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Friday, May 7, 2021


The comments have been extremely interesting, but if I tried to respond to each one of them I would really get lost in the weeds so let me try to say some more general things that might address a number of the comments without connecting each thing I say to one of them.


The totality of goods and services produced anywhere in a large capitalist economy like that of the United States is the collective consequence all of the work done by those who in any way participate in their production. Most of this collective product either takes the form of final consumption by the people in the society or goes for the replacement of inputs, depreciation, and so forth. The remainder is profit, appropriated by the owners of capital and invested in expanded levels of production or retained in the form of financial holdings. There are two problems with this way of managing things (among many other problems): the first is that those who produce the social surplus do not get to decide what is done with it. The second is that the allocation of capital resources is skewed by private decisions of profitability unrelated to social desires or needs. Thus it is that at the moment it is profitable to produce nicely designed, well-made cheap clothing and luxury housing. Consequently, millions of people in America are well dressed and ill housed. Nevertheless even in a capitalist economy these days decisions about the allocation of some of the surplus are made collectively in the form of socially funded schooling, socially funded old age insurance, and socially funded medical care, for example.


A modern capitalist economy is enormously productive. Out of curiosity, I looked up the gross domestic product in the United States for 2019 and divided it by the number of households in America in 2019. The result was approximately $175,000. That is almost 3 times the median household income for 2019. Simply depriving the superrich of the annual increase in their wealth could go a long way to giving everybody in the United States a decent standard of living.


How exactly would socialism work? What would it look like? I do not know. Collective ownership of the means of production would have to grow organically out of the present set of circumstances as a consequence of the mobilization of many scores of millions of Americans. Do I think this likely? Of course not. At the moment, this country is trying to decide whether to be ruled by a fascist white supremacist party with the support of at least 30% or more of the American electorate. All our energies must be devoted to making as sure as we can that that does not happen. It seems to me that the 2022 and 2024 elections will go a long way to deciding whether this country remains even as much of a functioning democracy as it now is, which is not saying very much.


That is why, when I wrote a paper entitled “the future of socialism” some years ago, I began by observing wryly that the title was a little bit like “Betamax: the technology whose time has come.”




Jerry Brown said...

So I am curious about whether your sister is happy about your answers to her question. It was not an easy question and you did put some effort into trying to answer it.

Michael Llenos said...

“How exactly would socialism work? What would it look like? I do not know.”

I wonder if this is the reason socialism never came about: because a real working example of socialism is unavailable?

But socialism has to start from somewhere. Did any writer talk about the best starting point of socialism? Is the best starting point a Communist-Capitalist country like China or a Democratic-Republic like America? I think many writers probably assume that any type of government can be created from any previous type of government. They may reason that since dictatorship can be created from any type of government (& even out of nothing) that so can socialism. Is it misguided to think that way?

The French Government during the French Revolution mutated from Monarchy to Democracy and back to Monarchy again. Maybe the combination of government types is too complex for socialism at this point of time and throughout all of recorded history?

Michael Llenos said...

I wrote: “The French Government during the French Revolution mutated from Monarchy to Democracy and back to Monarchy again. Maybe the combination of government types is too complex for socialism at this point of time and throughout all of recorded history?”

What I meant was that although history has proven that it is very difficult for countries to change their style of government (like during the French Revolution) socialism may be that form of government that requires some of the finest tuning & evolution of previous governments to make it a possibility for getting it started—and that perhaps this is the reason history has yet to make a socialist government possible. So maybe socialists should focus more on the penultimate type of governments instead of on the final, last political goal of all their inquiries? Dictatorship may be produced from nothing, but socialism may need complex steps & also many baby-steps first.

Michael Llenos said...

I wonder if a political-philosopher ever classified governments not on how they are participated in but the ease on how they are initially started? E.g. concerning participation we know a monetary qualification is a Plutocracy; a legal qualification based on nobility is an Aristocracy; & a constitution based on all citizens allowed to take active part in government is a Democracy. But has anyone written a book on how easy or difficult it is to start various governments and to classify them in that order? Perhaps not, but I suppose someone must have written it. Of course it would have been an unfinished book regarding socialism.

Michael Llenos said...

I wrote: “But has anyone written a book on how easy or difficult it is to start various governments and to classify them in that order? Perhaps not, but I suppose someone must have written it.”

For monarchies The Prince Chapters 1-11 has been written on this very subject. But for post 16th century nation-states, I don’t know if a book has ever been written on the subject.

aaall said...

Perhaps there is no end point. Given human nature and recent experience, it's way more then likely that the "collective ownership of the means of production" would merely be a prelude to kleptocracy.

A quibble perhaps but I would suggest that 2028 and '30 are also critical. The New Deal basically ended after the 1938 elections and after the WWII hiatus the 1946 elections were a disaster leading to the beginning of the end for unions and the conservative ascendancy that has plagued us since. Finessing social conservatism in a system that has a bias towards it (FPTP, districts, an anti-democratic Constitution) will be a challenge.

Sonic said...

Sorry, I know it's a joke to talk about right now, but I've thought this for a while now. I think this new cryptocurrency has a potential to be the future of socialism. It would be perfectly poetic too, to come from such a major blindspot for most socialists who hate money and like to read old books.

It's birthed from the dying husk of capitalism, based on capitalist assumptions, and designed primarily to unrestrict capital from government control.

But in the process, these people are creating systems governed by a new form of money, and some of them have unheard potential for democratic control.

They already use blockchain tech to decide on distribution of resources internal to large firms. The censor-proof design is appealing to some anarchist types.

And if you like Marxist material analysis, then the idea of the future being decided by emergent systems should make more sense than activists passing popular policy and fighting a culture war.

It has a long way to go, but there are some really interesting non-financial projects being worked on.

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