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Is socialism stable?

  1. May 15, 2005 #1
    Political Perspectives

    Hello loseyourname (and anyone else interested), I've copied your last entry in the 'Great Tragedies' thread as per my response there so we can continue this discussion:

    What you write here is very true, loseyourname. I must admit that if I had not grown up in the particular society I grew up in, and had not studied when and where I did, I may have never experienced the explanatory power of the Marxist perspective and may have been convinced by other paradigms. The thing was, though, that the politics of South Africa were very confusing (especially to a very innocent young person who had had no idea what was going on). At first, I tried to understand what was happening using a ‘race’ analysis: ie, that the political system of apartheid was a result of white people’s racism. But it didn’t take much thought to figure out that this couldn’t be the case – I mean, not everyone was racist, and many 'white' people totally disagreed with the racist laws of the land. Another confusing thing was that there were 'black' people working for the state as well – for example, as policemen. Now why would they do that if the system could be understood in terms of race? Did they really agree with the racist laws which were, after all, against their own interests too? I mean, were they racist against themselves? It was a real puzzle: terrible things were being done to innocent people in the name of ‘justice’ and ‘decency’ and ‘law and order’, and as a student of politics it was my task to analyse and understand the situation, so I could no longer ignore it. That’s how most people got by back then – they just ignored politics and pretended not to see any of the awful things that were happening (the killing of school children, the detentions without trial, assassinations of political activists, and general extreme exploitation and deprivation on numerous fronts). In any case, I no longer had the luxury of ignoring the situation; I had to find a way of making sense of it all, and Marxism certainly provided the analytical tools for doing this in a much clearer way than anything as ill-defined as ‘racism’ or 'tribalism' could. If one looked at the historical and economic reasons for what was happening, it started making sense. The more I learned about Marxism, the more it explained.

    I honestly cannot use concepts like Huntington’s ‘the clash of civilizations’ to make sense of the world. To me those are strategies used by the powerful to obscure the real reasons for the conflicts that have occurred historically and that are occurring now. The colonial slogan, ‘Divide and rule’ says it all: if you divide communities by religion, race, culture, sex, etc, then you can control them because they will not join together to address the real issues in their lives. This is what was consciously done to the working class in South Africa: it was deliberately divided along racist lines so that white workers would not join with black workers in working towards changing an unjust system. I cannot possibly summarise all the detailed study I have done on this issue over the years, but the evidence is there for you to read about if you are interested.

    I would say that Marx’s prediction that increasing disparities in wealth would occur (the increasing concentration of immense wealth in the hands of the few and the relegation of the many to miserable lives of poverty) has come true, and is continuing to come more and more true as we speak. You say not – but show me your evidence? The thing is, millions of people live on $1 or $2 per day – I would call this poverty. And a small group of people are making immense profits (ie, wealth is being increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands – one cannot argue about the power of the large corporations, many of which are wealthier than entire nations – I can look up figures if you want me to).

    I would not classify Cuba as a Marxist state (actually, as I’ve said before, I think it is confusing to use the word ‘Marxist’ to describe a political system; it would be less confusing to use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ as these are systems of government while Marxism is a theoretical perspective). Castro’s party did not represent socialist ideals – Castro was actually a nationalist. The distinction between nationalist and socialist political parties and ideas is important, but again, it would take a lot of time to explore this issue in depth. One thing I found out when analysing South African politics that may be illuminating regarding this issue was that the ANC was not a socialist party, but actually nationalist, and the implications of this were incredibly significant as this explains why the miserable social and economic conditions of the bulk of the population have not changed since the ANC came to power. Instead there are now a number of ‘black’ faces amongst the rich (and please excuse my use of the words ‘black’ and ‘white’, but there is no other way of discussing the politics I am talking about here).

    You are correct, loseyourname: people do not align themselves along class lines. Marxist theory itself explains why this should be the case: the prevailing ideology is the ideology of the ruling class. Powerful groups work really hard to deflect attention from any analysis in terms of class (to deflect even any thought of economic classes), and because of the power of institutions they control (such as the mass media and the formal education system), they are largely successful. What I am saying is that people are actively encouraged to think in terms of religious, cultural, and ethnic divisions rather than to think about the things that really matter: the real economic implications underlying all political and social policies.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2005 #2


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    How about showing us your evidence? That's generally the way burden of proof in science works.

    When pressed in the other thread, you refused to look at the long term trends. Yes, it is true that billions of people live on $1 or $2 a day in this world. But the prediction was that poverty would increase. It has not - it has dropped drastically.

    The income inequality is more problematic - for Marxism, that is - because of class mobility. While depending on how you use the statistics, income equality is getting worse (which is why I want to see how you would use the statistics), guys like Bill Gates and Ingvar Kamprad started off from just about nothing to become the richest men in the world.

    And while many, many people talk about fairness, the difficulties faced by lottery winners show the true reason why people consider wealth distribution relevant: greed. Someone winning the lottery does not in any way injure their relatives, yet it often tears families apart because of the perception that people are "owed" a share of it.

    Also, the only justification I've seen for saying income inequality is a bad thing is that it increases poverty - but it only increases poverty if you define poverty according to income inequality. That's circular reasoning and its not acceptable scientifically.

    You posted some statistics in one of the other threads that show that many americans who are not "middle class" define themselves as middle class. I think you misinterpreted the meaning of those statistics - and the threat they pose to Marxism. The fact that most people choose to define themselves as "middle class" does not make them delusionsal, but rather its a reflection of the fact that in the US, such class distinctions are largely irrelevant/meaningless. A 150 years ago, when there were just factories and workers and 350 years ago when there were just land-owners and peasant farmers, it was impossible to miss the differences between the classes: If your floor was dirt, you were a peasant, if you had a servant, you were upper class. Today, its not so simple. Even those that we define as "poor" in the US have tv's, cars, etc. Its tough to call someone "poor" if they have things that 200 years ago a king didn't. And what that means to Marxism is that one of its biggest points isn't just wrong, its irrelevant.
    Last edited: May 15, 2005
  4. May 16, 2005 #3
    may be i am not understending this chart.... but i think it says that the top %1 of the population each time is wealthier while the bottom class each time share less of the wealth..

    These data suggest that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of families. The wealthiest 1 percent of families owns roughly 39 percent of total net wealth, the top 10% of families owns over 72%, and the bottom 40% of the population owns less than 1%.


    Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, make the case for wealth:
    "Ultimately, we are interested in the question of relative standards of living and economic well-being. We need to examine trends in the distribution of wealth, which, more fundamentally than earnings or income, represents a measure of the ability of households to consume."
    Last edited: May 16, 2005
  5. May 16, 2005 #4


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    Yes, that's correct. What's your point?

    To head-off one possible misconception, that fact alone does not imply that the poor are getting poorer. That would only be true if the quantity of wealth available were increasing at the same rate as the population. It is not (its increasing faster than the population), so while the gap gets wider, the poor are still getting richer. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/h03ar.html
    Last edited: May 16, 2005
  6. May 16, 2005 #5
    Thanks for this link, Burnsys - its information is very clearly set out, and you have interpreted it correctly. This table also shows trends in changes of the distribution of wealth over time, but I'll post about that separately.
  7. May 16, 2005 #6
    Burnsys point, Russ, is that if you just have a look at these tables you will see that (as Marx predicted), in the most advanced capitalist country in the world (ie, in the United States) wealth is increasingly becoming concentrated in the hands of the few. Here is a summary of some of the information you will find in these tables if you choose to check them:

    The top fifth (20%) of the US population owned 81.0% of the wealth in 1962 and owned 83.7% of the wealth in 1995 (I’m ignoring the estimate figures of 1997). In other words, the wealth of the top 20% in the US increased by 2.7% in that 33-year period. Conclusion: The wealthy got wealthier, as Marx predicted – so Marx’s theory is not irrelevant.

    The top 1% in the US owned 33.4% of the wealth in 1962 and their share of the ‘pie’ grew to 37.6% in 1995. In other words, the wealth of the top 1% in the US increased by 4.2% in that 33-year period. Conclusion: as above.

    In the same time period, 90% of the US population shared 19% of the total wealth available in 1962, and their share fell to 16.3% in 1995. Conclusion: The poor are getting poorer, as Marx predicted – so Marx’s theory is not irrelevant.

    Nevertheless, Russ, these figures show that the wealthy are getting wealthier and the poor are getting poorer. The true beneficiaries of the system are the wealthiest.
  8. May 16, 2005 #7
    This is not fair, Russ - I have included evidence in many, many of my posts. I am very aware that with my political perspective I'd better have evidence 'or else'! In any case, to make wild claims without using evidence goes against the Marxist method of analysis. Most of my previous posts are backed up with evidence (when I wasn't discussing political theory). Please note my use of evidence in my response below.

    As others have pointed out in the ‘objectivity’ thread, Russ, economics experts disagree about the indicators used to measure poverty and some experts say that there are serious problems with the way in which poverty is defined and measured:
    I found a relevant online reference by Professor Pogge and Assistant Professor Reddy. They published a paper in 2002, available at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hcpds/documents/Pogge Reddy pop.pdf NOTE: this is a US academic paper published on the Harvard University website (just establishing credentials of my sources here). In this paper they clearly outline the problem with the official poverty indicators used by the World Bank and other organizations.

    The paper is entitled “Unknown: The Extent, Distribution, and Trend of Global Income Poverty”. It is brief (12 pdf pages) and well-written, and relatively easy to understand (as economic papers go). The basic argument is that official estimates of world poverty and world poverty trends are inaccurate and err on the side of optimism. Here are a few quotes from the Pogge and Reddy paper:
    In the other paper originally referenced by antfm in the ‘objectivity’ thread, Robert Went (from the Faculty of Economics and Econometrics, Universiteit van Amsterdam - again, please note the academic credentials of my source), the author points out that
    In effect, both papers point out that some economists are 'cooking the books', and ordinary people who do not critically examine the official statistics are being fooled.

    (By the way, Russ, why is it that you constantly demand evidence from others yet you often make statements without backing them up with any evidence yourself :confused: )
  9. May 16, 2005 #8
    I was just wondering about the implications of the footnote referred to in the heading of these tables:
    My interpretation is that the second set of figures take inflation into account, and these are the figures one should refer to in order to identify trends over time as they show that in real terms:
    * the annual income of the poorest 20% of the population in the US increased by a mere $2 407 in 36 years;
    * the annual income of the richest 5% of the population in the US increased by a phenomenal $224 634 in the same time period.

    Hmm, quite a difference to what is shown in the first table at the top of the page. I wonder why the two tables are presented in that order, and why the footnote is so unobtrusively presented? I have a theory about why this should be so…
  10. May 16, 2005 #9
    I would have to agree with russ that inequality of wealth is not a very good measure of poverty. Many people I know here in the US could easily qualify as being below the poverty line yet they still have cars, apartments, televisions, computers, video games, DVDs and the like. I would hardly refer to them as being down and out. Hell, where I live all of these things are common possessions for just about any household. If you don't have cable tv and a cell phone you're almost a minority. Virtually none of these things are really neccisary for survival, though some may try to make a case for it, so from my perspective it would seem that most people live in relative luxury.
  11. May 16, 2005 #10


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    I'm not disputing that the distribution of weath is changing. What I'm disputing is this:
    That does not support the assertion that the poor are getting poorer. Again, you are using two separate definitions of "poor" - one absolute, one relative. The absolute definition is valid, the relative one is not. The relative definition belies the fact that the poor live better than they used to. The true definition of "poor" is based on how you live, which is why an absolute scale is used.
    But that's besides the point: those experts still agree that poverty levels are dropping. All they are disputing is how much.
    I had no trouble interpreting the data and it seems that neither did you, so why bring it up? Regardless, you have now acknowledged the fact that the poor are getting richer!!
    What are you talking about? I have provided evidence - I'm demanding that you reciprocate. But beyond that, what I am demanding is what you implied you wanted in the title of the other thread: objectivity. That means sticking to the facts. Yes, I demand evidence. Yes, I demand consistency. Yes, I demand that you not use arbitrary or ever-changing definitions to avoid admitting a failure of Marxism. Yes, I demand a scientific approach to the discussion. Why do you fight against the very concepts you say you support?

    edit: In the last thread there were a few times I treated some facts as self-evident, and I apologize for that. That said, I still consider such facts as the decreasing poverty rate and the increasing world GDP to be something that everyone - and certainly someone with some education on the subject - should be aware of. I'm still a little incredulous that you would require substantiation of such things, but I have been providing it since. I am aware that most people aren't aware of data represented in that income table I posted above, which is why I [almost] always post it when I discuss the fact that the poor are getting richer.

    edit: alexandra, here is why I think you're being disingenuous and why I dropped out of the last discussion. In post one, you said this:
    You accepted this definition of poverty. Yet, in your response to me, quoted above, you used a different definition in order to avoid dealing with the fact that using the definition I just quoted, poverty has decreased and therefore Marx was wrong.
    Last edited: May 17, 2005
  12. May 16, 2005 #11


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    That's actuall a separate matter altogether and one I've avoided for the sake of consistency when comparing the US to the rest of the world. The fact is, though, that in the US, we define poverty much more strictly than in most other countries. What we identify as "poor" would not qualify in most countries. I generally don't mind this, because I think we should have higher standards, but the net effect is that due to things like welfare, the number of poor in the US, by the typical international standards, is just about zero.
  13. May 16, 2005 #12
    Sorry if I've hurt your arguement at all. I just mean to point out that even though these people have a very small portion of the over all pie it doesn't mean they don't live relatively well. In my opinion this is what makes the gap between them and the wealthy more or less moot point.
    Ofcourse I'm not really drawing on any numbers or anything here so my arguement isn't very scientific.
  14. May 16, 2005 #13


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    Don't sweat it - its quite worthy of discussion. In any case, I agree with pretty much everything you said.
    Yes, one of the things about capitalism is it makes that pie very, very large.
    Last edited: May 16, 2005
  15. May 17, 2005 #14


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    There are two reasons why this is misleading, which Russ began to hit upon. I'm going to try and give a gross, and I mean gross, simplification, to better illustrate:

    Let us imagine a world that had a constant population of 1,000 people for 100 years. At year 0, there was $1 million of absolute wealth in existence. At year 100, there was $100 million of absolute wealth in existence. Both figures are adjusted for inflation so that they accurately reflect the purchasing power of all assets that are in principle liquifiable. Let us imagine that at year 0, 50% of the world's wealth was held by the wealthiest 10% of the population. That means the wealthiest 100 people were collectively worth $500,000 dollars, for an average net worth of $50,000. The average net worth of the average person in this world at year 0 was $1,000. We'll define poverty in this world as being worth less than or equal to 10% of the average net worth; that is, having a personal net worth less than or equal to $100.

    Let us say that the bottom 10% of the population at year 0 possessed 1% of the wealth in the world; that is, the bottom 100 people were collectively worth $1,000. Let's just say that wealth is evenly distributed at this level and that each of these 100 people has a net worth of $100. All of them live in poverty.

    For review, we have 100 people at the top of this society at year 0 that are worth $50,000 on average, and we have 100 people at the bottom of this society at year 0 living in poverty, that are on average worth $100. The net worth disparity from bottom to top is thus 98%, with the average person on the bottom being worth 2% of the average person on the top.

    Let us go ahead and imagine that at year 100, the top 10% of the population (the upper class) now holds 70% of the wealth in the world. 0.7 x 100 million = 7 million, and so the top 100 people now have an average net worth of $700,000, up from $50,000 at year 0, a 1400% increase.

    Let us say that the bottom 20% of the population is now in possession of 0.5% of the wealth, or $1 million. That is, the bottom 200 people have an average net worth of $10,000. As the average net worth of an individual over the whole society is $100,000, all of these people qualify as living in poverty.

    For review, at year 0 we have 100 people living in poverty. At year 100 we have 200 people living in poverty. Poverty has thus doubled in our hypothetical society. Furthermore, wealth has become further concentrated from 50% to 70% in the top 10% of the population. If we look more closely, however, the people living in poverty at year 100 have an average net worth that is 1000% of the people living in poverty at year 0. The upper class experienced an increase of 1400%, you'll remember.

    There are two ways of interpreting these data. The first is in absolute terms. In absolute terms, the rich have gotten richer, and the poor have gotten richer. If we define wealth as relative to the wealth of the very wealthiest however, then the rich have gotten richer while the poor have gotten poorer. Russ and Ape and I are using the former interpretation, whereas you are using the latter. The thing is, however you want to define wealth, whether in absolute or relative terms, the purchasing power and quality of life of people in all classes is better at year 100 than at year 0. This is because, as Russ frequently points out, wealth is not a zero-sum game. The amount of wealth in the world has greatly increased over the past 100 years, even moreso in the real world than in our hypothetical world. Furthermore, the poverty has actually decreased over the last 100 years in our world, rather than the doubling that took place in our hypothetical world.

    The other problem I see with your interpretation of the data is with your definition of the epithet 'the wealthiest.' The upper class of society today is not the same as the upper class of society 100 years ago; that is, they are not the same people. Many people that are in the upper class today come from families that lived in the middle class, or even lived in poverty, 100 years ago. This points to the other problem: class mobility. Many of the people who have gotten wealthier, both in absolute and in relative terms, were previously poor. By saying that the true beneficiaries of the system are the wealthiest, you are ignoring that 'the wealthiest' does not designate a static group of people. Anyone of sound mind and body can, in principle, become one of these 'wealthiest' people. The system benefits whoever can find a way to use the system to his advantage.
  16. May 17, 2005 #15


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    Good point. I'd mentioned this in the other thread, but forgot about it here.

    Something else I missed is that alexandra has yet to define a poverty line. Setting aside the two mutually exclusive definitions, under what percentage of the highest incomes would the poverty line be in your second definition?

    In 1999, the top 1% earned an average of $719,000 (SOURCE ). At what fraction of this income would you define the poverty line? 1%? 5%? 20%? This could lead to the entertaining exercise of having a look at what constitutes "poverty" in the US. Depending on where you put that line, I may find myself to be poor (much to my chagrin and my friends' surprise).

    And, of course, since I am the one who insists on sticking to the principles of science, I'd like to see some substantiation of your definition. While it would be interesting to see how you define it and where you put the line, can you point to any published papers by leading economists that use that definition of poverty? I'd even settle for how Marx would define it, however from other things you've said, I don't think he'd approve of the definition you're using... Also, you have said many things that contradict your own definition. From the other thread:
    If poverty is referenced to physical survival, that's an absolute scale, not a relative one. As we've pointed out, while the gap gets wider, the capacity for physical survival of even the lowest income bracket is increasing.
    Last edited: May 17, 2005
  17. May 17, 2005 #16


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    Here are a few perspectives I've found on the net. While you have acknowledged that you are outside the mainstream, the difficulty in finding people who agree with you, nonetheless, makes your burden of proof a tough one.

    Here is an interesting one on Marxism and science:
    You have echoed the unscientific assertion that a prediction needs no timetable for success.

    This echoes some things I've said before:
    http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Marxism.html (Ironically, this site is relevant to a thread in GD where people are comparing Star Wars to politics today - trouble is, they miss the point.)

    Here is an interesting perspective:


    And finally, an entertaining (but relevant) interview of a repentant Marx in Hell: http://www.lewrockwell.com/wallace/wallace14.html
    Last edited: May 17, 2005
  18. May 17, 2005 #17
    Yes, the burden of proof is tough, Russ. But nevertheless, I choose to follow this path outside mainstream thought (not for any reason other than that the marxist perspective has proved itself robust in explaining the social world whenever I have used it). I must persevere in sharpening my arguments, and you have correctly called me to task for being sloppy in my use of some key terminology, but I'll respond with more detail on this point shortly (this is a precursor to more detailed responses to your previous posts).

    Hmm, lots of links here - it's going to take me a while to look all these up. Well, even though you're giving me a 'hard time', Russ :uhh: , I'm enjoying this - I'll let you know my responses to your above links later; at the moment, I'm formulating responses to some of your previous posts...
  19. May 17, 2005 #18
    I think your illustration is very good, don't be modest. But I do want to comment on this particular bit and I hope you don't mind me doing only that.

    I don't know if you intended or not, but here you draw a parallel between economic wealth and quality of life. The relationship between these two variables correlate positively often, but not always. According to Amayrta Sen's argument in his book, "Development as Freedom", freedom would actually predicts quality of life better than economic wealth. But I suppose this is a thread or two worth of discussion in its own right.
  20. May 17, 2005 #19
    Yep, my bad. I have certainly done this - in the heat of our arguments, in an infantile desire to 'win' the argument, I have been inconsistent and simplistic in my use of this term. I am currently working on clarifying my own use of this term.

    This is not true, Russ - the experts do not agree that poverty levels are dropping. In their paper Unknown: The Extent, Distribution, and Trend of Global Income Poverty. Pogge and Reddy clearly state:
    Check if you don’t believe me – the url is http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hcpds/d...Reddy pop.pdf
    I am willing to acknowledge when I am wrong/unclear, but I'm not willing to agree to something that I understand to be incorrect.

    Well, all I can say to this is 'thank you, Russ' for demanding such rigour from me - I'm not being in the least sarcastic here; this is the only way we will learn. Keep demanding rigour when I have sloppy arguments. But no, I do not admit "the failure of marxism" as a robust theoretical perspective yet... We are still working on this, aren't we? I mean, what good would it do for me to just say, 'Ok, you've made a point about some of my arguments being sloppy so now I totally agree with everything you say'? I think we're still working on this one... I have to clarify my arguments if they haven't been good enough (if I can, of course).

    Ok, apology acknowledged - and I must admit to having been remiss in providing evidence at times as well. I guess that's going to happen sometimes. I'm working on arguing more rationally; I have a tendency to respond emotionally sometimes, without giving proper consideration to what is being said and without finding the necessary evidence to back up my arguments.

    Again, Russ, I want to draw your attention to the quote from Pogge and Reddy above - we don't yet know what is happening with regards to poverty - what poverty levels are, how to define poverty indicators fairly, and what the global trends are. I would really urge you to read the whole of Pogge & Reddy's article to see why I'm adamant in not giving in on this issue.

    Yep, guilty as charged, Russ :frown: I am totally guilty of muddying my argument. I am working on addressing this issue. But do me a favour, Russ, don't drop out of discussions in future - just point out where I'm wrong/unclear/silly so I can refine my argument.
  21. May 17, 2005 #20
    Thank you for acknowledging this, Russ: it is extremely difficult for me to find information I think you may find acceptable. You will notice that I have avoided using evidence from sources that you would find unacceptable/would question (ie, from websites that question the status quo), even though those are precisely the websites that provide the best evidence for my arguments. Instead I have sought evidence from mainstream sources (and from as many academic sources as possible – preferably even government sources).

    In short, it is difficult for me to obtain unbiased evidence that supports my arguments because, for ideological reasons, data is seldom presented and interpreted in ways that can support arguments against the status quo. Just about all the information printed on official and accepted websites will by definition support your arguments; you are arguing for the status quo, which all the powerful institutions also support. I am arguing against it. There is no objectivity, you see... not that this means we should give up on our discourse. My belief is that even if we can't be objective, at least we can try to argue as honestly as possible and find strong supporting evidence for our arguments.

    And to support what I say above (ie, that much of the available evidence is biased) I will quote from a post I made earlier in this thread:
    Do you think the statement bolded in the above quotation has any merit whatsoever, or do you think it is totally false?
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