Greg 00:02 [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?
Greg 00:31 All right. Welcome everybody to another episode of A Shareable World, which is a look at the history, theory, and practice of democratic socialism, with help from our teacher, big Mike. Uh, and to look at these things for the sake of our present world and the future. How’s that sound?
Mike 00:58 Sounds fine. So let’s get started—
Greg 01:05 Well, so we didn’t, we didn’t fine tune how to get started, but let me, let me say what I think your notes—were there?
Mike 01:14 I’m not sure I’m going to start where my notes are, but anyway, go on.
Greg 01:19 Okay. So here’s, here’s what, um, I thought might be in store, but you should just correct it. Um, and that is I—so I think the, ‘cause I think it’s my job to identify some, some core bit that will be the, uh, the way we tell people what’s going on in this particular—[overlapping conversation]. This is a, this is a figure it out as we go kind of podcast. And that is your, the… that this modern period in the West—actually you didn’t put it this way, but I’ve, when I read your notes came to this conclusion that, um—that the modern period in the West can be seen in very general terms as it, as the history of a set of social experiments, maybe more than other periods of history. There’s been a lot of experimenting going on with how to live, and that we need to understand that history in order to skillfully move forward, both for understanding the realities of the present moments that, uh, the history that that has come out of, but also for what can be learned from otherwise forgotten experiments of this recent history. Um, is that where we’re headed in this?
Mike 02:38 Yeah, we’re headed in that direction. I’d like to pick up though on the point about, um, history itself. Um, so our, I think I’ll start with three little stories. The first one is it just the other day, the other evening at dinner, my high school, beginning-high-school grandson, uh, starts asking me, uh, who some of these figures are in, in, in history. Um, one of them was Louis XIV, some Julius Caesar, I don’t remember, but they were ancient figures and he heard about in class, and this is really his first serious history course. And I said, ‘Oh!’ because being something of a historian myself, I got kind of excited that my grandson would be interested in history. And he said, no, grandpa, I don’t really care about those guys. You know, what I’m really caring about is what it all means for today and tomorrow, not yesterday. So that started me rethinking a lot of my own thinking about history and another two more little stories. One was—because he’s right. I mean, he really was right. He, he instinctively understood that if history has any value beyond storytelling, then it’s got to be helpful to us today in some fashion.
Mike 04:09 And that raises very important questions for us. Many years ago in 1960, I was, um, studying in Tokyo. I was working in this library and sitting next to me was this Tibetan monk, 1959, the Chinese had finally taken over all of Tibet and a lot of Tibetans had come out with the Dalai Lama in 1959. And this guy was one of them. And I’m from opposite ends of the earth. We both find ourselves sitting next to each other studying Japanese or reading Japanese text. And this guy turns to me and says, can I ask you for help? And I said, sure. He says, what does this mean? He pointed to two characters, which in Japanese are—and in the Chinese characters and in Chinese mean history. It’s the way we translate them into English, both, both in the Japanese and the Chinese. And that got us talking about his hair.
Mike 05:18 I said, Oh, that means history. He says, well, what does history mean? So nobody had ever asked me, what does history mean? What does the word mean? Very kind of a shocking idea. And in the course of our discussions and my trying to explain to him that history is the study of events in the past and of their relationships. And I began to realize that I didn’t have==I’m not sure I do even now, this is a long time ago—an answer to that question. But then in Tibet they didn’t have any concept of history at all. This is a, an ancient and quite wonderful civilization that had no concept of history. They had animals. What happened today? What happened in the spring, what happened in the fall, lists of events. They had, biographies which simply told when great Lamas or other people are born and what they did their lives and they died—sort of chronicles of people’s lives, but they had nothing—history.
Mike 06:20 They had no sustained narrative that put the past together in some significant or meaningful way for the reader, for the present. Uh, I think that’s, um, that’s very, very important to keep in mind. Another, not so much a story, but another point I would make in this regard, adding to the big question mark, is that today there’s a huge discussion going on all around the country about the role of the humanities, uh, in the university. In fact, the role of the humanities in general, by and large, we, um, are moving more and more, particularly at the elite institutions like one on the West coast that I seem to remember the name of, um, in the direction of, of, uh, technology and, uh, skills rather than of knowledge and wisdom. So, uh, we teach computer science and we teach English, we teach math. We seem to go do those things reasonably well, but the students are not enrolling so much in courses, in history or literature and so forth.
Mike 07:36 And I’ve been saying for some years now that the reason is that the humanities have failed to define what their role ought to be in the 21st century, which I think is true. But the more I think about it, the more I began to realize that I also until now haven’t had a very clear way of talking about that and I, and that’s what I’d like to try to do today to some extent. So let me, let me start out by saying that I think, in a way, history doesn’t exist. That is the say the, the kind of history—that we assume a reality in the past that is given, definite, that we can approach in a scientific way… one of the things like the historians like to do is to teach students how to do history. Usually what that means is how to verify historical documents, how to authenticate historical documents, uh, or how to identify or rather how to determine which of varying narratives out of the past, one person says A and another person says B about the same thing and how do you determine which one is more accurate?
Mike 09:05 So how do you determine accuracy? And those are methodological questions, but they’re not conceptual questions in my mind, in my opinion. They don’t help me understand which meaning, or how to create meaning. They rather tell me how to identify a fact. So in the long run, yeah, if I pursue that kind of thought, it is in a very gross way equivalent to determining, uh, what species of butterfly this butterfly belongs to or that butterfly or how do I determine it’s a butterfly and not a moth? Right. And that’s a very different way of thinking. That’s a way of trying to make history into something of a science. And perhaps that’s betraying history itself. So in my opinion, there is another—one other point. There’s a statement we like to make, that every generation rewrites history in its own image. What we usually mean by that is that the experience of my generation is going to be different from the experience of my grandchildren’s generation. So if they come to write history, they will write history perhaps about the same subject that I have written history about. But they’ll write it from the point of view of their experience rather than mine. And I also now have questions about the validity of that experiment.
Mike 10:28 So as I’ve been rethinking this, I had been thinking that in the history of history, history didn’t always exist. We like to say for example, that the first Western historian is Thucydides, but then you go back to ancient Greece and when you read Thucydides and when people begin to talk about the text of Thucydides, sometimes people will say, well, it wasn’t really history. It was more journalism. That makes a very interesting distinction. What Thucydides is doing is he’s reporting on events that he’s witnessed or heard about. He’s not really interpreting them. We interpret them by reading his—what today we would call journalistic reportage—but the creation of history then becomes ours, not his, he’s not an historian. He is a journalist, albeit a very literate one and a very, very wonderful observer. History as we understand that history as the interpretation of the past, I think really doesn’t come into existence until the Renaissance, until about the time…
Mike 11:44 And, and this of course, is the key to my argument—until about the time that capitalism begins to develop. Now, in the West in earlier days, before man became the center of all things, which is one of the ways in which we, a, kind of a, tag line with which we identify the beginnings of the Enlightenment or the Renaissance, not the Enlightenment, the Renaissance that changed from what we used to call the dark ages to the Renaissance where man becomes the measure of all things. Until that time, the Western world was God-centered, right? And being God-centered, the only reality, therefore, ultimately being God. And God has no history. There are books with a museum, titles like the biography of God, but in fact, God has no history. There are stories about God, so that for example, the old Testament has stories about God. But then God almost disappears in some ways from the old Testament. And it becomes stories about the people who write those stories. Similarly in the new Testament, um, it’s Jesus Christ, not God, it’s Jesus Christ who is the center of attention. And I think that’s very significant because he stands in for God and standing in for God. Jesus Christ is born lives and dies theoretically. Therefore, you can have a biography of him. It’s not still the same thing as history, but you can have a biography of him and it’s up to the theologians and everyone else to interpret it. But that’s, that’s a kind of artifact of incidents rather than interpretive history as we understand it. Interpretive history really only begins when God is no longer the center of our universe. And, and human beings, mankind, as we used to say, uh, becomes… so that, so the writing of history becomes an activity, as we understand it, really with the beginnings of the Renaissance and this recentering of our attention from God to man.
Mike 14:04 You know, what’s important if we say that history is a story that begins to be told with capitalism, is that it is going to serve the purposes of capitalism. And I think this is very important for us to understand. We don’t think enough about this. The history that we teach in our schools, uh, what we do as historians in the universities or wherever we practice our craft is very much an activity without much reflection on our part that is designed to—I don’t say we design it—it’s designed to support the established view of the world, the established interpretation of the past that in turn legitimates, supports, explains to us our present, but the present that it explains takes historical existence through the writing of history about the past. And that’s a very important point for us to carry in mind. Now, let me tell another story to illustrate where I’m going next.
Mike 15:21 Many years ago when I was a student in a, what used to be called a socialist country, um, and I was studying Chinese history. And I had to give a, as a graduate student, I had to give a report in the department—to lecture about my graduate work. Uh, and I had, um, I was the first American in that, to appear in that situation, in that department. And I really worked at it. And I explained what my thesis was about and so forth and so on and lectured for an hour and at the end of which the chairman of the department says, Well, that’s very interesting, but you forgot the most important fact of all. How could you do that? I said, I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand what you’re talking about. He said, you forgot to talk about the great Soviet revolution in 1917 and its impact on your subject. Now, given the fact that my subject was the history of Russian-Chinese relations down to 1728 and that the Soviet revolution happened in 1917 any relatively reasonable person would not have, sort of, reached far into the future to—to make that factor, the study of revolution…
Mike 16:52 …a key point in my history. Right? But nonetheless, the point was being made. You cannot, you could not in those days, you could not in those days, think of writing history if you didn’t start with the fact of the Soviet Revolution, which in their way of thinking was the crucial moment in all of history of mankind. Literally! If you go back and read the books of history that are written during the Soviet period, you find that they often begin in the preface with references to Marx and Engels and Lenin and Stalin, uh, regardless of what they’re writing about, right. Regardless of what they’re writing about. Because that’s that fact, so-called, that fact gave the legitimacy to their view of the world, which was what the writing of history for them was all about! And I was being heretical.
Greg 17:44 So meaning you, you couldn’t properly study the period you had your eyes on without coming from the perspective of what the revolution is.
Mike 17:53 That’s right. Yeah. So I, what I should have done, properly speaking, is started with the revolution and said, now how does this influence the 18th century, which is a very nice idea if you want to read history backwards, but it didn’t really work… Well we in the West, I think even now unconsciously because we don’t reflect on it from this point of view, we think of history very much as if it existed out there. It doesn’t. And I would like—it is a construct and it’s very much a construct of what to use the terminology that some of us use all too easily—a construct of the bourgeois capitalist mind, so let me illustrate what I mean by that. One of the things that the historians ought to be debating—in America, we tend not to—there was there were periods in the history of writing history in France where these subjects were very much debated where they’re not so much in America.
Mike 18:54 One of the questions is, for example, what is an event? So this is not an easy question to answer. Is the assassination of the president of United States an event? Was the assassination of John Kennedy for example in 1963 was that an event? Most of us would agree that that was an event. It’s more or less easily defined as an event because it has a beginning and an end. You can tell the story succinctly. Was the American Revolution an event—? Now notice that the American Revolution lasted several years. The fact that it lasted several years, if we want to call it an event, makes it a very different kind of event than the event that lasted an hour. Let’s say the assassination of Kennedy and his and his… tragic death. Is the industrial revolution an event, that’s it. That’s a process that lasted… in many ways… we’re still in the middle of it, right?
Mike 20:03 Is that an event? So if, if identifying events is important for the study of history, then we need to understand what an event is. And there’s a whole debate, I’m not going to go into that now, but there’s a whole debate that we ought to be constructing about that issue. Why? Because an event is like a butterfly or a rock or a tree. If I’m studying nature and I’m studying a tree, so if I study the oak tree that’s outside my window, am I studying it as a unique object? Do I study it as representative of all the oak trees in the neighborhood or of all oak trees in the world? So my definition of an event determines what it is I’m studying and how representative the thing I’m studying is of other parts of other members of the same species. Right? I might study the oak tree as representative of trees, which would be very different from studying it as a representative of oak trees.
Mike 21:07 These are issues historians need to begin thinking about. I think we avoid them in the, in the bourgeois world, because they raise issues that are, um, would undermine the security we have from defining history of the way we do. I would say the same thing is true of process. Um, is a process, a short-lived or long-range thing is, is… we could say the industrial revolution is a process. Um, we could also say that a trial is a process. That’s the word we often use to describe it. A legal trial. If I’m writing legal history, we could talk about judicial processes. All of these are different things that we categorize in such a way that we identify objects as if they were somewhat natural objects and then begin to study them. So I began thinking to myself, if I’m a democratic socialist, what is history?
Mike 22:10 How would I define history from the point of view of a democratic socialist, of the theory of democratic socialism, which is one of the things we’re going to be exploring and even creating, perhaps. The first point I would make is that socialism is not a response to capitalism. Now, it’s very common—I’ve given lectures myself saying this and there I was wrong—that, uh, along comes capitalism and capitalism does rather unpleasant things to human life at the beginning, right? You know, the, the poor peasants who may have lived brutish lives in the villages, but at least they could grow food, um, when there wasn’t famine, uh… then all of a sudden come into cities as workers and they are isolated and they go, they, they become anonymous. They become machines themselves. Uh, there’s a lot of history which discusses the decline of the changes in the daily life, in the lived experience of people when they move to cities from the countryside.
Mike 23:19 Socialism doesn’t arise as a response to problems with capitalism. Socialism arises as a response—and historically, this is correct; in other words, if I’m, if I’m a social democrat or a democratic socialist and I’m looking to describe history from my perspective rather than the capitalist perspective—I find that socialism arises at the same time as capitalism and socialist thinking of one sort or another arises at the same time as capitalist thinking of one sort of another, not as a response to capitalism, but as a response to the profound changes taking place, in our case in Western European human society, at a certain point in time. Capitalism was not written indelibly into the future of the middle ages. The decline of the middle ages takes place and there are many responses to it. One is the rise of capitalism and one is also the rise of socialism, if I understand socialism to be the search for reasonable alternatives to capitalism, and indeed that turns out to be the case.
Mike 24:31 When I began to look at the data that is to say how I look at it—at events. However you want to describe events. I find the events that can be classified as belonging to the species socialism just as well as I find them belonging to the species of capitalism occurring at the same time so that you begin to get the uh, the very, very strong, um, development of early industrial capitalism in England. And at the same time you begin to get social experimentation. Some people didn’t like what they were seeing, so they go on, they start trying to deal with socialist colonies. They try to establish other ways of thinking or they begin to write novels or poetry, which are saying, wait a minute. We can think differently than we’re thinking. So already, if I began to look at history from this perspective, I’ve begun to—and we’ll, we’ll explore this further as time goes on.
Mike 25:33 I’ve begun to see that the history of socialism is not a response to capitalism, but a response to something else that runs alongside capitalism. If that’s the case, I still then have to ask what in the democratic socialist view of history is an event, uh, what are the turning points? What are the significant moments? How does my living and working in a bourgeois capitalist culture influence the way I look at the culture which has developed alongside, although been somewhat suppressed, of democratic socialism. So I can look at certain experiments and say, Oh, look, well, let me, let me start that sentence again.
Mike 26:25 Today in the post-Cold War period and after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, uh, we look at the history of socialism unquote not quite knowing what that means. Many people want to believe that socialism means everything that runs, uh, the labor party in England to the Communists in the Soviet Union from, uh, a relatively genteel elite university-based attempt to reform society to the brutal dictatorship that Stalin created in the Soviet Union, or Lenin. We include these two phenomena and everything in between in one category because bourgeois history, and I’m going to argue for political purposes, bourgeois history, to preserve the idea of capitalism as a natural human development, has to say that all these other forms of experience are alien to it. Look what happened. There’s just—they don’t work. And I think that’s a very interesting expression which we’ll come back to from the socialist point of view, from the democratic socialist point of view, I can look at capitalist history and I can say, well wait a minute. If I look at capitalism just in modern history, they’d say and look at the great depression and I look at the various recessions in the crisis of 2008—capitalism doesn’t work, right? So it all depends on what position you’re taking, which stream of thought you stand in. Right. And I think consciousness of that question is crucial to developing a coherent creative position on the left these days. So.
Greg 28:22 So can I, I have clarifying questions then. Um, so you used the term construct. Is construct similar to the fact of interpretation? So, in other words, if we think of the rise of capitalism and it’s purely, um, factual depiction, you might say. So in industrial—things were happening that are, we can put more in the category of fact, there were changes underway. But you’re saying that to have a history about those changes, you have to have a lens of interpretation, um, right in the mix of the facts themselves so that when you look at key facts of the industrial revolution from a capitalist perspective, it gets constructed in a certain way. Whereas if you did it from a democratic socialist perspective, it gets constructed.
Mike 29:20 Yeah, I’ll, let me, let me, um, I, that’s a really good question. Let me, try and answer that this way. Let’s suppose that I am going to write about the early days of capitalism, uh, starting let’s say in Florence in the 15th century, for example, which we often cite as sort of the place where capitalism first becomes recognizable. Uh, I might ask how did capitalism arise? What are the, what are the processes that we identify, uh, that allow us to speak of the rise of capitalism? And the development of capitalism.
Mike 30:13 Now this is a really very important question to ask because the primary element in any discussion of capitalism has to be the market. Not the marketplace, but the market and—because marketplace has always existed, people always gathered and exchange goods, but the market that, that self-governing (or so we want to think) mechanism that Adam Smith identifies as being the, um, the key of capitalism. So we can start out by saying, well, how does that happen? That’s one set of questions that assumes that the market had to develop the way it did that the, that historical conditions meant that that wasn’t the necessary conclusion to whatever processes are going before. If I’m a socialist looking at that history, I might ask an additional question. Why did capitalism develop the way it did? What were the various forces that led capitalism to develop that way and not another way or led the choice for the solution of the problems raised by the end of the middle ages to go in the direction of capitalism instead of some other systems, right?
Mike 31:41 Either of those are a construct I impose upon the, the debris left in the past. But when I look at history, I see debris. There’s a stone here in a tree there and a piece of paper over there. And I’ve got to weave it all together in some kind of narrative. That narrative today is often a statistical narrative, but it’s still… We want to weave together some kind of narrative. That narrative is the construct that I impose upon all this flotsam and jetsam, right? In order to make a coherent story out of it. So if I take my narrative as the bourgeois narrative, that’s the structure of it, and I impose it on the past, I get one construct. If I take my narrative from the socialist narrative and impose it on the same material, I will get another construct out of it, right?
Mike 32:34 So, um, I may take a kind of sloganeering approach to this. I may look at the Russian revolution or the Chinese revolution, and I may see it as an attempt to establish a dictatorship. Or I may see it as an attempt to liberate the society from whatever was going on before, right? The way I define it, even the words I use are very significant in the determination of what kind of construct, of narrative I place on the… I think that’s something we have to think about very, very consciously. I, I’ll tell you another story. I used to teach a course at another university when I would give the students—it was a seminar—and I would give the students, uh, the assignment of reading all the works of a given historian. Everyone had to read a different historian, uh, and we’d all—they’d have historians works that they could find—and write an essay about what were the philosophical assumptions that underlay the books and articles that that person had written.
Mike 33:48 And then we sent those essays to the authors and asked for their response. And one of the most fascinating things was how many of the historians, having read my students’ essays about them were surprised to find out that indeed, that’s what they believe. They were surprised that underlying their works, there were sets of assumptions that they had not thought about. For them, they were givens, and it was a little bit of a surprise for them to see that in fact there was a level of thinking that they just were unaware of that had fashioned the way they do history. So let’s take history as a whole. As a good capitalist, I may look at history and say, it’s great. Help me explain the present. I’ve got to really understand the past so I know how we got here today.
Mike 34:40 That’s a good bourgeois—and it’s a perfectly valid approach. If I’m a socialist, I may say I’m going to look at history as a body of experimentation. It’s a tool box and I can study history to find the tools I need to solve problems of the day. There’s a radically different perspective so I can say, well, I want to look into the past and I can see all these things as experiments, why they worked, why they didn’t work, so I can make more intelligent policy to find solutions to problems today. That’s a different perspective on history. And I think it’s very radical to think about that, right? History as narrative or history as toolbox. Right.
Greg 35:27 Though it seems like you’re also saying, or I find myself thinking about, um… there is a certain, um, you could just value flexibility about the assumptions one makes about the past. So in other words, you’re, you can either pit the capitalist view, the capitalist constructs against the democratic socialists construct, but you’re also, I think saying that the democrat, the spirit of the democratic socialist approach is to be, to entertain more, um, the possibilities of how you think about the past. Is that, does that make sense?
Mike 36:09 I can look at, I can look at, let me take a very large and gross event. Uh, the Soviet
Union. Yeah. Beginning with the Russian Revolution and beginning with its, with the fall and ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Union. I can look at it and I say, here is a story. The meaning of that story, as a bourgeois historian, the meaning of that story is how oppressive regimes become oppressive. The—how communism is oppressive, the victory of liberal democratic thought over communism.
Greg 36:52 How that experiment failed.
Mike 36:55 It was well, well it, it failed historically once and for all. As a socialist historian, I can come along and I can say that experiment ended up pretty bad, right? But I can study it as an experiment and see why it went wrong so that I can draw lessons not to repeat the same errors. Right. So the bourgeois historian says you can’t repeat the past, the socialist story and says, no, you may not repeat the past, but it can serve as a toolbox for making contemporary policy. I think those are two different perspectives.
Greg 37:30 Yeah, I agree. I still think there’s like a third element here, which is just, cause I’m also thinking about education in the humanities generally, that one thing one learns in the humanities is to, to appreciate the different lenses themselves, the ability to reframe things. So, in other words, if you just see it as a capitalist construct versus democratic socialist construct, then it’s really just pitting the values against each other versus allowing history to show you things you might not expect. So capitalism goes in knowing what it wants to find. But democratic socialism could also be prejudiced in that way.
Mike 38:15 I agree. My point really is that of course, there’s no other way. In other words, whatever point, whatever perspective I take in the present to look at the past, I’m prejudiced. That’s the whole point of it. The excitement of the study of history from my perspective is understanding that fact.
Greg 38:34 So the one other way potentially is the experiment you did with your students, that there is, that there are, you can see that it’s, it’s possible to construe history differently.
Mike 38:46 Each historian will fall within one camp or another. So I think there is a—there, by the way, there’s also a fascist approach, which would be another possible—
Greg 38:55 And a Christian one for—
Mike 38:59 Absolutely. So I think there are always things, you know… let me give you a, uh, an example because we have to always fight on more than one front. Right now there are a lot of books coming out about what’s wrong with capitalism. But what’s wrong, what’s wrong with liberal democracy? We have a, an incredible number of books being published almost on a daily basis about the present crisis, partly brought about by the failure of the economy to really solve fundamental structural problems. Partly because of the present political situation in which we find ourselves. Almost all of these books, not all, but almost all of these books are trying to find solutions to the problems of liberal democracy.
Mike 39:51 Now, I’m going to open up a can of worms for the future here, but I want to say this anyway. I would come along with my other hat and I would say, I want to find out why this isn’t working so that in the creation of a new society, we avoid the issues that the liberal democracy, I can’t save liberal democracy. I’ve got to find democratic socialism as a way to, so I’m looking at history from a different point of view. On the other hand, we also have to fight contemporary injustice. So you get a lot of books about the history of slavery or the history of race prejudice today, for example, all of which help us to think about specific issues created by the society in which we live. But don’t always talk about restructuring this society. They talk about problem solving. So it, to me, it’s not surprising that liberal historians would tend to look toward problem solving and then that way, they are of the same mindset as our scientists, right? Whereas the, okay, the, in my opinion, the democratic socialist historian is trying to understand structures and how to change them fundamentally. Right? So, um, next time we talk, I want to talk perhaps about the history of economics as an example of what, of what this is. But we assume, for example, that the economy is, is, is, is a central factor. We just assume it and a lot of our discussion, it comes back to economic questions, right? But that may be a liberal democratic view and not necessarily a democratic socialist point of view. And I would like to explore that maybe next time. I think that we always can find new things out there, but we, but to find new what the French would call mentalité, new mental structures. Is a little bit different… I think that’s what I’m trying to say, that democratic socialism must be thought of as a different mental structure from liberal democracy.
Greg 42:07 But one that you could, so we could, for example, just articulate what some of those basic values are for the democratic socialists.
Mike 42:15 For example, let me, I’ll steal a march on the, um, on the, uh, on the, on, uh, one of our next discussions about the, on economics in this regard. Um, in liberal democracy, we assume that the, the market, the free market, we—first of all, we described the free market as a given and natural given. By the way we think of it as, as a force of nature. Uh, we also and here’s the history of liberal democracy. The liberal democratic view is a very narrow historical one rather than a scientific one. We also describe, uh, a relationship between the free market and democracy. We’re—we make it, it’s almost axiomatic and everybody’s thinking that the market, the free market is, is…without the free market, you can’t have democracy, right? And the right wing makes it very absolute. And the, and the progressives or liberals within the bourgeois world say yes, but we can account for some of the, we can take care of some of the injustices that the market produces by having, um, a minimum wage or by having, notice minimum wage, right?
Mike 43:37 We don’t talk about maximum wage, we’re talking about minimum wage or we can have a guaranteed handout to everybody so that nobody will really start, right? That kind of thing. But we preserve the market. The democratic socialists will come along and say, the issue is the distribution of wealth in this society and it, and what we need to think about is how to distribute wealth in a more equitable fashion. One of those means may be the market, but there are other means as well. And it is only the judicious combination of a variety of instruments that will accomplish that purpose, right? The market may be useful in some ways, but not other ways. And that’s a radically different view of the market than we take. It will say that democracy does not depend upon the market, but it depends upon the culture, let’s say, yeah, pull on, on, on civic culture, not the market. You could have democracy without the market. You certainly have many cultures in many societies where you have the market without democracy, right? Yeah. So splitting, just, the democratic socialist splits apart those two things, which the bourgeois says are necessary for each other.
Greg 44:52 Right. So when, so when the right slams socialism or uses that term, uh, negatively do—they’re talking about the market, right? Is that what they mean? When like don’t, don’t let America become socialists
Mike 45:09 They’re primarily talking about the market, yes.
Greg 45:13 And, and ignoring, um, the democracy part of the—
Mike 45:18 And ignoring the inequality that comes about from their free market. Right. And these are very important. And one of the biggest questions, there’s a wonderful new book out which has gotten this occasion—some discussion of late, called The Economists’ Hour. And one of the points of the book makes is that there has been a choice that had to be made from time to time between economic, um, measures that would keep inflation down and economic measures that would raise employment and hopefully lower inequality. And what capitalism has failed to do is find a way of accomplishing both things at the same time. And one of the biggest debates that has gone on historically among economists—and we’ll look at this more in detail at a later point. Uh, one of the greatest debates that this has led to is, which takes primacy, which is more important. But of course from the democratic socialist point of view, there’s only one, there is a priority and it’s a very clear priority. And we have to fashion our economic institutions and our economic policies in such a way as to maximize what we want to achieve in terms of our priorities, which would be, in my opinion, justice. For a more equal distribution of goods, services and so forth. Uh, if that’s the case, then I look back in the toolbox of history and I say this worked and this didn’t work to achieve that objective. Right. And the argument about which should we be doing doesn’t appear to be very important. That’s what I mean by…
Greg 47:04 Yeah. Okay, great. So it’s, and it sounds like we’ve set ourselves up for the next one to be about economics.
Mike 47:10 And also about different, different historical theories. Yes.
Greg 47:14 Okay. So you know where we’re headed.
Mike 47:18 Yeah. [chuckles] No I don’t, I don’t know where we’re headed.
Greg 47:21 Well, we always reserve the right to—
Mike 47:22 We always reserve the right to decide, even in the course of talking…
Greg 47:26 Right. Um, but I think that concludes today, right? Does that feel right to you for 45 minutes or so? All right. Thanks for joining us everybody on A Shareable World. Goodbye big Mike. See you next time. [Outro] Thanks for listening to another episode of A Shareable World. To find out more about this podcast, visit email@example.com.