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George Orwell, the socialist anti-Communist

George Orwell, the socialist anti-Communist

When MSNBC host Krystal Ball opined on what she considered the true meaning of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, her comments met with a storm of derision from the right.

Here’s what Ball said, and at first glance it seems preposterous:

Animal Farm, hmmm — isn’t that Orwell’s political parable of farm animals where a bunch of pigs hog up all the economic resources, tell the other animals they need all the food because they’re the makers and then scare up the prospect of a phony bogeyman every time their greed is challenged?

Of course Animal Farm isn’t some sort of critique of capitalist greed. It’s a parable that was meant to illustrate the inherent evils of Communism, and the focus was on Communism’s destructive and exploitative totalitarianism, lack of liberty, and statist control—problems he located in the left, and which Ball ignores.

That said, it is also true—as Ball seems to be trying to suggest—that Orwell was also very much against income inequality. In fact, he identified politically as a socialist, and that was probably the main reason why. But his socialism was a strange beast, and he himself recognized the inherent contradictions and difficulties of adherence to the doctrine:

As [Orwell] describes so well in “Capitalism and Communism: Two Paths to Slavery”: “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect.”

Orwell was a brilliant man, and he struggled to reconcile his wish for a certain type of world with his knowledge that such a world could probably never come to be as he wished it. Much of his writing was devoted to the horrors of failed attempts to achieve that world.

Animal Farm is a critique of Stalinism/Communism, and although capitalism as an exploitative system plays a role at the beginning of the book, by the end the astute reader sees Communism as at least as bad or even worse. Orwell was also aware of the strong possibility that liberty and socialism of any sort (not just Communist Stalinism) could not be reconciled, as the above quotes from him indicate. It is my opinion that Orwell came very close to understanding that his vision of a planned economy plus freedom could not come to pass, that the contradiction was basic, and that socialism would always sow the seeds of its own destruction. I just think he couldn’t fully face and embrace that knowledge because to do so would have meant renouncing a lifelong dream. So he clung to some notion of a kinder gentler socialism without the totalitarianism, while at the same time he wrote tirelessly about the evils of Communism.

More:

Socialists have also raised some interesting questions about what Orwell seems to be saying about Lenin and the rise of Stalinism. In fact, Orwell has suggested elsewhere that Trotsky and Lenin are partly responsible for the rise of totalitarianism in Russia and that Bolshevism itself contained elements of authoritarianism. Molyneux, the British socialist, has written a compelling article with a very close reading of the plot and characters of Animal Farm, and concludes that Orwell equates Lenin with Stalin (morphed into the single Napoleon character). Molyneux argues that Orwell gives no way to understand the reasons for the revolution’s failure except human nature (as opposed to insufficient material conditions). All this leaves the book with the reactionary message at the heart of it–that all revolutions fail.

…Even in his best political writing, and his sharp exposés of aspects of capitalism, Orwell was never sure whether a real alternative was possible. Whatever Orwell’s intentions, his most famous books undoubtedly reflect these frustrations and despair. Writing as an isolated intellectual removed from day-to-day struggle, (with the notable exception of his participation in the Spanish Civil War), Orwell never regained the hope for workers’ power he experienced while in Spain.

And that’s coming from a pro-socialist, writing in a socialist periodical.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]

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Comments

Not A Member of Any Organized Political | May 5, 2014 at 9:27 am

DEMOCRAT PARTY described to a T?

“Animal Farm, hmmm — isn’t that Orwell’s political parable of farm animals where a bunch of pigs hog up all the economic resources, tell the other animals they need all the food because they’re the makers and then scare up the prospect of a phony bogeyman every time their greed is challenged? – News Reader Krystal Ball

Sure seems like it – even though the fake didn’t know it.

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Not A Member of Any Organized Political. | May 5, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Snark Snark – for the humor impaired.

    The problem is that while she said all the right words to describe the book, she couldn’t bring herself to say the ONE word which would have clarified the issue.

    That word, is COMMUNIST.

    Instead, like so many of her “progressive” contemporaries, Ms. Ball obfuscated, and muddied the waters attempting to make it sound like the failure was a CAPITALIST failing. This is largely why school children can no longer properly define the roles of the political states (capitalism, communism, socialism, planned economy, liberalism, conservatism, democracy and republic forms of government).

    It is not a failing that my child(ren) will have.

A planned economy or as the French call it dirigisme gives politicians and bureaucrats coercive power and taxpayer money with no real downside when the wastefulness of misdirection and cronyism begins to weaken the overall economy. The downturn just gets attributed to the remaining elements of genuine capitalism and more regulatory power gets sought.

It is exactly the situation the US is in now with this Administration openly advocating an Industrial Policy, planned regional economies, Big Data collection as the source of planning info, and Low Carbon as the excuse to control further. It is no accident all of this is going hand in hand with education policies like the Common Core that actually try to control the prevailing value and belief systems by skewing towards communitarianism.

The historic norm is governments disdain individualism. It arose as a legitimate concept in countries where the sovereign power had trouble centralizing control over the population, not because political power ceased to crave controlling the economy as well. We are now revisiting the reality that there is no mass prosperity when economic and political power combine.

Then all we get is Newspeak to obscure the reality of the organized coup towards collectivism.

DINORightMarie | May 5, 2014 at 9:51 am

Capitalism (personally, I abhor that Marxist terminology – I prefer free-market economy) is the ONLY economic “system” that has ever emerged to allow people to achieve their highest aspirations, to break through social “class” barriers, and define or re-define themselves as their dreams, intellect, and resources allow.

Read von Hayek, Friedman, Sowell, Washington, Coolidge. All other economic structures will ALWAYS devolve into tyrannical statist regimes.

If you believe man is sinful, then it follows that there can NEVER be utopia, “heaven on earth.”

Had Orwell lived longer, I believe he would have evolved in his ideology into a staunch free-market economy supporter, with minimal state/government interventions, as many other “true believers” did.

    DouglasJBender in reply to DINORightMarie. | May 6, 2014 at 9:55 am

    The free-market economy is Biblically-based, and Biblically-sanctioned. In fact, God warned of centralizing any sort of power — Israel, the nation, at first had no king or leader (not counting Moses and Joshua in their formative years); instead, it had judges (note the plural), who were apparently selected by God Himself, and intuitively recognized as authoritative by the people. When Israel demanded a king for themselves, like the other nations surrounding them, God warned them what would happen (centralized control, burdensome taxes, taking their sons and daughters to be the king’s servants, etc.). When they persisted in demanding a king, God granted them their request, but announced that they were rejecting Him as their king in doing so.

    Centralizing power in a government or a person is to reduce liberty and dependence upon God.

I believe Orwell was leaning towards conservatism – preserving the good done by free men – before he died of tuberculosis.
Some of his words:

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

“We have sunk to a depth in which re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

” Speaking the Truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act. “

    tom swift in reply to jennifer a johnson. | May 5, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I believe Orwell was leaning towards conservatism – preserving the good done by free men – before he died of tuberculosis.

    I don’t remember seeing any real evidence of that in anything he wrote.

    He recognized failure modes which might possibly (or even probably) destroy the Socialist vision. That alone put him head and shoulders above most of his fellow travelers, who, inspired by the intractable Karl Marx and as a matter of doctrine, will never admit to any possibility of failure. But Orwell always retained a perhaps tepid belief that it could work.

    But Orwell’s participation in the civil war in Spain is puzzling.

    In Spain, the Republicans (so called because they had been elected) were overtly Communist. The King, Juan Carlos, not liking the looks of things, skipped out of the country. The Republicans then turned on their major remaining enemy, that old Reactionary force, the Catholic Church. But eventually, after a few too many nuns had been raped, a few too many priests assassinated, a bit too much Chruch property seized, and a few too many churches desecrated, a revolt began in the Army, first among the officers of foreign troops in Morocco. The troops crossed over to Spain, and fighting soon became intense. The USSR decided to assist the Republicans. The Bolsheviks (who had renamed themselves the Communists during the ’20s) had never intended for the worldwide worker’s revolution to stop with Russia, nor had they dreamed that it would stop there; the Communist state’s long-term survival was believed to depend on world revolution. So Russia was intensely interested in the Spanish outbreak of Communism, but not to the extent of extending credit. Spain’s treasury was exhausted buying support from the USSR. The Bolsheviks, for all their hatred of money, never forgot its value.

    Because the Spanish army was fighting the Communists, the Fascists decided to join in. Both of the established Fascist states, Italy and Germany, were as socialistic as the Bolsheviks (well, almost); but the Fascists were also intensely nationalistic, and considered themselves to be no part of any worldwide revolution. This does not mean that they didn’t believe in alliances, though. They turned out to be more generous and more effective than the Russians, to the great advantage of the Spanish Nationalists (ie, the Army rebels.)

    What that all means is that Orwell was watching a fight between two socialisms. How is a good socialist to choose? I don’t believe he was terribly interested in the theoretical underpinnings (or rationalizations) for any of the socialist beliefs; he just believed that Western politics had failed in 1914, and Western economics had failed in 1929, and that something a bit more rational should be tried. But, as a careful observer, rather than a rabid theorist, he had probably realized that, despite support from the Fascists, Franco’s forces were not in any useful way proper Socialists; they were closer to the forces of religious reaction. Orwell wasn’t about to dodge bullets to help religious reaction; hence the only side acceptable to him was the Communists. Then his problem became that he wouldn’t overlook Stalin’s crimes. Hence his warnings to his fellow Socialists, Animal Farm and 1984.

Henry Hawkins | May 5, 2014 at 11:17 am

“One could not have a better example of the moral and emotional shallowness of our time, than the fact that we are now all more or less pro Stalin. This disgusting murderer is temporarily on our side, and so the purges, etc., are suddenly forgotten.” — George Orwell, war diary, July 3, 1941.

Henry Hawkins | May 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

As a test, I pretended I knew little of George Orwell and set out to find out via internet research. Within a minute I found this:

Orwell, from his essay ‘Why I Write’:

“Every line of serious work that I’ve written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against Totalitarianism.”

I guess in terms of Ball’s TV show prep, sixty seconds is much too long to waste on research.

    tom swift in reply to Henry Hawkins. | May 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    When this identical topic appeared here on LI all of two days ago (is there an echo in here?), the quote appeared in slightly more complete form –

    Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism …

    That would give a loyal MSNBC type a bit more wriggle room.

    The Party People at MSNBC don’t consider themselves totalitarians even if they are enthusiastic socialists. Superficially, the quote makes it seem that Orwell is on MSNBC’s side, since he’s all for democratic Socialism … whatever that is … but it least it has Socialism in there.

    So far as I’ve been able to determine, Orwell never quite realized that you can’t have the second one (democratic Socialism) without having the first one (totalitarianism) as well. And that’s a bit odd; Mussolini had figured it out, why not Orwell? But I’m willing to extend both of them some slack; in their day, recent history – mainly the Great War and the Depression – made it plausible to believe that conventional government and economics had failed, and catastrophically.

    Now, more than half a century later, we’ve had more history and more evidence that Socialism has also failed. Orwell had an excuse that MSNBC does not.

      Ragspierre in reply to tom swift. | May 5, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      All the Collectivist family…STATE socialism, Communism, and fascism…all tend in the totalitarian, authoritarian direction.

      Orwell recognized that, but thought “with better people” democratic socialism could work.

      It may be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that Lenin, on the verge of death, said he knew Communism was broken, but he knew how to fix it.

      Some delusions are very durable.

Many decades ago, I read a comment from a Russian confessing complete befuddlement at the American lack of planning: “Your only plan is for a mass of goods!”

I submit that allowing markets to operate as markets will, within the limits of fair play, IS a plan. Just because it is loose and gives individuals most of the power to make individual decisions, does not mean there is no plan. It just means that the planning is not done by the individuals closest to the facts, and not some person far removed from the relevant information.

Governments can and should provide ground rules to prevent fraud and nuisance. That is a plan. So is the provision of individual remedies for wrongdoing.

    tom swift in reply to Valerie. | May 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    “Your only plan is for a mass of goods!”

    Too bad, he almost had an insightful comment there.

    Civilization exists because we need masses of goods. Plan or no plan, the need was always there. Otherwise, we’d still be hunter/gatherers.

    First it was just food. If you need a steady supply of food, farming becomes inevitable. Then you need irrigation, which requires organized labor; and walls, so your livestock doesn’t wander off, and that’s the start of architecture. Then you need defense, so that your neighbors, who aren’t so good at organized labor, don’t move in and steal your crops and animals or, worse, appropriate your irrigated farmland and your stockades. Then, because you spend your day farming and are too busy to develop weapons for defense, you trade some of your other neighbors some of your food for some of their weapons, and suddenly, you have a trade economy.

    The great triumph of civilization is not religion, or science, or art; it is cheap food, and everything needed to produce, transport, and supply it. It may be hard for European intellectuals or “back to nature” Greenies to admit it, but the acme, the supreme achievement of civilization, the fulfillment of an age-long dream, is … McDonalds.

      tom swift in reply to tom swift. | May 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      D’oh, poor choice of words. By “organized labor” I don’t mean neolithic labor unions, I mean the appearance of somebody who can inspire a group of like-minded farmers to show up for work at the same time to dig some ditches and set up a maintenance schedule to keep the ditches functional. This involves some concepts which not all primitives have, such as time, continuity, and investment of effort now for the benefit of result later.

Freddie Sykes | May 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Free markets are democracy in action since those in the markets make the decisions, rightly or wrongly, on what they think is in their best interest. The reason any sale occurs is because the buyer and the seller place different values on the objects of the transaction.

The role of government in this is to prevent coercion or theft and to enforce contracts.

Small business is the dynamo of our economy but I prefer Big Business over Big Government because Big Government is better armed and has declared that it owns a monopoly on the use of force, up to and including the use of deadly force.

    MouseTheLuckyDog in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 5, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    I dislike Big Business and Big Government equally. They sort of act more synergistically then most people recognize.

    For example, the picture of big business we have now. Obamacare, makes it hard for small businesses to thrive. Big businesses are put off a little, but they can absorb it.

    Big Business however can be just as oppressive as Big Government.
    As anyone who has ever had to attend mandatory AA meetings ( affirmative action, not alcoholics anonymous, though attending them does make you want to drink ) will attest. A company I once worked for made very employee attend one every three months.

      Freddie Sykes in reply to MouseTheLuckyDog. | May 6, 2014 at 6:30 am

      Big Government and Big Business working together is the problem. That combination is often referred to as crony capitalism or fascism. Big Business loves government regulation because they have the infrastructure in place to deal with it while their smaller rivals cannot. Burdensome regulation translates into less competition, increased prices and higher profits.

      But the real problem comes from the government acting as the enforcer for business. Your company may require you to enroll in a program but it cannot force you to. That may cost you your job but it is your choice. When the government mandates something, you have no real choice. It may start by fining you, looting your assets if you do not pay. It may send armed agents to arrest, agents who are allowed to use physical violence if you do not come willing and deadly force if you resist. Do we need police and jails? Of course, but their function should be reserved for maintaining order and protecting the weak, not enforcing mandates.

      Big Business on its own has much less power which is why I deem it the lesser evil. Unfortunately, we live in an age in which the two are jointed.

      Ragspierre in reply to MouseTheLuckyDog. | May 6, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      “Big Business however can be just as oppressive as Big Government.”

      Really?!? Another amazingly loopy idea.

      You work for a business at your choice. If you don’t like being “oppressed” by something Acme Widgets requires as a condition of employment, you man up and take your portable self on down the road. Perhaps to start Liberty Widget Co.

      Nobody from Acme will put you in jail or take over your bank account.

      Jaaaazuz…I’m surrounded by the heathen…!!!

      But, IF you want to limit the power of BIG BUSINESS, all you need do is limit the power of BIG GOVERNMENT. No business, if left in a market environment, is something any of us need fear.

      Of course, contra some loopy opinions to the contrary, the explosion of BIG GOVENMENT was all due to the Progressives…ALLLLLLLLL of them. They had adopted a lot of German thinking that was inimical to the ideals of the Founding. And there were NO “benign” Progressives if you love those ideals.

The problem with capitalism is incidental monopoly formation. The problem with socialism is designed monopoly formation. The problem with both systems is that return unbacked by productivity sponsors progressive corruption.

    Ragspierre in reply to n.n. | May 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    In a market economy, monopoly cannot exist for any appreciable period of time. Market forces naturally come in to destroy monopoly.

    The only monopoly that can long exist is one protected from market forces by government, as Adam Smith told us over two centuries ago.

      n.n in reply to Ragspierre. | May 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      Monopolies can exist in a market economy for causes other than force. They do not exist in perpetuity for reasons incidentally related to the market.

        Ragspierre in reply to n.n. | May 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm

        “Monopolies can exist in a market economy for causes other than force.”

        Name one.

          n.n in reply to Ragspierre. | May 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm

          Convergent or overlapping interests, which is essentially what a government represents. This is less about force than momentum. Competing interests represent an inertia which act as a drag to limit their progress. Geographical separation serves a similar purpose.

          Consider the mechanisms by which markets prevent, mitigate, or respond to monopoly formation. Then consider how to bypass, override, or marginalize those mechanisms. The key to a healthy market is either morally directed participants or competing interests.

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | May 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm

          I was unclear.

          Name a SPECIFIC monopoly that supports what you said.

      MouseTheLuckyDog in reply to Ragspierre. | May 5, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      What market forces destroyed Microsoft’s monopoly?

        Ragspierre in reply to MouseTheLuckyDog. | May 5, 2014 at 8:05 pm

        What “monopoly”?

        A really strong market position is not a “monopoly”.

        Ever hear of a lil’ outfit called Apple?

          Now Rags. That might not be a fair comparison. There’s an argument to be made that Microsoft did not engage in certain economic actions that it could have taken to establish, protect and defend a technological monopoly due to the outside influence of the Federal Government.

          Specifically when Microsoft got whacked for internet explorer.

          In a true lassez-faire economic system, Microsoft would have “trade-secreted” it’s code, and basically told anybody who wanted to develop a browser competing with IE to go and pound sand. Instead, the Trade Commission whacked Microsoft for ~monopoly activity~ and basically said “let others play in the sandbox because it’s good for technological development.”

          There’s also an argument to say that Apple wouldn’t have had the breathing room to actually develop had Microsoft not been put on the defensive. That Microsoft would have eventually purchased Apple via hostile takeover simply to destroy a potential competitor, but couldn’t because of regulatory scrutiny that the transaction would have had to suffer.

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | May 6, 2014 at 5:01 pm

          MicroSoft has been guilty of anti-competitive conduct, and I never said different.

          That is STILL not “monopoly”, which has a meaning and that ain’t it.

          Part of the irritation with MS was that it was making Explorer available TOO cheap.

          But how much do you pay for Firefox or Chrome?

    Freddie Sykes in reply to n.n. | May 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I think that you have bought into the progressive rewrite of history. In general the Age of the Robber Barons was one of prosperity. There were short lived downturns but these were mainly caused by unscrupulous banking practices The government’s role, as in any crime, is to punish such behavior not think that they can prevent it.

    In general, it was a time of moderate deflation since the Robber Barons helped to drive down prices. This should be the state in any maturing industrial society. Goods go down in price as more of them are produced. Deflation helps savers and hurts borrowers.

    The progressives broke up the trusts and only allowed government sponsored monopolies. They introduced the Fed which adopted a policy of controlled inflation. This helped the government to become the biggest borrower of all. The Fed’s policy has worked so well that after 100 years, a dollar today is worth about 3 cents in the money of 1913.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmzZ8lCLhlk
    Milton Friedman – The Robber Baron Myth

      tom swift in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      The Robber Barons and the Trusts weren’t really the same thing. The Robber Barons did indeed contribute to the growth of the era’s wealth and prosperity; that doesn’t mean that the same can be said for the Trusts.

        Freddie Sykes in reply to tom swift. | May 5, 2014 at 8:25 pm

        Yes and no. When TR and the progressives went after the Robert Barons, they called themselves the Trust Busters. The history I was taught in school made no distinction.

        Here is a longer video on the subject, one that ends on Rockefeller and the bust up of Standard Oil:

        http://mises.org/media/1164/The-Age-of-Robber-Barons?ajaxsrc=audio
        The Age of Robber Barons

          tom swift in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 5, 2014 at 10:25 pm

          Yes, the terms have sometimes been used interchangeably. But as I tried to demonstrate in my brief review of early “Progressivism”, vital distinctions are masked by indiscriminate application of one word.

          “Robber Baron” doesn’t really mean anything specific. The implication of the “robber” part is that their successes were based on criminal enterprise, but it’s not easy to show that America’s 19th century entrepreneurial financial and industrial Robber Barons were much more criminal than any of their contemporaries. They were aggressive, energetic, and sometimes even imaginative, and some, through their ability to take advantage of the unique opportunities of the era – new lands being opened, new populations appearing, new technologies being developed at explosive speed (steam power! oil wells! good steel by the millions of tons! great stuff …) ended up vastly wealthy. This was money they had made, not money they’d inherited, stolen, or extorted. These businesses doubtlessly sometimes involved some unfashionable, unsavory, or even blatantly illegal activities, but that’s hardly exceptional in any human endeavor.

          It’s not easy to see how the spectacular growth of all aspects of 19th century American civilization could have happened without the Robber Barons. By the end of the period, just before the Great War, the United States, a century earlier a thin strip of farms clinging precariously to the eastern edge of the continent, had grown to equal the two great powerhouses of the Industrial Revolution, England and Germany, as measured by the terms then considered diagnostic, such as millions of tons of annual steel production, or tonnage of merchant fleets.

          Eventually, the Robber Barons reached their limits. The country stopped growing, and the new opportunities opened by new technologies faded as those technologies reached their mature states. Rather than devote their energies to chipping away at each other, the Robber Barons (or their inheritors) settled down to something resembling retirement. Markets were divided up, competition disappeared, and all were content with their shares.

          That was the situation which Progressive Trustbuster Teddy disturbed.

          [Sorry I can’t comment on the video. I have connection speed problems at the moment; maybe later.]

          Ragspierre in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 5, 2014 at 11:53 pm

          “Markets were divided up, competition disappeared, and all were content with their shares.

          That was the situation which Progressive Trustbuster Teddy disturbed.”

          Nonsense.

          tom swift in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 6, 2014 at 5:33 pm

          So far as I can see, the linked video (Friedman) and audio (LeFevre) evaluate the Robber Barons and their place in American history the same way I do. Friedman, no great surprise. LeFevre I don’t know, but von Mises I do know, so no great surprise there either. Neither equate the RBs with the later Trusts (though there was some overlap), so are consistent with my distinction between the RBs and the Trusts.

          That distinction is vital to an understanding of the era. The RBs were producers of wealth, and rather a lot of it. Expansion into new markets with new customers, increased supply of goods to those customers, development of natural resources – all producers of wealth. Rockefeller’s later career, as discussed by LeFevre, was not a period of production of wealth (in general – Rockefeller was increasing his own wealth, but there was little net gain to the American economy as a whole). All he was doing then was acquiring already existing businesses, and no longer developing new markets or customers or resources – that is, it was just redistribution of wealth, from one corporate entity to another. This ROW is distinct from the phrase’s more common meaning, which is government taking resources from one person or entity or region of the country and giving it to another. The ROW of Rockefeller’s later career had the same anti-competitive effects as the trusts (and Standard Oil actually was a Trust, though essentially consisting of one company rather than a cabal of allies), and was opposed by the Republican variety of Progressivism. And properly so.

          LeFevre lets Rockefeller off too easily. He ascribes his success at destroying and/or absorbing competitors to Rockefeller’s greater business efficiency, but that’s not usually how such struggles go. Much more common is the larger attacker using its resources to kill its smaller victim’s commercial viability by dumping. Dumping hurts both, but the bigger company can survive it for a longer period; then when all competitors (not just one) fail, the attacker can raise prices almost arbitrarily. This is simple stuff, and LeFevre doubtless knows it, but he’s let his enthusiasm get the better of him on this point.

          Ragspierre in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 6, 2014 at 6:33 pm

          Good GRIEF. At least a SIX-PACK of crocks!

          “The RBs were producers of wealth, and rather a lot of it.”

          Bullshit. SOME of them were simply crony capitalists, who, IF they got wealthy it was over the bleaching bones of an enterprise that was heavily subsidized by government before it failed. Much like today.

          “All he was doing then was acquiring already existing businesses, and no longer developing new markets or customers or resources – that is, it was just redistribution of wealth, from one corporate entity to another.”

          You here belie you have ANY conception of economics! I am astounded at such a stupid statement. But there’s more…

          “Rockefeller was increasing his own wealth, but there was little net gain to the American economy as a whole”.

          Well, UNLESS you count the benefits coming to the U.S. from all over the world, especially as Standard competed successfully with state-owned oil companies such as Russia’s. Cripes!

          “The ROW of Rockefeller’s later career had the same anti-competitive effects as the trusts (and Standard Oil actually was a Trust, though essentially consisting of one company rather than a cabal of allies), and was opposed by the Republican variety of Progressivism. And properly so.”

          Another series of gobsmackingly stupid statements. Rockefeller was NOT “redistributing wealth”, unless by that use of the term you include putting money in the bank or investing in a venture “redistribution of wealth”. PLUS he was giving a LOT of it away!

          He was VERY competitive, which is what a lot of people hated about him. He was REALLY good at what he did, but it was not rapacious, and millions of people were benefited by his acumen and his innovations. And THAT is the only way he made money.

          And you seem to be scared of the term “trust”. You needn’t be. A trust is merely a means of vesting property into the hands of a fiduciary to be held for the benefit of someone or someones. It isn’t a boogey-thing.

          Like all things men create, men can use a trust perversely, and some trusts were used that way. Standard was not one.

          But the term “trusts” was shorthand for the low-information voter, and populist preachers of the day (and apparently today!) and it meant dark, secretive, hard-to-comprehend fat-cats. Like the “one-percent” today.

          A-flucking-mazing…!!!

          Ragspierre in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm

          “Dumping hurts both, but the bigger company can survive it for a longer period; then when all competitors (not just one) fail, the attacker can raise prices almost arbitrarily. This is simple stuff, and LeFevre doubtless knows it, but he’s let his enthusiasm get the better of him on this point.”

          Yeah? Name a time when Standard did that. When was there a “almost arbitrary” spike in Standard products? With references, please.

          You have ANYTHING to show Standard “dumped” to drive out competitors?

          You have no flucking idea what you are talking about, but you sure love your own chin music.

        Ragspierre in reply to tom swift. | May 5, 2014 at 8:47 pm

        Nor can it be said that anti-trust laws ever did any good for the American economy, or were ever rationally enforced.

        They weren’t.

        Standard, which had a consistent history of NOT acting as would a monopoly (better products, lower consumer prices, even responsible environmental practices) was broken up.

        US Steel was not, while it was the very model of the “bad” trust. It remained.

          Freddie Sykes in reply to Ragspierre. | May 6, 2014 at 6:37 am

          The speaker in the Mises audio had very nice things to say about John D. Rockefeller and Standard.

    tom swift in reply to n.n. | May 5, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    The problem with capitalism is incidental monopoly formation.

    An interesting point, and one which causes considerable confusion today.

    “Progressivism”, which in America became an important political force in the very early 20th century, appeared here in two forms, one Republican, one Democratic. These two were radically different, though they were both called Progressivism.

    Both used the power of the Presidency to advance political goals more or less independently of Congress. There the similarities end.

    The paragon of Republican Progressivism was Teddy Roosevelt, mainly with his program of “trust-busting”. The trusts were consortia of very large corporations dominating steel, oil, railroads … basically, “big business” of the day. The trusts divided up the markets between these corporations, eliminating competition (and all its advantages, such as lowered prices, the pressure to explore new markets and new sources of supply, improved services, improved employee relations, etc), and froze out new competitiors. By combatting these anti-competitive consortia, Teddy opened the markets back up, and re-exposed them to the thing – competition – which made them more efficient and responsive than other large organizations not in competitive environments, such as government.

    So Teddy used presidential power to combat a degenerate form of Big Business, with the goal of benefiting small(er) business, consumers, and the national economy in general.

    Teddy had a falling-out with his old buddy Bill Taft, and ran as the Presidential candidate of the Progressive Party (better known today by its nickname, the Bullmoose Party). This split the Republican vote, allowing that upstart Democratic candidate Wilson to get in.

    Wilson, the first of our Democratic “Progressives”, was one of our more intelligent Presidents, but he was also a megalomaniac who believed himself to be on a Mission from God to do whatever it was he felt like doing. He genuinely believed that he could, and should, reorder the United States, and in fact the world, to his liking. An early example of his megalomania was his idea that it was part of his job to teach the Mexicans to “elect good men” (he didn’t think much of President Huerta, in particular) during the Civil War there, but at least Wilson didn’t do much to make his Mexican fantasies come true beyond the bombardment of Veracruz. But back in the US, little “reforms” like the permanent personal income tax (which is, among other things, the government’s excuse for knowing all sorts of things about you – where you live, where you keep your money and propery, who you work for, who you employ – the germ of the modern surveillance state) date from Wilson’ tenure. The Great War gave Wilson his chance to clamp down on the US economy and reduce it to orderly control (by, of course, Wilson). The Espionage and Sedition Acts took care of critics (at least they were only jailed, not “purged” as Wilson’s contemporaries, the Bolsheviks, preferred). At the end of the war, Wilson went to Europe to try – and fail – to reshape the rest of the world. America in general rejected Wilson’s notions of “progress”, eliminated most (though certainly not all) of the Progressive elements in the Federal government after the Armistice left them without any good excuses.

    Wilson suffered debilitating strokes late in his second term. The Democrats put on a fraudulent but united front, insisting that everything was fine; Mrs Wilson, who was not an elected officeholder, signed his official papers. Wilson was succeeded by a Republican, an affable and extremely popular non-entity, Harding. He was followed by the far more formidable (albeit deceptively low-key) Republican, Coolidge, who was not a Progressive of either stripe, but simply got the hell out of the way and let the ’20s roar.

    So. Republican and Democratic visions of “progress” were – and remain – very different animals, each with their teeth firmly clamped on the sensitive parts of very different victims.

      Ragspierre in reply to tom swift. | May 5, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      I radically disagree with your very novel reordering of history.

      Suffice it to say for the moment that Progressives were not distinguishable as “good or bad” Progressives by party affiliation.

      Progressivism was…in the main…a net attack on American ideals. It was merely another iteration of Collectivism.

      And the “trust” issue was largely mythology. But it was very typical and useful Collectivist mythology. It fostered the explosion of the activist regulatory state, which is still ramifying through every aspect of our lives.

        n.n in reply to Ragspierre. | May 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm

        I agree with tom swift’s synopsis. The standard for “progressivism” on the Right is “promote the general Welfare”, which is individuated by conservatives’ acknowledgement of intrinsic value. While the Right does support social welfare, it characterizes its value with two criteria: rehabilitation and corruption mitigation. This necessarily limits its scope, duration, and administration. There are exceptions offered, but the primary responsibility rests first with the family, then with the community, and only supports a limited form of “redistributive change” in intractable circumstances.

        So, the Right’s problem set does not include equal outcome, but a delicate reconciliation of individual rights, collective rights (i.e. general Welfare), and the firm constraints of the natural order (e.g. Posterity). It was never about consolidating capital and control with a minority interest as the Left does by design and purpose; other than as an outcome of overlapping or convergent interests.

          Ragspierre in reply to n.n. | May 6, 2014 at 5:04 pm

          Yeh, no. Pure balderdash.

          There were no “good” Progressives, and you SURE could not sort the sheep from the goats by party.

          What a happy fantasy!

Capitalism is a system adapted to individual initiative and productivity. Socialism is a system adapted to individual envy, structural inequality, and minority ambitions. Neither can exist in its purest form other than on a limited scale.

Captain Keogh | May 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Orwell’s witnessing of Communist lead repression in Spain during the Civil War cured him of any sympathy for Communism.

MouseTheLuckyDog | May 5, 2014 at 6:59 pm

I must congratulate George Orwell for not falling into the trap of rahrahism for Communism or for Capitalism. Sadly very few people follow this example.

A complete exposition on economics is not possible in the short space used here. But a couple of examples illustrate what I mean.

A story today about a proposal by Mozilla on net neutrality. I pointed out that in the 90’s the big ISPs were arguing for changes in rules that allowed them to force small ISPs out of business. They further got tax breaks so that they could build fiber networks. That resulted in the US going from the inventor of the internet and #1 to #31. Oh and the ISPs didn’t start going big into fiber until Google started building their own networks.

I am typing this on a Rosewill mechanical keyboard. After two years I just repaired it. ( Broken miniUSB port. My fault. When I rearranged my desk I should have added an extension cable. )
Mechanical keyboards are more expensive ( $50-$300, but in reality more like $80-$300 ), but in exchange they last a lot longer then elcheapo $5 keyboards. A lot. At least five years and I wouldn’t be surprised to still be using this keyboard 20 years from now.

I didn’t buy the keyboard because it would last a long time. I bought it because when I type on it, I am not thinking about how to type, but about what I am going to type. Part of that is because each key is an individual switch and each switch can be replaced. So if one goes I do not have to throw it out. The sturdy construction gives a solid feel to the keyboard when I type. The end result is a keyboard which will not break for a long time ( Assuming you don’t do something stupid. ),and when it does break , it can be repaired, no matter which part breaks.

Guess what? I can no longer buy this keyboard from the manufacturer in Illinois. Why because of an eWaste bill our governor signed into law. Cheer up though. A keyboard that will last you forever and can be repaired may not be available, but you can buy a cheap $5 keyboard that will go into the garbage in a year. Talk about avoiding waste.

The point of these stories, is that both capitalism and socialism have their flaws. From my perspective it is better to have a system that is basically capitalist. But I am not deluding myself into thinking that a capitalistic system alone is good enough. It needs some tweaking. George Orwell at least gave that some thought. Too bad others don’t.

    Ragspierre in reply to MouseTheLuckyDog. | May 5, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    “But I am not deluding myself into thinking that a capitalistic system alone is good enough.”

    I tried very hard to read your blather, and I can’t for the life of me understand WTF you are saying.

      platypus in reply to Ragspierre. | May 6, 2014 at 10:40 am

      He is basically saying that government meddling rather than after-the-fact penalty is what caused it to be unprofitable to make the durable keyboard.

      One slogan I like is when seconds count, the cops are minutes away. It describes the futility of preventing crime by active policing. In this case, the enforcement of restrictive regulations pretends that we can accomplish the goal by forcing everyone to limit themselves. Actually, we can achieve the goal more efficiently and more thoroughly by having serious punitive consequences for screwing up.

      It is no coincidence that the decline of common civility in social relations and American traditions is eerily parallel to the decline in socially responsible business practices.

A favorite:

Political language is designed to make
lies sound truthful and murder respectable,
and to give and appearance of solidity
to pure wind.
– George Orwell

CORRECTED:

Political language is designed to make
lies sound truthful and murder respectable,
and to give an appearance of solidity
to pure wind.

– George Orwell

    tom swift in reply to Barbara. | May 5, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    That makes him sound like an anarchist. Which he wasn’t.

      Freddie Sykes in reply to tom swift. | May 6, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Orwell was a socialist but, from my perhaps misreading of “Homage to Catalonia”, he indicated that the group he joined in Spain, the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), was associated with the Marxist-Anarchist school of thought. That could have been mere coincidence but it cost him dearly.

        tom swift in reply to Freddie Sykes. | May 6, 2014 at 8:42 am

        Hey, no hogging all the credit, I could be misreading Orwell too!

          Freddie Sykes in reply to tom swift. | May 6, 2014 at 4:14 pm

          Orwell was a socialist which made him a Utopian and we know that all things, even the holding of contradictory positions, are possible in Utopia.

          tom swift in reply to tom swift. | May 6, 2014 at 6:01 pm

          It would have to be something like that; I can’t visualize a universe in which Marxism and Anarchy can have the slightest connection.

          Marx is best known to the public for his rants about capital and capitalists, but in a very real sense what he actually hated was the free market and the economic principles which make it work. He was sure that human intelligence – specifically, his – could do better. Superficially, it’s an appealing idea, like perpetual motion machines which should work if only someone could come up with a sufficiently clever way to do it. Marx was very much like a scientific crank lecturing about the evils of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He was dead certain that intellectualism – preferably unrestrained by experience – could overcome all obstacles; but he had to insist that his conclusions had the force of scientific laws, as, lacking any evidence, they were otherwise too insubstantial to attract enthusiastic followers. The implication was that no deviation was tolerable, because it was not physically possible. That attitude lead to an inflexibility and intolerance in nearly everything Marx and his followers believed and did. There just wasn’t room for anarchy in the Marxist conception of the world.

My interpretation of the ‘Political language’ quip was Orwell’s search for ‘intelligent government’ – a structure that didn’t allow manipulation, power plays, management by mongers or those methods of controlling the masses that were destructive.
I believe Orwell was very principled and his writing exposed the cores or unethical characters.

    tom swift in reply to Barbara. | May 5, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Oh yes, I’m sure you’re right, that’s what Orwell was looking for. But he never had a clear vision of what it might be, beyond a visceral conviction that it would be some sort of Socialism.

    But as I mentioned in the thread two or three days ago, he persisted in believing that there could be a non-totalitarian Socialism (albeit of some unspecified type), which I don’t think is even theoretically possible.

MouseTheLuckyDog | May 5, 2014 at 10:20 pm

BTW Liberals aren’t the only way ones to misunderstand gthe thiung. Ever see the cartoon version?

With ending the CIA changed?

Krystal Ball is an obvious example of the “liberal” education provided by Saul Alinsky’s take over of the American education system… mission accomplished by communism/socialism

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