Home News Seven Things Everyone (Especially Americans) Should Know About 21st Century Political Economy

Seven Things Everyone (Especially Americans) Should Know About 21st Century Political Economy

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We Have the Formula for Human Prosperity. Americans Just Don’t Want to Apply it.

There’s probably nothing, and I mean nothing, more bizarre, foolish, and inane in all the world today than American political discourse. A set of pundits — 100% white elites, of course — who can barely handle discussing college level American style liberalism versus conservatism suddenly find themselves having to do justice to socialism, Marxism, fascism, Nazism, authoritarianism, kleptocracy, and more. They’re so badly out of their depth it’d be a little like asking Tucker Carlson to defend a PhD thesis on the Hegelian dialectics of fake news. The result is a discourse full of every kind of egregious, sophomoric, half-witted, brain-dead straw-man, fallacy, error, and just downright ignorance known to humankind.

Let’s clear some of that up, shall we? I’m going to start simple, and build up slowly to what I think are three crucial points — that nobody, really, in American discourse seems the slightest bit aware of, concerned with, or even able to understand. So skip ahead if you want the good stuff.

Nobody’s bringing full socialism anywhere, especially America. Nobody — except maybe fringe leftists — is discussing 100% state ownership and central planning. Yet, just the other day, I read three articles arguing vehemently against just such a flaming straw man (all by panicked white dudes). Relax, Tucker. No one’s coming to communalize your Ford F-150.

“Socialism” doesn’t mean everything in the economy is socialized. In the same way as when I say “capitalism”, it doesn’t mean “every single thing in the economy or society is privately owned, run for profit, and capitalized by joint-stock companies, right down to people” — just that some things are — so “socialism” doesn’t mean what Americans equate it to: every last thing being state owned and centrally planned. Americans have forgotten that the 100% part is “totalitarianism”. There are many kinds of economies that are part socialism, part capitalism, and part neither. “Socialism” doesn’t even mean “some central planning and state ownership”, really. How can that be?

“State ownership” and “central planning” are ideas from 1950s economics, my friends — and anyone that still uses them is still fighting a Cold War that both American and Russia ended up losing. You should ask them what century it is now. What do you think every corporation in the world does? Central planning. Who do you think owns things that are owned by “the state”? In a democracy, you do. So these terms — which were created in the Cold War era — hide more than they reveal and illuminate. The idea that markets will ever exist without “central planning” is impossible, pure fiction. As is the idea that everything in a democracy can ever be purely “privately” owned — from parks to hospitals to schools. These stone age ideas are keeping Americans in the dark.

21st century “socialism” is made of genuinely democratic mechanisms of governance, ownership, and purpose, which are far more sophisticated, flexible, and innovative than capitalism’s by now — it’s not the Politburo, and this isn’t 1962. “Socialism” today looks like this: public goods like healthcare, education, and media are often best structured as corporations which are publicly owned by communities, not “shareholders”, which maximize real human benefits, not just “financial profits” — whose boards consist not just of “owners”, which end up being hedge fund managers, mostly, but living members of the communities they serve. The NHS is set up as a series of interlinked trusts. Who owns them? Communities do, under a type of public corporate ownership. If you don’t think your HMO “plans”, just as the NHS does, you’re living in fantasyland. The difference is that your HMO plans for its bottom line, and couldn’t care less whether or not you live or die — but the NHS plans to transform people’s health, and its board members, who aren’t just tuned-out corporate exeuctives ordering another yacht on their iPhones, but people from all walks of life, govern it. In the same way, in Germany, union members sit on company boards. The examples are endless.

These are historic ideas and great innovations Europeans have pioneered — which Americans are totally unaware of. They make up what American thought all too casually, without often really understanding it, call “social democracy” — supposing that it’s something from the 1890s, or 1960s. It’s not. It has evolved to become a far more sophisticated, powerful, flexible, and stable set of institutions and systems than capitalism, which stopped evolving long ago — more so if, that is, how well people live is what you care about, not just how rich corporations get.

Social democracy has created the most successful societies in all of human history, period, full stop. By a very, very long way. With record speed. Whenever American pundits talk about socialism, they talk about Venezuela. Chill out, Nixon. Nobody’s suggesting America turn into Venezuela. Instead, something more like, say Spain. Until 1975, Spain was a broken country — a military dictatorship. Today, it’s more vastly successful than America in every conceivable way, at least for human beings. Spaniards live five years longer, they’re happier, they’re not suicidally depressed, they have better relationships, they have more leisure time, their incomes haven’t flatlined for decades, they retire in peace, and generally, all that makes them pretty chilled out, content, warm, kind people. Do you see what a remarkable, stunning achievement that is in just forty years? That’s not even a single human lifetime. History’s never really seen anything like the power of social democracy.

Social democracy is the most powerful, stable, and efficient engine of human progress we know of. Much, much more so than capitalism. It’s like cold fusion compared to an internal combustion engine. America? Life is going backwards — at record speed. Life expectancy falling by a year — every year. Middle class imploding. Young people who can’t afford to have families, kids, homes. Old people living in their cars and working at Walmart. If you buy the line that “capitalism’s the greatest engine of progress we know of!”, at this point, my friend, grin, because you are a fool. The grim reality of modern day America is vivid proof that it’s more like a decrepit, smoke-belching engine that regularly catches fire, and when it does, it burns the whole neighborhood down.

(No, the world didn’t rise because of “capitalism” — don’t be ridiculous. The world rose because the World Bank and UN among other international bodies — socialism! — deliberately targeted reductions in poverty, mortality, and so forth, and achieved them, by investing in things like schools, hospitals, vaccination, pipes, and sewers. Not by building Walmarts.)

Scandinavia. Canada. Europe. Social democracy, wherever it’s been tried, in mature societies, has been not just a stunning success — but history’s greatest socioeconomic success, ever, period, almost overnight. It’s something as transformative as the discovery of antibiotics — but multiplied by orders of magnitude. American pundits can’t bear to talk about it, probably because their bloated, swollen egos would go “pop!”, and so would their paychecks. Yet the simple fact is this. People live the longest, happiest, richest, safest lives they have ever lived, period, full stop, in the history of the world, under social democracy. By a long, long way.

And that’s in just a few decades. It has a great deal to do with social democracy synthesizing the best of both capitalism and socialism, but this essay’s too long by now. Unfortunately for Europeans, America’s main exports now are hate, ignorance, and spite, so many Europeans are buying into American myths that backwards is better. It’s not. Let me put that to you another way.

We have the formula for human prosperity. America just doesn’t want to apply it. I won’t say that Americans are dumb — but they’re sure not being very smart. If you had, before you, something like the magic formula that societies had been looking for centuries — wouldn’t you use it? Not Americans. Oh no. Anything but that. After all, then the most exceptional and special and wonderful country in all the world would have to admit…maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it never needed to be, at all. Maybe no one does. Just a place of humility, empathy, courage, grace, and truth. All the qualities of adulthood. Am I being mean? Oh no, Umair called us names. Sorry guys. Time to grow up.

What’s America really doing these days? It’s busy not learning a thing from history, the world, or reality. Which, at this point, seems to about all it’s capable of. But I guess that part’s up to you.

Umair
 August 2018

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