The Latest Icon Of The "Success" Of Socialism: Bolivia

With the Democratic Party in the U.S. and the Labour Party in the UK having gone over fully into advocacy for good old-fashioned Socialism (with a capital S), we could use a real-life example of a self-proclaimed Socialist country that can claim at least a semblance of success.

Bernie Sanders likes to say that he is advocating for Socialism on the Scandinavian model, but he keeps getting rebuked by actual Scandinavian leaders and economists who deny that their model is actually Socialist at all. For example, there was Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, in a 2015 speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

Or there was Swedish economist Johan Norberg, quoted in IBD in 2016 as to that country:

"In the 1950s, Sweden was already one of the world's richest countries, and back then, taxes were lower in Sweden than in the United States." It was only after that, says Norberg, "did we start expanding the government dramatically. And do you know what happened then? We started losing," says Norberg. "It all ended in a terrible crisis." [But] Norberg says the country has become "successful again, but only after a new reform period, with more deregulation and free trade than in other countries."

So where is a good Socialist to turn? Clearly, at this point Venezuela is best ignored. (The WSJ has a big front-page story today on the struggles of a young couple trying to flee Venezuela, along with about a full tenth of the population so far.) But fear not. The Nation has the answer. Bolivia! . . .

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New York City Housing Authority Update

New York City Housing Authority Update

I keep returning to the case of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) because it is such a perfect illustration of the socialist economic model in practice. There about 170,000 NYCHA apartments, housing around 400,000 people. Most of the apartments were built from about the late 1940s to the 1970s, to be technically “owned” by the City of New York, although nobody expects any return on the investment. Maintenance and upkeep are in the hands of a unionized bureaucracy, headed by a Commissioner reporting to the Mayor. The unionized staff gets paid for going through the motions, rather than for assuring that the residents are receiving a good-quality housing product. Nobody ever gets an extra dollar of pay for getting the buildings ready to go for the next ten years, or for the next generation.

Actually, it’s far worse than that. The commissioners turn over every few years, and their only interest is in not having the buildings fall apart on their watch. The employees have union contracts that perversely reward inefficiency. For example, NYCHA’s plumbers have negotiated themselves a deal where all shifts are Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 4:30 PM, and any work outside those hours gets paid at “overtime” rates. Clearly, the plumbers maximize their income when the plumbing is old and prone to regular breaks, requiring emergency calls during the nights and weekends when the pay is time-and-a-half or even double. Fortunately for them, the genius economic planners who put this NYCHA thing together some 40 to 70 years ago never considered the possibility that after such a period of time the buildings would need major capital upgrades. No plan was ever put in place to provide for such upgrades. As the buildings get older, the breakdowns become more frequent and worse. The living conditions get worse and worse, while the employees make more and more money.

Mostly, NYCHA has been out of the news lately. But thank the Lord for the New York Post, which will not let go. . . .

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More Excitement In The Air In New York: Rent Regulation To Be Expanded And Tightened

A couple of months ago I wrote about the excitement in the air in New York City as the newly elected state legislature, with large progressive Democrat majorities in both houses for the first time in many years, looked set to pass a “pied-à-terre” tax for New York City on high value condos owned by non-residents. Finally, we were going to get even with those evil out-of-town mega-billionaires for their sin of coming to our city and spending their money. The idea was that the state legislature would authorize the City to impose special real estate tax surcharges thought sufficient to raise some $650 million per year from just 5400 super-wealthy people who owned very-high-value residences. That would be some $120,000 per year from each one of them. Take that, billionaires! One guy — a hedge funder from Chicago named Ken Griffin, who had just bought an apartment on “billionaire’s row” for $263 million — was theoretically going to get socked for about $10 million per year.

And then, as quickly as it had arisen, the excitement dissipated. Somebody noticed that the high end condo market in Manhattan was already in sharp decline. This tax threatened to kill it off completely, along with the jobs of the people building and selling the apartments. Meanwhile, the tax looked to be relatively easy to evade, as by a mega-billionaire subleasing his apartment and staying in a big hotel suite. The originally-$650 billion estimated annual tax take started to drop like a stone. Today, the pied-à-terre tax idea seems to have died, although with the legislature still in session anything could happen.

But suddenly a new excitement is rising up. A key progressive agenda item, tighter and stricter rent regulation, long blocked by the formerly Republican-controlled state Senate, now looks set to sail through before the legislature winds up in June. Finally, we will be able to achieve perfect justice and fairness in rental housing prices, through the magic of government command and control. . . .

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The New York Times Does "What Went Wrong In Venezuela?"

In the past couple of weeks, the New York Times has had two big articles about Venezuela, describing the horrific conditions that now exist there, and analyzing what went wrong. On May 14, it was “How Venezuela Stumbled to the Brink of Collapse”; and on May 17 it was “Venezuela’s Collapse Is the Worst Outside of War in Decades, Economists Say.”

It will not surprise you that the word “socialism” does not appear in either article. But the stupidity here goes far beyond just not mentioning the subject of “socialism.” The affirmative effort in these articles is to somehow shift the blame for Venezuela’s economic collapse to something other than socialism, whether it be “poor governance,” corruption, or general incompetence. The May 17 piece does have a reference to “misguided policies,” but they never say what those “misguided policies” may be. Widespread nationalizations of industry? Massive public housing schemes? Heavily subsidized food and household products? “Free” healthcare? None of these are mentioned.

But of course they do mention — multiple times — the Trump administration’s sanctions, just imposed in the past couple of months, as if those have something meaningful to do with a 60-80% collapse of GDP that has taken place over a decade or more.

From a summary in the May 17 piece: . . .

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Frances Fox Piven, Icon Of The Left

In the New York Times, they have a section that goes by the name “New York” on weekdays and “Metropolitan” on Sundays. This section contains next to no useful information about what is going on in New York and/or the surrounding area. Even local news staples like murders and fires rarely get covered. And if you want to learn about the latest corruption in City government, or important new laws coming out of the state legislature, you mostly have to look elsewhere.

But they have to fill the space with something. A fair characterization of the large part of it would be “support for our team.” To illustrate, yesterday’s “Metropolitan” section was totally dominated by a single article that contained nothing about relevant local news. Instead, it was, to put it mildly, a fawning profile of a woman named Frances Fox Piven. The headline was “This 86-Year-Old Radical May Save (or Sink) the Democrats.”

Have you heard of Frances Fox Piven? She first came to my attention way back in the 1960s, when she had become one of the early enlistees in the “War on Poverty,” and went around leading loud welfare “rights” demonstrations. She’s been doing variations of the same ever since. But I can’t say that I have closely followed her career. This Times profile fills in many details, and in the process makes clear that Ms. Piven is a true archetype of the species sometimes known as the Upper West Side progressive radical. I thought that readers here might like an introduction.

Here is how the Times chooses to introduce its piece: . . .

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China Update: The "Reasonably Enlightened Autocrats" At Work

It’s almost a decade ago now, but who can forget perhaps the greatest New York Times op-ed of all time, penned by columnist Thomas Friedman in September 2009, with the headline “Our One-Party Democracy.”? In case you are struggling to remember back that far, recall that in the 2008 elections the Democrats had swept to control of all levers of power in Washington — the Presidency and both houses of Congress. And yet still, they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on issues that Friedman saw as critical, particularly healthcare and “climate change.” All they could do was fight among themselves in the Congress. Oh, wouldn’t it just be so much better if instead of this messy democracy thing, we could have some “reasonably enlightened autocrats” like they have in, say, China, who could address our pressing problems by just promptly imposing the solutions that are so painfully obvious to our genius progressive elites?

[W]hen [one-party autocracy] is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can . . . have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar.

Yes, China and its “reasonably enlightened autocrats” were truly poised back then to seize “climate leadership” from the United States, and relegate us once again to the scrap heap of history. Indeed the phrase “climate leadership” — referring to the enlightened policies of China — became a recurring motif for the Times in the intervening years.

Perhaps it is time to check in for a little update. . . .

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