Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Moral Equivalent of Socialism

So long as antimilitarists propose no substitute for war's disciplinary function, no moral equivalent of war, analogous, as one might say, to the mechanical equivalent of heat, so long they fail to realize the full inwardness of the situation. –William James

A couple of jobs ago, in another example of cubicle hell, I visited one of my co-worker’s desk, to get something or other, I forget what. She was originally from Afghanistan, and on her wall was a map of the area of that country and its surrounding neighbors, and each country had a little legend giving population, birth rate, mortality rate, literacy, life expectancy and so forth. It was very, very apparent which countries had been a part of the old Soviet Union. Those were the countries with the high literacy rates, while the other countries, out allies in the Cold War, had much lower literacy rates, particularly among women.

In my earlier bit of research on mortality rates of professions and countries, I happened to check on a statistic that I’d heard some while back and found it to be true: Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America and the Caribbean (with a few low population exceptions such as Aruba). In fact, Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than the U.S. although this slight difference is probably because the U.S. has more low-weight births, i.e. babies that would not have come to term in Cuba do so in the U.S. and many of these die. Nevertheless, the low infant mortality in Cuba is a sizable achievement; if it were the same as the surrounding countries, there would be over 2,000 additional infant deaths per year in Cuba.

The analysis in which I found the explanation of the U.S. low weight birth phenomenon, there appeared a disclaimer about how the author certainly was no fan of Castro or Cuba, and I’m should probably echo that disclaimer here. McCarthy may be long dead, and the Soviet Union is no more, but if one can be accused of being a communist, or a socialist, or a liberal, a sizable section of the populace breathes a sigh of relief and ceases to listen. One must, of course, stipulate that authoritarian states such as the Soviet Union and Cuba are Bad Things. Certainly there are many countries that manage to avoid authoritarian governments that nevertheless manage to achieve high literacy and low infant mortality. There are also many authoritarian states with low literacy and high infant mortality that nevertheless manage to remain “allies” of the U.S. and other western powers.

Still, the idealists who turned to socialism in the 1930s and at other times had some things in mind and I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that public education and public health services were probably very high on that list. In fact, I’ll suggest that countries that fail in those areas have failed “socialism,” however else one chooses to identify socialism. Under that schema, North Korea is not socialist, but rather an authoritarian monarchy. China seems to be slowly losing whatever socialist credentials it once had, at least insofar as there has been a reported decline in its public health services, though avoiding such horrors as the Cultural Revolution probably still counts for something.

The idea of state ownership of the means of production has always struck me as a pretty bad idea, though the current U.S. situation of having the means of production owning the state does not strike me as being a much better idea. Nevertheless, I don’t see anything in the idea of respecting private property as automatically implying that all organizations must benefit some select private individuals. Surely there is a place for public education and public health services in the idea of a nation. Why then the current hostility towards those institutions?

Let me just say in closing that my own idea of “winning” does not require that there be losers who are sick and ignorant. If that’s what it takes to be a winner, I don’t think that winning is a good thing.

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