Sunday, September 23, 2012

When Capitalism Came to the Soviet Union

I had a discussion yesterday and was reminded about how awful the Soviet Union was and what a nightmare it would have been to live there.  I replied as I often do.  Compared to the US, the richest country in the world, a lot of places are awful.  But just as life was tough in Soviet satellite states, things were pretty tough in nearby US satellites, like Guatemala, Haiti, and Brazil.  For them Socialism was ended violently and Capitalism was enforced.  I'd have preferred Poland to Haiti.  Don't compare Poland and the US.  Compare Poland and Haiti.

But there's another question worth considering.  How often do you hear about the consequences of Capitalism in the former Soviet states?  Not often.  What happened?  Well, I'm not sure.  It wasn't good.  I know that.  But how bad was it?

It's been difficult for me to discover, but I have a couple of sources that are worth checking out.  This one is called "Life After Communism: The Facts".  This is an interesting and brief overview.  According to this summary of a UN Development Program report 9.6 million men that would otherwise be alive had the Soviet Union not fallen are gone.  That's men only.  Women apparently did not die at quite as high a rate.  I think men suffer more from joblessness and failure to provide then women, more readily turning to alcoholism and suicide.  But one would assume many women died as well, meaning the death toll just in less than 10 years would be over 10 million.  That's the same order of magnitude as died under Stalin (see here).

The progression can be visualized by going to Gapminder.  Click any of the Soviet states and scroll through the fall.  By default it plots life expectancy and per capita income.  A lot of people are dying through this time period.

Here's another idea worth pursuing.  Most people know that Mao instituted polices that killed millions of people.  This is another one of those statements frequently offered by free market advocates.  How do we know about this?  I heard Chomsky discuss this and he made a very interesting point.  The claim is based on the detailed work of a highly respected scholar.  This scholar produced a report that explained what happened.  That same report offers additional information.  While Mao did institute polices that led directly to the death of millions of people he also instituted policies that in fact saved an equal or greater number of people from starvation.

Chomsky is not defending what Mao did but only pointing out that while you hear a lot about the death you hear nothing about the millions saved.  Why is that?

Well, we know why.  It's the same reason everyone knows that Stalin killed millions but few know that free market reforms in the Soviet Union also killed millions.  In fact the reason I'm writing this post is because when I claimed that market reforms killed millions my critic didn't believe it and wanted evidence.  Which is fine.  He should want evidence.  He's never heard of this stuff.  And that's not surprising.

On Socialism workers enjoy the fruits of their labor and on Capitalism non-working owners get the fruits of the labor and the workers get a lesser amount.  Who likes that arrangement?  The non-working owners.  Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010.  This is not him living off the surplus value he created in the past.  He actually gets the value that is created by workers in 2010.  That's what dividends are.  People work for a company and make profits.  They send the money to Mitt Romney.  It takes a lot of work.  It's not work that Mitt Romney does.  The workers do it.  He gets it.

So who likes that arrangement?  Mitt Romney and others that are the richest people in the world.  These are the same people that own the media.  And they own the companies that advertise in the media.  Any system that deprives them of collecting the majority of money while doing none of the work is a system they will fear.  Obviously.  They want to continue to get most of the money while doing none of the work.

The Soviet Union wasn't Socialist and neither was Mao's China.  But they did not allow the Capitalist to make money doing nothing.  So that which they did that was good is ignored.  That which they did that was evil (and they did a lot of evil) is trumpeted from the rooftops.

We need to not forget that.  Let's criticize Mao and Stalin.  But let's also admit that yes, their non-Capitalists systems produced some successes as well.  For instance the Soviet Union put a rover on Venus.  That's pretty impressive.  China and the Soviet Union have (had) major problems.  But that doesn't mean that workers sending what they earn off to non-working owners is the only alternative.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Romney is Not the Greatest Candidate

For Romney the people that actually do the work that make his profits possible are "freeloaders". He gets enough money to actually pay some income tax. Not that he works. He just gets the money others create. He gives some of that money they created to the government via his income taxes so HE is the one bringing value, whereas the workers that don't get to keep much of the value they create, and hence don't earn enough to pay INCOME taxes are the slackers. Never mind that they actually pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than Romney. There are other taxes besides the income tax. That's irrelevant. They are freeloaders because Romney says that there is one specific tax that they don't pay.

This is quite ironic. I mean, Romney has been running for President since like 2007. Who can just run for President for 5 years? I can't just quit my job and run for President. I have obligations. I have to go into work and accomplish some things in order to earn a salary, because I have to provide for myself and my family. I can't just sleep in every day. But Romney can. And yet he sees himself like he's the hard working one and tomato pickers and janitors are lazy. They get up in the morning, Mitt. They are on their feet. You are probably sleeping. You are the freeloader.

Stewart later covers the Fox News spin, which is also fun. I'll just provide a link here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Don't Buy It

Months back I happened to watch this Ted Talk which discusses (among other things) the relationship between income and happiness. It was a major eye opener for me. I found it very liberating to recognize that much of what I perceived as a want/need was something that in the end really didn't affect my happiness. I've become convinced that a much simpler existence would actually provide no less life satisfaction, and probably would produce more.

So I just wanted to share a couple of related resources on this topic. I thought the below 9 minute commentary entitled "You Don't Need to Buy This" was very worthwhile.

There's an article by the speaker that's worth reading here.

I recently watched a movie, available streaming on Netflix that's called "Happy." It explores the relationship between perceived causes of happiness and actual causes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Light of the Attacks in Libya

The right wing is giddy to be able to talk about the attacks in Libya. It's a great opportunity for them. The last thing they want is for people to discuss what OUR government is doing. They want to distract us from that question and have us instead focus on the atrocities of others that we can't control.

A young conservative questioner tried the same tactic with Noam Chomsky. Listen to see how it went for him.

Growth Is The Problem

The problem I have with so called liberal economists like Paul Krugman is not that he's wrong about his prescriptions for what would solve our economic problems. Yeah, austerity in the US should be expected to reduce economic growth, cause a lot of suffering, and increase unemployment, just as it has in Europe. He's not wrong that preparation for an alien invasion would boost our economy even if it was later discovered that the invasion threat was a hoax. He's not wrong to suggest that the new I-Phone 5 could boost our economy by causing people to discard perfectly good phones.

Where he's wrong is that he doesn't recognize that his solutions allow us to continue down this unsustainable path. Capitalism needs ever expanding consumption. Krugman knows that the problem is lack of demand. So when consumers already have all the products they would ever need you have to contrive wants so that people will continue to consume more. Break windows. Throw away phones. Prepare for a war against a non-existent threat. Dig some ditches and re-fill them. This is what Capitalism requires.

What Americans don't recognize is that they are already fantastically rich. I found a really well written piece describing our riches, particularly relative to even the wealthiest people of the past, right here. If you are reading this blog post you are probably among the richest people in the world today. In fact you are way richer than most people that have ever lived. How is it that we don't live like we are rich? Instead we work and work for decades filling our homes with junk that we don't want and don't use? How many of us can actually fit 2 cars in our 2 car garages? I can with a lot of effort if I pile boxes full of crap high and to the side. At the moment I can't get 2 cars in, because I have too much stuff that I don't use in there.

Chris Hedges has a good piece on this topic here. Also a good interview on Democracy Now here. We are committing suicide by growing our economy when it is not really necessary for our happiness. It's only necessary because our system is Capitalist. It will not go on forever. It will either end with a massive economic collapse and unimaginable suffering or we will change the system drastically on our own terms.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Should Liberals Prefer a Romney Victory

An interesting debate on Democracy Now on this question here.

Take the issue of austerity. Yeah, Republicans want a savage austerity package that should be expected to collapse our economy like was done in Europe. But could they do that effectively like Obama can if he chooses to? Obama himself picked the heads of his Deficit Commission which is proposing a harmful austerity package.

In health care we need single payer. The deficit would be gone. 40-50 million people get some respectable options. It's win-win. Well sort of. It's not a win for profit seeking owners that will no longer make millions doing nothing. So they oppose it. The right wing Heritage Foundation crafted a plan that placates the masses but keeps the owners in the profit stream. Obama had a chance at bringing single payer, but instead he gave corporations their profitable solution, and the result will be continued high prices. It's not terribly surprising that Romney is now expressing support for some portions of Obama Care. It's a right wing plan.

Then of course you have all this war expansion and surveillance state expansion. All of this has come about virtually without opposition from the left. The argument is that while Romney is evil Obama is the more effective evil. It's a strong argument. I can respect that good people may come down on either side of this debate. This is a very hard question.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Clinton-More Facts in 48 Minutes than RNC Offered in 4 Days

I keep hearing that Clinton gave a pretty good speech. Jon Stewart makes fun of the length, but is impressed that it did contain something that just isn't offered by Republicans: content.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fox News vs CNN

If you want to bash Fox News more power to you, but I think it's important to recognize that you don't want to do this in a way that obscures the fact that CNN is very similar.

I view it much like the Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are in the tank for the rich and they are proud of it. They blatantly reject democracy, lie, etc. OK, we know where they stand. Democrats sort of pretend to be different, but when push comes to shove there's not much difference.

Here's a story about CNN's pushy behavior directed against their own journalists in service to the brutal torturing government in Bahrain. Sure, Fox News has directed their journalists to lie in service to wealth. CNN wants their reporters to include lies in stories as well in service to this brutal military dictatorship that enjoys strong support in Washington. If you want to go crazy demonizing official enemies, like Iran and Syria, there's no problem. Demonizing friends of the state is a bridge too far.

Another thing to remember is that propaganda is not usually put forward in such a blatant form. Like the higher ups pressuring reporters to include lies in their stories. The filtering produces the propaganda without a cabal of powerful people pulling strings. One example is contained in some of the videos I show here where Michael Moore is interviewed about his movie Sicko. It starts with CNN's Sanjay Gupta just getting the facts blatantly wrong as he tries to discredit the movie prior to the interview. He got obvious things wrong, like the amount of money Moore claimed Cuba spent per person on health care. Nobody directed him to get it wrong. It was incompetence in service to CNN's corporate backers.

You have the vast majority of Americans that agree with Michael Moore on health care and you have the corporate sector representing the interests of wealth that opposes. CNN gets it all wrong in service to wealth. Interestingly as we learn in this video where former insurance company executive Wendell Potter apologizes to Michael Moore for the role he played discrediting Sicko, one of the people Gupta relied on was a paid insurance company stooge that was working to discredit the film and this of course was not revealed to the CNN audience. So maybe it was a combination of incompetence in service to wealth and organized disinformation in service to wealth.

Credit to Keith Olbermann for exposing a lot of this. But then he was suspended from MSNBC and now he's gone.