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Kickstarter to study socialism - Input Junkie
August 18th, 2012
12:12 pm

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Kickstarter to study socialism
It's titled How to Create a Liberal America, which I don't think is accurate, but it's raising money to do a detailed study of how strong-safety-net democracies actually raise and distribute money. Americans (whether they're for or against socialism) tend to get important aspects wrong.

The reason I don't think the title is accurate is that I doubt the book will have much about how to make changes in the author's preferred direction, but at least he's trying to supply some knowledge to leaven all the theory which tends to dominate political discussions.

ETA: It looks as though I got some details wrong. I'm not sure I can do an adequate job of summarizing, so I'm just quoting the comment from matgb:
Just to, y'know, clarify.

I am a liberal socialist. Tim is specifically and explicitly setting out to study liberalism in Sacndinavia, not socialism, you can be both, but his argument is those countries aren't.

He's, um, rather right wing for the tastes of a lot of liberals, let alone socialists-I get on with him fairly well, he helped me write a policy once, that the Govts actually bringing in, but he's definitely not a socialist, by any sane definition of what socialism is.


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From:matgb
Date:August 19th, 2012 02:19 am (UTC)
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Just to, y'know, clarify.

I am a liberal socialist. Tim is specifically and explicitly setting out to study liberalism in Sacndinavia, not socialism, you can be both, but his argument is those countries aren't.

He's, um, rather right wing for the tastes of a lot of liberals, let alone socialists-I get on with him fairly well, he helped me write a policy once, that the Govts actually bringing in, but he's definitely not a socialist, by any sane definition of what socialism is.
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From:whswhs
Date:August 19th, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
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I think I would need to know not only what "socialist" means here but what "liberal" means. Is this liberal in the American sense? Is it liberal in the European, market-oriented sense? Or in some other European sense that I'm not familiar with?
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From:matgb
Date:August 19th, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm never quite clear what Americans mean when they say "liberal" as it seems to be a catch-all term for "not a Republican" and includes a vast diversity of sometimes mutually exclusive terms.

The kickstarter and Tim's publicity for it doesn't, to my knowledge, mention socialism at all, and socialism and liberalism aren't synonyms, if they were the need to have seperate words would be pointless.

It does appear to me that a lot of USians that those of us on this side of the poind would describe as socialists or social democrats describe themselves as "liberal" for political reasons relating to a complete rejection of "socialism" within the American discourse.

The basic premise of Tim's project is that the Scandinavian countries are held up by many as paragons of equality, liberalism and similar. If they are the paragons of "liberalism" that many, especially on the left, describe them to be, then surely the definition of liberalism is based on how they actually do things, not how people perceive they do things-why is their culture so succesful, so tolerant, etc.

Ergo, he seeks to study and actually define what is meant by liberal as part of the project (because, as you rightly observe, the word itself hasn't a clearly understood meaning).
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From:subnumine
Date:August 21st, 2012 10:47 pm (UTC)
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American "liberalism" is fairly well definable as the effort to run a society which actually performs most of its transactions through competitive markets, under the constraint that the results be ethically acceptable to a democratic majority. Most liberals would more or less agree with FDR's slogan that government is the American people doing collectively what they could not do, or do so well, as individuals. As a result, it is generally opposed to socialist solutions, except in cases of natural monopoly - like power generation or transport.

It is historically conditioned by having arisen, as a self-conscious reform movement, as the bulk of the American economy was becoming oligopolies. The obvious solution, to break the oligopolies up into the unbounded number of small producers which market economics assumes, was never very successful, and has not been seriously attempted since 1938. The next solution, which is to make the oligopolists behave *as if* they were participants in a free and undistorted market, has required government intervention, but for limited ends - as with the Security and Exchange Commission, which enforces transparency on the stock market.
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From:matgb
Date:August 22nd, 2012 01:05 am (UTC)
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See, that sounds just like British liberalism to me, in favour of small business, competetive markets with strong regulation concentrating most on breaking up, preventing or forcing competition into oligopolies and similar.

But the reason I'm regularly confused is that a lot of US "liberals", and I have no idea what proportion, seem to be much much closer to our social democrats/socialists, in favour of govt control/organisation of non-natural monopolies, in favour of trade barriers, etc.

Basically, I'm a left wing liberal, but when wondering around the internet or watching/reading US based liberal discourse, I find a lot of it either isn't liberal, or is very different to what I'd consider, as a British liberal, to be liberal. In Britain, the phrase "left wing liberal" has a clear meaning, there are clearly right wing liberals as well, but from US based discourse I get the feeling liberal means left wing.

Obviously, as an interested observer reliant on different sources it's a lot harder to get what the cultural norms are, even reading stuff like Rawls I can't find why I find US liberalism "not liberal", even though your description of it very very liberal.

Does that even make sense? I'll stop typing now.
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From:subnumine
Date:August 22nd, 2012 09:18 pm (UTC)
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I would have to know what specific measures you are thinking of to comment in detail; but American liberalism is much more pragmatic than ideological - another inheritance from FDR. There's an old American saying: "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

If a trade barrier seems likely to benefit a constituency, or win an election, a liberal Democrat (we now have no liberal Republicans) may well support it; that's pragmatism. On average, I would say that liberals support GATT and oppose NAFTA - but on the grounds that it provides economic integration without comparable regulatory requirements, and therefore subsidizes pollution and low wages.

Similarly, in the United States, it is liberal to support a Federal minimum wage, as providing a common regulatory environment across the United States. (Why a minimum wage at all? To avoid starvation, and to avoid subsidizing wages below living rates with food stamps, the Speenhamland system.)
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From:subnumine
Date:August 22nd, 2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
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American liberalism does not trust the unregulated "free" market; we have seen too much of it. I may be more conscious than most of one reason for this: under our conditions, an unregulated market is often not a market, and hardly ever free.

There is also the concept of "countervailing power", from Galbraith. One solution to a market in which one side is an oligopoly is to organize the other side as an oligopoly as well, in the hope that if both sides distort the market, the result will be closer to what a competitive market would be than a one-sided distortion.

This is one role in which liberals support unions, as well as a general egalitarianism which goes back to Madison: a society without extreme wealth and extreme poverty will be less factious. Again, this is a matter of living experience for the generation now passing; the United States was not far from civil war in 1932.
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From:mindstalk
Date:August 26th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
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Yes, the US modern liberal is typically like a weaksauce social democrat. I don't think we have many socialists for any reasonably strict definition of socialist, but socialist-as-used is another very vague term to me.

Might be related to US rejection of socialism, but possibly also to the intellectual path: old (now "classical") liberals going "this doesn't work" and pragmatically adapting or stealing ideas from the Socialist party, as opposed to social democrats sometimes seeming like socialists who realized markets did have their uses. Convergence from two different directions.

many-to-many bidirectional mapping of terms
US            Europe/world
liberal        social democrat
libertarian    liberal
socialist      libertarian
anarchist      libertarian
socialist      social democrat
conservative   liberal [markets, small gov't]
conservative   crazy   [God and race]
crazy          conservative  [church and king]
socialist      conservative  [universal health care]
anarcho-capitalist  crazy


Edited at 2012-08-26 09:29 pm (UTC)
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From:st_rev
Date:August 23rd, 2012 01:48 am (UTC)
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Didn't realize at first this was that Tim Worstall. He's a sharp guy; I'd support this if I had any significant income.
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From:Bruno Rivard
Date:October 26th, 2012 01:47 am (UTC)

Socialism vs Welfare state

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One common misunderstanding, in the US and sometimes in Canada and Europe is the difference between Socialism and the Welfare state.

Socialism is strictly an economic ideology; The means of production are public. Not necessarily monopolized by the state or small communes, just public.

The Welfare state is a pragmatic set of measures to prevent or repair harm to citizens of a country, sometimes somewhat intrusively.

Thus a national healthcare system is NOT socialist, it is part of a welfare policy, same with the police, firefighters, help to the homeless etc

Nationalizing power production is Socialist. Nationalizing mining is socialist. Nationalizing banks is Socialist.

Or course, sometimes there are cases which are ambiguous or could be said to belong to both, like transportation, education, support to the Arts etc
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