The New Morons

The new socialists are here! The new socialists are here! At least that is what political scientist Corey Robin says in his New York Times defense of socialism. Mr. Robin believes the new socialists are here because there is a desire for freedom– in a socialist sense– and the market friendly democratic establishment just wasn’t up to the challenge. Outside what I think is a questionable characterization of mainstream democrats, this is an interesting piece. It is also wrong. Mr. Robin’s self-described defense of socialism fails because it relies on obfuscation. Mr. Robin defends true means of production seizing socialism but to do that he has to pretend figures like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are something they do not present themselves as– socialists. While they may call themselves that– and while they may secretly believe in socialism– they are just– to various extents– social democrats (shoutout to Paul Krugman for agreeing with me on this observation). Mr. Robin, to make his defense of real socialism, must ignore basic political science and lump in any progressive in with Marx. The new socialists aren’t here but the new morons are.

Let’s break it down:

“It took Mr. Sanders to convince them that if tax credits and insurance exchanges are the best liberals have to offer to men and women struggling to make stagnating wages pay for bills that skyrocket and debt that never dissipates, maybe socialism is worth a try.

Whenever someone says a system which killed 100 million people is worth a try, it is time to ignore them. Sadly, their prominence makes that option impossible.

The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor.

Good, because that argument would be indefensible. Since 1981, extreme poverty fell from 42% to 11% in 2013 and to below 10% by 2015.

It’s that it makes us unfree.

Actually, capitalism is what makes us free. Socialism is a top-down economic system where the only voices that matter are the commissars.

Socialism means different things to different people.

Socialism has a definition. A political science professor should know this. Instead, she chooses to be complicit in obfuscation.

For some, it conjures the Soviet Union and the gulag;

Because socialism has a definition and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fits the bill.

for others, Scandinavia and guaranteed income.

Because they do not understand what socialism is. Maybe your fellow political science professors and yourself should do a better job of teaching political theory.

But neither is the true vision of socialism.

No. One is.

What the socialist seeks is freedom.

They seek, in theory, workers control of the means of production which– they think– will give workers freedom.

Under capitalism, we’re forced to enter the market just to live.

You are not forced to enter the market. You can live as a solitary and atomistic individual away from society. That is a choice you are free to make. But individuals are not satisfied with solitary confinement or the limitations on living standards that brings. We want interaction with others. We also want better lives and those better lives can only come from engaging with others. Comradery and comfort only come from the market. We are not forced to join the market. We want to join it.

Under capitalism, we’re forced to submit to the boss.

Because under socialism, the iron law of oligarchy magically disappears.

Furthermore, no you are not. Entrepreneurship is a thing.

Terrified of getting on his bad side, we bow and scrape, flatter and flirt, or worse — just to get that raise or make sure we don’t get fired.

If all you knew about America was this line, you would think it was an impoverished hell-hole where one mistake could banish you to a life of poverty. You would not think the real median household income was almost $60,000 or that real median personal income was over $31,000. Almost half the country is in the global one percent– anyone over $32,400. You would never get that impression from the “new” “socialists” or Robin.

The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor. It’s that it makes us unfree. When my well-being depends upon your whim, when the basic needs of life compel submission to the market and subjugation at work, we live not in freedom but in domination. Socialists want to end that domination: to establish freedom from rule by the boss, from the need to smile for the sake of a sale, from the obligation to sell for the sake of survival.

This is the fundamental error with the socialist line of argument– it believes your “basic needs of life” just magically appear. As Smith said 250 years ago, meat does not come from the benevolence of the butcher and bread does not come from the baker because of their charity. It comes because of millions and billions of self-interested interactions that happen in the market every day.

Walk the streets of Bushwick with a canvasser for Julia Salazar, the socialist candidate running to represent North Brooklyn in the New York State Senate. What you’ll hear is that unlike her opponent, Ms. Salazar doesn’t take money from real estate developers. It’s not just that she wants to declare her independence from rich donors. It’s that in her district of cash-strapped renters, landlords are the enemy.

And this is the perverse view of the socialists. Their enemy– through their twisted logic– is the person giving them housing. The landlord may not be your best friend, but it is because of him you have your apartment to rent. The apartment did not appear naturally nor will socialist chants against profit make it magically exist.

To critics in the mainstream and further to the left, that language can seem slippery. With their talk of Medicare for All or increasing the minimum wage, these socialist candidates sound like New Deal or Great Society liberals. There’s not much discussion, yet, of classic socialist tenets like worker control or collective ownership of the means of production.

That is because these socialists tend to be repackaged New Deal or Great Society liberals. Bernie Sanders is not a socialist. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is not a socialist. The wanna-be edgy progressive that wants socialism until it means the government owns Apple and Starbucks are not socialist. They want capitalism with less harsh edges and a safety net, but we are making faux-radicals seem radical by giving them a name they do not deserve.

In magazines and on websites, in reading groups and party chapters, socialists are debating the next steps: state ownership of certain industries, worker councils and economic cooperatives, sovereign wealth funds.

THAT is real socialism. That is what the USSR gave the world. That is what Red China gave the world. That is what we have in Cuba and Venezuela. That is the economic system that produces mass murder and unimaginable suffering. If you want “state ownership of certain industries, worker councils and economic cooperatives” then do not complain about being lumped in with “the Soviet Union and the gulag” because that is what you want. Until Sanders, Cortez and others take on the language of state control of the economy we should not pretend they are socialist as socialism is a specifically evil term that should only be reserved for its true adherents.

Once upon a time, such conversations were the subject of academic satire and science fiction.

That conversation became reality in the twentieth century. You may remember the Iron and Bamboo Curtain.

Now they’re getting out the vote and driving campaigns. It’s too soon to tell whether they’ll spill over into Congress, but events have a way of converting barroom chatter into legislative debate.

These conversations may drive a specific campaign in deep blue districts but these “new socialists” or, more accurately, these new morons do not drive anything close to a real conversation about socialism. And we should be thankful for that.

That, too, is a kind of freedom. Socialist freedom.


Ya, that is what they want. Freedom.

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