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.

Third Wave Feminism and Equality

From new workplace and education opportunities to reproductive rights and the ability to vote, womens rights have come a long way in the last century throughout the developed world. Today, women experience more freedom and personal choice than any other time throughout history. However, this isn’t true for women in all societies. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

In this post I want to focus on feminism in the west specifically, because it is this kind of feminism that seems to be so controversial. No rational person is arguing against human rights for women in Yemen. So why is it then that so many people in the west are hesitant to call themselves feminists? What is third wave feminism and why is it so contentious?

Before we can answer these questions, we must recognize a couple of things. First, third wave feminist issues are of less significance than first and second wave issues. That’s not to say that third wave feminist issues don’t matter or that they are insignificant, but that the issues third wave feminism faces are much less visible and pale in comparison to the issues millions of women face in developing countries.

One of the few ways we can shine light on these third wave feminist issues is through transparency. The insight we can gain from, for example, the Gender Gap Report is of great value. A common theme across the best ranking countries is that in 2 of the 4 categories measured, health and education, are nearly identical. We begin to see some discrepancy when it comes to economic standing and large differences in political empowerment.

Since these issues are less visible, it is difficult to see exactly how much of a role biology plays versus culture when looking at these discrepancies. One of the most obvious biological differences is testosterone. On average, in adult males, levels of testosterone are about 7–8 times as great as in adult females. Why is this important? Because testosterone increases aggression and risk-taking.

(UPDATE: After reading Robert Sapolsky’s book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst I’m much more skeptical of this claim. Sapolsky argues testosterone increases status seeking behavior. Evolutionarily this has generally correlated with aggression, but it can swiftly change based on a number of factors.)

If men are more aggressive and more prone to risk-taking, shouldn’t we see some differences between the sexes? And we do. This may explain why men make up 93% of inmates in the United States. It may also explain, at least partly, why there are more men in leadership roles and make more money for the same work (aggressively negotiating pay raises).

Of course, culture plays a significant role as well. Just look at any of the Abrahamic religions with their uncanny obsession with virgins and blaming of women for literally everything. The majority of religious communities still believe women should hold traditional roles in society. Not surprisingly, the least religious countries in the world are rated the highest in gender equality.

So lets go back to that original question- why is it that many people don’t like calling themselves feminists in the west?

In the internet era, the loudest and most fringe groups of people are given the largest platform. The third wave feminist movement is no different. Month after month, new videos have emerged online of self described feminists and some of there more absurd radical beliefs. A quick search of the word “feminist” on YouTube prompts words like ‘crazy’, ‘triggered’, and ‘cringe’. To my surprise, #KillAllMen isn’t satire to some.

Regardless of whether you consider these actions representative feminism is irrelevant. Guilt by association has done damage to the perception of feminism in western societies. Furthermore, I think many feminists simply don’t find the amount of focus on third wave feminism appealing. Many people believe that equality between the sexes already exists, and in many circles I don’t think this is an unreasonable position. However, with that said, I don’t think the issues third wave feminists face are completely insignificant. Just because there are more crucial issues in the world doesn’t mean the lesser ones don’t matter.

At the end of the day, we must be able to acknowledge gender differences while simultaneously encouraging greater equality. The debate on the significance of third wave feminism will continue, but in the meantime, let’s not argue over the semantics of a label.