Monday, November 30, 2015

Hitchens versus Hitchens on Keynes and Currency Sovereignty

That is, Christopher Hitchens versus Peter Hitchens.

Christopher Hitchens never knew that much about economics, apart from a shallow Marxist perspective, and he shows this ignorance here very well. He asked whether Ireland lost its economic independence by adopting the Euro – only a few short years before Ireland’s membership of the Eurozone utterly destroyed that country’s economic sovereignty in the aftermath of the global recession of 2008–2009, which for Ireland turned into a full-blown and horrific depression.

Curiously, it is the idiosyncratic Peter Hitchens, citing Keynes, who gets it right: without currency sovereignty you have lost a fundamental foundation of economic independence. This is the major problem with the Eurozone today. The democracy of Greece, for example, has just this year been shown to be virtually worthless while Greece remains within the Eurozone.

I not quite sure where and when Keynes said the remark attributed to him (that is, “whoever controls the currency controls the government”). Maybe it is apocryphal, but it is consistent with his views.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Marx and Engels’ Attempt to Salvage the Law of Value in Volume 1 of Capital

I cannot stress enough how important this issue is for clarifying and refuting Marx’s economic theory. Though I have said much of what is below before, it bears repeating with some new observations.

In essence, Marx published volume 1 of Capital in German in 1867, but only volume 1 of Capital was published in Marx’s lifetime. The other volumes were edited and published by Engels (for an extended discussion of this, see here). For some reason, Marx refused to publish volumes 2 and 3.

In volume 1, Marx set out a law of value based on the labour theory of value, in which socially necessary labour time was the anchor for the price system in modern capitalism. There is no convincing evidence that (1) Marx regarded this law of value as a totally abstract “simplifying assumption” or that (2) he did not mean to apply it to the advanced industrial capitalism of the 19th century as an empirical explanation of price determination.

But when volume 3 of Capital was edited and published by Engels critics quickly pointed out that the theory of value in volume 3 was radically inconsistent with that of volume 1.

This devastating problem clearly worried Engels, and this can be seen in an article Engels wrote in May 1895 for the Neue Zeit (Marx 1991: 1027, n.), which is available as the “Supplement and Addendum” to Volume 3 of Capital in Marx (1991: 1027–1047).

Right at the beginning of this supplement, Engels notes that people such as Achille Loria had pointed to the devastating contradiction between volume 1 and volume 3 of Capital (Marx 1991: 1027–1028).

Next, Engels mentions that Werner Sombart, in a review of Marx’s work (Sombart 1894), declared that the labour theory of value as presented in volume 1 of Capital could not be empirically supported and was a mere “logical” concept (Marx 1991: 1032).

So, too, Conrad Schmidt in an 1895 review of volume 3 (Schmidt 1895) had also declared that the labour theory of value was a “necessary fiction” (Marx 1991: 1032). Engels describes Schmidt’s criticisms:
“Schmidt, too, has his formal reservations about the law of value. He calls it a scientific hypothesis put forward to explain the actual exchange process, which proves the necessary theoretical point of departure, illuminating and indispensable even for the phenomena of prices under competition, which appear completely to contradict it. Without the law of value, in his opinion too, any theoretical insight into the economic mechanism of capitalist reality is impossible. In a personal letter which he has allowed me to mention, Schmidt declares that the law of value in the capitalist form of production is a fiction, though a theoretically necessary one.” (Marx 1991: 1032).
Now it is clear that Engels’ “law of value” here is referring to the idea that commodities tend to exchange at their pure labour values.

Engels was well aware that hostile critics of Marx had declared that volume 3 of Capital utterly contradicted and overthrew the theory of value in volume 1. It seems that Conrad Schmidt was actually one of the first to point out the contradiction between commodities tending to exchange at their labour values and an average rate of profit in his 1889 work Die Durchschnittsprofitrate auf Grundlage des Marxschen Wertgesetzes [The Average Rate of Profit on the basis of Marx’s Law of Value] (Stuttgart, 1889) (see Böhm-Bawerk 1949: 28, with n. 2).

Engels desperately sought a solution and found a passage in volume 3 of Capital where Marx himself was trying to salvage the theory of value in volume 1, which had been overthrown by that in volume 3.

That passage of Marx comes in Chapter 10 of volume 3 and is as follows:
“The exchange of commodities at their values, or approximately at their values, requires, therefore, a much lower stage than their exchange at their prices of production, which requires a relatively high development of capitalist production.

Whatever may be the way in which the prices of the various commodities are first fixed or mutually regulated, the law of value always dominates their movements. If the labor time required for the production of these commodities is reduced, prices fall; if it is increased, prices rise, other circumstances remaining the same.

Aside from the fact that prices and their movements are dominated by the law of value, it is quite appropriate, under these circumstances, to regard the value of commodities not only theoretically, but also historically, as existing prior to the prices of production. This applies to conditions, in which the laborer owns his means of production, and this is the condition of the land-owning farmer and of the craftsman in the old world as well as the new. This agrees also with the view formerly expressed by me that the development of product into commodities arises through the exchange between different communes, not through that between the members of the same commune. It applies not only to this primitive condition, but also to subsequent conditions based on slavery or serfdom, and to the guild organisation of handicrafts, so long as the means of production installed in one line of production cannot be transferred to another line except under difficulties, so that the various lines of production maintain, to a certain degree, the same mutual relations as foreign countries or communistic groups.

In order that the prices at which commodities are exchanged with one another may correspond approximately to their values, no other conditions are required but the following: 1) The exchange of the various commodities must no longer be accidental or occasional, 2) So far as the direct exchange of commodities is concerned, these commodities must be produced on both sides in sufficient quantities to meet mutual requirements, a thing easily learned by experience in trading, and therefore a natural outgrowth of continued trading, 3) So far as selling is concerned, there must be no accidental or artificial monopoly which may enable either of the contracting sides to sell commodities above their value or compel others to sell below value. An accidental monopoly is one which a buyer or seller acquires by an accidental proportion of supply to demand.

The assumption that the commodities of the various spheres of production are sold at their value implies, of course, only that their value is the center of gravity around which prices fluctuate, and around which their rise and fall tends to an equilibrium.”
(Marx 1909: 208–210).
So here Marx was saying that the theory of value in volume 1 – that commodities tend to exchange at their pure labour values which are anchors for the price system – was a historically contingent phenomenon existing in the “lower stage … of capitalist production” and before the emergence of a higher stage of capitalism where Ricardo’s prices of production are the anchors for the price system.

It is particularly interesting to note how Marx specifically described the theory of value in volume 1 as follows:
“The assumption that the commodities of the various spheres of production are sold at their value implies, of course, only that their value is the center of gravity around which prices fluctuate, and around which their rise and fall tends to an equilibrium.” (Marx 1909: 208–210).
This and Marx’s whole discussion around the passage clearly damn and refute all those pathetic Marxist hacks who want to tell us that the law of value in volume 1 – namely, that commodities tend to exchange at their pure labour values which are anchors for the price system – is only a “simplifying assumption” or some highly abstract system never intended to apply to the real world.

Clearly Marx did even in volume 3 of Capital apply it to the capitalist system in an empirical sense, but to those historical periods at a “lower stage … of capitalist production” confined to the older medieval and pre-modern eras. Crucially, this is exactly how Engels interpreted the passage, as we can see below in a quotation from Engels’ supplement to volume 3.

Engels cites the passage I have quoted above from volume 3 of Capital and says this:
“If Marx had been able to go through the third volume again, he would undoubtedly have elaborated this passage significantly. As it stands, it gives only an outline sketch of what needs to be said on the point in question. Let us therefore go into the matter somewhat more closely.

We all know that at the beginnings of society products are used by the producers themselves, these producers living in indigenous communities that are organized more or less on a communist basis; that the exchange of their surplus products with foreigners, which introduces the transformation of products into commodities, is of later date. It takes place first of all simply between individual communities of different tribes and only later does it come to prevail within the community, where it makes a decisive contribution to the dissolution of this community into larger or smaller family groups. Even after this dissolution, however, the family heads who exchange with one another remain working peasant farmers, who produce almost all their requirements on their own holdings, with the aid of their families, and obtain only a small portion of the items they need from outside, in exchange for their own surplus product. Not only does the family pursue agriculture and stock-raising, it also works up the products of these activities into finished articles of use, still doing its own milling in places with their hand mill, baking bread, spinning, dyeing, weaving flax and wool, curing leather, erecting and repairing wooden buildings, producing tools and equipment, and often doing its own carpentry and metalwork too; so that the family or family group is basically self-sufficient.

Now the little that such a family has to obtain from others by exchange, or buy, consisted right up to the early nineteenth century, in Germany, predominantly of objects of handicraft production, i.e. things whose mode of production was in no way strange to the peasant and which he himself failed to produce only because either the raw material was unavailable or the purchased article was much better or very much cheaper. For the peasant of the Middle Ages, therefore, the labour-time needed to reproduce the objects he obtained in exchange was quite accurately known. The village smith and cartwright were at work under his very eyes; similarly the tailor and shoemaker, who in my own youth still travelled round to our Rhineland peasants in turn, working up materials provided into clothes and shoes. Both the peasant and the people from whom he bought were workers themselves, and the articles exchanged were their own products. What had they applied in the production of these articles? Labour, and labour alone: to replace tools, to produce raw material and work it up, all they spent was their own labour-power; how else then could they exchange these products of theirs with those of other working producers than in proportion to the labour applied to them? The labour-time applied to these products, then, was more than just the most suitable measure for the quantitative determination of the magnitudes to be exchanged; no other measure was possible. Or are we to believe that peasant and village artisan were so stupid that one of them would part with the product of ten hours’ labour for that of a single hour? For the entire period of natural peasant economy, no other exchange is possible except that in which the amounts of commodities exchanged tend more and more to be measured according to the amounts of labour embodied in them. From the moment money penetrates into this economic mode, the tendency of adaptation to the law of value (Marx’s formulation, nota bene!) becomes more explicit, though it is already infringed by the interventions of usurer’s capital and fiscal extortion, so that the periods over which prices approximate on average to values, down to a negligible difference in magnitude, already become more drawn out.

The same applies to exchange between the products of peasants and those of urban artisans. At the beginning, this takes place directly, without the mediation of the merchant, on the town market-days when the peasant sells and makes his purchases. Here, too, the artisan’s conditions of labour are known to the peasant, and the peasant’s to the artisan. He is himself still one part peasant, and not only has his kitchen-garden and orchard but also very often a bit of a field, one or two cows, pigs, fowl, etc. People in the Middle Ages were thus in a position to reckon up each other’s production costs in raw and ancillary materials, and in labour-time, with a fair degree of accuracy – at least as far as articles of general daily use were concerned.

But how could the amount of labour be reckoned, even indirectly and relatively, when this served as the measure of exchange for products that required more prolonged labour, interrupted and at irregular intervals, and uncertain in its results, products like corn or cattle, for instance? And, moreover, with people who were unable to count? Evidently, only by a lengthy process of zig-zag approximation, often groping back and forth in the dark, in which, as in other things, wisdom was attained only by painful accident. But the need for each person to have a rough idea of his own costs helped time and again in the correct direction, and the small number of types of article coming into exchange, as well as the stable mode of their production, often over centuries, made the goal more easily attainable. That it in no way took so long until the relative values of these products were established with a fair degree of accuracy is shown by the simple fact that the commodity in which this seems most difficult on account of the long production time of the individual item, i.e. cattle, was the first fairly generally recognized money commodity. In order to arrive at the value of cattle, its exchange ratio with a whole series of other commodities must already have won established recognition to a relatively unusual degree, it must be unchallenged over an area of several tribes. And the people of that time were certainly clever enough – the cattle-breeders as well as their customers – not to part with the labour-time they had spent without an equivalent in exchange. On the contrary, the closer people stand to the original state of commodity production – e.g. Russians and Orientals – the more time they still spend today in extracting full compensation for the labour-time spent on a product by long and stubborn haggling.

Proceeding from this determination of value by labour-time, commodity production as a whole, and with it the manifold relationships in which the different aspects of the law of value make themselves felt, now develops as presented in Part One of Capital Volume 1; therefore, in particular, the conditions become established under which labour is value-forming. These conditions, moreover, prevail although those involved do not become aware of them, so that they can be abstracted from everyday practice only by tedious theoretical analysis; they operate in the form of a natural law, which as Marx showed followed necessarily from the nature of commodity production. The most important and incisive progress was the transition to metal money, but this had the consequence that the determination of value by labour-time was no longer visibly apparent on the surface of commodity exchange. Money became the decisive measure of value for practical purposes, and all the more so, the more diverse were the commodities coming into trade, the more they originated from distant countries, and the less therefore the labour-time needed for their production could be checked. Even the money itself came mostly from abroad at first; and when it was obtained in a particular country as precious metal, the peasant and artisan were in no position to assess even approximately the labour applied to it, while their own awareness of the value-measuring property of labour was also pretty well obscured by the custom of reckoning in money; money came to represent absolute value in the popular conception.

To sum up, Marx’s law of value applies universally, as much as any economic laws do apply, for the entire period of simple commodity production, i.e. up to the time at which this undergoes a modification by the onset of the capitalist form of production. Up till then, prices gravitate to the values determined by Marx’s law and oscillate around these values, so that the more completely simple commodity production develops, the more do average prices coincide with values for longer periods when not interrupted by external violent disturbances, and with the insignificant variations we mentioned earlier. Thus the Marxian law of value has a universal economic validity for an era lasting from the beginning of the exchange that transforms products into commodities down to the fifteenth century of our epoch.
But commodity exchange dates from a time before any written history, going back to at least 3500 B.C. in Egypt, and 4000 B.C. or maybe even 6000 B.C. in Babylon; thus the law of value prevailed for a period of some five to seven millennia. We may now admire the profundity of Mr Loria in calling the value that was generally and directly prevalent throughout this time a value at which commodities never were sold nor could be sold, and which no economist will ever bother himself with if he has a glimmer of healthy common sense!” (Marx 1991: 1034–1038).
The passage in yellow highlighting is crucial: this is how Engels understood the theory of value in volume 1 of Capital at the end of his life.

This view is that commodities did historically tend to exchange at pure labour values in less developed forms of capitalism up until about the 15th century. That is, it actually happened in the pre-modern “period of simple commodity production” (Marx 1991: 1037).

Then what happened was that the “transition to metal money” obscured exchange at pure labour values:
“The most important and incisive progress was the transition to metal money, but this had the consequence that the determination of value by labour-time was no longer visibly apparent on the surface of commodity exchange. Money became the decisive measure of value for practical purposes, and all the more so, the more diverse were the commodities coming into trade, the more they originated from distant countries, and the less therefore the labour-time needed for their production could be checked. Even the money itself came mostly from abroad at first; and when it was obtained in a particular country as precious metal, the peasant and artisan were in no position to assess even approximately the labour applied to it, while their own awareness of the value-measuring property of labour was also pretty well obscured by the custom of reckoning in money; money came to represent absolute value in the popular conception.” (Marx 1991: 1037).
After this point, the advanced form of modern capitalist production developed and prices of production replaced labour values as the anchors for the price system.

This view of Engels is splendidly confirmed in a letter he wrote to Werner Sombart (1863–1941) on March 11, 1895 about the labour theory of value (on which, see here), which was a response to a hostile review of volume 3 of Capital by Sombart (1894).

The crucial passage from this letter of Engels is below:
“When commodity exchange began, when products gradually turned into commodities, they were exchanged approximately according to their value. It was the amount of labour expended on two objects which provided the only standard for their quantitative comparison. Thus value had a direct and real existence at that time. We know that this direct realisation of value in exchange ceased and that now it no longer happens. And I believe that it won’t be particularly difficult for you to trace the intermediate links, at least in general outline, that lead from directly real value to the value of the capitalist mode of production, which is so thoroughly hidden that our economists can calmly deny its existence. A genuinely historical exposition of these processes, which does indeed require thorough research but in return promises amply rewarding results, would be a very valuable supplement to Capital.”
Letter, Engels to W. Sombart, from London, March 11, 1895
Unfortunately, Engels’ attempt to save the law of value in volume 1 – which was undoubtedly a development of Marx’s own desperate attempt to save it as we have seen above – is still a feeble and unconvincing theory.

Why? The reason is that Marx, in volume 1, never makes any such qualifications or limitations to the law of value. In fact, in volume 1, Marx states that money prices depend on the labour value embodied in units of gold or silver, so that long-run prices are determined by abstract socially-necessary labour time needed to produce relevant units of the money commodity (Marx 1906: 108, 111). But Marx says nothing about the rise of commodity money overthrowing his law of value in modern capitalist production.

At the same time, Marx thinks that the second mechanism driving prices is the fluctuation of labour values of commodities as against money (Marx 1906: 111). This is succinctly summed up in what Marx calls the “laws of the exchange of commodities” in Chapter 5 of volume 1:
“It is true, commodities may be sold at prices deviating from their values, but these deviations are to be considered as infractions of the laws of the exchange of commodities, which, in its normal state is an exchange of equivalents, consequently, no method for increasing value.” (Marx 1906: 176–177).
So either (1) Marx meant to apply this to modern capitalism in its contemporary form or (2) he was so incompetent and useless he never told his readers how the theory had to be strictly limited to pre-modern times. Either way Marx is damned.

Moreover, as I argued in the original version of this post, there is no convincing empirical evidence for Marx’s and Engels’ attempt to salvage the law of value in volume 1 by restricting it to the past. Once we realise this, it is the death blow to the Marxist labour theory of value.

The final view of Engels, then, was that the law of value in volume 1 of Capital had to be restricted to the pre-modern world of commodity exchange, but we have no good reason to accept that the theory properly describes price determination in that era. In volume 3 of Capital as edited by Engels, Classical long-run equilibrium prices of production are the anchors for the price system, not socially necessary labour time values. This is an admission that the law of value in volume 1 is irrelevant to the modern world.

Instead, the Marxism of the volume 3 of Capital, like modern Sraffianism, sees long-run equilibrium prices, based on cost of production and a uniform rate of profit, as the anchors or centres of gravity for the price system around which prices fluctuate.

Unfortunately, even this concept of a tendency to long-run equilibrium prices in modern capitalism has grave difficulties, and in the end such an idea should be regarded as an unrealistic assumption in an overly analytic, abstract model set in logical time (Lee and Jo 2011: 868–869), where ultimately it can only be assumed by definition to be true (on this issue, see here).

Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen von. 1949. “Karl Marx and the Close of His System,” in Paul. M. Sweezy (ed.), Karl Marx and the Close of His System and Böhm-Bawerk’s Criticism of Marx. August M. Kelley, New York. 3–120.

Engels, F. 1895. Letter, Engels to Conrad Schmidt, March 12, 1895

Engels, F. 1895. Supplement to Capital, Volume III

Lee, Frederic S. and Tae-Hee Jo. 2011. “Social Surplus Approach and Heterodox Economics,” Journal of Economic Issues 45.4: 857–875.

Marx, Karl. 1909. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 3; trans. Ernst Untermann from 1st German edn.). Charles H. Kerr & Co., Chicago.

Marx, Karl. 1991. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume Three (trans. David Fernbach). Penguin Books, London.

Schmidt, Conrad. 1889. Die Durchschnittsprofitrate auf Grundlage des Marxschen Wertgesetzes [The Average Rate of Profit on the basis of Marx’s Law of Value]. Stuttgart.

Schmidt, Conrad. 1895. “Der dritte Band des Kapital,” Sozialpolitisches Zentralblatt 22 (25th February): 254–258.

Sombart, Werner. 1894. “Zur Kritik des ökonomischen Systems von Karl Marx” [Toward a Critique of the Economic System of Karl Marx], Archiv für soziale Gesetzgebung und Statistik 7: 555–594.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Chomsky on Dead White Male Science

Chomsky savages another outrageous idea of the Postmodernist left:
“ … the entire idea of ‘white male science’ reminds me, I’m afraid, of ‘Jewish physics.’ Perhaps it is another inadequacy of mine, but when I read a scientific paper, I can’t tell whether the author is white or is male. The same is true of discussion of work in class, the office, or somewhere else. I rather doubt that the non-white, non-male students, friends, and colleagues with whom I work would be much impressed with the doctrine that their thinking and understanding differ from ‘white male science’ because of their ‘culture or gender and race.’ I suspect that ‘surprise’ would not be quite the proper word for their reaction.” (Chomsky 1995).
Good on you, Noam.

There is a reason why – even if I sometimes strongly disagree with you – you have my respect.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. “Rationality/Science,” Z Papers Special Issue

Friday, November 27, 2015

Want to know why the Populist Right is rising in Europe?

For christ’s sake, I have genuine sympathies for real refugees (especially women and children), but what country could tolerate this level of lawlessness without serious political consequences? If you want to know why the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the Freedom Party in Austria, the French National Front and UKIP are soaring in popularity, then look no further.

A breakdown of law and order like this is what angers people and drives them to the right.

The million dollar question that hardly anyone in the media asks: how many of the people here are mere economic migrants? The solution cannot be to just continue to allow 1 million or 1.5 million people into Europe a year for the foreseeable future.

The Regressive Left’s Brave New World of Education

I hope the “safe spacers” can take a joke.

Sadly, it’s not funny when parts of the left actually think like this, and think their feelings are more important than facts or free speech.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Open Borders within and into Europe is a Disaster for Social Democracy

And I hope more and more left-wing people can see this now. Look at some of the news from Europe in recent days. This in Sweden is just a recognition of reality.

Unfortunately, people in Sweden and throughout the EU have failed to realise that the evidence is strong that most of the migrants coming into Europe this year are not genuine refugees, but merely economic migrants. Europe cannot take in 1 million or 1.5 million people a year for the foreseeable future when most of these people are economic migrants. You cannot stick your head in the sand and ignore realities.

In the European context, the policy of open borders, both within and into Europe, is one of the last bankrupt tenets of the neoliberal catastrophe that is the Eurozone and European Union.

First of all, which political ideology has historically been in favour of open borders immigration?

Surely you know the answer: libertarians, and especially the unhinged anarcho-capitalist libertarians. These crazy bastards love open borders partly because they hate the state and understand that open borders undermine the welfare state and the social democratic model for society.

Of course, some left-wing libertarians seem to support it too, but they are equally deluded. For the left anarchists, they seem to support open borders as part of their long-run model of human society as a federated, decentralised system of free associations. But this is incredibly naïve and utopian nonsense. For the moment, human beings are far too attached (whether rightly or wrongly) to their own languages, cultures, nation-states, traditions and interests for such a vision of society to be an effective system. In our present world, it is just an unhinged idea, for reasons we will see below.

Here is the primary reason why, if you are left-wing and in favour of a social democratic system, you should vehemently oppose open borders:
A social democratic government cannot effectively and efficiently engage in short-run or long-run planning and funding of public services and infrastructure if it has no control over its borders and has no idea how many people will enter its country in any given year or in the long run.
It’s that simple. A government has finite resources and needs to engage in planning to provide effective public services and infrastructure, such as universal health care, education, public housing, transport and welfare, etc. You can’t do this without the knowledge necessary to plan public services and infrastructure, and that knowledge requires good and reliable estimates of future population.

What is a humane, sensible and general left-wing policy on borders and mass immigration? It is as follows:
(1) it would not oppose immigration per se, nor a country taking in its fair and reasonable share of refugees in desperate need.

(2) it would not oppose controlled immigration of a reasonable number of economic migrants, if this can be justified on economic or social grounds, e.g., a skilled labour shortage. But here you have to very careful about the West “brain-draining” the developing world. What good does it do to suck in vast amounts of talented and skilled labour from the developing world? This policy just contributes to preventing development in the third world.

(3) however, the left ought to be well aware that huge mass immigration in many circumstances will tend to lower or hold down real wages.

(4) the left should oppose endless mass immigration that simply provides big business a club with which to smash trade unions and organised labour. This will polarise working class communities and tend to contribute to the already serious issue of wages not rising in line with productivity growth.

(5) the left should recognise, as we have said above, that a government cannot effectively and efficiently engage in short-run or long-run planning and funding of public services and infrastructure if it has no control over its borders and has no idea how many people will enter its country in any given year or in the long run.

(6) the left should recognise the fact that unending mass immigration is partly based on an extreme and foolish cultural relativism that comes right out of Postmodernism. More cultural diversity is not necessarily a good thing for your society, if this means more extreme religious fundamentalism, parallel legal systems and the introduction of values that radically conflict with the core values of a secular Western society (e.g., gender segregation, homophobia, female genital mutilation, misogyny, etc.).

(7) in the special European context, there are more and more urgent security issues within Europe that are so obviously related to the open door borders policy.

(8) finally the left should recognise the fact that unending mass immigration will tend to cause severe issues related to urban overpopulation, supply of housing and cost of rent.
A new left-wing, anti-open borders camp should proudly stand up and defend its position. Its view is different from that of certain sectors of the anti-immigration far right, where genuine and irrational xenophobia or bigotry can be found.

The reasons above I have listed for opposing open borders and mass immigration are compassionate, humane, sensible and intelligent. An opposition to open borders is a fundamental way in which a decent and compassionate left-wing government would look after its citizens – no matter what their race or ethnic origin.

Finally, what is the solution to the problem of global inequality? The solution is radical reform of global international institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and World Trade Organisation. A reformed global reserve currency along the lines suggested in Post Keynesian economics is needed. For those countries with large enough economies, what is needed is a space for import-substitution industrialisation and industrial policy.

If necessary, the industrialised world should directly pay for basic infrastructure projects in the developing world (e.g., sewage, clean water, education and health care) and even subsidise the transferal to the developing world of the technology and capital goods they need to build modern industrialised societies. Radically reform the outrageous and hideous corporate intellectual property rights regimes that have been a hallmark of neoliberalism for the past 30 years (e.g., concerning drugs and pharmaceuticals).

Only these solutions can allow the developing world to escape its poverty and lack of development.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Steve Keen on Austrian Economics

Steve Keen gives an interesting lecture below on the Austrian school of economics.

Some critical points:
(1) it is an oversimplification to say that Austrians do not support equilibrium as the essential feature of a capitalist economy (see 2.20 onwards), though admittedly there is some balance in this point later on. In fact, it is really only the stream of Austrian economics connected with Ludwig Lachmann that questions whether a tendency to general equilibrium is a feature of real world capitalism. The other streams of Austrian theory are fully on board with the idea that capitalism has an inherent tendency towards an equilibrium state (usually Mises’ final state of rest), even if it never reaches it (see also here).

However, it is very curious indeed that Carl Menger’s original Austrian theory seems to have shunned modern general equilibrium theory in important ways.

(2) I am very much afraid that in a talk on Austrian economics a disproportionate amount of time is spent on Schumpeter. Schumpeter was not an Austrian, but an idiosyncratic neoclassical.

(3) for a more wide-ranging critique of Austrian economics, see my post here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

When the Left becomes a Laughing Stock

Trigger warning

It’s hard to even read this news story here. Even the politically correct UK Independent newspaper – well known for political correctness – appears to find it too much.

It’s worse than this: it is unhinged. This is the result of 30 years of Postmodernist charlatanry, extreme identity politics, political correctness and that peculiar sub-species of Postmodernism called Postcolonialism.

People are laughing their asses off at the left, and with good reason.

The left is just turning itself into a laughing stock with its infantile, idiotic, whining, hysterical, endless victimology.

To add to the mix, we read that university students in America are protesting against… “culturally insensitive” Halloween costumes – of all the things in the world to protest against.

One wonders what sort of bubble these people live in, and how the poor things are going to survive in the real world. Another thing that amazes me: isn’t this the same generation that grew up watching Borat and Bruno, movies which contain some extreme politically incorrect material?

The next time a major financial crisis or global recession hits the world, I fully expect some people on the left will be too busy with their “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to even pay any attention whatsoever to the real world.

Anyway, my message to the poor dears: you should listen to as much politically incorrect humour as possible and f**#ing grow up.

Start with this one below.

Trigger warning: politically incorrect humour follows!

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Bibliography of Critiques of Postmodernism

For those of you who want a good list of critical analyses and critiques of Postmodernism.

General Critiques
Dennett, Daniel. 1998. “Postmodernism and Truth,” Butterflies and Wheels

Detmer, David. 2003. Challenging Postmodernism: Philosophy and the Politics of Truth. Humanity Books, Amherst, N.Y.

Devaney, M. J. 1997. ‘Since at least Plato …’ and Other Postmodernist Myths. St. Martin’s Press, New York.

Ellis, John M. 1989. Against Deconstruction. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Gross, Paul R. and Norman Levitt. 1994. Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Koertge, Noretta. 1998. A House built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science. Oxford University Press, New York.

McKinley, B. 2000. “Postmodernism certainly is not science, but could it be religion?,” CSAS Bulletin 36.1: 16–18.

Norris, Christopher. 1993. The Truth about Postmodernism. Blackwell, Oxford.
This defends deconstruction, but condemns Postmodernism.

Sokal, Alan and Jean Bricmont. 1998. Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science. Picador, New York.

Conservative Critiques
Norris, Christopher. 1990. What’s Wrong with Postmodernism. Harvester Wheatsheaf, England.

Norris, Christopher. 1993. The Truth about Postmodernism. Blackwell, Oxford.

Scruton, R. 1993. Upon Nothing. University College of Swansea, Swansea.

Scruton, Roger. 1994. “Upon Nothing,” Philosophical Investigations 17.3: 481–506.

Windschuttle, Keith. 1994. The Killing of History: How a Discipline is being murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists. Macleay Press, Sydney.

Windschuttle, K. 1998. “Foucault as Historian,” in Robert Nola (ed.). Foucault. F. Cass, London and Portland, Or. 5–35.

Marxian criticisms
Callinicos, Alex. 1990. Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique. St. Martin’s Press, New York.

Eagleton, Terry. 1996. The Illusions of Postmodernism. Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, Mass.

Libertarian Critiques
Hicks, Stephen R. C. 2004. Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Scholargy, New Berlin, Milwaukee.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Keith Windschuttle on the Postmodernist Perversion of History

Keith Windschuttle is the author of the fascinating book The Killing of History: How a Discipline is being murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists (1994) and an insightful critique of Foucault’s history (Windschuttle 1998). I don’t agree with everything here (e.g., the introductory remarks on British imperialism), but nevertheless there are some very good points.

Also, before people spew forth ad hominem fallacies, I’ll well aware that this gentleman is a conservative. That he is a conservative, however, does not refute many of his arguments against Postmodernism here.

The real scandal here is that we do not have vast numbers of people on the left calling out Postmodernism for the nonsense it is.

Windschuttle, Keith. 1994. The Killing of History: How a Discipline is being murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists. Macleay Press, Sydney.

Windschuttle, K. 1998. “Foucault as Historian,” in Robert Nola (ed.). Foucault. F. Cass, London and Portland, Or. 5–35.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

All Cultures and Cultural Ideas are not Equal

This is simply another bizarre and manifestly false idea that has infected the left from Postmodernism.

I can refute it in less than 500 words.

Take the culture of Nazi Germany or modern neo-Nazism:
The traits of Nazi German culture: racism, authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, hatred of Roma gypsies, extreme Social Darwinism, and German racial supremacism.
If you seriously think all cultures are equal in every respect, then it follows directly that you must believe that Nazi culture is absolutely equal to all other cultures today and in the past. This is insanity.

Let us take the ways in which cultures might be judged as equal:
(1) that the empirical propositions they hold are all equally true;

(2) that they are all equal morally or ethically;

(3) that they are all equal in terms of aesthetic judgements that one could make about cultures or cultural beliefs.
There is no way you could rationally hold all these ideas about Nazi culture. Even on (3) it would fail, because aesthetic judgements are subjective to a great degree and so cannot always be equal.

Secondly on (1), certain empirical propositions in Nazi culture are plainly false. E.g., Social Darwinism is based on a spurious appeal to nature fallacy and the notion of German racial supremacism is not supported by the empirical evidence (e.g., even identifying a German “race” in the sense imagined in Nazi mythology in a meaningful sense is not possible because so many Slavonic peoples have assimilated to German culture over the past 1,000 years).

On (2), if one thinks we can have an objective ethics, then all cultures cannot be equal, because they often have radically different moral and ethical ideas. But even if you think morality is subjective or a matter of emotion, it also follows that all cultures cannot be equal in moral terms because they also have radically different moral ideas judged very differently by different people.

The only way that one could defend the idea that all cultures are equal is to defend the idea that there is no objective truth at all, and so all ideas or propositions in every culture are equal only in the sense that they are all true only in a culturally relative sense in each culture. But truth relativism cannot be taken seriously, and leads to utter incoherence and intellectual bankruptcy (see here and here). That route leads to intellectual Bedlam and cannot be defended.

But even the absurd Postmodernist defending the notion that all cultures are equal on the grounds of truth relativism would be refuted by (3) above (aesthetic judgements that one could make about cultures or cultural beliefs). As we noted, aesthetic judgements are so obviously subjective to a great degree and they simply cannot always be equal.

To conclude, none of this means that crude 19th century racism is true or that ethnic prejudice does not exist. In no sense does it follow that people are justified in irrational or unjustifiable prejudice or bigotry.

The recognition that all cultures or cultural ideas are not equal is intelligent, obviously correct, and actually one that all decent and compassionate left-wing people should uphold, for the world is filled with bad or incorrect cultural ideas that need to be fought.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sweden Democrats Most Popular Party in Sweden

A recent YouGov poll for Sweden suggests that the populist right-wing party the Sweden Democrats might get about 26.7% of the vote in Sweden if an election were held now. That makes it the most popular party in Sweden today. The once great Swedish Social Democratic Party got just 21.4%. If one looks carefully at the figures here and compares them with the 2014 election (available in that same link), it would appear that many voters are abandoning the Social Democratic Party for the Sweden Democrats. Why is that happening?

Geez, it’s like everything I’ve been warning about is coming true. As I have said, the populist right is rising all over Europe, e.g., the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the Freedom Party in Austria, the French National Front, and UKIP. The Danish People’s Party is already in coalition government in Denmark and the Swiss just elected a populist right-wing party.

Could it be that the left is in crisis and a massive rethinking of what the mainstream left should stand for is in order?

We all know the mainstream left sold out its constituency and has adopted a rotten neoliberalism for decades now. The left’s intellectual life has been poisoned by Postmodernism and truth relativism. Extreme identity politics and extreme political correctness make the left a laughing stock (even though there are clearly very important core issues like gay rights, women’s rights, or minority issues). The European left fails to see the European Union as the threat to democracy, Keynesianism, and economic sovereignty that it clearly is.

And as I have said in the last few posts, is it time that the European left seriously rethink whether open borders and mass immigration is a good thing on economic and social grounds?

Could it be that open borders and endless mass immigration are another part of the fraud of neoliberalism?

Some careful self-reflection and criticism is in order if you want to understand why the European populist right is soaring in the opinion polls.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Two Problems about Europe’s Migrant Crisis the Left should consider

Two important points here:
(1) the evidence is building up that about 50%, or possibly even a majority, of the migrants entering from the Balkans are actually economic migrants, not genuine refugees (see here, and here). In essence, and even if it bursts the self-righteous bubble some people on the left like to live in, many of them are dishonest illegal immigrants. Isn’t letting so many people into Europe grossly unfair to the honest and law-abiding people from the Developing World who apply to immigrate legally and properly?

This is reinforced by (2) below.

(2) even worse, a significant number who claim to be from Syria are actually not, but are economic migrants using fake passports to gain access into Europe (see here, here, here, and here).

A spokesperson from the German interior ministry has even been reported as saying that the German government itself estimates that about a third of people claiming to be from Syria arriving in Germany are not from that country (here and here).
I won’t even dwell on unspeakable atrocity committed a few days ago by religious homicidal maniacs in Paris. We have all seen the news reports.

But now we learn that one of the lunatics gained access to Europe by a fake Syrian passport obtained in Turkey.

I wonder: do more and more left-wing people in Europe privately think that Merkel’s 800,000 was a disastrous mistake? That it was a terrible mistake on security grounds alone? That Europe’s social services and welfare states will be put under more and more strain? That it is a gift to the populist right?

Now the left in Europe is up in arms at the sight of the populist right soaring in the opinion polls all over Europe, such as the Sweden Democrats, the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the French National Front, and UKIP (now the third most popular party in Britain in terms of percentage of the vote). All of them have something in common: they demand an end to mass immigration.

Finally, a hard question: is the populist right attracting left-wing votes? And if so, why?

None of this means a decent left shouldn’t accept a fair and reasonable share of genuine refugees (especially women and children), after careful vetting. But, as critics have pointed out time and again, why aren’t the oil-rich gulf states taking any of the refugees?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Marx on Mass Immigration and Capitalism

Just for all you Marxists out there.

Here are Marx’s comments on mass immigration into Britain in the 19th century in a letter to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt in 1870:
“But the English bourgeoisie has also much more important interests in the present economy of Ireland. Owing to the constantly increasing concentration of leaseholds, Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.

And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A.. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

But the evil does not stop here. It continues across the ocean. The antagonism between Englishmen and Irishmen is the hidden basis of the conflict between the United States and England. It makes any honest and serious co-operation between the working classes of the two countries impossible. It enables the governments of both countries, whenever they think fit, to break the edge off the social conflict by their mutual bullying, and, in case of need, by war between the two countries.

England, the metropolis of capital, the power which has up to now ruled the world market, is at present the most important country for the workers’ revolution, and moreover the only country in which the material conditions for this revolution have reached a certain degree of maturity. It is consequently the most important object of the International Working Men’s Association to hasten the social revolution in England. The sole means of hastening it is to make Ireland independent. Hence it is the task of the International everywhere to put the conflict between England and Ireland in the foreground, and everywhere to side openly with Ireland. It is the special task of the Central Council in London to make the English workers realise that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is not a question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment but the first condition of their own social emancipation.”
Letter of Karl Marx to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, 9 April 1870
There are two fundamental points here. First, I have some brief thoughts on it, and, secondly (and more importantly), I want to see Marxists apply this analysis to modern capitalism.

Personally, I think the argument here is exaggerated, even if there is some truth to some aspects of what Marx says. Marx and Engels were clearly very angry that the most industrialised nation in the world – England – was at the same time highly impervious to communism.

So the passage above is Marx’s rationalisation of this.

What is true here? I suspect that it is probably true that Irish immigration had some tendency to hold down real wages in Britain. It is no doubt true that this Irish immigration exacerbated some ugly and disgusting ethnic tensions in the 19th century UK, sometimes fueled by a reactionary press. But as the major explanation of why the revolution never happened in England? I think it is grossly exaggerated.

I think Marx and Engels just couldn’t face the fact that after 1848 violent revolutionary movements died off in Britain and even with the labour violence of the 1880s and 1890s the Marxists and other extreme left-wing agitators could never build up enough support. The English labour movement was reconciled to some degree to capitalism by the increased living standards and even by the granting of the vote to some of them in the Representation of the People Act 1867.

Moreover, Marx enters into conspiracy theory territory in these ideas:
But the evil does not stop here. It continues across the ocean. The antagonism between Englishmen and Irishmen is the hidden basis of the conflict between the United States and England. It makes any honest and serious co-operation between the working classes of the two countries impossible. It enables the governments of both countries, whenever they think fit, to break the edge off the social conflict by their mutual bullying, and, in case of need, by war between the two countries.
Even worse for Marxism, it was eventually the British Labour Party, which emerged just as much from Fabian socialism, that was to capture the British working class vote.

But, anyway, let us move on to my second point.

A question for Marxists: can any of you modern Marxists apply Marx’s analysis above to mass immigration in modern capitalism, especially in the European Union? I’d be very interested to see it.

There are of course other passages in Marx’s writings that mention the issue of immigration.

Here is another from with an interview with Marx in the New York World, July 18, 1871 on strikes and immigration:
“To give an example, one of the commonest forms of the movement for emancipation is that of strikes. Formerly, when a strike took place in one country it was defeated by the importation of workmen from another. The International has nearly stopped all that. It receives information of the intended strike, it spreads that information among its members, who at once see that for them the seat of the struggle must be forbidden ground. The masters are thus left alone to reckon with their men. In most cases the men require no other aid than that. Their own subscriptions or those of the societies to which they are more immediately affiliated supply them with funds, but should the pressure upon them become too heavy and the strike be one of which the Association approves, their necessities are supplied out of the common purse. By these means a strike of the cigar makers of Barcelona was brought to a victorious issue the other day.”
Marx, “Our Aims Should Be Comprehensive,” interview with New York World, July 18, 1871

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How to Reform the Modern Left

It’s very easy. The left needs to do this:
(1) end the absurd attachment that many people on the extreme left still have to Marxism and Communism. These were, and are, totalitarian ideologies, and any attachment to them is just a disgrace and embarrassment.

(2) the mainstream left needs to abandon neoliberalism. Return to strong Keynesian and social democratic economic policies. Post Keynesian economics should be the foundation of left-wing economic thought – not Marxism, not neoliberalism, and not watered-down neoclassical Keynesianism.

(3) the academic left needs to abandon Poststructuralism and Postmodernism, and all the ridiculous related ideas such as truth relativism, moral relativism and even cultural relativism.

(4) end the climate of political correctness and even hostility to free speech that some left-wing people have. Free speech is sacred in a free society, and you will achieve nothing by demanding that governments silence people whose opinions you don’t like – except to dismantle more of our freedoms and set yourself up for having your own free speech taken away, especially if right-wing governments start imposing their own restrictions on free speech. Hate speech laws, while they are well intentioned, simply go down a dangerous route. There is a real part of the left that is better called the regressive left. It is often intolerant of free speech, is strongly connected with Postmodernism, and obsesses over divisive identity politics.

(5) following on from (4), end the obsessing over extreme identity politics, as it tends to divide people and draw attention from the far more serious issues of economic management and economic justice.

(6) the mainstream left needs to radically rethink foreign policy and even bring Western war criminals to justice. We have just been through the most bizarre periods where even some mainstream left-wing parties (e.g., Britain’s New Labour) have supported the most outrageously immoral and disastrous wars. Even more disgustingly, they have never been held to account for it. Just look recently at Tony Blair’s “apology” for the Iraq war. Apology, my eye. Any decent mainstream left in Britain would be demanding that Blair – and his New Labour charlatans who planned the war – face charges for war criminality.

(7) the left should strongly defend modern science and secularism, and end the truly bizarre hostility to rationality and science that has emerged from Postmodernism. Related to this, the left should seriously rethink the role of religion in society. Secularism does not necessarily mean hostility to religion, but removing the harmful role of religion from politics, law and society. E.g., there should only be one system of law in a Western secular society, not parallel legal systems for different communities.

(8) the mainstream European left needs to vigorously oppose the Eurozone and European Union, and stand up for national democracy and economic sovereignty. The EU is one of the most outrageously regressive forces in the world today, and it probably should be dismantled.

(9) finally, the most painful and controversial issue for most left-wing people: the left needs to rethink whether mass immigration is a good thing, especially in Europe, on economic and social grounds. The public hostility to mass immigration in Europe is rising. If it really gets to the point where a solid majority wants an end to mass immigration and open-doors borders throughout the EU in each nation, shouldn’t a democratically-elected government – even a left-wing one – respect what most people want?
There is a lot to be said here, but I will just focus on (9), because it is the most controversial.

First, it is mystery to me why a totally open borders immigration policy has become fashionable to some people on the left these days. Totally unrestricted, open-borders mass immigration has traditionally been an anarcho-capitalist libertarian position. That is, a position held by the crazies who want to totally, or almost totally, abolish governments. Totally unrestricted immigration would be an utter catastrophe, and everybody sensible can see this.

Secondly, just to take the European context, if it gets to the point where large majorities support an end to mass immigration, will the left in Europe just continue to ram the policy down people’s throats? It will be electoral suicide. It is far better that the left think of a humane, compassionate and reasonable re-assessment of mass immigration instead of just leaving it to the reactionary right, whose anti-immigrant policy would be far harsher and more brutal.

Thirdly, it is not as though there aren’t reasonable left-wing economic and social arguments for opposing mass immigration, such as that mass immigration tends to hold down real wages (especially of the poor), that it tends to increase unemployment, and that it provides big business with what it always ravenously wants: a cheap source of powerless, exploitable people who can undercut more organised, unionised or politically-active labour in the Western world. Even worse, there are three devastatingly inconvenient truths that should give left-wing people pause before supporting mass immigration:
(1) our disgusting neoliberal governments have been utterly incapable of creating full employment in the West for nearly 30 years now.

(2) we are seeing more and more jobs being automated by information technology, robotics and machine intelligence: this is already causing unemployment problems and neoliberal governments are doing little to address it.

(3) free markets do not naturally converge to full employment equilibrium. This is the central conclusion of Keynes and of Post Keynesian economics. Free markets will not create full employment, nor can our useless neoliberal governments.
It follows quite clearly that mass immigration should in many cases in the West tend to increase unemployment when governments favour austerity, markets do not naturally generate a clearing in the labour market (that is, when private sector employment growth is weak or stagnant) and increased automation is tending to raise unemployment as well.

And then there are the issues of overpopulation, increased pollution, greater strains on already underfunded public services, and a tendency for mass immigration to cause housing and rent problems.

And big business clearly loves mass immigration for the reasons given above. Remind me again why people on the left should reflexively support it?

I’ll leave you with Ralph Nader – hardly a conservative or xenophobe – giving a left-wing perspective on US mass immigration.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Blaming Capitalism for Virtually Everything Wrong with the World

That has always been the outstanding fault of the far Marxist left, and, I am afraid, it is even quite prevalent on the Postmodernist left and more mainstream left. It has also been taken to some ludicrous extremes.

But it is ridiculous. In many ways, it is the mirror image of Rothbardian or Misesian libertarians who blame virtually everything on “socialism.”

One could write a lot about this issue, but let me take just two examples: (1) global warming and (2) imperialism.

Global Warming
How often do you hear the cry:
“Capitalism is responsible for global warming!
However, if we accept the current consensus on global warming, there is a terrible problem with this assertion.

Did anyone think of the 20th century communist world’s contribution to greenhouse gases?

The Soviet Union had a great deal of industry, as did other communist states, and had a horrendous record on pollution and environmental degradation. For example, Soviet irrigation programs caused an environmental disaster for the Aral Sea.

Shahgedanova and Burt (1994) even state that the former USSR was our planet’s second largest producer of harmful emissions and in 1988 produced about 79% of the total harmful emissions produced by the US.

Surely communist industrial civilisation deserves a fair share of the blame for global warming too. You can’t just blame it on capitalism.

What is even worse: imagine a world where the Soviet Union had won the Cold War or where the West and developing world had gone communist after World War I. Communism is precisely an ideology obsessed with rapid industrialisation. Wouldn’t mass industrialisation in such a counterfactual Communist world – especially the Third World – have massively increased greenhouse gases and caused even worse problems with global warming than a capitalist world?

So – in light of both these issues – why then do some people on the left want to blame capitalism alone for global warming?

Imperialism existed long before modern capitalism, and if one wants to look at history with an open mind some of the worst, most genocidal imperialism of human history comes not from capitalist societies, but from the eruption of essentially stateless and non-capitalist nomads or semi-settled people from the Eurasian steppe. Sedentary agricultural peoples down through the centuries – in Europe, the Near East and China – have been terrorised by steppe nomads many times in human history: we need only think of the Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Avars, Magyars, Tartars, Cumans, Khazars, Mongols, Mughals and Manchus.

Arguably, in terms of per capita deaths, Mongol imperialism was probably the worst in human history (see also Pinker 2011: 195). The terror, destruction and death was unparalleled and mass extermination was the fate of those who resisted.

It is estimated that some 40 million people died during the Mongol invasions and if the same per capita death rate had happened in the 20th century in some war it would have been the equivalent of some 278 million people dying. Given that the Second World War only killed some 55 million people, we can see how violent Mongol imperialism actually was.

You need only read the history books on the Mongol invasion. They descended on China, the Middle East and Europe and committed mass murder on a scale that is unfathomable. Their imperialism had nothing to do with capitalism.

But let’s turn now to the Communist world of the 20th century. Umm, do people forget Stalin’s takeover of Eastern Europe? What about the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan? What about the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979?

If the Soviet Union had only been much stronger, and the West weaker, who knows what kind of imperialist madness the Soviet Union would have embarked upon?

So there you have it. We have two of the most serious problems the left think is wrong with the world today – global warming and imperialism. The first has to be regarded as just as much the fault of communism. Analysis of the second suggests that the worst and most genocidal imperialists in human history were the Mongols. Either way, we have serious problems with the narrative we hear from some extreme people on the left.

Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. Viking, New York, NY.

Shahgedanova, Maria and Burt, Timothy P. 1994. “New Data on Air Pollution in the Former Soviet Union,” Global Environmental Change 4.3: 201–227.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Reflections on Christopher Hitchens as a Leftist

Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) passed away in 2011, and he remains one of those iconoclast leftists, who, generally speaking, is either hated or loved. Worse still, it is widely believed that he went over to the right and deserted the left, and there are plenty of left-wing people who loath him for that.

Quite simply, he was a complex intellectual and thinker. There was a good, a bad, and an ugly Hitch. He was capable of holding defensible and right opinions on some issues, and shamefully wrong and indefensible opinions on other issues.

Let us examine these sides to him in the two sections below.

The Bad and Ugly Hitch
First, the bad and ugly Hitchens. There are indeed plenty of things to mention here. For me, one of the worst was his infantile Marxism and Trotskyism, even though it was obvious that by middle age he was not really a serious advocate of communism.

His admiration for Trotsky can be seen in the video below.

Hitchens’ idealistic vision of Trotsky is taken down by Robert Service in his debate with Hitchens in the video below.

But to return to my main point, like so many left-wing intellectuals and especially members of the New Left generation, he obviously thought it was “cool” to be a Marxist, without noticing that self-identifying as a Marxist-Communist is to self-identify oneself with a totalitarian ideology that has proven itself to be a hideous enemy of human freedom.

If you have ever read Martin Amis’ Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (2003), which contains a powerful challenge to Hitchens on his Marxism, you can see how outrageous and shameful is the Marxist willingness to gloss over the Soviet Union’s crimes and the disgusting apologetics of Marxists for the nightmare that was that state.

Next, Hitchens’ support for the Iraq war. This was his greatest political mistake. His attempts to justify it – especially when it went so badly wrong – brought him to embarrassing depths of dishonesty and sophistry. Of course, he was perfectly capable of making bad arguments at other times too, such as the ad hominem fallacy, but on this issue he made truly terrible arguments for a disgraceful cause.

It was also quite comical to see him in later years trotted out on Fox news to defend George W. Bush and the Iraq war.

His former friends on the left turned against him when he supported the Iraq war and he was of course accused of “selling out” and becoming a conservative or neoconservative.

But, to be fair, there are two points here in response to this: first, does anyone think that if Christopher Hitchens had vehemently opposed the Iraq war that it would not have happened? That the Bush administration would have suddenly decided not to invade? Of course not: Hitchens would have been dismissed as what most of the right thought of him before 2001: a fuming, pompous, Trotskyist atheist idiot.

Secondly, in truth, Hitchens – right to the end – still thought of himself as a leftist, as we see in the video below – albeit as a “Marxist” in a silly, vapid sense.

In essence, he was, politically, a Marxist intellectual poseur. This is clearly the “bad” Hitch: while he did understand (apparently) that the communist world was one of slavery and totalitarianism, he still continued to self-identify as Marxist. That was disgusting.

Finally, I don’t want to be too unfair on this point, because Hitchens at least did recognise that communist economics and a command economy were discredited models, and I presume his support for a broadly market economy was what would be called a social democratic vision. But, at the same time, it is true that Hitchens didn’t understand much about economics, and clearly this wasn’t his strong point.

The Good Hitch
The good Hitchens was a fearless defender of free speech, an opponent of Postmodernism, a journalist who brilliantly deflated the cult of personality of popular figures like Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, and a courageous defender of atheism and secularism. Finally he was utterly unwilling to respect the ridiculous taboos that have grown up in our politically-correct culture about criticising religion, even if, admittedly, he was at times inclined to some over-the-top statements on religious faith.

I think that one of the best of the virtues above was Christopher Hitchens, the defender of free speech, at a time when some people on the left – especially the extreme Postmodernist left – have shamefully shown themselves to be enemies of free speech.

One of his finest defences of free speech is in the video below.

Related to the issue of free speech was Hitchens’ defence – and continued defence to the end – of Salman Rushdie’s freedom of expression when cowardly Western liberals and even some Western religious leaders condemned Rushdie.

Hitchens also wrote cutting and brilliant exposes of cult-like figures in modern popular culture. His critique of Mother Teresa, in particular, demonstrated how so much of what people think they know about Mother Teresa is actually wrong (Hitchens 1995). This is brought out well in the video below, which interviews Hitchens (warning: there is some bad language in this video).

Secondly, Hitchens also opposed the terrible fraud of Postmodernism and its absurd core idea of truth relativism and extreme political correctness. There is a fine attack on Postmodernism in Hitchens’ book Why Orwell Matters (2002), though admittedly it is pity he never spoke out more strongly against it in his public speaking.

Thirdly, Hitchens defended atheism and criticised religion in the finest tradition of the secular left and free thinkers, as can be seen below.

Personally, I think there is a lot in the “good” Hitchens that the modern left could learn from.

So, for all his faults (and often very bad ones), I am happy to celebrate the “good” Hitch. You are missed, and I’ll give you the last word.

Amis, Martin. 2003. Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million. Vintage International, New York.

Hitchens, Christopher. 1995. The Missionary Position: The Ideology of Mother Teresa. Verso, London.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2002. Why Orwell Matters. Basic Books, New York.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bernie’s “Socialism” is just Good Old Fashioned Keynesian Social Democracy

It is usually very hard to get excited about the left-wing politicians anywhere in the West these days, but the rise of the US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is quite refreshing.

It is predictable that all the usual right-wing halfwits are screaming the accusation of “socialism” against Sanders – as if this means Marxism or Communism or a total command economy. It’s nonsense, of course.

Bernie is just a good old fashioned European social democrat in American form, as we can see in this video.

He rejects Marxism and Communism, and believes in a mixed economy with strong macroeconomic interventions and remedial programs to address the worst aspects of capitalism. That is in line with the finest tradition of John Maynard Keynes.

For Keynes, the most serious flaws in capitalism were as follows:
“The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.” (Keynes 1936: 372).
Of course, we could add all sorts of other problems to this that are peculiar to the unusually harsh American version of capitalism: lack of universal health care, highly expensive college education, not enough social security, and so on.

Unfortunately, I think – on pragmatic grounds – that Bernie Sanders would really do better to call himself a Keynesian social democrat, not a socialist. It would communicate so much more effectively what he, in fact, is in political terms.

It would also make it easier to defend himself against charges of the sort we see in the video below.

Bill O’Reilly – shining example of right-wing American idiocy – obviously thinks immediately of Marxism and communism whenever he thinks of “socialism.” Quite possibly he thinks all of Western Europe is “communist” from the way he talks.

If your opponents are so stupid as to think in these terms, it would be better – simply on tactical grounds – for Bernie Sanders to defend his policy position as Keynesian social democracy, in the finest tradition of Roosevelt and Truman.

Keynes, J. M. 1936. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Macmillan, London.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

“Marx was not responsible for the Horrors of Communism” is Nonsense

The cry that “Marx was not responsible for the crimes of Soviet communism” is Marxist apologetics at its worst: an attempt to completely exonerate Marx from the horrors of 20th century communism.

It is also curious that many Marxists claim that Soviet communism was some “betrayal” of Marx and Engel’s vision of communism, but then at the same time go on to engage in the most disgraceful apologetics for Soviet communism.

However, that is not my purpose here. The question is: to what extent was Marx responsible for the authoritarian nightmare that was the Soviet Union?

Of course, it is true that Marx was not personally responsible for the torture chamber that was Stalinist Russia (obviously not, he was dead). And we can of course rule out the following senses in which Marx might have been responsible for Soviet crimes:
(1) Marx was not personally morally responsible in the way a Soviet executioner of victims of Stalin’s Great Terror was responsible for mass murder;

(2) Marx was not personally morally responsible in the way that Lenin or Stalin were responsible for mass murder when they ordered or signed the orders to kill millions of people.
Now any rational person can admit that Marx was not responsible in these senses above.

Nevertheless, there remains a terrible sense in which Marx was clearly indirectly responsible for the authoritarian and murderous nature of these regimes by means of his ideas and influence on later generations. If you think ideas have no influence on people, then you are clearly wrong, and the demand for a dictatorship of the proletariat with “despotic inroads on the rights of property” is right there in The Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels 1985 [1888]: 104–105).

Or take Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, which was based on a letter he wrote in 1875 and was published in 1891.

By the mid-1870s, reformist or moderate Continental socialist parties and leaders had risen to challenge the views of Marx in significant ways. In Germany, in 1875 there was founded the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, which became the modern Social Democratic Party of Germany, and it adopted a moderate program that Marx opposed.

However, Marx rejected that peaceful reformist model for communism and towards the end of the Critique of the Gotha Program Marx states frankly his opposition to democracy and his different vision of the state in the transitional communist society:
“What, then, is the change which the institution of the State will undergo in a communistic society? In other words, what social functions, analogous ‘to the present functions of the State, will remain there? This question can be answered only by proceeding scientifically; the problem is not brought one flea’s leap nearer its solution by a thousand combinations of the word ‘people’ with the word ‘State.’

Between the capitalist and the communist systems of society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. This corresponds to a political transition period, whose State can be nothing else but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. But the platform [sc. of the German Social Democrats] applies neither to the latter, nor to the future State organization of communist society. Its political demands contain nothing but the old democratic litany that the whole world knows: ‘universal suffrage,’ ‘direct legislation,’ ‘administration of justice by the people,’ ‘arming of the nation,’ etc. They are a mere echo of the middle-class People’s Party, of the League for Freedom and Peace; they are all demands that, so far as they are not of an exaggerated phantastic conception, are realized now. Only the State, in which they are found, is not situated within the boundary lines of the German Empire, but in Switzerland, the United States, etc. This sort of ‘Future State’ is present State, though existing outside the limits of the German Empire.” (Marx 1922 [1891]: 47–48).
It should be quite clear that Marx envisages an authoritarian system here, and that he was an enemy of peaceful democratic reform through elections and political movements. Until the end of his life he was an advocate of violent revolution, and even endorsed the violence of the Russian revolutionary movement in his last years (Sperber 2014: 537). These are all clear reasons why Marx was, quite simply, an extremist and an enemy of democratic, constitutional government, and why it is absurd to deny that his ideology bears a real responsibility for the horrors of 20th-century authoritarian communist governments where his ideas on the “dictatorship of the proletariat” were put into effect.

If some Nazi were to write works inciting people to violent revolution and a genocide, and later people were actually inspired by these works and actually did establish a violent genocidal Nazi state in line with the plan of the works, only the most irrational, stupid and dogmatic ideologue would say that the original Nazi bears no indirect moral responsibility for things that were done by people who followed his advice. Exactly the same argument applies to Marx.

Even worse, we have this brutally frank vision by Friedrich Engels in 1872 of what a Communist revolution would be like:
“A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?
Friedrich Engels, “On Authority,” 1874
There is not a shred of evidence that Marx would have disagreed with this.

It stands as a chilling statement of how Engels envisaged the Communist revolution: authoritarianism, violence, and a terrorist state. This is like a playbook for 20th century communist regimes, and – is it really any surprise? – Lenin was a great admirer of his essay of Engels (Hunt 2009: 259).

Also disgusting is the way that apologists say that Marx and Engels would never have approved of the violence and crimes of, say, the Soviet Union. How the hell would they know? Did they ever read this passage by Engels?

Engels, Friedrich. “On Authority,” 1874

Hunt, Tristram. 2009.The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels. Allen Lane, London.

Marx, Karl. 1922. “Critique of the Gotha Programme,” in Marx and Daniel de Leon, Critique of the Gotha Programme and Did Marx Err?. National Executive Committee, Socialist Labor Party, New York.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1985 [1888]. The Communist Manifesto (trans. S. Moore). Penguin Books, London.

Sperber, Jonathan. 2014. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Yanis Varoufakis on Europe and the Eurozone

An interesting interview here with Yanis Varoufakis.

Now although I do admire Varoufakis, especially for his excellent attack on Postmodernism described here, I see some very troubling points here about Marxism.

Varoufakis says that Marxism is libertarian in some sense, and it is true that Marxism’s ultimate aim was a stateless, utopian paradise. But (as far as I can see) that is not the sense in which Varoufakis calls himself a “libertarian.” For Varoufakis goes on to say that his “libertarian Marxism” is compatible with a belief in the state, which, he says, is “crucial.”

I find these views deeply confusing.

First, why even associate yourself with Marxism at all when all attempts to put Marxism into action lead to mass murder and authoritarian nightmare states? At some point, one has to face the truth that if this is all that real-world Marxists have been able to do, their system stands utterly discredited by the hard evidence of empirical reality. If you do not advocate the abolition of private property, the nationalisation of all industry and a command economy, then why even call yourself a “Marxist”?

Worse still, Varoufakis thinks that “social democracy” has been discredited by modern neoliberal parties like New Labour. I disagree profoundly. Unlike Marxism, post-WWII left-wing parties put their social democratic vision into practice in the West, and it was the most successful system we ever had. And social democracy essentially takes its economic platform from Keynes – not Marx. Radical Keynesian social democracy is the true democratic “socialism,” if one chooses to use that troublesome word.

New Labour and other neoliberal left-wing parties were a betrayal of a social democratic ideology, and there is no reason to regard such neoliberal parties as anything but recent interlopers, charlatans and impostors. And say what you like about them, their evil doesn’t even come close to the horrors of Stalinist Russia or Soviet communism.

The neoliberal left has not discredited social democracy but only demonstrated the need for remembering what its core economic principles should be: a strong heterodox Keynesian or Post Keynesian economic theory.

Also, as I have argued here, it is a profound mistake for people on the left to just smear Britain’s UKIP as “racist” instead of carefully analysing what their policies are and intelligently responding to them.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Self-Refuting Nonsense

Imagine a man with whom you were having a conversation who got up and said this:
“There is no such thing as spoken human communication or spoken human language.”
The very act of asserting that statement while others listen and understand its content utterly refutes what is being asserted: empirically, it is blatantly self-refuting.

Now consider the core belief of Postmodernism:
Proposition (1): there is no such thing as objective truth.
This is self-refuting nonsense as well.

If one believes that there are no objective truths, then it follows that nothing you can say is objectively true, not even the statement that “there are no objective truths.”

What kind of statement, then, were you making? Was your statement just gibberish like the bleating of a goat? Is it, semantically speaking, in the same category as Chomsky’s famous sentence “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously”?

And, epistemologically speaking, what kind of statement was it? If it is understood as a synthetic a posteriori proposition, it is, as we have seen, manifestly self-refuting.

Now of course the sophisticated Postmodernist might defend it as a merely culturally relative truth, true only to a community of people who wish to believe it.

But that will not do. If it is not defended as a universally and objectively true statement, then the Postmodernist has not considered the possibility that objective truths do exist over and above culturally-relative beliefs.

At any rate, we have seen in the last post where it leads: to an intellectually and morally broken world-view that cannot even defend the idea that the worst beliefs in Nazism were objectively false.

I have posed this question before, and I have never seen any Postmodernist sensibly answer it: if it is not an objective historical fact that the Holocaust happened, then why is there so much evidence that it happened? Why the numerous eyewitnesses and survivors and their testimony that we can still read today? Why the huge physical evidence? (e.g., the death camps, gas chambers, etc.).

Either (1) the Holocaust happened as a real, objective event in the past or (2) it did not as an objective fact, and any left-wing person who denies objective truth has got no business opposing, criticising and condemning the disgusting, shameful and ignorant fringe of Holocaust deniers we see today.

Rather, any Postmodernists who really believe their truth relativism and Foucault’s view of truth should be saying that “all truth is made by power,” no objective truths exist, and our “truths” are invented and not determined by some objective reality – not even the Holocaust.

But then the Postmodernist would face these questions:
(1) Is the proposition that “the Holocaust happened” just a truth made by power? If “yes,” what power system “made” it and why?

(2) If you think it is not an objective truth that “the Holocaust happened,” then explain why we have overwhelming evidence that it did.

(3) if you accept the overwhelming evidence that the Holocaust happened, then explain why you would persist in denying the reality of objective truth.
It does not matter what choice the Postmodernist takes, every path they could take here leads to exactly the same end as we saw in the last post: an intellectually and morally broken and bankrupt world-view.