Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Maybe Communism Really Is Dead

Guest-blogging over at Andrew Sullivan's, Bruce Bartlett (whose book on Bush I quite enjoyed), links to an appraisal of the economic thinking at the Kos Kids Konvention by his "old college chum" Max Sawicky, leftist economist at the union-funded "Economic Policy Institute:"

What sort of economic policy was flogged at Yearly Kos? I'd like to know. It didn't look promising for what any knowledgable person would call progressive policy.

Speakers included Austan Goolsbee, an eminent, very smart professor at the University of Chicago who advises Obama. I would say AG is not a person of the left, no disrespect intended. They also had Hale Stewart, a.k.a. "Bondad," a Kos front-age regular, who is in financial services. HS is a fine fellow, also not much on the left. Then there was Gene Sperling, former Clinton/Rubin economics apparatchnik. Robert Shapiro, former Clinton DoC appointee and DLC/PPI honcho. Some French dude I never heard of.

I find myself agreeing (again) with Bruce Bartlett here:

Max's point is that these guys may be liberal by conventional political definitions, but they are hardly men of the left. He finds this dispiriting; I find it reassuring.

Since there is about a 94% chance that the next President Of The United States of America will be a Democrat, it is indeed reassuring that he or she won't be advised by a true Person of the Left.

There is a good reason for that. What does it mean to be a "Person of the Left"?

The left had its run from 1850 until about, say, 1991. While there were all sorts of differences among leftists, some of which might even matter to a person not immersed in the intricacies of leftist politics, I think it's fair to say that the political Left had two core elements. The first was a radical critique of capitalism and the market economy. They thought that Capitalism was Evil with a capital E -- it made the poor worse off, led to exploitation and a whole host of other evils. Just to be clear, they didn't think that the market economy had imperfections or a few little problems -- they thought it was rotten to the core.

The second element was that they had something to replace capitalism with. Details varied -- greatly! -- but it was some form of socialism. So the idea was that we should have a full-bore centrally-planned economy or live in communitarian villages, or have some form of left-anarchy. Something different than an economy based on private property and market exchnages. This, we were told, would make us all better off. (Well, except for the kulaks, and they got what they deserved anyway.) And, just to be clear, ridiculous as it now seems, one of the key claims was that socialism would do a better job of delivering the goods than capitalism. When Khruschev and Nixon faced off in the impromptu kitchen debate, Kruschev didn't say "we will be poorer but happier." No, he said they would surpass the United States and wave goodbye.

In 1935, a serious, intelligent, rational, informed, humane individual could believe these things. That's simply not possible today. The market economy delivers the goods. Attempts to replace it with Something Radically Better have uniformly failed. Socialism proved itself to be one of the Worst Ideas Ever, responsible for the death of somewhere between 50 and 150 million people in the 20th Century.

Yes, there are a few holdouts who still believe in the radical critique of capitalism and who yearn to replace it with something radically better -- aging hippies, red-diaper babies who cannot admit their parents were evil, black-clad anarchists depressed from Seattle's cloudy weather, morally retarded British science fiction writers, Women's Studies professors at elite universities, and the like. But they are the intellectual equivalents of those Japanese troops hiding out on isolated islands who don't realize the war is long-lost. No longer able to plausibly argue that socialism will do a better job of producing the goods, today's leftist are stuck arguing things like "you have too many choices in the grocery store and that makes you unhappy." Yeah, that's sure going to be winner among those working classes.

Unlike Aggrieved People's Studies professors, economists have to have some passing contact with reality. It is therefore not particularly surprising that even those who advise Democrats have realized that an economy based upon private property and market exchange is basically a Good Thing.

The does not mean, of course, that all questions have been decided. Reasonable people can still disagree about the size and scope of proper regulations governing the market, the size and scope of any government interventions designed to help those less well-off, and the like. I suspect that all of the advisors for Democratic presidential candidates favor more government regulation than I do. But they aren't "people of the left" in the sense that they seek to throw out capitalism and replace it with Something Better. And, like Bruce Bartlett, I think that's a good thing.

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