Leftist Ravings?

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Mon Oct 26 17:44:22 PST 1998

[this post from Wojtek bounced because of a mangled return address]

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1998 11:47:45 -0500 From: Wojtek Sokolowski <jhuvms.hcf.jhu.edu at jhmail.hcf.jhu.edu> Subject: Re: Leftist Ravings? In-reply-to: <v04101a15b259abe33b59@[]> X-Sender: sokol at jhuvms.hcf.jhu.edu To: lbo-talk at lists.panix.com Message-id: < at jhuvms.hcf.jhu.edu> MIME-version: 1.0 X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Light Version 3.0.6 (32) Content-type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" References: <3633D87D.20D9BB3D at cns.bu.edu>

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At 09:12 PM 10/25/98 -0800, Bradford deLong wrote:

>Look: In the twentieth century revolutions don't work very well--they put
>into power people who don't seem very interested in decentralization, or in
>human liberty. The Rousseauian road to Utopia is shut.
>In the twentieth century attempts to create higher and better forms of
>community via collective effervescence generated by charismatic leadership
>that create new gods and demons with new values for us to pursue appear to

-- snip

I think you got it right that historical conditions that gave rise to charismatic revolutions no longer exist, or at least that is my reading of Barrington Moore & Co.

But I am nonplussed by your Manichaean dichotomy of the markets and hierarchies - the former being the epitome of decentralised freedom; the latter - of centralised autocracy. First, there are those who argue that hierarchies are more efficient than the markets (cf. Oliver Williamson who is anything but a Marxist). So even from a purely theoretical viewpoint of transaction cost economics, decentralised markets are but a transitory state, as the forces of rationalization and efficience will eventually bring a more efficient form of organization of the economy - the corporate hierarchy.

But theoretical arguments aside, where in the world could you find markets and bureaucracies in a pure form, so you can tell that the former deliver whereas the latter do not? In the statist Japan and Keynesian Europe? In the military Keynesianism the US style? Or in the preachings of the Thatcherite/Reaganite pundits advocating free market for the poor and welfare state for the rich?

As far as I can tell "mixed economies" i.e. those relying on both state planning and regulating the economy and the elements of the free market have been most effective in both promoting economic development and improving the standards of living (cf. Taiwan or Korea). I simply do not think you can muster any empirical evidence to back your claim:

>But meanwhile the market economy is still delivering what Adam Smith
>thought it would deliver--ample material prosperity, even though

Moreover, whern making blank statements such as

>When you find an alternative political strategy that will not lead to
>Nuremburg or Lubyanka or Tuol Sleng or Tien an Men, let me know. But you
>haven't found one.

you seem to confuse the effects of social-historical variables, such as the degree of conflict, the degree of social integration among the conflicting parties, availability of alternative means for conflict resolution, cultural norms and values, the stakes in the conflict, the material conditions of the society, the type of economy, social instituions, foreign support etc. - with the effects of the officially adopted political regime.

In effect, you seem to argue that people have died in the places you named simply because adoted a political ideology that is different from "ours" (i.e. preached by the Ivy League pundits). In other words you seem to attribute all the negative effects to your favourite villain (the Nazi, the Commie, the Satan) without any analytical effort to separate different effects of different social, political and economic factors.

Moreover, a very cursory look at comparable societies (the ceteris paribus condition that allows analytic separation of effects) such is Cuba and her Carribean and cebtral American neighbours tells us that the effects of a socialist regime can be quite beneficial to its US-manufactured alternatives. I do not know about you, Brad deLong, but I'd rather live in Castro's Cuba and have some of my esoteric civil liberties curtailed, than in death-squad-ridden Haiti, Guatemala, or El-Salvador and ending up in a trash dump with my tongue cut off for speaking badly about the vitual of the US-style "democracy."

I think that gravest intellectual error is not the lack of knowledge of facts, but the lack of effort to find those facts through research and objective analysis and falling back on the conventional wisdom instead. While the Left is ceratinly guilty of the latter, it pales in comparison with the punditry of the neo-liberal variety.

Best regards,

Wojtek Sokolowski

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