This is surprisingly unoffensive


This provides the core rationale of what I’ll call, for short, the ‘socialist’ idea, going on to explain what I mean by it. This idea is that [wa: individual?] morality is not enough. (In wrong-headed versions of the idea, that claim is put more strongly to say that morality is irrelevant. But the stronger claim is wrong.) Morality is not enough, it is necessary but not sufficient, because the extent of possible human need may always outstrip the uncoordinated results of individual moral effort, leaving some to live lives of unrelenting misery or hardship, others to die unrescued, or what have you. The socialist idea is that we, as a community, renounce this state of affairs, that we sign up to a code according to which people do not die unrescued or live lives of penury, so far as we can help it.

(emph added)

Its pretty uncontroversial to say caring for others in need is a public good and as such is under financed in the decentralized economy.

But the absence of a discussion of implementation suggests a point of departure between Liberals and Socialists. Maybe each of us needs to be forced to care more about the community than we would otherwise, but why does that mean each of us need to be concerned with “the needs of distant strangers”? My local community overlaps with the neighbor local communities and those neighbor communities connect me to their neighbor communities. In this way, a distant stranger is connected to my community and any public goods financing my community forces on me will spill over to him. Furthermore, if the public goods problem is solved in each community, then its solved for the “distant stranger” ((If that doesn’t do it for you, then imagine all the people in the world line up in a single line. If each person scratches his neighbor’s back then everybody will get their back scratched.)).

In this way, the public goods problem, what Geras calls the socialist idea, is solved via many interconnected local communities. There is no need for a concept of global community (which is usually implied by socialists and is explicit with nationalist social democrats).

I don’t think Liberals are worried by the potential for tyranny of the local community as long as there’s free mobility between them. Should we worry, though, about the potential for a “race to the bottom” where communities compete with each other to attract members by reducing the public goods burden?

UPDATE: Another issue with the implementation of the socialist ideal that I think is interesting. Its probably true that different levels of community (e.g. city vs. state, state vs. nation) are substitutes for each other. If this is true, what do we lose by having less and less granular units of community? Are the social democrats killing local communities? Should we care?

5 thoughts on “This is surprisingly unoffensive”

  1. What an a-hole! People never learn, I guess.

    Since I’m from Eastern Europe and old enough, I get to call sissy, self-styled “socialists” Westerners whatever I want. And right now, I just want to go with “a-hole”.

    Unrelated, how do you use “liberal”? As it’s used in the US or how it’s used in Europe?

  2. American liberals go by “progressive” these days, so I mean Liberal like Mill, J. S.

    I think there should always be an E. European in every discussion regarding the merits of socialism. Its hard to be all lofty and utopian when reality’s staring you in the face… literally.

  3. “I think there should always be an E. European in every discussion regarding the merits of socialism.”


    They should also get choice seating at any discussion on the merits of invading other countries.

  4. Funny, they (and my data set includes just Poland… I don’t know about others) was behind the Iraq invasion. I mean in the diplomatic sense and the popular sense of being behind the invasion.

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