View from
The Center

In Reply to Ben Burgis: Capitalism, Socialism, and Marx

“…one can go into business with the long-term goal of instituting a worker co-op. But the first and most fundamental aim is to supply the market with something consumers want, in as profitable a way as possible.”

Over the past nine months, philosophy professor Ben Burgis and I have been having a conversation about whether society is better off under “capitalism” or “socialism.” It began with a debate at Common Lodge over the following proposition:

Given the current mix of our economy (where some industries have greater government involvement than others), future generations would likely be better served if we trended toward an overall more capitalist economy, rather than an overall more socialist economy.

We followed that up with an amicable exchange of letters about the pros and cons of worker co-operatives. In a subsequent article, Burgis argued that human nature and socialism are compatible. In that article, Burgis drew upon an exchange of letters between me and Merion West contributor Matt McManus, in which McManus says I attributed a “human nature is actually good” sort of view to the Left. Seeking to clarify, I wrote an article arguing that the terms “capitalism” and “socialism” are less important than human flourishing. Burgis followed up with an article taking me to task for “several mistakes” I supposedly made while “attempting to redirect the discussion” about whether human nature is compatible with socialism “away from a consideration of human nature and toward the notion of human flourishing.” In this article, I respond to these most recent objections.

I. Positive and Negative Freedom

Burgis points out that, in my article on human flourishing, I invoked an article he co-wrote with McManus about the nature of freedom. In the article, I described their position as distinguishing between negative and positive liberty. That is, I took their position to mean that the Right embraces “freedom from” (negative liberty) while the left embraced “freedom to” (positive liberty).

According to Burgis, I was close; however, there are cases of ambiguity that make overlap inevitable. As Burgis puts it, “the right against being imprisoned or executed without a fair trial is a classic ‘negative’ right, but to secure that right, the services of a public defender are ‘affirmatively guaranteed.’” 

In principle, I agree. I also “care about the right to free speech and the right to healthcare and the right to a fair trial.” I’m not necessarily opposed to “the right to work in more democratic and less hierarchical workplaces,” though I think it would take some effort to understand what that means.

All that said, I’m not convinced that “freedom to” (positive freedom) necessarily leads to more human happiness.

But more on that in the next section.

II. What Marx Did or Didn’t Say

Recounting my letter exchange with McManus, Burgis insists that, despite my claim that he had me wrong, “Church does attribute a ‘human nature is noble’ view to Karl Marx,” and that “[n]othing I said in my response attributed any sort of view of human nature to Church himself.” Apparently, my own “view of Marx is a strawman.” 

Upon reviewing the draft and published versions of my article about human flourishing and the futility of employing the terms “capitalism” and “socialism,” I see that the editing process cut out a section that might have helped Burgis understand why he had me wrong.

In my letter exchange with McManus, I was asking a question rather than making an assertion. At the end of this first salvo in a lengthy and wide-ranging set of letters that explore the topic of inequality and the Left, I explicitly state that “I suspect [it] is not the case” that “the left-leaning vision [is] about equality of material outcomes…because what is supposed to matter in life are ‘noble’ ventures of the spirit and the souls,” and invited McManus to elaborate on why it might, in fact, not be the case. Further, I wondered if perhaps the left-leaning vision is “to maximize the min so as to provide the material conditions in which ‘noble’ ventures of the spirit and soul can be pursued if desired,” and only then suggested that “if material utopia on earth could be achieved, I am inclined to anticipate a spiritual dystopia.” Even so, I said only that I am inclined to anticipate a dystopia, not that I necessarily expect one.

Put me down as a pessimist, but I’m not convinced that people would be better off, or more fulfilled, in a society in which, as Burgis writes, they “can spend their time on tasks they select for themselves” than “one where most people have to engage in tasks they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves to keep a roof over their head and buy groceries.”

I also note that McManus and I were discussing a Rawlsian conception of the modern Left. Not a strictly “Marxist” one. I suspect Burgis made the connection to Marx because of a parenthetical invoking Marx talking about fishing in the morning, hunting in the afternoon, and so on. I wasn’t trying to address Marxism in the letter. The parenthetical was perhaps ill-advised to the extent it led to this confusion.

That said, I put the word “noble” in quotes for a reason. To the extent I meant anything by it, I had in mind the idea that—if humans had more freedom to choose their own ends—they would be happier and more fulfilled, presumably because they would choose to do things that give their life meaning. In short, human beings would flourish. I never read Ayn Rand’s philosophical works, but I loved her novels. I consider Howard Roark one of the most enthralling literary protagonists I have ever encountered, and an ideal of the type of human being I strive to be — one who pursues his own aesthetic and ethical ideal with implacable integrity (despite, I might add, suffering poverty and ostracization as a result).

At the same time, I don’t have much faith that the lot of humanity is capable to doing this on its own. Put me down as a pessimist, but I’m not convinced that people would be better off, or more fulfilled, in a society in which, as Burgis writes, they “can spend their time on tasks they select for themselves” than “one where most people have to engage in tasks they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves to keep a roof over their head and buy groceries.” I won’t go on at length about this but only refer the reader to my letter exchange with McManus, in which I discuss Dostoyevsky’s famous “Grand Inquisitor” parable as a way of illustrating my pessimism about any necessary relationship between freedom and happiness.

Of course, society should strive to ensure that the labor in which we engage (and the conditions under which we labor) are as humane as possible and as catered to our own interests as possible. But theory is one thing, and practice is another. Put aside the immense complexity of modern economies and consider only the fits and starts over a lifetime trying to figure out what one wants to do with one’s life. How many times have you heard a middle-aged person joke that he’s still trying to figure out what he wants to do when he grows up? Is this really a fault of “capitalism” or “socialism”? Or is it a part of the human condition? I side with the latter. In terms of evolution, life only has two basic purposes: survive and reproduce. But our brains and hearts are such that we find ourselves seeking more. Maslow taught us about a hierarchy of needs. Frankel told us about the search for meaning. Heidegger went on about the importance of living an authentic life.

The thing about economics is that all of this can be studied effectively under the framework of constrained optimization. The trick is to figure out the incentives that motivate people to define, pursue, and realize well-defined ends under whatever set of constraints they are operating. More concretely, the trick is to evaluate, for example, whether a worker co-op seeking funds has a good business plan, or whether the cost of a firm’s paid leave policy is outweighed by the benefit of talent retention, or whether one job or another is a better fit for one’s interests. None of this is going to end with artificial intelligence.

I don’t know that it is necessarily the case that human beings need a Grand Inquisitor to chart a course for them (although as Marx himself said, religion is the opiate of the masses). At least not every human being (Howard Roark?). But I do question whether all we need is plenty of room to run around in. Take our current society in which fewer prime age men are in the workforce. I discuss this problem here, here, here. Many young men in their twenties are living with their parents and playing lots of video games. I’m not going to presume to tell them they could do other things to make them happier. But I’d venture to say that there’s something to be said for earning a paycheck, and that this is true regardless of whether we have “capitalism” or “socialism.”

III. Markets and Planning

In a sense, Burgis is right that what I was “responding to is very different from the article [Burgis] wrote.” The initial impetus for my article was not to get into the weeds of his argument about whether human nature is compatible with socialism—but to respond directly to his claim that I attribute a “human nature is actually good” sort of view to the Left. I claim that he got this wrong, and I explained why in section II. The article then morphed into a larger set of considerations dealing with the question about whether society is better off under “capitalism” or “socialism.” This is partly because, as a matter of economics, I tend to be averse to central planning, so let my clear up one of his objections.

A market arises whenever two people seek gains from trade. If there is a demand for something, and someone can figure out how to supply it, a market arises. I am not defining a market “so broadly that just about any possible form of economic organization counts as a market.” This is what a market is. Supply and demand. People seeking gains from trade. The design of a market is a far more complex question and is the proper starting point for a debate about the relative roles of the private and public sectors in an economy — or, if you will, whether society is better off under “capitalism” or “socialism.”

This is perhaps the most important reason why I find the debate over “socialism” and “capitalism” so tiresome. Burgis takes me to task for failing to see that it “has been a staple observation of socialist writers going back to at least the early 20th century” that “lots of economic planning goes on under capitalism.” I have no doubt this is the case. In fact, I have been implicitly acknowledging this all along in our discussions. 

For example, in our debate at Common Lodge, I pointed out that “Nordic economic policy in the past few decades has hinged more on the degree of public sector intervention in private sector market activity.” This statement implicitly recognizes that some measure of “planning” is a part of “capitalist” economies. Burgis also stated in our debate: “It’s also worth noting that Sweden successfully resolved the former crisis by extracting equity from the banks in exchange for bailout funds, a far more socialist way than the United States resolved its crisis.” Indeed, “lots of economic planning goes on under capitalism.” 

All I meant to say is that this is inescapable. If the fundamental concern is one of good economic policy, then we will find that the public and private sectors are necessarily interconnected. This presupposes that markets are unavoidable and directs our attention to the design of markets.

If economic organization is a spectrum between pure laissez faire and pure central planning, and we refer to the former as “capitalism” and the latter as “socialism,” then fine. I lean more toward the former. Burgis leans more toward the latter. But as Burgis notes, the “distinction between markets and ‘central planning’ is not the core issue.” For him, it is the matter of who owns the means of production. I submit that collective ownership of the means of production almost certainly leads to some form of bureaucratic central planning. But to the more important point, I dispense with Marx’s false dichotomy between capital and labor, concerning myself with the intricacies of social and economic policy that revolve around the question of market design. In either case, the goal is good economic policy. But more on this in the next section.

IV. Capitalism, Socialism, and Semantics

To begin, I’m happy we “enthusiastically agree” that “arguing about whether a particular way of organizing a society counts as an instance of ‘capitalism’ or an instance of ‘socialism’ is less important than arguing about whether it would expand human freedom and facilitate human flourishing.”

Nevertheless, Burgis is puzzled that, in our debate at Common Lodge, “Church was the one who brought up ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ in the first place, whereas I didn’t even include them in the topic I chose. Now, in the Arc phase of our debate, he’s tried to maneuver away from those categories as though they were crucial to my own argument, as if I’ve been the one insisting on them.”

Well, yes and no. Yes, I advocated the position that “future generations would likely be better served if we trended toward an overall more capitalist economy, rather than an overall more socialist economy.” But no, I did not proactively recruit him to participate in a debate about “capitalism” and “socialism.” That was done by Common Lodge debate organizer Jackson Edwards. Mr. Edwards approached me and Burgis about engaging in a written debate about whether society would be better off under capitalism and socialism. He also formulated the debate proposition I quoted above. 

I had similar reservations then, but, at the time, I was willing to grant, as Burgis writes, that “the words ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ [are] useful short hands for gesturing at a larger set of considerations, most obviously considerations about who owns and controls the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” Upon further reflection, I took the opportunity in my article on human flourishing to explain why I was never comfortable with these terms to begin with.

Burgis insists that “the terms remain useful, but as a framing mechanism (‘Let’s explore these various socialist and capitalist options’) rather than as the focal point of analysis (‘But is this societal arrangement truly socialistic?’; ‘Is this genuine capitalism?’).” Indeed, this is part of the reason I agreed to our debate at Common Lodge in the first place. That said, it is now obvious I put myself in a bind, as my subsequent case for retiring the terms looks like backstepping rather arriving at a fork in the road and deciding that either side of the fork, “socialism” or “capitalism,” leads us astray.

As Burgis writes, “[p]retty much all important conceptual terms are at least somewhat vague around the edges.” Perhaps, but the terms “capitalism” and “socialism” are meaningfully problematic. Burgis claims I have yet to make the case. I thought I did when I wrote that “[t]he debate about whether society is better served by capitalism or socialism has become so loaded with ideological baggage stemming from these terms’ disparate historical usage that the debate has become uninformative.”

Let me try again. Recently, I opened Facebook. A friend had posted an article entitled, “Sorry If You’re Offended, but Socialism Leads to Misery and Destitution.” My friend’s post has since been taken down, but here are two comments I saved:

One comment: “This what our Democrat Politicians agenda is for America. You can see it spreading across America today from California, Chicago, Baltimore, New Jersey, NY City, etc.”

Another comment: “We already have socialism in this country, only it’s far more in the direction of benefiting corporations and the wealthy than it is the bottom 99%. Look at the numbers for social welfare versus corporate welfare — the latter far outweighs the former…The word ‘socialism’ has this stigma that is meant to frighten you. It’s a greatly exaggerated scare tactic and if we looked honestly at what we already do, we wouldn’t be so up in arms about it.”

My sympathies lead toward the first comment, while Burgis’s sympathies undoubtedly lean toward the second. But does this tell us anything? What is this “Democrat Politicians agenda”? What “numbers” indicate the relative weight of social and corporate welfare? What do we mean by “welfare”? Why the 1 percent/99 percent distinction, given that research by economists Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel indicates that “U.S. income inequality is increasing across the whole income spectrum, not just between the very rich and the poor”? Should we be concerned about “corporate welfare” only for billion-dollar businesses and not multi-million-dollar dollars? Is “corporate welfare” even a bad thing if it involves incentives to invest in poor communities or worker co-ops? How does any of this relate to specific policies implemented in California, Chicago, Baltimore, New Jersey, NY City, etc.? Are state and municipal economic policies comparable?

Burgis and I share a belief that what matters is human flourishing. Thus, I presume we share the goal, for example, of ensuring a quality education for all students, as I think we also share similar goals in other areas. What is really gained by haggling over whether we are better served by “socialism” or “capitalism”? Judging by the comments cited from the Facebook post, are these terms informative, or do they merely function as triggers that distract our attention from a sober consideration of all the nuances that must be attended to when thinking, for example, about how to provide a public good like public education?

Complications arise in every matter of social and economic policy. In the sober environments of conference rooms, board hearings, offices, and desktops in which experts parse through the intricacies of these matters, we are less likely to indulge in partisan diatribes about “socialism” and “capitalism” than we are when we hear politicians on the bully pulpit of political campaigns and social media. 

Unfortunately, it is the bully pulpit, cable news talking heads, and social media trolls that end up influencing public attitudes and votes. But what is gained by Bernie Sanders ranting about rigged systems and nefarious billionaires? What is gained by Trump praising unprecedented highs in the stock market as “proof” of the success of his economic policies? Better to focus on the most effective coordinated response to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

My preference, then, is to ask: what degree of public sector intervention in markets is necessary to make them work better? Or even more specifically, as business leaders are asking themselves everyday: how do we address climate change? Will Goldman Sachs’ recent decision to refuse IPOs if all directors are white, straight men incentivize firms to have more inclusive leadership? How can we find, recruit, and retain skilled workers in a tight labor market (a question not lost on Mondragon, the now-famous worker co-op which, based on evidence gathered in this paper, invests heavily in the training of its workforce)? Will zero commission trading fees actually lower costs for the average investor, or lead to higher costs for data and research services that brokers provide? Does paid leave help firms retain talent, thereby reducing recruiting costs, as I argued in this article?

These are among the infinitude of questions that matter for any firm, whether the firm is a “traditional capitalist enterprise” or a worker co-operative. Indeed, Mondragon is not immune from the day-to-day concerns of traditional firms. For example, it found itself “restructuring [in 1993] to get ready to compete in the European single market” and has “increased salary differentials, advertising campaigns in Fortune and cooperative alliances with companies like Hotpoint.”

Perhaps I’m overthinking it. Even as eminent an economist as Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow made a cautious case for socialism. Many others follow suit in their casual use of terms which refer to a commonly understood distinction between a society anchored on private ownership of the means of production and a society anchored on collective ownership of the means of production. But when one looks into the details, it becomes immediately clear that this distinction is, at best, a matter of degree rather than of kind. Public utilities are organized in a variety of ways that often involve some degree of community control or oversight. Employee stock ownership programs provide equity-sharing opportunities for a firm’s workers. Tiebout sorting refers to market competition between municipal jurisdictions recruiting residents by offering packages of taxes and public services, leading to things like better or worse public libraries which may allow people without computers to access the Internet (and, one hopes, books). 

“Capitalism” and “socialism” are red herrings.

Moreover, no firm can escape the reach of taxes and regulations, even if the extent of each depends on the specific presidential administration in the White House and the party composition of Congress. In short, pure laissez-faire markets do not exist.

“Capitalism,” however, is just a word that, so far as I can tell from the Oxford English Dictionary, first appeared in a Thackeray novel in 1854. Throw Marx’s Das Capital into the mix and suddenly we are being asked to contend with an elaborately worked out, if specious, account of a supposedly parasitic system whereby, as stated in chapter ten of Das Capital, “[c]apital is dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” This is such nonsense that it’s hard for me to even get motivated to respond. 

Instead, I prefer to study things like the cost structure of natural monopolies that make them candidates for public ownership (or at least subject to extensive regulation). Or to devote attention to the hard work of a public pension manager devising a portfolio that generates adequate returns from investment in a variety of asset classes while accounting for the ability and willingness of the pension fund to take risk given a variety of factors. Or to consider the many ways that firms are trying to retrain their workforces so that all workers will have some necessary familiarity with coding and computing infrastructure (which is not to say that everyone must become a software architect).

Human flourishing matters more than semantics because the concern is designing policy to optimize incentives that lead to opportunities. This inevitably involves a cooperative effort that relies on the elaborate system of reciprocal relationships that characterize any modern, complex economy. It does not exclude efforts to democratize opportunity, ameliorate inequality, or deal with issues like climate change. Stakeholder models of firm operation, ESG investing initiatives, exchange-traded funds and other indexing investments, financial aid, progressive taxation, and many other ideas all offer ways of addressing inequality and lack of opportunity in dynamic economies.

“Capitalism” and “socialism” are red herrings.

V. Worker Cooperatives, Traditional “Capitalist” Enterprises, and Bank Nationalization

The economist asks: Given the constraints under which I’m working, how can I optimize? Or as the saying goes, how can I get the biggest bang for my buck? The same question can be asked about virtually any social problem. It’s then a matter of designing incentives accordingly. The basic idea that the solution to a problem requires an optimization under constraints is an extremely robust framework for working through a solution to any problem. But while it provides a clear direction, it invariably does not provide a clear destination. Figuring things out is hard.

Burgis is asking the wrong question. Or at least the less fundamental question. The first question to ask is not whether or not a firm should be a “traditional capitalist enterprise” or a worker co-op—but whether the firm creates value. The concern for efficiency is a concern about value. This is only a starting point, and I don’t wish to be utilitarian reductionist, or to exclude a slew of ethical considerations one might want to take into account when evaluating a business plan. I only emphasize that if a firm does not create value, it will cease to exist in the long run. It is one thing to increase the number of co-ops, quite another to identify the co-ops that can create something consumers want to buy.

Count me as a skeptic of socialists, Silicon Valley libertarians, other non-socialist writers, and anyone else who claims that we will ever reach the day where labor is redundant. So far as I can tell, mankind has been predicting utopias for as long as anyone can remember.

The question of value is an obvious one, and I don’t mean to say that Burgis is unaware of its importance. But I emphasize the point because value is at the heart of social and economic policy. It’s important to get right what we mean when we talk about creating value. Marx’s theory of exploitation which arguably underlies the history of socialism is rooted in the specious labor theory of value. Even the Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, in making his case for socialism, wrote that he “could not follow Marxist doctrine very literally for a number of reasons,” one of them being that “[t]he labor theory of value was a stumbling block even before I studied economics with any seriousness; there were too many obvious phenomena that it ignored.”

What do I mean by creating value? Burgis writes that I “claim that Marx was wrong to predict (as many Silicon Valley libertarians and other non-socialist writers subsequently have) that automation will eventually make most human labor redundant.” Count me as a skeptic of socialists, Silicon Valley libertarians, other non-socialist writers, and anyone else who claims that we will ever reach the day where labor is redundant. So far as I can tell, mankind has been predicting utopias for as long as anyone can remember. The point, however, is not to make a prediction. It is to clarify what economists mean when they talk about creating value. As I wrote in an article for Merion West about why Marx is wrong:

“…supply and demand are the fundamental determinants of value. Firms produce things because consumers want to buy them. The distinction between use value and exchange value is another false dichotomy. Relative prices reflect the incremental value of goods and services as a function of the technology it takes to produce them and the preferences of consumers who purchase them.”

In other words, economics is not going away any time soon, or ever. The problem of scarcity is not a problem of abundance or lack thereof. It is a problem of resource allocation. No matter how abundant, resources need to be allocated, preferably in as optimal (and just) a way as possible. This invariably involves an effort to weigh the opportunity costs of taking one action over another. This is much easier said than done, and it involves a complex analysis of the interaction between demand and supply.

Nor is the Calculation Problem simply a bookkeeping problem. As I wrote:

“…there are still only so many hours available in a day, which means I have to make choices about how I spend my time. It’s not only that time remains a scarce resource, but my preferences may change as human creativity flourishes and new goods and services are created. Economies in abundance would still be dynamic, and human nature would still be endlessly unfolding and surprising.”

In addition to preference formation and time limitations, there is the problem of information. For example, the efficient provision of public goods depends on the acquisition of accurate information about how people value the externalities generated by public goods. How do we get information about the value people put on public schools or public parks? Ask them? How do we know they’re not lying? If they are not, how do people themselves put a number on the value of a public park?

Questions abound about social and economic policy. I would venture to say that, even if an entire society could be run on autopilot, conflict would not come to a halt. As James Madison wrote, “[a]s long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” In fact, if creativity flourishes because people can do what they want to do rather than do what they need to do (which, of course, means that labor is not made redundant, because creative activity is, after all, labor), one could make the case that conflict would increase as more choices become available. It’s much easier to decide between three broadcast television stations than the infinitude of visual media options made available by Netflix, Disney, cable television, and YouTube.

Now, to bank nationalization. I’ll put aside bank bailouts as a topic that requires a whole other essay. As the discussion above indicates, one can go into business with the long-term goal of instituting a worker co-op. But the first and most fundamental aim is to supply the market with something consumers want, in as profitable a way as possible. What to do with profit is a secondary, though obviously not unimportant, question. Another way of saying this is that the dichotomy between “traditional capitalist enterprises” and worker co-ops is less interesting than how you make either of them work as efficiently and ethically as possible — with “efficiently” and “ethically” needing to be worked out in terms of incentives and an understanding of the moral imperative.

A central question, then, is who should be deciding the allocation of funds. The state or the private sector. Notice that I don’t say, the state or the market. The market is there, whether you like it or not. If the war on drugs or 1920’s Prohibition taught us anything, it is that where there is demand, there is supply. Markets never die.

Just ask Mondragon.

Let’s say, however, that the state nationalizes banks in order to increase the birth rate of co-ops. I would point out that the birth rate of co-ops is perhaps not as abysmal as Burgis thinks. For example, see here for discussion of how “[m]any businesses in the U.S. were founded as worker cooperatives” and how “a growing portion–as many as 40%–of co-ops in the U.S. are born out of traditional workplaces like A Child’s Place, whose owners decide to sell the business to their employees.” This day-care business “took out a loan from The Working World, a New York City-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that manages a $5 million loan fund specifically for worker-owned businesses.” In some co-ops, “community members to buy shares in the business,” while other co-ops “manage conversions [from traditional businesses] by having individual employees take out personal loans to collectively finance the transition.”

It seems, then, that co-ops can be accommodated by financial markets. As I argued in an essay about the flaws of Modern Monetary Theory, “interest rates are a crucial pricing mechanism by which risk and return on real resources in the economy are allocated in capital markets.” As the seminal A History of Interest Rates shows, this has been going on for most of history, even if the level of sophistication has evolved over time (see Niall Ferguson’s Ascent of Money). Capital markets are essential for the long-run growth of any economy because they serve the function of allocating risk capital to their most valuable uses. What this means in the context of the current discussion is that the challenge only begins with bank nationalization. In other words, the fundamental question is the allocation of capital. Does the state or the private sector (i.e. interest rates) do a better job?

This is a deeply complex question. How to generate a profit is a complex and difficult challenge for every firm. In general, economists believe that competition optimizes value because competition fosters the right incentives. To avoid confusion, let me say that I don’t mean some crude version of dog-eat-dog rivalries. The nature of competition is itself a separate and challenging discussion. For now, suffice to say that the question for any bank is how to evaluate competing co-ops in terms of value creation. Resources are not unlimited, so a bank must pick winners.

If a national bank takes on the responsibility of picking winners, how does it do this efficiently? Maybe Burgis has in mind a smaller-scale operation, whereby the state takes control of banks only to the extent necessary to give a nudge to worker co-ops. But if he has something larger in mind, another question arises: how to compensate banks for the effort over many years to develop the expertise to run bank enterprises with millions or billions of assets under management? Or does Burgis propose to populate the government with figures like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara? I hope not, because it certainly didn’t work out well for Cuba. Not simply because they were totalitarian autocrats but because they were economically incompetent and turned to central planning.

That is a fate I hope the United States never meets.

Jonathan David Church is an economist and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University, and he has contributed to a variety of publications, including Quillette and Areo Magazine.

Jonathan Church is a contributing editor at Merion West. He is a government economist with a background in energy economics and inflation measurement. In addition to authoring several essays, he has published two books: Reinventing Racism: Why “White Fragility” Is the Wrong Way to Think about Racial Inequality and Virtue in an Age of Identity Politics: A Stoic Approach to Social Justice. He holds an undergraduate degree in economics and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in economics from Cornell University. Contact Jonathan at

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