The duh chronicles

“When will capitalism end?” asks a correspondent for the New Republic. This begins an article entitled, “What if Stalin had computers?” — which in turn reviews (arguably) a book by Paul Mason with the title, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. I found the whole mess incomprehensible, and so will do my bit to clean it up by answering the first question.

So far as I can see, Capitalism ended sometime around the year 1847.

As to the second, if good old Iosif Vissarionovich had computers equivalent to today’s, his Soviet Union might have resembled contemporary North Korea. Though on twenty times the scale. And not only would perfect “scientific socialism” have been achieved in Russia; it would probably have been spread under Stalin’s personal direction the whole world around.

I have, in a sense, cheated on both questions by answering them honestly and straightforwardly; whereas, their intention was instead to mislead — or as my sometimes vulgar papa used to put it, “baffle the brain with bullshit.”

In the first case, like our current pope, the writer is under the hypnotic delusion that free markets govern the world today. They may have governed parts of England in the summer of 1846, and parts of other countries later and as briefly, but the principles of Adam Smith and David Ricardo have never been popular among those with vested interests to defend, and guess what? Those with vested interests to defend are, by definition, those with power.

And yes, gentle reader, that’s a Catch-22. It took me years — decades — of trying to understand basic economic principles to realize: That socialists are whistling in the wind. But libertarians are whistling in a vacuum.

In the second case, the “what if” Stalin question, the unstated assumption is that Stalin does not have all the computers. Had he not, something like contemporary Red China might be imaginable, that we could call, “Stalinism with computers.” But no, China has a dirigiste mixed economy (which increasingly resembles our own), whereas the author is dreaming of pure socialism somehow working all by itself with advanced computers to finally outguess, outperform, and defeat the natural law of supply and demand.

Now, Stalin wasn’t the sort of guy to whom the diffusion of economic, or any other kind of power, appealed. He would have made sure that the computers belonged only to his party apparatchiks, and like the Kim family of Pyongyang, he would have continued the policy of executing those apparatchiks, too, as and when they happened to displease him.

Stalinism works, incidentally. There is a myth that it failed; but whether or not poisoned, the man died in his sleep. The Soviet Union did not crumble on his watch, despite tough moments during World War II; and at the present day, many Russians look back on the reign of Koba the Dread, with nostalgia. It was the (inevitable) weakening of Stalinist power that fatally undermined the Soviet system. The management of everything — including famines — had been an extremely successful political order for thirty years.

I do not oppose either the theory of Capitalism or the theory of Communism any more than I oppose the theory that pigs can fly. Indeed, given time, materials, and access to the Internet, I think I could rig up a catapult that would make a pig fly for more than fifty yards. With rocket science, perhaps put the pig in orbit. But I do not think this would make the pig very happy.

The task of the political propagandist is to secure the pig’s cooperation, on the promise that he’s going to have a lot of fun.

Perhaps today’s Idlepost will seem, to gentle reader, a little more whimsical even than usual. Yet, paradoxically, my point is that we do not discuss political issues in a realistic way. Instead, we ask questions based on unexamined, and rather imbecile, assumptions.

Indeed, as I notice from the election campaign, happening around me up here in the Far North, all politics is conducted like that: with assertions, promises, and questions that are meaningless.