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Thread: Socialism vs Capitalism- where to begin?

  1. #1
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    Socialism vs Capitalism- where to begin?

    NOTE: The thread is NOT about debateing the merits of either Socialism or Capitalism. Please don't go there, as I don't want this thread to be closed before I can get peoples' input on sources.

    Hey all,

    I am going to be involved in an informal debate in the Real World, not at BABB concerning the merits of Socialism and Capitalism. Now, I know the basics from my Micro- and MacroEconomic courses in college but I want to do some research that really looks into the two systems and criticises them both positivly and negativly (I want to avoid Straw Men versions)

    My question: do any of you have any sources you would recommend? I am quite happy to go to the library so the recommended sources do not have to be on the Internet.
    Last edited by Matherly; 2007-Sep-28 at 06:31 PM. Reason: Tried to make my intent more clear.

  2. #2
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    What is this "library" of which you speak?

  3. #3
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    Can't you just copy and paste articles from wikipedia? Economics was one of my least favorite subjects, so I'm afraid I won't be much help.

  4. #4
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    At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I would suggest going back to the seminal works of both: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and Das Kapital by Karl Marx.

    Important disclaimer: I have read neither of these books. They would be the first two that I would consult in such a research project, but not the last. Does anyone know of more recent works on each?

  5. #5
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    Do you know the names of countries that are supposed to be either capitalist or socialist? If you do, you can look up information on them and compare them. The CIA factbook might be helpful for a quick overview of countries.

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    On the other side of the time spectrum, the two hottest books related to capitalism that just came out are "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" by Naomi Klein and "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World" by Alan Greenspan. Since these books just came out and are making waves, there's a good chance they might come up in your debate. I'd check out both of them before the debate.

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    I can't offer much on this from an academic standpoint, but I do think that there are definitely certain areas of society where capitalistic competition makes utterly no sense (and of course many areas where it does). My main example is electric utilities. Would it make sense if many different competing companies were stringing their own separate transmission lines all over our cities and towns? That would be utter insanity. It would be an unneeded duplication of effort and expense that all consumers would end up paying for. There are many other excellent examples where "socialism" makes perfect economic sense.

    The problem is, the word "socialism" carries such a bad connotation in the U.S. It is inevitably associated with Marxian socialism and therefore a stepping stone to communism. In the current world, this is ridiculous, but the ignorance and biases of Americans are, unfortunately, well rooted.

    It's a matter of framing. Whoever is allowed to frame an argument has an almost insurmountable advantage. Obviously health care in the U.S. is a major problem. We've got hundreds or thousands of insurance companies that all want to maximize their profits, but at whose expense? Well, it's the patients. I think a central system would be a workable solution, but of course this would mean millions of people would lose their insurance company jobs. And once the argument is framed as "socialized medicine," well, you can just forget that potential solution simply because of the stigma attached to the word.
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

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    Cougar, the OP expressly asked that we not discuss the merits/drawbacks to either of these two systems, but rather was asking where he can find good reference material on the subject.

  9. #9
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    If you have access to an educational institution (a public library may qualify) you can login to JSTOR - it's a electronic source for academic papers. Just go there, do a search, and you've got everything you need.

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    The problem with trying to draw real world comparisons is that I do not think any of the basic appraoches (capitalism, market planning, socialism, communism) even exist in their pure form. Most, if not all countries, practice some hybrid.

    I'd just hand in the following quote and call it a day:

    Capitalism is where man takes advantage of his fellow man. Communism is the other way around.

    Can't remember the source.

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    Quote Originally Posted by farmerjumperdon View Post
    Capitalism is where man takes advantage of his fellow man. Communism is the other way around.
    And socialism is where they do it nicely?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fazor View Post
    Cougar, the OP expressly asked that we not discuss the merits/drawbacks to either of these two systems, but rather was asking where he can find good reference material on the subject.
    Y-y-y-yeah. At second glance, the OP seems extremely ambiguous. I quote:

    The thread is NOT about debateing the merits of either Socialism or Capitalism....

    I am going to be involved in an informal debate concerning the merits of Socialism and Capitalism.

    I want to do some research that really looks into the two systems and criticises them both positivly and negativly...

    ...do any of you have any sources you would recommend?
    So Matherly is going to be in a "debate concerning the merits of Socialism and Capitalism," but this thread is not about debating the merits of Socialism and Capitalism?

    My intent was to give Matherly some ideas that might be used in such a debate, myself being a "source"... of some experience.

    But OK, fine. Point, point, point elsewhere, but surely don't include any content here.
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

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    Sorry I don't mean to censor anyone, not that I have that right or ability anyway. Just don't want this to end up down the enevadable path that is political debate when discussing the two subjects.

    And for the record, when I read the first two lines of the OP I had to do a double take. It does look funny "This thread is not about this" "I'm going to be debating this"

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    I know I keep repeating myself, but I thought Karl Popper's Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume II had an interesting dicussion of the flaws of capitalism and the motivations behind communism and fascism, in the run-up to World War II. You may think WWII is ancient history, but it was a decisive moment for these ideologies, and the prelude to the Cold War.

    For lighter reading, anything by George Orwell, especially Animal Farm.

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    Re-worded OP

    I have re-worded the OP. Sorry about the confusion

    (And for the record, I am looking for source material I can read up on and possibly quote in my debate in the "real world")

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    Most of the suggestions so far are selling a particular viewpoint. I'd go with an introductory Economics college textbook, to get a generally well rounded discussion. And drink caffine, lots of caffine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Demigrog View Post
    Most of the suggestions so far are selling a particular viewpoint. I'd go with an introductory Economics college textbook, to get a generally well rounded discussion.
    That's buying into a particular viewpoint, too.

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    An Economics textbook would only cover capitalism; to include socialism, you'd need an introductory Political Science textbook... unless what you're relly interested in is not socialism itself (a type of government) but the kind of economy that's typically associated with such governments... in which the words to watch for are "Command Economy" and "Wealth Redistribution".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Demigrog View Post
    And drink caffine, lots of caffine.
    Oh, that's just so capitalista!

    [Just joking, of course. I think.]
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

  20. #20
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    if you are going to debate the merits of the two systems and try to figure out which is "better", just ask yourself which one better applies to basic human nature when they get together in societies.

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    A real man would do the entire debate quoting only Heinlein.

  22. #22
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    Really, you can't go wrong with primary sources.

    Capitalism:

    Wealth of Nations
    The Fable of the Bees
    Atlas Shrugged
    The World is Flat
    The Road to Serfdom
    Capitalism and Freedom

    Communism/Socialism:

    Communist Manifesto
    Das Kapital
    What Is to Be Done?
    The Prerequisites for Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy
    Social Reform or Revolution
    Chairman Mao's Little Red Book

    And, as a general reference:

    Oxford Dictionary of Politics
    Oxford Dictionary of the Social Sciences
    Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
    Oxford Companion to Philosophy

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    Atlas Shrugged is a primary source? I'd recommend leaving that novel until later. If you want to read up on Ayn Rand's ideas, I'd suggest some of her non-fiction collections, like Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal which also has some essays by other authors.

    But let's be clear: Pretty much everything on the subject is going to come with a point of view, and often isn't going to have much to do with the real world. For instance, what Marx wrote about, and what actually came about in the real world, are two very different things.
    Last edited by Van Rijn; 2007-Sep-29 at 12:00 AM. Reason: clarification

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." — Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

    The Leif Ericson Cruiser

  24. #24
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    I don't want to get off on a rant here...

    So, I wont.

    However, if one is seeking reference material on the OP's question, I would simply point the OP to history. Compare the RESULTS of past and present nations with the respective INTENT of each economic philosophy.

    We all want to go to Mars, but which is the best approach to get us there?

  25. #25
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    As scientists, we like evidence. With one, we have records dating back from the ancient Greeks to look at, with the other, only from the 19th century to today.
    We all want to go to Mars, but which is the best approach to get us there?
    To give me a rocket, a space suit and a camera and count down.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
    Every mission makes our dreams reality
    And our destiny begins with you and me
    Through all space and time, the achievement of mankind
    As we sail the sea of discovery, on heroes’ wings we fly!

  26. #26
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    Reading primary sources would be helpful background if you have the time, but if I wanted to compare two cars I would look at their real world performance and reliability. So if I was comparing socialism and capitalism I would compare the two in action, not in theory. Now if your debate is anything at all like a typical debate it will probably an exercise in futility as there will be no agreed upon definition of what exactly socialism or capitalism is in practice and so it will be very difficult to compare the two. This problem might be solved by getting an agreed upon definition of the terms prior to the debate, but this might prove impossible. So instead you could go into the debate and instead demonstrate how futile the debate is by showing how on the definition you use puts countries most people assume are capitalist into the socialist group or countries that most peple assume are socialist into the capitalist group. A crude measure such as defining a socialist country as one in which the government collects more than 50% of GDP in taxes is better than nothing. This is crude because it ignores how much "wealth" is held by the public sector.

  27. #27
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    just read the Communist manifesto and the US Constitution..

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Atlas Shrugged is a primary source?
    I'd defend it as such. Not as any sort of scholarly work, but as expounding a certain viewpoint and as a way of looking at the world. Clearly it isn't up to the same standard as, say, Wealth of Nations, but it has value nonetheless.

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    But it didn't lead to anything; no political historical movements or events came from it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by novaderrik View Post
    just read the Communist manifesto and the US Constitution..
    Not being a Constitutional scholar, I have to ask...What does the US Constitution have to say (or not say) about Capitalism?

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