Socialism correlates with higher living standards

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In 1981, the socialist countries of the world enjoyed higher living standards than capitalist countries in 28 out of 30 cases. This is the conclusion of a 1986 study called Economic Development, Political-Economic System, and the Physical Quality of Life [ncbi]. I was quite surprised to learn this given the fact that socialist countries have quite a bad reputation. Comparing data from the world bank and UNICEF about the world's nations, it turns out that in almost all cases, inhabitants of a capitalist country were worse off. Socialist countries had a healthier population with higher expected lifetime, higher literacy rates, lower infant mortality and a higher daily calorie count (with healthier food). That is on top of the very obvious lack of unembloyment and abject poverty a state-run economy provides.


The only way to make capitalist countries come out on top is by making bad comparisons. Highly developed capitalist countries like the US and Britain obviously have the edge over the poorer and less developed regions of the world. That does not, however, show that capitalism is superior to socialism. When you compare socialist and capitalist countries adjusted by level of economic development -- like the study does -- socialist countries take the crown in 28 out of 30 cases.


"The relationships between PQL and political-economic system deserve more serious attention than they have received in the past. Our findings indicate that countries with socialist political-economic systems can make great strides toward meeting basic human needs, even without extensive economic resources. When much of the world's population suffers from disease, early death, malnutrition, and illiteracy, these observations take on a meaning that goes beyond cold statistics." [ibid]


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  • I question any quality of life index that does not consider human freedom a foremost variable.  Cereseto ranks how countries fed and educated and doctored themselves (by 1981, using mostly American and Western democratic models of agriculture, medicine, and education).  But I personally would rank my physical quality of life quite low if I was not free to decide what crops to grow or things to study or  how many children I might raise.
  • It looks like the World Bank (and Cereseto by extension) was using some fucked up Reagan Era definitions of SOCIALISM and CAPITALISM where every country in the World must be one or the other and only one or the other but this has never been true.
    • CAPITALISM is "an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state."  By definition, CAPITALISM can only exist in those states where the decisions about trade and industry are mostly protected from government interference.  No authoritarian govt. can be Capitalist by definition.
      • Cereseto places Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran in the Capitalist column but using what definition? Is any part of the Saudi economy protected from state control?  No.
    • SOCIALISM is "a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."  By definition, SOCIALISM can only exist in those states where the decisions about trade and industry represent the majority will of the people- by a democratic system.  No authoritarian govt. can be Socialist by definition.
      • Cereseto places China in the Socialist column but using what definition?  Did the people decide how many children they'd like to parent or did Deng Xiaoping make that decision for them?
      • All modern democratic nation states are mixture of socialism and capitalism.  No private company runs any nation's  military.  No community votes on the price on gas.  It's always a mix between 30-70% of the economy for either.
  • By 1981, a good argument can be made that the US was not only the largest Capitalist economy by raw value but also the world's largest Socialist economy.
  • Cereseto's division of all the national economies into either entirely socialist or entirely capitalist simply does not reflect how trade and industry are controlled in either democracies or autocracies.  All democracies are a mix. 
  • All autocrats make the decisions about how trade and industry are controlled in their nations.  Cereseto's attribution of some to socialist and most to capitalist seem pracitically arbitrary if one does not study who was aligned with the West and who was aligned with Russia and China in 1981.
  • I think we can dismiss Cereseto's work as badly distorted by Cold War propaganda and 100% unhelpful to economic decisionmakers today.

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When you compare socialist and capitalist countries adjusted by level of economic development -- like the study does -- socialist countries take the crown in 28 out of 30 cases.
In other words, once you remove the massive, overwhelming, near-undeniable advantage of capitalism by "adjusting" for it, capitalism doesn't look as good. Economic development is not a side issue wholly disconnected from a country's economic system. Capitalism is what enables (or at least greatly accelerates) economic development.

Also, what oromagi said.
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In other words, once you remove the massive, overwhelming, near-undeniable advantage of capitalism by "adjusting" for it, capitalism doesn't look as good.
the measure of a nation is the status of its least influential members
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righttt....
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That is a measure of a nation, yes. Societies with more economic freedom tend to be far better for their least influential members than those with less economic freedom. Socialism (at least the Venezuelan and communist styles) result in absolutely crushing poverty for their poorest citizens. Of course, that is the most extreme case.

Oromagi makes an excellent point above that no society is total capitalist or totally socialist. Most are in between. If we were to compare societies with more equal levels of economic development, we would see different, though more complicated, results. For example: Singapore and the US. Singapore has single-payer healthcare, so it is more socialist than the US in that respect. However, it usually scores higher for economic freedom, so it is more capitalist than the US in that respect. For perhaps a more apples-to-apples comparison, take Hong Kong and China. Here is a photo gallery of Hong Kong in the 1940s so you can see where it started from. https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/hong-kong-1940s
You can see that it isn't the worst, but it was still behind more developed countries like the US. Hong Kong has for many years scored very high on economic freedom indexes. Today, (or at least before China started sinking its teeth into it) it is one of the richest countries. China, on the other hand, went the extreme socialist route. Tens of millions of deaths from starvation later, they started allowing more economic freedom, and their economy began to catch up.
Of course, few people support the extreme communist forms of socialism. Most US "socialists" are in fact social democrats, who support a mix of socialism and capitalism.
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Sooo:
  • No REAL socialist country existed at the time
  • No REAL capitalist country existed at the time
That seem like a bonkers argument to make. Of course countries in the real world are never fully and literally socialist or capitalist. That doesn't detract from the fact that the countries ruled by socialist or communist parties did better in almost every measure compared to countries who didn't. Your point about liberty is totally irrelevant to a discussion about PHYSICAL quality of life. I agree there were a lot of authoritarianism in the 20th century, but the socialist regimes were evidentilly better at serving the people than the non-socialist dictatorships.
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Do you consider "being a more developed nation" an advantage of capitalism? Like, do you actually buy the claim that socialism keeps countries poor and underdeveloped despite technological advances? Or do you simply think that the wealthy capitalist countries didn't have decades of head start industrializing.

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Do you consider "being a more developed nation" an advantage of capitalism?
It is a result of capitalism.
Like, do you actually buy the claim that socialism keeps countries poor and underdeveloped despite technological advances?
Yes. That was the point of the Hong Kong-vs-China example. They started from a similar point. One was mostly capitalist; the other was mostly socialist. In just a few decades, the mostly capitalist society was leaps and bounds ahead of the mostly socialist society, and the mostly socialist society didn't start catching up until it introduced more economic freedom, i.e., became more capitalist and less socialist.
Or do you simply think that the wealthy capitalist countries didn't have decades of head start industrializing.
It's true that many capitalist countries did have a head start. However, Hong Kong did not, yet it caught up in decades. China didn't start catching up until it started liberalizing its economy. It was too busy starving tens of millions of people to death.
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Capitalism means individuals own property rather than a noble or a monarch.

There is no time in history when the average person prospered under any monarch or cabal of nobles over being allowed the freedom to use his own property to the best potential.
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Also consider the Soviet Union, which was fairly industrialized, but had an appalling standard of living.
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The Masked Man returns once again 
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The planned economy of the Soviet Union transformed it from a primitive  agrarian society to a spacefaring superpower in three decades, DESPITE all the internal problems and world wars, and while everything being executed in a flawed, inefficient manner due to bad leadership and logistical hurdles.

That is called DEVELOPMENT, and it occured without capitalism.

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Nobles and monarch were also individuals you know. What's different under capitalism is that you don't have slaves or serfs but employees. I would argue that capitalism is better than literal middle age economics.
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Nobles and monarch were also individuals you know.
That's great, but centralized power has never made any civilization prosper as much as a decentralized and free capitalist society.

you don't have slaves or serfs but employees.
Ownership of people can happen under any system.
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to a spacefaring superpower in three decades, DESPITE all the internal problems and world wars, and while everything being executed in a flawed, inefficient manner due to bad leadership and logistical hurdles.

That is called DEVELOPMENT, and it occured without capitalism.

It also happened at great cost to the standard of living of the average person. While average Americans were watching the space race on TV or listening on radio, Russians barely had enough to eat and only heard about the space race by word of mouth.

The Pyramids were constructed under the same centrally planned system as well. Many of the pyramid specialist workers were paid well at the cost of everyone else.
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That seem like a bonkers argument to make. Of course countries in the real world are never fully and literally socialist or capitalist.
You call my argument bonkers and then agree with my argument entirely.  "Countries in the real world are never fully and literally socialist or capitalist" is the premise which falsifies Ceresto's claim.

That doesn't detract from the fact that the countries ruled by socialist or communist parties did better in almost every measure compared to countries who didn't.
Those are just labels without much ideology or political action behind them.  NAZI Germany, the USSR, the PRC all called themselves socialist but never gave their citizens any real decision-making power about or e the means of production.  If there's ever been a sincerely Communist state as Marx defined it, I am not aware of it.

Your point about liberty is totally irrelevant to a discussion about PHYSICAL quality of life. I agree there were a lot of authoritarianism in the 20th century, but the socialist regimes were evidentilly better at serving the people than the non-socialist dictatorships.
Did the PRC count the babies drowned or exposed at childbirth out of fear of non-compliance with China's one-child policy, when the Mouth of Yangtze River was fenced off for fear of foreigners noticing that the beaches were white with the bones of newborns? Probably not.  As I said, the definition of socialism requires that the people are in charge so there's no such thing as a socialist or capitalist dictatorship.  I would agree that some nations demonstrated superior healthcare (Cuba) or education (China) but Western democracies overall were pretty indisputably the nicest places to live in 1981.

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If there's ever been a sincerely Communist state as Marx defined it, I am not aware of it.
The Korean’s People Association of Manchuria was a real life example of anarcho-communism. They were a society made up of refugees mainly from Korea and many other Asian countries during the Japanese invasions in the early 1900s. They were the first modern day society to have an anarcho-communist society except for a few primitive tribes that exist today. [**]

Also, Port Royal [**]
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The planned economy of the Soviet Union transformed it from a primitive  agrarian society to a spacefaring superpower in three decades, DESPITE all the internal problems and world wars, and while everything being executed in a flawed, inefficient manner due to bad leadership and logistical hurdles.

That is called DEVELOPMENT, and it occured without capitalism.
Russia was already starting to industrialize before the communist revolution. When the communists took over, Russia went backwards for a few years as millions starved to death under Lenin's reign. Russia industrialized slowly. During Stalin's reign, 5 to 7 million (some historians say as many as 20 million) starved to death or were murdered in the gulags. Yes, there was some techological development that took them into space, but their space program was significantly technologically inferior to the US space program.* And guess how much of that development reached the average Russian? If you guessed next to none, you would be correct. "Quality of life" in the USSR was a sick joke. Economic development can occur under socialism, but it is much slower and much bloodier, and very little of it reaches the common man.

*And before you say that the Russians were ahead at the beginning of the space race, this was, counterintuitively, because of their technological inferiority. Their nuclear warheads were much heavier, so they needed bigger rockets. Thus, at the beginning of the space race, they achieved a bunch of firsts before the US because they had larger rockets, which the US didn't need because they could have smaller warheads that delivered the same or better firepower.
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Is it surprising that socialist countries of similar economic development with more physicians and nurses than capitalist countries live longer and healthier?   Or that socialist countries that have more expansive educational programs are more educated? 

Isn't there a price to paid and sacrifice in capitalism for economic growth and a better future? Capitalism permits people to accumulate wealth and resources but often people don't make choices for the sake of their health. Most families make choices so that their children have better lives than them. This sacrifice is intergenerational but the cost to our ancestors was not for nothing. While I don't expect capitalist countries to always have the highest longevity or the most educated people, I do expect the wealthiest countries in the world to do well out of general principle. How many extremely socialist or communist countries in the world today can say that they enjoy the highest wealth per capita or lifted people out of abject poverty at an incredible rate? People complain about the inequalities in Capitalism, however, the poor are better off every decade. And like Socialism is any better. Socialism is a pipedream that promises bread and circuses for everyone. Give your income to the government so that they can most efficiently allocate resources for society without you being able make any personal choices to better your life or of others you know. 

The faults of the system are not with capitalism. Its with rent seekers, authoritarians and criminal syndicates that coopt the economy of many countries. Socialist and Capitalist countries are plagued alike with these problems. Hence, the socialist country can be freer than the capitalist country or vice versa. Its only with the combination of free society unhindered by political ills and market capitalism that make it possible for capitalist countries to outperform socialist ones.

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Societies with more economic freedom tend to be far better for their least influential members than those with less economic freedom.
Not all freedom is good or liberating. Freedom and unfreedom always comes in pairs.

  • One can have freedom from slavery OR freedom to own slaves.
  • One can have freedom from crime OR freedom from police.
  • One can have freedom from taxes OR freedom to enjoy a functional state.
As you can see, freedom isn't simply a question of quantity, but of QUALITY. The freedom to run around naked in a cities is not a valuable freedom, and neither is the freedom to become a slave. These supposed "freedoms" do more harm than good to a society. We should pursue the types of freedom that are of best quality, rather than simply allowing people to do whatever they please. Even democracy, which is alledgedly a national liberty of highest importance, is actually restricting the individuals of said society in crucial ways. You can't become a monarch, you can't rule by force, you can't silence your opposition -- this is a huge lack of freedom. But democracy is worth restricting people's freedom for, one would say. That is most probably true, and the same goes for many other things.


Back to your argument:

Societies with more economic freedom tend to be far better for their least influential members than those with less economic freedom.
I want you to elaborate on that statement, because "economic freedom" isn't necesarily a good thing. Are you saying that the poorest and most unfortunate benefit from living in a country with few restrictions on how the rich can exercise their economic power? That doesn't sound like a sound argument to me. Economic freedom necesarily favors those with economic means disproportionately, as compared to those with little ability to exercise their alledged liberty. The freedom to "pull oneself by the bootstraps" and escape poverty as an individual in a capitalist system is extremely overrated. By the time the diciplined poor reaches a normal standard of living, assuming he does, the entrepeneurial guy with a rich family already holds a monopoly on his economic sector. However, the data shows us that inequality and inequity are a natural result of growth under capitalism. 

In other words, the least influential members of society become even weaker and less dignified under the banner of "economic freedom".
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Russia industrialized slowly.
No. The communist party, despite its inexperience and numerous problems, rappidly built the country up from scratch. Otherwise they would have lost WWII.


At the turn of the century Imperial Russia was lagging behind its neighbors to the west in practically all aspects of economic development. Weakened by World War I and the civil war that followed, Russia was in ruins in 1918.

Electric energy supply was ensured through the construction of dozens of hydroelectric and fuel-operated power stations; one of them, a Dnieper plant, was canonized as a symbol of Soviet industrialization. Railroads and waterways were modernized and built to ensure uninterrupted flow of resources. Automobile and aviation industries were built from scratch. Whole plants were purchased in the West, mostly from the United States, and put in operation in the Soviet Union. Stalingrad Tractor Plant and Gorki Automotive Plant began production in the early 1930s. New weapon systems were developed and put into production at the expense of consumer goods. On the eve of World War II the Red Army had more than twenty-three thousand tanks—six times more than Fascist Germany. Similar ratios applied for artillery, aircraft, navy vessels, and small arms. The relocation of industry during the war to the east ranks among the most difficult organizational and human achievements of the Soviet Union during World War II.

The industrial foundation laid between 1929 and 1940 proved sufficient for victory over Fascist Germany in World War II.  [encyclopedia.com/industrialization-soviet]

Yes, the 5-year-plans were far from perfect, and their executions largely suffered from numerous problems while creating many new ones. However, they worked.
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Economic development can occur under socialism, but it is much slower and much bloodier, and very little of it reaches the common man.
This argument does not make much sense. Economic development under socialism is as fast as changes can occur. The very reason there was blood in Russia is that large changes were made too rappidly and the plans too ambitious. The speed was caused by the historic necesity of these rappid changes. You do not need to trust Stalin about the existential crisis his nation had to prepare for, because history proved him right. They did not even manage to complete three 5-year-plans before they were invaded by the Nazi's. You cannot simply point to socialism at its most desperate and chaotic point and assert that is how socialism always works. 


The Russians were ahead at the beginning of the space race, this was, counterintuitively, because of their technological inferiority
The socialist state put alot of resources into non-military uses for military technology. For example, they used rockets to fly to space, and invented the nuclear reactor after they had already aquired the atomic bomb. The US only caught up to the USSR because they had more resources at their disposal and because they adopted a planned economy in the space sector --- NASA was funded by the state and was not owned by private enterprises, thus it is not capitalist.

However, you are right that the soviets never surpassed the USA in terms of resources and tech, its just that they were superior at prioritising and allocation.



It's true that many capitalist countries did have a head start. However, Hong Kong did not, yet it caught up in decades. 
The USSR went from the least developed country in Europe to the most developed country in Europe and second in the world in just a few decades. It did so without relying on foreign investment and while supporting a huge military necesary for national defence. I do not want to diss on Hong Kong but their economic development is far less impressive, considering their smaller size, alignment with the west and mainland China, lack of crises and without huge geographical and ethnic difficulties. A far better comparison to China would be India, which is a country of similar scale that was never socialist. If capitalism was superior, surely democratic India would put both China and the USSR to shame.
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Isn't there a price to paid and sacrifice in capitalism for economic growth and a better future? People complain about the inequalities in Capitalism, however, the poor are better off every decade
The price to be paid for a better future is more readilly paid under socialism. There is no better way to ensure a better future for everyone than to spend money on "unprofitable" public projects. Healthy, nurished, educated and mobile people are more productive and more innovative. A society in which the good of the people is jeopardized in the name of profit and freedom is not desireable. Why charge money for medicine when that will discourage people who can't afford it? Why allow an economic elite to syphoon money needed to cure cancer and solve climate change into their own giant pockets?



The faults of the system are not with capitalism.
The good of society is expensive, and capitalism is not willing to pay for it. Individuals have moral responsibilities, but the systemic problem lies with capitalism.

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The faults of the system are not with capitalism. Its with rent seekers, authoritarians and criminal syndicates
well stated