Sunday, August 14, 2016

Evolutionary and behavioral socialism

Abstract words are social tools. They help us guide our actions, but they depend on social context. Socialism is a noble word, but there is little doubt that it has been tainted by the crimes of communist countries and the Soviet Union. And today, by the lack of respect to human rights and the economic disasters of countries like Venezuela. However, the experience of what in some countries is still called democratic socialism, and which is pretty much indistinguishable from social democracy (today criticized for its failure to offer alternatives to austerity), is quite good. No other ideology has offered more welfare for longer to more people than social democracy. Like any other abstract ideology, socialism is discredited by their zealots. Geoffrey Hodgson argues that the current direction of the British Labour Party is falling down this road. Perhaps Tony Blair and Gordon Brown could have worried, when they could, to avoid developing policies that some in their ranks thought that they should be so radically reversed. Conervatives are very good at creating commitment devices and institutional and other constraints that prevent successive policy makers from reversing their achievements. Blair and Brown did not think about this. The blog Stumbling and Mumbling has very good thoughts on what a socialist utopia could be today. It should be based on three principles. Two are the traditional ones of freedom and equality. The third is new in left wing thinking: "we must recognise that knowledge and rationality are tightly bounded (...). Socialism should be achieved by evolution, by creating stepping stones – small institutional tweaks that create the potential for bigger ones. For example, small acts of empowering people – such as worker directors or patients’ groups – might create a demand for greater power." Worker directors and in general democratic worker ownership (not as a monopoly on ownership, but as a promoted form in a diverse economy) could be more incentivized. Sometimes it has failed, sometimes it has succeeeded -like other forms of ownership. Shannon Rieger has laid out the regulatory requirements in the US for it in this piece.

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