More on Socialism and Communism

I especially love it when people start trying to educate me about the USSR.

“But there were good things in the Soviet Union,” they say.

“No, there weren’t.”

“But the medical care was great.”

“No, it was horrible and barbaric.”

“But the education was wonderful.”

“No, it was really worthless.”

“But I read in a book how the Soviet Union was good.”

“And while you were reading that book, I was actually living in that horrible system.”

I have to say that the general ignorance on the subject of the Soviet Union is daunting. I have a friend – a very intelligent, highly educated guy – who shared with me how much his friend, who is a single mother, struggles in Canada.

“She’d be treated like a hero and offered every kind of support in the Soviet Union,” he announced to me.

I almost fell off my chair because of the sheer idiocy of this statement.

And since we are talking about socialism, I wanted to mention that whenever the government begins to have a stronger control over business, goods and services immediately diminish in quantity and quality. Whenever my sister travels from Canada to the US, that’s the first thing she notices. The same kind of stores in the US carry a much wider selection and the goods are significantly cheaper than in Canada. Furniture, baby clothes, shoes – everything is much better and much cheaper in the US. I guess we all know why that is and what exactly the Canadian government is doing to squeeze the entrepreneurial spirit out of the country. (This is a very sore point for me right now, so please tread gently.)

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37 comments on “More on Socialism and Communism

  1. Please tell me the people who are claiming (to you! someone who lived in it!) that the USSR was the bee’s knees are all in their twenties. Because I can excuse–barely–such buttheaded ignorance in the younger generation because 1) apparently they no longer teach history in school, because there is no room for it among the twenty-thousand different kinds of sports kids are involved in instead, and 2) once the Berlin Wall fell anything referring to the Soviet Union of yore vanished from tv and the movies. Oh every once in a while they’ll show The Spy Who Loved Me on TBS, but other than that, one of the chief plot settings of American entertainment was pushed down the memory hole. And in America if it isn’t on television, it didn’t happen.

    Really, every day I marvel that there is hardly any discussion of how the Cold War and the USSR loomed over our consciousness when I was a younger, by which I mean my entire childhood into my twenties. We were literally certain that we had no future — that finally the Button would get pushed and nuclear armageddon would destroy the world. Everyone remembers the Reagan administration for all the fun bling people were making in the Eighties, though every once in a while someone will mention something about this other country that we were confronting, where was it, what was the big deal… But then some liberal who still has a “Ronnie Raygun” button somewhere will start screaming about how fascist he was and his evil devil wife and her Just Say No To Drugs and the astrology and the Grecian formula hair dye and the makeup and the conservative will counter with “Bling! Grandpa!” and everyone will forget again.

    Sometimes I think I fell down a rabbit hole into another world.

    • “Please tell me the people who are claiming (to you! someone who lived in it!) that the USSR was the bee’s knees are all in their twenties. ”

      – Unfortunately, no. These are all mature adults. And it’s very annoying to have one’s own experiences dismissed in this way because somebody read some silly book.

      I, for one, don’t do such things. When I want to form an opinion on, say, Reagan, I write a blog post where I ask people to share their experiences and opinions so that I can get educated. This is the only reasonable thing to do.

      • “Unfortunately, no. These are all mature adults.”

        This is my RAGE face. Really, they have no excuse, unless they were always closet Marxists and it’s a “my team” thing. But there is tons of literature on the former Soviet Union, and it’s not under lock and key. They just don’t want to know — they’d rather believe everything was rosy.

  2. In 2008, we found out what happens when the government exercises too little control over business. :-) There’s a balance of how much control the government should have, and too much as well as too little is bad.

    • “In 2008, we found out what happens when the government exercises too little control over business. ”

      – Well, I think it’s more complex than that. In 2007-8, the government rewarded failing businesses with huge amounts of money for being stupid and useless. And that happened because some businesses are better lobbyists than others. So I wouldn’t say that the problem here was simply too little control by the government. I believe that the problem was selective control guided by corruption.

    • And then we found out what happens when government gets too much control over business. Really, I don’t think you can blame the economic crisis on “too little control” of the housing industry. (I assume the housing bubble is what you are talking about.) Believe me, it was a team effort: government busybodies “suggesting” to banks and lenders that they stop “discriminating” against people with low incomes; banks and lenders who both wanted to make more money and avoid the government bothering them; a population in thrall to the idea that the key to happiness and success was owning property (not the reward for success, but the key to it); which resulted in more and more people trying to buy homes, which resulted in “studies” showing that minorities were the ones having the most trouble buying those homes because in this country many minorities have lower incomes and bad credit, which resulted in government busybodies leaning on lenders even more, which resulted in lenders trying all sorts of schemes to get the feds off their backs, which resulted in people buying homes they could not afford with mortgages that were well beyond their means to pay, which resulted in mortgage plans like balloon mortgages and adjustable-rate mortgages (your interest is some come-on low figure like 5% the first year or so, then it shoots up to 18% or something and you suddenly have a much bigger mortgage payment than you had before), and all this resulted in housing prices going up and up and up, well beyond what the actual homes were worth…

      And the result of all this was the whole house of cards crashing down. Part of it, sure, was the stupidity of the people who bought homes they could not afford, and part of it was also the lenders lending money to people they knew would not be able to pay it back, but a really big part of this was the government hovering over everything, poking at gears and yanking on pulleys, because they can’t leave well enough alone and there might have been oh noes racism involved in turning that black family away, and above all the American collective delusion that you are not a whole person unless you own a house. And I haven’t even touched on the federal dicking around with the interest rate.

      My background for this is: I worked for a mortgage company for fourteen years, from 1986 to 2000, then a home-building company for four years after that. In Florida, where the housing bubble exploded most spectacularly because real estate is one of Florida’s major industries. And while the housing bubble might not be what you are talking about, it might as well be, because in the US property drives everything, and the US economy drives the world

  3. I am having a hard time imagining that the Russian education system was totally worthless. I know several excellent Russian mathematicians, although I would agree that the Poles are better in this regard. If the educational system were totally worthless, there could not be anyone who was well-educated by it. This is clearly not true.

  4. The U.S is wonderful. People can do what they want. Goods and services rain down upon us like manna from heaven. Only soreheads would ever even imply that America is not the greatest and most wonderful country that ever existed.

    • “Only soreheads would ever even imply that America is not the greatest and most wonderful country that ever existed.”

      – If you read my posts on the US, you will see that this is not a statement that should be directed at me. You can not be more critical of this country than I am. But being critical does not mean being blind to reality. The selection of goods and services here is,, indeed, much better than in Quebec and I’m ready to defend this point of view anywhere.

  5. What I learned about the USSR as a child:
    To be honest, I was a child when the USSR ceased to exist, and I got my knowledge from popular culture mostly. I just remember jokes about bread lines, and the Rocky IV villain and video game characters, and vaguely remember Gorbachev. I also remember it being a really big deal when the Berlin Wall fell and department stores selling pieces of concrete. When I was in middle school, I remember the nuns explained to me that communism was how they divided their possessions up between them. History classes then stopped at World War II. I read Animal Farm and 1984 in 8th grade, I think.

    In high school, history classes for most people stopped at World War II. Since I was interested in history, l learned about the Vietnam War. Most of my knowledge about the USSR came in college because I was a a history and a political science major, and my professors were still boggling over what that meant for political theory.

    When I went to visit my grandparents as a child every two years in a “non-aligned state”, the economy was very tightly controlled (there was one state television station, and lots of crackdowns on people bringing in video cameras to stop resellers at customs). Gradually they loosened regulations on the economy, (my cousins could buy more things more easily, the number of tv stations grew).

    I never learned that things in the USSR were awesome, (it was more like we are lucky to live in the USA because we are free) but I don’t have the fear cloud in my brain when people say “socialism” either. Some things are better operating in capitalism and privatized (like most consumer goods), and some things are better operating through the government (like armies, prisons, health care). (Simplistic, I know).

    I’m in my early 30s.

  6. OK, so Communism didn’t work in the Soviet Union, but that just means that it wasn’t real Communism.

    I hear that Cuba is great. They have this excellent health care system so everyone is in such great shape that they can actually swim all the way to Miami. Can you imagine unhealthy Americans doing that?

      • I was born in Miami, Florida in 1963. I lived there until 1999, when I moved to Orlando, where I lived for ten years. I’m not Cuban but “Anglo,” but I feel Unstoppable Rage when people praise the so-called wonderful standard of living in Cuba under Castro, the wonderful healthcare, how slim everyone is, all those wonderful vintage cars… And from people who are around my age, like Michael Moore. People who should know better. Rage.

      • ” And from people who are around my age, like Michael Moore. People who should know better. Rage.”

        – I know! Michael Moore was grievously dishonest in that film. “Look, I come to the best hospital in Havana as a famous American Oscar-winning filmmaker with a film crew and I get perfect health care! Wow, the people in rural parts of Cuba are totally getting the same level of care with no American passports, film crews, and Oscars.” I was extremely disappointed.

        “how slim everyone is, all those wonderful vintage cars”

        – Don’t get me started.

      • “Yes, Cuban medicare. That’s a nightmare even for rich tourists who pay in dollars. For the locals, it’s even worse than that. :-(”

        This really doesn’t make sense, Clarissa. The rich medical tourists would go elsewhere if they were not getting stellar care in Cuba. It is not their only choice.

      • “This really doesn’t make sense, Clarissa. The rich medical tourists would go elsewhere if they were not getting stellar care in Cuba. It is not their only choice.”

        – Once, when we were in Cuba, my sister got very sick. The way she was treated by the so-called Cuban doctors was appalling. My sister did not have a whole lot of time to go anywhere else because she was in extreme pain.

        The medical care in Cuba is atrocious. The country hospitals looks like pig barns. RThe doctors treat the patients horribly, in the best traditions of the Soviet Union. I’m sure that the Politbiuro is getting stellar care. I also know for a fact that nobody else is.

        I’ve been to Cuba many times, so I know what I’m talking about. There is nothing redeeming about that horrible system. Nothing.

  7. Hmmm Canada/US, Canada/US, Canada/US…………..Enjoy your stay in the states and I will remain quite giddy here in Canada. There is another thing that is quite a bit more abundant and cheaper in the states, houses. ;)

  8. I’m middle aged, so I remember the last decade or so of the Cold War. The anti-USSR propaganda that I was fed in my U.S. school and on TV shows and in movies was so obviously propaganda that I decided not to believe any of it. To you, I’d probably sound like the friend who read the book.

    • A perestroika joke:

      “Comrade, this is horrible! Everything we were told about communism turned out to be a lie.”

      “No, comrade, what’s really horrible is that everything they told as about capitalism turned out to be true.”

  9. On availability of goods, how much of this has to do with just being a poor country and the size of the economy generally and other factors not having to do with socialism/capitalism per se? What about poor capitalist countries where things are also hard to get?

    • Russia was an extremely poor country pretty much forever. The moment the USSR fell, goods poured right in and started overflowing. And that was wonderful.

      “What about poor capitalist countries where things are also hard to get?”

      – Can you give any examples?

      • Lots of places in Latin America, depending on the era. I’m not talking about there being *no* stuff, just not nearly as much as in US, and not nearly as cheap. Or, necessarily, accessible.

      • When all conditions are equal, a country with tighter governmental controls will do worse in terms of goods and services.

        It makes sense to compare the US and Canada to each other and Latin American countries within themselves. Cuba, for example, is doing worse than Brazil, Chile, Argentina. I hear that El Salvador is doing even worse, but I’ve never been.

  10. El Salvador, unbelievably bad – and yes, seems worse than Cuba. Many parts of Bolivia, too; Nicaragua. I’d have said Guatemala but it seems so rich compared to elsewhere in Central America.

    I think quality of US stuff was better before all this deregulation. And then here in town, the city has taken over the phones and they work now, because the lines are repaired; when we had AT&T running them it was spotty, spotty and cost more.

    • Okay, you think the quality of US stuff was “much better” before “all this deregulation” and then you list a thing that improved by light years when it was deregulated, mainly the phone system in the US. Why don’t you list some of the things that got worse and then tell me what regulation was lifted that made it so?

      • No, phone deregulation happened in the 80s. I’m giving and example of a utility that started working when taken over by a government agency, this decade!

      • Okay, your comment wasn’t clear. You’re referring to a specific city and a specific problem. I thought you were talking about general federal deregulation of some large industry, not a local municipality fixing something because the company that owned it couldn’t handle it. I’m not sure, by the way, your city’s problems with AT&T (what city by the way? And couldn’t people just use other phone companies for long distance — the point of telecommunications deregulation was to give people choices instead of having to rely on one company for everything) fall under the rubric of “okay the government’s back in charge so everything is hunky dory.” I mean, who did your city hire to fix the phone lines? They certainly didn’t send out the mayor and his or her clerks to do it — they had to hire someone, from a company.

  11. Capitalism is a strange, mixed bag, isn’t it? When I grew up, we had a pretty strange economy. There were economic sanctions, so national self-sufficiency was very important. Things like cars and parts were sometimes hard to get. We also had sanctions busting secret agents, so sometimes we got some of the missing items, but nothing was guaranteed. In the latter part of the 1970s, chocolate tasted pretty bad, since we had no cacao. Cheese was in short supply, and when a load was deposited at the supermarket, it was strictly one per customer. We kids used to grab an extra cheese and queue up separately from our parents in order to obtain more. Petrol was also restricted and the difficulties increased after Mozambique became independent in 1975, meaning that there were there were restrictions on goods coming from ports in that direction. Tobacco crops sometimes couldn’t be sold and were ploughed back into the land. The country developed a mixed-fuel base, which sometimes set light to your engines.

    Then, around 1979, chocolate began tasting like chocolate. Petrol was still hard to obtain and there were long petrol queues, with people parking their cars in queues overnight. I imagine this was because South Africa remained under colonial rule and was now the outright enemy of the newly liberated “Marxist” Zimbabwe.

    Then inflation started. Prices had been kept constant by the restricted nature of the economy and certain fiscal policies. Whereas before, you could buy a family sized packet of chips for twenty cents, now the prices were going up five cents every couple of months. Really fancy goods were still unavailable. Contemporary fashion was still unknown. Newly appointed government ministers started to drive around in the latest models of Mercedes. I saw one planted in a storm water ditch at the bottom of my road. Power goes to the head when it comes suddenly.

    Zimbabwe today has open economic borders with all countries, but the government controls the lucrative resources such as the mines. The infrastructure — especially water and electricity — has fallen into disrepair. This is much more the case in the impoverished “high density” areas, where there may be only one water source shared by ten or twenty houses. In medium density areas, water and electricity supply are unpredictable and rationed. Class divisions have become more entrenched as per this system of unequal sharing of communal resources. These divisions are no longer largely racial, although it would be unusual for a white person to live in a high density suburb, as I did for several weeks in 2010. If you do stay there, there is no racial animosity, although neighbors may quietly theorize about your reasons for being there.

    Owners in low density suburbs often have bores and electricity generators. Their properties are also protected by electrified wires or security personnel. So, security, at any rate, has become privatized. It used to be a function supplied by a militaristic state with a huge army.

    To make money, it is common for everyday individuals travel over the borders to obtain rare goods such as electronics goods, and bring them back to Zimbabwe to sell at a profit. The government has slapped a hefty import tax on new goods such as computers, but obviously it is still possible to get around this in some way. There are back routes into Zimbabwe and there is a high level of corruption.

    There are tolls on the major country roads, which never used to be there. The police are generally looking for a bribe, as $150 US a month is not enough to live on. (They are genuinely gracious when they receive $5. There is no special extortionate effort to extort more from an individual.)

    There is also the informal sector, where people try to obtain diamonds illegally, to sell (blood diamonds). People can also pick up hitch-hikers who pay a standard fare of $1-2 for a short distance and $4-$5 for a longer ride. (Longer distances would be for three or four hours).

    People have an amazing sense of fairness in terms of operating on the basis of standardized expectations, even extending to the informal economy of the generalized corruption of government officials.

  12. Hungary was paradise compared to the USSR. Still, this woman is a stupid immature liar. Many people miss communism because they don’t like to work. They are also bothered that their spouse can just dump them and there is no Party to complain to. It is more difficult to beat your kids now and, in general, who needs all those choices in life, you know? They just complicate everything.

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