Customer Reviews: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism (Politically Incorrect Guides (Paperback))
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Showing 1-3 of 3 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on December 27, 2010
After previously seeming totally dead, Regnery Publishing as a response of “Obamacare” published late in 2010 a new installment in their interesting if never great ‘Politically Incorrect Guide’ series. ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism’ aims to show that “socialism” is always economically and environmentally destructive and politically ultra-nationalist and militarist in the same way as fascism is supposed to be.

Kevin Williamson aims to look at every case that radically capitalist economists or philosophers would consider “socialist”, from Sweden to India under the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to Venezuela under Hugo Chavez to the classic Stalinist nations of the Soviet bloc. In every case, Williamson observes socialism to spread poverty, destroy the environment and sustained via extremely powerful governments to counter inequalities of supply and demand resulting from fixed prices. Williamson argues that for this reason socialism invariably becomes ultra-nationalistic as minorities or foreign countries are blamed for its failures.

It is easy to sympathise with Williamson’s dissections of the failures of “socialism” in countless nations around the world, in every form from social democracy through Communism to fascism and even nationalism and compulsory education. Williamson has some surprising points to make about how compulsory education has always been used since it originated in sixteenth-century Germany to indoctrinate the population into a particular religious view – notably by Catholics in Austria. Williamson is also to be credited for seeing that the first welfare state laws were done in response to the threat of violent socialist revolution that may be viewed a missed opportunity (à la Socialist Alternative) or too compromising (à la Austrian School). Yet, with Sweden Williamson, amidst some interesting revelations about how big government has destroyed a powerful work ethic formerly present in Scandinavia, overlooks that country’s militant unions as their critical role in developing socialism. If one follows Richard Nisbett it is easy to see that Sweden's welfare state is the direct result of the militancy from the timber industry: forestry is an industry where resources are scarce and portable so that there is incentive to try to take from whoever has the money. The result, even more so than in industrialising Continental European nations, is a working class that is militant, organised and socially much more progressive than the better-paid American or Australian working classes have ever been.

Williamson offers some sound criticisms of socialism, but too often goes over-the-top. Apart from Sweden and India, most targets attacked are too obvious and of limited significance – why would someone seeking to refute the arguments for socialism focus on North Korea instead of the West European social democracies, criticism of which tends to be rather weak amongst the Right, or the bigger nations of Latin America (especially Peron’s and Alfonsin’s Argentina), or such poor mountain nations as Mengistu’s Ethiopia, or the “socialist” and “democratic” oil-rich but economically troubled nations of Algeria and Libya?? Williamson also critically omits the French Revolution, considered by conservatives like Erik von Kühnelt-Leddihn and Hans Hoppe as the first experiment in modern socialism. Being the first trace of many of the features (purges, high inflation) that conservatives associate with socialism, I find this omission strange.

He also makes numerous other questionable arguments, for instance that risk-aversion drives socialism. Hans Hoppe’s ‘Democracy – The God that Failed’ makes Williamson’s argument seem very dubious because he demonstrates that growth in government tends to encourage risk, and it does seem logical that the riskiest people (e.g. underground artists) would support socialism to protect them from financial losses typical in such ventures. His equation of socialism with nationalism is also questionable: socialism was until the failure of Rosa Luxemburg’s revolution in Germany robustly internationalist, yet Williamson does not look at the theoretical goals or even practical policies of the early internationalist socialists, which were completely different from later “socialist” dictatorships. Williams omits to discuss how egalitarianism has long remained the defining political goal amidst the masses of Europe, East and South Asia, and Latin America, and how that influences the behaviour of politicians in (most) nations of those continents.

‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism’ also sacrifices unpleasant facts to support capitalism in absolute terms. This is particularly pressing when comparing India (cited as an example of socialist failure) and Hong Kong (cited as an example of capitalist success). In fact, from a seriously conservative viewpoint, one can see with very little scholarly knowledge that India and countless African nations citable as “socialist failure” have retained much more of its traditional culture and values than has Hong Kong.

From the perspective of other conservative factions (e.g. Arthur Brooks), Hong Kong can easily be seen as a model of secular materialism especially with its lowest-low fertility – and so can numerous other small-island and high-mountain states that adopted similar policies to escape poverty. Hong Kong can also be seen as proof that capitalism works in very special ways in small, unified nations with limited resources. Conservatives ought to see the strong similarities in innovation and culture between “capitalist” Hong Kong and Singapore, “mixed” Taiwan, South Korea and Japan and “socialist” Scandinavia, which are caused by their very limited land supply and with Japan and Scandinavia their cool and moist climates which make agriculture unviable without subsidies. Williamson also goes into the barest detail about how capitalism rescued India from poverty – and does not consider China and Vietnam who adopted capitalist reforms whilst retaining a fully Stalinist political system.

Then, when he comes to environmental issues, he overlooks probably the worst case relating to “the government is the energy industry”: the greenhouse mafia of Australia. Australia's dreadful greenhouse emissions amidst runaway climate change (southwestern Australia’s record dry 2010 where Collie received only 70% its previous lowest rainfall and a fifth year in ten of record rain in the Eucla) provide either evidence that capitalism is in reality not as good at protecting the environment as the free market would wish or proof that big energy businesses taking over the government can be worse than state-run companies like Pemex. Indeed, it is probable given Australia’s record of consistently having the world’s higher per capita greenhouse gas emissions and lowest terrestrial and marine productivity, leading to devastating environmental consequences in the southwest, I could argue it is potentially worse when business has the upper hand. Given that Australia constitutes a unique case of a free market and “cooperative” nutrient-poor environments reinforcing traditional values that were weak amongst its original settlers, this is a big omission. The same is true of the Gulf oil monarchies, South Africa, and the oligotrophic French island colony of New Caledonia, all of which emit exceedingly large quantities of greenhouse gases relative to population and have relatively (or absolutely) small and traditional governments.

More than that, ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism’ comes off somewhat emptily for all that it does show. It offers no suggestions as to what can be done about socialism, especially since I do not think that history suggests evidence of failure really does turn people away from socialism (for instance, I suspect that Europe’s working classes were more in favour of socialism in 1947, when they could have known of its failures, than before World War I).

Also, with the series so well established most of what is of value in ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism’ has been said before, whilst it is structured in a rather illogical manner – would it not be sensible to put all the essential problems of socialism in the first half and case studies in the second, rather than scatter the two around? Thus, all in all, this is a difficult book to recommend.
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on December 12, 2015
I'm not a Marxist or Leninist, but am interested a bit in Democratic Socialism and Trotskyism. I have to say, this book is entertaining to have pro capitalism thrown in your face and to find so many incorrect or skewed points. Just the few points on the cover gave away how plain incorrect this book would be, not so much politically incorrect. Decent work of literature, pretty awkward and propaganda-like content. It's almost like reading The Communist Manifesto, but for Capitalism.
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on May 27, 2015
I wanted to buy this book but stopped after reading what others have said about it.It is literally an attack on socialism and a support for capitalism. I have lived in Scandinavian countries that have had socialist governments for decades.Health care is free, Education is free largely and the environment is clean.The quality of life in these countries, few of the countries in the West can match including the US itself. Obama even admired the Scandinavian health system. So, I don't envy the US economic model that does not compare well with the statistics from prosperous, industrial societies that have done well with socialism.Capitalist countries like USA have to destroy economies of other countries e.g. Iraq, and those in Africa in order to get cheap resources for its industries.Besides, the Chinese Model of Development is working for China and is being emulated by developing countries as an alternative to the Washington Consensus of market-friendly policies promoted by the IMF, World Bank and U.S. Treasury.Ultimately, Capitalism is not the only possible alternative model available.Socialism can evolve and adapt to new political and economic realities given the chance.Look at Cuba for instance.This country chose its suitable path to development but the USA has undermined its development for decades.Moreover, Western capitalist countries are guilty of imperialism at one time in their history and for those who experienced oppression from colonization the evils of the oppressors are still fresh in our minds. A fact that makes these countries look for alternative models for social-economic development.However, for those capitalists that benefited from the plunder of our countries,they only see virtue in the capitalist system that gave or gives them power.
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