Anything worth talking about, is worth blogging about

Posts tagged ‘Capitalism’

Book Review: World on Fire

Book coverRecently, I picked up World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (Doubleday 2003) by Yale law professor Amy Chua for a reread.

Chua’s basic thesis is that the sort of austere economic policy (such as no safety net, etc.) promoted by certain organizations and entities (free markets), in conjunctions with democracy (universal suffrage), when certain conditions arise, leads to a situation similar to a powder keg ready to blow up. The certain conditions are the presence of an ethnic minority that is disproportionately wealthy and economically successful. Chua calls them “market–dominant minorities”. When the previously–mentioned economic policies are implemented, any economic benefits that arise flow exclusively to the market–dominant minority. In a democracy, a demagogue arises and riles up the poor majority against the minority, using this to come to power. The result can therefore be a backlash against the democracy (where the minority takes over, sometimes with the help of a majority dictator), a backlash against capitalism/markets (nationalization, expropriation, and so on), or a backlash against the market–dominant minority itself (leading to genocide and the like).

Chua provides several examples to support her thesis. Some examples seem more supported by her evidence than others. For example, she uses the example of her own people (ethnic Chinese in the Philippines), including a discussion of a relative’s murder that was motivated by ethnic resentment. On the other hand, several examples seem like she is stretching her thesis. One example she used was the Russian oligarchs. As a number of them were Jewish, she attributes (qualifying her conclusion that it is only a partial explanation) anti–Semitism in Russia to resentment of the oligarchs. But anti–Semitism in Russia goes back way before the oligarchs arose, and it remains after many oligarchs have been weakened. For example, in the nineteenth century, members of the intellectual class routinely used anti–Semitic terms in correspondence, and agents in the czarist secret police plagiarized a novel to create that hoax, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For those and analogous reasons, I did not find all of her examples convincing.

To the extent to which Chua’s thesis holds, she suggests mitigating both halves of the causation equation; more redistribution and social safety net, a slower democratization process. I’m not sure a slower democratization process is necessarily the best way to go. Democracies are more peaceful than non–democracies, and hybrid (between autocratic and democratic) regimes are the least peaceful of all. Hence, there could well be a possibility of a long period of democratic transition blowing up spectacularly. And if that happens no one will be better off.

And I am not sure that demagogic backlashes even require there to be a wealthy, market–dominant minority. (Although Chua pretty conclusively demonstrates that they certainly help cause them, at least). For example, consider the United States in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. One of the challengers to Roosevelt was Louisiana Senator and Governor Huey “Kingfish” Long. He came up with the political platform of “Share Our Wealth”. As its name implies, it was an explicitly redistributionist movement. This was popular enough that, if Long ran in the 1936 election, he would have split enough votes to swing the election to the Republicans. And what did Roosevelt do in response to this left–wing threat? He adopted some of their rhetoric and co–opted enough of their leaders to defuse the threat enough so that he would win the election. The net result of this was that there was no socialist of communist revolution. In other words, FDR saved capitalism.

The key point to draw from the above is that it is entirely possible to have a (nascent) backlash against capitalism, where there is no group that can be considered a market–dominant minority. And another conclusion to draw from this is that the typical wingnut response of “resort to private charity” does not work. In many of the countries where such backlashes have occurred, private charity has been ineffective at preventing backlashes. The fact that several international organizations (in some cases, used to) be against almost any sort of social programs will inevitably lead to the backlashes Chua describes. Hence, actual government programs ought to be tried. Even if it fails to result in some sort of egalitarian utopia it would likely do enough to allay resentment and kill any backlashes. Chua provides examples to support this. And anyone who advocates policies like no safety nets, no redistribution etc. is only asking for trouble and is taking a step on the royal road to socialism (or worse). It’s a complete fantasy that people will continually cheer on their plutocratic overlords and gleefully accept forever having no future. Eventually something will give.

I explicitly decline to firmly recommend or not recommend this book. World on Fire is a much better and more impactful book if the qualifications I mentioned above are kept in mind. If that is done so it will be a good read.

Cover picture from Wikipedia. This post is based in part on a comment I made at Dead Wild Roses.

Advertisements

We’re all bleeding to death because of the Great Orchid Hoax

These purple orchids cannot exist because mutualism does not exist

Completely imaginary flowers

Uncommon Descent has another ridiculous post. It claims that capitalism and business neither use evolutionary principles nor work the same way. The guts of the post is the claim that “[t]he fundamental basis of prosperous societies is co-operation, not competition.”

Now, I have covered previously how evolution and capitalism operate on the same principles, and hence show that conservatives who reject evolution cannot simultaneously accept capitalism, and I won’t repeat that post here. The key point is that cooperation, as well as competition, drives evolution. The process is called mutualism and is directly analogous to some relationships between entities in an economy, especially comparative advantage. Yet, O’Leary, the poster at UD, seems to be completely unaware of, or in denial about, mutualism. With the knowledge that mutualism does not exist, let’s see what the world is really like.

Human gut flora, which reside in our intestines where they help to digest food and synthesize vitamin K in a mutualistic relationship, don’t actually exist. This  must be why everyone on the planet is half–starved due to bad digestion and nearly bleeding to death because of vitamin K deficiency.

And let’s not forget about the Great Orchid Hoax, perpetrated by botanists and taxonomists for centuries. As orchid seeds do not have endosperm, they are dependent on fungi to germinate, which eventually becomes a mutualistic relationship. However, as mutualism apparently does not exist, orchids do not exist. That’s why all of the 22,000–odd Orchidaceae species are not real, and those gorgeous monocots in the photograph above are just an illusion.

Photograph via the Wikimedia Commons.

Why aren’t you opposed to this too?

Creationists and intelligent design proponents are often opposed to evolution because they claim it results in some individuals being more successful or “more fit” than others because they out–compete those who are less successful or “less fit”. And yet many of these same people are selective in their rejection of systems arising via competition among individuals.

To see why, read the following list. (To make the comparison easier, I have turned the paragraphs into numbered lists): 

  1. In nature, individual members of a species are slightly different from each other.
  2. The individuals compete with each other for resources such as food and water.
  3. The amount of each resource is ultimately limited.
  4. Some individuals are more successful at acquiring resources than others.
  5. The more successful individuals have traits that cause success, such as speed or size.
  6. The more successful individuals acquire more resources, and thereby out–compete less successful ones.
  7. The less successful individuals acquire fewer resources, and are thereby out–competed by more successful ones.
  8. Since the more successful individuals acquire more resources, they have more offspring.
  9. Since the less successful individuals acquire fewer resources, they have fewer offspring, if at all.
  10. Since the less successful individuals are out–competed, they will die off unless they evolve.
  11. The preceding was a brief, simplified overview of evolution.

 And compare with the following:

  1. In society, individual businesses are slightly different from each other.
  2. The businesses compete with each other for resources such as customers and supplies.
  3. The amount of each resource is ultimately limited.
  4. Some businesses are more successful at acquiring resources than others.
  5. The more successful businesses have traits that cause success, such as management or business plans.
  6. The more successful businesses acquire more resources, and thereby out–compete less successful ones.
  7. The less successful businesses acquire fewer resources, and are thereby out–competed by more successful ones.
  8. Since the more successful businesses acquire more resources, they have higher profits.
  9. Since the less successful businesses acquire fewer resources, they have lower profits, if at all.
  10. Since the less successful businesses are out–competed, they will fail unless they adapt.
  11. The preceding was a brief, simplified overview of capitalism.

So creationists and intelligent design proponents, I have a question for you. If you are opposed to evolution because it results in some individuals being more successful and “better” than others, why aren’t you opposed to capitalism, which does the same thing and works the same way?

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: