Liberalism vs Socialism

Both liberals and socialists value equality and liberty, but their visions for the world can be vastly different from each other. Perhaps the best way to distinguish between liberalism and socialism can be clarified by a single question: Who should own the means of production?

American Liberals would say that private individuals should own the means of production. However, they would also argue that the State should invest in a strong social safety net in order to combat the inequalities created by capitalism. The political philosopher John Rawls gives credit to this view in his work A Theory of Justice. Rawls provides two principles to follow in order to obtain a just and fair society:

The First Principle of Justice

First comes the priority of liberty: Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.”

Basic liberties include the political liberty to vote and run for office, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of personal property and freedom from arbitrary arrest.

(Note: Rawls clarified in the revised version of A Theory of Justice that he did not consider private ownership of the means of production or the freedom of contract a “basic liberty,” although this point is the main source of contention by libertarians and conservatives)

The Second Principle of Justice

Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that:

“(a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle. (the difference principle)
(b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity(Rawls, 1971, p. 302; revised edition, p. 53-54)

Liberals can satisfy these principles by rationalizing that inequalities exist only insofar that they increase the net prosperity for society while still maximizing basic liberties for all people.

Perhaps the best examples of this are the Scandinavian social democracies. These countries rank high in both economic freedom through “free”-market practices and egalitarianism through supporting a giant welfare state. Given the means of production are owned by private individuals (billionaires) in these countries, they represent the tip of the iceberg of what is possible within liberal democracies.

Socialists, in contrast, would say that the workers should democratically own the means of production. They argue that this would naturally create a more egalitarian society because profit sharing would better reflect workers contribution and profits would no longer be concentrated to a small number of capitalists. Most would agree that this is a noble and ideal goal, but figuring out how this transition of power would occur has been socialism’s major shortcoming.

The other hurdle socialism faces is its perception in the public eye. It’s history in practice consists of failed states and staunch authoritarianism, but its theory is consistently misunderstood by those without a clear understanding of capitalism. Outside of intellectual circles, being a socialist in America is one of the worst things you can be.

The truth however is that one could be a socialist and believe in all of the same liberties laid out in Rawls First Principle of Justice. One could also be a socialist and have social conservative values (which are the values of the Amish). Indeed, socialism is not mutually exclusive with a single social ideology- it is an idea that contains a vast diversity of flavors.

One of the best critics of left wing liberalism came from the socialist G.A. Cohen in his book If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? Cohen elegantly points out that liberal rhetoric on equality doesn’t reflect what individuals do with their money. How is it that liberals demand our institutions to act altruistically, but on the other hand say individuals should act in their own self interest? The challenge for a liberal America is to convince 300 million individuals that an egalitarian society is in their self interest and to act on it.

The question remains: Can liberal democracies continue to evolve or will they succumb to socialism in the technological age?

I’ll leave you with this thought provoking video: Humans need not apply.

The Lesser of Two Evils

If Christopher Hitchens was alive today, what would he think about the current U.S. presidential election? I can only imagine the colorful and articulate insight he would have provided us- shredding apart both candidates with their blatant hypocrisy. Hitchens unwavering moral compass in combination with his contrarian love for debate allowed him to call bullshit where no one else would. Nothing exemplified this more than his 1999 book No One Left To Lie to a damning polemic of President Bill Clinton.

At the core of the book, Hitchens describes the Clinton’s strategy of triangulation. Put simply, triangulation is the practice of promising to The Left, while delivering to The Right. Bill Clinton promised change in his campaign, yet actively fought against his own constituents the years following his election and reelection (ex: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Healthcare reform, Welfare degradation). The most depressing, yet successful part of this strategy was that even after duping his supporters, they actively defended him and rationalized his broken promises.

With the 2016 election less then a month away, I can’t help but consider Hillary Clinton’s own triangulation, particularly the compromises she’s made with Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Some of these compromises include: Adopting an Anti-TPP stance, supporting an updated Glass Steagall, and ending the era of mass incarcerations. If elected, will she even attempt to push these proposals as promised? Or will she be the mirror image of her husband, continuing the cycle of dishonesty that has plagued American politics and embedded cynicism in our democracy?

In addition to Clinton’s notorious issue of trustworthiness, is the other elephant in the room: The Clinton Machine- a vast network of allies that is loyal to the Clinton family. At the highest level this includes Hollywood celebrities, major media pundits, world leaders and Super-PAC operatives. Their political power is incredibly difficult to fathom and is quite frankly, terrifying.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if Clinton wasn’t involved in scandal after scandal throughout her career. And because of the recent Wikileaks revelations, many of the otherwise conspiratorial allegations made against her have either been confirmed or, at the very least, raised skepticism about high levels of corruption Clinton is involved with. It’s not a joke to suggest that The Democratic Party should consider changing their name to Clinton Incorporated®

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) Mrs. Clinton is running against Donald Trump- one of the most transparent narcissists that has walked the earth. Unlike Mrs. Clinton who cleverly hides her dishonesty behind obfuscations, Trump openly boasts about “facts” that can be contradicted with a 10 second google search. The man takes pride in ignorance with a blatant disregard for physical reality.

Perhaps even worse than his narcissism and slippery relationship to the truth, is his inability to concede or apologize any point. He downplays his comments about sexually assaulting women, scoffs at criticisms of his business practices and deflects everything directed at him as a mass conspiracy. Donald Trump resembles a child who never learned any mannerisms. He screams and pouts every time something doesn’t go his way. It’s appalling to see this behavior in any adult, let alone a candidate for the highest office in the world.

Policy wise, Donald Trump is one of the worst candidates in modern history. He believes climate change is a hoax, has endorsed torture and killing terrorists families, and thinks the United States should default on its national debt. These views are actually insane and dangerous. Of course that’s assuming he’s not bullshitting like usual. Trump is the antithesis of Christopher Hitchens- a man with a hallow moral compass, volatile values and a plain lack of curiosity.

I still have trouble wrapping my mind around how out of the 300 million+ potential candidates, we somehow ended up with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But here we are, and one of them will be president of the United States of America. If you alone had to decide who would become president of the United States, who would you pick?

In philosophy there is something known as The Lesser of Two Evils principle. Put simply, when faced with selecting from two unpleasant options, the one which is least harmful should be chosen. As a utilitarian, this principle is what it used in order to make incredibly difficult decisions in things like the Trolley Problem. So who is the lesser of two evils in this case?

When answering this question it becomes apparent that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represent two very different kinds of evil, which makes them very difficult to compare side by side. Hillary Clinton represents the vices of massive power and consolidation, stagnated thinking, deception and oligarchy. Donald Trump represents the vices of irrationality, chauvinism, hatred and fear.

More than anything however, I think this election is between a demagogue and a crook. Unfortunately for Donald Trump, I think he happens to be both. That makes this fairly easy..

I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton in November.