Friday, November 23, 2018

Ben Shapiro: 7 Myths of Democratic Socialism Debunked....Debunked

My friend Chad on Facebook has exposed me to some material from Ben Shapiro.  I watched a recommended video.  Having put in a bit of time replying I thought I'd go ahead and just post my effort here for future reference.

From what I can gather Shapiro is highly regarded as an intellectual amongst conservatives.  I watched some of the "Ben Shapiro DESTROYS so and so" videos since I became aware of him. I wasn't very impressed.  I think this critique captures my sentiments pretty well.  I feel he just creates caricatures and destroys them, often bullies students or other non-professional speakers rather than engaging in what I feel would be an honest and inquiring interaction.

Here is the video I'm responding to.  Shapiro debunks 7 myths surrounding Democratic Socialism.
Myth 1-Democratic socialism is different from regular socialism.  The only difference is we vote for it.
Shapiro response-Socialism is about from each according to his ability, to each according to his need as ensured by the total nationalization of industry and resources.  This is different from a capitalist country that has some socialist policies along with some wealth redistribution or nationalized health care.
Shapiro here is talking about the positions being advocated by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.  Presumably their positions define the meaning of the phrase "democratic socialism."  If their positions are the basis for the meaning of Democratic Socialism don't we need to talk about what their positions are?

In fact we don't get that from Shapiro.  Instead he starts by defining socialism for us.  It is "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." He then tells us that Bernie and AOC say democratic socialism is different from socialism.  But that's "not accurate" because all they are saying is that it's socialism but we get to vote for it.  What??

There is so much confusion here.  First of all "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" isn't socialism.  It has more to do with communism.  Compare that to what socialism actually is.  In summary socialism is about social control of the means of production.  It says the fruits of the labor of workers belong to the workers, as opposed to a person sitting in a mansion collecting checks because he owns all the stock.  Right now Alice Walton may sleep all day in her mansion and she will still collect the fruit of the labor of others.  Stock boys at Walmart, cashiers, cleaners, cart collectors, even sweat shop laborers sewing shirts and underwear together, really everyone up and down the supply chain.  There are people who do the work, much of it back breaking.  And then there are capitalists.  People who own the property rights.  These are the people that get the fruit of the labor but don't actually contribute to the creation of the revenue.

Now let's take a look at Bernie's policy positions.  It is property rights, often referred to as private control of the means of production, that makes it possible for wealthy billionaires to collect the fruit of workers while doing nothing.  That's capitalism  Is Bernie Sanders advocating eliminating private control of the means of production?  Not even close.  You can love or hate what he's advocating, but you can't pretend it's socialism.  It's welfare state capitalism.  Basically he's a New Deal democrat.  FDR was looking to save capitalism with welfare state measures.  He wanted the rich to continue to collect money doing nothing, but with all the suffering of the working class at the time the risk was they would overturn the whole system and tell the rich they must work for a living like an ordinary person if they want money.  This was unacceptable for FDR.  Throw them a bone and they'll let the system that enriches the rich for doing nothing continue.  That's what Bernie and AOC are proposing.  They may prefer real socialism in their heart of hearts.  Perhaps they don't think that goal is realistic given the power of capitalists.  But they are not advocating socialism as a policy.  Socialism and democratic socialism are different if the policy positions of Bernie and AOC define democratic socialism.
Myth 2-Democratic socialism is not use of force.
Shapiro response - But what if the people vote against socialism?  In that case the dissenters get gulag'd or liquidated.
A very bizarre commentary, is he saying Bernie is right now gulaging and liquidating Trump supporters since they don't want democratic socialism?  Bernie is advocating welfare state capitalism right now and not by use of force but by persuasion.  I suppose Shapiro is saying that Stalin gulag'd people, but Bernie is not advocating eliminating private control of the means of production as Stalin did.
Myth 3-Socialism is fairer.
Shapiro response - Fairness is based on the idea that you should get what you deserve.  It is not fair that just because you're poor your entitled to take other people's things.
This is another confusion of socialism and communism.  It is communism that says all people should have their needs covered regardless of their contribution.  Socialism doesn't require that.  Socialism is about worker control of their own workplace.  If Company A is doing better than Company B, the people of Company A would have more.  They can willfully give to others, but they don't necessarily have to.

Regarding fairness on capitalism, for Shapiro it is deeply immoral to tax a sleeping Walton family heir and give the money to maybe a Walmart worker who works very hard, much harder than the Walton heir, but isn't paid enough to purchase sufficient amounts of nutritious food to survive.  Why are they paid so little?  So the sleeping Walton heir can get more money on top of the money they already have, which is already more than they can spend in their lifetime.  It would be unfair to have the government take some of the money given to the Walton heir as a result of the work of the worker back to the worker. I guess the sleeping Walton heir deserves it more for choosing the right parents, whereas the worker chose the wrong parents so she doesn't deserve it even though she does the actual work.  Kind of a bizarre view of fairness in my opinion, not sure what else to say.
Myth 4-Socialism was not present in the USSR, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.
Shapiro response - This is a classic "No True Scotsman" fallacy.
This is what I consider very misleading argumentation from Shapiro, which I think is characteristic of him.  5 minutes earlier in this video he argued that just because a country has socialist elements, like Medicare or welfare state measures, this doesn't make a country socialist.  The US is a capitalist country despite some socialist elements.

But now look at what he puts in the mouths of the phantom socialists he is debating.  Supposedly socialists say socialism WAS NOT PRESENT at these locations.  Meaning what?  Meaning supposedly socialists are denying there are ANY  SOCIALIST ELEMENTS in Venezuela or Cuba?  An easy straw man to burn.  This is not the issue.  The issue is the point Shapiro raised above.  Just because a country has socialist elements this doesn't make a country socialist.  This argument is good enough for him when it suits him in the prior point.  Now he pretends the same point can't be said of Venezuela.

Venezuela has socialist elements.  This doesn't make it a socialist country.  There is private control of the means of production in Venezuela.  The majority of the economy functions in the private sector, not the public sector.  This is explained well at a video here.

I view it more as a continuum.  Countries can be compared in terms of the amount of socialist elements they have.  It's fair to say the USSR, Cuba, and Venezuela have more socialist elements than the US.  These are quite poor places.  What critics of them don't consider though is their economic performance relative to countries that started at similar places.  It's all about how Soviets are more poor than Americans, Cubans are more poor than Americans.  True, but how did the USSR perform economically relative to where it started?  The answer: surprisingly well.

China is another case.  In this comment thread at David Friedman's blog I talk about how it's true that a lot of death occurred in Mao's China.  What critics of socialism don't deal with though is this is far less death than occurred at the same time in capitalist India, which is a country that started at a similar place and had a similarly sized population.  You can criticize socialist China, and while life there wasn't better than in the US, the world's richest country, it was better than capitalist India, which was similarly poor at the time and remains poorer.

Cuba is a similar story.  The embargo is harsh.  It has been borderline genocidal at times.  Compared to the US life is tough.  Compare life to their neighbor Haiti, a capitalist country.  Cuba is a utopia.  Everyone is housed, everyone is fed.  They don't have homelessness.  Life expectancy near the US.  Again, lots of people want more, lots of people will complain, but if you had to choose between life as an ordinary Cuban and any country other than the US in the region it's an easy choice.  People are fleeing Honduras after a coup that installed a more capitalist friendly government, which led to US support for the coup regime.  Life is better for the typical Cuban than the typical Haitian or Honduran.

So to some degree I agree with Shapiro here.  I agree that on the continuum the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Venezuela, these places may not be pure socialist where the workers actually had control of the means of production.  But they did move more towards socialism on the continuum.  They had a lot of success relative to their starting point and comparable countries.  Even Venezuela, which is suffering greatly today, has had some success relative to the right wing neoliberal years (see my video above and also this).  The story there is more complex than just socialism sucks because they are suffering.  Plenty of capitalist countries have people suffering horrifically and plenty of capitalist influences currently affect Venezuela.
Myth 5 - When Bernie and Elizabeth Warren talk about democratic socialism, they only mean Norway, Switzerland etc.
Shapiro response - In fact these are capitalist countries.
You'd think this would clue Shapiro in that this means Democratic Socialism in fact is capitalism with stronger welfare state measures.  They're telling you that these are the countries that reflect their policy preferences.  They specifically tell you that they are not advocating eliminating private control of the means of production.  Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are capitalists. They say they are, so when they point to a capitalist country and tell you it's an example of what they want you can believe them.
Myth 6 - Democratic socialism is the solution for the medical industry.
Shapiro response - The US doesn't have a free market system.  Switzerland has an Obama Care like system that is the best in the world.  Other systems have various problems.  Most drug innovations come from the US.  The US is still the best if you have the cash.
It is typical of capitalism apologists to conflate capitalism and free markets.  There is no such thing as a free market in a capitalist system.  As I understand capitalism's early critics, like Marx, had no concept of a capitalist system that didn't exploit government to advance profit.  There is no other kind of capitalism except crony capitalism.  If you don't like crony capitalism you don't like real world capitalism.

Many of the criticisms of publicly provided health care systems I've debunked here.  Sure, the US produces lots of drug innovations.  It's just that the majority of the substantial innovations don't come from the private sector.  The US has the National Institutes of Health and other publicly funded sources that drive innovation.  Socialism is working in health care, and the US needs more of it.
Myth 7 - Capitalism is a giant failure.
Shapiro response - This is the dumbest argument of all.  Poverty has fallen dramatically since 1970.
But the gains in poverty he mentions since 1970 come largely from China.  China today is a capitalist country.  WITH HEAVY GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION.  In other words they are doing things largely like what Bernie Sanders would suggest.  Capitalism with government regulation and welfare state measures.  He's making Bernie's case for him.  He would know this if he wasn't trying to pretend Bernie wasn't advocating capitalism.

In my opinion though capitalism is a giant failure, but not a total failure.  As I understand even Marx recognized the amazing capacity capitalism had for ramping up total output rapidly.  If that output was for items that people needed this would mean that we could rapidly satisfy the needs of people.  That's great.

But capitalism requires economic growth even though people's needs are already met (if they are met).  Capitalism creates artificial needs.  Capitalism via externalities is threatening the possibility of organized human society through environmental destruction.  We're in the midst of an extinction event today that is worse than what occurred 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs went extinct.  Capitalism is like a giant asteroid that must be stopped if we are to save ourselves.  A booming stock market today won't matter much to people in future decades dealing with 4°C of warming if the world's most informed people on this topic are to be believed.