Monday, October 09, 2006

Encounter with Marxism

There is a gentleman out there for whom Mr. Webster, The Monarchist, and I hold in an esteem that few can match; and those that manage to usually need an oxygen tank and a sherpa. His name is Michael Hargis, and he has intimated to us that he has something to share with "you people" as our second guest writer. So, without further ado, here is Mr. Hargis to ... lay down some knowledge.

A few weeks ago I met a socialist. I don't mean an American-style liberal; I'm talking about a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool True Believer. This guy could quote Marx, Hegel, and Marcuse with the same facility which my hosts here quote the Founding Fathers. I was very excited and tried to engage him in debate about human nature and the moral superiority of liberty, but he was mostly interested in looking down his nose at me. I was unable to find any common ground with him whatsoever. My idea of liberty was nothing but a form of slavery to him; his notions of a scientifically planned society and economy were silliness and wishful thinking to me. I did gain some insight into how Marxism attracts followers, however, particularly the type of followers it attracts.

My socialist friend is an elitist, which may strike some as odd in light of the fact that Marxism is an anti-elitist philosophy, at least on its face. He isn't a social elite (Kennedy, Rockefeller), nor is he an economic elite (Gates, Soros), but rather an intellectual elite. To accept and believe in the idea that society can be "scientifically" planned in such a way as to benefit everyone, and even change human nature, requires a monstrous ego and an absolute faith in the human intellect. Marxism thus appeals to those who think they're smarter than the rest of us. Here's another little ray of light into Marxist thinking: My friend said (I paraphrase here) "Of course I think the evolution from feudalism to capitalism was a good thing. I just don't think the revolution is over." This was in response to my observation that socialist/communist societies in the 20th century have largely been economic failures, especially compared with countries that have been closer to the capitalism end of the economic spectrum. In other words, these actual failures aren't proof of any sort of theoretical failure. They are only imperfect first attempts. Think about that for a minute. If consistent failure can be dismissed by saying, "Oh, they just didn't do it right," then the socialist can never be proven wrong. Thomas Edison made thousands of unsuccessful attempts to create a light bulb before he hit upon the right combination of elements. Rather than consider these failures, he instead said that he'd learned thousands of different ways in which it wouldn't work. Marxists think exactly the same way. For these True Believers, hope always lies in the future.

In closing, allow me to direct your attention to Hong Kong. After World War II, Great Britain assigned John Cowperthwaite to direct Hong Kong's miserable financial affairs. He was so committed to a policy of non-interference that he refused to collect economic statistics for fear that they would provide incentive to meddle in private affairs. The result of this non-interference was that within a few decades Hong Kong was richer and freer by far than her colonizer, Great Britain. Hong Kong's current leader, Donald Tsang, has vowed to continue this policy, except in those areas where "there are obvious imperfections in the operation of the market mechanism."

Raise your glass to Hong Kong, because it will never be the same. There are True Believers everywhere, and for them the revolution is defintely not over.

Michael Hargis

19 comments:

The Monarchist said...

Samuel,

Thanks for posting this. Mr. Hargis is one of those special people you're lucky if you get a chance to meet.

I know that I've probably said it before in this space, but it bears repeating: for an honest, even stark look at American leftism, I encourage people to check out Whittaker Chamber's book, Witness. You'll never be the same.

-AH

Daniel Webster said...

Lucky to meet him indeed, Mr. Hamilton. But we seem to have been blessed with a double measure of luck in this case.

One thing ya gotta wonder about a story like that....is how'd ya keep from killin' the guy? LOL

But you know what they say, Hargis: "socialism is the best form of government out there, if it'd work."

I'm paraphrasing an individual who enjoys the fruits of his self-styled capitalistic endeavors, ummm, because he can, of course. I guess he just don't see where others benefit from it as he does. Or maybe his success, being as it is - greater than some, lesser than others - he figures that if we could convince everyone to climb onboard and cast his/her lot into one big government pot where it could then be redistributed equally, we could all enjoy equally happy, productive, and fruitful lives...in compliance with the Declaration's 'all men have an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness' line I guess.

Or how about this'n....

"A certain amount of competition is good, but..." You get the picture.

I have told this individual that he oughta give me half the fruits of his labor in return for a fraction of (pick one) the exertions and risks (mental, physical, and otherwise) it took him to earn it. But he seems to think I oughta be willing to lay as much on the line as he does if I care to enjoy his level of success.

I guess he ain't one of them "dyed-in-wool True Believers" like your friend, eh? ;)

Call Me Mom said...

Am I imagining things or does it seem like those who endorse socialism all seem to think that THEY are going to be the ones who get to decide how everything will be distributed? That may be the whole point and the greatest flaw all in one.
I wonder if your friend thinks such a society would be more successful if run entirely by computers to avoid the kinds of abuses that those systems traditionally fall prey to. But then, of course there's still the problem of who gets to write and maintain the programs.

JWales said...

Well done Mr.Hargis.

I was in Germany back in the 80's and a friend and I went to the birthplace of Karl Marx to pay homage (NOT!). He took a picture of me standing next to the placard with Marx's likeness and blurb, I had my "USA Freedom" shirt on to offset the placard, kind of a cool picture (guess you had to be there).

Maybe your friend would like the picture. LOL!!

J

ol' shep said...

That's precisely the case, Mom. If America were to become an example of Marx's classless society, we'd still have to decide who gets the beach house and the new Jaguar, and who gets the double-wide and the used Chevy.

Marc with a C said...

You're going to have to forgive me for saying this, but I don't think this critique of Socialism by Mr. Hargis is either particularly erudite or effective. I shall lay my points down numerically for ease of response (although I have no desire to engage in an online debate about the benefits of Capitlaism vs. Socialism. Such are exercises in monotony and tedium matched only by watching golf on the television).

1) Critique One: The Nature of the marxist.

Hargis makes a number of snide comments regarding his opponent which are both unprofessional and distract from the topic at hand. If he wishes to call his Marxist an elitist, that is his prerogative. However, calling him an intellectual elitist while at the same ignoring his own rather elite views and classical education (viz. "This guy could quote Marx, Hegel, and Marcuse with the same facility which my hosts here quote the Founding Fathers.") strikes me as somewhat illogical. If Hargis and the Marxist wished to play a game of identity politics, they would both lose.

2) Critique of the outcome: Judging by the statement of Hargis to the effect that "I was unable to find any common ground with him whatsoever" and further discourse on the complete lack of alignment between views, the portrayal of the Marxist as an academic elitist comes off rather hollow and resentful. It is almost as if Hargis seems to feel that because of his inability to convince the Marxist of the superiority of Capitalism, he is forced to characterize the Marxist as somehow unwilling to listen to "reason." This may certainly be true, but it is irrelevant to the meat of the arguement.

3) Characterization of "ego": Hargis makes a value judgement on the Marxists views and portrays them as egomaniacal. Again, this is more misdirection. While Hargis may find the idea of a scientifically planned economic community based on ideological grounds a manifestation of egomania, it is no more so that any other ideological position. One might just as well say something along the lines of "The very idea of a laissez-faire capitalist system exemplified by a pure meritocracy and governed by abstract notions of human self-interest is naive at best, and ego-maniacal social Darwinism at its worst."

In other words, when dealing with issues of ideology, accusing a particular position of excessive egoism is rather tedious and little more than an ad hominem.

4) Hargis' failure to establish baselines: With regards to the merits of Socialism versus Capitalism, Hargis remains rather frustrating (or safely?) vague. While his statement that "socialist/communist societies in the 20th century have largely been economic failures, especially compared with countries that have been closer to the capitalism end of the economic spectrum," this is certainly true if he considers socialistic/communistic countries to include the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and the like.

However, this is something of a clouded analysis. The world's largest economies (if that is the measure of success you wish to use, as Hargis seems to do) are the United States, followed by Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. While one could argue wether or not the United Kingdom belongs in the same category as the other nations with regards to planned economies, it is important to note that the top 5 economies in the world (with the exception of the United States) are all characterized by a relatively high level of government involvement and central planning (at least when compared to the prevailing Libertarian ideal).

Conversely, "free" economies with the exception of China (which is in and of itself a rather peculiar case) do not break in until one gets to Mexico (the 9th spot in 2003), Brazil (11th), India (12th), and Taiwan and Argentina (17th and 18th), with the remaining slots occupied by much more centrally planned economies such as Italy and the Netherlands (7 and 14, respectively).

5) Hong Kong: Hong Kong is an excellent example of a free economy and is arugably the most unrestricted economy in the world. It is important to note, however, that this wealth is due primarily to outside factors beyond HK's control (proximity to China, Japan, Taiwan, etc) and its unique location as a tiny boutique nation, such as Singapore and Monaco, both of which have a relatively high level of government involvment. While such an experiment in free market capitalism is certainly successful on the micro scale, using this as a justification for capitalism on a global scale makes no more sense than using the self-governing community of Freetown Christiania or the Swiss Cantons as an ideal, exclusionist model upon which ones entire ideology may be based.

In short, while I find Hargis' piece interesting, I can't say it is particularly engrossing or convincing. Essentially, it boils down to a story of an encounter between Hargis and a namless, faceless Marxist, the conversation which ensued, a general critique of Marxist philosophy devoid of substance, and a reference to Hong Kong as an example of the superiority of laissez-faire capitalism, all repeated in the safety and confidence of a friendly echo-chamber of like-minded individuals. In short, very ho-hum and hardly deserving of the laurels tossed at his feet.

The Monarchist said...

Marc,

Thank goodness for your disclaimer! For someone who finds the piece "tedious" and who doesn't wish to engage in an online debate, you sure put some time into your response. Bravo for being such a smart guy.

Can't speak for the other comments, but I simply noted that I happen to admire Mr. Hargis personally. If that's tossing laurels at his feet, so be it. I think the point of his post was just that - it was a story, not a term paper.

If the spirit so moves you, kind Sir, perhaps you can enlighten us on the subject.

-AH

P.S. And for the record, one might look back at Nazi Germany and see that it had one of the largest economies in the world at the time, so I'm unimpressed with the statistics. I think if you re-read it, Mr. Hargis states that he was interested in discussing the moral superiority of Liberty. Is that a place where we can discuss our differences - the moral superiority of Liberty?

Daniel Webster said...

Hey, Marc!

First, let me say, some folks literally LIVE....for watching golf on the television, if you catch my drift. ;)

Second...

Let me be the first to extend to you a warm welcome to the AFB!

From a balanced view of the subject, and since we live for balance around here - governmental and otherwise - I gotta say that you captured (and held) my attention throughout. And that I, for one, would be delighted if you'd visit us again with more of your civil insight.

I will level one objection, however...

Mr. Hargis, regardless of what you think of his piece, or of his relation of story, has earned the respect of the contributers here over a fairly lengthy period of time, and for numerous reasons unbenounced to the readership. He was asked, by the three of us, to put something together in the way of a guest contribution to this blog. He graciously accepted the invitation, and we would be less than gracious hosts were we to ignore certain aspects of your critique which seem rather...presumptuous, to wit...

The laurels tossed at his feet have about as much to do with this particular piece, as this particular piece has to do with the accolades he has earned and is deserving of these contributers. While we may very well be just a buncha backwoods economic-know-nothings, one thing we are very adept at recognizing, we flatter ourselves, is real character. And this, first and foremost, is that which has earned and secured to Mr. Hargis, his place in our respects.

Elsewise, we have no beef with someone offering a different perspective. In fact, we invite and encourage it. There being no greater truth to our minds than that like-minded individuals collected, tend to gorge themselves to the point of bursting in like-mindedness.

As for everything else, Mr. Hargis is capable enough to speak in his own defense.

Once again, Welcome!

Michael Hargis said...

First of all, thanks for the kind words Webster. I'm blushing to the point of wishing I was outside or something. Anyway, I appreciate it.

Marc, I'll take your critiques one at a time.

1) It is not snide to call an elitist philosophy elitist.

2) I was not attempting to persuade my socialist friend of anything in particular. We weren't having an argument. It was more of a failed attempt (on my part) to draw him into a discussion of human nature and the nature of liberty. We could not agree on anything that would constitute a basis for the discussion. Our definitions of liberty were as different as our assessments of human nature.

3) I believe people are better off when they can keep the money they earn and pursue their own interests. My socialist friend believes that someone, or some group of people, are smart enough to design a system where everyone gets what they need, and gives what they should. Who has the bigger ego?

4) Start with a list of nations ranked in order of economic freedom, with the freest being first. Compare that to a list of nations ranked in order of average life span, with the longest lived being first. Then compare it to a list of nations ranked in order of infant mortality rate, with the lowest rate being first. For the most part you'll be looking at the same list.

5) Hong Kong's wealth is due to its free economy. They have to import water for goodness sakes!

If you have anything to offer, Marc, in the way of rebuttal to my libertarian views, please do so.

Marc with a C said...

Well, then, I accept you challenge on number 4 and your desire to meet evidence in rebuttal to your libertarian views. Here is a quick and dirty comparison of countries based on their Quality of Life ranking by the Economist Magazine in 2005 (http://www.economist.com/theworldin/international/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3372495&d=2005) compared with the Cato Institute's Ranking of countries by economic freedom (http://www.cato.org/pubs/efw/).

First, countries by Economic Freedom

1) Hong Kong (18th QoL)
2) Singapore (11th QoL)
3) New Zealand (15th QoL)
3) Switzerland (2nd QoL)
3) United States (13th QoL)
6) United Kingdom (29th QoL)
7) Canada (14th QoL)
8) Ireland (1st QoL)
9) Australia (6th QoL)
9) Estonia (68th QoL)
9) Luxemburg (4th QoL)
9) United Arab Emirates (69th QoL)

Next, countries ranked by Quality of life:

1) Ireland (8th Economically)
2) Switzerland (3rd Economically)
3) Norway (24th Economically)
4) Luxemburg (9th Economically)
5) Sweden (24th Economically)
6) Australia (9th Economically)
7) Iceland (13th Economically)
8) Italy (54th Economically)
9) Demark (13th Economically)
10) Spain (30th Economically)

Finally, a comparison of the closest vs. furthest matches between the two:

Closest Matches

1) Switzerland (2nd on QoL, 3rd on Economic)
2) Ireland (1st on QoL, 8th on Economic)
3) Australia (6th on QoL, 9th Economic)
4) Luxemburg (4th on QoL, 9th on Economic)

Furthest apart:
1) Norway (3rd on QoL, 24th Economic)
2) Sweden (5th on QoL, 24th Economic)
3) Spain (10th on QoL, 30th Economic)
4) Italy (8th on QoL, 54th Economic)
5) Estonia (68th on QoL, 9th on Economic)
6) United Arab Emirates (69th on QoL, 9th on Economic)

Now, It's been a long time since I took a Social Statistics course and the lists do not match up perfectly due to a number of ties in the Economic Freedom list, but I'm willing to bet that a detailed mathematical analysis and regression survery would find a very low (if any) association between a country's ranking in terms of economic freedom and a country's ranking in terms of quality of life, and that a regression model charting such developments would fail to project a tight correlation between the two factors.

This is of course leaving aside such trivialities as the fact that most if not all of the closest matches enjoy such benefits as Universal Health Care and about half have an estate tax, both contnual targets of American Libertarians.

Regards.

The Monarchist said...

Marc,

Oh dear, where do I begin?

Suppose I say Chicago is a great sports town. I produce the following independently compiled lists.

Great cities for football:
1. Chicago
2. Pittsburgh
3. Kansas City
4-29. So on, etc.
30. Green Bay

Then I produce another list.

Top Cities for hockey
1. Dallas
2. Edmonton
3. New Jersey
And so on...
20. Chicago

Comparing the two lists and concluding that Chicago isn't a great sports town because of the arbitrary rankings of disconnected lists (say one is prepared by the Chicago Tribune and the other by the Dallas Morning News) isn't a valid conclusion. In fact, I re-read your comment and I can't find a conclusion anywhere.

I haven't looked yet, but I'm just guessing that "Quality of Life" factors for a left-leaning source are going to be a little different from "Quality of Life" factors from a conservative perspective. For example, I'd guess that things like universal health care and government-run social security are positive Q-o-L factors as set forth by the Economist (I would consider those negative).

Rod Blagojevich gets on TV and brags about the progress in Illinois, such as universal preschool and stem-cell funding. Yet, amazingly, there is a rather large portion of the population that objects to their private property (in the form of taxes) being taken for "quality of life" programs. Go figure.

-AH

P.S. And candidly, I don't think Universal Health Care is a triviality; I think it is a horrible idea.

Marc with a C said...

Monarchist...

"Oh dear, where do I begin?"

How about at the beginning?

Well, then, I accept you challenge on number 4 and your desire to meet evidence in rebuttal to your libertarian views. Here is a quick and dirty comparison of countries based...

That is the point in contention between Mr. Hargis and myself.

You then go on to make fun of my exercise in socio-economic analysis while apparently oblivious to the previous exchange I had had with Mr. Hargis.

While you may think my methodology is funny, I was simply going off of what Hargis proposed: namely, that if one compared various lists of countries ranked by quality of life (technically he gave a few different examples, I used an aggregate) and compared it to a list of most economically free nations, I'd be looking at more or less the same list.

"In fact, I re-read your comment and I can't find a conclusion anywhere."

That's because you either didn't bother to read my comment carefully, or are unable to identify a conclusion unless explicitly labeled as such. For your convenience, I reproduce it below, with an appropriate label:

Conclusion: I'm willing to bet that a detailed mathematical analysis and regression survey would find a very low (if any) association between a country's ranking in terms of economic freedom and a country's ranking in terms of quality of life, and that a regression model charting such developments would fail to project a tight correlation between the two factors.

“I haven't looked yet, but I'm just guessing that "Quality of Life" factors for a left-leaning source…”

Haven’t looked yet? But I’ll wager that won’t stop you from commenting on my piece nevertheless. But go ahead and read the two articles- nay! Just look at my sources. I’ll be here waiting.

Done yet?

As to your jab at "left-leaning" sources, the quality of life indicators I took from the Economist Magazine, hardly a bastion of radical bomb-throwing socialism, and the free economy list from the Cato institute. If you really must make accusations of liberal bias, I STRONGLY suggest you read up on the methodology of the sources in question before doing so. Otherwise, you end up looking like the irrational wild-eyed ideologue who has a very strong idea of what he thinks the piece says, but no idea of what it actually does say. However, to save you time, I will provide you with a link to the methodology (http://www.economist.com/media/pdf/QUALITY_OF_LIFE.pdf) and a quick summary: factors considered include GDP, life expectancy at birth, political stability and security, divorce rate, unemployment rate, and others. But while I am willing to do some of the heavy lifting here to overcome your laziness, you are going to have to actually have read the piece before criticizing its methodology.

“Yet, amazingly, there is a rather large portion of the population that objects to their private property (in the form of taxes) being taken for "quality of life" programs.”

Well I guess those that oppose these programs get in gear and actually do something about it, such as 1) electing officials who share their views, 2) advancing voter initiatives to rid themselves of these programs or lower taxes, or 3) moving to another state more reflective of their views. No matter what their choice may be, I’m sure it will be accompanied to the tune of lots of self-righteous bitching.

Conclusion: Your critique boils down to three main objections. First, that making a list is silly, and while I disagree with that, I refer you to Mr. Hargis’ and my previous discussion as to why this was done. Second, that comparing lists composed by two different sources is wrong and inaccurate. While I agree up to a point a more detailed and scientific survey conducted by the same agency will require time and money, and furthermore using multiple sources in the same study has a strong, well-tested historical precedent. This is the best I could do. Thirdly, that my sources are biased. As I said, the Cato institute and the Economist share, if anything, a conservative bias and have similar outlooks on economics and society.

As much as it pains me to say so, Monarchist, your response strikes me as either lazy, willfully simplistic, or merely contrarian for its’ own sake. If you wish to participate in this dialogue, please do so after having actually read up on and thought about the exact issues at hand, not by falling back on the old conservative staple of accusing everyone of bias whenever the evidence does not seem to conform to your ideology.

Mr. Hargis (and others) I await your responses with trepidation.

Regards.

JWales said...

A.H. !!!!

Good golly, where's my defibulator!! Green Bay is number 30 for football towns?? Chicago ranks 1 ?? Where's my 20 foot monster razor sharp needle so I can pop that inflated head of yours!! D-mn those Cardinals anyway!! Holy Cow!!

jw

The Monarchist said...

First of all...

JW: Hey man, I was wondering if that'd catch your eye, how ya doing?

And lastly...

Marc: Relax, dude. Most people would consider the Economist slightly left-leaning; at any rate, no one demanded you use those sources. You picked them.

We're never going to convince either person that one view is right. Indeed, we might as well be arguing which is better, shampoo or conditioner (for the record, shampoo, it cleans the hair).

We just have different world-views, and that forms the basis of our disagreement. For the record, you've got a good looking blog, as much as I might disagree with the content:

"Whereas those who are simply literate will recognize the Bible for what it is: a collection of myths and legends of a primitive tribe of Near Eastern herdsmen thousands of years in the making."

Of course, I beg to differ, but then again, it's all about world-view.

Have a nice life.

-AH

Michael Hargis said...

Marc,

I would only say that "quality of life" is a subjective criterion. Average life span and infant mortality rate are objective. I chose them because they seem to me to be more reliable indicators of the general health and prosperity of a country than something like per capita income. Anyway, I'm thinking that Mark Twain's line about "lies, damn lies, and statistics" might apply here, so let's move on to something else.

I'm guessing that you're in favor of a thing like universal health care. What would you consider to be a moral justification for using the coercive power of government to force one person to help pay another's medical bills?

Daniel Webster said...

And of course, let's not neglect that one vital element -- ones attitude towards quality of life.

Whereas one person might consider his quality of life to be quite good, even extraordinary, though he live in relative squalor when compared with the statistical QoL of his rich neighbor, and vice-versa.

Worldview indeed, Hamilton! hear, hear!

Marc with a C said...

Anyway, I'm thinking that Mark Twain's line about "lies, damn lies, and statistics" might apply here, so let's move on to something else.

Despite my best attempts to provide you with something resembling an objective study of how a free economy aligns with a high standard of living throughout the world (as per your suggestion), the above quote would seem to reinforce that which I always suspected about all ideologues. That as much as any research or science can be truely objective (just look at the stupidity that is Intelligent Design or the debate over the existance of global warming), the desire to see one's own position justified more often than not trumps the spirit of scientific integrity and inquiry long after the conclusions have been driven home.

As such, I feel that my interest in this topic as at an end. I had my fun and made my point without encountering any significant resistance. Any further discussion of the matter will be a waste of my time. In future I recommend you all stay closer to exercises such as the more esoteric and academic debate over what exactly is the definition of "liberty" and "freedom." At least there you don't have to worry about the prospect of coming up with a wrong answer and being forced to shift your paradigm.

As you finished with a quote (often attributed to Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli and others), I will return the favor and help you get started on your discussion of liberty. It's a quote from Dalton Trumbo's 1939 magnum opus Johnny Got His Gun and I feel strikes right at the heart of the matter. Have at it!

Regards.

"[M]ister my life is important. I'm not a fool and when I swap my life for liberty I've got to know in advance what liberty is and whose idea of liberty we're talking about and just how much of that liberty we're going to have. And what's more mister are you as much interested in liberty as you want me to be? And maybe too much liberty will be as bad as too little liberty and I think you're a goddamn fourflusher talking through your hat and I've already decided that I like the liberty I've got right here the liberty to walk and see and hear and talk and eat and sleep with my girl I think I like that liberty better than fighting for a lot of things we won't get and ending up without any liberty at all. Ending up dead and rotting before my life is even begun good or ending up like a side of beef. Thank you mister. You fight for liberty. Me I don't care for some."

Daniel Webster said...

Hey, marc!

Seeing as how I was the first to extend to you a warm welcome, let me be the first to wish you a fond fairly well, and a hearty "good riddance!"

If you mean by "the stupidity that is intelligent design," the "intelligence" it took to arrange your parting thoughts and comments the way only you could, I'm sure, then I'm afraid "stupidity" is indeed quite appropriate.

Thank you for saving the rest of us a lot of time. I'm sure your time, and the little bit of liberty you're trying to hang on to in doing nothing, is much better spent elsewhere.

regards.

Samuel Adams said...

marx with a c,

I would also like to thank you for your time, but you've obviously misused it...so I won't.

Instead, for what it's worth, I have a small but useful piece of advice you are unlikely to take to heart:

S#it it slippery. Keep talking like you are and see where it gets you.