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Why You Never Hear Anyone Say “That Wasn’t Real Capitalism”



Der heimliche Aufmarsch” (“The Secret Deployment”) is an old socialist revolutionary song from the Weimar Republic. It calls upon the workers and peasants to arm themselves, rise up, and smash the system.

Thirty years later, a modified version of the song was re-released in the GDR. It was now called “Der offene Aufmarsch” (“The Open Deployment”), to reflect the fact that there was no longer any need for secrecy. The workers and the peasants had already risen up (with a little help from their Soviet comrades), and the working class, as a whole, was now collectively in charge. This, at least, was the official narrative, codified in the East German constitution:

The German Democratic Republic is a socialist state of the workers and the peasants. It is the political organisation of the labourers in town and country under the leadership of the working class.

You don’t have to be a socialist to “get” the appeal of songs like “Der heimliche Aufmarsch” at a visceral level. It is gripping, it is stirring, and it is full of righteous rage.

In the GDR’s sanitized re-release, however, not much of that energy survives. The original version is revolutionary, the newer one is fundamentally conservative. Workers and peasants are no longer implored to rise up, but to double down, to fulfill their duties, and to defend the status quo.

Where the old version says

Then from the ruins

Of the old order Shall arise,

the Socialist World Republic

the new version just says:

Today, socialism is a global power.

Why am I telling you this?

It’s got to do with some of the responses to my book Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies. The book shows how Western intellectuals have long had a habit of lauding socialist experiments as long as they were in their prime, only to disown them later, now claiming that they were never “really” socialist to begin with. One of the most common responses I have been receiving lately is:

But you could say the exact same thing about capitalism! Is your next book going to be called “Capitalism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies”

It reminds me a bit of playground spats, where children whose verbal abilities are not that well developed yet often respond to taunts by simply redirecting the same taunt back: “No, you are!”

This, of course, only works in a pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation, where your opponent is indeed guilty of the same thing they are accusing you of. And this really isn’t the case here. You could not say the same thing about capitalism. Show me an example of free-market liberals acting in the same way as the socialist intellectuals I am citing in the book. Name a country that free-marketeers used to praise to the skies, and that they now dismiss as “not REAL capitalism.”

You can’t. Because this does not happen.

Quite the opposite. I recently reread a few passages from Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, which was first published in 1980. In terms of the places Friedman singles out as positive examples, I was struck by how little has changed since then. Friedman was very positive about the economy of Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent, the other “Asian Tigers,” such as Taiwan and Singapore. He described Switzerland as “a bastion of capitalism.”

He was cautiously optimistic that Britain’s then-new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, would change the country for the better. He did not mention Chile in this book, presumably aware that any positive statement about the Chilean economy would be misconstrued as support for the Pinochet dictatorship. But we know from statements he made elsewhere around that time that he was also optimistic about Chile’s future economic prospects.

That was four decades ago. If you asked a free-marketeer today to name a successful capitalist economy—what examples would they pick? Why, more or less the same ones that Friedman picked in 1980. Switzerland would presumably come up. Socialists are novelty-seekers. They have to be because socialist experiments never age well.

Almost certainly, so would Hong Kong and Singapore, and Taiwan might get a cameo appearance as well. They might point to Chile’s relative success. They might be lukewarm about the situation in Britain today, but they would certainly judge post-Thatcher Britain much more favorably than pre-Thatcher Britain. And they would probably mention how New Zealand has been catching up since the pro-market reforms of the 1980s.

In short, free-marketeers are consistent to the point of being bores. If there is an economic model that we already praised forty years ago, there is a high chance that we are still praising it today, and if there is an economic model that we are praising today, there is a high chance that we were already praising it forty years ago. It’s the exact opposite of the socialist utopia-hopping I describe in the book.

Socialists are novelty-seekers. They have to be because socialist experiments never age well. It is very easy to become a socialist. But if you want to remain one for long, you need the ability to quietly drop, and selectively forget socialist experiments when they turn sour, and quickly move on to the next one. You need to be able to quickly un-pin your hopes from the latest failed experiment, and pin them on the next one instead.

Socialists are at their best when they can describe their projects in diffuse, abstract terms. This is why the most popular socialist movements are always those that are either in the ascendant, but not in power just yet, or those that have come to power very recently, but that have not fully settled yet, so everything is still in flux. Socialists are at their worst when they have to answer mundane questions, when they have to spell out, in tangible terms, how a system based on their high-minded ideals would work in practice.

Actually existing socialist regimes, of course, have to do this eventually, and since this cannot be done, they can never keep the initial enthusiasm alive for long. The above-mentioned contrast between “Der heimliche Aufmarsch” and “Der offene Aufmarsch” is a good illustration. The GDR regime evidently tried, unconvincingly, to extract, bottle, and store the energy contained in old revolutionary songs.

And we’re not looking for excitement, novelty, or an adrenaline rush from political ideas anyway.

But socialism needs the thrill of the novel, the excitement of smashing things up, the buzz of overthrowing an established order and starting from scratch again. It no longer works once socialism is the established order, once it becomes clear that that order falls far short of the initial expectations, and once it dawns on you that it is not going to get any better than this.

Liberals don’t have that problem. The economic models we hold up usually do deliver, or at least, they get a seven out of ten. So we can praise the same models for decades in a row. And we’re not looking for excitement, novelty, or an adrenaline rush from political ideas anyway.

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How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires



As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.

Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.

Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church

In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire. 

Right outside of Halifax, N.S., the Tantallon wildfire destroyed 151 homes. More than 16,000 people evacuated the area due to the fire.

The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.

As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.

Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.

“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”

Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.

“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”

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Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?



Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.

Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?

Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.

“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”

Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
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The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises



UPDATE 07/18/2023: A coalition of groups arranged a bus to relocate refugees to temporarily stay at a North York church on Monday evening, according to CBC, CP24 and Toronto Star reports.

Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.

At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.

New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.

The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.

But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.

In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”

Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?

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