Overview of Capitalism and Socialism for Effective Altruism

post by kbog · 2019-05-16T06:12:39.522Z · score: 38 (17 votes) · EA · GW · 21 comments

(minor updates since original post)

This is an edited excerpt from the work in progress sixth draft of the Candidate Scoring System [EA · GW]. I figured it would be useful for people who are interested in capitalism and socialism. It's far from perfect, but I have not found any remotely satisfactory overview anywhere else. This can be a starting point for people who want to debate whether economic systems should be treated as a priority in EA.

Capitalism is an economic system where the means of production - land, machinery, investment capital - are mostly held by private owners. Socialism is an economic system where they are owned by the public in a collective or governmental organization. For a variety of reasons, it could be important to take a stance on the question of which is preferable.

However, it’s not straightforward to judge capitalism and socialism because the question is simply too vague to be a valid basis for direct research. There are many very different ways that these systems can be realized, so modern economic and political science scholarship focuses on narrower and better-defined issues. Acemoglu and Robinson (2015) note, “we do not believe the term capitalism to be a useful one for the purposes of comparative economic or political analysis… both Uzbekistan and modern Switzerland have private ownership of capital, but these societies have little in common in terms of prosperity and inequality because the nature of their economic and political institutions differs so sharply.” Socialism is also very broad. Deep ideological disputes exist among leftists in America, concrete policy proposals are rare and controversial, and there is no clear conception of what socialism would actually look like (New Republic). The Socialism 2019 conference contains almost no discussion of the structure of a socialist economy.

If we want to evaluate the desirability of generic increases or decreases in the probability of socialist change, we cannot select a specific policy proposal that we would prefer. Instead we must survey the various possible forms and components of socialism and produce a vague expectation over the lottery of possibilities.

First, when it comes to the centrally planned economic models of 20th century socialist states, economists overwhelmingly regard them as inferior to capitalist economies. There is disagreement on whether early Soviet industrialization was expedited much by central planning (Krugman 1994, Allen 2005), but the human costs are unequivocal. The entire suite of socialist policies reduced Soviet agricultural productivity by about 50% (Johnson and Brooks 1983). Central planning went awry in the USSR when poor leadership appeared later on (Allen 2001, Allen 2005).

The communist system has been disastrous for Cuba, the US embargo is not the sole cause of their problems (Jales et al 2018, Salazar-Carrillo and Nodarse-León 2015, Ribeiro et al 2013, Ward and Devereux 2012). Cuba was also buoyed by significant Soviet aid and trade subsidies during the Cold War, and more recently is supported by $5 billion annual remittances from expatriates, a very large amount (relative to the size of its economy) which might give it a bonus sufficient to greatly exceed the losses from the embargo. While Cuba’s literacy and healthcare metrics are reportedly very high now unlike most aspects of their society, they were also relatively high before the revolution and have not improved at a stellar rate (Salazar-Carrillo and Nodarse-León 2015). Also, Cuba’s actual healthcare quality is worse than reported (Berdine et al 2018). That being said, Cuba’s hurricane preparedness is quite good (Jacobin).

The fact that these states were generally oppressive autocracies explains their totalitarian crimes but not their economic deficiencies. In addition, there are plausible theoretical explanations for economic failures in centrally planned socialism. One is the famous “calculation problem,” another is the reduction of individual incentives to work harder, another is Shleifer and Vishny (1991)’s argument that central planning creates opportunities and incentives for planners to artificially create shortages in order to collect bribes.

The consensus against these models is shared not just by practically all economists, but also by historians and social scientists, and by policymakers across the world – including the Communist Party of China. Of course the majority of modern socialists also disavow them, so they are unlikely to be repeated. That being said, it’s not straightforward to assume that they won’t be repeated. Many leaders of failed historical socialist movements and nations were avid scholars of Marxist theory, not making ignorant mistakes about its content. Socialist regimes also varied significantly in their ideologies, such as the various stages of Soviet doctrine, Maoism, Juche, and other systems, yet all ran into similar problems. Therefore, historical failures cannot be attributed to a simple and avoidable ideological error on the part of socialist leaders. Moreover, a small number of modern leftists do defend the track record of these regimes. This means there is a non-negligible chance of a repetition.

Still, most socialists nowadays espouse alternative models. Some advocate ParEcon, an economically radical idea which is difficult to properly evaluate. However it is often criticized by leftists and gets little attention these days. Socialists usually support a more straightforward increase in public ownership and control of economic decisions, extending the ideas of modern regulatory and welfare states and workplace democracy while falling short of proper central planning. Probably the most notable proposal for this is Schweickart (2011). We have not seen any rigorous, holistic evaluation of such schemes, and such an evaluation may simply be impossible until they are tried. But we can look specifically at the major components of these visions, which have been studied in isolation.

One aspect of many socialist plans is greater government regulation of the economy. But Hall and Lawson (2014) collected 198 relevant empirical studies published in highly selective social science journals, and we add one more recent one (Jackson 2017). The result is that economic freedom corresponds with good outcomes in 68% of studies and bad outcomes in just 4% of studies. Hall and Lawson find that this result might be weakened by publication bias but find no evidence to indicate that it would be overturned. In a more recent, narrower and simpler literature review, Horpedahl et al (2019) argue that economic freedom generally helps achieve the aims of social justice (which is good for social welfare, ceteris paribus). The think tanks which produce the rankings of economic freedom – mainly the Fraser Institute, but also the Heritage Foundation – are conservative, but highly ranked (see reports here) and the economic freedom rankings are commonly accepted in the academic literature. Now it’s worth noting that other aspects of socialism could temper the downsides of free markets and thereby reduce the necessary level of economic regulations, but it’s not clear whether a socialist government would be inclined to take advantage of this opportunity.

Another aspect of many socialist plans is a larger government with more public spending. It is an open question whether or not government administrative agencies are inefficient compared to private companies. However, heavy public spending does lead to less economic growth (Bergh and Henrekson 2011, Matteo and Summerfield 2017). Of course, public spending can be better targeted for issues like inequality and externalities to outweigh economic costs, so a balance must be struck. However, our issue evaluations have often found cases where increasing government spending would be neutral or harmful. Therefore, sweeping plans for much more government spending seem like a poor idea.

Another aspect of many socialist programs is the replacement of privately owned enterprises (POEs) with state-owned enterprises (SOEs). This is a central aspect of China’s market socialism, though Western socialists frequently reject it with the label “state capitalism.” Two comprehensive literature reviews have shown that SOEs are inferior to POEs (Megginson and Netter 2001, Shirley and Walsh 2001). Also, two recent studies have found that Chinese SOEs are inferior to POEs (Boeing et al 2015, Fang et al 2015). Goldeng et al (2008) found that POEs outperformed SOEs in Norway in the 1990s. However, some of the recent work questions this point of view. Jakob (2017) looks at an international dataset and finds that there is no difference in performance between POEs and SOEs. A metanalysis by Bel et al (2010) found that privatization of local waste and water services has no effect. Omran (2004) suggested that privatization of Egyptian firms in 1994-1998 did not create significant improvements. Demsetz and Villalonga (2001) found that there is no systematic relationship between ownership and performance in US enterprises. But even if SOEs are just as good as POEs on the margin, it would probably be worse to push radical changes to implement many more of them. Meanwhile on the theoretical side, Shleifer and Vishny (1994) argue that an economy of state-run enterprises merely magnifies the flaws of democratic governance (and American governance is indeed flawed, and will remain so for the foreseeable future).

State-owned enterprises receive varying support from leftists depending on the industry. A more popular SOE program would be nationalization of the finance industry, outlined by Schweickart (2011) under the label “social control of investment.” But just as in other industries, public banks are less efficient than private banks (Megginson 2003). Furthermore, public banking in the West would cut investment in foreign economies, as public banks would be politically mandated to support projects which maximize employment for the domestic population. This would allow more severe poverty in the developing world.

Another major plan of many contemporary socialists is the use of worker cooperatives, firms which are owned and managed by the workers. Pérotin (2012, 2015) summarizes research to show that worker cooperatives have broadly positive impacts. As for firms which are merely owned by workers, Kruse (2016) summarized existing research to show that worker ownership is modestly positive for both firm performance and employee welfare, though a study by Monteiro and Straume (2018) found inconclusive and potentially negative impacts on firm efficiency in Portugal. But a significant downside of worker-owned and especially worker-managed firms in the US is that they discourage outsourcing to needier workers in poorer countries. The 20th century’s socialist programs also suggest that mandatory collectivization could have very bad effects, though their problems were arguably caused by state control and mismanagement rather than the mere fact that they were collectives.

Leftists often allege that institutional bias from the capitalist system distorts the views and research of economists and historians, so that socialist programs are better than they seem. But we have seen little evidence of such bias going on, and it is inconsistent with two major academic trends: the academic popularity of Marxist doctrine in economics in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the widespread, almost unquestioning academic acceptance of anti-capitalist views in certain subfields of the humanities today. And we haven’t seen any evidence of censorship or censure of anticapitalist views in economics departments. On the other hand, empirical analysis of socialist regimes is actually likely to be over-optimistic because they have typically been autocracies, which deceive their audiences (Gregory 1990, Kornai 1992, Martinez 2019). American economics textbooks systematically overestimated Soviet growth during the Cold War (Levy and Peart 2011). Cuba’s official statistics are notoriously unreliable (Salazar-Carrillo and Nodarse-León 2015, Berdine et al 2018).

To summarize, government control of the economy seems bad, heavy public spending seems bad, state-owned enterprise seems bad, and worker cooperatives could be good or bad depending on the context of their implementation. All of these conclusions seem relatively robust on their own. However, these programs may have interactions with each other so that a multifaceted socialist program could not be reliably judged merely by taking the sum of its parts. Socialists usually believe that interactions will be positive – in other words, socialist projects could perform much better than what studies indicate if their environment has more socialist aspects in other ways. However, we have seen no good arguments for this view. And negative interactions seem equally possible. The benefits of socialist programs might have diminishing returns as they stack – in other words, perhaps modest reforms would be sufficient to capture the potential benefits of socialist ideas, with additional reform being a pointless pursuit of unnecessary purity. And an excess of socialist programs could concentrate too much power in the government, creating incentives and opportunities for totalitarianism and abuse as we saw in the 20th century. So the question of interactions doesn't give us much reason to take a side, though it does yield another layer of uncertainty which weakens our previous conclusion­ that most socialist programs would be bad.

Political philosophy does not change the picture. Cohen (2009) argues that socialism would theoretically be more compatible with ideal principles like equality and fairness, but Brennan (2014) demonstrates that Cohen’s argument does not work. Brennan further argues that capitalism is superior in terms of theoretical alignment with ideal principles, but Hall (2014) finds that this part of his argument fails. In any case, such appeals to ideal principles have little relevance for real economic and social outcomes. Similarly, Marx argued that exploitation and alienation are inherent to capitalism (Wolff 2003), but there is no good evidence showing that this hurts aggregate well-being relative to alternatives. In fact, the capitalist organization of alienating and exploitative labor (assuming Marxist definitions of the terms) has led to substantial improvements in population size and quality of life over the history of industrial society. Fuerstein (2015) meanwhile argues that capitalism weakens democracy and further shows that this weakening of democracy has real social costs. However, he does not compare this to possible ways that socialist systems might weaken democracy, and he outlines solutions that are compatible with capitalism.

Socialist change might come in the form of violent revolution, which would have a number of additional domestic and international costs. American leftists have increasingly normalized violent tactics in the last several years (Wikipedia, ROCIC). Even if socialism were desirable, it may not be good enough to outweigh the risks of violence. And even if socialism were desirable enough to outweigh the costs of violence, the event of a failed violent revolution would still be a clearly bad thing. This gives an extra reason to prefer maintenance of the existing economic system and avoid insurrections in the first place.

Despite these issues, there is still substantial value of information in testing a better model of socialism, if a good pathway to running a good test can be identified. No one has attempted the most recent, refined socialist plans. If a nation demonstrated that they can work well, then many other nations could improve their own policies accordingly. If a nation tried and failed, then they could eventually return to capitalism and their experience would inform people in other countries to refrain from pursuing the matter. This benefit is large though it is slightly offset by the risk that a socialist movement or government would reduce the prospects for experimentation with other (i.e. right-wing or radical centrist) economic proposals.

Looking at the general degree of uncertainty in the issue, and especially taking experimental value into account, it does seem possible to sketch out a socialist proposal that would probably be preferable to continuing the current trend of capitalist policies. However, that doesn’t mean that the actual results of a socialist movement would meet this high standard. In fact, there are reasons to be specifically pessimistic about the results of a socialist movement. Trends among many current Western leftists – overconfidence in their point of view, disinterest in policy planning, economic denialism and folk-economic beliefs, historical revisionism and apologia, dehumanization and violence towards political opponents (Wikipedia, ROCIC), censorship and censure of internal dissent, internal sectarianism, explicit opposition to objectivity and rationality, and vindictive attitudes on social justice politics – increase the chances of repeating the failure modes of 20th century socialist programs. These trends might be considered relatively benign in the context of a minority movement in a liberal society with stable institutions, but become more dangerous if they are prevalent in a revolutionary majority which is establishing its own institutions and leadership.

Overall, there is decent but not decisive evidence against socialism. It’s plausible that some forms of socialism, particularly those which leverage worker cooperatives while maintaining competitive markets and a reasonably sized government, could be better than capitalism; this seems worth testing but has not been substantiated well enough to justify activism and reform across the board. In addition, there is no guarantee that generic socialist forces in America would lead to a good socialist system rather than a bad socialist system. Nor is there a guarantee that socialist change would be a peaceful process. So broadly increasing the stability of the capitalist system seems like a good thing.

This finding is too weak and uncertain to be justified as a main cause priority. However, it still has interesting implications for Effective Altruism. Numerous writers have alleged that charity is worse than it seems because it could reinforce capitalism, and argued that EAs have a duty of justice to promote new economic systems that could help the developing world escape poverty. However, the finding here means that this argument must be reversed. Charity is extra good because it reinforces capitalism, and EAs have a duty of justice to reinforce (and refine) capitalism in order to help the developing world. Of course neither of these arguments actually make sense - the number of people whose political attitudes are actually changed by philanthropy is negligible as far as anyone can tell, and the "duty of justice" is a moral falsehood. But as far as academic debates are concerned, a good deal of institutional orthodoxy will have to be revised in the light of this new idea that capitalist systems are usually superior to socialist systems.

21 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2019-05-17T08:46:04.892Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I have been writing my own overview of the surfaces of disagreement between EA and anticapitalist/leftist politics, and this reviews covers a lot of what leftist critics of EA refer to as economic 'systemic change' that I wouldn't have known how to research myself. So, thanks for writing this. I will probably cite you when I publish my own article, and I'll let you know about it.

comment by kbog · 2019-05-17T23:02:25.281Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Should be interesting, looking forward to it.

comment by ishaan · 2019-05-17T21:53:33.613Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

For skimmers, page 10 of Candidate Scoring System 5 has a diagram outlining the overall methodology of this analysis nicely. My overall impression of the document is that it's not dissimilar in basic outlook from a mainstream political candidate evaluation or voter's guide, leaning towards more quantitatively driven methods, and keeping an eye towards issues favored by Effective Altruists.

Things I like: This provides one of the few analyses of politicians on EA specific issues like X-risk, animal welfare, and global poverty. I think that's potentially important, as (to my knowledge) there are not currently enough political evaluations of candidates based on that sort of thing. I support this and other volunteer projects attempting this sort of thing.

Things I'm ambivalent about: When it comes to areas which are non-neglected in non-EA political discourse, which you might find in a mainstream voter's guide, I don't currently feel more inclined to trust it over non-EA evaluations. That is to say, I don't see any reason to consider it unusually trustworthy with respect to things like which candidates are best for specific cause areas such as climate change, education, abortion, etc let alone broad ideological evaluations of "capitalism vs. socialism" as general philosophies. This is not meant to be discouraging - creating voting guides is a crowded field, being the "most trustworthy" isn't necessarily easy, though I do wonder if it might be better going forward to place a greater focus on evaluating the less crowded areas.

Some critique of the scope: I think an EA framework evaluating mainstream politics should include interventions (e.g. plans of organizing, activism), not just cause areas, and an analysis of "counterfactual" / "marginal" impact of those interventions, and a sense of the "tractability" when possible...not just the gross impact and importance of the policies themselves.

Whether or not some ideology, framework, -ism, policy recommendation, transfer of power, deep systemic change, etc can be rigorously shown to be superior to some alternative in terms of practical impact is politically interesting, and might change my vote or my ideological loyalty, but that doesn't help in terms of altruistic activity if the problem is intractable. For me to consider it effective as a form of altruism, I'd want a description of the various methods (beyond just personally voting) to influence political outcomes, and the resources / price tag of shifting the probabilities of an election outcome ...in addition to estimates of the impact of doing so. (Positive side effect - this would help keep focus on political issues in proportion to their estimated practical importance)

I don't think that's a crowded area, either - I've encountered some (but not a lot) of mainstream work on the cost effectiveness of political activity.

(Maybe that's not the intention/scope of this project, though, and that's okay - my main intent is to say that it would be really good if in general politically based interventions started focusing more on that part of the analysis)

Edit: Maybe this is the wrong thread, as I now realize there are other posts about the document as a whole, but I'll leave this up unless someone thinks I should move it.

comment by kbog · 2019-05-17T22:55:48.089Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the comments.

That is to say, I don't see any reason to consider it unusually trustworthy with respect to things like which candidates are best for specific cause areas such as climate change, education, abortion, etc let alone broad ideological evaluations of "capitalism vs. socialism" as general philosophies.

The main issue is that the policy positions selected here are not (& should not be) always the same as what other pundits/think tanks want. A good example is immigration; even though we're pro-immigration we care a lot more about expanding legal immigration and aren't trying to prevent border enforcement (compared to other immigration advocates). But if other evaluations are valid and reliable, then we do defer to them. We just haven't found many of them yet. Suggestions are always welcome.

This is not meant to be discouraging - creating voting guides is a crowded field, being the "most trustworthy" isn't necessarily easy, though I do wonder if it might be better going forward to place a greater focus on evaluating the less crowded areas.

Well we have to put all the issues in the model. Otherwise the final rating isn't very meaningful. It's much less helpful to get a report that says "Cory Booker is the best candidate for animal welfare, but you might want to look up what other people have say about his tax proposals and idk if he's best candidate overall."

If we can fill the various issues up with reliable external sources then we do that, and it's quick and easy. If we can't, then we have to put more focus in examining and writing on our own. So in a sense we are putting more focus in topics that others have neglected to examine.

I think an EA framework evaluating mainstream politics should include interventions (e.g. plans of organizing, activism),

The furthest we've gone so far is to pick specific candidates to support or oppose in the run up to the primaries, and recommended some $1 donations to help them qualify for debates. More detailed guidance would be a good thing to include, I agree. Personally I don't know what to write though (again, suggestions/contributions welcome).

a sense of the "tractability" when possible...

If you're referring to the judgments on political issues, that's implicit in the "weight" sections. We look at how much good or bad could be done by government actions, given a certain amount of decision making power. But it's not framed in a manner that makes a lot of sense for people who are specifically trying to influence a single political issue, it's for selecting politicians.

If you're referring to the judgments on candidates, I think no one has a good idea of how to evaluate the tractability of making them win. Whatever inclinations we do have (like, "don't worry much about Delaney because he will presumably lose no matter what") get put near the end where it currently says "To be added: final conclusions and recommendations for activism." Then they factor into the conclusions selected for the Summary for Voters and Activists.

comment by Garrison · 2019-06-03T20:14:20.029Z · score: 4 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Late to the party, but after seeing a few of your posts on politics (which I find informative, especially for the papers you link), I've noticed that you tend to uncritically cite sources who have clear ideological commitments to market capitalism/right wing politics that are obvious from a cursory google search. For example, the book you cite on Cuba makes no mention of the US embargo on Cuba in the summary, and very little reference to it in the index. One of the authors worked at Goldman Sachs and KKR. A UN study estimated that the embargo has cost Cuba $130B (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-economy-un/us-trade-embargo-has-cost-cuba-130-billion-un-says-idUSKBN1IA00T). Cuba's GDP per capita in PPP terms is $22.2K, more than the neighboring Dominican Republic ($19.3k) and Haiti ($1.8K) (taken from each country's wiki page). I'm far from an expert on this and don't know what Cuba's GDP per capita "should" be, but based on this list, Cuba would be the 8th wealthiest country in Latin America and the Caribbean by GDP PPP per capita (out of 32).

The author of the book on Soviet agriculture, D Gale Johnson, chaired the U Chicago Econ dept, which has been the hub of libertarian Austrian economics. From his wiki "Among other notable contributions to economics, Johnson concluded that the strength of an industry depends on how the market works and not so much on government actions."

For an alternative perspective of the economic productivity of the USSR, see chapter 5, footnote 8 of Understanding Power: the Indispensable Chomsky (http://www.understandingpower.com/files/AllChaps.pdf): "In June 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that "the economic danger from the Soviet Union was perhaps greater than the military danger." The U.S.S.R. was "transforming itself rapidly . . . into a modern and efficient industrial state," while Western Europe was still stagnating." (this happened in spite of the USSR's utter destruction during WWII).

The Economic Freedom of the World Index is published by the Cato Institute, among other libertarian/pro-market think tanks and institutes. There has been an enormous amount of propaganda produced around these questions (how well did communist governments perform economically, what economic system should we prefer). Your posts don't appear to take this into account.

I should note that none of this is an apology for human rights abuses carried out by Castro and the USSR.

comment by kbog · 2019-06-12T11:24:09.990Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

So I went and looked deeper.

Re: Chomsky, there's nothing but quotes from back then? I was expecting a chapter with arguments. These quotes from back then are nothing new. As stated in the OP the Soviet Union did indeed industrialize rapidly in the 1930s/1940s period (Allen says that things went bad in the 1970s, though others talk about the Khrushchev era; I didn't bother citing Red Plenty) and also there was this kind of exaggeration from Westerners during the Cold War who didn't know much about the USSR. Partially due to ignorance and exaggeration/fear, but partially due to misleading or false Soviet data. I've heard that the same thing is going on again with China today - Westerners think the Chinese government is efficient compared to democracy but really it isn't. I find nothing here to add to the report.

Re: Cuba. So I mostly read the book, skimmed some of it.

One of the authors was a child in Cuba, went to America, got a BS in econ, did investment banking and private equity, as well as some political activism about Cuba. But the other is a prolific published economist. Parts of the book didn't have many citations, I wasn't sure where they were getting the info from. However the book was pretty strongly focused on economics, as well as going back to the island's colonial roots. It only barely mentioned things like political repression, no mention of gay persecution, and so on, which reassured me that they are writing to answer the economic question rather than making political propaganda. Generally it seemed informed and serious as far as I could tell.

I checked one part for misleading info. The authors use Cuba's GDP per capita in 1950 and 1957 to emphasize their wealth pre-Castro. So I checked if they cherrypicked the years for this. I looked at 1946-1949 and found that Cuba was similarly wealthy at that time. Then I checked 1955-1958 and found that Cuba's economy did peak in 1957, but the whole world's economy was rising in 1955-1957 as well, and Cuba faced some revolutionary violence and US embargoes in 1957-1958, so it seems alright. I also checked for non-economic indicators of quality of life but found that I was getting ahead of myself and the authors were looking at the exact same statistics in the next chapter anyway.

The authors didn't go over the embargo in detail but they point out some issues which are not affected by it. First, inefficient farming and food shortages arose quickly after the revolution, before the main embargo came into effect. Tobacco export quantity and quality to the US also fell before it was embargoed. The efficiency of the food and sugar farms themselves was poor. Meanwhile the USSR gave large amounts of aid and trade subsidies to Cuba. When this ended circa 1990, Cuba's economy collapsed, which shows that the USSR support was very important (possibly more important than the US embargo). Additionally, what trade and finance Cuba did have in the 1990s/2000s suffered major retractions caused by government actions, so we know they could be doing noticeably better even with the US embargo. And Cuba gets a very big amount of remittance money, $5 billion per year. The remittances and USSR aid together might easily outweigh the impacts of the US embargo. And the problems for Cuba just seem too great to be explained by any embargo: in some ways Cuba's standard of living is actually worse than it was before the revolution!

Authors also point out that the non-economic quality of life indicators for Cuba are really not impressive, and the official statistics (like their GDP) are inflated. Not just their opinion: the UN agrees that there is a lack of reliable information about Cuba's economy and development. Plus, the idea that Cuba would post false/misleading statistics is expected by the research on autocracies that I included in the OP.

Overall, I'm reasonably satisfied by the book, it's not a slam dunk but it makes a good argument. I think it would be good to spend more time on the standards of living in 1989 before the loss of Soviet support - it still seems like Cuba made a poor showing over 1960-1989, but maybe it wasn't as bad as it has been since then.

But I also found other studies on the topic. Three of them take a general look at Cuba's economy/development and find that the revolution hurt it:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-economic-history/article/the-road-not-taken-pre-revolutionary-cuban-living-standards-in-comparative-perspective/1710F4E3173FCABE07BB7400406BF55E

https://economics.ca//2013/papers/SG0030-1.pdf

https://www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/twec.12609

I also found this article which looks at Cuba's famous healthcare and finds that it's overrated. Also it further underscores the idea of Cuban government statistics not being reliable.

https://academic.oup.com/heapol/article/33/6/755/5035051

Finally, I think if the embargo were really so severe as to be mainly responsible for Cuba's problems, Cuba would do more to try to undo it. I don't know the details of the diplomacy here and of course there limits to how well Cuba can reform without risking a coup or revolution, but it still seems like there are small ways they could have tried to improve relations with the US - token liberalization, apologize for shooting down planes in 1996, offer compensation for frozen/confiscated US property, or other things. If there really were so many billions of dollars at stake then I would think they'd have taken some earlier, bigger steps forward. Low confidence on this.

But in summary: it seems well substantiated that Cuba's economic model has failed. I will add these new studies into the report.

comment by kbog · 2019-06-05T01:13:43.809Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
For example, the book you cite on Cuba makes no mention of the US embargo on Cuba in the summary, and very little reference to it in the index. One of the authors worked at Goldman Sachs and KKR.

Alright, I will try to see if there is more published literature on Cuba, and look harder for reviews. I did this before, but only on a shallow level. There actually don't seem to be many publications about Cuba. If I can't find a more trustworthy answer then I'll have to go down to the level of blogs, social media comments, personal evaluations, etc.

A UN study estimated that the embargo has cost Cuba $130B (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-economy-un/us-trade-embargo-has-cost-cuba-130-billion-un-says-idUSKBN1IA00T). [EA · GW] Cuba's GDP per capita in PPP terms is $22.2K, more than the neighboring Dominican Republic ($19.3k) and Haiti ($1.8K) (taken from each country's wiki page). I'm far from an expert on this and don't know what Cuba's GDP per capita "should" be, but based on this list, Cuba would be the 8th wealthiest country in Latin America and the Caribbean by GDP PPP per capita (out of 32).

So, it looks like the UN person is straight-up quoting the estimate from the Cuban report. I don't see any report from the UN on it. Cuba's reporting has potential bias - not that I would dismiss it out of hand, of course. But I searched around a bit, and apparently they've also claimed that it cost $750B total which is >$10B/year (!) and alternately that it costs them merely $685M per year. I didn't see the original sources so I don't know what the differences are with underlying methodology, if these reports are even sourced correctly, etc.

Cuba's annual GDP (in US$) is $87B, so going naively off the numbers it doesn't seem like this would make a big difference, unless the $750B figure is accurate but that seems very unlikely.

I think this is what you want to look at for Cuba's overall performance (the revolution was in the 1950s): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GDP-Caribbean.png They went from 1st place to 2nd place among those 6 countries. Which yes doesn't look very bad, especially given their performance on some non-economic measures, but of course this is not a very robust way of evaluating them.

The author of the book on Soviet agriculture, D Gale Johnson, chaired the U Chicago Econ dept, which has been the hub of libertarian Austrian economics.

U Chicago wasn't Austrian, it was the center of Freshwater Economics which was mainstream, neoclassical economics.

From his wiki "Among other notable contributions to economics, Johnson concluded that the strength of an industry depends on how the market works and not so much on government actions."

Well, yes. But that's... what he contributed! It's their job to research this stuff and report whatever the results are. Would you doubt climate scientists just because they made contributions showing that global warming is a big problem?

What would trigger alarms in my head is if they said things like "it's a violation of our rights when the government intervenes in the economy", because then they have a non-economic motivation that may interfere with their conduct of economics.

For an alternative perspective of the economic productivity of the USSR, see chapter 5, footnote 8 of Understanding Power: the Indispensable Chomsky (http://www.understandingpower.com/files/AllChaps.pdf): "In June 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that "the economic danger from the Soviet Union was perhaps greater than the military danger." The U.S.S.R. was "transforming itself rapidly . . . into a modern and efficient industrial state," while Western Europe was still stagnating." (this happened in spite of the USSR's utter destruction during WWII).

OK, I will look into this soon when I have proper time, and come back here with details. If it turns out to seem really correct on the object level and economists don't seem able to address it, then we'll have no conclusion on the matter (our investigation says one thing, the experts mostly say another). If the argument looks plausible but unclear on the object level, then we'll accept the economists' view but with a higher degree of uncertainty. If the case looks unlikely on the object level then we'll drop it. If I had more time and education I might be willing to do a super-deep personal review capable of directly uncovering the whole story, but I don't.

You could do this too btw if you want, and it could be integrated into the CSS. I just need the results of comparing things against other sources, comprehensive debates with other people, etc to make it reliable. Some kind of meta-review or double crux. I could trust that.

The Economic Freedom of the World Index is published by the Cato Institute, among other libertarian/pro-market think tanks and institutes.

I've revised the paragraph in the CSS draft (partially stuff I did soon after making the OP, but partially just now after reading your post) and this is what it says now:

One aspect of many socialist plans is greater government control of the economy. But Hall and Lawson (2014) looked at 198 relevant empirical studies published in highly selective social science journals, and we can add a more recent study by Jackson (2017). The result is that economic freedom corresponds with good outcomes in 68% of studies and bad outcomes in just 4% of studies. Hall and Lawson find that this result might be weakened by publication bias but find no evidence to indicate that it would be overturned. In a more recent, narrower and simpler literature review, Horpedahl et al (2019) argue that economic freedom generally helps achieve the aims of social justice (which is good for social welfare, ceteris paribus). The think tanks which produce the rankings of economic freedom – mainly the Fraser Institute, but also the Heritage Foundation – are conservative, but highly ranked (see reports here) and the rankings are commonly accepted in the academic literature. Now it’s worth noting that other aspects of socialism could temper the downsides of free markets and thereby reduce the necessary level of economic regulations, but it’s not clear whether a socialist government would be inclined to take advantage of this opportunity.

Due to uncertainties, I now say that greater government control of the economy seems bad (as opposed to the OP here where I wrote that it would be bad).

There are various ways to look for bias in studies and metanalyses, so if there is not published evidence for strong bias then it seems rather unlikely.

I should note that none of this is an apology for human rights abuses carried out by Castro and the USSR.

I wouldn't think of it that way, no need to worry. We're all EAs here

comment by Garrison · 2019-06-08T19:49:59.496Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for taking these things into account. I also won't have the time to go too much deeper on this stuff. I would say a general response to relying on things like rankings of think tanks or other establishment measures of institutional credibility won't be very persuasive to a lot of people on the left. The world is dominated by capitalist countries, companies, and institutions that support/defend them. There is a lot of money to be made in defending free markets. See Dark Money by Jane Mayer for a detailed investigation into how a handful of billionaires built alternative ideological infrastructure that became mainstream and established, despite having a self-interested, market fundamentalist ideology. The ranking you linked appears to based on surveys of other people in the establishment. If you're broadly critical of the establishment, you don't find their rankings to be credible. For a quick example of the Cato Institute misrepresenting data in its writing see: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/10/never-trust-the-cato-institute

For another example of ostensibly opposed think tanks working together (because they both serve the interests of capitalists) see: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/12/why-is-the-center-for-american-progress-betraying-the-left

Not trusting the establishment creates a lot of problems, which is why a lot of leftists (more prevalent in the past I think) believe some crackpottery and align with some cranks. The establishment may be right about a lot of things, but in some cases it's collectively wrong and there won't be many establishment sources you can cite to say so.

comment by kbog · 2019-06-12T22:53:26.116Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

As stated in the report, the academic establishment is not universally pro-capitalist now nor was it universally pro-capitalist in the past. Academia is broadly left wing compared to the rest of America. Another thing to note is how consistently climate scientists have investigated global warming despite the presence of fossil fuel interests. So the idea that everything is being controlled is just implausible on its face.

There is a lot of money to be made in defending free markets.

Humans seek prestige as much as money, and can get both of these things from attacking free markets as well.

Note how many reviews authors get for writing about the economy of Cuba, compared to how many reviews authors get for writing about billionaires funding the radical right. Who's the one making money now?

See Dark Money by Jane Mayer for a detailed investigation into how a handful of billionaires built alternative ideological infrastructure that became mainstream and established,

I just ctrl-F'd for every mention of "university" and find that most of the time the author is citing the views of university faculty or talking about times when they contradicted what the Koch brothers or Republican Party wanted. Haven't yet seen anything about a conspiracy to control their ideological infrastructure.

For a quick example of the Cato Institute misrepresenting data in its writing see: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/10/never-trust-the-cato-institute

Robinson says that the studies are only talking about getting pay of some kind rather than full leave, but that's apparent to anyone reading Calder's report. Straightforward and correct citation.

Robinson objects that Calder only cites the part of a study that pertains to wages, but that section of her paper was about wages. It would have just been out of place to talk about the other effects in that section of her paper.

Robinson objects that another study doesn't contemplate eliminating paid leave, but that's a normative question separate from what was really studied; there's no reason to be shackled to interests of the authors of the paper.

Robinson objects that there are exceptions to the general trend of OECD countries, but this is silly - of course the overall trend matters most. You can find counterexamples to the trend, but then you can also find super-examples which emphasize the trend even more starkly. (Note: just three days ago Robinson took National Review to task because they were using individual examples of government failures and ignoring the general trends.)

The one strong takeaway is that Calder didn't include a fair amount of evidence that presented mandatory paid leave in a better light. Not misrepresentation, more like being one-sided. And that's all that Robinson could find wrong with this >20 page document. There are 52 footnotes, and Robinson finds that countervailing evidence was excluded from 2-3 of them, and finds 3-4 more good sources that should have been included, after saying he spent "a long time" on it. It's not very jarring. Calder's report does seem flawed, but this falls short of the standard required to "never trust" the author (let alone CATO).

In any case, the CATO institute does not produce the economic freedom rankings.

And finally there is a big difference between a report that was released by a person at a think tank, and a dataset that was released by the think tank that has now been used in hundreds of papers of published academic research.

Not trusting the establishment creates a lot of problems,

Yes, the main one being that it doesn't lead anywhere.

Everything you've said about problems with universities or think tanks applies equally well to the microcosm of leftist bloggers and philosophers and journalists. Much more so, honestly. Of course there is less billionaire money, but lots of other crap instead. I've previously found reasons to "never trust" Nathan Robinson, flaws that are worse than those in Calder's report. So we need to be very clear that the conclusion of this sort of narrative, no matter how sound it is, is not that socialism is better. The conclusion, if this narrative is true, is just that everything is super vulnerable to bias or deceit and there is no useful expert guidance.

Now you could preserve the idea of expert consensus, but redefine 'experts' to mean the associated collection of freethinkers and heterodox bloggers and crackpots with no institutional ties. If you do this, then you're still not going to get a consensus for socialism either. You'll get a fair number of capitalists/libertarians, plus an assortment of anarchists (both right-wing and left-wing), socialists/communists and then a few people with really weird ideas like monarchism or fascism or whatever. Also lots of conspiracy theories. And many people (like me) will say that the idea of relying on such an ecosystem to create a kind of expert consensus is rather bonkers in the first place.

Then our only way to come to any substantial conclusion is to just read through the sources and arguments in detail to see who is actually right about socialism. But insofar as we've seen no good arguments that leftists are actually right about this, you can see that it's rather pointless to keep talking about The Establishment. Instead of trying to argue that it's just turtles all the way down, it would be a lot more productive to present arguments that leftists are actually right in the first place, and then investigate them, and in the process of investigating them some truths about the reliability of 'the establishment' can be uncovered.

To put simple numbers on the whole thing, let's say that P(socialism>capitalism) = 0.1 if the establishment is good and P(socialism>capitalism) = 0.5 if the establishment is corrupt. If we currently think the establishment is 90% likely to be good, then P(socialism>capitalism) = 0.14. If we see some strong evidence and arguments against the establishment then maybe we'll change our trust in it down to 70%. Then P(socialism>capitalism) = 0.22. Well that's not a very big change.

OTOH, if we saw a good argument that socialism is actually good, then we would now say that P(socialism>capitalism) = 0.2 if the establishment is good and P(socialism>capitalism) = 0.7 if the establishment is corrupt, and then we'd also change our trust in the establishment from 90% to 80% because we've presumably caught something that they weren't able to answer. Now P(socialism>capitalism) = 0.30. Well that's still a low probability, but you've gone further.

comment by Jemma · 2019-05-18T10:26:22.096Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I don't feel qualified to comment on this myself, but I found an interview with Peter Singer that touches on the topic of politics and EA, published yesterday. One relevant extract:

"[Singer] proudly recalls how many of his own students have been turned towards Effective Altruism and have decided to integrate it into their future lives. He then briefly alludes to students’ political leanings, and I decide to probe a little further, asking, more generally, about how the philosophy plays out in the political domain.

“It’s clearly political in so far as it is trying to get away from the views of people on the right, like Ayn Rand. It is a movement away from the idea that it is good to be selfish, that somehow under capitalism people thinking and acting selfishly works under this hidden hand to do the most good. It doesn’t do the most good, and we need to think about directly aiming at doing good for people who don’t have the same chance to get into the global economy. So in that sense it is taking a stance against a certain political and economic thinking. On the other hand, it is also taking a stance against the idea that the solution to all these problems is a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system. It is saying, look, capitalism has been around a long time, it doesn’t look like we are going to overthrow it very soon and it is not clear what the best alternative would be. So while we are here, let’s try to do what we can within that system. In fact, it is kind of ironic that sometimes Marxists object to this, and yet that is exactly what Engels did. He was a capitalist running a factory in Manchester, and without his financial support, Marx wouldn’t have had the leisure to write the works that he did.”"

Full article: https://cherwell.org/2019/05/17/interview-peter-singer/

comment by kbog · 2019-05-18T23:01:38.311Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I'd disagree, the EA movement should push economic change if such change is in fact valuable. Just happens to be the case that there isn't good enough reason to substantiate that cause area in most cases. Of course even if it is a good cause area, the idea that short-term charity is therefore bad/neutral is just nonsensical.

comment by lucy.ea8 · 2019-06-16T06:31:24.480Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Its not very interesting to think about Capitalism and Socialism because the terms are too broad. I see Chomsky mentioned in other posts. He is an Anarchist https://chomsky.info/20130528/ https://www.amazon.com/Chomsky-Anarchism-Noam/dp/1904859208

Also it is not clear to me how countries should be classified, and also how they changed over time. E.g. which year UK become capitalist? how about USA? How should Nigeria, India, China be described today? Also how should one describe Nigeria, India, China pre independence?

We can try to look at it public policy. Are free public schools socialist or capitalist? How about free public healthcare? How about social security or Medicare?

comment by Mohammad · 2019-05-25T03:20:54.424Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Great post by the OP. But one thing I wished it touched more upon was the need for internationalism.

Under our current liberal capitalist world economy, countries are incentivised to weaken labour laws, safety conditions, environmental standards, taxes etc to remain competitive.

Both socialism and capitalism do have remedies to prevent/ temper this "race to the bottom" phenomenon. But I think socialists have a good argument to make that a socialist system might be better able to do this by lifting international standards. And this would be of great consequence to Effective Altruists.

Does the OP have any thoughts on this?

comment by kbog · 2019-05-25T12:58:57.461Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Countries in a liberal capitalist world economy are free to institute strong labor laws, make their economy less competitive, and disengage from the global market. They don't need to wait for the rest of the world to be socialist in order to do this. The fact that they choose not to tells you something about how important economic growth is, compared to strong labor laws. Removing international markets to encourage countries to have better working conditions would like forbidding poor people from working more than 7 hours a day, in order to encourage them to have more recreation.

comment by Mohammad · 2019-05-28T10:11:32.729Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the reply Kbog.

Of course withdrawing from international markets would be a economically backwards thing to do. But, I don't think that is what socialists are generally for. From what I've read socialism is all about greater economic cooperation, internationalism, abolishing the state and opposing nationalism & economic protectionism etc. These are some wikis that I think support this view: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internationalism_(politics) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proletarian_internationalism

I am absolutely against countries disengaging from the global market. What I was trying to say is that it might be easier under a socialist world economic system for economies to unite together to lift standards in unison, than compared to a liberal capitalist world economy. And by acting in unison, this would avoid a reduction in economic growth.

For example in our current capitalist economic system, we have a handful of countries like Ireland that have turned themselves into tax havens. Ireland benefits greatly economically by doing this when corporations like Apple headquarter there for tax purposes, but it does so to the detriment of other countries - and the overall effect is probably slightly negative due to overall lower tax collection and less money being spent overall in the public interest.

I think you could also make similar arguments for the Bangladesh and Vietnam economies with respect to labour laws in the garment industry.

Do you think I make a valid argument that there should be EA interest in socialism as international co-ordination might be easier in a post-capitalist world economy?


Also, I noticed Singer made a remark on this I thought I'd share just in case you did not know.

" Capitalism is very far from a perfect system, but so far we have yet to find anything that clearly does a better job of meeting human needs than a regulated capitalist economy coupled with a welfare and health care system that meets the basic needs of those who do not thrive in the capitalist economy.  If we ever do find a better system, I'll be happy to call myself an anti-capitalist." https://web.archive.org/web/20181028225703/http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/ethics_and_the_left/

comment by kbog · 2019-05-28T17:40:15.819Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
From what I've read socialism is all about greater economic cooperation, internationalism, abolishing the state and opposing nationalism & economic protectionism etc.

Maybe in their theoretical goals or mantras, but in practice they generally oppose trade. At least towards poorer countries.

What I was trying to say is that it might be easier under a socialist world economic system for economies to unite together to lift standards in unison, than compared to a liberal capitalist world economy.

Would it? Why? Capitalist states can make agreements too.

For example in our current capitalist economic system, we have a handful of countries like Ireland that have turned themselves into tax havens. Ireland benefits greatly economically by doing this when corporations like Apple headquarter there for tax purposes, but it does so to the detriment of other countries - and the overall effect is probably slightly negative due to overall lower tax collection and less money being spent overall in the public interest.

Well let's say a global worker collective can get different tax treatment by headquartering in a different state. Are the socialist countries going to do a better job of setting their policies in unison?

Do you think I make a valid argument that there should be EA interest in socialism as international co-ordination might be easier in a post-capitalist world economy?

I just don't see the mechanism by which coordination would be made easier.

Meanwhile, if international trade shrinks, that might increase conflicts.

In practice, socialist states (20th century) didn't do a particularly good job of coordinating with each other.

comment by Mohammad · 2019-06-08T03:35:19.648Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks again for the reply.

On socialism and internationalism:
Maybe in their theoretical goals or mantras, but in practice they generally oppose trade. At least towards poorer countries.

I'm not knowledgeable how true/false this is historically... but I don't suspect it is very true for modern socialist parties/ govt's. Something like Yanis Varoufakis's Diem25 project for example. I was very impressed by its effort to try and stop European left wing parties acting in their individual national interests and instead act in harmony.

And also impressed by their solution to Europe's woes with a call for more Europe as opposed to less (brexit/frexit/grexit/ Euroscepticism etc..)

I will also point out that restricting trade to poor nations is not unique to socialists. Under Trump, the US has reinstated sanctions on Cuba on pretty dubious grounds. It does also preferentially trades with countries with govt's in line with US's broader national ambitions (for e.g. Saudi Arabia because they listed aramco)


On whether a socialist world economic system is more adept at working internationally:
Would it? Why? Capitalist states can make agreements too.

Yes, they can and do. But (I suspect) it's harder for them to do this - simply for the reason that they are states in the first place and that places enormous incentive to act in national interests. I guess, I'm not really interested in "socialist states" as an EA (an you'll notice avoided saying socialist state or country) - but rather a socialist movement? of some sort, that is not confined to individual states. To me that is what is worthy of investigation.


As an aside

This sort of socialism with international aims was abandoned quite early on in the Russian Revolution with Stalin in favour of socialism in one country, marking a significant break with orthodox socialist thought. I say that as a sort of defence against comparisons of international socialist movement to individual socialist states past and present. But it is also a scathing criticism of the international socialist movement that one section of it in Russia (the most successful section) did go the way of nationalism - and inspired a whole swathe of countries like China and Cuba to adopt its nationalistic model.


Got any thoughts? Let me know, please. Would appreciate it very much. You don't need to do a item by item breakdown - I know it is very time-consuming (for me also). A short retort is just fine.

On your other points:

Well let's say a global worker collective can get different tax treatment by headquartering in a different state. Are the socialist countries going to do a better job of setting their policies in unison?
I just don't see the mechanism by which coordination would be made easier.
Meanwhile, if international trade shrinks, that might increase conflicts.
In practice, socialist states (20th century) didn't do a particularly good job of coordinating with each other.

I don't really have good answers for these. As I said socialist countries to me are not even worth entertaining, but how a socialist world economy would respond to tax havens - not sure, perhaps overhaul the current international tax system from facilitating this?? somehow?? I really don't know. In any case, it will be interesting to see if our current liberal laissez-faire capitalist system will come up with a solution to this problem of tax havens. I think if it does - it would signal a move away from a liberal laissez-faire system to a more planned regulated capitalistic system by definition.

Co-ordination within a socialist system will be difficult in having to accommodate different perspectives and interests in much the way it is difficult under the current system. But... by definition an international socialist movement is about minimising and compromising on conflicting national/ individual/religious interests/perspectives to a act in the international interest, so I think it would be better at co-ordination. But the point I make is semantics.

comment by kbog · 2019-06-12T09:59:45.683Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
I don't suspect it is very true for modern socialist parties/ govt's.

It's at the forefront of socialists in the USA who are categorically opposed to 'sweatshop labor'. Take it from Chomsky whose criticism of Mondragon is "it’s in a market system and they still exploit workers in South America."

Something like Yanis Varoufakis's Diem25 project for example.

Socialist? It looks like they are just a political movement. Reform the EU to be more democratic. That's not socialism. Granted I am not familiar with this.

I will also point out that restricting trade to poor nations is not unique to socialists. Under Trump, the US has reinstated sanctions on Cuba on pretty dubious grounds. It does also preferentially trades with countries with govt's in line with US's broader national ambitions (for e.g. Saudi Arabia because they listed aramco)

Some of that is political moves which happen under any kind of government and are not about anyone being rich or poor. USSR put an embargo on West Berlin. Cuba used to refuse to buy food from the US because they didn't want to legitimize the embargo.

Otherwise, capitalist countries also engage in protectionism per se. That hits wealthier countries too. Notice how Trump's main focus is China which is a middle income country. And there have been trade scuffles with the EU recently. I'm not sure because I haven't seen anyone really investigate this, but I don't think it hits the poorest countries very hard, because most industries in these countries are not competitors to US industries.

The anti-globalization thing is an additional phenomenon on top of these things.

This sort of socialism with international aims was abandoned quite early on in the Russian Revolution with Stalin in favour of socialism in one country, marking a significant break with orthodox socialist thought. I say that as a sort of defence against comparisons of international socialist movement to individual socialist states past and present. But it is also a scathing criticism of the international socialist movement that one section of it in Russia (the most successful section) did go the way of nationalism - and inspired a whole swathe of countries like China and Cuba to adopt its nationalistic model.

In this context, it looks like 'international socialism' means spreading socialism throughout the entire world. Which is very different from openness to trade.

Socialist states have traded with each other. E.g. the Soviets bought lots of sugar from Cuba and exported energy. They're not going to think it's exploitation if the other country is socialist. But if the other state is capitalist then it's not going to happen. It all depends on the context. Here I'm mainly talking about the US or UK going socialist while the developing world presumably doesn't change very much.

Co-ordination within a socialist system will be difficult in having to accommodate different perspectives and interests in much the way it is difficult under the current system. But... by definition an international socialist movement is about minimising and compromising on conflicting national/ individual/religious interests/perspectives to a act in the international interest, so I think it would be better at co-ordination. But the point I make is semantics.

It's one thing to talk about theoretical comparisons but a key issue for the short and medium term (and possibly long term) future is the existence of stable, credible institutions. Liberal capitalist states have a decent framework for international trade and monetary agreements, we have G7 and G20 and so on. If you sweep these norms and institutions aside to build something better, you can face a lot of new problems from the power vacuum. It would take time and work to build things up again.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2019-05-17T19:22:20.846Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yesterday I read an article from Current Affairs called How The Left Should Think About Trade. It wasn't terrible. It made some good points. After reading this review, and the CA article, one possibility that comes to mind is that there be worker cooperatives in both the developed and developing worlds, or some similar way for workers in countries of vastly different economic strata to still benefit from trade agreements. Did you come across anything in your research that went over that consideration?

comment by kbog · 2019-05-17T22:02:42.193Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW
It wasn't terrible. It made some good points.

Beg to differ.

Outsourcing causes (some) domestic workers to lose wages and bargaining power, but wages and bargaining power grow in the developing world, so it's not a global race to the bottom. Also, the benefits to consumers and companies make it Kaldor-Hicks efficient even within the domestic country.

Trade also inhibits investment in labor-saving technology

Such investment is just overspending if it only happens when companies are compelled to overspend on labor.

But this wage increase doesn’t necessarily make these workers happier.

It generally does, and it's evident from their behavior. "Necessarily" is a naughty word in social science.

Medieval peasants didn’t build trade unions, and neither did the rural peasants of today’s developing states.

There are obvious reasons for this besides the ridiculous idea that they're content with their status. Medieval peasants fought actual rebellions for better treatment.

We might point out that given the reality of climate change, the choice is suicidal—it’s not possible for everyone to live like Americans

Funny how he equivocates between "getting out of extreme poverty" and "living like Americans".

Yet at the same time, we are socialists and that means we’re meant to care about American workers.

Everyone cares about American workers. If he means to care more, that's nationalism, which is exactly as harmful and no better justified than saying that we're meant to care about white people, men, etc in priority over others.

Rich states should demand, as a condition of trade agreements, adjustments in wages, taxes, and regulations to reduce or eliminate disparities in the treatment of rich workers and poor workers.

There's a lot of Western hubris going on here. Developing countries have many challenges and they are not economically or institutionally equipped to skip ahead in modernizing their regulations and welfare. Demanding such political concessions in exchange for economic reciprocation is a textbook example of the kind of neocolonialism that people like Robinson like to bloviate about.

To be sure, sometimes these kinds of demands are OK - they should just be applied cautiously and sparingly. "Kagame should really listen to his central bank and install a minimum wage" is OK. "African governments are all corrupt and need the gentle hand of enlightened Western socialists to tell them to reform" is not OK. There's a fine line between the two.

Anyway:

one possibility that comes to mind is that there be worker cooperatives in both the developed and developing worlds, or some similar way for workers in countries of vastly different economic strata to still benefit from trade agreements. Did you come across anything in your research that went over that consideration?

I didn't see anything like that, though I didn't read deeply. Implementing socialism in both rich and poor countries would not fix the problem. As far as I can tell this is a fundamental barrier to any currently conceivable socialist plan: when capital is held publicly, transferring it to another polity means losing it. Outsourcing would have the same status as foreign aid: a political favor that will happen to only a small degree. There just aren't the right incentives. And of course I'm not making this up because this is literally what socialists want - they consider it an upside of their plans that they will keep production at home.

If socialism were implemented only in poor countries, then it would be less of a problem. But obviously it's quite hubristic for Westerners to try to push such changes in a foreign nation. Moreover, if we're talking about socialism in a poor state, we must face additional worries about whether it will be implemented well.

comment by Denkenberger · 2019-05-19T21:53:04.238Z · score: 7 (6 votes) · EA · GW
We might point out that given the reality of climate change, the choice is suicidal—it’s not possible for everyone to live like Americans

This is not only possible with future technology, but it is feasible with present technology without taking more land from nature. Renewable energy/nuclear, agricultural productivity already realized in Europe, growing seaweed (for food, feed, and carbon sequestration), not building buildings out of wood, recycling, etc.