Home > Politics, Science > Capitalism is live! Socialism is safe!

Capitalism is live! Socialism is safe!

I am a researcher in the field of verification. In this field, the systems are verified against desired properties. For example, we may want a space ship to have a property of not exploding in mid-air. After building the ship, we may also want some engineer to analyze the ship design to verify that indeed the ship will not explode. In our research, we are developing tools and techniques for the verification engineer. The ideas of the field can be applied in any dynamic system, e. g., Economics, Society, etc. Some parallels are very interesting. Here is an example.

In verification, we divide the desired properties of the systems into two classes: safety and liveness. Safety properties require that something bad will never happen. For example, the space ship will never explode. In contrast, the liveness properties require that something good will eventually happen. For example, the space ship will some day reach to the Moon. This distinction is there because verifying safety properties are computationally much easier as compared to verifying liveness properties. In our field, the first question the other researchers ask, “Are you dealing with safety or liveness?”.

I recently realized that the distinction between safety and liveness can be used to see the distinction between the socialist thinking (welfare state) and the capitalistic thinking (free market). Today, the argument between socialists and capitalists is raging all over the world. A socialist demands social justice, a safety net against extreme poverty, a liberal set of laws, etc, while assuming that the society is sufficiently wealthy. On the other hand, a capitalist demands efficient economy, free market, simpler laws to start businesses, minimal state, well defined property rights, etc, while assuming well developed legal and political system to protect citizen rights. I see both of them demanding desirable properties of the social system, while assuming too much. In fact, assuming something, which exactly the other one is demanding.

Essentially, the socialist wants safety.

Inequality in the society will never be above a certain level.

But he doesn’t consider an undesirable situation in which  the society is mostly egalitarian but does not have enough food. Everybody is equal but hungry.

On the other hand, the capitalist demands liveness.

Some of the people will eventually create wealth.

But he doesn’t consider an undesirable situation in which the society is vastly wealthy but a few oligarchs control almost all the wealth. Most of the society is poor and exploited by the oligarchs.

What we need is each of the properties without ignoring the other one.

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  1. February 25, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    But he doesn’t consider an undesirable situation in which the society is vastly wealthy but a few oligarchs control almost all the wealth. Most of the society is poor and exploited by the oligarchs.

    As a supporter of free-market capitalism, I would consider that an undesirable and highly objectionable situation. I may be mistaken, but one of the reasons I support free markets and the private ownership of the means of production is because I would think that would leave firms “smaller, flatter, and more crowded.” I think the first thing I would examine is how those oligarchs came to power in the first place. I can elaborate if needed, but I think there is good reason to believe that big business and big government go hand in hand by consolidating power and trimming competition.

    On another point, I am also interested in providing a social safety net. So long as government intervention tilts the playing field toward big business, I do not see anything inherently unjust about counter-balancing those effects with government assistance. Nevertheless, I do not think that a social safety net necessarily has to involve government. For me, a social safety net should encompass more than just charity from the government and private institutions. It would include mutual aid, which is resistant to economic downturns, and removing barriers to creating wealth and ensuring greater opportunities for self-employment. One of the reasons I would think of myself as a left-libertarian is because I support traditionally leftist goals, but I think there are more suitable (libertarian) means.

    Anyhow, thanks for the interesting post.

  2. February 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks for your comment! I will speak to the second part of your comment.

    There is no fundamental reason that why state should provide a safety net. A private charity or mutual aid can also be possible options. If they provide sufficiently strong safety net then I have no objection.

    In practice, I observe that there are always limit to these private charities. In terms of their resources and commitment. They focus on a subset of the population and moreover a subset of their problems. What will happen to the people who are failed to be covered by these mutual aids or private charities. We will always need a mutual aid of last resort. Since it is responsible for whole society, therefore all the people have to be part of it. Such, mutual aid is normally called “the government”. 🙂

    • February 26, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      You are right that I am not proposing a perfect solution. I do not think a perfect solution exists. With that said, respectable libertarians and classical liberals have taken that same view that even in non-emergency situations the government should be a last resort for temporary charity.

      Also, I think you are right that there are practical limits to private charities and mutual aid societies. But I would contend that those limits are made more constrained by government policies that crowd out private solutions and that aggravate the occurrence and severity of poverty that would otherwise exist.

      The crowding out is important because government assistance leaves fewer resources for private institutions to address the predominant causes of poverty, such as broken familial and community relationships, that governments are ill-equipped to address themselves. In addition, I think you might agree that a social safety net should do more than just to eliminate need. That is, it should do more than just treat the symptoms. By promoting dependency and other self-destructive attitudes, which I contend it does, government charity undermines or at least hampers the kinds of attitudes private institutions are equipped to promote (like benevolence, accountability, and self-discipline) that are needed to avoid poverty in the first place.

      So I can respect that you do not want to leave behind anyone in need. I share that same goal. I just think that having politicians do our work for us will leave behind more of those who are disadvantaged.

      Since it is responsible for whole society, therefore all the people have to be part of it.

      I am not saying I agree, but if we took it for granted that people have an objective moral imperative to provide for those in need, which is how I am interpreting your statement, we would need to ensure that people can make that choice voluntarily. If coercion is used, a person cannot be said to be acting morally (since an action taken under coercion has no moral significance), although the action of the person committing the coercion would have moral significance. A government that protects and preserves the liberty of its constituents is what is needed to promote human virtue and responsibility, which then makes it possible for people morally to pursue various social goals, like anti-poverty.

      If you just mean that reducing poverty would benefit most everyone, so it seems intuitively sensible that reducing poverty would be the responsibility of government, which acts on everyone’s behalf or at least has a bearing on everyone’s life. But that is where I draw a distinction between government, society, and the individual. In recognizing that individuals are going to draw from different beliefs, experiences, and goals to form their intersecting social relationships, what I would like to do is for individuals to practice as many forms of social interaction as they see fit, not because I think all social interactions are all as good as another, but because the best forms of social interaction will rise to the top in the marketplace of ideas. Not only does this avoid the trouble of conflict that would arise from having to debate and implement one single standard, which is the case today, the welfare of society would be maximized since the most number people possible would be able to practice what they believe. That is the great thing about freedom and the free market; when genuinely practiced, because everyone freely choices for what they think is best in a given situation, it simultaneously achieves unanimity and diversity.

      Again, thanks for the interesting discussion. That is all I probably have to add. Take care.

  3. February 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    There are many countries in the world where governments doesn’t crowd the marketplace of charity and still private charities can not solve people’s problems. I don’t see why safety net from government will promote dependency but private charity will not.

    The social safety net is not simply about free hand outs. It is about building a decent society by providing comprehensive solutions, including education, health, security, etc. Any charity that will try to act in this scale will inevitably become so large that it will be hard to make
    a distinction between this entity and the government. There will be leaders in these charity organizations. These leaders will be likely to make good or bad decisions as the politicians. At least, the politicians are, in some sense, accountable to the people who are needed to be helped.

    I used my quoted statement in your second sense.

    “If you just mean that reducing poverty would benefit most everyone,
    so it seems intuitively sensible that reducing poverty would be
    the responsibility of government.”

    At the end of your comment, the utopian world of liberty you are describing is leaving out some aspects of human existence. The liberty can never exist in perfect sense. A human has both rights and responsibilities. One may argue that any responsibility is infringement of one’s liberty. I hope you will accept that there are some responsibilities that every one has to bear. E.g., defending the nation. A decent society should always try to maximize rights and minimize responsibilities. The society has to ”collectively” come up the list of responsibilities of each individual. This ”collective” decision making is normally done via the government.

    In concrete, I am saying that it will be great if we don’t need a welfare state. But, I think that there are needs of society that can not fulfilled without a welfare state. In my opinion, the welfare state is one of such responsibilities.

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