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"I thought you said that "wealth is defined as absolutely anything that people value". Therefore, by definition, the popular thing IS always the right thing (in economics at least). Whatever the people value - in other words, whatever is popular - counts as a good thing according to your own economic theory. If people value increased socialization and economic democracy (which they do), then THAT is what maximizes their utility, so THAT is what should be implemented as economic policy."

You're making a leap of logic here, just because people want more of what they value that doesn't mean that everybody desires the same things, and therefore what a person wants should not be left for everybody else to decide democratically.  Your assumption here makes the rest of your argument for a democratic economy bogus.  There is no way you can empirically analyze what constitutes a "fair" price, it is completely subjective, but free markets can arrive at a price that satisfies consumers and producers.

"Notice that I have defeated your free market theory using this point alone: Since wealth is defined as anything the people value, economic decisions should be taken according to the wishes of the people. A democratic system should be used to solve the fundamental problem of economics - in other words, to determine what to produce, how to produce, and how to distribute what is produced. And such a system of economic democracy is the essence of socialism."

This idea is absurd, there is no way for an elected body to sit down and decide how much of what to produce and who to give it to: they tried this is Russia and China and it failed utterly.  What you describe is a tyranny of the majority, and you have no regard for individual freedom and property rights.  You will never be able to have a society that strips one group of people of what they own and gives it to other without their consent.

"It is for the people to decide what kind of government they wish to have, and it is for that government to decide economic policy, including prices. If the people are dissatisfied with a government's economic policy, they can change it. If the people are satisfied with it, then a "fair price" has been achieved."

I'm sure you could muster a majority of people that think diamonds are too expensive, surely you must think there would be a majority who would want the price per carat of a diamond to be 1 cent.  Try implementing that policy and apply this example to every other good imaginable and you will see that government command and control does absolutely nothing to eliminate the problem of scarcity.

"Ah, I was expecting you to fall into that fallacy. For your information, that definition of "self-interest" is unscientific, because it is non-falsifiable (you define "self-interest" in such a way as to cover every possible human action, making the concept itself worthless), and because the "good feeling" you get from charity can't be measured in any objective way."

You cannot generate another basic assumption that explains human behavior, self-interest does.  If you disagree, and claim that people do not act in their self-interest, then you must assume:

If Bob values money, and he wants to buy a lottery ticket, and he has two choices of equal payoffs,  Bob would choose the lottery ticket that gave him the lowest odds of success.  Rational self-interest is a universal principle for humanity that stands any test you can throw at it, to deny this creates an illusionary dream world.

Adam Smith was wrong about a lot of things, he wasn't a god or anything.  However, he was right in many things and is still the founding father of economic thought.  On the other hand, Karl Marx and his ilk have been relegated to the dustbins of history, where they rightfully belong.

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"This idea is absurd, there is no way for an elected body to sit down and decide how much of what to produce and who to give it to."

Whereas unelected individuals acting in their own interests - and, by ownership of large companies, wielding powers larger than some countries - will benefit society as a whole more?

"they tried this is Russia and China and it failed utterly"

Elected officials? I think Edric might have things to say about that. Besides which, consider circumstances: in Russia, they had to cope with the economic remnants of the Tsar's regime, the losses due to WWI (and the treaty that ended it), and a western-led invasion afterwards.

"What you describe is a tyranny of the majority, and you have no regard for individual freedom and property rights.  You will never be able to have a society that strips one group of people of what they own and gives it to other without their consent."

All Edric's arguments require at this stage is a planned economy with community ownership of all industry. While there are other elements of what he believes in, such as forms of redistribution (to which you're referring), even if they did work the way you suggest, they're largely irrelevant to the economic system that results: in any case, such a mass redistribution in the form you describe would be a one-off, and thereafter, the system would work independantly of it.

What socialism entails here is a system by which goods which cannot be charged for or are unlikely to be provided adequately by a free market - things such as education - are subsidised by the economy at large. However, whereas in a mixed economy, only a few things run like this, in socialism, the survival of all such services can be guaranteed.

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You're making a leap of logic here, just because people want more of what they value that doesn't mean that everybody desires the same things, and therefore what a person wants should not be left for everybody else to decide democratically.

Of course not everybody desires the same things. And such a thing is not required to make economic democracy work. Economic democracy (known as socialism if there's a representative democracy, or communism if the democracy is direct) does not decide what any person wants. It decides what to produce, how to produce it, and how to distribute what is produced - just like any other economic system. And, by virtue of being democratic, socialism will always satisfy the wishes of the greatest majority of people. Also, like in any democracy, there will be laws to protect minorities and ensure that their wishes are respected and also satisfied as much as possible.

You see, the beauty of socialism and communism is that they are the utilitarian ideal. They maximize utility for the maximum number of people. Remember, as you yourself pointed out, wealth (or utility) is defined as absolutely anything that people value.

Your assumption here makes the rest of your argument for a democratic economy bogus.  There is no way you can empirically analyze what constitutes a "fair" price, it is completely subjective, but free markets can arrive at a price that satisfies consumers and producers.

You don't seem to understand what I'm talking about. Of course that prices are, to a great extent, subjective (although in many cases they can be analyzed objectively as well, for example by the quality and quantity of work and resources that went into making a certain product - or, in the case of vital necessities, by setting the price so as to make sure nobody dies for lack of food or drinking water). The point is that subjective prices can be set through negotiation between various groups of people in a democratic forum, mediated by the government.

This idea is absurd, there is no way for an elected body to sit down and decide how much of what to produce and who to give it to: they tried this is Russia and China and it failed utterly.

First of all, there was no elected body in Russia and China. The government did not answer to the people. Second of all, even so, the Soviet Union achieved the fastest economic growth and industrialization ever recorded in history, and its economy kept growing faster than that of the United States for decades (until the late 1960's, to be precise) - despite the fact that it had been ravaged by World War 2. Even in 1990, after a decade of economic the Soviet Union still had the second-largest economy in the world (below the United States and above Japan). To say that the Soviet economy "failed" is a ridiculous and biased oversimplification. In reality, the economy of the Soviet Union worked better than any other in history for a few decades, then slowed down in the 60's, then stagnated in the 70's, and then collapsed in the 80's. Obviously, their system had a flaw, but this flaw was so small that it had no effect whatsoever for the first 30 years or so of Soviet economic planning. And we already know what the flaw was: lack of democracy, leading to lack of accountability for the economic planners, leading to incompetence (because they could get away with it, since they did not have to answer before anyone), ultimately leading to economic collapse. It was dictatorship that brought down the Soviet Union.

What you describe is a tyranny of the majority, and you have no regard for individual freedom and property rights. You will never be able to have a society that strips one group of people of what they own and gives it to other without their consent.

What you describe is a tyranny of the market - or, to be more exact, a tyranny of those who hold power in the market. In other words, a tyranny of the rich. A plutocracy. As for what I describe, it is far from being any sort of "tyranny of the majority", since the law will prevent the majority from taking any economic measures that infringe on the human rights of a minority.

Individual freedom, as I pointed out, tends to be higher in socialist-leaning democracies than in free market countries (which are almost always dictatorships). As for property rights, you're damn right that I have no regard for them. Private property is illegitimate - or "theft", as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon called it. Here's one of my favourite quotes on the issue:

"The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying, 'This is mine' and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: 'Beware of listening to this imposter; you are lost if you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one."

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

That does not mean that I want to abolish all private property right away, of course. What has been consolidated for 5000 years cannot be torn down overnight. It would take several generations for people to get used to live in a communal society, so private property should be slowly phased out over a period of a few hundred years. The worst part of private property - and the only one that should be abolished right away, because it is directly responsible for exploitation and injustice - is private property over the means of production.

I'm sure you could muster a majority of people that think diamonds are too expensive, surely you must think there would be a majority who would want the price per carat of a diamond to be 1 cent.  Try implementing that policy and apply this example to every other good imaginable and you will see that government command and control does absolutely nothing to eliminate the problem of scarcity.

I'm sure I could also muster a majority of people that understand why diamonds have to be expensive compared to other goods. Besides, the government has a duty to inform the people of the consequences of taking this or that economic decision.

You cannot generate another basic assumption that explains human behavior, self-interest does.

Any basic assumption that is non-falsifiable is unscientific and worthless. Click here if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Self-interest explains human behaviour only if you define it so as to cover all human behaviour by definition. To make a comparison, explaining human behaviour through self-interest is like explaining the laws of physics by saying that all movement is caused by tiny invisible pixies who push or pull objects - and defining the concept of "pixie" so as to be impossible to verify the existence of pixies.

If you disagree, and claim that people do not act in their self-interest, then you must assume:

If Bob values money, and he wants to buy a lottery ticket, and he has two choices of equal payoffs,  Bob would choose the lottery ticket that gave him the lowest odds of success.

Don't be an idiot. I did not say that people never act in their self-interest. I said that sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

Rational self-interest is a universal principle for humanity that stands any test you can throw at it, to deny this creates an illusionary dream world.

Yeah, just like the Theory of Invisible Pixies stands any test you can throw at it. ::) Why can't you see them? Because they're invisible. Why can't you feel them? Because they're intangible. And so on and so forth. You're the one living in a dream world where non-falsifiable assertions get accepted as truth, Shaddam.

Adam Smith was wrong about a lot of things, he wasn't a god or anything.  However, he was right in many things and is still the founding father of economic thought.  On the other hand, Karl Marx and his ilk have been relegated to the dustbins of history, where they rightfully belong.

Perhaps you are simply unaware of how many things in modern economics are derived from Marx - after all, most of his writing was on the subject of capitalism. At any rate, I must say you are very amusing, Shaddam. Please, do keep this up. I find the crushing of free market fundamentalism to be very entertaining.

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"It decides what to produce, how to produce it, and how to distribute what is produced - just like any other economic system."

And I guarantee you that any individual or collection of individuals in charge of deciding what to produce and how to distribute it will act in a way to benefit themselves.  How many examples throughout history are required to prove this?

"Also, like in any democracy, there will be laws to protect minorities and ensure that their wishes are respected and also satisfied as much as possible."

Unless they want to live their lives whichever way they see fit.  In which case, Big Brother government smashes them and steals their stuff and gives it away.

"Of course that prices are, to a great extent, subjective (although in many cases they can be analyzed objectively as well, for example by the quality and quantity of work and resources that went into making a certain product - or, in the case of vital necessities, by setting the price so as to make sure nobody dies for lack of food or drinking water)."

Prices have absolutely nothing to do with the quality or quantity of work and the resources that go into making them.  If I make something that is utterly useless and requires 50 years to complete and a million tons of steel, that doesn't mean I should fetch a high price for it.  Prices are determined only by what somebody is willing to pay for them (DEMAND).  For instance, a lump of gold in and of itself is worthless, unless somebody values it and is willing to pay a price to acquire it.  Prices change so rapidly in response to demand that any group of people sitting in a forum would never be able to leave the room nor would they have all the information necessary in predicting the market price, which would then lead to economic paralysis in your fantasy society.

"To say that the Soviet economy "failed" is a ridiculous and biased oversimplification. In reality, the economy of the Soviet Union worked better than any other in history for a few decades, then slowed down in the 60's, then stagnated in the 70's, and then collapsed in the 80's. Obviously, their system had a flaw, but this flaw was so small that it had no effect whatsoever for the first 30 years or so of Soviet economic planning. And we already know what the flaw was: lack of democracy, leading to lack of accountability for the economic planners, leading to incompetence (because they could get away with it, since they did not have to answer before anyone), ultimately leading to economic collapse. It was dictatorship that brought down the Soviet Union."

Economic theory has a pro-market bias, there is no way around that.  The Soviet Union had an elected body called the politburo and elections were held at the local, regional, and national level for many offices.  The problem was there was only the communist party to choose from.  The lack of democracy (one person, one vote) was not the problem, the problem was that the central planners didn't know anything about what a price is much less why you shouldn't set one.  That isn't a small flaw.

"What you describe is a tyranny of the market - or, to be more exact, a tyranny of those who hold power in the market."

Consumers and producers hold power in the market, everybody is either a consumer, producer, or dead, and nobody is forced to buy anything they don't wish to purchase.

"Individual freedom, as I pointed out, tends to be higher in socialist-leaning democracies than in free market countries (which are almost always dictatorships). As for property rights, you're damn right that I have no regard for them. Private property is illegitimate - or "theft", as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon called it."

You just don't get it, private property arises from the existence of scarcity.  *SOMEBODY* has to be a residual claimant in order for the optimal decision affecting him or her to be made.

"I'm sure I could also muster a majority of people that understand why diamonds have to be expensive compared to other goods. Besides, the government has a duty to inform the people of the consequences of taking this or that economic decision."

A diamond is worthless to somebody who has no use for it, therefore whatever price your "omnipotent" and hopelessly flawed system of government decided would be invalid.  The existence of markets is the only way to optimally decide utility for each individual.  Furthermore, markets would still arise in a society with so-called communal property

"Self-interest explains human behaviour only if you define it so as to cover all human behaviour by definition. To make a comparison, explaining human behaviour through self-interest is like explaining the laws of physics by saying that all movement is caused by tiny invisible pixies who push or pull objects - and defining the concept of "pixie" so as to be impossible to verify the existence of pixies...Don't be an idiot. I did not say that people never act in their self-interest. I said that sometimes they do and sometimes they don't."

You just verified that self-interest exists, thank you for proving my point.  Your pixie comparison is therefore invalid.

"You're the one living in a dream world where non-falsifiable assertions get accepted as truth, Shaddam.'

Just because it is an assertion doesn't mean it's untrue.  You're living in a dream world if you don't think people are rational, self-interested, and respond to incentives.  All social phenomena emerge from the actions and interactions of individuals who are choosing in response to expected additional benefits and costs to themselves.  A social system with clear property rights and few restrictions on exchange generates money prices ON ITS OWN that help people who are pursuing their comparative advantage to discover in exactly which direction their advantage lies.  Market processes inform people of their opportunities and thereby lead to discoveries of efficient ways of creating net benefits for their participants.  Socialism deprives individuals of the incentive to pursue comparative advantage and thus hinders innovation.

No matter how much you try to change the rules of the game Edric, people will still respond by pursuing whatever gives them the most net benefit.  Socialism deprives people of choices because it deprives them of private property, making them very, very unhappy.  If the goal of government is to provide happiness for the people it has to allow for individual choice because that is the only way for people to decide what gives them the most net benefit.  Any elected body would crumble in a morass of inefficiency, and people will then demand their property back.

Cut out the ad hominem attacks please, its not getting you anywhere.

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And I guarantee you that any individual or collection of individuals in charge of deciding what to produce and how to distribute it will act in a way to benefit themselves. How many examples throughout history are required to prove this?

Oh, I'm sure they will act in a way to benefit themselves. In fact, I'm counting on it. I'm counting on the fact that the people in government will want to keep their high-ranking positions. You see, due to the fact that a socialist system is democratic, government leaders will only keep their positions if the people are satisfied with their performance. So they will try to satisfy the wishes of the people as much as possible. Thus, a good governance is ensured.

Unless they want to live their lives whichever way they see fit.  In which case, Big Brother government smashes them and steals their stuff and gives it away.

Define "whichever way they see fit". There's no system that allows you to live your life "whichever way you see fit", except for absolute chaos. If you see fit to live your life as a murderer, for example, you will be thrown in jail by any kind of rational system.

Oh, and a socialist government wouldn't take away anyone's property. Rather, it would ensure that no one could claim private ownership over the means of production in the first place.

In addition, please don't use the term "Big Brother" - that was invented by the great socialist George Orwell, who would roll in his grave if he knew your ilk are using his work to promote the same capitalist system that he spent his entire life fighting against.

Prices have absolutely nothing to do with the quality or quantity of work and the resources that go into making them.  If I make something that is utterly useless and requires 50 years to complete and a million tons of steel, that doesn't mean I should fetch a high price for it.

No, it means that you shouldn't have made it in the first place. And prices DO have a lot to do with the quality and quantity of work and resources that went into making a certain product, since you can't sell something for less money than it cost you to make it.

Prices are determined only by what somebody is willing to pay for them (DEMAND).

You forgot supply. A good in short supply will tend to be more expensive than one that can be found in abundance. This is true for a planned economy just as much as for a market economy. Any good plan will take supply and demand into account. The difference between a planned and a market economy, however, is that a planned one can make a conscious effort to modify the supply or the demand for a certain good at a national level. In other words, a market economy is like a raging torrent, whereas a planned economy is like a channeled river.

Prices change so rapidly in response to demand that any group of people sitting in a forum would never be able to leave the room nor would they have all the information necessary in predicting the market price, which would then lead to economic paralysis in your fantasy society.

Prices cannot change any faster than demand itself, obviously. And if you've ever been in a supermarket, you know that prices for consumer goods - the ones with the most unpredictable demand - don't change nearly as often as you seem to believe. The price of crude oil might change faster, but crude oil is an industrial good, and the demand for it would be perfectly predictable in a planned economy.

The Soviet Union had an elected body called the politburo and elections were held at the local, regional, and national level for many offices.  The problem was there was only the communist party to choose from.

Oh, I see, the Soviet Union was a "democracy", because they had elections - never mind the fact that there was only one candidate on each ballot! ::)

Seriously, if you honestly think that there was anything democratic about the power of Stalin, for example, you've got a lot of history to learn.

The lack of democracy (one person, one vote) was not the problem, the problem was that the central planners didn't know anything about what a price is much less why you shouldn't set one.

Right, so I guess the phenomenal growth of the Soviet economy for 30 years was just due to sheer luck, yes? ::)

Consumers and producers hold power in the market, everybody is either a consumer, producer, or dead, and nobody is forced to buy anything they don't wish to purchase.

Of course everyone holds power in a market - the problem is that some hold vastly more power than others. In other words, there are vast imbalances of power. The average worker or consumer holds very little power compared to a giant corporation.

As for "nobody is forced to buy anything they don't wish to purchase", you seem to hold a very strange view of "force". Every person has to buy food or drinking water, for example.

You just don't get it, private property arises from the existence of scarcity.  *SOMEBODY* has to be a residual claimant in order for the optimal decision affecting him or her to be made.

History is clearly not your strong point. Do you have any idea how private property was first created? A guy with a big stick pointed to a piece of land, said "this is mine", and proceeded to beat the crap out of everyone who disagreed. Private property over material objects cannot exist without private property over natural resources - in other words, private property over land. And all claims of private property over land are illegitimate, since no man created the land. Private property over land was first instituted by bloodthirsty warlords and slave owners, and, in any case, virtually every piece of land on Earth was stolen at least once in its history.

Markets would still arise in a society with so-called communal property.

You know, this brings up an interesting question. Since communal property and economic democracy allows for a return to market economics and private property if the people wish it, why are you arguing against me? Economic democracy (in other words, socialism or communism) allows the people to change the system if they don't like it. So, if you're so confident that people won't like socialism or communism, you have nothing to worry about.

You just verified that self-interest exists, thank you for proving my point.  Your pixie comparison is therefore invalid.

Again, are you trying to act stupid on purpose? Of course that self-interest exists. I never said it didn't. All I said was that people sometimes act in their self-interest, and sometimes they don't.

Just because it is an assertion doesn't mean it's untrue.

The burden of proof lies on the person making the affirmative claim. If you claim something, it's up to YOU to prove it true, not up to me to prove it untrue.

You're living in a dream world if you don't think people are rational, self-interested, and respond to incentives.

What I'm trying to explain to you is merely the fact that people are sometimes rational, sometimes self-interested, and sometimes respond to incentives - while at other times, they are neither of those things. Very often, people follow one but not all of your postulates. For example, some are self-interested and irrational, while others are rational and altruistic.

All social phenomena emerge from the actions and interactions of individuals who are choosing in response to expected additional benefits and costs to themselves.

What a ridiculous oversimplification! Go take some courses on human psychology, and perhaps then you'll discover that people are not the automatons you seem to consider them to be.

Socialism deprives individuals of the incentive to pursue comparative advantage and thus hinders innovation.

On the contrary, socialism maintains the incentive of individual advancement by rewarding hard work and innovation. Competition between individuals still exists in socialism, although it plays a lesser role (and cooperation plays a greater role) than in capitalism. It is only communism that replaces competition with cooperation entirely.

And, again, if you don't believe cooperation works better than competition, just take a look at the natural world and you'll find plenty of examples.

No matter how much you try to change the rules of the game Edric, people will still respond by pursuing whatever gives them the most net benefit.

Actually, I fully agree with that and I'm even counting on it. Because socialism and communism are the systems that give people the most net benefit.

Socialism deprives people of choices because it deprives them of private property, making them very, very unhappy.

That's funny - haven't we already talked about the democratic socialization that took place in various countries during the 20th century, and how it was always done by popular demand? If that wasn't a clear enough indication that socialism actually makes people very happy, then just take a look at the people's reaction to various privatization schemes in Europe: all those schemes are universally HATED. There is a clear popular demand for more socialism, not less.

You see, as long as the people's happiness is your standard for a good economic system, your support for capitalism is utterly self-contradictory. If you want to make people happy, why do you refuse to give them socialism when they demand it? Why do you reject socialism even though it would allow the people to decide for themselves how the economy should be run? There is only one logical answer: You do not actually give a damn about people's happiness. You have no excuse for not allowing people to run the economy democratically.

Cut out the ad hominem attacks please, its not getting you anywhere.

Tsk, tsk, I was just adding a little spice to this debate... ;)

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There is one particular point that I wish to bring up again in a separate post, just because it is very important and I don't want any readers to miss it:

Allow me to correct a misconception...

"Isn't another economic assumption that people are always happier with more as opposed to less? As long as that holds, scarcity really doesn't seem to be an issue."

Nope, people want more of what they value.  That may take the form of a material or it may not.  For instance, some people value banging their heads into the wall, when they do this they are generating utility for themselves (wealth).

This excellent insight forms the basis for an irrefutable argument in favour of the economic democracy of socialism and against the capitalist "free market". Wealth is defined as absolutely anything that people value. The purpose of an economy is not to produce stuff for the sake of producing stuff - the purpose is to make people happy.

Therefore, socialism doesn't necessarily have to produce "more stuff" or lead to better economic statistics in order to be better than capitalism - all it has to do is to make people happier. And that is achieved by virtue of the fact that socialism is a system of economic democracy. Socialism works by essentially asking people what they want, and then planning the economy so as to satisfy those wants to the greatest possible extent. And, of course, those wants do not have to be material. It is possible to trade off the possibility of some material gain in exchange for an immaterial benefit that people desire.

As long as the people have democratic control over economic matters, the economy will work to produce whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Thus, a socialist system will maximize happiness. And that is what makes socialism undeniably superior to capitalism.

P.S. If you're looking for my reply to Shaddam's latest post, it's right at the bottom of the previous page.

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Now I'll do a little bit of backtracking to answer a number of issues that were brought up earlier on in this topic:

Greed for property and goods is a bad thing?  It drives competition, ensures the transfer of power from the less capable to the more capable, it creates innovation, and by, driving competition, acts as a way to distribute scarce goods.

Oh, yes, it certainly does all those things. On the other hand, greed for property and goods also drives wars, atrocities and crimes of every imaginable kind. Self-interest is the source of nearly every type of behaviour that we call "Evil". Unrestrained competition benefits no one except the most ruthless, selfish, uncaring and inhumane individuals - simply put, the most evil members of society. Competition is like fire: It can be a wonderful tool if it is tamed and used in moderation, but it can also be a terrible destroyer if it is unleashed.

Besides, cooperation brings greater benefits than competition anyway. Have you ever wondered why the most successful animal species are the same ones who are the most cooperative? Hell, the only reason we exist today is because, 2 billion years ago, single-cell lifeforms realized that cooperation was better than competition, so they joined together into "collectives" and formed the first multi-cell organisms.

The idea that we are somehow exploiting 80% of the world is a joke; we don't just hop around the world with armies stealing resources without some sort of pay into the local economy.  It can take the form of jobs, wages, consumer goods that will be demanded by foreign workers, housing, etc. People always have choice, and there are always alternatives to a product.

You're assuming that it's okay to do anything to people as long as you give them a "choice" - even if that "choice" is between obeying you or starving to death. If you don't understand how the West is exploiting 80% of the world, let me explain it to you in the simplest terms possible:

John digs a hole. Smith walks by, and accidentally falls into the hole. Seeing this, John shouts down to Smith: "I'll pull you out of that hole if you'll agree to be my humble slave for the rest of your life".

Now, Smith has a "choice": He can choose to stay in the hole and die, or he can choose to accept John's offer and become his slave in exchange for being pulled out of the hole that John dug in the first place.

The poor 80% of the world is in Smith's position: They fell into the hole that the rich countries dug for them (through their colonial policies in the age of imperialism), and now they have a "choice" between staying in that hole and dying, or saving their lives by becoming the slaves of multinational corporations. Naturally, they'll choose the second option. But this "choice" is neither free nor fair. It is a case of exploitation, pure and simple.

Wolfwiz is absolutely right, people are adopting western culture because they want it, it's all about choice.

I'm not opposed to western culture, but I do need to point out that there are many dictatorships in the Middle East who impose "western culture" by force. If elections were held in Saudi Arabia, for example, anything and everything to do with the West in general and America in particular would be thrown out of the country the very next day.

However, no one is being forced to do anything they don't want to...

Read back up to my story about John and Smith. Would you say that John's actions are perfectly justified, because he's not technically "forcing" Smith to do anything?

Besides, what is "force" anyway? When a thief puts a gun to your head, he gives you a choice between giving him all your money or having your brains blown out. So does that make it ok?

All evidence indicates the Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein, and a hundred years from I suspect they'll thanks us for ridding their country of him.

You don't seem to get it. Yes, of course the Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein. But they hate the US occupation too. They want NEITHER Saddam's way NOR the American way.

The beauty of democratic republics is that they are inherently tailor made to the regions in which they exist.  They can take place and work everywhere around the world, if the people make the choice to make it work (through institutions, checks and balances, etc.)  The most prosperous nations in the world are liberal democracies, if prosperity is a good thing (and the majority of people probably do) then it is irrational to willingly submit to a form of government other than that.  If you accept the above, that liberal democracy is the best form of government and that it can work for all people, then you must accept that it would be good if everybody had it.

Oh yes, liberal democracy in government is certainly a good thing. But why stop there? If happiness is a good thing, and if democracy is the best form of government because it forces the government to make the decisions that are most likely to make the greatest number of people happy, then why not expand democracy to the sphere of economics as well? Why not have economic democracy - in other words, socialism and/or communism?

If happiness is a good thing, then democracy is the best form of government, which means that socialism and/or communism is the best possible economic system. And that, in turn, means that it would be a good thing if everybody had it.

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Caid brought up one question:

Really? And what if people democratically choose a tyranny? And don't argue like "it's against nature", as we have empirical examples here.

Well, the fact that democracy allows for its own abolition is actually a point in its favour: If the people are not happy with a democratic system, they can vote to change it. That cannot be said for any other system of government.

To all those who don't like democracy, I could say: What are you afraid of? If the people agree with you and dislike democracy, they will vote to abolish it. If they don't agree with you and want to keep democracy, by what right do you wish to impose your will upon them?

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Now, I owe Wolfwiz a few replies:

The real irony is that the very source of the higher, idealistic arguments against the war in Iraq have to do with the preservation of democracy, the preservation of freedom of expression and choice -- the key elements for a functional democracy. By instituting a democracy through war, you say, we deprive the people of their choice.

I don't know anyone who says that, but, if there is anyone who does, then they clearly have a rather mixed-up view of what "democracy" means. You can't "impose" democracy on people any more than you can "impose" free speech, for example. ("say whatever you want to say or I'll shoot you"...?)

I do not object to the military overthrow of tyrants, and never did. I think getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a good idea in principle, but poorly executed in practice. The errors of the US military in Iraq are too many to count, and their commitment to actually helping the Iraqi people is questionable. In other words, I'm opposed to the way this war is currently waged. Also, I'm opposed to the idea of giving hegemonic power to the USA, or any other country - even assuming the USA uses it only for good at the moment, there's no guarantee that it won't use it for evil in the future. The One Ring must be destroyed, not given to Gondor.

Technology, as I think you mentioned, is the only way to change the constraints such that democracy gives way to, communism, I suppose is one example, but not the only one.

Umm, communism IS democracy. Communism takes democracy as far as it is possible to take it; simply put, communism is the most democratic system possible. Thus, an argument for democracy is an argument for communism, not one against it!

As for technology, it is indeed true that communism would be very difficult to achieve on a large scale with our current technology. But socialism, on the other hand, certainly CAN be achieved with the technology we have right now - and I believe it SHOULD be achieved as soon as possible.

But, I think that capitalism will persist...

I'm curious: What makes you think that? After all, capitalism has had a very unstable history, and it was on the brink of total collapse several times during the last hundred years. It certainly doesn't look like the kind of system that would last for a very long time, much less forever!

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"Oh, yes, it certainly does all those things. On the other hand, greed for property and goods also drives wars, atrocities and crimes of every imaginable kind."

Thats why you have enforceable property rights that make the cost of fighting higher than that of cooperating in mutually beneficial trade.

"You're assuming that it's okay to do anything to people as long as you give them a "choice" - even if that "choice" is between obeying you or starving to death."

I make no such moral distinction of people's choices.  It only becomes hopelessly muddled in conflicting value systems that are inherently subjective.

"and now they have a "choice" between staying in that hole and dying, or saving their lives by becoming the slaves of multinational corporations. Naturally, they'll choose the second option. But this "choice" is neither free nor fair. It is a case of exploitation, pure and simple."

It's not slavery, don't you understand that nobody is forcing them to buy anything from multinational corporations?

"I'm not opposed to western culture, but I do need to point out that there are many dictatorships in the Middle East who impose "western culture" by force. If elections were held in Saudi Arabia, for example, anything and everything to do with the West in general and America in particular would be thrown out of the country the very next day."

Yes you are opposed to western culture, you want to impose a tyranny of the majority which does not exist in any current western society I know of.

"Besides, what is "force" anyway? When a thief puts a gun to your head, he gives you a choice between giving him all your money or having your brains blown out. So does that make it ok?"

No, because this is not a mutually beneficial trade and the property rights of the victim are not respected.  This is not at all like what is happening around the world; globalization is benefitting the poorest countries: During the 1980's and 90's the real per capita income of increased by more than 160 percent (Garrett 87).

"You don't seem to get it. Yes, of course the Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein. But they hate the US occupation too. They want NEITHER Saddam's way NOR the American way."

They'll choose their own way when we're gone.

"Oh yes, liberal democracy in government is certainly a good thing. But why stop there? If happiness is a good thing, and if democracy is the best form of government because it forces the government to make the decisions that are most likely to make the greatest number of people happy, then why not expand democracy to the sphere of economics as well? Why not have economic democracy - in other words, socialism and/or communism?"

Because socialism/communism does absolutely nothing to eliminate the problem of scarcity which means that some people will always have more than others which in turn means some people will always be "poorer" than others.

"This excellent insight forms the basis for an irrefutable argument in favour of the economic democracy of socialism and against the capitalist "free market". Wealth is defined as absolutely anything that people value. The purpose of an economy is not to produce stuff for the sake of producing stuff - the purpose is to make people happy."

The purpose of an economic system is to distribute wealth in the most equitable and efficient manner, not to make people happy.

"And prices DO have a lot to do with the quality and quantity of work and resources that went into making a certain product, since you can't sell something for less money than it cost you to make it."

No you're absolutely wrong, businesses often sell goods at below cost to attract people into the store on the assumption that once they're in there they will tend to make other purchases.

"Of course everyone holds power in a market - the problem is that some hold vastly more power than others. In other words, there are vast imbalances of power. The average worker or consumer holds very little power compared to a giant corporation.

As for "nobody is forced to buy anything they don't wish to purchase", you seem to hold a very strange view of "force". Every person has to buy food or drinking water, for example."

No, you can grow your own food and dig a well for your own water. 

"What a ridiculous oversimplification! Go take some courses on human psychology, and perhaps then you'll discover that people are not the automatons you seem to consider them to be."

It is impossible to scientifically study cognition, the behaviorists were right.

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I'm really glad to have helped split one of the two merged topics off of WMDs...otherwise we might have Capitalism as a WMD.  Watching polar opposites go at it, it's like old times, minus the tanks.

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Well, the fact that democracy allows for its own abolition is actually a point in its favour: If the people are not happy with a democratic system, they can vote to change it. That cannot be said for any other system of government.

Abolition of the system is potentially allowed in every system. In despotism most easily, just by raw power, in oligarchy by overproduction by another group. Every government rules only if it is allowed by all, de facto it doesn't matter whether it was a conscient decision, or an effect of intimidation. If we take democracy as the best system for personal intellectual or material development of every citizen (what is a reason of states), isn't this "self-destruct button" a tool for the ones, who can manipulate masses in so effective scale, that it cannot remain in "democratic mood"?

Gaius Marius'  consulate was democratically prolonged, same with Sulla or Caesar. "Liberum veto", which changed ancient polish Republic into a tool of foreign powers as well. Hitler, Lenin, Gottwald, Haider, Putin... How many examples do we need? Democracy without self-protecting pillars is a house on sand.

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Edric, to address your three points in response to my post.

"As for technology, it is indeed true that communism would be very difficult to achieve on a large scale with our current technology. "

That is pretty much what I meant when I said;

"Technology, as I think you mentioned, is the only way to change the constraints such that democracy gives way to, communism, I suppose is one example, but not the only one."

My sentance was poorly structured. To change the constraints such that democracy gives way to, when I say "such that democracy gives way to," I mean "so that the people choose a method of government and society different to our own." Democracy is not necessarily abolished, so I was not arguing against communism in your view -- democracy may even be expanded in your view.

Why capitalism will persist?

Regardless of capitalism's inherent instability, capitalism will probably persist for some time because of the tremendous weight of current government and corporate interests vested in it. But even if weren't for that, I believe that is far too much evolutionary psychology driving human beings towards the exlusive possession and utilization of property and resources for us to achieve real communist society anytime soon.

And about the execution of the war in Iraq...

I think we agree completely.

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