Reason Podcast

Reason Debates Jacobin on Capitalism, Socialism: Podcast

Nick Gillespie and Katherine Mangu-Ward make the case for "free minds and free markets" as the best way to improve the world.


On November 3, Reason magazine Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward and I debated Vivek Chibber and Bhaskar Sunkara of Jacobin magazine in New York City. The proposition under discussion was

Is capitalism the best way to improve standards of living, ensure political and economic freedom, and provide opportunity? Could socialism do better?

The event was held in Cooper Union's Great Hall—a historic venue perhaps most famous for Abraham Lincoln's famous anti-slavery speech—and the debate was moderated by New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg.

About 900 people were in attendance—and almost all of them were hostile to capitalism and Reason's arguments in favor of "free minds and free markets." At least that's the way it seemed sometimes from the stage.

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  1. The socialists had the audience *and* the rhetorical advantage...they upped their game, now up yours!

    1. (sorry about that last bit)

    2. Seriously, their eloquence, unmoored though it was from reality, was superior to that of the apologetic, bumbling Reasonoids.

      1. Considering that most of the Reason staff aren't really libertarians but rather anti-establishment Democrats, that's not as surprising as it probably should be.

        And, honestly, I'll take an anti-establishment Democrat over a current day mainstream Republican any day of the week. It's just that there isn't really an example of one of these types actually in the government, even while they exist out in the wild.

        1. Yeah they really kind of am. I have never made claims to being a pure libertarian, it simply is a heavy influence... But these people claim they are, and then most definitely are not in favor of true "anything goes" libertarianism. They definitely have proggy beliefs which they try to push with government power, which is probably the thing that peeves me the most. Disagreeing on saaay social issues is fine, but when you try to force right think through the man... Not cool.

    3. Let's be fair! The looters had three loud mouths and a cadre of cretins on their side. Freedom had only Katherine Mangu-Ward speaking in its defense.

    1. Did the Prime Minster of Malaysia survive?

      1. He fled the country in Malaysia Airlines.

        1. That Malaysia Flight 370 was hijacked by jihadists and sunk over Usama bin Laden's watery grave on the sea floor with the bottom cut open and the interior acting as an underwater viewing lounge, visited by dignitaries of Islamic countries, naive Westerners, and Muslim celebs.

  2. almost all of them were hostile to capitalism

    I assume none of them were wearing skinny jeans and carried a smart-phone? Because capitalism is how you get skinny jeans and smart-phones.

    1. Yeah, but socialism is how you get skinny.

      1. It's the most popular diet in the world for a reason.

  3. Even though I'm supposed to be awful at public speaking, there are a few things I wouldn't have done.

    I wouldn't have referred to the goods and services produced by capitalism as "crap."

    When they snarked that the founder of the Koch dynasty used to work in Stalin's Soviet Union, I'd reply, "yes, and his practical experience of actually existing socialism turned him against that system!"

    I'd have pointed out that they repudiated most forms of actually existing socialism, except Denmark's, but then they said the Scandinavians had too much capitalism. "Take away the capitalist component of Denmark's mixed economy, and how do you think they'd pay for the social programs you praise so highly?"

    1. "Take away the capitalist component of Denmark's mixed economy, and how do you think they'd pay for the social programs you praise so highly?"

      Easy, just throw the wreckers in jail and take their stuff. When that stuff runs out, just print money!

      What could possibly go wrong?

    2. Denmark isn't socialist, their prime minister even made a point of calling out Bernie Sanders when he tried to use them as an example of socialism.

  4. Jesus fucking kryste bawling in the manger. Is there no one on staff with a pair that can show up to a debate prepared for a fight?

  5. So it sounds like the socialists "won"? I'm not sure how that's even possible, given the evidence provided around the world and throughout history.

    1. A friendly audience, eloquent socialist speeches, capitalist speakers who get out good one-liners but otherwise don't maintain the quality of the socialist rhetoric.

      If socialists weren't good at rhetoric they wouldn't be dangerous, would they?

    2. Apparently a difference in enthusiastic rhetoric for the system each side was advocating.

      1. A good rhetorician could appeal to the national audience over the heads of the local audience. References to those applauding New York kids with their iphones, digs at NYC's governance, look, I'm not a good speaker, I'm just throwing these things out there.

        Make the local socialist fan club into the issue for people elsewhere in the country watching on video. "See those people applauding, Middle America? They're the reason New York City has rent control and a socialist-sympathizing mayor."

        1. "These are the people who want your town run like New York City."

          Make yourself the underdog confronting a howling socialist mob...pick up cool points.

      2. I'm not a public speaker myself but my god the other side comes up with so much transparent BS it leaves me shaking my head.

  6. If you've ever had to give an interview when running for office, or debate someone with opposing views, you know it is far harder than giving a speech to the choir or commenting on the internet. As others have noted, advocates for capitalism and individual liberty have to step up their game. Liberty works, and liberty is right, but in these times it needs more competent defenders.

    1. Creech, if you're saying that Team Reason could have done better, I agree. I was disappointed in the debate because Reason seemed to be taking the easy way out by arguing against the straw man of tyrannical socialism, even though Team Jacobin wasn't advocating that type of socialism.

      I think the folks at Reason could be "competent" defenders of capitalism and liberty if they tried.

  7. I didn't even listen to this, but it sounds like they bombed. Not surprised. Nick is not always the greatest speaker in other things I have watched. I don't get how so many people are so bad at debating. I've always been pretty good at it, I always seem to have more oomph than people I am trouncing. I guess it's because I have confidence in my ideas, facts to back most/all of it up, and am quick on my feet. Most people seem to lack some/all of that.

  8. Thanks Nick and Katherine for mopping the floor with them; too bad that many of the"educated" in the audience just didn't get it.

  9. I'm a fan of Reason but I'm disappointed in this debate. Team Reason basically used a straw man argument against a type of socialism that Team Jacobin emphatically stated they weren't advocating. Consequently I didn't learn anything new. In order for libertarianism to make any significant headway in the world, it has to wrangle with social democracies rather than tyrannical socialism (e.g. China, Russia, Cuba, North Korea). Libertarians also have to explain solutions to our most vexing social issues. It doesn't help if libertarians keep pointing out that capitalism is better than tyrannical socialism. Even social democrats admit that.

    There seems to be little evidence that Western social democracies are heading towards tyranny, and in my opinion crony capitalism (which the fine folks at Reason rightly detest) is a bigger threat than social programs. What is the evidence that social programs like Social Security, Medicare, and public schools are leading us down the primrose path to tyranny? Even if you believe that we should eliminate these programs, are they the biggest threats we're facing? Did social programs cause the financial collapse? Did social programs get us involved in two unnecessary wars? Do social programs pose a global environmental threat?

    1. sam hasn't seen the video of the disgruntled taxpayer who pulled the gun on the politicians who ordered him additionally taxed at gunpoint. Social pressure is manipulated to dissuade mention of this. The guy who went to the cafeteria where bureaucrats ate in Killeen to pick off his assailants is the same. He was bullied by bureaucrats backed by deadly force, but to uncover that fact required sifting of local news accounts. Even the Waco situation was an attempt to collect at gunpoint a tax on a supposed, hypothetical, gun part and all witnesses, including children, were systematically murdered. Just now an unarmed gal died in a hail of gunfire that killed a little boy on the other side of a wall. Local news searched and found a neighbor willing to tell the camera the deputies "thought their lives were in danger." To Jacobins, the world owes them a living and an imaginary contract is theirs to enforce. Nixon, the Kleptocracy, bureaucrats, all funnel part of the take to reporters willing to lie or omit the initiation of force. Yes social prohibitionism corrupted the medical profession into a gang of government gigolos in 1914. Yes prohibitionist confiscation caused or at least triggered the panics of 1893, 1907, 1929, 1987, 2017 by confiscation of goods. There is no coincidence there. The Comstock Law, Protectionism, licensing and regulation are the same thing at gunpoint as communism: altruistic initiation of force.

  10. How do you have a debate about an economic system without participants schooled in economics? With all due respect to the Reason panelists, you missed too many softball opportunities served up by your opponents to refute the leftist canards about capitalism. Bob Murphy or Tom Woods would have crushed the folks from Jacobin with facts and convincing economic arguments.

  11. The commie looter I debated 30 years ago incessantly pointed to Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, South American religious fascism, and American destabilization, infiltration and bombardment of the entire planet. The audience were Crockett High School kids. The opposition, a government-employed UT professor had no clue or notion of libertarian anything except as some sort of fascist, right-wing allies of the religious Republicans. Mangu-Ward did a splendid job. The only improvement (other than tasing her teammate) might have been to point out that poverty and death everywhere and always increase as the initiation of force increases. The trend looks like a smooth, infinitely-differentiable function along which thriving increases as the initiation of force approaches zero. Any appeal to facts the looters dismiss as lies, and reverently name-drop "studies" to back their bluff. At one point, when she opened an artery in their cant, the response was convulsive glossolalia reminiscent of the carpet-biting reaction of religious conservatives to the suggestion that pregnant women have individual rights. The debate communists and conservatives struggle to obfuscate is between freedom and the initiation of force.

  12. I was disappointed that Reason let the Jacobins repeatedly get away with the claim that businesses have the power to dictate wages and working conditions. They might have that power in a country in which all businesses are owned by the state or in a fantasy future world run by a single corporation, but they certainly do not have that power anywhere there is competition for workers.

    Second, it was only at the end of the debate that Reason finally pointed out that all progress made in the work place was due to agitation by the left. As was (finally) noted, child labor cannot be outlawed in unproductive societies in which everyone must work or starve. It was only after capitalism increased worker productivity to the point that child labor was the exception rather than the (necessary) norm, that it could be outlawed.

    Similarly, women will always be "second class citizens" in societies in which brute strength is the most important factor in survival. It was only after capitalism made brains more important than brawn that women were able to compete on an equal (some would say more than equal) footing.

    1. Correction. The first sentence in the second paragraph should be, "... all progress made in the work place was NOT due to agitation by the left."

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