Friday, June 29, 2007

Always Look On The Bright Side of Appalling Human Misery

Matt Yglesias on the benefits of Communism:
That Cuba has managed to construct a middling health care system in the midst of a totally crapped-out economy serves as a reminder that while Communism is a very bad political and economic system, it does have certain benefits. Specifically, adopting Communism either eliminates outright or else eliminates the attractiveness of a huge swathe of the professions that smart, highly-educated people tend to undertake. This has the effect of making it much easier to recruit smart, highly educated people to be tenth grade English teachers or basic doctors and nurses. This is part of the reason why the USSR, for all its very many problems, managed to be really good at teaching little kids reading and basic math -- getting a job doing that is much more relatively attractive in a Communist system than in a liberal one, so you can get better personnel on the job. Of course, that relative attractiveness is achieved largely by making everything awful (note incredibly old car in the photo above), so it's not a strategy I'm inclined to endorse, but still, there it is.

Then later, he approvingly quotes this:
National cinemas often become great just as dictatorships loosen up or fall, when there’s the right combination of freedom of expression and miserable conditions. Think of Czech cinema during Alexander Dubček’s Prague Spring, Polish cinema during the early years of Solidarity, Yugoslav cinema during the country’s disintegration after Tito, or Iranian cinema during the now dead reform era. Totalitarian rule makes artistic creation impossible, but, apparently, social peace threatens it with triviality.

Maybe tyranny's not so bad then!

Yglesias in no way proposes that these outweigh the "drawbacks" of those particular flavors of totalitarianism (death, destruction, misery, etc.) but it still leaves a poor taste in my mouth. It reminds me of Henry Hazlitt's One Lesson: that people pay attention to the visible benefits of a policy, and ignore the invisible benefits that would have occurred had the policy not been implemented. Sure, the billions and billions of dollars we spent sending men to the moon for no purpose except national pride could have stayed in the pockets of Americans and bought washing machines, invested in businesses or paid for health care today, but hey, at least we got a giant leap for mankind and Teflon! Not that I mind Teflon.

The post also reminds me of a Glenn Reynolds trick. I don't actually like Communism, but I'm going to post something defending it on my heavy-traffic blog anyway! I don't suspect any dishonesty in Yglesias; he's just trying to be an optimist (unlike Reynolds, who surely would have figured out by now if he were honest that approvingly linking Hugh Hewitt makes you Not A Libertarian). But the effect is the same, if on an oppositely-aligned audience: a thousand hipsters in Che Guevara t-shirts nod their heads approvingly, saying "Heh" or "Indeed". Their argument is in fact strengthened by Yglesias' overall dislike of Communism; now they have a source outside their echo chamber who says communism = better health care!

Oh look, I just did the same thing! Except I don't have traffic. If I did, those who already thought Yglesias was a filthy red would be thus reinforced. The marketplace of ideas! Aren't you excited? I am.



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