “Sunday Supplement!” News Items. August 9, 2020.

Cosmopolitan Values

“But over the past 60 years, college graduates have gone from being 4 percent of the electorate to being more like 35. Now, it’s actually possible — for the first time ever in human history — for political parties to openly embrace cosmopolitan values and win elections; certainly primary and municipal elections, maybe even national elections if you don’t push things too far or if you have a recession at your back. And so Democratic elites started campaigning on the things they’d always wanted to, but which had previously been too toxic. And so did center-left parties internationally.”

—Eric Levitz, “David Shor’s Unified Theory of American Politics.” New York Magazine. July 17, 2020

We Are Living in a Failed State

“This was the American landscape that lay open to the virus: in prosperous cities, a class of globally connected desk workers dependent on a class of precarious and invisible service workers; in the countryside, decaying communities in revolt against the modern world; on social media, mutual hatred and endless vituperation among different camps; in the economy, even with full employment, a large and growing gap between triumphant capital and beleaguered labor; in Washington, an empty government led by a con man and his intellectually bankrupt party; around the country, a mood of cynical exhaustion, with no vision of a shared identity or future.”

—George Packer, “We are living in a failed state.” The Atlantic. June 2020.

Summarizes the problems of the moment better than anything else I’ve seen. Required reading, particularly by anyone that identifies as Republican or Democrat.

Voting Isn’t Going to Solve Your Problems

“Every time you stay home, someone is making a decision about you, making decisions about the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food your kids eat, and how much money you bring home every two weeks. So, every time you sit out an election, every time you don’t show up because you think it doesn’t matter, someone else is happy you didn’t show up, so they can make that decision for you. Vote.”

-At the end of the video above.

Voting has a place. But, it’s a small one. There’s some measure of decision-making that goes into selecting a Representative, a Senator, or a President. But, let’s not pretend that selecting an elected official is the same as making decisions yourself. It isn’t.

Also, let’s not pretend the field isn’t rigged. Candidates are bad, representing a very narrow band of choice. Districts are gerrymandered. Election campaigns run on money, which mean moneyed interests have more say in who gets elected, more so than casting a ballot at the polls.

By all means, get out and vote. But, don’t expect voting to change much. If you want to change the world, you have to be out in it. Voting needs to go hand in hand with direct action, where you are directly making decisions that impact the world rather than selecting someone else to represent your interests.