Monday, June 07, 2004

Ok, I Couldn't Resist

I was hoping to put this off, but when you run into cosmic idiocies like this, you have to seize the opportunity. From Chomsky's blog, posted by one of his minions:

Questioner: Frequently, when conservatives respond to allegations of inequality in capitalism, they say that "The boats are all rising, who cares if the tide carries some higher?" That is, if growth is occurring at some rate, capitalism's good. What is your reaction to this…

It’s a fine argument for Stalinism and Nazism. Russia had quite a substantial growth rate until the 1960s -- that caused great concern among US and British leaders. Same with Eastern Europe on Kremlin Rule. And pretty egalitarian, by the standards of the US and its satellites.

Hitler's enormous popularity was based in no small part on the economic progress in Germany.

In the US, there was high and egalitarian growth from World War II to the mid-1970s, when the "neoliberal" reforms (absurdly called "globalization") were introduced. Since then growth and other relevant economic indices have deteriorated, and for about 90% of the population, real incomes have stagnated or declined, along with benefits, while for the ultrarich they have skyrocketed, particularly under Bush.

In other words, there's nothing to respond to. It's hogwash, and these people should not be permitted to defame the honorable term "conservative." There are scarcely any genuine conservatives in the public arena, political or other.

I don't even know where to begin with this. First of all, the obvious: neither Stalinist Russia nor Nazi Germany were capitalist societies and are therefore irrelevent to the discussion. At any rate, the claim that the USSR had "quite a substantial growth rate" is absurd. What it had was Stalin industrializing the country by fiat, a plan which soon fell prey to inefficiency and stagnation, as all state-controlled industries inevitably do. In other words, any "growth" ascribed to Stalinism was wholly artificial and could not sustain itself over the long term. This is why Russia, which began the century with the highest economic growth rate in the world, finished the century as little more than a Third World backwater with an enormous army. For the gory details on how communism annihilated the Russian economy read Richard Pipes' extraordinary A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, which unfortunately ends with the death of Lenin, but you get the general idea. The little throwaway apologia for the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe (where cars were made of cardboard and took seven years to get) is a nice touch.

By the way, if the Soviet growth rate was so "substantial" what were all those famines I keep reading about?

As for the Hitler references, I wont dignify them with much discussion. They're just words being thrown around in order to demonize the other side for fear of coming out on the losing end of a rational discussion. Suffice it to say, what this Chomskyite calls "economic progress" might be better described as mass militarization/nationalization of the entire German economy. Always a jump start in the short term, but never sustainable. At any rate, its irrelevent, since Hitler managed to completely destroy the German economy by starting a war that was a direct result of his Nazi ideology. So much for a good argument.

As for the claim that the American economy has deteriorated since the 1970s, this illustrates more than anything else how psychotically alienated the Chomskyite Left has become from the country in which it lives. A nation which has half of its population invested in the stock market is not one in which people are struggling with erosion of their economic status. Moreover, the claim that growth has deteriorated since the 1970s is absurd. Ask anyone who was alive then about inflation, interest rates, and unemployment and you'll start to understand why reforms were necessary. By any standard, the American economy has undergone a massive expansion since the early 1980s and continues to do so today, even though we now consider ourselves in a time of economic downturn. The very fact that we consider ourselves in a downturn despite our current rates of growth is an indication of the tremendous affluence to which America has become accustomed over the past thirty years.

The point here is that, while the free market does increase inequality, it also raises the general standard of living for all. This is nothing to sneer at. The average middle-class American lives better than your average upper-class Englishman. My relatives in Britain still don't have central heating on the second floor of their house, for God's sake. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, whereas capitalism is an unequal distribution of benefits, socialism is an equitable distribution of miseries. I believe that economic developments over the past thirty years have borne this out empirically.

Equally hilarious is the use of the term "neo-liberal" and its conflation with "globalization". I know no one who claims the two are synonymous. Neo-liberalism is an idea, basically it refers to the concept that free markets are better than state-controlled and centralized economies. Globalization, however, is not an idea but a phenomenon, i.e. the massive growth of world trade and economic collaboration that came about as a result of the fall of the communist bloc and the embrace of free market reforms in the Third World. You can argue that globalization is a result of neo-liberalism, but they are not synonymous. This is either a bizarre attempt to construct a straw-man argument or a desperate bid to sound intelligent. Either way, our erstwhile Chomskyite doesn't know what he's talking about.

As for there being no conservatives in the public arena, I can only say that denial is a terrible thing.

And, of course, it all ends with a professorial reassurance that its all "hogwash" anyways. Apparently, to be a Chomskyite means never having to consider that someone who disagrees with you might be halfway intelligent and worth engaging in an honest intellectual debate . This whole post is not an answer to a query, but a statement of arrogant disengagement, of a righteous alienation from the possibility of other ideas and ideologies than one's own. A fine case study of the Chomskyite mind at work, I would say.