Capitalism

Is Socialism Better Than Capitalism? A Soho Forum Debate

Jacobin's Ben Burgis says yes, Soho Forum's Gene Epstein says no.

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"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.

Narrated by Nick Gillespie, edited by John Osterhoudt and Regan Taylor

Photos: Hansjörg Keller on Unsplash; Khachik Simonian XYav on Unsplash; Kaan Kosemen on Unsplash; Mario Caruso on Unsplash; Dominik Bednarz on Unsplash; Renate Vanaga on Unsplash; Henry Co on Unsplash; Tim Foster on Unsplash; Doun Rain aka Tomas Gaspar on Unsplash; Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash; BP Miller on Unsplash; Justin Guariglia on Unsplash; Jamison Lottering on Unsplash; Michelle Ding on Unsplash; Ilse Orsel on Unsplash; Event photos by Brett Raney

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  1. “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.”

    Sounds like a major fail since you won’t get everyone to agree, there will be those who will still collect power money and influence, there will have to violence to perpetrate the scheme and people resist, and eventually it will fall against capitalist countries around the world.

    If you want to help starve the population and grind them under a totalitarian system, please try this.

    1. Some workers are more equal than others.

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    4. But workers can already have control of the means of production – start your own fucking company.

      Capital is freely sold and bought.

      and prohibiting wage-and-salary labor.

      I’ve never understood how this is supposed to work.

      I can’t get a job until I have enough money to buy into the company? How do I get the money? What if I want to change jobs? Then I have to find someone to buy my stake in the company (ie, someone who wants to work there and who they want to work with) and then try to buy a stake in another company?

      Sounds kinda hellish except in for a set of people in very specific circumstances.

      But here’s the kicker – people can already do that. Like the current system doesn’t prevent this. But these assholes want a system that mandates it while preventing people from organizing as they see fit.

      I mean, there’s a *reason* wage and salary work exists – its the most convenient way to buy and sell labor that exists right now.

      The whole ‘you buy into the company’ only exists (voluntarily) for people in very high-end/specialist positions for a reason.

      Can you imagine as a lawyer that your options were to only open your own practice or be taken on immediately as a partner in someone else’s?

      And you either give your secretary and paralegals the same say in the business (because they, somehow, managed to put enough money together to buy a job in a successful firm) or you have to outsource *everything* to a contractor firm.

      No real choice of what should be handled in-house and what needs to be outsourced.

      1. Socialists are worse than anarchists when it comes to their handwaving away issues.

        Anarchists at least have a lot of scholarly work backing up their theoretical institutions.

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    5. “redistributing wealth and power through direct democracy in the workplace, and prohibiting wage-and-salary labor.”

      What if we democratically choose to labor for a wage and/or a salary?

      1. Sounds like a tragic case of kulaks tricking a majority into wrong thinking. It’s almost tragic, but they’ll have to be taken care of.

    6. All I want to know is if I decide to opt out of this wonderful unicorn version of socialism will they kill me?

  2. The purpose of humanity is to amass wealth and retire and help others do the same. Yes this is a key component of Christianity:

    Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

    In order for this to happen, we need innovation and profit. Socialism opposes both of these and thus inevitably ends in war and genocide. However the appeal of socialism is that there are far more opporunities for profit and power (medicare for all, UBI, GND, gun control, etc) than under capitalism (curing cancer, hawking a new flavor of dog food on Shark Tank). And calling people liars and losers when they point that out isn’t going to change their minds.

    It’s surprising to me how many libertarians reject the Christian concept of paradise while refusing to specify any alternative.

    1. The purpose of humanity my life is to amass wealth and retire and help others do the same.
      If anyone wants to learn how it was done, I am willing to teach.
      Hint: hard work was involved. Pussies need not apply.

      1. You will teach them? Or you will relentlessly insult them and call them ‘loser’ and ‘pussy’ until they go away? (And brag to your husband that you destroyed another ‘socialist’ online?)

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        2. Thank you for applying. Don’t call us. We will call you. Or not.

        3. Will you make a career of nagging? I think you will.

        4. How about I call you and idiot and a cunt? Just for the sake of variety.

      2. Hard work isn’t all or even most of it. You’ll never meet anyone who works so hard as a Congolese yam farmer. They’re poor as hell though. It’s a combination of working hard, putting yourself where you are the most valuable, and being smarter than your competition.

        1. Hard work and smart choices. And of course not everyone has access to those choices. Someone born in a DRK slave labor camp has fewer opportunities than most other people.

        2. The third part isn’t required.

          85% of success is just showing the fuck up and putting the hours in.

          The rest of it is understanding comparative advantage.

    2. The purpose of humanity is to amass wealth and retire and help others do the same. Yes this is a key component of Christianity:

      Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

      That has nothing to do with amassing wealth and your ‘retirement’ is ‘the grave’.

      Christianity is absolutely not about wealth – or retirement.

      1. Jesus says that it is very hard for the rich to enter paradise.

        The typical US evangelical “success gospel” IMHO is a 100% abberation and twisting of the message of Jesus.

        I have been part of such a church and left it in disgust. Anyone who has read just a few passages of the gospel for himself knows this immediately.

  3. If socialism is such a good idea, why is force needed to establish it?

    1. Wreckers and kulaks, my friend. Wreckers and kulaks.

    1. Do you guys think that the pill plays a part? It’s done great things, but it also seriously fuck with hormones.

      1. Natural hormones in women mess with their brains. Women have always had higher incidence of mental illness. It’s possible the pill makes it worse, but I kinda saw pregnancy and breastfeeding as a vacation from the fluctuation. I’d like to see if women who have more children are more mentally stable.

        1. I don’t see how, kids drive everyone nuts.

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  4. Ha, this guy is an idiot, or power hungry , maybe both.

  5. As someone who was born and grew up in a socialist country (former Yugoslavia), I can tell you that socialism doesn’t work. Saying that “this wasn’t the real socialism” is the hubris of the worst kind. It essentially means: “if I were in Stalin’s place, I would have done a better job”. No, you wouldn’t. Anyone who thinks that is a first class idiot.

    1. Welcome to progressivism. They’re ALL first class idiots.

  6. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

    Socialists are insane.

  7. Why the hell are we even debating these clowns? Would you have a debate about whether nazism was better liberal democracy?

  8. Socialism is great, if you are a child, or at least a special kind of child.

    Do you wish to be cared for, both materially and emotionally? Do you thrive on authority (and don’t need much material support)? Do you indulge your feelings of envy; do you feel better when everyone gets the same, even if that means bringing everyone down? Do you like telling others how to live? Do you feel that the world owes you?

    Or are you just really, really stupid?

  9. Well DUH, socialism as a macro-economic system has failed. We don’t need one more debate or one more experiment to prove that.

    What would be far more interesting is a debate over types of liberal democratic capitalist systems. The European model vs. the American model vs. the Japanese model, for example. That would be far more illuminating I think. Not one more debate about “lol socialism”.

    1. The European model is not ‘liberal’ nor ‘democratic’.

      And ‘capitalist’ is a red-herring. No one’s economic system is capitalist. Capitalism is just one way of many to organize labor and capital. The systems you decry as ‘capitalism’ are more ‘free-market’ (except, of course, for regulatory capture and cronyism) where capitalist firms compete and cooperate alongside firms organized under other principles.

      You see so many capitalist firms because that form of organization *works*, in general. Other forms flourish in other niches.

      The difference between ‘free market’ and the other ‘isms’ is that in a free market, you’re free to try different forms. All the ‘isms’ try to tell you that only their one model works and so you should only be allowed that one model.

  10. Socialist is definitely the best system for the below average. They love it.

    1. Not even for them. There’s a lot less to go around for everyone when you take money from productive people and give it unproductive people and demagogues.

      1. But when no one has anything, you don’t feel as bad that you don’t have anything.

        When the system is against you, you don’t feel bad about not achieving anything.

        Its not your fault.

    2. What’s more pathetic is the “below average” advocating for lower taxes on billionaires because of abortion and Jesus. What idiots!

      1. You’re just a babbling can’t. Kill yourself you commie traitor.

      2. There’s some mental (retardation) gymnastics.

    3. Tell this to millions of Chinese who came form chronic hunger under Mao to middle class under capitalism.

  11. Sorry guys, the “funny” thing about this is that we are actually on the road to fascism.

    1. Well, we want to leave the factories in the hands of the owners, but we’d like to direct the efforts and production of the factories towards national goals.

      1. And those owners don’t have to worry about competition anymore.

      2. The goal of a factory is to meet the customer demand.
        And socialism focused on national goals would be national socialism.

  12. Armed robbery or peaceful cooperation?
    Which one is friendlier?

    1. I think you misspelled “Redistubritive justice.”

      1. Was that intentional?

  13. So who won? What did the audience poll after the debate?

    1. watching to the end helps

    2. They’ll count the votes until socialism wins.

    3. Gene, I would say, kicked his ass.

      The socialist lost 2% from where he started… Gene gained, what was it? 6? 16? whatever it was… he gained a solid amount.

  14. If socialism is so terrible, why do socialist societies— or those countries where income is redistributed the most— enjoy the highest standards of living and have the happiest societies? I mean, if you are using the United States as an example of the Utopianism that arises from unfettered markets you might want to open your eyes and look around a bit.

    1. Any idiot without much ambition can be happy with mediocrity. And any people that look with envy and distaste on those who strive for more can tell themselves they are living the right way.

    2. Poor people are easier to please.

    3. Your premise is bullshot.

    4. Socialist Cuba is avant garde. They have had toilet paper shortages for years. Some of the US had a temporary short for a few weeks last year. The US should emulate them.

    5. Couple of things here.

      1. You’re conflating ‘socialism’ with ‘where income is redistributed the most’. Those aren’t the same thing. In fact, socialism doesn’t require that the income be redistributed equally – it could very well just end up redistributed into the hands of a small elite.

      2. The idea that socialist countries have the highest standards of living and are the happiest is . . . its so false and been known to be false for so long that you can only be lying here deliberately.

      Most socialist countries are *less* rich than more free market countries and a lot of those that are *near* (and very few are) our level of wealth (Germany, for example, has a wealth-per-capita of around Alabama) have only been so since the 1990’s. Before that the gap between the US and the rest of the world – yes, even Europe and the Nordic countries – was much, much higher.

      Those few that are richer than us are not happier. Denmark and Finland lead darn near the world in suicide rates. Norway, Greenland, etc – all the same. And none of those countries are socialist.

      The rest of the ‘socialist or highly redistributionist’ countries are neither richer nor happier than we are. Indeed, the opposite.

      1. Especially when you bring in Venezuala, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea, China, etc.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_socialist_states

        Look at that map there and tell me the socialist countries are doing better than the free market ones.

        1. Oh, as an aside. I totally support socialism. As long as it’s voluntary. Co-ops, communes, etc. Not a problem. I actively participate in such “socialist” activities every day, by pooling risk management (through health and automobile insurance companies), to shopping at a the local Co-op grocer. I choose to. And I can choose NOT to do so. And having that choice is called “freedom.”

          1. OK, let’s not confuse Socialism, a form of government, a way to arrange the state apparatus and the use of force, with voluntary cooperation.

        2. Sorry, Agammamon, that was not supposed to be a reply to your post!

    6. ” I mean, if you are using the United States as an example of the Utopianism that arises from unfettered markets you might want to open your eyes and look around a bit.”

      You are missing a couple of very salient points: The USA is one country in name only. There are 330 million people here, and, sometimes it seems, nearly as many definitions of “utopia.” We have more “diversity,” culturally and otherwise, than any other democratic nation which comes to mine. We have “utopias” everywhere. And seldom are they alike.

      I love where I live, and how I live. But most of the friends I have had over the years would go nuts if they had to live like I do (no amusement parks, pro sports teams, large symphony orchestras, etc). Do you honestly believe that someone who lives for the life on Bourbon Street would ever be happy raising horses in Montana, or developing software in Silicon Valley?

      Unfettered markets? Yeah. Because we know from experience that the federal and State governments never interfere with the operation of private industries.

    7. Fuck off to Cuba and die in squalor, you worthless lefturd.

      -jcr

  15. Was the argument about whether we should model our economy on what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia or what Josef Stalin did in the 30s (before he rid the world of the scourge of European fascism) in the Soviet Union or was the debate on something that modern socialists actually advocate for?

    1. WW2 was red fascism vs brown fascism with a supporting role by the USA.

      1. WW2 in Europe was essentially a contest between Stalin and Hitler to see who could kill more Russians.

        -jcr

    2. No one gives a fuck what you ‘advocate’ for. It’s all oppression and failure. Committed marxists like you should be put down.

    3. With the current level of technology, both systems can work (after all, we have machines that manufacture everything and no real need for people to work).
      For me the difference between socialism and capitalism is not in their economical efficiency, but in the personal freedoms.

  16. I will listen to the position of a socialist once Americans start building rafts to flee to Cuba.

  17. Jacobin’s Ben Burgis says yes, Soho Forum’s Gene Epstein says no.

    The man-child who showed up in a t-shirt wants people to be forced – at gunpoint – to give him free shit. Who would have guessed.

    Also, why do these people not look around at socialist countries and socialist-lite countries?

    Have any of these people *lived* in Italy? I have. It ain’t that great. Sure, visiting for a week and enjoying those quaint little cafes. Or going to France for an espresso and croissant.

    Now live in a place that still has metered internet. In a tiny little flat with no parking space. GOING TO THE FUCKING STORE EVERY GODDAMNED DAY because there’s like, one supermarket in the town. And its not in the town, its 5 miles outside of it. So you need to go to all these little independent specialty stores that have absolute shit for selection.

    Electrics that pop *fuses* yes, fuses, not breakers) if you run the tv and microwave at the same time.

    Then let’s talk about France’s 20% long-term unemployment rate . . .

    1. A large unemployment rate is fine, even desirable, in a country with a generous safety net. Why force people to work if they don’t want or have to? Because you’re a moral ninny who thinks he gets to tell everyone else how to live?

      1. why even provide them a safety net? What if no wants to? A moral ninny like yourself shouldn’t get to tell everyone else how to live right???

        1. Not at all, I’m merely proposing that we give people enough of a share of the resources of the country they own so that they do not starve to death, and then ask them their opinion on whether they want to give it up to work for a factory tyrant with no labor rights. Freedom.

          1. My body. My choice. Nobody owns my labor. Thanks. If a factory is not satisfactory to me, I can go work at a different one that does.

            1. And if none are satisfactory?

              Would you deny yourself the right to pool your legitimate democratic power with your neighbors to make laws that raise the floor on the level of misery employers are permitted to impose on workers?

              You already agree with this if you think child sweatshop labor should be outlawed.

              1. Start your own factory.
                Idiot.

                1. The freedom of children to spend 14 hours a day making widgets, presumably forced birth and no education, and all the other wonderful freedoms granted in the private sector all by itself.

                  We make laws because we want to motivate human behavior. You just want to make the worst ones and encourage the worst behavior. The only difference with respect to freedom is that you don’t want any.

                  1. You really think that law makes society?

                    Not that the legislatures make law once society is basically already changed its practices?

                    Like, you really think that gay marriage exists because of the ‘bravery’ of the courts – and not that it only existed so recently because the courts kept avoiding the issue until it was clear that society itself was ok with it.

                    Weird.

                    1. Correct. Law is for the stragglers. That’s always going to be you, so you might as well stop whining and find a hobby.

              2. We can already do that – just don’t work for them.

                No coercion necessary.

          2. The country’ doesn’t have resources. Individual people do. You don’t have a right to other people’s stuff. You’re just worthless and lazy.

            This s why you love Marxism. It’s tyranny of the weak. 50+1% dictate to the rest. So you can tae their shit because you’re too la and entitled to produce anything.

      2. Why force people to work if they don’t want or have to?

        Who’s going to support the people who don’t work?

        Because you’re a moral ninny who thinks he gets to tell everyone else how to live?

        Says the moral ninny who wants to be able to force me to live like he wants me to.

        1. I want you to be freer than you can possibly imagine from inside the invisible restraints of your arbitrary, useless culture.

          1. So you’ll do that by enslaving other people?

            No thanks.

            Someone has to labor for my daily bread – that’s not negotiable, that’s the way the universe works – why should it not be me?

            1. Comrade, your only only freedom are the chains of socialism which bind us all.

      3. Also – no one ever stopped you from giving your resources to other people to support their desire to not work.

        Lead by example. When I see you openly supporting non-working people by paying their rent, utilities, food, medical bills, etc – then you can make a moral case that I should do the same thing.

        Until then, all you want to do is dress up your fascist fantasies in something that socially acceptable.

      4. Fuck you, get a job.

        -jcr

  18. Sounds like this debate was about syndicalism not socialism

  19. The Conversation should be more about Stupiditism and Obesitism, because its mostly what America has been involved in since 9-11… Its what feminism has brought us.

  20. The meaningless debate is intended to brow beat the masses to accept a “compromise” which is the worst of both ideologies benefiting only the wealthy elite at the expense of everyone else.

    The best ideology is the one that empowers everyone to be the best they can be. This requires free speech, access to equality, knowledge and health. It is neither stereotypical capitalism or communism.

    1. And no Jews, right Misek?

  21. It drives me nuts that these articles never report the debate results.
    From 1:59:07 of the video:

    Is Socialism Better than Capitalism?
    …………………. PRE …….. POST…… change
    Agree ………… 8.60% ….. 6.45% ….. -2.15%
    Disagree ….. 76.34% … 88.17% … +11.83%
    Undecided .. 15.05% …… 5.38% ….. -9.68%

  22. Anyone who still advocates socialism after the disasters of the 20th century is a depraved misanthrope, and should be treated as such until and unless they mend their ways.

    -jcr

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  24. The 95,000,000 who have died at the hands of Socialist leaders is sufficent reason to forego that particular economic system.

  25. For the fairness sake, if only 8% of the audience thought the socialism is good before the debates, it doesn’t look like the forum was good.

  26. No.

    Stop wasting everyone’s time.

  27. Burgis should be forced to live in Venezuela for a few months before he speaks about things he knows nothing about. Why should a business owner who put his time, money, hard work and risk into creating a business turn it over to someone who he was nice enough to employ just because they whine? Socialism is great for lazy people – all the benefits and none of the work. Guess what happens? Those who actually work hard quit doing so. Why bust your behind if all the benefits of your hard work go to useless, lazy losers? Then everything fails. Ask someone who lived behind the Iron Curtain how that worked out for them.

  28. This is easy. Only one of the two requires pointing guns at peaceful people.

  29. This one is serious I can’t get a job until I have enough money to buy into the company? How do I get the money? What if I want to change jobs? Then I have to find someone to buy my stake in the company (ie, someone
    https://wapexclusive.com , who wants to work there and who they want to work with) and then try to buy a stake in another company?

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