Author Topic: The Trump Presidency  (Read 88181 times)

Offline gillianren

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1230 on: September 12, 2020, 11:25:13 AM »
I'm a little unclear what argument (if any) is being made with the Ronald Wright quote.

Is the idea that people in the US should support more socialistic policies, because it is in their self-interest to do so?


It's that all you have to do to get a certain segment of US society to oppose an idea is to call it socialism.
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Offline Halcyon Dayz, FCD

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1231 on: September 12, 2020, 01:00:42 PM »
Most Americans don't seem to know what socialism is.
This includes the self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders: he keeps pointing at Sweden as a desired model, which is not a socialist country.
In fact, there are no socialists countries in Europe.

A cynic might argue that European capitalists learned from experience and allowed social market economies (capitalism 2.x) to be implemented as an anti-revolution insurance.
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Offline JayUtah

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1232 on: September 12, 2020, 02:45:34 PM »
Americans infamously have no clue what socialism really is.  But as Gillianren points out, it's well-entrenched political rhetoric in the U.S.  Anything that smacks of taxing people and using the proceeds to provide basic services or temporary assistance to the less fortunate (read:  everyone who isn't a millionaire) gets labeled "socialism" by the right, and that effectively kills support for it from their base.

The visual you get for this is some hardworking rural citizen, obviously a white, middle-aged man in a flannel shirt and work gloves leaning against the side of his pickup truck.  And the narrative is that he's going to lose the family farm because of unfair competition from overseas, taxation, and environmental regulations.  His taxes are diverted -- we see as the scene shifts -- to some urban single mother, naturally of some unfavorable ethnic minority, and probably here illegally, who has a multitude of babies for the sole purpose of increasing her monthly stipend -- the only income she ever plans to obtain.  Obviously this image is comically wrong, and even possibly offensive.  But it's amazing how effective this rhetoric is on the GOP base.

Americans for the most part like to think they are fiercely independent, capable, self-sufficient, and hardworking.  They really do think they have it in them to become well off, to retire in comfort, and to enjoy the good life if only they will stick to the plan, work hard, and pay their dues.  They really do despise the notion -- even at their level of personal and family economics -- that "the government" is taking their hard-earned money and giving it to people who somehow don't deserve it.  They object to it in principle, even though that principle is very unevenly applied across the U.S. tax base.

It could be said they really don't know what capitalism is, either.  They don't seem to object to the wealth transfer inherent to that.

So the pickle we're in now is that since the 1970s the wealth -- including taxation -- has been funneled upwards in increasing proportions.  It's literally impossible for the average Joe to buy into the American Dream using the resources the economy provides him today.  The claim was made that if Jeff Bezos gave every single one of his 800,000+ employees a $100,000 bonus, he would still have as much money today as he did when the pandemic started.  How's that for a sobering reality?

And Donald Trump, and the party that represents him, is the embodiment of that oligarchy that now effectively rules the United States.  The rhetoric from them is that the Democrats want to redistribute the wealth of the middle class to the lower class.  In fact they're effectively transferring it from the middle class to the upper class.  The competing rhetoric from the Democrats is that they want to transfer wealth from the incredibly over bloated upper class back down to the dwindling middle class, who are the ones who actually created the value.  Any wealth transfer that looks like that gets branded "socialism!" and dismissed.

Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist, so he claims, but it's true he's really only a diet socialist.  The U.S. could benefit quite a bit from a mixed economy such as those in Sweden and elsewhere.  But frankly there is way too much political opposition to doing anything that resembles "those liberal, socialist democracies."  Some people in the United States oppose programs that would fix our problems for literally no other reason than it would make the U.S. look like Europe, and that's not what they want.

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Offline Luther

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1233 on: September 12, 2020, 04:55:21 PM »
It's that all you have to do to get a certain segment of US society to oppose an idea is to call it socialism.

Even if we were to suppose that that were true, what does it have to do with the Ronald Wright quote?

The quote does not say that Americans oppose socialism because they don't like the word "socialism".  It says that they don't support it because they believe (with the possible insinuation that this believe is not justified) they will not benefit personally from it.

This is what I find fascinating about this quote every time I see it and the way people use it.  If we are attempting to convince people to support certain types of policies (which we may call, rightly or wrongly, "socialism"), how should we do it?  Straight to the point, an appeal to self-interest.  Even some American right-wingers have mocked the book "What's the matter with Kansas?" as expressing the American left's complaint that the American right is not materialistic enough.

Maybe that could be the counter-rhetorical point.  "Socialism: it's a good way to make money!"

But as Gillianren points out, it's well-entrenched political rhetoric in the U.S.

I agree that it is well-entrenched rhetoric.  However, Gillianren goes beyond stating that it is rhetoric, and says the rhetoric is effective.  As do you, here:

Anything that smacks of taxing people and using the proceeds to provide basic services or temporary assistance to the less fortunate (read:  everyone who isn't a millionaire) gets labeled "socialism" by the right, and that effectively kills support for it from their base.

It's something of a side issue, but I'd be interested in seeing evidence to that point, that using the label causes people to object to policies they might otherwise support.  I know in politics you're supposed to portray your opponents as stupid, but do they really just object to the word, or do they object to the actual policies?

The visual you get for this is some hardworking rural citizen, obviously a white, middle-aged man in a flannel shirt and work gloves leaning against the side of his pickup truck.

Oddly enough, that does have certain aspects in common with the visual that people have for American and European "socialists" in this part of the world.  They tend to imagine a rich white person, with an income several times the global average of $10,000 per year, easily in the top 20% of the global income distribution, who will do just about anything for money, complaining about how he is the victim of the cruel economic order, and that in any kind of just world, he'd be in the top 10% or even the top 5%.  Someone who would sacrifice the interests of the hundreds of millions in the world who survive on less than $2 a day in a heartbeat, if that's what it took to make more money.  Even the US presidential candidate who did call himself a "socialist" had an undisguised disdain for third-world workers.

This is why I find the Ronald Wright quote so fascinating.  It seems to take it as a given that, of course, people act purely in their own self-interest, and thus would adopt "socialism" if and only if you can convince them that they, personally, are better off under it.

Offline JayUtah

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1234 on: September 12, 2020, 08:33:34 PM »
It's something of a side issue, but I'd be interested in seeing evidence to that point, that using the label causes people to object to policies they might otherwise support.  I know in politics you're supposed to portray your opponents as stupid, but do they really just object to the word, or do they object to the actual policies?

Both, I think.  They object to the word, in the sense that they use it as a pejorative for a number of different policies, some of which wouldn't even necessarily be considered relevant to economics.  And they object to actual policies that seem to use taxation to level wealth, which they would consider socialists.  Evidence...  Hm, I live in a conservative state, so I'm fairly steeped in the rhetoric.  I hate to make it a matter of "Well, you just have to live here."  Let me see if I can find some pertinent examples.

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This is why I find the Ronald Wright quote so fascinating.  It seems to take it as a given that, of course, people act purely in their own self-interest, and thus would adopt "socialism" if and only if you can convince them that they, personally, are better off under it.

I confess this is my first encounter with the Wright quote, so I'm unfamiliar with how it's typically deployed.  I agree we're talking about two different phenomena: the pejorative use of "socialism" and the objection to socialist policies.  I don't think Gillianren is out of line in making the statement she did.  But you can argue it doesn't really follow from the quote.  True, but maybe non sequitur.

To convince many Americans that socialist policies are in their best interest, I think you'd have to show them examples of the socialist policies we already have and explain why that's a good thing.  One of the classic examples in American history was privatized fire brigades.  We discovered that centralizing emergency response and making it a public good is a much better way to get it done.  Ironically one of the biggest socialist institutions in the United States is its military.  Active and retired military people enjoy a whole bunch of services centralized and funded by the Department of Defense, including medical care.

As has been said, most Americans have no clue what socialism really entails, and aren't really interested in being corrected.  The rhetoric is meant to scare them away from it, deployed by people who would be disadvantaged in a more socialist economy.
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Offline Peter B

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1235 on: September 12, 2020, 09:11:15 PM »
Which raises the obvious question of why. I'm reminded of this quote from Ronald Wright (about whom I know nothing else): "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." Which is to say the marketing of the American Dream has been so successful that any failure to achieve it seems to be seen as the fault of the person themselves rather than any external factors. I mean, I'm sure I've seen somewhere that even lowly paid people don't like the idea of raising income taxes on the wealthiest Americans because they can so vividly see themselves belonging to that class at some point in the future.

That pretty much hits the nail on the head.  There's an even shorter answer that says what you've formulated here, but in a very quotable form:  Americans are terrified of the S-word -- socialism.

I'm a little unclear what argument (if any) is being made with the Ronald Wright quote.

Is the idea that people in the US should support more socialistic policies, because it is in their self-interest to do so?

G'day Luther

My understanding of the way the quote is intended is this:

The American Dream is a concept of the way Americans achieve success. You work hard, you take responsibility for your actions, the government keeps the heck out of the way, and by the end of your life you're in a much better place than when you started. If you have exceptional skills, strength, intelligence or an eye for taking advantage of the opportunities that are available to you (or some combination) then even someone starting in penury can end up as a millionaire.

This view is constantly repeated in all sorts of media, whether books, movies, newspapers or TV - the rags to riches stories of musicians, entrepreneurs, sports stars or whoever (and, FWIW, even the trashy displays of wealth by black rap stars feed into that image, even if white middle class Americans despise or vaguely fear blacks). And because these stories are true, and are going to happen to some people in a country with a population as large as the USA - the reality of the American Dream is reinforced.

So when people look at millionaires, they don't see a separate and privileged group of people, they see what they expect themselves to be some time in the future.

Incidentally, this view is also reinforced by the marketing of millionaires as People Who Are Just Like You. I forget which of those self-help books specifically mentioned it (How To Win Friends And Influence People, or Think And Grow Rich - those sorts of books) but at least one has a section which talks about how many rich people still drive around in ordinary cars and live in ordinary houses and use those discount dockets to save money, and so on. Think about how that plays out in the minds of ordinary Americans when they're shopping at Walmart - for all I know that casually dressed Joe who parked his battered old pick-up next to me could be one of those millionaires...

Therefore any attempt to extract a little more tax from millionaires today can be interpreted as an attack on the group of people they imminently expect to be joining, and thus an attack on themselves.

The reality, of course, is that the best indicator of being a millionaire in America is to be the child of a millionaire. Social mobility in the USA is lower than in most developed countries. That is, the reality is that the American Dream these days is largely a myth. Yet its marketing is so successful that people think it's still real - real enough that anyone wanting to oppose a policy only needs to hint that it runs counter to the American Dream and the very people who would benefit from it will reflexively oppose it.

So your counter-rhetorical point that socialism is a great way to make money is pushing against a very potent myth: that this money socialism will supposedly * allow you to make is coming out of the pockets of the people you will in reality be shortly joining - the ranks of the millionaires.

* Because any policy can also be criticised before it's implemented on the grounds that it won't work as advertised. In this regard it follows the path often followed by critics of an idea - using two arguments against an idea which contradict each other but which are presented as being actually complementary: X policy shouldn't be implemented because it won't help the poor, and X policy shouldn't be implemented because it will harm you. As long as the critics can convince you that you aren't actually poor, then these two arguments appear to complement each other. But if the reality is that you are poor, then you've just been convinced to oppose a policy which would help you.

ETA: A good example of this is the tax cuts that Trump and Congress passed a couple of years ago. My understanding is that the greatest amount of financial benefit went to the rich. Yet they have been largely supported by Trump's base because of the logic chain that tax cuts for the rich encourage business investment, allowing businesses to expand and offer wage rises to workers, so the workers benefit as well.

And the reality is that there were wage rises for ordinary Americans following the tax cuts. But if I remember the figures correctly, the amount of tax-cut money passed on as wage rises was something like 6% of the value of the tax cuts. A lot also went to wage rises for the rich. But most of this money has been spent by companies buying up their own shares. And the result of this? All that purchasing pushes up share prices. And this in turn increases the value of the share portfolios of the executives and making their share options more valuable. Plus it artificially inflates the stock market indexes which Trump uses as the indicator that the American economy is booming in his Presidency.

So the reality is that Trump's base of ordinary workers have been convinced to support a policy which delivered small benefits to them but much larger benefits to the rich. And the cost of the tax-cuts have been met out of the American government's tax base, which means a bigger deficit, just at the time that the stock market is growing in an unsustainable bubble.

It's hard to see how this can be resolved in any way other than ugly, and that it will be at the expense of ordinary Americans, not the rich.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2020, 09:32:04 PM by Peter B »

Offline Luther

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1236 on: September 12, 2020, 11:10:36 PM »
To convince many Americans that socialist policies are in their best interest, I think you'd have to show them examples of the socialist policies we already have and explain why that's a good thing.  One of the classic examples in American history was privatized fire brigades.  We discovered that centralizing emergency response and making it a public good is a much better way to get it done.

But I'm not sure this really fits the quote very well.  Are public fire brigades something that promotes the self-interest of the poor, and damages the self-interest of the rich, such that people who are rich, or who have a good chance of becoming rich in the future, ought to oppose them?

The aspect of this that I find interesting, every single time I see it is, the quote seems to take it as axiomatic that people ought to be behave strictly in their own self-interest.  I suppose Ronald Wright could have argued, socialistic policies are not harmful to the interests of the rich.  (Is the fire brigade an example of that, if we call it a "socialistic" policy?)  He could also have argued that rich people ought to support socialistic policies, even if those policies are against their own self-interest.  But if he ever advanced those arguments, I've never seen them quoted by anyone.  I see this one all the time, which seemingly argues that the absence of socialistic tendencies in the US is a result of some misjudgement by the American people, who have a wrong idea about where their own narrow self-interests lie.  The idea that they ought to do something other than pursue their own narrow self-interests is completely absent.

Offline Luther

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1237 on: September 12, 2020, 11:38:43 PM »
My understanding of the way the quote is intended is this:

<further extended contents>

It's hard to see how this can be resolved in any way other than ugly, and that it will be at the expense of ordinary Americans, not the rich.

That's all well and good, but it mostly elaborates on the idea that Americans have some mistaken idea about their likely future prospects, and that this affects their policy choices.  No problem there, I understand this part of the message.  (We can leave aside the issue that more than half of all Americans are already in the global top 10%, with many deeply dissatisfied that they're not even higher.)

What I find most interesting about the quote is something that is not said - there seems to be an unquestioned assumption that people ought to pursue their own self-interest.  I haven't read the work from which it came.  However, I have seen it quoted many times, and if Ronald Wright considered the possibility that perhaps people ought to do something other than pursue their own self-interest, I have never seen anyone quote his comments to that effect.

Whenever I hear this quote, it brings to my mind a picture of someone saying, "What's good for me?  Socialism?  Capitalism?  Liberalism?  Communism?  Conservatism?  Fascism?  Anarchism?  Peronism?  Chavism?  Whichever system gives me the most money, that's the one I support."

Is "socialism" simply something a tool for pursuit of one's self-interest?

Offline gillianren

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1238 on: September 13, 2020, 12:20:57 PM »
I think it's reasonable that people not act in ways that oppose their own interests in favour of the interest of a very small group of people who do not themselves do much to improve society.  That they not actively go out of their way to worsen their situation in a way with no real benefit to anyone.  Because, yes, Jeff Bezos has more money now, but I'm honestly not sure what benefit that extra money does him at this point.  What can he do now that he couldn't do before?  He wanted it, but that's not enough.  Whereas increasing my disability check even fifty dollars a month would help me get more things I actually need, and my spending that money would boost the economy more than Bezos hoarding it would.  But there are plenty of Americans who think that would be socialism.  There is also a not insignificant percentage of Americans who would complain about the government's taking over their Medicare while they were at it, because no program that benefits them could possibly be governmental interference!
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Offline Jason Thompson

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1239 on: September 13, 2020, 03:52:16 PM »
Whereas increasing my disability check even fifty dollars a month would help me get more things I actually need, and my spending that money would boost the economy more than Bezos hoarding it would.

This seems to be a factor commonly missed here in the UK as well. Poorer people help sustain the economy because they spend what little money they have.

The sad irony of this pandemic is that it has exposed just how absurd the economy here actually is, being based primarily on people buying crap they don't need and running a 'just in time' model of delivery and stock control. This time last year the media was filled with articles decrying millennials as not being able to afford their own homes because they insist on spending money on breakfasts and lunches in cafes and bars rather than at home, and now the chancellor of the exchequer is practically begging them to keep doing it because people NOT frequenting these cafes and bars is apparently screwing up the economy!
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Offline JayUtah

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1240 on: September 13, 2020, 04:36:55 PM »
But I'm not sure this really fits the quote very well.

No, it's a lousy example.  It popped into my head because that's what we typically use as an example of something that has normalized to the perception of a public good at everyone's expense, rich or poor.  When we describe how privatized fire brigades used to work in the U.S., the anti-socialist Americans say, "Ew, that's horrible!"  Strangely enough they can't seem to make that leap to things like healthcare or sensible labor protection.

Here's Breitbart's rhetoric, just so you can hear how Trump's base envisions other economic systems.

https://imgur.com/gallery/Q6aAfFQ

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Are public fire brigades something that promotes the self-interest of the poor, and damages the self-interest of the rich, such that people who are rich, or who have a good chance of becoming rich in the future, ought to oppose them?

I was in a hurry to finish cleaning up after our hurricane, so I gave you a lousy example.  My just dessert therefore is that you're now going to make me defend its applicability.

Under the private enterprise system, fire brigades had contracts with insurance companies to put out fires for the policyholder.  There was no incentive to put out fires gratis.  Naturally this leads to free market competition, where the best and fastest brigades got the best work.  The key to the concept is that some private citizen is making money off of this because he owns the fire brigade.  So one way to answer the question in a lame way is that the rich guy is going to want to have private fire fighting because it's just one more necessary service for which money can be charged and for which a profit can be made.

This is part of what Americans wrongly mean by socialism:  the notion that most public goods are somehow provided by an inefficient, wasteful, over-regulated centralized bureaucracy, and that private enterprise would do so much better at it.

So one answer from the perspective of the wealthy is, "Why are we letting the government mismanage our fire response when I could be doing so much better (and getting more rich) to provide this service as a business."  As a potential fire client, the wealthy person will balk at subsidizing a service for the poor.  Fire brigades in the U.S. are usually funded out of property taxes, which almost never allow deductions or the other sorts of things by which the wealthy avoid paying income taxes.  And they tend to own more valuable real estate, so they pay a disproportionate share of the cost for extinguishing fires anywhere in the city.  The rhetoric would be, "If people were required to pay for fire services directly, or via an insurance free-market actuary as before, my taxes would be lower and I'd have more of my hard-earned money to spend on myself, as God intended.  Poor people are a greater fire risk anyway because they live in older houses and do a lot of their own handy work.  I don't know why I have to pay for that."

The reason that the rich figured out that centralized fire brigades were the right thing is the notion that if their house was next to someone who bought cut-rate fire insurance, serviced by a substandard brigade, the fire might spread to their house too.  The problem with trusting people's discretion in ways that impact you is that you can't expect them to think of you.  Maybe someone doesn't really care and wants to spend only the bare minimum on fire service.  Yes, it's good to have good fire insurance, but it's better to avoid the fire altogether, which makes it more of a collective risk.  The urbanization of American mean that fire protection was something we all should care about, regardless of whose structure precisely is on fire.

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The aspect of this that I find interesting, every single time I see it is, the quote seems to take it as axiomatic that people ought to be behave strictly in their own self-interest.  I suppose Ronald Wright could have argued, socialistic policies are not harmful to the interests of the rich.

The American rich benefit heavily from a tax structure that places a disproportionate burden on others, and offers many incentives to them that are simply outside the reach of others.  So the wealthy consider policies that would close these loopholes very much a threat to their interests.  The purpose of the res pubblica, according to them, is to stay out of the way as much as possible and let people fend for themselves as befits their means and station.

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But if he ever advanced those arguments, I've never seen them quoted by anyone.

And I all I know of this author is the quote represented here, which seems to ring true at least as an accurate summary of American thought on socialism.

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I see this one all the time, which seemingly argues that the absence of socialistic tendencies in the US is a result of some misjudgement by the American people, who have a wrong idea about where their own narrow self-interests lie.  The idea that they ought to do something other than pursue their own narrow self-interests is completely absent.

Pretty much.  This is what's so terribly wrong with American culture and society today.  Americans so rarely think outside their own self-interest, which includes their immediate family and peer group.  Peter B accurately summarizes the America Dream. The nasty corollary is that if it seems like not everyone can achieve the American Dream, all of a sudden the competition gets very ugly.

American entitlement is a huge problem.
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Offline JayUtah

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1241 on: September 14, 2020, 12:40:33 AM »
This seems to be a factor commonly missed here in the UK as well. Poorer people help sustain the economy because they spend what little money they have.

Part of the marketing of the American Dream is the notion that it's okay for billionaires to receive obscene amounts of money, because they're just investing it back into the economy, and doing it at a scale and in ways that ordinary people can't match.  It will all trickle down to us.  First of all, that's not what they're doing with all the money; they're removing it from circulation and sequestering it offshore.  Second, that's not what makes a strong economy.  A strong economy is bottom-up, not top-down.  It's stronger the more people who can participate in it.  Giving $2000 to 200 million people every month is what keeps the economy going, not giving a trillion dollars to five people.

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This time last year the media was filled with articles decrying millennials as not being able to afford their own homes because they insist on spending money on breakfasts and lunches in cafes and bars rather than at home, and now the chancellor of the exchequer is practically begging them to keep doing it because people NOT frequenting these cafes and bars is apparently screwing up the economy!

Our state's "reopen the economy" plan was supposed to be based on science.  Turns out it was written by a group of business leaders with almost no input from health officials.  And don't get me started on the practice of decrying the Millennials for supposedly failing the economy.  I tend to believe the economy has failed Millennials.
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Offline Jason Thompson

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1242 on: September 14, 2020, 04:12:11 AM »
Under the private enterprise system, fire brigades had contracts with insurance companies to put out fires for the policyholder.  There was no incentive to put out fires gratis.

Equally, no incentive to promote fire prevention measures, since reducing the incidence of fire for the brigade to put out is not conducive to business. And that's not even the most obvious or disturbing corollary to the notion of fire brigades being paid per fire....
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Offline Peter B

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1243 on: September 14, 2020, 10:32:48 AM »
To convince many Americans that socialist policies are in their best interest, I think you'd have to show them examples of the socialist policies we already have and explain why that's a good thing.  One of the classic examples in American history was privatized fire brigades.  We discovered that centralizing emergency response and making it a public good is a much better way to get it done.

But I'm not sure this really fits the quote very well.  Are public fire brigades something that promotes the self-interest of the poor, and damages the self-interest of the rich, such that people who are rich, or who have a good chance of becoming rich in the future, ought to oppose them?

The aspect of this that I find interesting, every single time I see it is, the quote seems to take it as axiomatic that people ought to be behave strictly in their own self-interest.  I suppose Ronald Wright could have argued, socialistic policies are not harmful to the interests of the rich.  (Is the fire brigade an example of that, if we call it a "socialistic" policy?)  He could also have argued that rich people ought to support socialistic policies, even if those policies are against their own self-interest.  But if he ever advanced those arguments, I've never seen them quoted by anyone.  I see this one all the time, which seemingly argues that the absence of socialistic tendencies in the US is a result of some misjudgement by the American people, who have a wrong idea about where their own narrow self-interests lie.  The idea that they ought to do something other than pursue their own narrow self-interests is completely absent.

Okay, sorry, I got a bit carried away there.

First thing, Wright wasn't presenting an argument. He was making an observation. His observation was that socialism never had a chance of being adopted in the USA - because the alternative economic vision of the American Dream was just too attractive, too ingrained in the American psyche.

So what's socialism? I think the simplest answer is to not overthink it: socialism is a range of political concepts built around the ideas of state control/influence over the means of production, and of a large scale social security net. This stands in contrast to a capitalist system of allowing the free operation of a market system with no or minimal government regulation, and minimal government provision of social security.

Now the reality is that no countries in the world are purely capitalist (all countries regulate the market to at least some extent and provide at least some social security), and I doubt there are any purely socialist countries (all countries, even North Korea and Cuba) allow at least some level of private enterprise. So in that sense Wright's observation is based on a false dichotomy.  But I think we can interpret Wright's observation as pointing to two alternatives that are largely capitalist (like the USA) and largely socialist (like either the communist countries of Eastern Europe 1940s to 1980s, or the social democrat countries like those of Scandinavia).

A capitalist system allows people to accumulate as much wealth as they might ever be able to accumulate (needed or not), with the converse that success isn't guaranteed, and if you fail then you have to look after yourself to the best of your now limited resources. A socialist system (details depending on which one you're looking at) has the government ensuring that everyone has at least a reasonable standard of living, and pays for this by heavier taxation which is aimed at the wealthy.

To me, Wright's observation is, simply, that socialist policies are unlikely to be adopted in the USA because the marketing of capitalism has been so wildly successful. The key to this marketing success has been to focus so heavily on the success side of the equation that no one talks about that converse - what happens to the people who fail.

So when Americans are offered two economic alternatives - capitalism and socialism - instead of seeing the nuances of both systems they only see (capitalism) the chance to become incredibly wealthy without government interference or (socialism) government taxing of wealthy people putting a cap on how wealthy they could become. What they don't see is how much worse off they're likely to be under capitalism than under socialism if things go wrong.

It's like that thought experiment about risk: what would you prefer - (a) a 1 in 10 chance of winning $1000 and 9 in 10 chance of winning nothing, or (b) a guaranteed $100. If you're provided with these conditions then you might reasonably choose either alternative depending on your approach to risk. Only, the way the experiment is marketed is: what would you prefer - (a) a chance to win $1000 under capitalism, or (b) a chance to win $100 under socialism. If you're provided with these conditions even though the game operates exactly as before then it would be perverse to choose the socialist alternative.

So to reference the second quote I bolded, it's rational to pursue policies which advance your self-interest. But there are two points to consider. First, different people will have different views of their self-interest, depending on your approach to risk. In the first example of the thought experiment above, your choice of option (a) or (b) will depend on your risk profile (exactly the same if you were investing in the stock market - do you go for a high-risk/high-return investment strategy, a low-risk/low-return strategy or something somewhere between the two). Second, the choice you make is going to be influenced by the accuracy of the information you're provided with about the alternatives. And in the USA, people have been marketing a distorted explanation of both capitalism and socialism that oversells the upsides of capitalism and the downsides of socialism. It's therefore not surprising many Americans reject socialism as they understand it.

And sorry, got carried away again.
« Last Edit: September 14, 2020, 10:43:47 AM by Peter B »

Offline gillianren

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Re: The Trump Presidency
« Reply #1244 on: September 14, 2020, 11:34:34 AM »
Part of the marketing of the American Dream is the notion that it's okay for billionaires to receive obscene amounts of money, because they're just investing it back into the economy, and doing it at a scale and in ways that ordinary people can't match.  It will all trickle down to us.  First of all, that's not what they're doing with all the money; they're removing it from circulation and sequestering it offshore.  Second, that's not what makes a strong economy.  A strong economy is bottom-up, not top-down.  It's stronger the more people who can participate in it.  Giving $2000 to 200 million people every month is what keeps the economy going, not giving a trillion dollars to five people.

I've seen people counter that by claiming it's not what billionaires do, and, no, it's literally what billionaires do.  It's not a giant Scrooge McDuck money bin, in no small part because a lot of their money is electronic, if you will, and not represented by physical currency, but the relevant bit is that it isn't "being invested."  It's sitting in banks.  It's not circulating.  It's stagnating.

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Our state's "reopen the economy" plan was supposed to be based on science.  Turns out it was written by a group of business leaders with almost no input from health officials.  And don't get me started on the practice of decrying the Millennials for supposedly failing the economy.  I tend to believe the economy has failed Millennials.

Oh, my, yes.  Most of my good friends are Millennials (I'm at the tail end of Gen X, myself), and they don't fit the perception of lazy and entitled at all.  Most of my friends are college educated.  Some of them are veterans.  They're working retail jobs, a lot of them, because those are the jobs they can find.  I have one friend who's been working at an office for almost as long as I've known him, and he lives with his parents because he cannot afford to live on his own.  And my friends are relatively privileged; few of them have kids, and most of them only have one job each.
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