Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Actually Existing Communism

with 5 comments

We already know that nations aren’t anything like families, because nations are immortal, can set their own wages by fiat, and have access to an effectively infinite line of credit at near-zero interest rates—but Steamboats Are Ruining Everything has yet another reason that this metaphor should be permanently retired.

Most people make a natural comparison between a nation’s budget and a family’s. If a family is sliding into debt, the only remedies are to earn more and spend less. But a nation’s economy is not at all like a family’s. For one thing, within most families, communism prevails: the rule governing money is, From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. For better or worse, this doesn’t happen to be the rule governing money in America at large. Also, within most families, money is not exchanged for labor. In a pedagogical, largely symbolic way, Jimmy may be given $2 a week in exchange for taking out the garbage. But the person who cooks and cleans does not clock his hours; the children do not buy their dinners. The exchange of labor and goods within a family is for the most part unmeasured and invisible, and it makes more sense to understand a family as a group of people functioning a single economic agent. If the sort of thing that brings a family from debt to prosperity also helps a nation, it’s logical coincidence. Family and nation are so unlike each other that there’s no reason to expect it to.

And another great observation from this excellent post:

The robots are here. By now they automate even much of our social lives. You might compare the political challenge they represent to what’s known as the “resource curse”—the infamous difficulty that oil-rich nations have in preserving democracy while sharing the oil’s proceeds. Do we want to be Norway or Saudi Arabia? The choice seems to be between democratic socialism and tyranny. I know my understanding will strike many as implausible, if not unspeakable: I’m saying that the country is suffering economically because it doesn’t know what to do with all its surplus wealth.

Written by gerrycanavan

July 31, 2011 at 2:48 pm

5 Responses

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  1. You know what’s *also* a socialist utopia? The military. They pay for whatever you need, live is defined by a collective ethos of discipline and duty, and all you have to do is dedicate your life to The Cause.


    July 31, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    • That’s one of my favorite comparisons. Don’t forget lifelong free health care!


      July 31, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      • A friend of mine was on a military base for her research, and she told me that it was eerily like walking around in parts of Cuba, down to the rhetoric in the posters (“fight venereal disease for America!” kind of stuff).


        July 31, 2011 at 3:34 pm

  2. this is a pretty enlightened family. aren’t most better described as more-or-less-benevolent patriarchy? the kids (and often the wife) don’t own the family resources.

    and the military is fascist, not socialist. this is like the fox news critique of fox news!


    July 31, 2011 at 3:34 pm

  3. i guess you could call the military authoritarian socialist. but still!


    July 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm

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