Socialism or Capitalism? A Soho Forum Debate

Jacobin's Ben Burgis and Soho Forum's Gene Epstein debate which system better promotes freedom, equality, and prosperity.


"Socialism is preferable to capitalism as an economic system that promotes freedom, equality, and prosperity."

That was the proposition at an in-person Soho Forum debate held on Sunday, April 18, in The Villages, Florida. 

Ben Burgis, a philosophy instructor at Georgia State University's Perimeter College and a contributor to Jacobin magazine, spoke in support of socialism. His long-term political goals include giving workers control of the means of production through labor cooperatives, redistributing wealth and power through direct democracy in the workplace, and prohibiting wage-and-salary labor.

Gene Epstein, director of the Soho Forum, former economics editor of Barron's, and a former senior economist for the New York Stock Exchange, argued against Burgis. He contended that free markets already allow for worker co-ops and that if they were popular and effective, they would be more widely adopted than they are currently. He also objected that Burgis' proposed ban on wage-labor is a direct assault on individual rights and reveals the coercion behind socialist economic policy.

The Soho Forum, which is sponsored by Reason, conducts Oxford-style debates, meaning the audience votes yes, no, or undecided before and after the event. The winner is the debater who convinces the most people to switch sides. At the start of the event, 8.6 percent of the crowd agreed that "socialism is preferable to capitalism," 76 percent disagreed, and 15 percent were undecided. Sam Peterson of Libertas served as moderator.

Audio Production by John Osterhoudt, narrated by Nick Gillespie

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  1. Wow. Why even have this debate. Hundreds of years of trials have already stated which system is better.

    No system that relies on equal outcomes is efficient or preferred.

    1. But nothing says freedom like prohibition.

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    2. “No system that relies on equal outcomes is efficient or preferred.”

      No system the promises “equal outcomes” provides equal outcomes. It develops a small ruling class of very rich elites and a lot of very poor repressed people.

      1. “No system that relies on equal outcomes is efficient or preferred.”

        No system that promises “equal outcomes” provides equal outcomes. It develops a small ruling class of very rich powerful elites and a lot of very poor repressed people.

        1. The socialist in the debate complained that in capitalist systems, wealth creates political inequality.

          The problem is in socialist systems political inequality, and there is always political inequality, creates wealth as the politically connected manage to get a bigger piece of the pie.

  2. They already did this debate, jabian got smashed. It’s almost like socialists are retarded intellectual mental midgets.

    1. An insult to retarded intellectual mental midgets everywhere.

  3. How about a discussion of which system has killed more of it’s own citizens? Let’s start with how many the actual Jacobins for which the magazine is named killed before the revolution tired of their Reign of Terror.

    “lf the attribute of popular government in peace is virtue, the attribute of popular government in revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror, virtue without which terror is fatal, terror without which virtue is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue.” – Maximilien Robespierre

    Robespierre’s ‘Committee of Public Safety’ oversaw 300,000 arrests and 17,000 executions in 11 months.

  4. “Socialism is preferable to capitalism as an economic system that promotes freedom, equality, and prosperity.”

    How is it even debatable which system is more free? Economic freedom and socialism are antithetical.

    1. The left considers positive rights as freedom.

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    2. The socialist in the debate, opened with redefining freedom.

  5. These -isms are about 50 years out of date.

    We’re gonna have a market economy with a large public sector, just like every decent society in earth. Isms just divide people. That’s the point, on both sides. The left, of course, is most interested in always being just popular enough to never have political power, which is why it embraces stupid dead terminology that turns people off. The right is for capitalism like it’s for freedom of speech: only for Nazis.

    1. The left controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. How is that not political power?

      1. I thought Joe Biden and Joe Manchin were in charge.

        1. Biden is senile and not in charge. Manchin is a moderate.

          You’re an idiot.

      2. The left also controls the entire beurocracy

        1. And the press.

          1. And the education industrial complex.

            1. Sounds like you guys need to work harder.

              Where I’m from, controlling academia, journalism, entertainment, and science means you win at life.

    2. Do you realize nazi stands for national socialist party? The nazis were leftists no matter how hard it is for you to believe and they have almost nothing in common with the right in America.

      The left right paradigm has nothing to do with opinion. It only has to do with government power and control. The more power and control, the further left you go until it’s a full autocracy. The less power government has, the further right it goes until you hit lawless anarchy. That’s why it’s commonly depicted as a horseshoe. Because at both ends of the spectrum you have autocracy on the left and anarchy on the right, in either case the citizenry loses its rights and freedoms

      1. I really think the left-right paradigm really fails to properly classify Nazis. They were absolutely socialists, and so left wing in some sense. But their militarism and odd and perverse take on traditionalism and nationalism I think are properly classified with right wing, in the European context.

        1. I don’t think that’s the case because I don’t think there has been a right wing, in the American limited government sense, political government movement in the past 100 or so years in Europe. And I don’t think nationalism really was associated with the “right” in Europe until around world War one. Europe was monarchs and aitocracies until basically ww1. There’s basically been nothing but leftist governments in Europe for 200 years. But the commies had to distinguish themselves from the socialists somehow I guess.

          1. Even if one grants the premise that the Nazis were right wing for the sake of the argument, it’s utterly irrelevant.

            “Nazis were right wing, Republicans are right wing, therefore Republicans are Nazis” is as valid of a logical argument as “Badgers are mammals, cows are mammals, therefore cows are badgers”. Which is to say, not particularly valid.

            Which is why Tony thinks it’s a slam dunk argument. And fears cowdgers.

            1. Badgers? We don’t need no stinkin badgers.

        2. Right wing in a european context is *monarchist*. Nazis weren’t monarchists.

      2. No it doesn’t. I hate to break it to you, but if you live in a non-failed state, the government has a rather large amount of authority over you, regardless of the economic particulars of its regime.

        As for being fooled by words, do you believe the DPRK is a democratic republic?

        You’re just doing what I said you’d do.

        1. So Tony is a bottom once again to the state and its authority over him.

        2. Yes it does. Many of us here consider governments with that much power the failed states. That you don’t shows again you’re a troll not a libertarian. This country got along just fine without all the regulation and control the govt now has over our daily lives.

          The dprk has nothing to do with the nazis. The nazis were literally socialists. Hitler took his system from musolini, and musolini took his from Marx, but added more ethno/nationalism. Hitler was a socialist Tony, just like Bernie, aoc, etc. He just was also a ethno/nationalist on top of it. No word salad you come up with will change the fact that the world’s worst governments have all been leftists

        3. “…I hate to break it to you,…”

          Pretty much the tell of a fucking lefty ignoramus. Shitstain here can’t ‘break’ anything to anyone with a 6th grade education.

    3. The right is for capitalism like it’s for freedom of speech: only for Nazis.

      That’s fucking retarded, even for you, Tony. Nazis? Really? If you think the American right is anything like Nazis, I just don’t know what to say.

      1. He knows what his handlers told him, and nothing else.

      2. If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes journalism.

  6. I enjoy hearing thoughtful speakers with other viewpoints, but I can’t include anyone associated with Jacobin Magazine in that category. I’ve not listened to this forum yet, but I’ve listened to several debates/discussions with people associated with Jacobin Magazine and they are always so disconnected from reality it’s pointless. Did the “adult diaper” nonsense come up in this one again?
    Please, no more Jacobin Magazine speakers in the future.

  7. prohibiting wage-and-salary labor.

    What replaces those things? All the workers own a share in the co-op or something? What happens when that doesn’t pay a “living wage that isn’t a wage or a salary”?

    1. Then the more productive co-ops need to merge with that one. More fair.

  8. The point of humanity is to amass wealth and retire and then help others do the same so that the robots can take over peacefully. Capitalism enables this through innovation and profit. Socialism actually prevents this from happening because it attempts to divide up the work and pays people equally even if their work is counter productive. The result is that most can never retire – and inevitably ends in tyranny and genocide.

    However the appeal of socialism is too great – because most people think they will be on the winning side by expressing compassion for the masses. The only solution is for the rich to fund paradise.

    1. C –

      Leave this kind of thing to OBL.

      1. I like to think AddictionMyth is a genuine weirdo.

      2. So you’re not interested in paradise? That’s fine, more room for others.

        1. The 72 virgins kind?

    2. I think you’re ready for your wall-e floaty chair.

      1. Let me guess – the point of humanity is endless wars?

        1. Let me guess – when called on your bullshit, you claim vile intent by those who called you on your bullshit.
          Note: No question mark.

  9. Rape or Consensual Sex? A Soho Forum Debate

    1. Heh. Yeah, pretty much. How the hell is this still a debate? Socialism: killed many 10s (if not 100s) of millions of people in the 20th century.
      Capitalism/markets: raised billions of people out of a state of absolute poverty.
      You want to argue about welfare state policies and such, fair enough. But I see no more excuse for supporting full-on socialism than for being a Nazi.

      1. Because there are far more opportunities for profit and power under socialism (medicare for all, UBI, GND, gun control, minimum wage) than with capitalism (robotics, new flavor of dog food). And calling people liars and losers for saying that isn’t going to change their mind.

        1. No, that’s why I try to call them liars and losers only when I’m talking to people who already agree with me.

        2. “And calling people liars and losers for saying that isn’t going to change their mind.”

          We don’t need to change their minds, we can just ignore them.

          Support for the question went from 8.6% to 6.45 %

        3. “Because there are far more opportunities for profit and power under socialism (medicare for all, UBI, GND, gun control, minimum wage) than with capitalism (robotics, new flavor of dog food)…”

          Our com-symp seems to think that all inventions have been invented. It’s hard to imagine how much effort it takes to achieve that level of stupidity.

        4. I mean, if you’re listing all the ways that those in power can increase their power over others – sure, then socialism wins.

  10. I don’t even want to start listening. I hate listening to the guys from Jacobin talk. The first time I heard a debate with them it was novel. The 3rd time and on it was pure torture.

  11. These debates have the audience vote on the question before and after the debate declaring the winner by who at the biggest increase in support.

    For those who don’t want to watch/listen, here are the numbers

    Agree 8.60%
    Disagree 76.34%
    Undecided 15.05%

    Agree 6.45%
    Disagree 88.17%
    Undecided 5.38%

    Ben Burgis lost 1/4th of his support.

    Personally I didn’t think Gene Epstein did that great of a job, but Burgis was just scary.

  12. One question that wasn’t put to Burgis that I would like to see him answer.

    If they mandate worker cooperatives, and outlaw wage labor, how are the worker cooperatives supposed to pay their members?

    Is it supposed to be some kind of revenue sharing? And if so, if a particular worker cooperative loses money does that mean the workers get paid nothing?

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