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 Making Poverty History 
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Can I just say that Alan's quick dive into the thread there made me laugh.

Thundril wrote:
a. What we would like the world to be like, and
b. What we might be able to do about it?

Yes, and it's imperitive that we pick the best system to do this. We are answering these questions, with capitalism. Thundil and Animist, listen to Wilson's reflection on both his and my stance:
Wilson wrote:
Nobody's saying that everything about capitalism is great, or that there aren't areas where there are terrible abuses, but overall there's no question in my mind but that fewer people are starving because of it. More people are living comfortably. Don't you think that's kind of a good thing?

Imagine in many billion years, Animist and Thundril exclaiming that, emotionally, it's "just not right" that the Sun is about render our planet uninhabitable. You have to work with the way the world is - and for that matter, the way the universe is. Animist and Thundril profess the precise idealism which is just not logical in the real world.

Also, Thundril, you said that you didn't hold a properly feasible way to implement socialism but then you say that we need to find the best system out there that can answer question b from above. Now here's the thing. You aren't able to give your own, or quote someone else's new idea for making socialism work in the real world. I was tempted to slip from the cliff earlier because it just sounds better on a emotional and human scale. Repeatedly in other forums we have discussed how this is the worst way to base logical thinking upon. Sure if we're dealing with people we need to consider their needs but we must look at it in utilitarian perspective. We have to view ourselves as a species and in the same conservation terms as we apply to other animals. We accept that a certain conservation plan will destroy the habitat of some in this generation but work to better the whole population in subsequent generations. It's all about trade-off. The worst possible option is to blindly rush in claiming that something is unacceptable, full stop.

My partner comes back from her nursing placement and everyday tells a story about a patient's family member complaining about how long certain things take, how they demand food, drink etc. without a moments thought for the bigger picture. The NHS has faults but it is set up to provide the best service for everyone. Now you could say that socialism should in theory do this too. But it doesn't, or at least it can't at the present level of global (or national) wealth. The best we can do is provide the best situation for the most amount of people, and captilaism in the real world comes out top.

On the subject of national vs. global economics: A global sociailism would work when wealth is at a certain basic level so that it could be spread around to give everyone the basics in life. This would require a population decrease, or a population stabilisation coupled with technological 'catch-up'. Globalisation is a great ideal picture of how the world could work best but in the real world history has not been so simple. This is not to say that in the future such a world view can never happen, but what I would say is that our freedom and systems of wealth and welfare must be protected. On an emotional level it is horrible to turn away a refugee but for the interest of millions of people already in the UK, it has to be done. If we can 'hold the keep' and then reach out to other countries as they develop away from what I still refuse to stop labelling primitive systems and cultures, then we can slowly propagate the best system and unite us all. This is, I suppose, the ideal view for the EU but clearly the differences between states is still too great.

The moral of the story is to (bitterly) go with your mind, not with your heart.

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July 6th, 2011, 2:14 am
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thundril wrote:
I think we can look at a hierarchy of needs. I think that a global economic system might benefit from a global political, legal and judicial mechanism to match. I would argue, in such an arena, that companies and individuals should be prevented from doing serious harm to people in order to benefit other people, without some consideration of this hierarchy of needs. I think that an intelligent socialist system need not fall foul of the horrible mistakes that turned the Soviet Union and the PRC into such nightmares. I think that we are probably wise enough, compassionate enough, and smart enough, to create the sort of world we would be proud to bequeath to future generations. And I think these future generations might be more impressed than if we had simply shrugged our shoulders and muttered some fatalistic faith-based shite about the 'invisible hand'.

I don't mean to be unkind, but those are just broad generalizations, with no meat to them.


July 6th, 2011, 6:27 am
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AlexVocat wrote:
Imagine in many billion years, Animist and Thundril exclaiming that, emotionally, it's "just not right" that the Sun is about render our planet uninhabitable.

You do yourself a disservice here, Alex. This sentence makes it look as though you haven't read a word either Animist or I have posted. But I'm sure you have, really! :wink:
AlexVocat wrote:
You have to work with the way the world is - and for that matter, the way the universe is.

Just another appeal to 'human nature?' The way the world is, politically, ethically and in terms of social behaviour, is nothing like the way the world was say 300 years ago. The laws of capitalism are not unbreakable like the laws of physics, and those who imply that they are are being either very inattentive or else deliberately dishonest. I'm sure your error, Alex, is of the former type.
AlexVocat wrote:
Also, Thundril, you said that you didn't hold a properly feasible way to implement socialism but then you say that we need to find the best system out there that can answer question b from above. Now here's the thing. You aren't able to give your own, or quote someone else's new idea for making socialism work in the real world.

Now here's the thing. When a scientist says 'we don't know but we need to look' the YECies go 'Aha! You just said you don't know! Burt we have Goddidit! So we are right and you are wrong!'
Well, I can make no claim to being a scientist, (nor even an economist) and I'm certainly not wanting to bracket you or Wilson with the Yecies, but you see what I mean?
I see a series of very serious problems with the direction we're going in, and I don't have faith in 'Invisble Hands'. You ask what I propose and I say 'I'm not sure, in fact I don't think there are any ready-made solutions 'out there', but I do know we need to take a fresh look at our course.'
You and Wilson can then go 'Aha! You just said you don't know! But we have the Invisible Hand! We have an answer and you don't! Therefore we are right and you are wrong. And we shouldn't try to change direction because, . . .
(and you cut & paste an exerpt from some visionary Book)
Lo! this or that capitalist apologist said it will all be fine in the end!'.
Pangloss much?


July 6th, 2011, 3:28 pm
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I kind of think that "systems" don't get you very far. The only way I can think of immediately improving the gross disparity between the rich world and the rest is by dropping all barriers to migration. Comments please.


July 6th, 2011, 5:21 pm
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animist wrote:
I kind of think that "systems" don't get you very far. The only way I can think of immediately improving the gross disparity between the rich world and the rest is by dropping all barriers to migration. Comments please.

"Systems" are the only practical way to effect change. They're easier to fix than human nature.

Dropping all barriers to migration would be great for foreigners and disastrous for citizens. You all go ahead with that if you think best.


July 6th, 2011, 5:35 pm
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um well, I suppose I am suggesting that the distinction between citizens and foreigners just goes in practice. Rather than the rich West trying to give aid to poor countries which often does not get to the people who need it, why not let people vote with their feet? Sort out the details later


July 6th, 2011, 5:57 pm
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That's a valid point of view - that there shouldn't be any borders, that ideally there should be one world government. Personally I don't feel that way. Instinctively I still draw a distinction between "us" and "them" to some degree. Almost all of us put family and friends ahead of strangers. That's our DNA talking. From a practical standpoint, you have to consider that unlimited immigration may well decrease the quality of life for those living in your country. Certainly in the US, crime rates go up significantly in areas where there's a lot of illegal immigration. And the taxpayers of the country have to support the newcomers to some extent. From news reports, the UK and Europe in general, which have traditionally favored the idea of free immigration, are being confronted with the reality, which isn't as rosy as we'd like it to be, and attitudes are changing.


July 6th, 2011, 6:57 pm
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animist wrote:
I kind of think that "systems" don't get you very far. The only way I can think of immediately improving the gross disparity between the rich world and the rest is by dropping all barriers to migration. Comments please.

On the "systems" point; I don't see what isn't "systems". It's just 'all-encompassing systems' (like State-Socialism or 'The Free Market') that offer completely misleading solutions.
On the open borders point: Totally in favour.


July 7th, 2011, 12:46 am
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Wilson wrote:
Almost all of us put family and friends ahead of strangers. That's our DNA talking.

Is it though?
Well, obviously, Everything we do or say is 'our DNA talking' in the broadest sense, but I'm sure that isn't what you meant.
Our preference for what is familiar may be no more than a conservation of energy, combined with a trick of perspective.
The familiar requires less effort to deal with than the new. And people further away look smaller, less vivid, less real, than people closer to us.
These things are certainly understandable. But could you really assign any significance or value to a set of beliefs and attitudes based on an optical illusion and and a reluctance to make an effort?


July 7th, 2011, 12:59 am
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Wilson wrote:
"Systems" are the only practical way to effect change. They're easier to fix than human nature.

You cite 'human nature' quite often, Wilson. Is there any chance you could make a stab at saying what you think 'human nature' is?


July 7th, 2011, 1:04 am
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Wilson wrote:
From news reports, the UK and Europe in general, which have traditionally favored the idea of free immigration, . ..

Really? is that what you hear about Europe & the UK?


July 7th, 2011, 1:08 am
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I must admit, thundril, that your reaction was the one of most interest to me in this proposal, and you did not disappoint! I really wonder why noone does not campaign for this in principle - it is the logical consequence of free market theory as well as of egalitarianism (which I favour, but I just don't think traditional nation-based socialism - nearly slipped up there! - is the best means to the end). If you were dictator, how would you manage this?


July 7th, 2011, 7:31 am
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First the fippant reply - If I were a dictator I wouldn't try to achieve a world government. I'd do what Stalin did, and keep my rule within an already established culture of bureaucracy and corruption. Opening up to the whole world would be just too risky.
Seriously though. I think the argument for open borders has quite a lot of supporters, but no real organisation. Probably this (what we're doing now) is the most promising arena for future development of a proper globalist (universalist) movement.
Want to co-author a manifesto, Comrade? :D


July 7th, 2011, 9:53 am
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I'm not saying that we capitalists are right because you, the opposition, do not have any answers yourself. Capitalism does not become the best system 'absolutely ever' because there's currently no better options, but it is the best system for now. This suggestion that we must find a better system is fine but what do you suppose we do in the mean time? Put a halt to all economic activity until a better system is found?

When I say that we must work with the way world is I mean we must accept the best system which does the most good in the real world. How would we test a new system? Pick a country and view the results? And what do we do if we produce a state no better off than former attempts at socialist states? If we were dealing with the best technique to split DNA or something I would be with you, but we're talking about experimenting with new economic systems. Socialism has made other countries worse because it resulted in fiddling with a system that we don't properly understand (or at least one that we don't understand the consequences of tampering with). As Peter Saunders (an Australian economist) said:
Quote:
Nobody planned the global capitalist system, nobody runs it, and nobody really comprehends it. This particularly offends intellectuals, for capitalism renders them redundant. It gets on well perfectly without them.

Capitalism is a natural phenomenon, one which may need controlling in places but one which works with us. I'm the first person to question human nature but in this case it works best for us all.

So to your point on finding a better system I would say this: Socialism isn't a separate system and past attempts at it are really just the product of artificial and idealistic fiddling with the system that developed naturally - capitalism. There's nothing wrong with this until you realise that the original system was better. Maybe it's the way we fiddled with it, and maybe there's an alternative way to fiddle with it that will improve it but remember that any experimentation runs the risk of worsening situations.

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July 7th, 2011, 4:06 pm
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some wild ideas, fuelled by the demise of the News of the World (well, you never know what's possible!). The rich countries could offer the poor ones complete access to their markets and territories (ie migration) in exchange for their own supranational unification (eg the whole of Africa as one country - making Sarah Palin correct at last); this would help end destructive Third World conflicts (at the expense of what might seem to be neo-colonialism but would not be). There might have to be some population control for the newcomers in transitory camps prior to integration with the existing populace (who would of course have somehow to be persuaded that all this was a good thing :laughter: ). Maybe there could be population exchanges, as the poor areas of the South lost population via emigration: vast tracts which were newly empty could be redeveloped afresh by philanthropic entrepreneurs (who do exist - leaders arise in all situations) using their own resources. Without any native peoples around (whose immediate need to survive would inevitably restrict longterm projects like water supply development) maybe these areas might be made suitable for mass resettlement later on in a sustainable way. Maybe a world government would not be needed, just a more positive attitude by rich countries; and the old imperial powers could be assigned "their" former colonial peoples as immigrants in order to ease the problems of language and culture assimilation.

Well I did say this would be wild


July 7th, 2011, 6:30 pm
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thundril wrote:
Wilson wrote:
Almost all of us put family and friends ahead of strangers. That's our DNA talking.

Is it though?


I'm convinced that group selection during hunter-gatherer days gave us certain emotional and personality characteristics that were useful to survival, and are still with us today. It fostered empathy and cooperation and altruism within one's group, and animosity, fear, and hatred for all groups outside it. Sharing one's resources would be detrimental to survival, but cooperation within one's group would make it easier to feed and shelter everyone. That's the source of bigotry and nationalism today, and sports fanaticism. Just like the hunter-gatherers, we draw a line between "us" and "them". As we've become more sophisticated, and especially with television and other media, we see that "they" aren't so different, and most of us have extended our circle of empathy to include almost everybody out there. But we still have this inborn tendency to see certain others as outside our sympathies - enemy combatants, the criminal class, and so on. I'm not saying that it's a good thing that we do this, just that we all do. I assume, thundril, that you would be more concerned with the well-being of your child or significant other or parents than an anonymous stranger or Tony Blair or Muammar Gadaffi or Rupert Murdock or Sarah Palin, right?

Human nature, by the way, is nothing more than the behavioral tendencies that were handed down to us by evolution.


July 7th, 2011, 7:10 pm
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Wilson wrote:
Human nature, by the way, is nothing more than the behavioral tendencies that were handed down to us by evolution.

The principal one of which, AFAICS, is the tendency to learn new behaviours through social interaction.


July 7th, 2011, 7:37 pm
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thundril wrote:
The principal one of which, AFAICS, is the tendency to learn new behaviours through social interaction.

Yes but then logic must be used to filter out the shared new behaviours that make things worse. Social interaction (or cultural evolution) produced genital mutilation and religion itself. Sometimes human nature is bad and sometimes it is good. If you don't want to call capitalism good then at least concede that it is the best. I know you won't but that is what me and Wilson are claiming.

Why are we arguing over human nature anyway. Surely we're just interersted in the best economic system. In the same way, I'm interested in the best system of dealing with criminals. The former happens to work with human nature, the latter happens to be independent from it. But the important point is that we choose the systems based on what's best.

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July 8th, 2011, 8:20 am
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Animist, I read a few bits in your 'Does Anybody Care About Global Warming?' thread and I wonder what you'll make of the following.

I once wrote a short essay for an A-Level geography task about global warming but got carried away with a point in the conclusion that I genuinely believed to be true. I rounded it off by saying that human nature is as thus. Until it becomes cheaper, more efficient, easier etc. to fund alternative energy sources or more sustainable activities, it won't happen. This sounds distinctly pessismistic and anti-capitalist, and at the time it was intended to be so. But I now realise that I have laid out the grounds for a sort of negative feedback that collective humanity exhibits. We do adapt when it becomes better for the majority. Individual self-preservation (which I'm sure you would refer to as selfishness or greed) keeps things in check. It's not something to detest, it's actually something to rely upon. Maybe I'm the minority in predicting that things will change when the going gets tough, indeed this stance has been met with cries of "not this time!" But it's been shown in the past that supply and demand does work. The electric car is in its infancy and has only really been pursued as a PR stunt for the relevant car manufacturers. But, and it's a big but, when we need it, Toyota and its rivals will be positively rushing to perfect the technology. It's a pseudo-belief, a prophecy based on evidence from similar cases in the past. This is what allows capitalism to be efficient: it adapts at the right time scales. Money is power, but it's also pressure. Much is wasted with businesses growing and then going bust but a great deal more is wasted when we implement a central planner which is no-where near as vigilant as the market.

If (tamed) selfishness was bad then I would be arguing against it, but it's not and therefore something we should embrace. This doesn't give the slightest bit of excuse for multi-billionaires to continue their grossly inadequate exploits but it does mean we should give them some freedom. The point has been made that exploitation can be a good thing. Let us redefine it as this.
"Exploitation is a transaction where one benefits and the other does not."
Many of the cases with which we consider to be 'exploitation' are not according to this definition. A wage is better than nothing. Minimum wages are a type of control to force businesses to play fair. There has to be a balance though. Too high and they'll find another workforce. A combination of morality and demand keeps things in check. Things are only bad when the public says they are and I agree that they should have a greater say in such matters but this can be done.

The moral zeitgeist is collecitve of the public, companies need public support to be able to sell anything. It's a two-way process and, granted, government hides the facts sometimes, but this is a fault in government, the very same institution you wish to put trust in. If you want to argue about the existence of only a pseudo-democracy then I'm with you, but I will defend capitalism because if the facts were not hidden by that same pseudo-democratic government, real boycotts and condemnation of non-conforming companies could occur and capitalism would function smoothly enough.

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July 8th, 2011, 4:03 pm
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AlexVocat wrote:
I'm not saying that we capitalists are right because you, the opposition, do not have any answers yourself. Capitalism does not become the best system 'absolutely ever' because there's currently no better options, but it is the best system for now. This suggestion that we must find a better system is fine but what do you suppose we do in the mean time? Put a halt to all economic activity until a better system is found?

When I say that we must work with the way world is I mean we must accept the best system which does the most good in the real world. How would we test a new system? Pick a country and view the results? And what do we do if we produce a state no better off than former attempts at socialist states? If we were dealing with the best technique to split DNA or something I would be with you, but we're talking about experimenting with new economic systems. Socialism has made other countries worse because it resulted in fiddling with a system that we don't properly understand (or at least one that we don't understand the consequences of tampering with). As Peter Saunders (an Australian economist) said:
Quote:
Nobody planned the global capitalist system, nobody runs it, and nobody really comprehends it. This particularly offends intellectuals, for capitalism renders them redundant. It gets on well perfectly without them.

Capitalism is a natural phenomenon, one which may need controlling in places but one which works with us. I'm the first person to question human nature but in this case it works best for us all.

So to your point on finding a better system I would say this: Socialism isn't a separate system and past attempts at it are really just the product of artificial and idealistic fiddling with the system that developed naturally - capitalism. There's nothing wrong with this until you realise that the original system was better. Maybe it's the way we fiddled with it, and maybe there's an alternative way to fiddle with it that will improve it but remember that any experimentation runs the risk of worsening situations.

I thought I made clear that I do not expect any 'system' to resolve the mess we are hurtling towards. I propose we reconsider our options. Because free-market capitalism did very well for a while, developing new technologies and so on, but continuing in this direction requires more and more production and consumption of unnecessary 'goods'.


July 11th, 2011, 12:11 am
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