In his classic book the Logic of Collective Action, Mancur Olson observed a peculiar feature about socialist political organizing. Marxist theory envisions itself as a manifestation of collective class interests, with the proletarian class being the most numerous. Yet as Olson noted, “the ‘Marxian’ revolutions that have taken place have been brought about by small conspiratorial elites that took advantage of weak governments during periods of social disorganization.” Marxist revolutions, it seemed, were not an inevitable result of a basic numbers game once class consciousness had been awakened. They emerged from Lenin and his many copycats staging violent coup d’etats to place themselves in power.
Marxist intellectuals have long struggled with this implication, as it points to political actions – including actions involving insurrection, subterfuge, and mass bloodshed – as the primary mechanisms for bringing their desired socio-economic system into existence. Perhaps understandably, they wish to retain the theoretical framework of Marx but strip it of the violent legacies of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, and other discrediting political figures.
In a new article, we examine a related question: to what degree is Marx’s own reputation as an intellectual dependent on the political “successes” of his followers in the early 20thcentury? The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot. Our full paper recently appeared online in the Journal of Political Economy, and presents an empirical investigation into the role of the Soviet Revolution of 1917 in “mainstreaming” Marx’s intellectual reputation.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is as serious about governance as Trump was frivolous, last week assembled an electoral coalition in the nation’s third-most populous state that was broader than Trump ever assembled anywhere. DeSantis is the first, but not the only, plausible claimant to the leadership of the Republican Party. Because DeSantis is sometimes parsimonious with smiles and rhetorical grace notes, he runs the risk of seeming to be a sore winner. He is, however, notably intelligent, a nimble learner and a harbinger of the multiplying hazards Trump faces, including this:
The midterm elections indicate that a growing number of voters seem inclined to make cool-eyed calculations as unenthralled adults: Do not seek the best imaginable political outcome; seek instead to avoid the worst.
But his character flaws—narcissism, lack of self-control, abusive treatment of advisers, his puerile vendettas—interfered with that success. Before Covid he was headed for re-election. But the damage from his shutdown of the economy combined with his erratic behavior in that crisis gave Joe Biden the opening to campaign for normalcy. Mr. Trump lost a winnable election.
That said, the Trump administration was chaotic even on its best days because of his erratic nature and lack of seriousness. He often acted as if he were a commentator on his own presidency, and issued orders on Twitter and in other off-the-cuff statements that were ignored. He repeatedly had to be talked out of disastrous ideas by his advisers and Republican elected officials. He turned on cabinet officials and aides on a dime. Trump had a limited understanding of our constitutional system, and at the end of the day, little respect for it. His inability to approximate the conduct that the public expects of a president undermined him from beginning to end.
The latter factor played an outsized role in his narrow defeat to a feeble Joe Biden in 2020 in what was a winnable race. Of course, unable to cope with the humiliation of the loss, he pursued a shameful attempt to overturn the result of the election. He didn’t come close to succeeding, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The episode ended with Trump, in a grotesque abuse of his powers, trying to bully Vice President Pence into unilaterally delaying or changing the count of electoral votes on January 6 and with an inflamed pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol while the president gave no indication that he particularly minded.
In the midst of this, he threw away two Georgia Senate seats in a fit of pique over Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refusing to bend to his will. The resulting loss of Senate control allowed Biden to get trillions of dollars in spending that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise and confirm large numbers of progressive judges.
The Jones Act requires that ships transporting goods between U.S. ports be built in the U.S., flagged in the U.S., and owned and crewed by Americans. Very few ships meet these standards because modern shipping is a very globalized industry. As a result, transporting goods between American ports is much more expensive than transporting the same goods over similar distances internationally.
The law especially harms Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that is economically underdeveloped compared to the mainland. Since so few ships meet Jones Act standards, only a few companies deliver goods to Puerto Rico from the mainland U.S., which is Puerto Rico’s largest trading partner.
Ships that comply with the Jones Act are generally quite old. As Colin Grabow of the Cato Institute pointed out earlier this year, Jones Act ships are generally expected to last 40 years, while 20-year lifespans are more normal in the rest of the world. He calculated that the average age of the last 15 Jones Act ships that were retired was 43. Older ships cost more to maintain and operate, are not well-suited for mobilization in a time of war, and can be less safe.
This is further complicated by the proliferation of claims by interventionists that are, to put it mildly, highly contestable. We have been informed, for example, that Adam Smith only applied his free trade principles to domestic investment. That’s simply untrue. Other conservatives tell us that the New Deal was a marvelous thing, despite the mountains of evidence assembled by economic historians indicating that it did not in fact get America out of the Great Depression. As no less than FDR’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, stated on May 6, 1939, “We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. . . . I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot!”
Yet other conservatives (echoing arguments made by progressives almost 15 years ago) insist that we can learn many things from Chinese state-capitalism. This flies in the face of growing evidence (which Beijing is trying to hide) that the wheels are falling off that particular wagon.
But while such propositions are easily rebutted, they have acquired considerable traction for several reasons. They provide, for instance, support for what some people want to hear: that economic salvation via the state is possible, despite the many indications to the contrary. In other cases, they create rationales for those whose primary goal in life is the acquisition of power, either for its own sake, or because they believe that technocrats can overcome complicated social challenges through top-down economic tinkering. Once such mythologies permeate public discourse, ousting them is very difficult.
David Hart has done great service in sharing here – and introducing – Thomas Johnson’s 1645 A Discourse on Freedome of Trade. A slice from David’s Introduction:
He is also scathing in his critique of the unjust political privileges which the monopolized merchants enjoyed. He lists in great detail the ways in which the merchants used the law to exclude newcomers to their association, or to fine and otherwise increase the costs of doing business for those who did join their “fraternity of Ingrossers”, their “self-enriching Society”, which was more concerned with “feathering their own nests” than with increasing the prosperity of the nation as a whole. He thought that monopolists are “like *Incubusses* (who) doe suck the very vital spirits, and drive into one vein that masse of blood which should cherish the whole body.” Those who were excluded from membership in this fraternity and those who had to bear the increased costs caused by monopoly, were forced to suffer “a kind of slavery upon him in his own country” which Thomas Johnson wanted to see abolished as soon as possible.
The Biden plan enshrines former president Donald Trump‘s Operation Warp Speed as the model response to the next century of pandemics. Left unsaid is that, for the new pandemic plan to work as envisioned, it will require us to conduct dangerous gain-of-function research. It will also require cutting corners in the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of novel vaccines. And while the studies are underway, politicians will face tremendous pressure to impose draconian lockdowns to keep the population “safe.”
This policy effectively guarantees that lockdowns will return to the U.S. in the event of a new pandemic. Though the lockdowns did not work to protect populations from getting or spreading COVID—after 2.5 years, nearly everyone in the U.S. has had COVID—public health bureaucracies like the CDC have not repudiated the strategy. Imagine the early days of the next pandemic, with public health and the media fomenting fear of a new pathogen. The impetus to close schools, businesses, churches, beaches, and parks will be irresistible, though the pitch will be “130 days until the vax” rather than “two weeks to flatten the curve.”