News Is communism still a big taboo in america? if so why?

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russ_watters

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Oh, and I really wish people would stop confusing communism with socialism or lumping them together - they are two different beasts (no, I'm not accusing you Russ).
Though not aimed at me, for clarity:

"Socialism" has become a broad term with many definitions for different flavors, but in one form it is the economic system of communism. So by philosophy and history ("socialist" countries run by "communist" parties), they are necessarily tied together, even if not exactly interchangeable.

I see it a bit like lumping together capitalism and democracy.
 

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Everybody would have their own idea. How do you define it? In a general way, I'd like to think kids born to poorer families had exactly the same chance as the rich kids to get a top job, live in a great house, live beyond the age of 70 etc. But the fact is that they don't have the same chance. They might do it, but the odds are heavily in favour of the rich. They can buy the private tutor, send their child to an exclusive school, pay for all the enrichment activities, school trips etc.

Now I might well be told either that this isn't true or that it is true, but unavoidable in the real world. The former is simple nonesense and doesn't stand up to even the most cursory scrutiny; the latter might be true. But I don't think it is.
The rich will always have greater opportunities then the poor. Absolute equality of opportunity in that sense can rarely be achieved. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that if everyone cannot have such opportunity, then no one should (not saying you are, but just in case).

I wouldn't have thought that living on the breadline in an inner city feels 'unequally rich'. That idea would get hollow laughs if put to the poorest 10% in the US or UK.
They are still richer than the vast majority of people in the world who live in squalid poverty and almost everyone throughout prior history (read about the lifestyle of a middle-class person in Victorian England, it was Third World by modern standards, dystopian even). The poorest 10% in the UK still have guaranteed basic healthcare via the British NHS. And the poor in America have Medicaid. They have running hot and cold water that is sanitary, toilet for relieving themself, electric power and lighting, heating, air conditioning, oftentimes high-speed Internet and flat screen television with cable, access to fresh foods and drinks, basic vehicle with heating, air conditioning, radio, etc...refrigerator and freezer generally, and so forth.

They also live in what are very free societies with tremendous opportunity and knowledge available for self-improvement, whether it be community colleges to get their grades up if they bombed high school, public libraries that provide free Internet access and access to educational services (such as GED), language training and books in people's native languages about America so they can get accustomed to this country if an immigrant and learn the language, etc...(public libraries are a whole lot more than just storehouses for books these days, for example in some inner-city libraries, in one library in NYC I read about a chess grandmaster giving lessons for free!).

All of those public services are paid for via the wealth created by the private sector. We have MRI machines and CT scanners and other healthcare electronics and technologies, which are constantly becoming cheaper and better quality as the technology advances, thus making them available to more and more people. We have meat widely available, which itself used to be a luxury. People are unequally wealthy in modern Western societies.

Remember, just as poverty is a relative term, so is wealth.

Poverty has a relative and an absolute form. I suppose the absolute level could be taken as the threshold whereby you have enough to feed and house yourself (though again no two people will agree). Relative poverty (which has a very strong correlation with, among other things, inequalities in life expectancy) is real and important. Excessive inequalities have a corrosive effect on the poor - at least as great, if not greater than, actual GDP per capita.
Well a few things:

1) Life expectancy can be a tricky measurement. For example, the United States measures lower in life expectancy if you include car accidents and homicides (we have a lot of people killed from these). So if you are trying to use life expectancy as a way to gauge the general health of the population, you have to correct statistically for those things. It has been found if you correct for car accidents and homicides that the U.S. ranks a lot higher in terms of life expectancy.

2) Excessive inequality is bad if it is a true inequality. But this again can be misleading if one just looks at statistics and ignores the actual material standard of living available to people. Remember also that groups such as "the poor" and "the rich" are income and wealth brackets, not really fixed classes of people.
 

russ_watters

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Everybody would have their own idea. How do you define it? In a general way, I'd like to think kids born to poorer families had exactly the same chance as the rich kids to get a top job, live in a great house, live beyond the age of 70 etc. But the fact is that they don't have the same chance. They might do it, but the odds are heavily in favour of the rich. They can buy the private tutor, send their child to an exclusive school, pay for all the enrichment activities, school trips etc.

[separate post]
This issue goes to the heart of many problems. Individuals will want to behave, quite naturally, in ways that maximise benefit both to themselves and their families. However, there can be little doubt that, if there is to be a free and equal society, the distorting effects of generational advantage have to be somehow moderated. Inheritance tax, for example.

Interventions by the state that override individual wishes are commonplace – governments generally don’t give people the free choice whether or not to pay taxes, obey the speed limit and so on. The thinking is that there can be a greater good than individual freedom.
Otherwise you simply can’t have a free and equal society. Not that everybody wants one.
I can think of only three ways to ensure that all kids have "exactly the same chance...", none of which seem very desirable to me:

1. Seize all children from their parents at birth and raise them in government-run orphanages.
2. Randomly re-distribute all newborn babies, in the hospital, at birth.
3. Complete Communism, with no monetary system. Everyone gets issued an identical apartment, food, clothes, and randomly selected spouse, by the government.

No, these do not fit my idea of "fairness". My idea of "fairness" as it pertains to government intervention is simply equal treatment under the law. Seizing the fruits of one's labor and giving it to someone who didn't earn it does not fit with that ideal. Nor does denying a person the right to utilize the fruits of their labor as they choose fit with the equally important (to me) ideal of freedom.
 

russ_watters

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Now I might well be told either that this isn't true or that it is true, but unavoidable in the real world. The former is simple nonesense and doesn't stand up to even the most cursory scrutiny; the latter might be true. But I don't think it is.
Ignoring the strawman: how do you think the latter can be avoided?
Poverty has a relative and an absolute form. I suppose the absolute level could be taken as the threshold whereby you have enough to feed and house yourself (though again no two people will agree). Relative poverty (which has a very strong correlation with, among other things, inequalities in life expectancy) is real and important. Excessive inequalities have a corrosive effect on the poor - at least as great, if not greater than, actual GDP per capita.
While it is true that there are people who favor the concept of relative poverty, it creates obvious logical contradictions and requires arbitrary definitions of group to be measured. Some that I alluded to in my previous post. The same person can be simultaneously labeled "rich" or "poor" depending on where one draws a geographical or philosophical line to separate them from other people. For that reason, I reject the concept. However, I would be interested in hearing what you mean by the "corrosive effect" of relative poverty.
 

russ_watters

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If the prizes on offer were unlimited, this might conceivably be possible. But they’re not. For example, top universities are limited in the number of places they offer – therefore if rich kids have elbowed their way in then this clearly presents a barrier to poor kids.
You're thinking too narrowly. The gaps in achievement are plenty wide enough for poor kids to succeed without the need to "elbow out" a rich kid. When the status quo is the $20,000k a year (for example) income of their parents, "success" requires only a community college degree, which anyone can get and the government will finance.
Are you seriously suggesting that the illusion of meritocracy isn’t cultivated by the powerful?
I don't think you meant to use the word "meritocracy" there, but in any case, if you have any citations of people claiming in a relevant context that everyone has an equal chance to succeed, I'd be glad to consider it in context.

I can think of only one semi-relevant example: growing up, our teachers and parents are trained to tell us that we all can be whatever we want. That's naive and wrong and imo destructive, but it is mostly just a motivator for kids and not an intellectual argument.
Surely I don’t have to sit here waiting for somebody else to bring it up first, or ask permission to do so?
Of course not. What you did wrong there was how you prefaced your opinion, not the fact that you gave it. When you respond to someone else's point (mine) and say "Now I just happen to believe it is wrong to imply..." you are implying that I said what comes after. That's putting words in my mouth. Better would be to say: "I've heard people say in other contexts...." At least that provides us the opportunity to pick up or ignore the argument by proxy, rather than feeling targeted by a strawman.
You can place as many bets as you like, but only once you’re allowed into the casino. And to torture the metaphor a bit more, some are playing with loaded dice.
Agreed and my point was that while it is true that for some people the dice come loaded in their favor, other people unwittingly load the dice against themselves.
Lest you read into something I haven’t said, I consider myself neither defeatist nor to have a self-destructive streak. Perhaps I misread this part.
I know people who'se parents have told them: "The odds are stacked against you. You can't succeed. So don't even try."

Maybe you believe the odds are stacked against you but will try anyway and if so, good for you. Maybe you're not even in the "odds stacked against you" group. I don't know. I'm just pointing out where the logic leads.
I’m not too sure what you mean by ‘socialistic’ policies are – I suspect they’ll be diluted versions of the same ones operated perfectly well in Scandinavian Europe, which enjoys GDP per capita on a par, or even greater than, the US and UK, and with welfare and educations systems that are considered to be much superior.
The world financial crisis has been brought about by the egregious misbehaviour of some of the West’s financial institutions, leaving many governments at the mercy of the bond markets. A purely capitalist catastrophe.
The countries that failed or came closest to failing were ones that in recent times made spectacular increases in their level of underfunded social policies. For example, here is Greek vs Eurozone debt over the past 10 years, vs the EU average: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Greek_debt_and_EU_average.png
"Government deficit: Huge fiscal imbalances developed during the past six years from 2004 to 2009, where "the output increased in nominal terms by 40%, while central government primary expenditures increased by 87% against an increase of only 31% in tax revenues."

While it is true that the crisis was precipitated by bank misbehavior, government overspending is why it is so bad and we're having so much trouble getting out.
The rich aren’t getting the fallout – it’s the poor. As usual.
That's not really true, at least in the US. The peaks and valleys don't line up and the top two brackets hit new highs just before the recent recession, but the five brackets and top 5% all saw significant drops in income:
First Fifth: -16%
Second Fifth: -12%
Third Fifth: -10%
Fourth Fifth: -7%
Fifth Fifth: -7%
Top 5%: -11%

The effect is likely magnified if you zoom in to the top 1% (or smaller) since much of their income is derived from investments.

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/household/2011/H03AR_2011.xls [Broken]

This issue goes to the heart of many problems. Individuals will want to behave, quite naturally, in ways that maximise benefit both to themselves and their families. However, there can be little doubt that, if there is to be a free and equal society, the distorting effects of generational advantage have to be [emphasis added] somehow moderated. Inheritance tax, for example.
Interventions by the state that override individual wishes are commonplace – governments generally don’t give people the free choice whether or not to pay taxes, obey the speed limit and so on. The thinking is that there can be a greater good than individual freedom.
Otherwise you simply can’t have a free and equal society. Not that everybody wants one.
Indeed, not everyone wants such a high level of forced equality as I illustrated in my previous post. But "equal" can be referring to equality of outcome or equality of treatment under the law and they are two very different things. My problem with your (and yours is not unique) formulation of "equality" is that the lengths government must to in order to accomplish it can have a stifling effect on productivity and achievement. So my question to you is:

You say you value equality of outcome over freedom at least to some extent. Results from the Soviet Union imply that forced equality and achievement are somewhat mutually exclusive. So are you willing to accept a lower standard of living for all just so you can say you have equality?

Circling back to the point of the thread, attitudes like yours are out there and they scare me. So if/when I might have a strong negative reaction to the word "communism" or even the softer "socialism", that would be the reason why.
 
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russ_watters

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The reason a communist/socialist system would fail is because it is still a centrally-planned economic system. You have a central authority trying to decide how to ration scarce resources throughout the economy and determine what to produce.
Ok, I can definitely see that. One of the criticisms from both sides of the fence, of the Soviet Union was that it did such a poor job of management. A capitalist might say that such central planning is impossible, while a Communist would probably say that the USSR just sucked at it.
However, I think that people can very much have hearts of gold and still be competitive, it's just it would be a friendly competition. Self-interest is not the same as ruthless selfishness and greed. You wouldn't find such companies suing other companies for frivolous reasons solely to try and run them out of business, you wouldn't have to worry about businesses lobbying the government for corrupt purposes, there would be no concern about businesses polluting the environment if they don't have to or creating unsafe products, or of mistreating workers with unsafe working conditions or excessive work hours. Such a system could even lead to society achieving more if the people were devoted to working hard and producing and building great things, as opposed to just raw making money.
It is tough to separate the two, but I follow.
 
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I see it a bit like lumping together capitalism and democracy.
Okay, but there are no principles, as such, to Capitalism. Or the only principle is that any wealth generated goes to the person who provided the capital investment. Of course a small amount of generated wealth goes to the workers in exchange for labour, but essentially, the profits go to the one who provided the capital. That’s it. Capitalism does not require equality of opportunity. So in Goodison_Lad’s terms, Capitalism does not blame the poor or credit the rich either, it is equally indifferent to both. There are many more principles to communism, such as no private property, all property belongs to the collective, all wealth is the wealth of the collective. That is not how it was actually practiced, but that is the principle. So when Goodison_Lad gives us his (I agree with you, totally misguided) sense of fairness, he is really contrasting communism with liberal democracy rather than with capitalism. It seems to me.
 

russ_watters

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Okay, but there are no principles, as such, to Capitalism. Or the only principle is that any wealth generated goes to the person who provided the capital investment. Of course a small amount of generated wealth goes to the workers in exchange for labour, but essentially, the profits go to the one who provided the capital. That’s it. Capitalism does not require equality of opportunity.
I agree with most of that but have minor quibble with the last. The fact that ownership of capital is private implies freedom from government ownership/control. And many of the same laws that protect freedom for the owners would protect it for the workers as well. Government policy that favored freedom for one group but not another would not be internally consistent, so while it isn't required (see: pre-civil war US), it is certainly heavily implied. That's why capitalism and democracy are said to be philosophically aligned.
So in Goodison_Lad’s terms, Capitalism does not blame the poor or credit the rich either, it is equally indifferent to both.
I agree that consistency demands that, but I don't think that's what Goodison_Lad believes. I think he believes the system itself favors the rich over the poor.

There's an argument to be made wrt the Gilded Age: freedom from government control means that the citizens vie for private control -- and some will achieve more. However, that is tangential to the point that government (the system) itself is indifferent. And I consider that an important distinction.
There are many more principles to communism, such as no private property, all property belongs to the collective, all wealth is the wealth of the collective. That is not how it was actually practiced, but that is the principle. So when Goodison_Lad gives us his (I agree with you, totally misguided) sense of fairness, he is really contrasting communism with liberal democracy rather than with capitalism. It seems to me.
I think I mostly agree.
 

mheslep

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I can think of only three ways to ensure that all kids have "exactly the same chance...", none of which seem very desirable to me:

1. Seize all children from their parents at birth and raise them in government-run orphanages.
2. Randomly re-distribute all newborn babies, in the hospital, at birth.
3. Complete Communism, with no monetary system. Everyone gets issued an identical apartment, food, clothes, and randomly selected spouse, by the government.
...
I don't see how even those radical methods come close to achieving enforced equality. How does the tone-deaf child ever have the same chance as the next Yo-Yo Ma? The next child of below average intelligence have the same chance as the next Einstein?
 
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russ_watters

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I don't see how even those radical methods come close to achieving enforced equality. How does the tone-deaf child ever have the same chance as the next Yo-Yo Ma? The next child of below average intelligence have the same chance as the next Einstein?
No, you just lack vision for imagining the depths of equality that are achievable under my formulation of the Communist Utopia.

There are two different ways you could go with this, depending on whether you want to equalize the odds of success or the success itself. Typically, I think the purpose of redistribution is to equalize the fruits of success itself, so that's the direction I'd choose to go:

A Communist Utopia that values equality of outcome above all else could simply randomly issue pre-defined lives to all of its citizens. I didn't develop the idea in my previous post, but I did open the door with the starting point of randomly assigned parents. In this utopia of equality, there'd be little risk of Yo Yo Ma taking unfair advantage of the genetic gifts his parents gave him, as odds are he'd be more likely to end up as a factory laborer than a cellist. And don't concern yourself with the thought that the lead cellist in the Symphony couldn't handle the job: the audience would be assigned to attend the concerts, so the quality of the show wouldn't matter anyway.

Even the effects of genetic pre-dispositions to disease - or lack thereof - could be equalized with random killings and maimings, in proportion to the rates of such diseases.

Parts of this vision brought to you by Harrison Bergeron: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron
However, the vision in that story is limited as well. In that story, the members of the ballet are all wearing handicapping weights and masks in proportion to their physical gifts, but the ballet still stars a quality prim-ballerina in a troupe of random talent. That doesn't make logical sense to me, nor is it fair to allow the best ballerina (equalizing handicaps or not) to lead. The entire troupe should be randomly selected from the general population, for maximum equality.
 
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apeiron

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A Communist Utopia that values equality of outcome above all else could simply randomly issue pre-defined lives to all of its citizens.
A communist utopia does not attempt to force exact equality on people. That is a strawman argument. Instead it speaks of removing various constraints on the masses. The utopian view aspires to a general freedom from oppression, alienation and scarcity. Historically it was a reaction to the entrenched inequality of monied society - capitalism as it was in the Victorian era.

So in terms of pure communist theory, the issue was that capitalism was producing a super-abundance of goods - plenty for everyone if it were shared. But there were systems of repression in place that prevented that happening. The flaw of course lay in believing that the solution was to take public ownership of all private property - an extreme response that would remove individual incentive and pretty much kill any geese laying golden eggs.

As ever, politics it is about balancing the natural tensions of society. Creating the right mix of private and public good.

So in a general sense, the social policies that followed from the desire to rebalance the world of Victorian capitalism have been a great success - in the hands of social democrats if not so much those of communist or facist regimes (where totalitarian state control did usurp the dream of removing material and social constraints on the individual).

Welfare policies, public health policies, general education policies, employment policies - where would we now be without them?

But roll forward to the current era with globalisation and neo-liberal deregulation. Once again entrenched elites and gross inequalities are becoming a concern for many people.

And once again, it seems, the social system is either going to have to reform itself, swing the pendulum back the other way (as happened reasonably peacefully in most Western countries last century) or lead to the kind of chaotic breakdown in which totalitarian regimes emerge as the "answer".

Of course the alternative to significant reform appears to be to continue to fake growth by running up further debt. Let everyone eat cake, as someone once said when the mob was at the gate.

The flaw in capitalism is the belief that super-abundance need have no limits. Well, that and the belief in some quarters that all public property should be taken into private ownership to allow that to be the case. :smile:
 

russ_watters

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A communist utopia does not attempt to force exact equality on people. That is a strawman argument.
I made no argument there, so it can't be a strawman. It was, however, a purposeful caricature, illustrating where the logic of communism might take someone if they run with it. There are a lot interpretations of it and a lot of different ways one might eliminate the obstacles of unequal economic circumstances and life chances and extents to which one might take them:
Marx said:
"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."
Or ballerina. Regardless of if I have any actual skill in it or not. But the picture I painted is actually closer to the reality of the implementation than Marx's vision, where lives are assigned by the state rather than pursued by the individuals -- it's just that in the actual implementation, lives are assigned with the good of the state in mind, not the individuality or equality of the people.
 
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apeiron

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Quote by Marx

"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."
Can you show me where in your quote from Marx that he is arguing for an enforced equality of outcome rather than a general equality of opportunity?

In his ideal world (apparently modelled on the life of an English country gent) you would be free to do all these things, but by what leap of logic is he saying life would be regulated to the extent that everyone would be equally good (or even bad) at them?
 
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The Tenth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR (March of 1921) outlawed the factions that supported Marx's idea of direct control of the industries by the assemblies of workers. Instead of workers' self-management, they declared control of industry by the Communist Party, "for" the workers, or "in the name of" the workers. They implemented Lenin's vanguard concept, which had no basis in anything that Marx ever wrote. With that action, the Soviet Union abandoned Marxism in 1921. After that time, there was no virtually no Marxian influence in the Soviet Union. Only Marx's name remained in the official slogans.
 

russ_watters

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Can you show me where in your quote from Marx that he is arguing for an enforced equality of outcome rather than a general equality of opportunity?
He wasn't in that quote. That quote was just saying people can do what they want. The "elimination" of money and class are where the idea of complete equality of outcome are discussed. Opportunity and outcome are opposite sides of the same coin.
In his ideal world (apparently modelled on the life of an English country gent) you would be free to do all these things, but by what leap of logic is he saying life would be regulated to the extent that everyone would be equally good (or even bad) at them?
No leap in logic required, just the next step: If there is no money and no class (and the word used was "eliminate", not reduce), then that means total equality in the results of their efforts, regardless of how good those efforts are. That can be done indirectly/after the fact, by simply "paying" everyone the same (in quotes because ideally it wouldn't involve money, just issuing them the same food and housing) regardless of how good they are at what they do or directly, by making them equal at what they do. The indirect is the method chosen in practice, but as mhselp pointed out, it isn't really possible for that method to produce absolute equality. For example, even if you pay them the same as everyone else, members of the Bolshoi will still become famous, creating a de facto class division.

It should be obvious: if having more money than another confers an advantage and a class division, then the only way to fully eliminate those divisions is to fully equalize the distribution of money. If having more talent confers higher social status, then the only way to fully eliminate the social divisions is to eliminate the performance differences caused by the talent differences.

Imo, this is one of the key flaws in communism: it is a naive and incomplete thought. Eliminating money and declaring class to be nonexistent does not magically make divisions go away. Divisions (differences in outcome) are both inevitable and more importantly, necessary to the functionality of a society.
 
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apeiron

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He wasn't in that quote. That quote was just saying people can do what they want. The "elimination" of money and class are where the idea of complete equality of outcome are discussed. Opportunity and outcome are opposite sides of the same coin.
I'm really struggling to see how you can support this claim that the communist utopia or Marxian socialism is about "complete equality of outcome". If you are saying Marx discussed this, where exactly?

And in what sense are you suggesting that outcome and opportunity are two sides of the same coin? To ensure an outcome, surely you have to reduce opportunity?

In the meantime, here is the wiki page on the issue... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equality_of_outcome

Comments that seem relevant are...

Commentator Ed Rooksby in The Guardian criticized the right's tendency to oversimplify, and suggested that serious left-leaning advocates would not construe equality to mean "absolute equality of everything".[8] Rooksby wrote that Marx favored the position described in the phrase "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", and argued that this did not imply strict equality of things, but that it meant that people required "different things in different proportions in order to flourish."
Socialists believe in "inequality of opportunity and equality of outcome" according to Oliver. They often see equality of outcome as a positive good, and that policies such as the redistribution of wealth as well as less extreme measures such as progressive taxation are morally good if they achieve equal outcomes. Although only a small minority of socialist theories advocate complete economic equality of outcome in practice (anarcho-communism is one such school) and instead see an ideal economy as one where remuneration is proportional to the degree of effort and personal sacrifice expended by individuals in the productive process.
So people seem to think that the key to Marx's theory was the phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

Marx delineated the specific conditions under which such a creed would be applicable—a society where technology and social organization had substantially eliminated the need for physical labor in the production of things, where "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want".[9] Marx explained his belief that, in such a society, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society despite the absence of a social mechanism compelling them to work, because work would have become a pleasurable and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, "from each according to his ability" to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as they can, but that each person should best develop their particular talents.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_each_according_to_his_ability,_to_each_according_to_his_need
So it seems that interpretations of Marxian theory/Communist Utopia differ quite markedly from what you have been claiming.

No leap in logic required, just the next step: If there is no money and no class (and the word used was "eliminate", not reduce), then that means total equality in the results of their efforts, regardless of how good those efforts are. That can be done indirectly/after the fact, by simply "paying" everyone the same (in quotes because ideally it wouldn't involve money, just issuing them the same food and housing) regardless of how good they are at what they do or directly, by making them equal at what they do. The indirect is the method chosen in practice, but as mhselp pointed out, it isn't really possible for that method to produce absolute equality. For example, even if you pay them the same as everyone else, members of the Bolshoi will still become famous, creating a de facto class division.
But it still appears a straw man argument to be claiming that the aim was in fact absolute equality of outcome. It seems fair enough to say the desire was for a reasonable equality of outcome - as equal as possible without depriving individuals of the right to express their particular talents, or making allowance for the differing capacities of individuals to contribute. However you keep saying the goal was absolute actual equality - which clearly is unreasonable, impossible, etc, and so an easy straw man position to caricature.

Imo, this is one of the key flaws in communism: it is a naive and incomplete thought. Eliminating money and declaring class to be nonexistent does not magically make divisions go away. Divisions (differences in outcome) are both inevitable and more importantly, necessary to the functionality of a society.
Communism clearly had the flaws of extremism as a utopian theory. But I thought most people agreed the key one was the impracticality of complete public ownership of the means of production. Valuable goods always have a way of ending up in someone's hands, never lingering long in any notional entity.

However I am seeing no evidence for your claim that a key theoretical goal of communism was absolute equality of outcome. It only seems to have been a reasonable level of equality.

On the other hand, I am of the opinion that an apparent belief in no social limits on inequality of outcome is the grave flaw in neo-liberal capitalism.

So I can see that a tactic to defend this acceptance of an unlimited inequality of outcome might be to frame the political alternative as a scary place where people are forced to attend concerts given by inadequates while Yo-Yo Ma is a labourer's child somewhere and other such dystopian fantasies that have never happened.
 

mheslep

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...With that action, the Soviet Union abandoned Marxism in 1921. After that time, there was no virtually no Marxian influence in the Soviet Union. Only Marx's name remained in the official slogans.
Hardly. Because it was so written on a piece of paper does not make it so in reality. Changing control from the workers in the factories to the Communist party does not mean all the tenants of Marxism ceased to exist in any form.
 

mheslep

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No, you just lack vision for imagining the depths of equality that are achievable under my formulation of the Communist Utopia.

...
Drat. I refuse to be held down by a lack of vision talent. Bring 'round Vonnegut's Utopia, where my vision is as valuable as everyone else's.
 
The rich will always have greater opportunities then the poor. Absolute equality of opportunity in that sense can rarely be achieved.
Yes, I agree that absolute equality of opportunity is unlikely ever to be achieved. Human nature will see to that. In all societies the powerful will do their damndest to ensure they stay ahead of the game.
They are still richer than the vast majority of people in the world who live in squalid poverty and almost everyone throughout prior history…
But while it is, of course, inarguable that absolute standards of living have improved I think the role of relative poverty is extremely important. Very few of the poor in the UK or the US look to, say, sub-Saharan Africa to judge how their lives are going – they’ll use their everyday experiences of struggle to get the feel for that. My perception of my position is relative to the society I find myself in. If I were to lose my job and home I wouldn’t relate it to how badly off my great grandparents were in absolute terms – my misery would be the misery of being unable to participate on a equal footing (or anything like it) in this society.
They also live in what are very free societies…
I don’t think capitalism and free-societies are necessarily the same thing. China is embracing with great enthusiasm many of the principles of capitalism, yet is far from a free society. It is projected to become wealthy, eventually perhaps reaching Western levels of GDP per capita. The interesting question is whether it will retain its nature as a one-party state under these circumstances. Communist it certainly isn’t.
All of those public services are paid for via the wealth created by the private sector.
I would disagree with you that the only source of a nation’s wealth is the activity of the private sector (if that’s what you meant). Public sector workers pay taxes too. Public sector and private sector combine to produce a nation’s wealth – it is a complex and dynamic interaction. At a daftly simple level, private sector workers get to work on public sector roads, and are therefore able to be productive and pay taxes; if they fall ill they are treated (to varying degrees according to the country) by public sector health systems and are able to return to being productive; they operate in a relatively secure country due to the public-sector police force and armed forces; if they fall out of work, the public sector feeds them (again, to varying degrees according to the country) so that they can get by until their luck (hopefully) turns; and public sector workers, in their turn, spend money in the private sector that enables it to turn a profit.

Governments in control of a sovereign currency have dramatic powers to influence things. The UK government was able to produce £300 billion pounds at the press of a computer key of quantitative easing in an attempts to boost an economy where the private sector was finding it impossible to grow (still is!). The government would have had to wait decades to raise that sort of money through taxes, whether on the private sector or elsewhere.

1) Life expectancy can be a tricky measurement. For example, the United States measures lower in life expectancy if you include car accidents and homicides (we have a lot of people killed from these).
The homicide and car-accident rates of the US are, indeed, relatively high (I’m guessing perhaps 50,000 to 80,000 per annum, combined – maybe more?). But out of the five or six million deaths per year, this strikes me as relatively small. And the deaths would have to be disproportionately concentrated among the poor for this to be a main driver of the life-expectancy gap. While this is conceivably true for murders, I’m not sure it would be true for car accidents. If you could point me towards anything you’ve come across in this area, I’d be interested. But the US is but one data point – the correlation is generally true across many countries.
2) Remember also that groups such as "the poor" and "the rich" are income and wealth brackets, not really fixed classes of people.
Regarding the labels ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ you are right that these are not rigidly fixed groups. But neither are they completely fluid. If they were fluid, I’d see less of a problem. Social mobility in both the UK and US is quite low – born poor, likely to end up poor. Not inevitable, but likely. I don’t know about the US but in the UK social class remains, despite vehement claims to the contrary, a major determinant of future success. While only 7% of UK children are educated in fee-paying schools, over 70% of our top lawyers and judges were educated in them. The figures for top medics, government ministers, top journalists etc. are of similar magnitudes. There are correspondingly dismal patterns at the other end of the wealth system.

One of the more interesting changes in the UK in recent years is that people are less likely to self-declare as working class, even if they have very poor education and an unskilled, low paid job. Beats me. Perhaps this is why politicians in the UK spend a lot of time talking about how they’re going to help the ‘middle’.
 
No, these do not fit my idea of "fairness". My idea of "fairness" as it pertains to government intervention is simply equal treatment under the law. Seizing the fruits of one's labor and giving it to someone who didn't earn it does not fit with that ideal. Nor does denying a person the right to utilize the fruits of their labor as they choose fit with the equally important (to me) ideal of freedom.
But surely it is a matter of degree. I understand fully the abhorrence felt towards denying a person the right to utilize the fruits of their labour. But all reasonable and intelligent people recognise the necessity of denying an individual of some of their money for the greater good.

There is an assumption at the heart of so-called free-market capitalism that whatever you 'earn' is deserved - 'I'm worth it'. It's effectively a definition, and one heard more loudly the richer the person. For some reason, excessive greed (not the exact point we're on, but I'm sure you'll forgive me) has become a bigger problem in the UK than even the US.

To me, a far greater crime is committed by denying someone the real chance to earn enough to be outraged at having the fruits of their labour seized. Not enough fruit is harvested.
 
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The rich will always have greater opportunities then the poor. Absolute equality of opportunity in that sense can rarely be achieved. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that if everyone cannot have such opportunity, then no one should (not saying you are, but just in case).
Just some armchair philosophizing, meaning that there is no substantiation. So here is A, offspring of a multimulionairte and B, a nobody of which nobody knows who his parents are. A gets anything he/she wants and even the things he/she had no idea he/she wanted them. B gets nothing and has to fight for every hump of bread.

So after ten/twenthy years who has the most chance to make it? Survive hardship. Grasping any opportunitiy to improve living conditions. A may lose assets faster than B is gaining them.

Just two cents.
 
However, I would be interested in hearing what you mean by the "corrosive effect" of relative poverty.
Poorer quality education, low-quality housing, more likely to be the victim of crime - particularly violence, poor general health, die younger, higher rates of depression and suicide, unable to afford the healthcare that the more affluent can, having to hold down two or more crappy jobs to earn just enough money for it to be not quite enough, pay through the nose for high-interest credit because you are high risk, can't buy your children the Christmas presents etc. that richer kids have, can't afford any sort of break/holiday from the grind.

And being told by invariably wealthy politicians it's your fault.
 

apeiron

Gold Member
1,971
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Poorer quality education, low-quality housing, more likely to be the victim of crime - particularly violence, poor general health, die younger, higher rates of depression and suicide, unable to afford the healthcare that the more affluent can, having to hold down two or more crappy jobs to earn just enough money for it to be not quite enough, pay through the nose for high-interest credit because you are high risk, can't buy your children the Christmas presents etc. that richer kids have, can't afford any sort of break/holiday from the grind.
In the UK, you have researchers like Richard Wilkinson publishing on how even relative poverty has corrosive effects - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_G._Wilkinson

And being told by invariably wealthy politicians it's your fault.
Have you been reading Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class? From the book's blurb...

From Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard to the demonization of Jade Goody, media and politicians alike dismiss as feckless, criminalized and ignorant a vast, underprivileged swathe of society whose members have become stereotyped by one, hate-filled word: chavs...The chav stereotype, he argues, is used by governments as a convenient figleaf to avoid genuine engagement with social and economic problems and to justify widening inequality.
 

CAC1001

I don’t think capitalism and free-societies are necessarily the same thing. China is embracing with great enthusiasm many of the principles of capitalism, yet is far from a free society. It is projected to become wealthy, eventually perhaps reaching Western levels of GDP per capita. The interesting question is whether it will retain its nature as a one-party state under these circumstances. Communist it certainly isn’t.
Yes, capitalism unto itself doesn't mean a free society. When capitalism is combined with a market and a liberal democratic government, you have a free society.

I would disagree with you that the only source of a nation’s wealth is the activity of the private sector (if that’s what you meant). Public sector workers pay taxes too. Public sector and private sector combine to produce a nation’s wealth – it is a complex and dynamic interaction.
Public-sector workers are paid for via the tax revenue that is taken from taxing the private-sector. The public sector for the most part produces zero wealth. It is funded by the wealth created in the private sector.

At a daftly simple level, private sector workers get to work on public sector roads, and are therefore able to be productive and pay taxes; if they fall ill they are treated (to varying degrees according to the country) by public sector health systems and are able to return to being productive; they operate in a relatively secure country due to the public-sector police force and armed forces; if they fall out of work, the public sector feeds them (again, to varying degrees according to the country) so that they can get by until their luck (hopefully) turns; and public sector workers, in their turn, spend money in the private sector that enables it to turn a profit.
Sure, the public-sector is an aid to society, but it's ultimately financed by the private-sector.

Governments in control of a sovereign currency have dramatic powers to influence things. The UK government was able to produce £300 billion pounds at the press of a computer key of quantitative easing in an attempts to boost an economy where the private sector was finding it impossible to grow (still is!). The government would have had to wait decades to raise that sort of money through taxes, whether on the private sector or elsewhere.
Quantitative easing is monetary policy, not fiscal policy (taxes and spending). It is not wealth creation by the government.

The homicide and car-accident rates of the US are, indeed, relatively high (I’m guessing perhaps 50,000 to 80,000 per annum, combined – maybe more?). But out of the five or six million deaths per year, this strikes me as relatively small. And the deaths would have to be disproportionately concentrated among the poor for this to be a main driver of the life-expectancy gap. While this is conceivably true for murders, I’m not sure it would be true for car accidents. If you could point me towards anything you’ve come across in this area, I’d be interested. But the US is but one data point – the correlation is generally true across many countries.
Why would the deaths need to be concentrated among the poor for it to be a main driver of the life-expectancy gap?

Regarding the labels ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ you are right that these are not rigidly fixed groups. But neither are they completely fluid. If they were fluid, I’d see less of a problem. Social mobility in both the UK and US is quite low – born poor, likely to end up poor. Not inevitable, but likely. I don’t know about the US but in the UK social class remains, despite vehement claims to the contrary, a major determinant of future success. While only 7% of UK children are educated in fee-paying schools, over 70% of our top lawyers and judges were educated in them. The figures for top medics, government ministers, top journalists etc. are of similar magnitudes. There are correspondingly dismal patterns at the other end of the wealth system.
One thing, social mobility is another arbitrary phrase. It can refer to the generations of people and their economic situation or a person's movement up and down the ladder in a single lifetime.

One of the more interesting changes in the UK in recent years is that people are less likely to self-declare as working class, even if they have very poor education and an unskilled, low paid job. Beats me. Perhaps this is why politicians in the UK spend a lot of time talking about how they’re going to help the ‘middle’.
"Working class" is another one of those arbitrary terms. I mean everyone who works for their money is "working class" IMO, whether earning $30K or $300K a year.
 

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