Monday, June 14, 2021

The One-Stop Explanation of Why Marxism is Toxic Crap

The human disasters of actually existing Marxism flow directly from Marx’s theories.

Two toxic theorists and three mass murdering tyrants.

The most obvious feature of Marxism is that it has been the ruling ideology of a series of tyrannies, some of which murdered millions of their own citizens and all of which performed worse, typically disastrously worse, than their “capitalist” equivalents in promoting human well-being. The last point has been established by a series of clear natural experiments (North and South Korea, East and West Germany, China and Taiwan) but it also obvious if one just compares outcomes between reasonably similar states.

Communism (i.e. revolutionary Marxism) was strategically the best thing that ever happened for the US because it hobbled the two states most able to rival it, Russia and China. Both states have significantly fewer people, less wealth and lower standards of living, than they would have if neither had ever become Marxist.

Despite this disastrous history being the most obvious feature of Marxism, there are plenty of people who still call themselves Marxists. They give this appalling history a series of hand-waving evasions that they would not, for a moment, grant to “capitalism”. Apparently, around a 100 million deaths in purges, persecutions and terror famines (i.e. from deliberate policies of Marxist regimes) and an unbroken series of tyrannies is not enough evidence that there might be something a bit wrong with the original theory.

The justification will be something like “they did Marxism wrong”. This is just a hand-waving evasion. If you get the same basic pattern every time, then the outcome is inherent in the ideology.

Marxism is based on two (interacting) fables that go back at least to Adam Smith (1723–1790). One is the labour theory of value whereby any return from production that does not go to the workers is return on labour that labour does not get. The other is the theory of class that emerges from the labour theory of value.

Getting class completely wrong
Marx’s theory of class is that it is based on the extraction of surplus (the return from labour that labour does not get) by landlords and capitalists. The state is the instrument or manifestation of the underlying class structure of society. This is a version of an historical fable that, even today, most social scientists accept some version of and has long dominated scholarly thinking about the state.

This historical fable is that when humans developed farming, farming created surplus and social hierarchy from which the state arose. The state can therefore be understood as essentially an extrusion of the society that creates it. Marx’s famous statement that in capitalist societies [t]he executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie belongs firmly within this standard historical fairytale tale, one promulgated by Adam Smith and his intellectual heirs (which includes Karl Marx).

Almost every element of this fable is incorrect. First, farming does not, by itself, create a surplus (that is, production in excess of subsistence). Farming does greatly increase food production, increasing the ability to extract useable calories from the arable landscape by up to a hundredfold, but that just leads to more people.

For most of human history, extra food mainly meant extra babies. That is, more humans, more human biomass. This was a far stronger result from farming than any creation of more resources per person. Especially as it generally did not result in any such increase.

Farming created more human niches rather than noticeably larger human niches. Indeed, it tended to create smaller human niches (in the sense of health and nutrition quality) than foraging, just (a lot) more such niches. The health of people living in farming societies was persistently worse than that of foragers. 

The metabolic health costs of farming were worth it adaptively because they lowered the cost of individual children, so enabling people to have more children. In the genetic replication game that is evolution, farming was definitely a big winner over foraging.

Human societies thus remained within the social dynamics originally analysed by the Rev. Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) of population tending to increase to consume the food available. For farming to create a continuing and substantial surplus, food had to be intercepted and diverted before it led to more babies. (Technological and commercial surges in available resources provide complications that need not detain us.)

Direct expropriation of food on any scale was only practical if there was significant stored food. This is why most farming societies did not create states. States arose in only a relatively small minority of farming (and no foraging) societies. Though all societies, including all farming, pastoralist and foraging societies, eventually had states imposed upon them.

Farming generally results in significant amounts of stored food only if one is harvesting seasonal crops, notably grains. (Also potatoes, as potatoes are a seasonal, temperate crop that is relatively non-perishable, so function like a grain.)

If one grows crops that can be harvested all year around, there is normally no significant storage, so no significant amounts of food to be systematically, and recurrently, seized before it supports more babies. New Guinea, in all its thousands of years of farming, trade and conflict, never produced anything resembling a state, or even a chiefdom, because it is a land of crops harvested all year round, with minimal storage of food. It lacked the taxable resource-base for chiefdoms and states to arise.

Moreover, if one is living off seasonal crops, it becomes vital to ensure that (1) the stored food is available between harvests and (2) the stored seed-grain is available to sow next year’s harvest. Seasonal crops thus create a particularly intense protection problem. Even more so if there were other groups, especially pastoralist nomads, within raiding range. That protection problem encouraged the rise of specialist protectors (or organisers of protection), thereby providing a basis for the development of coercive power across generations: the basis for creating chiefdoms and states.

The benefits of coordinating protection opened up the possibility for the systematic and recurrent appropriation of stored food sufficient to create and sustain chiefdoms and then states. Societies did not easily nor simply go from farming villages to states. There had to be some build-up of the capacity to defend, to coordinate and to appropriate. Hence chiefdoms preceded states (but not all chiefdoms created states).

So, the farming-leads-to-surplus-leads-to-states fable about the origin and nature of states falls over at the start. The story about hierarchy is not much better. Most farming societies did not create much in the way of social hierarchies. Stored food was the dominant source of social inequality and hierarchy. Though inequality and hierarchy was also a feature of controllable resources generally (such as salmon runs). But only some farming leads to stored food and only some stored food comes from farming. To generate enough surplus to support a state requires systematic and recurrent generation of enough stored food that the state can then appropriate sufficient food to reliably support itself.

Sedentary foraging societies with stored food (e.g. salted fish) could and did generate social hierarchy, chiefdoms, slavery and warfare. It was stored crops, particularly grains, that usually generated the scale of resources required to generate states. (Sub-Saharan Africa, with its mixture of seasonal and non-seasonal crops, generated trade-and-slavery states, but trade also generates a storable goods protection problem.)

States and class
Once the state evolved in (or was imposed on) any society, it dominated the generation of surplus in that society. In a real sense, each state had to remake its originating society so as to sustain itself (and then impose the same remaking on any areas it conquered).

The state was almost invariably not some “extrusion” of a society, it was the dominant structuring element in its society. If it could not structure society so as to sustain itself, it would either not arise in the first place or, if it could not sustain the required structuring of society, it would collapse. Even cooperative-bargaining (i.e. non-autocratic) states remade their societies. An example being the abolition of lineage-based tribes within both Athens and Rome and their replacement by territorial designations depending on where in the city one lived. (Judging by the disappearance of kin terms differentiating male- and female-line kin from classical Greek, such replacement of lineage-based kin groups seems to have been a general pattern in Mediterranean city-states.)

The first, and arguably the greatest of historical sociologists, Ibn Khaldun(1332–1406) discussed states structuring their societies, using the Aristotelian language of form for structure rather than the more economistic language that we are, post-Marx, used to. Thus he writes:
… dynasty and royal authority have the same relationship to civilization as form has to matter. (The form) is the shape that preserves the existence of (matter) through the kind of (phenomenon) it represents. It has been established in philosophy that one cannot be separated from the other. One cannot imagine a dynasty without civilization, while a civilization without dynasty and royal authority is impossible, because human beings must by nature co-operate, and that calls for a restraining influence. Political leadership, based on either religious or royal authority, is inevitable. This is what is meant by dynasty. Since the two cannot be separated, the disintegration of one of them must influence the other, just as its nonexistence would entail the nonexistence of the other.
(Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, Chapter 4, Section 1.)
In other words, the state structures society. It cannot be assumed to be the extruded product of a society.

Perhaps the most extreme example of such structuring is provided by Egypt, which generated the quickest, and most thorough, transition from seasonal-crop farming to highly centralised state. Yet, from the flight of pharaoh Nectanebo II in 343BC to the officers’ revolt which overthrew the Albanian Alawwite dynasty in 1953, Egypt was ruled by foreign empires or foreign dynasties. For almost 23 centuries, there was a state in Egypt, but there was not an Egyptian state. Even if each iteration of the state in Egypt adopted the techniques for exploiting Nile valley farmers developed by the pharaohs, whatever state ruled Egypt was not an extrusion or product of the society it ruled. It imposed structures on that society congenial for its continued rule and reflective of its (external) origins.

States are typically not creations of class structures. Typically, they have been the dominant creators of class structures. States have dominated the creation of class structures as they have dominated the extraction of surplus and, typically in alliance with priesthoods and clerics or (in the case of China) secular clerisies, dominated the socialisation of function: what status various social groups had; what access to surplus they had and on what basis; what were their rights and obligations. Surplus + socialisation of function => class structure.

So, states themselves are, historically, the dominant extractors of surplus and the dominant creators of class structures. The former is still true, by the way. Look at the size of the tax take in any Western democracy. It is way larger than the profit share of GDP. (Though, in the sense of income above subsistence, technology and economic structures dominate the creation of surplus, with the state taking far more of that surplus than do company profits.)

But the most dramatic example of states as the dominant creators of class structures is provided by every revolutionary Marxist state. In each case, the ruling regime seized the state, atomised society and restructured society to serve its own power and purposes, thereby creating the class structure of its society. Marx’s theory of class proved to be self-refuting by Marxism.

Marx’s theory of value claimed that surplus came from exploitation of labour by landlords and capitalists. So, if you abolished such exploitation, you abolished class. Marxist regimes abolished such designated exploitation by concentrating all social power in the hands of the ruling regime via the state: the actual historically dominant extractor of surplus and creator of class structures. So, of course Marxism-in-power created murderous tyrannies run by elites who extracted the surplus from society for their own ends.

Stalin was able to extract far more surplus for his own purposes from a smaller-in-territory-and-population Soviet Union than Tsar Nicholas II had from the larger-in-territory-and-population Russian Empire. Stalin created one of the largest slave systems in history. He (re)imposed serfdom, as people were not allowed to leave a workplace without the workplace’s permission. The Kim regime in Korea is, in effect, a recreation of the dynastic God-kings of early states, with more advanced technology.

This pattern of tyrannical regimes extracting surplus for their own ends was not some weird, recurring accident. It was a direct result of Marx getting class fundamentally wrong.

Getting value wrong
So, why did Marx get class so completely wrong? Because he got value profoundly wrong.

On this point, as elsewhere, there is not much point in engaging in some forensic analysis of what Marx actually wrote. While he was a rhetorically powerful reasoner (and asked some good questions), he was also a persistently dishonest one. That is, when he makes some claim that might be critiqued he adds in some fudging protection, so that he can always point to the protective fudge to evade critique. As he put it in a letter to Engels, one just uses a bit of dialectic to get out of any difficulty in analysis.

So, consider Marx’s basic characterisation of profit: the return on labour that labour does not receive. Why do people engage in labour? Why did our original foraging ancestors engage in effort? To gain something they wanted. Why did they want it? Because it has some feature of characteristic they needed (nutrition) or otherwise valued (it tasted good, it was fun, it made getting food easier, and so on).

So, the labour was directed to what people valued. That is the basic connection between labour and value: labour is typically directed to what people value. If the labour is successful, the value is gained. If the labour is not successful, then the value is not gained. Since success is not measured by the labour, labour is not the source of value. It “creates” value only in specific circumstances.

So, labour is the “source” of value only if one completely ignores the discovery process involved in applying labour, in putting in effort, to successfully achieve value. Human history is fundamentally a history of discovery. The way labour is applied always relies on some previous process of discovery. Indeed, all of evolution is fundamentally a process of discovery: discovering what can be successfully replicated.

What increases the value that labour, successfully applied via discovery processes, provides? Well, land for one. Foragers engaged in a lot of search activity to find that which they valued. What was available to be discovered made a big difference in how they went about that (how they applied their labour) and what they were likely to discover (what was the outcome of doing so).

Foraging, especially hunting, is a skilled activity. People had to learn skills to be effective foragers. In contemporary foraging societies, the productivity of foragers peaks at about 45 years of age. As humans increasingly adopted skill-based foraging techniques, that meant that older males could be desirable mates. The older the male, the longer the telomeres of their offspring tend to be, so the longer such offspring tended to live. This resulted in more human females living past menopause, which enabled them to finishing raising the children they had when they were about 40 and to invest in the children of their children (as they stopped having children of their own).

The learned skills that meant productivity of the provisioning human males peaked at an older age were the cognitively incorporated — indeed embodied, including via muscle memory — results of discovery processes. Labour is always effort + (past or present) discovery. Skilled labour simply incorporates a higher level of (past) discovery.

What’s another thing that increases the value that labour, successfully applied via discovery processes provides? Tools. Which are a form of capital, the produced means of production. Humans became tool makers because that made their labour more productive. As skills are learnt, they are also a produced means of production, so human capital.

So, the more (useful) land, the more capital (including human capital) and the better the discovery processes, the more value the application of labour is likely to provide. Workers in developed economies have much higher wages than folk generally do elsewhere, or in the past, because they are supported by a great deal of productive land, capital and accumulated discovery processes.

How does one get folk to look after the land, provide capital and engage in discovery? Make sure they gain benefit from doing these things. Why does every society ever known generate returns to land, capital and discovery? Because these things magnify the value that labour can achieve.

Together, they create value in the sense of providing things people value. But the value comes from people’s reaction to the things provided. Economic activity “creates” value in that sense, and that sense alone. It “creates” value if it is successfully directed towards providing things people value and does not “create” value if it is not, regardless of how much labour and other resources might have been applied to such activity.

There is another feature of economic activity not yet covered in the above. That is risk. The notion of discovery implies the possibility of not discovering. Or even of disastrous discovery (e.g. that thing that tasted OK was actually poisonous). Search involves risk. Effort involves risk. Not doing anything involves risk. Risk has to be managed. Good risk management is a very useful thing. It makes creating value, particularly doing so recurrently, from the application of a given amount of resources much more likely.

Human foraging is cooperative. In contemporary foraging societies, individuals vary in their social connections, what anthropologists call relational wealth and economists social capital. Such connections function as information (i.e. discovery) networks and risk management networks, as they are constructed by exchanges of favours. Management of risk has always been part of human activity and social organisation. So has land, so has capital.

The analytical advantage of starting with foragers is:
  • that is where we came from, and
  • we can see basic economic patterns without exchange being a major factor. (Though evidence for exchange dates back to our emergence as a species.)
If exchanging something we produced or acquired for something that someone else produced or acquired has been going on for our entire history of a species, a mere 200,000 years or so, then we are probably adapted to engaging in exchange. Producing things for sale, for exchange, is not, in any useful sense, inherently alienating.

Though it is not exchange itself that is allegedly alienating. Rather, if labour creates (all) value, then any value from productive effort that does not go to labour is return from labour they did not receive. That is allegedly the source of alienation.

Those familiar with Marx’s writings, or Marxist theory, will notice I have ignored the use-value/exchange-value distinction. (Mainstream economics calls the first utility, and the second price, where cost is what you pay or imposed, which may or may not be priced.) This is because:
  1. exchange-value is driven by use-value, including use in exchange, as all exchange is driven by variation in valuations: we exchange what we value more for what we value less; and
  2. it is perfectly possible to make key points by considering foraging economies where exchange is not a major factor — they are instead dominated by connection and pooling. It makes it easier to see that that use-value/exchange-value distinction does not get you where Marx wants to go with it.
So, moving to an exchange economy, you put land, labour and capital together in the hope of creating more value than was consumed. Suppose you fail. That is, you make a loss. Who covers the loss? Who is in the best position to cover the loss?

Generally speaking, not the workers. They generally lack the resources to do so. More importantly, they lack the control to do so. Forcing folk to cover losses from processes that they do not control is a very bad incentive structure. So, the person who covers the loss better have sufficient control over the processes of production to affect the pattern of risk. Why would they cover the loss? Because of some hope of gain.

You could pay them to cover the risk of loss. That is how one gets an insurance industry. Or, you could have them not only cover the losses, but also gain the profits. That provides them with an incentive to cover losses and to organise production so that profits are more likely.

Hence the structure whereby business are owned by the people who put up the capital to cover the risk of loss and, in return, receive the profits. Does this remotely look like “the return from labour that labour does not gain?” Or does it look like the return from taking on the risks, from engaging in discovery, from organising land, labour and capital to be productive?

Would labour be as productive without those things? Does doing those things make the labour more valuable? Does doing those things increase the return to labour? No, yes, and yes. Hence firms and workers can contract for mutual gain.

The labour theory of value “works” by assuming success. By assuming that production of value is successfully achieved when labour is applied to production. So you don’t have to worry about discovery, risk, consuming more value than you produce, etc. But that just assumes away a whole set of hard questions.

If all the value of production is returned to the workers in an enterprise, how do you pay for upkeep of land, acquiring and maintaining capital, managing risk, discovery processes? No enterprise can operate for any length of time by returning all the value it produces to labour. So, burbling on about “return to labour that labour does not receive” is nonsense on stilts. Especially given how much all these things affect the success of the application of labour. Firms generally don’t happen by workers congregating together and assembling the processes for creating value, as there is a lot more involved than labour.

Marxist states were appallingly bad at looking after the land and at maintaining buildings and equipment, were not good at providing capital for anything beyond the convenience of the regime. Nor were they good at discovery processes (apart from stealing other folk’s discoveries). Why? Because they were command economies and based on Marx’s labour theory of value, with the latter tending to exacerbate the problems of the former. All value was deemed to be created by labour: not by land, capital or discovery. Folk owning land or capital was inherently exploitive because they extract a “return from labour” that labour does not receive. The consequences of this fundamental misreading of the processes of creating value were predictable, and predicted.

Pretending that payment for use of land, for creating and maintaining capital, managing risk, and discovery processes is not payment for value received is just another hand-waving evasion. As is pretending that it is payment for labour. Value is what labour (and use of land, and use of capital, and discovery processes, and risk management) is directed towards. Value is only produced by any of these things, including labour, if it is successfully so directed and is much more likely to be achieved if all these things are successfully so directed.

Property as incentive structure
The notion of private property emerges very early in human history, though it does not become a major feature of human societies until the development of sedentism, farming and pastoralism. The basic idea of property is not mine! — any silverback gorilla male with a harem can do that — but yours!

Exchange is a fundamentally normative activity: it makes what was yours, mine and what was mine, yours. We humans engage in exchange so readily because we are a far more normative species than are our primate near relatives. Our normative and cooperative capacities have made us the global ape.

Chimpanzees conform much more to the predictions of game theory in strategic games than do humans because they are less normative than are humans. A Pan troglodytes in a lab is distinctly more homo economicus than are Homo sapiens.

As a group-living species that also pair-bonded, some notion of yours! had to develop to permit pair-bonding to happen. That is, both the males and the females in the group had to acknowledge some sense of the pairing being off limits to others.

In contemporary foraging societies, young folk do not “break even” in their calorie contribution to the group until about age 20. On average, in such societies, males dominate the provision of protein to the group, provide a majority of calories to the group and overwhelmingly dominate the provision of protein and calories to children, once they are weaned. There was no evolutionary stable alternative than investment in children that they could be reasonably confident were theirs to getting males to provide for children at the consistency and level needed to raise such remarkably helpless human infants into adults, a process taking about 20 years.

(Investing in one’s sister’s children — i.e., substituting unclehood for fatherhood — is a possible alternative, but it operates as the main mechanism of male provision for children in a very small number of societies. Given that nephews and nieces are more genetically distant from oneself than are sons and daughters, it is an inferior gene replication strategy. One typically adopted in circumstances of high uncertainty about the paternity of individual children.)

Once you have farming and pastoralism, then property rights develop in earnest. Having someone gain the benefits from controlling some thing (or some attribute of the thing) is often the only stable way to get around free rider problems and tragedy of the commons. It motivates better use (and maintenance) of the owned thing. This is why property rights are such a pervasive feature of human societies. Indeed, substituting control of attributes by their agents for more widely distributed property rights is often done by the powerful so as to make it easier for them to appropriate the labour, or products of the labour, of others. This was as true in Pharaonic Egypt as in Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China or Kim Dynasty Korea.

When regulation in modern societies goes wrong, it often does so by poorly aligning effective control over an attribute with the incentives to productively use said attribute. This is particularly likely to be true when discretionary power is given to an official. Especially as corruption is essentially the market for official discretion: the more official discretions there are, the more extensive such corruption is likely to become.*

Regulation, especially if it involves considerable official discretions, can often be a considerable source of commercial risk. This tends to favour larger enterprises, as they can better manage such risks. Being larger provides them with more capacity to influence, even manipulate, regulatory processes. This perverse interaction between regulation, risk and response can be seen in any jurisdictions that engage in extensive land management via official discretions.

The coercive basis of the state, and its consequent ability to operate with, even benefit from, poorly aligned incentives makes it a much less reliable mechanism for encouraging human flourishing than is often assumed. Especially as you functionally pay an organisation to do what makes its income go up. Thus, government health systems get more income if the metabolic health of the citizenry gets worse, not better. Government health systems colonise the ill-health of the population, so have pervasive institutional interest in metabolic health getting worse, as it has. Hence crap official nutrition guidelines that are not based on sound science but are generating obesity even in the US armed forces.

When Western states gave up their territorial colonies, they switched from colonising other people’s societies to colonising their own. (We call this process of internal colonisation “the welfare state”.) Much of that has involved colonising social pathologies, with the income streams received by state organisations tending to increase as the social pathologies that they are tasked with “solving” increase.

Perhaps the best protection for state action is being judged by the publicly declared intent of policies. (Which is, of course, much easier to do than ferreting out actual effects, especially as they often require consideration of counterfactuals.) Marxism has very grand intentions. So do Marxist states. As they will tell you. At great length.

Command economies become increasingly corrupt over time because they are so pervaded by official discretions. Informal “grey” market or illegal “black” ones emerged to try and keep the command economies working. They were both necessary to get around the pathologies of the system and a result of those pathologies. Command economies are also bad at managing and maintaining assets as those in control of such assets do not get sufficient (sometimes any) return from better management.**

When Austrian school economists von Mises and Hayek criticised command economics on the basis of the inability to calculate value, they under-estimated the resilience of actually existing socialism because people adapted to the pathologies of the system. The informal and illegal markets, and other adaptations, were not enough over the long run. But they kept the command economies functioning longer and better than they otherwise would have. (Especially as it turned out that the planners were surreptitiously putting market information from the West into their plans.)

As all human societies have to grapple with free rider problems and the tragedy of the commons they have evolved a range of responses to deal with them. Which can include local resource management regimes. How arrogant do you have to be to think that abolishing all the mechanisms that evolved to deal with such problems was remotely a clever thing to do? Marxist-level arrogant.

Though, with critical social justice and its associated forms of critical constructivism, we are getting a new wave of such arrogance, one concentrated more on cultural rather than economic revolution. Then again, critical constructivism is, like Marxism, also a form of transformative, golden-future progressivism. One that traces much of its intellectual lineage back to Marxism and, like Marxism, represents the worship of the golden-transformative-future splendour in progressive heads.

Not only crap, but toxic crap
Marxism has disastrous outcomes because it is a crap theory of class based on a crap theory of value. Marxist historians can only make their analytical framework work by either ignoring whatever parts of history don’t fit or by ignoring the framework whenever it gets in the way of doing good historical scholarship. But Marxism does give its adherents a reassuring, though false, sense of understanding how societies work, how history works and the direction that history is going in.

Marxism is a manifestation of progressivism: of belief in a transformative golden future that is taken to inherently ennoble its adherents. It encourages mutual worship of the splendour in their heads. It provides a heroic narrative that adherents can write themselves into. All based on disastrous falsehoods.

With enough mutual worship of the splendour in progressive heads, any amount of tyranny, mass murder and mass death is possible. As we have seen again and again.***

This is what makes Marxism not only crap, but toxic crap. Marx’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen), a vision of a society without alienation — a vision of a splendid future so golden that any sacrifice for it is worthwhile — is combined with a disastrously wrong conception of value and economic processes and, as a consequence, a disastrously wrong conception of class and, as further consequence, a disastrously wrong conception of the role and dangers of the state.

The awful human cost of Marxism in power is not a result of some perversion of Marx’s thought. It is a direct consequence of his theories. It is a result of Marxism’s disastrous pretensions to, but profound failures of, understanding combined with justifying moral grandeur.

Tens of millions of dead in an unbroken series of tyrannies testify to how much Marxism is toxic crap. It represents neither understanding nor moral grandeur. Just delusions of understanding lost in self-flattering heroic narratives that shield those adherents from self-understanding. Or asking the right questions to gain understanding. Marxism is toxic crap at so many levels.

Yet Marxism remains profoundly influential, including via critical theory and its offshoots. Not due to its analytical value, still less its moral value, but because of its rhetorical power and its ability to generate self-flattering, but profoundly mistaken, senses of moral and social understanding.

We are a group-living species. So we are a status-concerned and status-driven species. Between the heroic narrative, the sense of moral grandeur, the mastery of arcane terminology, the sense of purpose, meaning, and understanding, Marxism--like golden, transformative future progressivism generally--is the basis of an industrial-strength collective status strategy. It turns out it does not need to be accurate about the world, it just has to provide the right motivation, the right sort of appeal, to enough folk who are happy to derive their sense of status and identity from what is in their heads. Apparently, no amount of tyranny and mass murder can trump that.


*Corruption need not be financial. There can also be moral and intellectual corruption whereby officials substitute status strategies, that is personal social or cognitive benefits (including ideological self-satisfaction), for genuinely public-interest-focused performance of their duties.

**It is a misnomer to think of command economies as abolishing property rights. They confiscate private property and allocate legal property rights to the state. But economic property rights, control of things and attributes of things, are distributed across the apparatus of the state because such control has to be distributed for production and resource management to function. Distributing economic property rights across the state apparatus does so in ways that tends to suppress key information feedbacks, misaligns incentives, undermines quality control and encourages waste. Command economies are, in no sense, “solutions” to any alleged problem of property rights. They magnify such problems in ways fundamentally antithetical to human flourishing.

***There is also the problem of such regimes selecting for pathological personalities. The notion that commitment to the transformative golden future is ennobling provides cover for Dark Triad personalities while the creation of a single hierarchy of power in revolutionary command economies provides them with a single target to aim at. Their narcissism makes them self-focused on personal advancement, their Machievallianism makes them effective players of the self-advancement game and their psychopathy minimises any self-constraint on their actions, making them more ruthless players of the self-advancement game. Needless to say, selecting for pathological personalities, and handing them great power over others, is not good for promoting human flourishing.

[Cross-posted from Medium.]