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Archive for the ‘socialism’ Category

neo-liberalism as american martyrdom

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Meme-expansion alert:

There’s long been a line of argument against the USA adopting a “socialized” medical system that goes something like this. “Sure, Canada and the Europeans have their cheap and equal systems. But the only way they can have those systems is because they freeload on the back of us, the unequal Americans. For instance, because we don’t have a single-payer system that forces the prices of newly developed prescription drugs down, the pharmaceutical companies have real incentives to develop new drugs. The NHSes of the world then purchase those drugs at a cut rate while Americans pay the true cost of their development.”

In other words, according to this line of thinking, Americans are actually the self-less martyrs of the medical world, paying ridiculous sums for treatment so that Brits and Canadians and Scandinavians can ride free. Were we to develop a single-payer system, the pharmaceutical industry would simply stop trying so hard to develop life-changing and life-saving drugs.

I’ve just found evidence in Ross Douthat’s column today in the New York Times that this meme is expanding its borders, moving from medical services to the global economy as a whole. Here’s the relevant passage:

The European model of social democracy has its virtues, but it has always depended on the wealth created by American laissez-faire. As a recent economic paper entitled “Can’t We All Be More Like Scandinavians?” points out, it’s easier for smaller countries to afford a more “cuddly” form of capitalism if big countries like the United States are driving global economic growth. And the price of a permanently larger government — in growth lost, private-sector jobs left uncreated, breakthroughs forgone — is much higher for a country of our size and influence than it is for a Sweden or a France.

Beyond the truthfulness and accuracy of the claims – which I’m sure is a mixed and complex matter – I am taken with what a strange argument it is when it comes, as Douthat is implicitly doing here, to using it to try to influence policy decisions / voting choices. Basically, it suggests that Americans, living inside a rapacious economic and political system fuelled by greed and inequality, are in effect trapped in a perverse and permanent mode of self-sacrifice, forced to accept their unhappy system so that (or almost “so that”) others might live better lives.

It’s neo-liberalism rebranded as a form of martyrdom, a bounded match of “survival of the fittest” that serves the corpses of the victims as free barbecue to the bystanders at the end of the game. Or, from another angle, it is the most passive-aggressive version of “combined and uneven development” imaginable. Strange.

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November 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm

the chart and the poignant

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Storm Jameson (as cited in one of my PhD student’s drafts):

The conditions for the growth of a socialist literature scarcely exist. We have to create them. We need documents, not as the Naturalists needed them, to make their drab tuppenny-ha’penny dramas but as charts, as timber for the fire some writer will light tomorrow morning…Perhaps the nearest equivalent to what is wanted exists already in the documentary film. As the photographer does, so must the writer keep himself out of the picture while working ceaselessly to present the fact from the striking (poignant, ironic, penetrating, significant) angle.

Interesting how naturalism is rejected as melodrama in favor of “charts,” but the melodrama (or something like it) seems to return in the “impersonal,” “photographic” writing via that list of affectual slants. The relation between the chart and the poignant does seem to me to be the appropriate place to find the fault line, though….

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July 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm

wish they had an ipad app: communist monopoly

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This via Der Spiegel, but ultimately the excellent Marginal Utility’s twitter feed:

A Polish research institute has developed a board game to teach young people about life under Communism. In the game, which is inspired by Monopoly, players must wait in endless lines at stores for scarce goods. For added realism, they have to put up with people cutting in line and products running out — unless they have a “colleague in the government” card.

There are no glamorous avenues for sale, nor can players erect hotels, charge rent or make pots of money. In fact, a new Polish board game inspired by the classic Monopoly is all about communism rather than capitalism.

The goal of the game, which will officially be launched on Feb. 5, is to show how hard and frustrating it was for an average person to simply do their shopping under the Communist regime in Poland. The game has been developed by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), a Warsaw-based research institute that commemorates the suffering of the Polish people during the Nazi and Communist eras.

Just like in the original Monopoly, acquisition is the name of the game. In this case, however, that means struggling to get basic necessities such as food, clothing and furniture. “In the game, you send your family out to get items on a shopping list and they find that the five shops are sold out or that there hasn’t been a delivery that day,” the IPN’s Karol Madaj told SPIEGEL ONLINE Thursday, explaining that the game “highlights the tough realities of life under Communism.”

The name of the game is Kolejka, which according to the article is the Polish word for queue or line. I’ve written recently about communist queues – but while I’ve just about given up the pretense that this blog is still pseudonymous, I still won’t link at this point. (There isn’t a link anyway – it’s in a collection from Verso, released last year. Take a look around and you’ll find it if you’re really interested…)

For now: there is something interesting about the fact that fascination with the communist queue seems to be making something of a comeback just as the last vestiges of unrationed or less rationed goods provided by the former welfare states of the West. Fewer university places, more expensive mass transit, more expensive health care – the thought that here, in the liberal capitalist wonderland, we never wait in queues, there’s no such thing as insufficient distribution of goods, and, in particular, that no one is able to jump in front of anyone else is a bit of a stretch. The right side of the US health care debate has long run with the fallacious notion that medical services aren’t rationed there. Of course they’re rationed – just by those who extract profit by doing so rather than efficiency savings. I just watched the brilliant series of episodes from The Sopranos which blur together American college admissions and mafia-type offers that can’t be refused, which was slightly, though not entirely, hyperbolic – speaking from personal experience here. And in Britain, there’s been a persistent interest in what has been called the “Ryanairification” of civic services, a system in which one straightforwardly bribes the council pays a fee in order to jump the line – among other things, of course.

Anyway, lots more to say about this but have to run… I’d like a copy of the game for the little Isotype people, pictured above, alone…

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January 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm

“mass intellectualism from birth to death”

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Interesting, encouraging piece in the Times Higher Education about socialist education in Venezuela:

To counter this, one of 21st-century socialism’s central features is the extended role of the educative society, accompanied by mass intellectualism from birth to death (Chávez has described Venezuela as “a giant school”). A central objective of this is to develop the conditions for the production of autonomous and relevant ideas for the development needs of the majority of Venezuelans. It is also a means to overcome the traditional division of labour present within Venezuelan society and politics, in which there were thinkers (the dominant economic and intellectual elite) and doers (those who produced, yet were unable to control or receive the fruits of production).

Such educative processes are clearly apparent in the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV), where one of us taught. As part of a major attempt to extend access to higher education, UBV is free to all students and seeks to fundamentally challenge the elitism of many traditional universities. Social justice and equality are at the core of its educational content and delivery, and all courses taken there use Participatory Action Research methodology – a multidisciplinary approach linking theory and practice. PAR methodology bases UBV students in their local communities, working on community projects that form a core part of their formal studies.

Mission Sucre is another example of 21st-century socialism’s democratisation of higher education. The programme provides free, ongoing education to the 2 million adult Venezuelans who had not completed their elementary schooling under the old system. The Mission is an attempt to popularise, reform and expand Venezuelan higher education beyond its traditional elitist role. The programme is geared especially towards the most marginalised segments of society and is based in their communities, embedding education in the concrete needs and desires of Venezuela’s poor majority. Yet many professors among the traditional intellectual elite in Caracas’ main universities have refused to go to the barrios to teach in the Mission.

On the other hand, here’s what’s going on in the UK (and part of what I was talking about here…)

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January 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Posted in academia, chavez, socialism

bookkeepers in delirium!

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Gustave Flaubert to Madame Roger des Genettes, summer 1864:

In a little while I’ll be able to teach a course on socialism; at least I know all about its spirit and its meaning. I have just been swallowing Lamennais, Saint-Simon, and Fourier, and I am rereading Proudhon from beginning to end…. There is one fundamental thing they all have in common: the hatred of liberty, the hatred of the French Revolution and of philosophy. All those fellows belong to the Middle Ages; their minds are stuck in the past. And what pedants! What schoolmasters! Seminarians on a spree, bookkeepers in delirium!

Am reading right now, or trying to with limited resources, what Flaubert was reading. His an odd but interesting reaction to the line of thought in question. I’d put things differently, were I to write a paragraph about socialist work today, but not all that differently…

More to come… Have added 500 words per day on this to the 2000 words per day on that. Oh and by the way, for an interesting shiver, compare the image above of Fourier’s Phalanstère to an aerial view of the place where I am sitting right this minute. Would help if you could invert one or the other….

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July 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Posted in flaubert, socialism

blame socialism

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What would we do without The New York Times? Without them, how would we ever figure out that what’s ultimately behind the economic crisis in Portugal isn’t bad banking or irresponsible lending or ill-thought-out fiscal policy, but in fact socialist housing law

Portugal’s antiquated tenancy rules, for instance, stem directly from two revolutions that cemented leftist antagonism toward owners and landlords: the first was in 1910, which ended the monarchy, and the second was in 1974, which overthrew a dictatorship and returned Portugal to democracy.

The post-revolution rules helped protect tenants, but also led to a chronic shortage of rental housing. This, in turn, persuaded a new generation of Portuguese to tap recently into low interest rates and buy instead — often in new suburbs — thereby exacerbating the country’s mortgage debt and leaving Portugal with one of Europe’s lowest savings rates, of 7.5 percent.

“This system of controlled rents is a major problem for the Portuguese economy, but we will probably be waiting for a generational change to have room for institutional reform,” said Cristina Casalinho, chief economist of Banco BPI, a Portuguese bank. Beyond fueling housing credit, she added, the system “basically stops flexibility and mobility in the labor market because you can perhaps find a new job in another city but it will then be very difficult to rent a house there.”

So you see how this works? It’s not just that austerity measures have to be inflicted upon the state sectors of Europe. It’s that theses measures ought to be imposed, as the welfare state in fact bears the ultimate responsibility for the crisis, setting up the imbalanced markets that led directly to all the bad loans. Hmmm….

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May 15, 2010 at 1:22 am

Posted in crisis, socialism

south of the border

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It’s not really that surprising, but it seems that only the NYT business section is free from the mandate to inject some snide comment on the unsustainability of oil-financed socialism or a rumor about Lula’s alcoholism into every piece that mentions Chavez or any other Latin American left or leftish political figure. We’ll see what happens when Stone’s South of the Border makes the main section… Betcha dollars to doughnuts that the reactionary boilerplate returns…..

Anyway, here’s the trailer for the film:

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May 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

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