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Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz, Hugo Chavez, and the Return of Socialism: Podcast

Journalist and Soho Forum co-founder Gene Epstein on economists' romance with strongmen and his upcoming debate with Jacobin's Bhaskar Sunkara.

For a quarter of a century, Gene Epstein was the economics editor and a columnist at the business magazine Barron's. Before that, he served as an economist for the New York Stock Exchange. Now, he runs The Soho Forum, a monthly Oxford-style debate series held in New York that covers topics of special interests to libertarians. (As a co-sponsor, Reason records and releases audio and video versions of each debate. Go here for a full archive).

Epstein has just published a major essay in City Journal, the magazine of the Manhattan Institute, about the long and error-prone career of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, whom he calls "continually mistaken" but "chronically admired." Stiglitz, writes Epstein, is the apotheosis of "elite myopia" when it comes to trusting government over free markets to improve the lives of the poor. Read the article here.

In the latest Reason Podcast, I talk with Epstein about the continuing influence of Stiglitz, a former adviser to Bill Clinton and chief economist at the World Bank who is a favorite of progressive Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.). We also talk about Epstein's upcoming October 15 debate in New York with Bhaskar Sunkara, the editor and publisher of the left-wing Jacobin magazine, about whether socialism or capitalism is the better system for making people more free and prosperous. To buy tickets, which must be purchased in advance, go here now.

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  • Don't look at me!||

    Boring. No sex scandal here. Move along.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Read the article. Apparently Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were early proponents of 'make America great again.' They just didn't have the spiffy slogan.
    Just goes to show — empty sloganeering is an equal-opportunity sport.

  • ||

    Indeed, the stuff that Franklin and Eleanor advocated would have had so many of what is identified as the left today out rending their garments so fast that your head would spin.

    If Franklin had had Eisenhower's vision we would have had the interstate highway system twenty years earlier. While some attribute Ike's vision to some kind of epiphany based on the Hitler's Autobahns it came much earlier: ie when he went along on the 1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy

    Likewise, consider much of the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which while keeping large numbers of restless youth out of trouble contributed to much despoiling of the "natural environment" in the view of many of today's enviromentalists, as did most of the work of the BuRec in building dams and othe flodd control works (which was something he continued following the example of his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, "the great engineer (who was anything but free marketeer).

  • Juggernaut||

    Riddle me this please. If socialism is the cause of the economic mess in Venezuela then why is a communist China such an economic powerhouse?

  • Microaggressor||

    5 seconds in google. Do I have to do everything for you?

    Economic reforms introducing market principles began in 1978 and were carried out in two stages. The first stage, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, involved the decollectivization of agriculture, the opening up of the country to foreign investment, and permission for entrepreneurs to start businesses. However, most industry remained state-owned. The second stage of reform, in the late 1980s and 1990s, involved the privatization and contracting out of much state-owned industry and the lifting of price controls, protectionist policies, and regulations, although state monopolies in sectors such as banking and petroleum remained. The private sector grew remarkably, accounting for as much as 70 percent of China's gross domestic product by 2005.[5] From 1978 until 2013, unprecedented growth occurred, with the economy increasing by 9.5% a year.


    Wikipedia

  • sarcasmic||

    Dude, according to the resident protectionists, China is completely communist and all the workers are slaves. So your Wikipedia article is obviously wrong.

  • damikesc||

    A pure Communist state would have no wages.

    The USSR wasn't full Communist.

  • Generalissimo||

    You never go full Communist.

  • Flinch||

    Very true, Generalissimo: once you get a cabal of ensconced/well connected to power people near the levers of committee process, the music stops. Communism is incompatible with the human mind & spirit.

  • ||

    It's just private companies travelling to China and selling their steel, grain, or lobster directly to poorer Chinese consumers and laborers. As long as it keeps The Fed and the state-owned Chinese banking system from collapsing, what's the problem?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "All [the world] is a school, a young man merely need avail himself of the lesson."

  • Alcibiades||

    In no way, shape or form can China now be considered a communist country.

  • ||

    Indeed - China, Inc., is like a caricature of Evil Capitalism drawn straight from Kapital.

  • ||

    Excellent point. China is Marx's "State Capitalism" writ large.

  • ||

    In no way, shape or form can China now be considered a communist country.

    JinPing is President for life. He amped up the surveillance state which has been used to crack down on corruption (and political opponents as a side effect). Schoolchildren, college students, and factory workers have to study his political philosophy. So it's really more despotism than communism.

  • ||

    So it's really more despotism than communism.

    Despotism's too harsh. Somewhere between despotism and monarchy.

  • Generalissimo||

    Benevolent dictatorship?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Because Communist China deals with its brand of communism in a somewhat nuanced way.

    Communism in china is more about party power than it is how they run their economics.

    Capitalism is very alive and well in China, in some ways, more so than the west. The communists merely sit as a single-party governmental organization of technocrats.

    If you recall your history that I know you learned in school, Communist china was a fucking horror shit show of atrocity, famine and death when they they were communism in the full sense.

  • ||

    Communist china was a fucking horror shit show of atrocity, famine and death when they they were communism in the full sense.

    And that was when they were supposedly the ones doing it right, unlike the Soviets.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's also why western self professed "socialists" don't spend a lot of time pointing to Communist China as a success story. They tend to glom onto Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Even they're not dumb enough to point to China as a "communist success story".

  • Juggernaut||

    But is it a success of authoritarianism?

  • ||

    No. Like the Supreme Council in Iran, it's a sign of the tenaciousness of authoritarianism.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Some say it is. There are many in the West that point to Communist China *cough*Thomas Friedman*cough* as a shining example of technocratic rule over a managed free market economy.

    They do like the rule-by-fiat nature of Communist China on its approach to national infrastructure projects. Projects which would never pass muster in the states because they'd be strangled in the womb by environmentalists.

    If you've ever been to mainland China (I have been-- and in a professional capacity, not a tourist capacity) it's a fascinating world of contradictions. And I'm the first to admit there is such a lack of street-level regulation in regards to building codes and other things we take for granted in the West, even I found myself raising my eyebrows at how things were done... and I say that as a cantankerous anarcho-capitalist.

    "Jesus, shouldn't they... you know, put a rope or something around that 18' construction pit on the sidewalk?"

  • ||

    Some say it is. There are many in the West that point to Communist China *cough*Thomas Friedman*cough* as a shining example of technocratic rule over a managed free market economy.

    I think Siglitz, too, no?

    And I'm the first to admit there is such a lack of street-level regulation in regards to building codes and other things we take for granted in the West, even I found myself raising my eyebrows at how things were done

    Yeah - I've never been there, but I know many who have, and universally I've heard that the "traditional Chinese ideals" of Order and Simplicity are in very stark contrast to actual daily life in China.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Order and Simplicity are in very stark contrast to actual daily life in China.

    Order and Simplicity is how I would describe the Dutch. It's now how I would describe China. And I loved China. One of the best experiences of my life. And I loved the Chinese people-- they seem to really like Americans too.

    Had a lot of conversations like that one in Saving Private Ryan: "Betty Boop! What a dish! Betty Grable, nice gams! I say can you see!"

    Oh, it's also one big ash tray. Everyone smokes, and you can smoke at the fucking dinner table in a restaurant. And man can those people drink. Lord have mercy.

  • ||

    "Jesus, shouldn't they... you know, put a rope or something around that 18' construction pit on the sidewalk?"

    I'm in construction, and in our periodic safety trainings, China is a fertile source of "don't do this." The heights they go with bamboo scaffolding would make a hard man crumble.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The heights they go with bamboo scaffolding would make a hard man crumble.

    Yes... it's amazing. Absolutely modern construction using bamboo scaffolding. I was fascinated.

  • Shirley Knott||

    On my trips to Beijing (also as an IT professional) I noted the number of prominent buildings that had become burned out shells — in a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Usually saw signs of at least 1 major fire per 2 week visit.

    Yes, the people were generally wonderful. The airport is a trip, as are entry and exit procedures.

  • Flinch||

    Yes. To my annoyance, a simple entry stamp where most countries can fit 4 per page... they burned an entire page as if I have nothing better to do than go get extension pages.

  • Juggernaut||

    Yep, I do recall. What are your thoughts on the question of whether the authoritarian structure of their govt helps or hurts economic growth?

  • ||

    What are your thoughts on the question of whether the authoritarian structure of their govt helps or hurts economic growth?

    Hurts, clearly. They spent decades looking over the wall at Hong Kong and wondering why Hong Kong was getting rich-beyond-its-wildest-dreams while peasants in China starved.

    They figured out they need to open up to markets to create prosperity, but the Party was not about to just give up command control over the economy. But while those in charge of the Chinese economy are very smart, they are still infamous for bridges-to-nowhere, cities-no-one-lives-in, and all sorts of other completely wasteful economic activity that in a freer market would be dedicated to worthwhile economic endeavors.

    So, while China has come a long way, it is the growing freedom, not the long-standing authoritarianism, that has been the game changer.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Generally, see my comment above.

    As for my personal thoughts, again, China is a fascinating mix of contradictions. You're wandering around in a communist country, and yet commerce seems to flow far more freely and without niggling regulation than it does in the west.

    But the authoritarianism comes through in frustrating ways. I'm in IT, networking to be exact. We have sites in China on our global network that I manage. Internet in China is bad. Very bad. Enragingly bad. All because of government oversight of every packet that flows on the wire. Western internet services are bad or non-existent. The government pushes you towards Chinese services and sites for both ideological reasons and economic reasons. They're essentially tariffs on virtual foreign goods and services. The government is deaf to the concerns.

    IT colocation services are not just generally more expensive, they're WAY more expensive. As one industry expert noted, it's not twice or three times the cost, it's 100x the cost.

    Getting a car and a drivers license is incredibly difficult and rigorous-- and if you're a western expat, it can take years. Shipping equipment into China is very strict, and things can get held up in customs for weeks causing delays.

    However, crossing the border into Communist China, I suffered fewer questions and less surly border personnel than I do when coming back into the West.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Another thing: Major telecoms are owned by the state, (China Telecom), so dealing with them is like dealing with AT&T in the 60s.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "The communists merely sit as a single-party governmental organization of technocrats."

    Government of, by, and for the Government.

    Progressivism in America, once the Dems import enough big government voters.

  • John I||

    A) China isn't Communist anymore and b) it's still a low income country, it just has an enormous number of people in it.

    Let's wait until China makes it through the middle income trap before declaring them a country whose economic system we should emulate

  • Flinch||

    Cheap labor was a crucible for growth, and unfettered access to the US patent office gave them "ideas" to implement that growth strategy.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Socialism always makes people more free.
    Just ask all those political prisoners in the gulags.
    Socialism also makes people more prosperous.
    Just ask any Cuban, Venezuelan or North Korea.
    They'll set you straight.

  • Doug Heffernan||

    Are you guys saying that Stiglitz is a great economist, or the greatest economist?

  • Sevo||

    "..Joseph Stiglitz, whom he calls "continually mistaken" but "chronically admired.""
    Joining Paul Ehrlich and several other darlings of the left.

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