I read Peter Klein’s article “Why Intellectuals Still Support Socialismâ€? with much interest because I myself I have thought much about his thesis (intellectuals support socialism because they directly benefit from it) albeit with markedly opposite conclusions than Mr. Klein. He brings up interesting points about the how and why socialist intervention into the market can work against their ultimate goals of a more utopian society and I especially liked his tracing the shift in politics to the GI bill. While his logic is sound his resolve is flawed by his classically liberal standpoint.

I find it frustrating whenever the market is equated with democracy. While Mr. Klein may be right that intervention does more harm than good its impossible to say that simply by removing interventionist entities (the government, social workers) everything is fair game and democratic. There are too many ingrained social disparities tied in closely with race and class and their historical disenfranchisement for us to just up and say “the market will work itself out.â€? A stringent liberal economist may say that it makes no sense for an employer to not higher a skilled worker based upon their skin color but at the same time a worker with potential for skill might not be granted access due to class/financial difficulties.

Of course if this is true laissez-faire will work out these disparities right? It may. It may not. I have my doubts considering what the free-market has done to quash competition in sectors such as media where new ideas are trampled at the behest of corporate giants who are looking more to maximize profit than to inform the public. The bottom line in my book is that if you define democracy as every vote counts then you are an interventionist. If you believe in the free-market as democracy you are supporting the bigger votes count mentality.

Still this is pretty high-minded economic theory and highly contested and contestable. It seems pretty unlikely that we will ever come upon a truly free global market which is able to work itself out to the greatest efficiency at least any time soon … or in my opinion without running ourselves into the ground first.

What I find most interesting and troubling about Mr. Klein’s article is that he seems to focus on humanities which directly impose their ideals onto government. The problem for me here is that he is insisting upon all things in terms of their commodity value. This is a troubling point I hear coming from economists and government officials more and more. He seems to be saying that all things are commodities which have a greater or lesser value depending on the market for them. No surprise there given his free market = democracy mantra. This leads him to conclude that academics are inserting their ideas which have lower commodity values (since they don’t arrive naturally within the market due to demand) into a system that would otherwise do better when left on its own.

This analogy works alright in instances such as social welfare which is covered by humanities such as sociology, psychology, womens studies etc. They are fields which have ideas that work as commodities in that they are meant to promote economic benefits and social wellbeing. Where I find it most troubling is where this overextension of commodity value applies to something like Art or philosophy (which is on the opposite side of the commodity value of the above listed humanities). While something like art does have a commodity value when paraded as entertainment or aesthetic pleasure what about its other social value which is more intangible and non-quantifiable by the market? That is its need to speak to the soul.

The problem inherent in focusing solely on the marketability of an idea is you may miss the important piece of humanity for which the artist or thinker meant the object or idea to embody. It is true to say that if a great many people share this idea then it may become marketable but to simply lob it off as a commodity is missing the point of intent and the greater sense of why human’s create objects or artifacts in the first place. Some of the greatest films for example were made through socialist systems (Italian neorealism for example). This is true also of things like philosophy and any of the Humanities. Their point isn’t simply to make a profit or even for something to make money but to think and to not be regarded as useless for thinking or doing. But beyond that once those ideas are out there they create many more ideas some of which are useful to the market and function well as commodities.

The greatest example for me is that of NASA. Obviously when the US thrust itself into the space-race against the USSR it wasn’t thinking of commodity value directly. It was about exploration, vision and a certain amount of one-upsmanship. NASA wasn’t intended to be and has never become profitable. But because of the drive and focus on pushing human’s into the extremes of rigor and environment a number of profitable commodities have resulted. (List of offshoot products from NASA).

The trick with leaving all these great ideas directly to the market is that the whole point of laissez-faire is for the market to reach stability. Things that interfere with the markets drive towards order for a liberal economist like Mr. Klein represent chaos. In some ways, however, chaos is needed. I wouldn’t say it’s a tit-for-tat type scenario where the free market is chaotic and socialism is stable or vice versa. Its probably more true to say that both models contain a fair amount of both. If used properly (and balanced correctly) they could work together to the benefit of each other and ultimately to humanity.

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