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?
Experiments in Socialism
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.
The Economic Histories of Countries
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.
Abstract and Vague Beliefs
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.
Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’
Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.
The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.
“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.
Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.
Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:
“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”
He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.
“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.
Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.
“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.
The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”
The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.
And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.
Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.
“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.
Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.
The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.
Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.
More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.
“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”
Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”
The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.
In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.
Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”
Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”
The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.
Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021
Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?
For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.
The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.
At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.
The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.
Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet
National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.
The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.
The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads.
The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.
“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.
“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”
“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.
“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.