Socialism Sucks

Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World

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A fun book which (somewhat surprisingly) was purchased by the Portsmouth Public Library. Author Robert A. Lawson is one of the co-authors of the Economic Freedom of the World (EFotW) report put out annually by the Fraser Institute. Benjamin Powell is an econ prof at Texas Tech. They are no fans of socialism. But they are fans of drinking and strip clubs. So they got the bright idea to (or near) various socialist utopias, and try to have some alcohol-fueled fun.

It turns out that's hard to do. The fun part, that is.

First, they dismiss Sweden, and the similar countries Bernie et. al. like to use as examples. They aren't free-market heaven, to be sure, but they regularly rank pretty high on the EFotW measurements. (Sweden is #35 out of the 162 countries scored.)

Countries considered:

  • Venezuela, dead last (#162) in EFotW. Worried about kidnappers, Bob and Ben don't get into the country itself, but visit a Columbian border town, where Venezuelans try to get goods that are impossible to buy in their own land.

  • Cuba (unranked at EFotW because of lack of data).

  • North Korea (also unranked at EFotW). Again (unsurprisingly) Bob and Ben just look across the border (from both China and South Korea).

  • China (#113) is cited as "fake socialism". Sorta-capitalism is combined with ruthless suppression of anything the rulers consider to be dangerous to their system.

  • Russia (#85) and Ukraine (#135): "hungover socialism". Two countries that can't seem to make the transition to freedom.

  • Georgia (#12) is a success story, however. Adopting some heavy market reforms helped, and even though it's still kind of poor, it's on a pretty decent growth path.

  • And finally, the good old USA (#5), or is that the USSA? Bob and Ben visit the July 2018 "Socialism Conference" held at the Chicago People's Collective Hotel of the Revolution Hyatt Regency. They are taken with how little socialism is discussed or defended; instead it's the usual left-wing array of issues: white privilege, immigration, feminism, gender, … All topics worthy of discussion, of course, but where's the socialism?

All in all, not a lot of surprises here, but the authors do a good job of reporting.

To the folks who gripe: that's not real socialism. Well, sorry, it is.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 3:23 PM EDT

Panic Attack

Young Radicals in the Age of Trump

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An excellent, readable book from Reason associate editor, Robby Soave. His goal is analysis of Young People Today (Robby is only barely older than many of the kiddos he reports on) and what the heck is their deal anyway?

To a rough first approximation, the youngsters on the left wing have fallen prey to the ideology of intersectionality. Everything is viewed on an oppressor vs. oppressed axis; but you get extra points for each checkbox you tick off: African-American, female, gay, transgender, disabled, Muslim, … About the only folks who don't score here are… well, folks like me: cis, white, male, Christian, etc. (I think people of Asian descent are considered "white" for oppressive purposes; Jews get lumped in with Christians, because Jehovah.)

Robby's is a less nuanced analysis than I saw in the Haidt/Lukianoff book The Coddling of the American Mind. But Robby goes out and actually talks to the people he's reporting on, and (like Haidt/Lukianoff) he's a bend-over-backwards guy, listening and trying to understand why the kids have suddenly gone nuts.

He visits various factions: the anti-Trump "resistance", including AntiFa, Black Lives Matter, the radical feminists, the LGBTQ activists. A common thread is intolerance, sometimes edging over into violence, toward the people on the other side.

Robby also visits with some less radical groups. The Democratic Socialists of America, for example; the Greens; the gun-grabbers. But also Turning Point USA (about whom Robby has some deserved criticism).

And finally, the alt-Right. Robby considers it to be a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Mos Eisley. It's hard to disagree, especially when their victim body count (Heather Heyer in Charlottesville) is probably higher than their lefty counterparts. But (again) the book lets them have their say.

Last Modified 2024-06-03 6:44 AM EDT


[Culture War]

Rand Paul is one of my two favorite current US Senators (the other being Ben Sasse). And I'm somewhat interested in the (usually dreadful) activism on American college campuses, especially at the University Near Here, where I used to study (long ago) and work (not so long ago). So I took the opportunity to attend the event hosted by the local chapter of Turning Point USA, featuring Charlie Kirk and Senator Paul.

One thing to get out of the way first: although the TPUSA event held last year at UNH was obstructed and disrupted by local social justice warriors, this event went extremely smoothly. One attendee shouted something (I didn't catch what) during the presentation, and that was it. There were no venue blockades, no shoutdown attempts, and even the negative questions (see below) were poised civilly.

Security was tight, though. You needed a ticket, IDs were checked, the UNH cops were in attendance. I ran into an ex-co-worker in line, a thorough progressive; she told me she was there as a "peacekeeper". I don't know how many others there were, or if the peacekeeper force was mustered by the University. Still, whatever measures were taken were effective.

The event was held in the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building (MUB); it's the largest meeting room in the building, and it was close to capacity, I would estimate about 600-700 attendees. Eyeballing the crowd, I estimated about 75% were students (or at least student-aged). And maybe 85% male.

A brief warmup: "Culture War" t-shirts were thrown to the crowd. A cheer was led: "When I say 'socialism', you say 'sucks'! Ready? Socialism SUCKS! Socialism SUCKS!…" And nearly all of the crowd seemed to join in. (I'm too old for such activities, even though I do think socialism sucks.)

The president of the UNH chapter of TPUSA started the presentation, welcoming us, pointing out the exits, thanking everyone involved in bringing off the event, and (most notably) reminding us that UNH was committed to civil discourse, and that people attempting to interfere with the event would be, um, asked/assisted to leave.

Then, after a razzle-dazzle video intro, the founder and Executive Director of TPUSA, Charlie Kirk, took the stage. He is a slick speaker, and he and TPUSA are in favor of good things: American exceptionalism, the Constitution, and free-market capitalism. Hey, me too. And (judging by applause and cheers) nearly all the crowd, too.

Charlie made reference to the Unfortunate Incident from earlier in the week reported by Breitbart where an earnest young lady destroyed a TPUSA display at the MUB and, when approached by TPUSA members, said “I hate you and I hope you die”.

Apparently, she was in the front row, and made her presence known. Charlie took it in stride, telling her: "Thanks for coming, and I hope you live."

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Then Senator Paul was brought on. His main theme was socialism, and he's against it. (He even has a new book on the topic, Amazon link at right.) He and Charlie had a Q&A session, Charlie pitching softball (and, I suspect, rehearsed) questions to the Senator, the Senator hitting them out of the park. Venezuela, Medicare for All, eat-the-rich taxation schemes, Syria, impeachment. (On Syria, Senator Paul gave about the best possible defense of Trump's Kurd sellout; I'm still convinced that however worthy Trump's goal, his implementation was a stupid bungle that made things worse.)

The floor was then opened to audience questioners, and they were mostly softballs too.

Senator Paul's reaction to Hillary's slander of Tulsi Gabbard? "Despicable."

He was also against Beto's proposal to yank tax-exempt status from religious institutions that don't bend the knee on gay marriage.

He was (maybe) open to allowing newspapers to band together to negotiate tougher terms with Google/Facebook et. al. when their content is scraped.

A few questions were not softballs, and they seemed to be directed mostly at Charlie. There was something about West Point. Some guy wanted to make a (maybe) white-nationalist "blood and soil" point about immigration. Somebody else wanted to make an anti-Israel point about the USS Liberty. (Which happened, I'm pretty sure, before Charlie was born.) Charlie's replies to such questions were curt, polite, and dismissive.

Bottom line: Coming in, I thought the "Culture War" title on this event was needlessly provocative. I'm trying to be more of an Arthur C. Brooks/Ben Sasse love-your-enemies civil-discourse kind of guy.

And, despite the title, that's pretty much what this event was. Good. But they should have come up with a better title.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 3:23 PM EDT