Allying with the Right

You cannot avoid being allied with right wingers. It is just a matter of who and when. The people we describe as pseudo-left are in alliance with Pat Buchanan, The Cato Institute and The Independent Institute in opposing the US liberation of Iraq. On that matter we side with Bush and the neo-cons. We have written a lot on the question both here and at our parent site. We see it as a switch in US foreign policy from supporting “stability” in the region to supporting democracy and “draining the swamp” in which all sorts of creepy things fester.

Many pseudos in the US would side with Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter on trade protection. We would ally with Cato and support free trade. Both we and the pseudos would side with The Cato and The Independent Institutes on a range of civil liberties issues and on ending the embargo on Cuba.

But we must ‘fess up. We are doing more than our share of fraternizing and endorsing.

We have been taking the same side against the greens whose “anti-capitaliism” is just a reactionary attack on modern industry and human development. A lot of right wing groups have maintained a steady flow of material exposing the greens’ political chicanery and junk science.

In developing countries we support “neoliberalism” or liberal capitalism as a necessary advance on the stagnation brought by feudalism, crony capitalism and bogus socialism. In backward countries, socialism if it is not bogus from the start will end up that way. We would see ourselves pretty much allied with the likes of development economist, Deepak Lal, the new president of the Mont Pelerin Society. Also see the section on Sub-Saharan Africa in my book Bright Future .

While we have not written anything on the subject so far, we cetainly endorse the right’s opposition to the erosion of liberal democracy in Venezuela and and its total absence in Cuba.

The right (or at least some of it) appears more open to civil exchanges of views than the greens and pseudo-lefts. The latter can always prove me wrong. They seem, however, more likely to hold the feudal view that bad ideas need to be suppressed because of the evil they can do. The modern, enlightened ideas is that correct ideas can only emerge through fierce contention with wrong ones and anyway no person nor group can be trusted to decide who is right or wrong.

Where we of course have no allies on the right is in the view that capitalism in the advanced countries is now a fetter on human development. As I argue elsewhere, we are now ready for social ownership and that a lot of the problems that the right correctly refer to as government failure are endogenous to a system based on market relations and not some external imposition of which they can wash their hands and even call “socialist”.

57 Responses to “Allying with the Right”

  1. 1 Arthur

    neo-liberalism can be an advance on crony capitalism et al without being a NECESSARY advance. there are other roads…

  2. 2 davidmc


    I just can’t see anything in backward countries that would do as well as simply letting the market rip, particularly small farmers and businesses. This does not rule our large infrastructure projects involving the government and aid agencies or community and non-profit activity in areas such as education.

  3. 3 keza

    The Maoist government in Nepal may be showing another path.   I’m not sure how it would be classified, but it’s not neo-liberal, and so far doesn’t look anything like the “socialism” (state capitalism) of places like Venezuela.  They are trying to institute something that Prachanda calls “Public-Private Partnership (PPT). Here’s a short piece about it:

    “Kathmandu, Oct 23 (ANI): Nepal Prime Minister Prachanda inaugurated the National symposium on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) here on Wednesday.

    Addressing the opening ceremony of the symposium, Prachanda said the model of PPP is the best alternative for the development of Nepal. We not only need peace but also an economic development to sustain that peace.
    The PPP was required to build big projects so that local people can themselves emulate the model in building small and medium size development projects, he added.

    Prachanda also called for change in the mindset and culture in line with the political change in the country.

    President of Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) Kush Kumar Joshi urged the government to have conceptual clarity about the PPP.

    The main aim of the symposium which has been jointly organised by the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI), the Ministry of Local Development and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is to promote private sector’’s investment in economic development.

    There will be group discussion on the issue of public-private partnership for rapid economic development in Nepal at the conference.
    Organisers said the symposium will mainly focus on the possibilities of public and private partnerships in six areas of interest that includes tourism, local development, education, health sectors, agriculture and infrastructure development.

    Apart from politicians, businessmen and intellectuals from Nepal, representatives from India and Thailand also shared PPP experiences at the symposium, Nepalnews reported. (ANI)”

    National Symposium on Public-Private Partnership Kicks off in Kathmandu

  4. 4 John Greenfield

    I don’t think the whole “neoliberal” riff (spare us all from ‘narrative’) is particularly helpful UNLESS it is used to highlight why it arose, and what it replaced, and what can be learnt from the failures of that that was replaced.

  5. 5 John Humphreys

    As long as you get to the end-state voluntarily, then you’re a libertarian.If you want to get there through force, your system won’t work.I’m sometimes tempted to call myself a communist because I like their end-state. I just can’t accept that it could (or should) be done through force. So I call myself a libertarian instead.The important thing about ownership is that it’s voluntarily exchanged, not coercively exchange. If a society called “social” ends up voluntarily aquiring everything then great. If not, then great.

  6. 6 Adrien

    “As I argue elsewhere, we are now ready for social ownership.”

    No we’re not. How does it work? Who will manage it? How will you convince everyone to give up private ownership? In these times in which owning stuff approaches religion.The hubris about late Capitalism is way too early. 2008 is the first year in history that urbanized persons outnumber rural ones. Urbanization is a major indicator of capitalist development. Much of the world still think in terms of superstitious nonsense. And us ‘modern’ people still haven;t managed to get around instinctive tribalism and selfishness to the point where social ownership could be effected without coercion.And then there’s the problem of incentives.

  7. 7 John Greenfield

    The one HUGE unbridgeable gap between marxists and libertarians is private property rights. For libertarians, they are the holy grail transcending even the second coming. For the marxists, they are the vampie Lestat, but a necessary vampire to be embraced and harnessed while they’re busy making other plans.

  8. 8 Adrien

    Thing is, according to the plan, the proletariat has to realize a certain consciousness of itself as a class prior to all other basis of identity. To do this would require some kind of future world where labour moves freely as a matter of course throughout the world and where allegiance to place or ethnicity have withered to insignificance..We’re a long way off from there.

    Assuming that’s where we’ll end up.  I’d argue a more reliable scenario would be one in which the economy is so productive that goods and services become almost free.  And technology advances to the stage where shit-work is done by machines..This begs the question what happens to the people who aren’t capable of much better than shit-work. The classical Marxist point of view is that there are no such people. There are just people who the system keeps from fulfilling their potential.

  9. 9 John Humphreys

    JohnG — it’s not just about “private” ownership. Indeed, I think the more fundamental point is about how ownership is transferred. 

    First, it needs to be understood that ownership always exists in any political system as long as an asset is effectively finite. There is no option of “no ownership” once the meaning of ownership is properly understood. Then it needs to be understood that ownership can only be transfered voluntarily or involuntarily.

    These two options are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. As a libertarian, I prefer voluntary. If any group of people wanted to get together and voluntarily acquire property and assets, and then institute the sort of system that marxists want then that would be perfectly fine in a libertarian world. If their system really was significantly more efficient and made people happier, then somebody will surely do it voluntarily and it would become hugely popular. Maybe I’ll join. Hell — maybe I’ll help start it. But I don’t accept that you should do it violently and then just hope it works. The truth has nothing to fear from peaceful voluntary freedom.

  10. 10 Dave Bath

    As a self-styled leftie (though ClubTroppo calls me centrist), I wrote some time back on the alliances across both religious and economic divides (2007-05-08 Unrecognized Allies), arguing that the real divide is between “sophisticates” and “barbarians”: if your motives are good, and you think enough, I don’t care whether you are a capitalist or a socialist – we have common cause.

    Free-market-loving “The Economist” and Harvard Business School are interested in fair distribution of resources, as are we lefties.  It’s worth noting that HBS profs defended Michael More’s attack on the US “health” system, and “The Economist” has given an “ooops, we hate saying this, but Castro was ahead of his time on sustainability” and “we hate saying this, but nationalizing Northern Rock Bank is the least worst option”.

    Me, personally?  Social ownership of everything needed to provide a civilized life… But if anyone wants non-essentials like sports cars, diamonds, let the capitalist system provide the goods and empty their pockets (as long as there is no tragedy of the commons allocating those resources).

    In the long run, I think civilized society necessarily moves to social ownership and responsibility… but in the meantime, I agree with you about fraternizing, issue by issue, stance by stance.

    Well written davidmc!

  11. 11 jc

    good site and some good ideas even if I don’t agree with some of them.<i>We have been taking the same side against the greens whose “anti-capitaliism” is just a reactionary attack on modern industry and human development. A lot of right wing groups have maintained a steady flow of material exposing the greens’ political chicanery and junk science.</i>exactly, this is the ” left” that i truly despise. good work.

  12. 12 Mark Hill

    Well I disagree with Dave. If you want that, the most important lesson from general equilibrium theory is to let the market provide, and have the State redistribute. Don’t have state owned production (which I thought Marxists ultimately want to move past) but have flat taxes and lump sum rediustribution.

    Sorry to be a smart arse, but what is the point of being a Marxist? If Marx is right, then won’t the five stages of social evolution just happen?

    What do you guys think of the more robust criticisms of Marx like Okishio’s theorem? Basically Okishio, who was a Neo-Ricardian economist found some of Marx’s assumptions (pertaining to the reinvestment rate under capitalism, one of those “internal contradictions” ) to be mathematically impossible.

  13. 13 pedro

    It makes entire sense for people with common specific goals to work together if possible, even if their larger goals are opposite.It is an heroic assumption that people will work hard for the fun of it.  Let alone the other assumptions are prices without markets and economic calculation without profit and loss.

  14. 14 keza

    I posted the following comment at Catallaxy where there is currently a discussion related to this thread: Old style Marxists and neo liberalism. It’s not directly related to the economics of socialism, or to the question of allying with the right (upon which I’ll try to write something separate).

    Meanwhile, here’s my Catallaxy remark:


    The question you need to ask yourselves is “Is capitalism the end of history?”. Think about it.

    We Strange Times people see capitalism as like all previous systems: temporary. It’s paving a path to the future.

    We are in agreement with you about the benefits brought by capitalist productivity. It’s liberated humanity, providing us with material wealth and a range of freedoms, hardly even dreamed of in other eras. That process is still occurring. I think that currently about 60% of the world’s population has still not fully entered the capitalist era. In that sense the bourgeoisie has still not completed its “historic mission”.

    The only revolutions ever led by Communists have taken place in parts of the world where the bourgeoisie had failed to step up and perform its necessary task. The societies in which these occurred were semi-feudal, horrendously backward in all respects. Catapulting them into the future turned out to be impossible, although in each case development was initially speeded up considerably. We could have a huge debate about what happened in these places, but at the moment I think that would be largely a distraction. I only raise it because the defeat/failure of those revolutions is widely taken as a knock down argument against the possibility of socialism –> communism.

    What we need to consider is the future of modern people, living in places where liberal democracy is taken for granted, where personal freedom is highly regarded, in which mass education is the norm, a certain amount of initiative is required just in order to function (etc etc). What is the next step?

    I’m not a romantic with regard to “human nature”. My vision of socialism is not of a system in which depends on unleashing the “natural goodness” of human beings. Neither do I see socialism as a dreary society of self-sacrificing individuals (or more accurately a society ruled by the prigs [no thanks Clive]). People will always be motivated by wanting to increase their personal satisfaction and enjoyment of what life has to offer.

    However, modern people are increasingly able to experience intense satisfaction by committing themselves to projects in which material reward is not the major benefit. Historically, those who were driven by these more abstract rewards were a miniscule minority. Capitalism has changed that (and in the process undermined itself.

    As a Marxist, I could rabbit on about the deep contradiction between social production and private ownership of the means of production. Also about how this is actually a fetter on production. But I’ll leave that to one side for now.

    I also won’t address just how social ownership would work in practice. That’s partly due to my own laziness, partly to ignorance and partly because I really wanted to just ask the question “what do you guys think comes next?”.

    David Mc. talked a bit about how he thinks socialism would operate in a modern society on his ABC Perspective talk last night. There’s a link here. I was mostly in agreement, although I do have a bit of a problem with the idea of people scrutinizing each other to make sure that everyone is performing well enough.

    I think we need more discussion of the politics of socialism. A purely economic account can’t stand on its own.

  15. 15 davidmc

    Response to John Humphreys’ comments:

    A transition to social ownership would have to have massive support to work. However, I am not sure to what extent ownership transfers could be entirely voluntary. A lot or people may be happy with whatever compensation deal is reached but not everyone.

    Initially most transfers would be of shares rather than specific assets. Depending on the circumstances many people may feel happy with the deal.

    It would be a bit like a permanent strike. “We are not prepared to work for you anymore. The assets are no good to you without us. So to avoid any furhter unpleasantness please accept the compensation package.”

    There would still be some self-employment and small businesses if that is what is needed not to alienate quite a large number of service providers. If social ownership proves to be superior these would eventually disappear.

    Adrien said:

    “And technology advances to the stage where shit-work is done by machines..This begs the question what happens to the people who aren’t capable of much better than shit-work. The classical Marxist point of view is that there are no such people. There are just people who the system keeps from fulfilling their potential.”

    This is my take on that question from Bright Future.

    “There is some concern that as the average intellectual content of work increases, a large number of people with less natural ability will be left out in the cold with fewer and fewer jobs that they can perform. This is a rather pessimistic view when we look at what the great previously-unwashed have managed to achieve in recent times and what we can expect in the future. Education levels are a good indicator of the current general achievement. In developed countries school leavers who fail to finish high school are a shrinking minority. In the UK, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden the figures is less than 10 per cent while it is in the low teens in the US, France and Germany.[644] Just living in a modern industrial society seems to make people smarter as they are confronted by increasingly brain nourishing activities. A few examples will illustrate the point: applying for a job, buying a house, dealing with the healthcare industry; organizing your retirement; cutting through the retail hype to choose a new car, home entertainment system or air conditioner; renovating your house; organizing a holiday on the Internet; trying to figure out how a new electronic appliance works; playing video games; putting in a tax return and deciding who to vote for. Even routine jobs can be more demanding. For example, they generally require you to read and write, carry out a range of verbal interactions with other human beings and be able to use a whole range of machines and appliances without special training. IQ tests seem to confirm that people are getting smarter.[645] We can also expect improved performance in the future as a lot of the conditions that cause stunted development change for the better. These include lack of family support, peer pressure to be an idiot and an inadequate education system. We will also benefit from an increasing understanding of human development and what causes learning difficulties. And over the longer term we can expect to see artificial improvements through mind-enhancing drugs, genetic engineering (induced evolution) and brain link ups to computers.” (page 176)

  16. 16 Adrien

    David Mc – Okay. I don’t think you should expect to see such technological improvements to human intelligence. Just sayin’. It’s not like they won;t happen we just shouldn’t count on it. There may be limitations to what we can accomplish. There’s some polemic I seem to recall that cited evidence that the brain ‘cooks’ when ramped up too far.

    The other problem is that of course for the time being someone still has to clean the toilets. As said, it’d be great if machines did that but we shouldn’t expect that either.

    There’s also the possibility of Idiotopia, the scenario whereby dumb people reproduce more than smart people. As modern society tends to eliminate the high child mortality rates there is less of a ‘natural selection’ check on the population. People who don’t think about the consequences of child-rearing might be likely to rear more. I know this sound a trifle Social Darwinist but that’s not where I come from. We just have to face unpleasant facts. The Eloi and the Morlocks for example are not too far fetched.

  17. 17 davidmc

    Adrien, we already have self-cleaning public toilets. So not a good example.

    I cannot think of any physical task that won’t be done by a machine or computer within a few generations.

    I am not sure to what extent our natural intellectual aptitudes depend closely on those of our parents. Dumb parents can breed smart kids and vice versa.

  18. 18 Rocky O'Rourke

    Strange alright.Socialists who want a return to neoliberalism in Venezuela. Too bad you started your neo-liberalism fan site when the idea jumped the shark and the workers of the world are rejecting it.Where will they look for leadership?Not here.

  19. 19 keza

    Here are two comments from Adrian that I’d like to comment on:

    And technology advances to the stage where shit-work is done by machines..This begs the question what happens to the people who aren’t capable of much better than shit-work. The classical Marxist point of view is that there are no such people. There are just people who the system keeps from fulfilling their potential.”

    “There’s also the possibility of Idiotopia, the scenario whereby dumb people reproduce more than smart people. As modern society tends to eliminate the high child mortality rates there is less of a ‘natural selection’ check on the population. People who don’t think about the consequences of child-rearing might be likely to rear more. I know this sound a trifle Social Darwinist but that’s not where I come from. We just have to face unpleasant facts.”

    I think we can be fairly sure that intelligence is to an extent heritable.  I can’t  get into the debate about this in any detail here. Everybody who has looked at the literature would realise that there are many problems in estimating the degree of heritability. There’s nothing simple about it, and as DaveMc said above there are plenty of cases in which apparently dumb parents have produced bright children (and vice versa).

    I don’t believe in the “blank slate” theory (ie the idea that at birth everyone is pretty much the same).  People are all born different and we do inherit things from our parents.  Although I do think that human potential is severely unrealised under capitalism (despite doing *much* better than all previous systems), I don’t go along with the line that there are no innate differences.  And IMO, that should not be seen as “the classic Marxist view”.  It’s just naive environmentalism …. and something many people *want* to believe. 

    Nevertheless, one can reject such a naive view without embracing genetic determinism. The interaction between a child and his/ her environment is a dynamic one in which the child influences the environment and vice versa. Currently we are only just beginning to understand a bit about the complexities of all this.  But in my view, we will eventually know enough to engage in conscious environmental  manipulation designed at an individual level (I’m not talking “Big Brother” stuff here, just big changes in what’s available to parents and their kids).

    However we choose to educate our children in the future, it should not be a “one size fits all” system. I’m inclined to think that the heritable part of intelligence tends to become exaggerated over time. If a kid has initial problems learning something and has to struggle, he/she will fail to receive the very reinforcing “aha” experience .  This compounds the problem immediately and will tend to increase “dumbness”.  The solution  is to intervene early in children who have been identified as  slow information processors (or whatever we want to call it), in order to make sure that they receive enough  reinforcement to remain engaged as learners.  It’s pretty easy to identify such children, knowing how to intervene is the hard part. However there is quite a lot of current research happening in that area. 

    Quite apart from these sort of targeted environmental interventions, we will soon have the option of a range of smart drugs for augmenting intelligence. None of this will make people “all the same” in intelligence (or in other ways, thank goodness).   People who are “born smarter” will obviously also want the benefits from any treatments available for those at the lower end of the intelligence  scale. 

    Nevertheless we’ll be able to “lift the bottom” as well as raise the top. For this reason,  I don’t think we need worry too much about having a large section of the population which is capable of only shit work.

    It can still be argued of course that if “dumb people” breed more than “smart people”,  then we’d be faced with a disproportinate number of people in the “less bright” category. However, I think that  if we are able to lift the bottom sufficiently, that problem would also disappear. Even if it’s now true that there is  a tendency for less bright people to jump more readily into parenthood without thinking about it, and/or because they don’t really have much else going on in their lives, we would only need a fairly moderate increase in the capacity (and opportunity) of those at the low end, in order to short circuit the process.

    In any case,  I don’t see that the problem of “the dummies” outbreeding “the smarties” is any sort of an argument in favour of capitalism and against socialism.  As far as I can see, under capitalism there are enormous problems related to incompetent people having children (and relying on State support to do it). 

    I don’t think that in a socialist system we’d pay people to have children.  We’d want to do away with the vast welfare State which is currently a necessary part of capitalism. 

  20. 20 keza

    And another thing.  We need to look into the “Flynn Effect” on intelligence.

    There’s a fair bit of controversy about it and I tried to follow it a bit in the past (trouble is that there is just *so* much stuff going on in this and related areas, that I haven’t been able to pursue any of it properly).

    I’ll plead guilty to wanting to believe that the Flynn Effect really does indicate that the intelligence of people in modern societies is increasing.

    Slightly off topic:  I’m wondering about the views of “Catallaxy people” (and others)   with regard to the replacement of the current form of State support for education with a voucher system.  I haven’t seriously investigated it, but it has some appeal and I’ve wondered whether it’s a reform that we could fight for (and win) in the foreseeable future.

    I’m inclined to think that that is the way we would want to go under socialism, anyway.

  21. 21 Rocky O'Rourke

    Newsflash! Venezuelan workers back pro-Chavez candidates in freely contested municipal elections:
    The LA Times: “Hugo Chavez’s candidates leading in Venezuela elections.”

    The Guardian of London: “Chavez party dominates in Venezuela regional elections.”

    CNN: “Chavez passes Venezuela election test.”
    Reuters: “Chavez wins 17 of 20 Venezuela state elections.”
    The Christian Science Monitor: “Venezuela vote emboldens Chávez.”

    Here’s the most interesting piece of data from Sunday’s elections in Venezuela:

    On Sunday, the Chávez coalition won 1.3 million more votes than it had been able to garner in the December 2007 referendum, and the opposition received 300,000 fewer votes than it had gained eleven months agoSource: NarcoNews.comYou use your website to attack Chavez but not a word in defence, or praise, of Evo Morales who has just routed an attempt at seccesion/a coup by the U.S backed old guard upper classes.”erosion of liberal democracy” in Venezuela.

    What about the erosion of liberal democracy in the Australia? No mention on your site of the fact workers can’t have a meeting on a building site any more without getting fined, losing your job, maybe even jailed. 

    But you would support the buidling commission’s war on the unions wouldn’t you as they only stop markets from functioning properly with rent seeking behaviour, you know organising for things like site allowanaces, RDOs and overtime rates.

    I’ll give you one thing, you’re not pseuds, you’re genuine right wingers.Up the workers!

  22. 22 Jason Soon

    Hi kez yes the libertarian right has always been enthusiastic about vouchers. we have talked about this before on our old blog which unfortunately I can’t quickly find a link to at the moment.  I think it is one of the more politically possible libertarian reforms, social democratic Sweden of all countries already has a voucher scheme,

  23. 23 Jason Soon
  24. 24 fatfingers

    But Sweden’s voucher scheme is quite socially democratised – schools can’t charge more than the voucher’s worth. Still, it’s better than nothing.

  25. 25 John Greenfield

    Jason, I question describing libertarianism as “right wing.” Right wing is statist as in fascism. The Nazi were right-wing socialists, while the Bolsheviks were left-wing socialists.That underpins my theory that WWII was basically a shit-fight between liberalism and socialism. The reason liberalism one was because the tow socialist factions – national and marxist – placed their own differences above uniting against the real enemy – Anglo-American liberalism.

  26. 26 Adrien

    David – Adrien, we already have self-cleaning public toilets. So not a good example.”

    I know they are a good example. Those self-cleaning toilets are a really dumb idea. They are clunky, energy expensive bits of shit that still need to be cleaned.  There are heaps of other examples of shitwork to.

  27. 27 Adrien

    Keza – I’m not a genetic determinist. You really should be a little more charitable with capitalism y’know.  Consider these sorts of conversations or the smart drugs of which you speak. Never had anything like that under the Caroligians or the Caesers. How do you stop dumb people outbreeding smart people?

  28. 28 pedro

    Kez, the flynn effect will be irrelevant unless the tendency is for a flattening of the bell curve.  Otherwise there will always be the relatively dumb.  The people I think are stupid might have seemed bright 100 years ago in terms of relative knowledge.

  29. 29 Rocky O'Rourke

    Mean Scores in OECD PISA 2006 survey of science proficiency amomg 15 year old students.

    No school vouchers: Finland 563
    Australia: 527

    School Vouchers:
    Sweden 503 (“But they are/used to be social democratic so this must be a point scored for us right wingers, never mind the outcome”)
    US: 489 (partial, with school system marketised as groundwork for wider introduction; and they would be more widespread if wasn’t for those  pesky meddling parents who keep voting them down in referenda!)
    Chile 438:

    Note to idelogues: The purpose of the education system is to educate children and help them realise their potential, not to implement ideology.The stand out story in education is Finland with no vouchers and no public schools, but don’t let that stop you pushing the same barrow as the Murdoch press, regardless of the damage to the education of working class kids such a scheme would do in Australia.

    If you want to to do something useful for working class people why not use your website to campaign against the millions of dollars of public money handed out to Geelong Grammar and the like despite the fact they don’t need it, and the government’s own formula says they shoudn’t get it.

  30. 30 keza

    Off the top of my head, I’d say that intelligence (operationalised as IQ) will remain normally distributed.  So yes “relative dumbness” will remain.

    How much of a problem would it really be  if in the future, the mean score of the bottom 10% of the population was around 110 (on today’s tests)? It’s something I’ve been sitting here thinking about and I can’t just come back at you with a pat answer . But here are some preliminary thoughts…

    We know that people who currently score in  the  75- 90 IQ range, struggle to learn simple things.  They can be trained to perform many tasks  but will always lack the cognitive flexibility of people in the normal IQ range. In particular they lack meta-cognitive ability.  You don’t find people at this level who are capable of deliberately setting out to master something that is difficult for them. Indeed a feature of such low intelligence is a lack of ambition to master difficult things, reduced curiosity and little, if any, awareness of the vast body of knowledge which is out there.

    In contrast,  people in today’s normal range are in capable of engaging in effortful learning if they choose.  Most of us know what it feels like to feel dumb relative to those with extraordinarily high intelligence. We’re painfully aware that there are things that we can’t quite grasp and whole areas of knowledge which will probably always remain largely inaccessible to us . But we’re capable of working hard to get a glimmering… and sometimes, if we keep at it, we surprise ourselves.

    I reckon that at the very least, if we could raise general intelligence levels to the point at which  we didn’t have significant numbers of people who are incapable of setting out to increase their understanding, that would be a wonderful thing.  The fact that there would still be great variation doesn’t detract from that.

    I don’t see socialism as a society in which individual differences in intelligence (or anything else) would be smoothed out.  The aim isn’t “equality”. How dreary that would be.

    An aside:  I recall  “Dr Karl” (ie  Karl Kruszelnicki ), once boasting(!) that his IQ was only around 110. I’m a bit sceptical about that, but maybe it’s true. I’ve tried googling to find a reference, but so far haven’t found one.  I think his claim was that his achievements are the result of hard work and a drive to learn.  Interesting, if true.

  31. 31 keza

    Rocky O’Rourke:

    Are you here with an interest in discussing things, or just to defend your faith?  If it’s the latter, go away.

    Your post about school vouchers  contained some content I suppose, but it still came over to me as a recitation of the pseudo-left litany.   David Mc is planning to post a blog entry on the school vouchers issue, so I’ll leave it to him to take your argument apart.

    You’re correct that we have no sympathy for the regime in Venezuela, but unless you want to post something explaining in some detail  just why you  seem to think that what’s happening in Venezuela is an example of socialism in the making, please shut up about it.

    In any case, as far as I know the recent electoral result was not a resounding victory for Chavez.  In my view, even if it had been,  it would be no indication of anything other than his popularity. Plenty of leaders with terrible policies have been popular.  But that’s not  the topic of this thread, so I’ll say no more.

  32. 32 Arthur

    Surely the point is that oppression grinds people down including making them dumber, while liberation liberates them including liberating their intelligence.

    The right looks at how dumb this system makes people and concludes they deserve it, or aren’t ready for anything better. The left looks at how dumb this system makes people and concludes that the system has to go.

    Another aspect of course, is that people with privileges naturally assume there is something special about themselves. In earlier social formations they attributed it to their lineage but these days they are more likely to think they are exceptionally clever and that’s why they are richer.

    The dominant ideology is always the ideology of the dominant class, so oppressed people often hold the same view – they tend to think they are dumber too, even if their particular boss doesn’t strike them as very smart. “Somebody must know how to run things and it sure isn’t me”. But people who work, do have to be able to think. Even if their bosses keep telling them “you’re not paid to think”, they actually are thinking, and they know they would get sacked if they could not think.

    Modern industry requires far more intelligent workers than were required by pre-capitalist modes of production. In producing those workers it also produces its grave-diggers since people are getting too smart to put up with having bosses.

    People who just live of others sometimes have better “social skills” that help in floating (or clawing their way) to the top. But like other scum that floats to the surface they aren’t as superior as they imagine themselves to be. In fact they are often quite exceptionally stupid.

    Consider “investors”, “financiers”, “financial analysts” etc and check out how completely clueless they actually are.

  33. 33 Arthur

    Rocky:”The purpose of the education system is to educate children and help them realise their potential, not to implement ideology.”Wow, such touching faith in the noble purposes of the bourgeois state and its education system!

  34. 34 keza


    With regard to shit work.  Of course there will always be some jobs that are less desirable than others. And what is regarded as “shit work” is likely to change as well.  I’d imagine that we’d have to increase the desirability of some jobs by offering extra incentives.

    I don’t see socialism as relying on some sort of pure altruism, although I imagine that the level of social responsibility would steadily become higher. This wouldn’t happen as a result of people becoming more and more selfless, but because they would increasingly feel that they had a real stake in society.  It would just be selfishness at a higher level.

    Historically people have “sacrificed” their immediate interests for all sorts of things.  On a crude biological level we have always had a stake in our children (mothers more so than fathers), so we willingly behave very altruistically.  But… at bottom (the very bottom), we do it because it benefits us. 

    Such reductionist explanation doesn’t make altruistic behaviour any less worthwhile.  As we’ve become more civilized, I think that our altruism has moved from “as if” altruism to something that is to all intents and purposes  genuine altruism.   People have become better.

    Nevertheless,  I wouldn’t expect people to engage in work which did not provide them with a sufficient reward.  Some work provides a high level of intrinsic reward, but it will be a long time before most work does. Therefore we will need various levels of extrinsic reward. I don’t see a problem with that.

  35. 35 Rocky O'Rourke

    keza:Rocky O’Rourke:
    Are you here with an interest in discussing things, or just to defend your faith?  If it’s the latter, go away.Typical right winger. Like dishing it out but don’t like taking it.See ya

  36. 36 Jason Soon

    rockyif you tried to submit an article testing for the effectiveness of school vouchers using the country comparison you just did you’d be laughed out of peer review. you can’t just test for the effect by comparing two wholly different countries with different histories, cultures, etc unless you control for other effects. there have been peer reviewed studies of vouchers and what they do is compare various aspects of student performance before and after vouchers or some approximation to a voucher system involving greater school choice, sometimes fitting all these things into an econometric model to test whether there is a strong relationship between improvements and whatever the measure of school choice is. This has been done in a lot of countries and the majority of such studies suggest there are statistically significant effects (note – not all these studies are on the web).  

  37. 37 Jason Soon

    “The right looks at how dumb this system makes people and concludes they deserve it, or aren’t ready for anything better. The left looks at how dumb this system makes people and concludes that the system has to go.”Umm hardly fair.  Milton Friedman for one devoted his retirement years to promoting school choice and set up a charitable foundation for that purpose likely to be a favourite of rich parents, indeed it has been suggested that one of the sources of opposition to a voucher system in the US is that rich white liberal parents whatever their professed beliefs don’t want these black ghetto children going to school with their kids which is likely what would happen under a voucher system).

  38. 38 Jason Soon

    Incidentally blacks in the US when asked show strong support for vouchers is one wish the Dems have never granted their constituency, maybe they will get it under Obama

  39. 39 davidmc


    In Bright Future, I’ve got a three page section looking at how a lot of menial or routine jobs will go in the not too distant future. This includes most work in manufacturing, retailing and hospitality.

  40. 40 THR

    As a final word on IQ, it’s worth noting that the tests (such as the WAIS) are actually designed on the basis of a normally distributed conception of intelligence. That’s why 100 IQ points ius always the mean, and 10 points either side is always one standard deviation from the mean. The upshot of this is that changes in a population’s intelligence over time won’t be observed simply through IQ tests.

  41. 41 pedro

    Not the final word on IQ sorry.  The reason the question of intelligence is interesting for your bright future is that it impacts on the potential for people to participate in productive activities if the menial jobs are replaced by machines.   If it is the case that there is no social harm in people just being supported by the state then perhaps it doesn’t matter.  If, on the other hand, there will continue to be a social utility in employment then it will matter. 

    With respect to vouchers, seeing that they simply add to parental choice, I can’t see how anyone could deny that a voucher system will put pressure on schools to improve.  Mind you, I think the public schools will need to be privatised for it to fulfill its potential.

    Keza, without altrusim  your socialist state will need to rely on force.  What makes you think that socialism will result in an increase in social responsibility?  Is there any evidence of it having done so in a significant way before?  I recall reading about research showing a negative correlation between the extent of social democracy and charitable giving.

  42. 42 pedro

    Arthur said:”Surely the point is that oppression grinds people down including making them dumber, while liberation liberates them including liberating their intelligence.”Are you just stirring the pot or have you got any evidence for that?  If there is a psuedo-left then I guess there is also the silly-class-warrior left.

  43. 43 davidmc


    Socialism does not rely on altruism. For as long as necessary there would be a policy of “if you don’t work, you don’t eat”. Also one’s performance will positively effect one’s career path.

    Enjoying your work requires no altruism.

    Behaving responsibly in some cases may mean enduring hardship. This could be the case if you are out of step with how other people are thinking, are a whistle blower or take on authority figures who are too stuck in their ways.  However, having an interesting life requires having a bit of character and enduring short term discomfort for longer term gain.

    It doesn’t seem too far out to imagine a society where people generally have an urgent need to be behave honorably despite the painful consequences. Self respect is a related idea.

  44. 44 pedro

    “if you don’t work you won’t eat”That sounds very dog eat dog. 🙂  If no work should mean no money, how do you justify standardising wages?  Also, how do you deal with low motivation?One of the great economic truisms is that incentives matter.  It seems to me you are hoping that a bunch of new incentives evolve in the human conscience as part of the bright future.  Now, i don’t for a second think money is the be all of work incentives, but I also think A, B and C get cranky when they see X getting paid the same for less value delivered.I guy I know is a pediatrician, the public system pays a fixed amount for attending births, but the different specialists get different amounts.  My friend still does it because he loves his job, the the relatively low fee for the time and stress of it irks him.  Slowly that will wear him down and he will decide it is not worth his time.  That’s human nature and I can’t see how your program deals with it.

  45. 45 keza

    Just being picky. The standard deviation for IQ is 15, not 10.

    But yes the tests are designed to produce a normal distribution of IQ scores.

    If people today were given old versions of the same tests, the mean would no longer be 100.  Flynn’s argument is that absolute levels of IQ have risen, but nevertheless the scores normally distributed.  The tests have been made more difficult in order to keep the mean at 100.

    I’ve deliberately avoided launching any discussion of whether IQ tests really test intelligence, whether they are “fair”, or “culturally weighted etc.   

    That’s because I don’t want to get into it.   I do have criticisms of the tests, in particular of the idea that IQs are relatively stable over the lifespan of an individual (the reality is that in many cases this is true, but there are numerous exceptions which have not been satisfactorily explained).  Nevertheless, whether of not IQ tests are “fair” and whether or not they really do test “intelligence”, they just do correlate pretty highly with what people can do in real life.   


    Arthur wrote   “”Surely the point is that oppression grinds people down including making them dumber, while liberation liberates them including liberating their intelligence.”

    I assume you aren’t suggesting that under capitalism people have become dumber?  I guess your intention was to say that under capitalism people are dumber than they would be in a system based on social ownership.

    The increase in intelligence under capitalism is itself evidence that liberation unleashes intelligence.  Prior to capitalism, people were way dumber.  In me, that immediately leads to the thought: “Well, what’s next?”. What reason do we have to believe that capitalism will turn out to have been the “final liberation”? On the Catallaxy website, it’s been argued that it’s just obvious that capitalisism is congruent with human nature. I don’t think it is obvious.  Prior to the industrial revolution, conservatives and most of the “common people” saw feudalism  as the natural way of things.  The temptation to see current social relations as some sort of best-fit with human nature is very strong.

    Reverting to the question of the liberation of human inteligence (by capitalism)….  In the Communist Manifesto, Marx talks of “the idiocy of rural life”, but I have a very favorite passage from Engels’ paper “On the Condition of the Working Class in England” (1845).   It’s always fun to fling these choice  paragraphs at  pseudo-leftists who claim to be Marxists.  What particularly stands out is Engels’ admission that there was indeed something idyllic about a life based around cottage industry prior to the advent of machinery and  mass production.

    I’ll quote the passage in full because it is so confronting to romantics:

    It’s definitely worth reading right through, Engels doesn’t pull any punches!

    Before the introduction of machinery, the spinning and weaving of raw materials was carried on in the workingman’s home. Wife and daughter spun the yarn that the father wove or that they sold, if he did not work it up himself. These weaver families lived in the country in the neighbourhood of the towns, and could get on fairly well with their wages, because the home market was almost the only one and the crushing power of competition that came later, with the conquest of foreign markets and the extension of trade, did not yet press upon wages. There was, further, a constant increase in the demand for the home market, keeping pace with the slow increase in population and employing all the workers; and there was also the impossibility of vigorous competition of the workers among themselves, consequent upon the rural dispersion of their homes. So it was that the weaver was usually in a position to lay by something, and rent a little piece of land, that he cultivated in his leisure hours, of which he had as many as he chose to take, since he could weave whenever and as long as he pleased. True, he was a bad farmer and managed his land inefficiently, often obtaining but poor crops; nevertheless, he was no proletarian, he had a stake in the country, he was permanently settled, and stood one step higher in society than the English workman of today.

    So the workers vegetated throughout a passably comfortable existence, leading a righteous and peaceful life in all piety and probity; and their material position was far better than that of their successors. They did not need to overwork; they did no more than they chose to do, and yet earned what they needed. They had leisure for healthful work in garden or field, work which, in itself, was recreation for them, and they could take part besides in the recreations and games of their neighbours, and all these games — bowling, cricket, football, etc., contributed to their physical health and vigour. They were, for the most part, strong, well-built people, in whose physique little or no difference from that of their peasant neighbours was discoverable. Their children grew up in the fresh country air, and, if they could help their parents at work, it was only occasionally; while of eight or twelve hours work for them there was no question.

    What the moral and intellectual character of this class was may be guessed. Shut off from the towns, which they never entered, their yarn and woven stuff being delivered to travelling agents for payment of wages — so shut off that old people who lived quite in the neighborhood of the town never went thither until they were robbed of their trade by the introduction of machinery and obliged to look about them in the towns for work — the weavers stood upon the moral and intellectual plane of the yeomen with whom they were usually immediately connected through their little holdings. They regarded their squire, the greatest landholder of the region, as their natural superior; they asked advice of him, laid their small disputes before him for settlement, and gave him all honour, as this patriarchal relation involved. They were “respectable” people, good husbands and fathers, led moral lives because they had no temptation to be immoral, there being no groggeries or low houses in their vicinity, and because the host, at whose inn they now and then quenched their thirst, was also a respectable man, usually a large tenant-farmer who took pride in his good order, good beer, and early hours. They had their children the whole day at home, and brought them up in obedience and the fear of God; the patriarchal relationship remained undisturbed so long as the children were unmarried. The young people grew up in idyllic simplicity and intimacy with their playmates until they married; and even though sexual intercourse before marriage almost unfailingly took place, this happened only when the moral obligation of marriage was recognised on both sides, and a subsequent wedding made everything good. In short, the English industrial workers of those days lived and thought after the fashion still to be found here and there in Germany, in retirement and seclusion, without mental activity and without violent fluctuations in their position in life. They could rarely read and far more rarely write; went regularly to church, never talked politics, never conspired, never thought, delighted in physical exercises, listened with inherited reverence when the Bible was read, and were, in their unquestioning humility, exceedingly well-disposed towards the “superior” classes. But intellectually, they were dead; lived only for their petty, private interest, for their looms and gardens, and knew nothing of the mighty movement which, beyond their horizon, was sweeping through mankind. They were comfortable in their silent vegetation, and but for the industrial revolution they would never have emerged from this existence, which, cosily romantic as it was, was nevertheless not worthy of human beings. In truth, they were not human beings; they were merely toiling machines in the service of the few aristocrats who had guided history down to that time. The industrial revolution has simply carried this out to its logical end by making the workers machines pure and simple, taking from them the last trace of independent activity, and so forcing them to think and demand a position worthy of men. As in France politics, so in England manufacture and the movement of civil society in general drew into the whirl of history the last classes which had remained sunk in apathetic indifference to the universal interests of mankind.

    We need someone to write something as startling about the condition of the working people under conditions of advanced capitalism.

  46. 46 keza


    I don’t recall David Mc saying anything about “standardising wages”.  Wage differentials would undoubtedly be reduced,  but more difficult work, less appealing work and longer hours would still be reflected in wage rates.

    We aren’t talking about communism here, we’re talking about socialism which is a system which would necessarily retain many of the features of capitalism.  I imagine that these capitalist features would be around for a considerable period. Although there would be a sharp break with capitalism in that the means of production would no longer be privately owned, it wouldn’t be possible to just do away with material incentives. 

    David writes “if you don’t work, you don’t eat”.   Well, obviously people who were too old to work, too young to work, or ill would still be able to eat!  But there wouldn’t be any need for the dole, because there would always be lots of paid work available (and material incentives to do the more unpoular jobs).

    One legacy of capitalism of course,  would be today’s  pool of chronically unemployed. That is the current “under class” of people who are largely outside  the world of work and seem to have become constitutionally incapable of working, even when work is available.  I guess this group is the lumpen proletariat … those who have succumbed to passive welfare.  This is an entirely different group from the normal pool of unemployed which tends to have a shifting membership when capitalism is functioning normally.

    I guess it would be necessary to continue propping up  some of these people  for a while.  But hopefully their children could be rescued and the cycle broken.  I think it might be necessary to conduct a purge of those currently employed in the  social work sector however! 

    I see the passive welfare problem as a serious one for modern capitalism.  I’m very hopeful that Noel Perason’s approach will work in  Aboriginal communities,  but I don’t think it’s likely to be problem that is solvable more broadly.

    I might be wrong. But in any case, it’s very clear that the system has produced a vast welfare bureaucracy with a classic interest in maintaining itself by not solving the problem.

  47. 47 Adrien

    Wow, interesting and lengthy discussion and to think I’ve been wasting my time at LP trying to get people to actually, um, say something.  Thanks David Mc for the ref.  I’ll come back on the week-end and comment. It’s summer time in Melbourne, Friday night, so we must indulge ourselves like some porn movie set in ancient Rome. It’s against the law not to.

  48. 48 Arthur

    Since threads are becoming this long it would be a good idea to turn on the WordPress facility for numbering comments so people can refer to earlier remarks both more easily and without either unnecessary quotation or unnecessary personalization of the argument by having to reference authors instead of comment numbers.BTW I’m sure I could figure out how to use the interface properly when quoting and to separate paragraphs. But I’m equally sure it isn’t worth the time to read help files and others won’t either.

  49. 49 keza

    Off topic:

    Text editor (which is a plug-in) is not performing properly. I’m looking for a replacement, or a fix, right now. 

    Numbered comments aren’t built into WP.  It seems that most people achieve it by tweaking the comments.php .  I’m still looking into it.

    I put this here, not only in response to Arthur’s comment above, but in the hope that someone reading  this thread might want to offer some advice.  (None of us are Word Press experts)


    (1) I’ve installed a new comments text editor which I hope will be much better. ( WP NiceEdit )
    (2) I’m also hopeful that we’ll have numbered comments very soon
    (3) But if anyone wants to offer help with wordpress customization in general, I’d appreciate it!

    Later Update: On further testing, I’ve found that the replacement text editor doesn’t work properly in IE6. That’s a known problem, and there’s a fix. I’ve asked a techie friend to see if he can do it, but if he can’t do it quickly, I’ll reactivate the old one temporarily.

  50. 50 youngmarxist

    Re comment editing box: it doesn’t work in Opera Mini (mobile phone browser) either, so when it is replaced one that does would be good.

  51. 51 keza

    Let’s not divert this thread into further discussion of site customization and problems with the way it’s functioning currently.  Maybe I should set up a thread where such things can be talked about.  (email me if you want that).

    I’ve had to deactivate NicEdit and revert to the old text editor due to yet another problem I discovered with it.  (I’ve written to the developer  because he is asking for feedback. Quite possibly he will fix it).

    Meanwhile I’ll look for other solutions.

  52. 52 pedro

    Keza said:”Prior to the industrial revolution, conservatives and most of the “common people” saw feudalism  as the natural way of things.  The temptation to see current social relations as some sort of best-fit with human nature is very strong.”I think you’ll find the catallaxy comments are saying the capitalism is what happens when people have economic freedome.  It is the result of a form of social organisation that could as easily lead to communitarianism if people were so minded.  Feudalism on the other hand may have seemed the natural order, but it was imposed by the sword.  The social structure of anglo-saxon england was different.

  53. 53 youngmarxist

    Just a quick note on the issue of Australian Internet Censorship. I have sent the video that I made advertising the December 13th rallies around to quite a few websites.

    Most of the “left” places have pretty much ignored me, with one of them (which has been following the issue fairly closely) deciding to “give it a miss”. However the catallaxy site, where most of the right-wingers in this thread hang out, posted the video and about *10%* of its total views have come from there.

    Most of the action against the Government’s censorship proposal hasn’t come from organisations or websites who’d call themselves “Left”, apart from GetUp and Brisbane social-democratic/Green leaning site Public Polity. It’s come more from tech geeks and people who aren’t much connected with the self-proclaimed “Left” online.

    Interesting to see who steps up when an important issue arises.

  54. 54 John Greenfield

    youngmarxistI think this seeming paradox can be explained by my post above where I expressed my discomfort with describing the catallaxy crowd as “right wing” and therefore your nemesis.

  55. 55 youngmarxist

    John Greenfield, well that’s a long debate about whether “right-wing” automatically means “statist”. I don’t know if I’d accept that myself, but I definitely think that the term “right” covers a whole lot of different outlooks (just as “left” does).And I don’t think it’s a paradox at all that Catallaxy would support a protest against compulsory Internet censorship.

    I think this fight is between those who support free access to information (both on the Left and Right) and those who don’t (once again, both on the Left and Right).

    What is interesting is that some sites that would be considered leading moderate left-wing/pro ALP sites are missing the bus on this issue. BTW I didn’t point out before that the Green Left Weekly is supporting the protests. But from what I’ve seen, as I’ve been helping to organise the Brisbane protest, they won’t be in a position to dominate it and will be overwhelemed by a mass of ordinary people who don’t normally protest but who aren’t happy about this issue.

  56. 56 youngmarxist

    Following up on the Net censorship issue and the difference between Right and Left responses:Check out this appalling article on Larvatus Prodeo, my least favourite social-democratic Australian blog.

    It’s a languid whinge about how the anti-censorship rallies aren’t being organised to the liking of Mark Bahnisch, the apparent self-appointed arbiter of protest tactics. It’s a pity he didn’t bother to get involved in the organising if he felt so strongly about it. And they haven’t even bothered to embed the YouTube video advertising the protest.Obviously the 870 people who’ve confirmed on Facebook that they’re attending the rally don’t think that Bahnisch’s concerns are enough to keep them away.

    In contrast, the right-libertarian site Catallaxy posted the video almost two weeks ago, and even after the number of views has started to rise quickly, they still provided 4.5% of the total viewers for the video (about a hundred views out of 2 200). They stepped up to the plate, as have a lot of angry Internet users who neither know nor care about Larvatus Prodeo.

    My disdain for the comfortable groupthinkers at Larvatus Prodeo is obviously showing. But even if some of their arguments have merit, where were they when the planning meetings for the rally were being held? Sniping from the sidelines is very easy, especially if you claim to support the cause in the first place. But helping to convince the public of the rightness of our cause is what is needed now, not concern trolling.

  57. 57 Jin

    Very interesting … just had a comment pulled from that very thread. Admittedly perhaps it wasn’t very kind, though I did mean it to be somewhat humorous if nostalgic.

    It went something like this :’Well, Mark, guess you are proving Hairshirt Clive right. We do have things a little too easy these days. How many people take time out from other online pursuits to follow issues of import?

    One wonders how effective online activism would be for the average Joh, if Bjelke was still emperor of Queensland. As the old sod used to say “If you fly with the crows you get shot with the crows”.

    It might be judicious to have multiple murders of crows at this point when a Charter of Rights is on the horizon which should have as one of its cornerstones the right to free speech.'(And of course to assemble in protest. How soon folks forget.)

  1. 1 Allying with the Right | Right Views
  2. 2 Old style Marxists and ‘neoliberalism’ at catallaxyfiles
  3. 3 Spiked special on Oz internet censorship at STRANGE TIMES

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