Greg 00:00 [Intro] As Toni Morrison has put it, “the destiny of the 21st century will be shaped by the possibility or collapse of a shareable world.” Welcome to our podcast where we explore the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism with our guide big Mike. What can we learn from the past to help us create a better, more shareable world in the future?
Mike 00:32 Welcome everybody to A Shareable World; we are in what I think is the third, maybe the fourth of a series of podcasts that have been looking at the Cold War coming out of the context of World War II. Big Mike, you have—to help us think about the Cold War—you’ve, you’ve divided the world up into four areas. And then we talked about how each of those areas was left to respond to the postwar world and that they had to deal with very, uh, with, with realities on the ground that, um, pushed them in this direction or that direction. And we, in the last podcast or two, we walked through all four areas and kind of how they dealt with the postwar world. And so I think we are now left with, uh, looking back on, on that whole process.
Mike 01:32 Well, we’re, we’re left with where we are today. In fact, that’s one of the points that I’d like to make that, that the, the impact of the Cold War is with us in an extraordinarily powerful way. Even today, whatever the date is, sometime in November, right? 2019. Luckily, I still remember. Uh, you know, the, the Cold War… the need in the West, the need, particularly in the United States then in those areas that we dominated at that time, uh, the Cold War had a huge intellectual impact. It actually changed the way we, we think the world. What I mean by say, we think the world, what I mean is that we have in our universities and we, we have departments which are based theoretically—and I think that is, that proposition is very problematic even today, but we’ve always been problematic. But even today, moreso, departments are based upon a kind of definition of an area of knowledge and each, each area of knowledge, each object of what we want to know each, each area that we study.
Mike 02:55 So for example, sociology studies society, whatever that means, economic studies, the economy, politics studies the political system. And then of course we find that those disciplines don’t quite work. So we’d develop hybrid disciplines like, like, um, political sociology or something along that line. But at an even more profound level, the Cold War defined very much the kind of discourse we can have about the subjects that we’re studying. So I mean, let me give you an example, an example that’s so obvious. The Marxist view of society, uh, starts with, with one or with a few major premises, but one of them is that society is divided into classes. And that history as, as Karl Marx said, history is the history of the struggle between the classes, class struggle, right? History is history of the struggle between the classes in order to, for power so that, uh, the capitalist class wants power over the working class in order to extract more profit from the labor of the working class and the working class wants more power and eventually to dominate the capitalist class so that it can improve its wages, et cetera. That’s kind of self-evident. And Marx sees these classes going all the way back to the, uh, to the—all of history. But they change, the classes change from period of history to period of history, but there are always classes.
Mike 04:40 Well, in the Cold War the, the communist position, the Eastern European position and Chinese position was a position of class war. They were engaged in class war and in fact the very raison d’etre for the Soviet Union’s policies before as well as after, uh, the, uh, after the Second World War was that you had to build socialism in one country. So what you had was the dictatorship of the proletarian class in the Soviet Union. Once it was firmly in position, you could spread it—the revolution would spread to other parts of the world. So of course the West counters that. But what’s really interesting and what we have paid too little attention to in my opinion, is that the West often did this by changing the rules of the game.
Mike 05:34 So for example, at a certain point talking about class in American society became very questionable. In fact, you weren’t supposed to… we came up, our sociologists in the 1950s, 1960s worked very hard to find other ways of categorizing in society than class. So we got terms like interest group, or income strata, things of that sort, of all kinds of ways of trying to overcome the idea of class to get—to get the idea of class out of the essentially non-communist and, really, anti-communist sociology. Now I’m not saying anybody sat down to design it that way. I don’t think that there was some evil genius somewhere in the bowels of some institution in Washington DC, planning this. But I think the, the intellectuals in our society and the academics gravitated to that position. You, you knew that there was a certain, um, discomfort. I’m going to be very nice about it. A certain discomfort that would derive if, if you gave a class, on class conflict in American society in your sociology department.
Mike 07:02 So you began to look for ways of reframing the question that would be acceptable in the public eye or in the eyes of the, of the board of overseers of the university where you worked. And it gradually, in almost every field of the social sciences, and I will argue also in the humanities, um, the very nature of the discipline that we—which means the tools and concepts with which we study a certain subject, certain objects that, uh, that they changed as a result of the Cold War. And we haven’t really gone back. If you look for example at the, uh, there’s certain economics departments, there’s one economics department in the world—not in America, but in the world, where the conflict between those who wanted to go in the direction I’ve just been saying that the Cold War push us and those who wanted to pursue an economics based upon a Marxist or neo-Marxist set of concepts and tools became so bad that the university, in this case, a very wise university, the university realized that there was no way you could decide that either A or B was absolutely correct [and so] simply split the economics department and allow sort of the progressives to go into one department and the conservatives, if you want to call them that way into the other. That’s a pure, that’s a fascinating example of the way in which the Cold War really influenced our intellectual lives and influence our research, influenced the way we understand things, influenced therefore the policies we pursue. So today we find ourselves in a quandary very much because of this problem.
Mike 08:53 For example, we have in the United States terrible, terrible problems with race. You know, Martin Luther King tragically didn’t live long enough to carry the, the civil rights movement into the area that he himself seemed to be most interested in, which was, was economics and the changing economy. He understood perfectly well that legal civil rights was only the beginning, not the end of the struggle. He also, he understood that, that, that in our thinking at that time there was a confusion between race and class. And we suffer from that confusion terribly today. Uh, one of the reasons we have such difficulty wrestling with this kind of issue in America is that we really don’t realize that we have, that we’re suffering from a confusion of categories and that that really inhibits the way we think and makes extremely complex, um, policy making and so forth that we should be making. And I think one could find this is true and in many other disciplines as well. I made my point.
Greg 10:19 Yeah. Good. What’s, I mean I, I could start asking lots of questions.
Mike 10:23 I might, by the way, add that in literature, for example, I said, I think this is true in the humanities as well. Let me, I want your questions, but let me just get this out. I think there developed a, um—literature played a very big role in the Cold War… Today in the 21st century we are forgetting except in the diminishing humanities departments—universities like to pay a lot of lip service to the humanities—but uh, the departments, the study of the humanities is not exactly flourishing in America at the present moment. Um, but in the, in the Cold War period they did. And one of the most fascinating topics to explore is the way in which writers, novelists, poets and so forth were drawn into the Cold War. And, and literature was a political act.
Mike 11:14 Writing a novel or writing a poem was a political act. Um, [the] CIA put up money to publish books, novelists, in fact, an argument has been made and I think it’s a very cogent argument that the whole school of postwar modernist literature, uh, was funded by the CIA because the other side had a literary doctrine called social realism. And we didn’t want to write books of social, really the describing the nitty-gritty suffering of the working class. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to oppose that. So we encouraged another literary doctrine. And eventually we, we ended up funding
with not so publicly declared funds from the CIA. Even the publication of writers and, and funding writers themselves who would write novels and poetry, which would be… all of which are aimed at that large in-between intelligentsia that we talked about the other day, about these people who weren’t communists but also weren’t capitalists. Really in Europe and in America as well. So that now we’re in a point where in America we’re kind of exhausted from political literature and the kind of in your face, political literature of an anticommunist kind or whatever, in the period of the Cold War. People don’t want to read that anymore. Now we’re kind of into a literature of family relations and sexuality and things of that sort. All of which are extremely important as part of our human condition. But we are where we are in my opinion, to no small extent because of the reaction to the Cold War.
Greg 13:14 Yeah. Okay. Good. So I can start—so, um, it seems to me, and so you can correct me if this is a bad direction. So one upshot of this—we’ve done this post-war Cold War, um, conversation and then where it leaves us. And one of the things I think you’re saying now is the underappreciation of the role of class in, in the reality—
Mike 13:45 Yeah. Can I add one thing just to make this a little sharper? This affects our politics today as well. Yeah. Everyone around the world we’re going to be talking about is why is the left failing? Well one of the reasons the left is failing is that it also has moved away very much because of the Cold War from these concepts. So yes.
Greg 14:01 Okay. And it occurs to me that it might be helpful to uh, listeners who, uh, know little about Marx, maybe have read any Marx that, um, ‘cause this is a clarification that I do in my own head that that class is not just about differences in income. And in fact maybe that’s misleading to think about it that way.
Mike 14:24 It is. That’s not what it’s about.
Greg 14:24 And that’s one of the, one of what one of your points about sociology was looking at a way to stratify what’s going on in society in a non-Marxist way. And, and so would I be right in saying that the core Marxist idea as it relates to class is the structural component of your relationship to the means of production. Some people own those means of production and other people don’t.
Mike 14:50 So Marx is very explicit about this in fact. Class is defined in terms of the relationship that means of production. Now, one has to have an historical view, uh, in order to see what this means in the present. So at any time before the present—let’s say the present begins from our perspective sometime around 1700, give or take a hundred years, right? Uh, the primary, uh, means of production was twofold. One was the land, uh, and the other was human labor. The consequence of that was that you had property in land and property in human labor. Slavery. Slavery was an important means of production, uh, in the world from the times of the Roman Empire. And more particularly, uh, in the West than let’s say in Asia. But nonetheless, slavery was an extremely important—
Greg 15:55 I just told you I was watching Catherine the Great on HBO, and she’s dealing with slavery in Russia. At a very late time.
Mike 16:07 Russia is in between, right? Always. So, um, when the industrial revolution begins, you can’t date it. It’s not an event that you can date at a certain point. But when it begins, people begin moving off the land. Now that doesn’t mean everybody living on the land owned land. They didn’t, but they worked the land. They, they derive their livelihood from the land. They work. They may only keep possession of a quarter or a third of whatever it is they’re producing—wheat or rice or whatever. But nonetheless, they’re deriving their means of livelihood directly from the land. When the industrial revolution occurs… One of the first things that happens before the industrial revolution is that the powers that be, in this case, primarily the feudal powers and from Marx’s perspective, he’s looking at Western Europe, um, began to enclose the commons. Now, the commons was, what we call the commons was those areas of mostly pasturage where sheep and other four legged beasts would be fed, uh, which were held in common by a village or by a community. And they would let their sheep and their other bees out there, their children graze around for, uh, for food.
Mike 17:30 Eventually it becomes of importance to the people who are the power centers in preindustrial society to take hold of those commons, to take possession of those commons, kick the people off the commons and convert them into whatever would make money for them. And this is part of the class struggle. That forces people off the land and they move into towns and into cities. And you get the beginning of the 18th century, a tremendous increase in the population in major cities in Europe. These are people who now are divorced from access to the primary means of production of their livelihood. Previously. Right? Uh, so they move into the cities. What do they have? They have nothing. And Marx says that here, you get a new class being born, which is what he calls the proletariat. But the, the class is characterized by the fact that the only thing it possesses—it no longer has land.
Mike 18:28 It no longer has anything to produce anything with except the energy, literally energy, the energy of its hands and its own bodies. So the working class is that class which has for sale, which is able to make a living only off the energy which it itself produces. So it doesn’t—and that means something even further. That means that since it has to live completely off what it can earn with the energy of, of, of their own bodies, they have to go onto the market to, to buy even the front most fundamental forms of food and clothing, whatever they need. They’re dependent now no longer on their work, applied to the land, but rather on their work, which now earns them however much they earn, which they then take to the market and is the market. And that’s what Adam Smith is beginning to describe in the late 1770s, the 1770s in The Wealth of Nations.
Mike 19:30 This market thing was developed as a system independent of anything else where I go and I, I, I buy something with the money I earn and the price of what I buy is no longer the—I could produce two bushels. If I worked a little harder I could produce three bushels of wheat. Now the price of that, how much I buy as determined not by me or by how much work I put in. It was determined by some mechanism, which is abstract called the market. So the proletariat has no nothing any longer except the, the uh, the labor of its own hands, the, uh, the energy of its body, which raises some very interesting philosophical questions. We can go into them on another day about, for example, what parts of your body—we’ll go in to that on another occasion—opposed it out of the people who own the factories where the workers have to go to sell their energy in order to make a living.
Mike 20:30 Those are the capitalists. So those are two different capital, two different classes. Capitalist society owns the means of production. The workers only own the energy of their own bodies and they have to sell the energy of their own bodies to the capitalist to apply to machines. It’s a kind of self-evident argument. It really isn’t very complicated when you come down to it. It’s immediately applicable today. Why are we so afraid of automation today? Because all of a sudden we’re in a position—and many things have happened to weaken the working class, uh, in the last 50 years. But we’re in a position where the energy of the workers’ bodies will no longer be necessary to produce things. That’s kind of remarkable to think about. That if automation really takes off and it’s solar power for example, if all these things come together, uh, the worker won’t have any place to sell the energy of his body or her body. So this issue of, of unemployment as a consequence of automation is not a new issue. In the, in the sense that it is a, it’s a fundamental change of society, but it’s new in the sense that it’s the first time in history that production of anything will be able to take place without the, uh, without the use of human labor.
Greg 22:00 So, so one point I’d like to—
Mike 22:05 I think that’s a very significant change. And by the way, and by the way, that’s why things like, uh, what do they call it? You know, the annual, guaranteed annual income thing, right? Right. Well, we don’t need your labor anymore, so we’re going to give you a little bit of money so we can survive. What a debasement that will be. Cause I mean, I shudder when I think of the kind of society that will result when I don’t need my work and I get a, I go to stand in line and I get a check for right now—that’s going to change human society in a profound way that these people who advocate for this are not thinking.
Greg 22:38 Yeah. Yeah. So to make that same, same—making the same point, but um, in order to think about those problems, you need to understand how the world works. So I just want to make a general point that in order to make the word Marx safe to use in a sentence that we have to distinguish between Marx or Marxism as some program of getting to some particular kind of thing versus the Marx who just allows us to describe the world that’s happening.
Mike 23:15 The way I think, the way I think of Marx is, is, is this, we need to understand how the world works, right? All understanding of how the world works is based upon a priori assumptions we make about it and based upon the conceptual tools of analysis that we apply to the world, right? So for example, if I, uh, assume, let me, let me just play this out in a fantasy way. So I assume for a moment that the very core of human nature—first of all, I assume the existence of human nature, there’s something in us that is purely human as opposed to anything else. And the primary thing in human nature is greed. Whatever you want to call it, you can call it self-interest, right? You’d even call it enlightened self-interest, but nonetheless it’s greed. When you come down to it. And many economists, the honest capitalist economist will tell you, yes, we all go into the market and we exchange things in order to maximize our own self-interest. In order to support that view, we have other disciplines like psychology, which will study how the individual seeks to maximize his or her own pleasure.
Mike 24:42 Whatever you want to, you know, you understand what I’m trying to get at, whatever you want to call it. So that’s a set of assumptions. Then we have a set of tools. Lately, the tools are all mathematical tools. Where, what is a very interesting development is that the, is that the uh, the human being you, me, all of us as individuals have been reduced to numbers that can be, can be worked through a computer to describe the world that we live in and dictate the ways in which we should ourselves to behave in the world and the way in which the world should behave towards us. When I look at Marx, to me, Marx isn’t a prescription for a particular kind of society. I think that some Marxists, so-called; Marx himself said he wasn’t a Marxist. I believe that, I think some of our so-called Marxists, think that Marxism describes society.
Mike 25:40 I don’t. What Marxism is, it’s a set of concepts and tools that help me analyze the reality in which I am living. And they are different from the tools provided for the most part by our orthodox academic disciplines. That’s the great value of them. In other words, they provide me with an alternative way of looking at society. Whether it’s true or not is an irrelevancy. And in just the way of course, it’s true in the same way that anything, any professor in the world says it’s true, right? It doesn’t really matter if it’s true. The matter is, does it help me to understand the society I’m living in, the reality I’m living in? And to find ways in here is a very important point, in my opinion, to improve the daily lives of the people in that society. So Marxism is a set of intellectual tool, analytical tools. And it’s not more than that, but it’s also not less than that.
Greg 26:38 Right. Yeah. So I think—
Mike 26:43 Excuse me, that’s the difference between Marxism and communism. In the Cold War, we got all those concepts—on purpose, they mixed up all those concepts, right? But the communists in the Soviet Union were no more Marxist than the man in the moon. They used the picture of Marx and they used some of his vocabulary. But the society they created was about as far from Marx as contemporary America.
Greg 27:07 Right. Yeah. Okay, good. So on my, on my list, I think this can go quite naturally to something you said in an earlier podcast I think we should spend more time on. So if Marx gives us this tool, for example, just this one idea we have on the table that class is about your relationship to the means of production. You said in an earlier podcast that class conflicts or even class warfare in the United States maybe especially is writing on top of ideological warfare. So you were trying to draw a distinction between how political struggles look, uh, on the surface in the United States versus the class component—
Mike 27:54 Yeah, I think there are a variety of ways of getting it down. Right now we’re, um, we’re in our quadrennial electoral cycle and we have two political parties. Uh, that’s probably something that needs to be corrected in the future. But in the present moment, we have two political parties. These two political parties, in my opinion, and I want to emphasize I’m being very subjective. These two political parties by and large are divorced from the social structure that they are supposedly supposed to be arguing over policy about. So you have—and one has to ask why this is the case. You have, for example, people who are workers and people who are capitalists, people who are farmers and people who are city dwellers voting in both political parties, these political parties which determine our lives, to some extent as we know. These political parties are not rooted in the class divisions or in the social divisions of our society.
Mike 28:58 They seem to be rooted in the advertisement industry. Um, you know, we now have computers that will, we’ll figure out how every single voter in the country feels about something and then they will develop policies towards that and whichever one succeeds in digging deepest into your heart, gets your vote. So there’s a, there’s a kind—a Marxist would have to say that there are two things going on here. Number one, there’s a kind of divorce between reality and politics in contemporary America and that confuses us. You know, in the last several years, many of us have gone around, myself included, wondering why did all those people who have no interest in, in the know, who have no reason to support Trump and the social class he represents, why did they vote for him? Right? Why would they have voted for the Clintons either for that matter?
Mike 29:56 That’s a very important question. Uh, but secondly is—there are no ideas. We have policies but not ideas. One of the things I keep noticing is that neither party has succeeded in putting forth a vision of American society. And I wonder why they failed in doing that. And I think one of the reasons is that they have no understanding. They’re not, they’re divorced from American society. They play a political game. It’s the game that you win or lose. That’s all there is to it. And you win or lose again, without reference to the social realities in which people are living their daily lives. I think that’s very important. So there is class in America and we see it constantly. We have people who are poor and they don’t have any way of making a living. They can’t sell their energy on the market. That’s what being unemployed means. What does it mean to be out of employment? It means there’s no market for what—the only thing I have to sell, which is my, the energy of my hands, right? Uh, where does that—that implies there should be somewhere in the political discourse, a party which understands that, and which argues in a public forum, the public square, for changing that, for developing a society in which people do have a place to sell their labor. But we don’t talk about it and said, what are we talking about? We’re talking about jobs going off to China, god, jobs going off to China means I don’t have anything, any place I can sell my work.
Greg 31:33 Right. Um, so I’m just looking at my list. This is maybe a bit of a, um, a tangent, but just in terms of, uh, talking about ideological warfare, you once said that to me, that, and this stuck with me, that you saw—there was a way of thinking about the United States as the most ideological country in the world. Could you just draw that contrast?
Mike 32:04 That’s that, uh, that remark, which I believe—which I hold to and have for decades is very much a consequence of my own experience. When I was on the exchange program with the Soviet Union. So back in the late 1950s, the US established an exchange, student exchange program with the Soviet Union. And I was on that exchange program. And one of the things that I realized after 13 months in the Soviet Union coming back was that I didn’t meet very many, if any Soviets who really believed in communism. Now, that doesn’t mean they didn’t believe in a better life. They had a really crappy life. I mean, Soviet society was nothing I’d write home to my grandmother about. So they understood very well what the realities ended in. The harsh, oppressive realities were. They wanted better, they dreamt it better, but they were, they had no scales on their eyes.
Mike 33:15 They saw precisely what it was. You just had to wake up in the morning and an apartment that you shared with five other families and there was one toilet without a toilet seat. I mean, it wasn’t difficult. You could come back to America and people believed in capitalism. Somehow—no one seemed to believe in communism. I’m not saying that maybe there weren’t a few high party officials who maybe did believe, but no one on the street that I ever met believed in communism. I came back to America and capitalism was a kind of religion. “Do you believe in capitalism? You know, I have great faith in capitalism.” I mean all the way we talked about it as if it was a independently existing deity that we, you know, Feuerbach, and, and imagining the human beings created the economy and then forgot that they created it and it became a self-standing object. Right. Well, I think that’s what I meant, that Americans were true believers and that is inhibited the way that we, that inhibits our politics. Right? Um, it circumscribes very much what we can say in the public square.
Greg 34:24 No. Right. It makes a very black and white, uh, situation. So either you have your loyalty to one ideology or the other and there’s, it’s very hard to talk about.
Mike 34:34 Except we don’t think of it as ideology. This is—apropos of another discussion you and I often have, recently, yeah. Uh, you know, if I believe in the system, that doesn’t mean that the system, let me say that sentence again. If I say I believe in capitalism, capitalism is. So if capitalism is, it’s natural, we almost teach it that way. By the way, teaching the economy is as a kind of natural self-evident way of organizing life. Uh, you don’t have to believe in it. You don’t draw lines around it. Um, you’re a little bit just out of it if you don’t understand that then it really is. That’s all it is. Right? So I think this is a crucial point. The dominance of an ideology means you don’t have to think about the ideology at all cause the ideology fills all the space there is.
Greg 35:37 No, yeah. And to a certain extent it’s also just an until kind of intellectual laziness. I think that may be true of the human condition is just to not want to have to think about the difficult middle ground because so, and that reminds me of something else I wanted to ask you about that um, the post-Cold War period, I think for a lot of people in the West or in this American area that indeed the, the failure of the Soviet Union is the big evidence we need that market control is not a good thing. It’s just like, it’s as if this experiment were run in the Soviet Union and now we have the lesson.
Mike 36:29 That’s absolutely right. One of the successful moves Western capitalism made in the Cold War was to so identify the Soviet Union with anything that was non-capitalist. Then once the Soviet Union fell, it obviated the possibility of any reality other than capitalist reality. Period. Pure and simple. We may fiddle at the edges. So when I, when I look at the candidates now, for example, in the present electoral cycle, Bernie Sanders may say he’s a socialist, but he really isn’t. Um, he really is a very, very good New Dealer. Follower of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, as is Elizabeth Warren. Uh, there is within the capitalist church—to use that as a term, it’s a big camp, right? So there are many, uh, there are many rooms in my father’s matching. One of them is very orthodox, laissez-faire capitalism, another is managed capitalism. There are a variety of different kinds of capitalism, but they’re all capitalism.
Mike 37:39 And, and then we have this imaginary line beyond which it’s impossible. So if you have a successful society, and we said this before, if you have a successful society that operates according to some different principles than say capitalism. You redefine that society so it fits within the broad church of capitalism. And that is a consequence. Uh, and a dividend, I would argue it’s a dividend from the fall of communism that it reinforced that view among the capitalists. And it means that today the struggle to, to think the world a little bit differently is very hard. So again, I’d like to, I want to tie that down with the reality that we live in today. Um, we are struggling. We have an existential crisis—the environment, it’s huge. There is no issue we can talk about that is more important than the environment. If we can’t breathe, we’re all dead anyway. So it really doesn’t matter whether I have single-payer medical care or whatever. Right, I’m dead, right? I’m exaggerating to make a point. Um, we cannot seem to think of solutions to our environmental challenges except within the capitalist system.
Mike 38:59 The very terminology we use, the tools that we think are available to us to use it. We’re monetarizing nature as a way of dealing with it. For example. That says it right there. That our imaginations are constrained by the socioeconomic system in which we live. That applies to the arts as well, by the way. Bu in something like our political imagination, our scientific imagination, even our scientific imagination is constrained by the society in which we live.
Greg 39:36 What’s an example of this scientific imagination—
Mike 39:41 Sor example, thinking of various ways in which to deal with the, with the environment, what is—what would work and what wouldn’t work, right?
Greg 39:49 Yeah. No, it reminds me, I think I’ve told you this story about there’s a, um, I believe a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, uh, in this area who, um, has written a book about how, um, so much scientific knowledge is tied up in patents that you are, that there are solutions to be had if, if, if all of that knowledge were—
Mike 40:12 That’s a wonderful example because, because private, the idea of private property, which is something we should talk about someday. Uh, the idea of private property, which is a very circumscribed phenomenon, both in terms of history and in terms of, of, of society. Um, we apply it to knowledge. Now, who would ever imagine that knowledge is possessable by an individual or a company, which is what our whole patent system depends upon, right? It’s—to me coming from, uh, from Mars or whatever. I can’t imagine that anybody could argue that knowledge is a private, a piece of private property. Right. That’s a good example. Yeah.
Greg 40:55 And an especially pointed one in the case of, of environmental crisis because if that knowledge is out there to solve problems—
Mike 41:03 Health, what about health? Companies who produce medicines and then charge enormous prices for them to make profit. Yep.
Greg 41:12 Okay. Well, so we’re kind of approaching the end of our normal running time for a podcast. And I want to circle back to something definitional that I still must say I’m a little confused about which is, um, so in the course of our discussion of the postwar period, we’ve talked about kind of capitalist liberalism, social democracy, communism, but, um, you are concerned that we etch out a place for this concept of democratic socialism. So if we could circle back to what you mean specifically by that way of saying it. Democratic socialism, in this post-Cold War period.
Mike 41:51 I’m trying to draw a line here, which is not new, but has to be drawn over and over again. And I think in order to reach some clarity, I’m not sure we do have clarity on it, but I’m going to, I’ll try. To me, there’s a di—there’s, there are two positions that I would compare. First one is social democracy. What does social democracy mean? I think that social democracy is a term which means to borrow from the other side back in the 1960s, capitalism with a happy face. In other words, is there a more just way to maintain capitalist property relationships, capitalist social relationships, capitalist relationships with the means of production, but to do so in such a way that people are happier with it. Right? So we’ll, we’ll, we’ll redistribute the product a little bit differently. We’ll have higher taxes on the rich, but we’ll still have rich.
Mike 43:03 Right? I don’t notice anybody saying let’s get rid of the rich. Right. We’ll still have the rich, that’s social democracy. I think Franklin Roosevelt was exemplary. A social democrat. Democratic socialism is the opposite. Democratic socialism says, no, we must change social structures. We must change relationships with the means of production. We have to change the institutions within which we live and we must do so democratically. So one wants to democratize capitalism and one wants to say we have to get rid of capitalism in a democratic way and come up with a different side. That to me is the primary difference. And I think that’s a world of difference. We have a, we have a whole range of social experimentations in the modern world that we could point to for this kind of thing. So if I were going to think on a very, very small scale, I would say that for example, the kibbutz in Israel, the completely collective communal agricultural colony was a very excellent example of democratic socialism. It was socialism carried to the extreme and it was democratic. Unlike say a cooperative—no, not a cooperative, but what else? Say some kind of a corporation in which they distribute the dividends a little bit more justly among the various people. Something along that line. So we have lots of experiments that we can look at and I hope we will look at it with time to, to demonstrate these different points. But I think that’s the crucial difference.
Mike 44:49 Democratic socialism believes we need a different society than we have; social democracy wants to make capitalism happier.
Greg 45:04 And so do, so do markets have a place in…?
Mike 45:08 That’s a very important question. Uh, a democratic socialist—the way I’m using the term, and I emphasize that—would say we will have markets where it’s appropriate to have markets. And if it is inappropriate, we won’t have markets. Right. So let’s, let’s go back to this. What we were talking saying a couple of minutes ago, is it appropriate to have a marketplace in health? If health is a human right then you can’t have a Market place in health because in health there’s no way in which we can bargain about the cost of health. Obamacare maintains the market. That’s the point.
Greg 45:49 So then can, so even within our present, the status quo system now you can think of, cause when, the way you described it initially sounds like you need a wholesale transformation of society.
Mike 46:05 Well, eventually yes. It’s not wholesale in time, over time, right?
Greg 46:10 So you can, the health example allows us to think in a democratic socialist way about a particular part of society. That we could start thinking about our own healthcare.
Mike 46:21 Let me just expand on that more. Well it’s just, I used health as an example, but let me also talk about, or let me raise air, water, land, right? All the basic essentials of life, essentials of life which we, which we need to survive. Is there a moral or even an institutional foundation for assuming the market should be allowed to function in those areas. Right? So once you start with that, you’ve pretty much exhausted the basic ingredients of, of, of human existence. Think about it, right? Suppose that we said the air, the atmosphere, the air is a commons. Yeah. It should be socially owned. I believe this, by the way. What does that mean about pollution? There’s no market in pollution. We now are trying to deal with pollution with a market. It’s not only that, that’s not going to work. It’s also inappropriate.
Mike 47:31 You see what I mean? In other words, yeah. This cap on emissions, that’s a—sell carbon on the market. That’s just inappropriate. But it’s also not going to work. So if I, if I say the air we breathe should be a common, that should be socially owned. Nobody has a right. You’re going to jail. You committed a crime against humanity if you pollute. Yeah. I think that’s a radical change. Far different from what social democracy understands.
Greg 47:59 Well, and maybe that’s where we go next.
Mike 48:03 I’m ready to go tomorrow.
Greg 49:09 Well, I mean in podcast, our podcast topics. All right. Thanks big Mike, and thank you all for listening. See you next time. [Outro] Thanks for listening to another episode of A Shareable World. To find out more about this podcast, visit us at ashareableworld.com.