This week we’ve got something special for you here at The Glenn Show. In late October, I convened in person in New York City with the economist Richard Wolff for an extended debate on the comparative merits of capitalism and socialism. Some of you may have seen
Nice debate. Would love to hear you engage seriously with the notion that VHA healthcare is inferior (to what?) because of socialism (compared with what?). You like natural experiments: you can find several in VHA right now given recent efforts at privatization.
How do you expect these social services to be paid for? We are paying for them currently with debt. In the fifties the richest people were taxed a lot. As I recall it was 90% on income more than something that is really low like $200k. That was a lot of money back then. Those people lived exciting lives of travel and comfort, my husband’s grandfather was an executive in New York at a major network. He was comfortable. Still comfortable in his nighties, he was disgusted by what executives make these days. Meanwhile, we are unable to provide the basics to our population and are swimming in debt.
In addition, you have clearly never been a poor(er) person near real wealth or you wouldn’t ask.
Wolff truly is a Marxist. Like Marx, he thinks socialism can do better than capitalism. Like Marx, his ideas about how socialism would work are extremely vague. This is best revealed on the subject of housing. Wolff says that in the US, the private housing market has failed and acknowledges that public housing has failed. He offers no explanation of why public housing failed or what alternative should be tried.
Unlike Marx, Wolff has the knowledge of what happened when Marx's ideas were attempted to be implemented at large scale. He barely acknowledges the Soviet Union's "social problems." I wonder if Marx would be less delusional with Wolff's knowledge.
57:05 "Capitalism comes into the world in the French Revolution and the American." Wolff must be living in a different reality than I am. AFAIK, capitalism developed over several centuries in Europe, not as the result of any revolution. It's particularly strange that Wolff associates capitalism with the French Revolution, which led to several forms of socialism.
I laughed out loud when Wolff said that gains have been made in the USSR and China despite capitalism. I'm trying to wrap my mind around the idea that the USSR is a positive story. I wonder if Wolff agrees with Putin that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a great tragedy.
It's funny that Wolff mentions Trump. AFAICT, he agrees with Trump that we got a raw deal trading with China.
I'm glad Glenn had Richard on again. As I commented the first time, Richard should be given as many opportunities to express himself as possible. The more I listen to him, the less I fear his ideas will catch on. He talks about how fragile the capitalist system is. I wonder which systems he thinks are more robust.
They breeze by it quickly, but the quick references to the gulag and the violence necessary to sustain a non-individualistic system in a world full of individuals seems salient today.
And I don't know what Mr. Wolff has to say about any of that, but a lot of the rhetoric in contemporary academia is that the U.S. is the bad guy here because of slavery, police violence, etc. etc., as if anything in this country's history even remotely compared to the Cambodian Genocide or the Holodomor or the Great Leap Forward. Mr Wolff probably has something to say on the subject, but these are things which undergrads are likely not aware of at all.
Defining socioeconomic hierarchical structures as “winners and losers”, historically leads to the dehumanization of the “losers” .....anyone who’s willing to align￼ themselves with Marxism as an ideology, especially as an academic, with available research at their fingertips, and never bothering to challenged their misguided principles, doesn’t deserve a platform of legitimacy.
I remember Richard Wolf from my years as a student at the University of Massachusetts. Back in the 70’s, the syllabus￼ outlined in his course description, never mentioned his Marxist held ideals, so, I found myself, practically speaking, still a child at the time, listening to his baseless reasoning in disgust snd shock, I was appalled he was even allowed to teach. But, as a shy, unsure young person , I said noting, I just never returned for more.
Noting much has changed; today, after one minute of this man’s idiotic rant, I decided to turn to instagram and tiktok for more quality programming. Too bad there were no such alternatives in the 70’s
I don’t know, or care, how Glenn responded. I was just shocked and a bit disappointed he, a leading academic, MIT, Paul Samuelson mentored economist, could even entertain the idea of having this charlatan as a guest for discussion.
So I just flipped to something less ridiculous and tick-tock’d myself to sleep in an instagram of a minute.
Rick uses Soviet Union as an example of the economic impressiveness of socialism / communism (which he pretty much uses interchangeably). Later in his closing statement -- in response to Glenn's request for any evidence that Socialism refutes the business cycle -- Rick responds with: ~"The old socialist societies weren't 'true' socialism, so they don't count". Rick even affirms at the very end that ~"The Soviet Union wasn't a classless society any more than the United States was".
Seems like a major contradiction to me. If the Soviet Union "doesn't count" then it can't be used as evidence of the economic superiority of communism.
Too much internal consistency = losing the debate
This interview is somewhat relevant and interesting to this topic:
My personal experience: I lived in India when it was a socialistic country until the 90s. (Vastly different situation today now that the markets have opened up). I remember having ration cards for rice, lentils, oil, you name it. The quality of goods at the government ration shops was so riddled with vermin that most people went there as a last resort. Everything was nationalized: cars, banks, there was no choice to speak of. Corruption and bribery were rife and present at every level of life. Phone lines had a waiting period of 2 years. There would be long lines for clean water. Throw in affirmative action on steroids, and you can see why Indians left the country in droves to settle overseas. They called it the "brain drain". Yet, all of this would have been worth it if only socialism had guaranteed that the poor and the needy were protected and provided basic needs. But this was not the case. The poor were REALLY poor, in a way you don't see these days, wearing rags and scrounging for food and water. Once India threw off the mantle of socialism and proceeded to open up its markets, there was a sea change. The grinding poverty I once saw has all but disappeared, and there is no "ppor class" any more, more of a lower-middle class.
I know what I saw and experienced, and no one can convince me socialism works.
Mr Wolfe strains credibility w his assertion that￼ Marxism was not taught elite universities. I had a class w Bertram Ollman at NYU in a Masters class. Ollman was a Marxist of the first rank. I liked him as a professor, but He never persuaded me or most of the class to his side. Glenn had it right. Show us a place where the socialist command and control system has outperformed a free market system head to head. Two Koreas, Chinas, Germanys....
I thought Glenn was sandbagging by debating such an easy opponent (USSR as model of pro-growth success???) but from what I read Richard Wolff is a leading light of American socialist thought.
Glenn makes the obvious arguments but they need to be reiterated again and again...
Thank you Mrs. Loury and the debaters. It would be good to have more discussions on specific policies that derive from the two points of view given the many misconceptions particularly among young people about their implementation. Get some more into the weeds. There are many good examples of how policies like a $15 minimum wage harm workers rather than help them. Ditto socialized medicine (see the struggling British NHS) etc. etc.
Marxism is like a religion. It appeals to our emotions and therefore penetrates deeply into the psyche. I was a Marxist myself when I married an economist in 1977 who patiently persuaded me of my error.
I thought the most revealing statement by Mr. Wolfe was that Marxism has changed and is now merely the striving of human beings to “do better.” Remarkable, but keeping the endgame vague has worked for them.
With regard to Sweden which is often cited as an example of successful socialism, even though it isn’t, a right wing government was recently elected there. How this will play out is unknown.
For 90 minutes, I was waiting for Glenn to ask where has socialism ever worked? I thought that would be one of his strongest possible arguments. He had to wait until the debate was ending to ask it? I was trained as a lawyer (and a Pizza Man) not an economist. But my understanding is that socialism has failed everywhere it's been tried, on a large scale at least. On a small scale a socialist collective can work because it's made up of self selected individuals. Actually, a nuclear family operates on a "to each according to their needs" basis. But once you move beyond families and relatively small groups, socialism runs smack dab into human nature. Most people are unwilling to expand extra effort without perceiving a personal benefit If I get paid exactly the same whether I work really hard or do just enough work not to lose my job, why would I work hard? I believe that is sometimes called the freeloader effect.
The institution of socialism is largely incompatible with personal freedom because it requires the creation of a strong central government with the power to make the decisions made by the market in a capitalist system. It is at least theoretically possible for that central government to be democratically elected, but it usually devolves into a dictatorship. While Hugo Chavez may have come to power through a democratic election, I don't know anyone that believes Nicolas Maduro remains in power because of free and fair elections.
In the real world all economies are mixed. I don't know anyone advocating pure socialist or pure capitalists economies. Scandinavian countries that are sometimes cited as socialist success stories have moved in recent decades much closer to free market systems albeit with high taxes and high social services.
One of the chief complaints about free market economies is the way they allow and often exacerbate income inequality. The rich get richer faster than the poor and middle class do. I think that's true. Elon Musk has (or had till he bought Twitter) a net worth of something on the order of $100 Billion. But is that really a problem? The problem with focusing on income inequality rather than standards of living is that a system that puts a limit on the ability of people of people to profit from their innovation reduces the overall amount of innovation in the economy and innovation is what allows for increased standards of living.
So long as our economic system raises the standard of living for the poor and middle class does it matter if the wealth of the super rich increases by 300% rather than merely doubling? More importantly, if policies to reduce income inequality by reducing the income or wealth of the super rich will also slow or reduce increases in the standard of living of the poor and/or middle class, should those policies be implemented? I used this hypothetical example when I taught high school social studies. Let's say the class got to vote on whether everyone in the class except for Johnny would get $10 while Johnny got $100 or everyone but Johnny got $5 while Johnny got $10. The second option is worse for everyone, but it could be seen as fairer with Johnny getting only twice as much as everyone instead of 10 X.