@Noah, my steelman case for socialism is basically Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

I think that if Marx were alive and read-in on the last 150 years of history, he would declare that Western and Northern Europe’s social democracies were the closest to his vision of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, because all he had really meant by that infamous phrase was that true democracy would enable the proletariat to dictate terms to capital.

Which is exactly what happened in postwar Europe! Labor slowly chipped away at capital’s power, bargaining its way into now-entrenched social welfare states.

Marx would also declare that the Russian communists had completely lost the script, and that’s why they utterly failed despite giving it a valiant college try.

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It’s a common sport to stand-up Sanders as a one-dimensional cardboard cutout. I understand that impulse, but let’s look at few things seldom mentioned when Sanders is used in a political/economic discussion. Biden made a very important pivot in the month of July leading into the 2020 election:


Sanders is one of the few Senators who saw and voted against W’s Big Lie in re aluminum tubes and white cake — worst foreign policy decision in decades.

Sanders does something no other losing presidential candidate does: works his ass off in multiple rallies and fund-raisers for the candidates who beat him: he did 43 appearance/fund-raisers for Obama, whereas Hillary did 13 closed-door fund-raisers. When late in the run-up to the Democratic Party Convention, Ted Kennedy told Bill Clinton he planned to endorse Obama, who could forget Bill Clinton’s response: “Fifteen years ago, this guy would have been carrying our bags!” Lovely people, The Clintons.

The $15.00 minimum wage is an interesting point. Which candidate in a Democratic Presidential Debate forced Hillary to say she supported a $15.00 minimum wage? Sanders.

When Biden won the Democratic Party Nomination, no other defeated candidate worked harder than Sanders, who attended multiple rallies and fund-raisers.

The back-bench mitten-wearing photo of Sanders sitting alone at Biden’s Inauguration made for a nice internet meme. Biden made clear his view of Sanders, when, at the conclusion of his first State of the Union Address, he made a beeline for Bernie and embraced him in a bear hug. Sanders just happened to have a better seat, down front, on the aisle.

Losing candidates such as Sanders, like it or not, have a positive role to play in elections with razor-thin margins. Stacey Abrams couldn’t win public office in Georgia, but, boy, did she deliver an unexpected one-tie-breaker-vote Senate, using her organization to turn-out the vote.

Both Sanders and Abrams have spent years building organizations that stand the test of time, not the typical ad hoc, this-election-cycle ephemeral entities of many candidates. Like it or not, these organizations are critical. Without that one-tie-breaker-vote Senate, the IRA would be but a pipe dream.

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I don’t think you’re being fair to the Hill paper for two reasons. (1) He estimates “dynamic treatment effects for the policy cohort.” Which, as you know, means that a sort of control is how homelessness changed before the increased minimum wage, compared to after. (2) The homeless population is small and especially hard-to-employ compared to low-wage workers generally. So, I don’t see a problem with also saying that it is true that the minimum wage’s disemployment effects are generally undetectable. Disemployment could hit potentially homeless people harder and in ways that are not detectable when looking at the bulk of potential low-wage labor. Maybe the higher minimum wage brings more competitive low-wage workers into the market, which would mask a general disemployment effect.

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Great content to mull.

Connecting your view of (1) socialism's decline to (2) Northern Europe vs. North America to (3) swing voters rewarding success, you wrote:

"Americans enjoy higher material consumption than North Europeans, while North Europeans enjoy lower crime, longer lifespans, and more leisure."

Ultimately, isn't that platform of greater safety, better health, and less pressure to work multiple jobs (part of the misery of the impoverished) politically appealing, even if it comes at the expense of higher taxes? And isn't that a move toward socialism along the capitalist-socialism spectrum?

Although i don't see either political party dealing seriously, at least nationally, with any of these issues.

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Jul 20, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Thanks Noah for the discussion of Dr. Hill's unemployment paper. It didn't pass the sniff test and your analysis makes sense....

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I think the distorting role the EU plays has a lot to do with the bad decade Southern Europe has had. The financial crisis hit them hard because the previous decade had seen the Euro bring them Northern European levels of creditworthiness that fuelled domestic consumption. There's the overhang of that debt. But unlike what they would have done previously to combat a recession they couldn't devalue. So they're stuck with high unemployment and painful restructuring. The other thing you have to discuss is the issue of enlargement. Most of Southern Europe do still receive money from the EU on Net, but obviously the addition of Eastern European countries meant those payments had to be reduced. The EU did some small nominal adjustments, but its the inflation-adjusted numbers that really sting. Today, Greece is getting about $1.5billion less from the EU than it was at the turn of the century. You're talking tens of billions of lost investment over the past twenty years, and that's before you apply an escalator in terms of output generated to that investment.

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Interesting read, Noah, thank you. Regarding minimum wage and homelessness, I'd be interested to know if there's usually a fairly rapid increase in homelessness following the wage increase, or if it's more of a slow burn. I'm wondering if the increase is perhaps caused more by an influx of low-earning workers. If, for example city A increased the minimum to $15, while 120 miles away, city B stayed at, say, $7.50, couldn't we expect a large migration of city B's poor to city A? And if that migration was 10 people (who've now burned their last resources) for each available job, would we not expect a rather high spike in homelessness?

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Not sure I understand your statement "...I think the socialist movement of the 20th century did a lot of good for the world (and obviously ran off the rails in some places)..."

There are millions of Communist/Socialist victims who were brutally murdered throughout the world under various Socialist "revolutions" or "reforms" of the 20th century. Can't think of a single good thing the socialist movement has brought to humanity!

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re: Europe's economic struggles


This recent (same day?) post on the UK's economic struggles highlights how hard it is to be sure what is even happening or why. (GDP per capita is rising but wages are stagnant, etc, etc).

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Degrowth is actually a very good economic strategy. Trade consumption for leisure in rich countries. Net utility about the same probably, maybe higher. Suggest you study Ecology a bit and inventory trends in planetary life support systems. List of items that are, how to say, fucked: oceans, forests, insects, mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, soils, water, climate, ethics (added that after listening to NPR on the Supreme Court ethics bill in Congress). Farmers have been amazing at increasing production, but they are doing it with N made from fossil fuel (which accounts for half of world food production), many other fossil fuel inputs, toxic chemicals, loss of biodiversity, and soil mining. Maybe take a tour of the two dozen or so past empires that are ruins in deserts or jungles, or, in the case of Rome, right there in Rome. Technology is making us collectively stupider due to biased, self-interested information sources. Jim Hansen was right before and he's probably right now. I heard an inexpert journalist remark that climate change will stop when carbon emissions stop. Why? With all the feedbacks the pulse of carbon burning/ice melting/warming may not play out for thousands of years. There's plenty of carbon in forests, soils, oceans, seabed methane clathrates, permafrost, and peat to keep emissions going in a warming world via feedback amplification. Albedo change is another big one to amplify warming. Ignoring facts doesn't make them any less true.

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Jul 20, 2023·edited Jul 20, 2023

I think your burial of new socialism might be premature.

Some of the individuals involved with the movement are incredibly toxic or annoying but that's true of almost any progressive movement or cause.

There is a wide diversity of opinion among people who consider themselves socialist.

Some would agree with you on 90% of issues and you probably would agree to the same degree.

The decline and rise of movements is sometimes a matter of decades rather than just a few years so declaring 21st socialism is dead might seem a laughable statement a few years from now more laughable than say the end of history.

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"You do see a bit of divergence here between the top performers — the U.S., Sweden, and Germany — and the middle tier of the UK, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands. But the cumulative difference between these groups is not that large, and about half of it just looks like Covid."

Half? The UK has shot itself in both feet over the past decade but I'm not sure how that extends to Switzerland or the Eurozone countries. Meanwhile, how much has Southern Europe and all but a few parts of Europe except Germany been suffering from an overvalued currency that precludes a healthy export sector?

I'm pretty skeptical of any stories about divergence between advanced economies that are about culture or massive macroeconomic trends instead of about proximate causes that snowball under specific conditions. The US is a 330 million strong continent-wide market that's been relatively developed for two centuries. The rise of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan is a pretty extraordinary story and so is the fall of Argentina and Uruguay. I'd be interested in a series from you that doesn't lead me to the conclusion that Germany is kind of the villain.

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YIMBY vs NIMBY doesn’t fit well into a frame of “Democratic-aligned interest groups vs abundance”. Within the left at least, this is a *policy* dispute in which both sides see themselves as the good guys in a dispute between the public interest (more housing for YIMBYs, protecting environmental amenity and public housing for left-NIMBYs) and characterise their opponents (existing homeowners, greedy developers) as sectional interests. But neither homeowners nor developers constitute a D-aligned interest group who will vote the right way if mobilised.

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I'm a former Republican, and I think that supply-side progressivism is possible, but I also share some of Reihan Salam's worries.

There are aspects of Reaganomics that could really help out the abundance agenda right now, specifically deregulation, free trade, and increases in legal immigration.

We could build more factories if we streamlined the permitting process. Our factories could make more stuff if we could import steel without tariffs. And we could build more stuff in America with more workers.

Biden has helped out a bit with legal immigration, but we haven't done permitting reform or gotten rid of the Trump tariffs yet.

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is national industrial policy not usually just populist import substitution where commoner garden products become expensive in comparison with poorer folks wages if freer trade prevailed?

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