Friday, 9 October 2009

A debate with the fantastic Prof. Massimo Pigliucci (and a few others) about Capitalism vs. Social-Democratism.

Professor Massimo Pigliucci is a brilliant mind, and I know of no one who combats Creationists better than him. I have the privilege to have him as a "friend" on Facebook, and although I admire him very much, I disagree with his political views. Recently he wrote a blog where he "endorsed" Michael Moores new film "Capitalism: A Love story", and in the piece, attacked (for lack of a better word) Capitalism. I questioned this, and the following debate took place (I am Aarya Amir Shayan):

Aarya Amir Shayan

I have the outmost respect for you, Prof. Pigliucci , as a scientist, and a debater, especially when confronting Creationists. But as a political analyst? I would suggest that you check the facts and see what the same model of Capitalism you and Michael Mooron attack, has actually done to countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Mauritius etc. Or have a... Read More look at the poverty rate in the world and how it has been declining thanks to that system. Apply the same scientific method you use in biology to this subject. Read Johan Norbergs book "In defense of Global Capitalism" and see who makes a better case. In fact, I am willing to challenge ANY person on the planet who claims to have any arguments left (double meaning there) for any other system than Capitalism (and then I´m talking about FREE, UNREGULATED CAPITALISM) after they´ve read that book. It might sound as idolatry or fundamentalism on my part, but it´s only based on EMPIRICAL FACTS. I am even willing to buy you a copy of it if you´re interested? And for tax not being stealing... If one is voluntarily giving it away, then it is not stealing. If one is being forced to give their money away, then it is. Slavery on the other hand is when a person is owned by another person. Very dishonest analogy, and extremely incorrect.

I don't remember Mr. Pigliucci dismissing P&T for their political beliefs so much as for ignoring things which go against them on Bullshit which presents itself as being not coming from one political point of view. Moore, on the other hand, is apologetically coming from a liberal viewpoint and makes no bones about it. I respect Moore more than P&... Read MoreT because he's honest about where he is coming from and makes no claims about being balanced. The fact that many on the left join in gleefully with the right in bashing Moore says an awful lot about why the left seems incapable of governing effectively any more.

Aarya Amir Shayan

Mr. Jones, are you joking? Seriously???
Watch the end of this video:, from 07:57. Unfortunately, the video coming straight after this has been deleted from youtube, but Penn actually goes on to elaborate what the difference between the two are, and I would´ve thought that anyone with half a brain would be able to see the difference.

You know Aarya, there is a reason that the Libertarian party gets about 5% of the vote in the US. We tried that form of government in the late 1800s and we really didn't like what we had. I've read Norbergs book and it, like most Libertarian thought, requires the same thing Communism requires to be a workable, real world system. It requires a ... Read Morefundamental change in the way human beings think and interact with each other. Like Communism, it's a pipe dream which has no basis in the real world. Norbergs world might be something worthy of working towards, but until humanity has changed the way it deals with each other it is simply untenable.

I prefer to deal with problems in a way that is actually possible to pull off. Of course, since I have read the book and didn't fall down in adoration for the writer and concept I might not be "full brained" enough for you.

Aarya Amir Shayan

Well Mr. Jones, thank you for your reply. I am going to go for two options here, and I am going to be brutally honest in expressing them. I apologize in advance if you feel that I insult you, it is not my intention. Option 1: You haven... Read More´t read the book at all, and you´re fabricating the fact that you have. Option 2, which I believe to be more likely: You have read the book, but you haven´t understood a single word of it. Something to to work towards? Something to aspire? Norbergs book doesn´t talk about any of the above in their singularity, he shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, through scientific, methodological, empirical data, from the most authoritative sources available that: WHEREVER CAPITALISM AND FREE MARKETS HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO FLOURISH, THE RESULTS HAVE BEEN OVERWHELMINGLY AND PHENOMENALLY POSITIVE. What exactly are you talking about, sir, when you say "I prefer to deal with problems in a way that is actually possible to pull off."??? Do you mean that the unimaginable progress of Mauritius, India, Taiwan, Botswana, Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia (I could go on), which are unprecedented in the history of our species, have worked in theory but not in practice??? How much proof do you need that this system HAS WORKED AND IS WORKING AS WE SPEAK??? If you´ve read the book and still disagree, YOU have two options: 1. Prove that the claims are wrong, or 2. Admit that you are a fundamentalist who refuse to accept empirical evidence. Your move.

Mr Jones (I like how that sounds) a few weeks ago Mr. Pigliucci rightly corrected me for using P&T as a source on organic foods. I knew that then, but Moore is even worse as a course to cite, and does far more to damage a liberal cause than some extremists think. Just remember how Al Gore's exaggerations were used as a target in An Inconvenient ... Read MoreTruth, and extrapolate that. Only, even only a small percentage of the left wing is willing to take Moore seriously, after all his lies and self-aggrandizing.


I wonder about the premise that more regulations and regulators will mean less greed and less corruption.

I agree with the above comments suggesting Michael Moore should present the track record of worldwide capitalism lifting people out of poverty.

What keeps him from offering paradoxical or conflicting information? The demands of his narrative, or anecdotal, style? His ambition as a revolutionary? ... Read More

I think he's in the Oliver Stone camp. He's given up on the search for truth. Viewing the world as a conflict among myths. Asserting himself, like Stone, as a mythmaker.

Aarya Amir Shayan

And, dear Peter, they both do awful films! I mean, did anyone see "W"??? Has to be the worst political film ever made.

Massimo Pigliucci

Aarya, didn't anyone teach you that CAPITALIZES SENTENCES ON A POST ARE IMPOLITE? I find the rest of your writing to be a combination of ad hominem attacks (a logical fallacy) and an extremely simplistic view of the world (I mean, you really think that the truth of any political system can be 'proven scientifically?' c'mon).

Aarya Amir Shayan
Prof. Pigliucci, please point out where my argumentum ad hominem occurs, and I will apologize and clarify immediately. I do apologize if I have done anything of the sort, I am replying as I go, so if it has occurred, I assure everyone that it is an unfortunate mistake. And as for capitalizes sentences... Well, I did not mean to be impolite, just to stress the point.

Now to your argument about "Truth of political systems". I do not believe I have mentioned or implied anything of the sort. If I have, you are absolutely correct, I am wrong in doing so. What I did try to communicate is the following:

All empirical data available suggests that Free Market Capitalism is the most altruistic system known to man, the most effective system to combat poverty, oppression, lack of freedom etc. Wherever this system has been applied, it has produced these results. Is it perfect? No, and I don´t know of anyone who would claim it to be. And as for the social-democrats you mention in your blog. Well, I grew up in Sweden, the most social-democratic state in the world, and it is not a coincidence that the Social Democrats lost the last election, and seem to be loosing the upcoming one. And this is the case around Europe, people are more and more turning away from the leftist parties, in favor for other parties. Of course, the reasons for some of these, as in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria, just to mention a few, are at times more xenophobic than economical, but this certainly wasn´t the case in Sweden. ... Read More... Read More

Also, I intentionally use the word "system" as oppose to "ideology", because that is what Capitalism in fact is. It is an economical system, the best one we have. And the less regulated it is, the better it is. Again, I would recommend Johan Norbergs book "In defense of Global Capitalism", where he shows clearly how Capitalism has been the system that has helped hundreds of millions of people to escape poverty, to achieve liberty, to acquire wealth and so forth. And I am more than willing to admit that I am wrong if any empirical data proves me so. I also recommend this documentary:

Thank you for your reply, prof. Pigliucci, it is an honor I cherish more than I can express.

Massimo Pigliucci
Aarya, when you accuse someone of either being stupid or a lier (as you implicitly did to Jones), that's ad hominem.

As for the empirical data, they show that capitalism in a broad sense works from an economic perspective. They do not show that unbridled capitalism is best for society at all. Indeed, the higher standards of living and social ... Read Morecontentedness tend to be seen in European, especially Scandinavian, countries, which have precisely the sort of controlled capitalism that I (and Moore) advocate.


Government regulation of the economy produces high standards of living and social contentedness?

I thought the relative satisfaction of Northern Europeans was due to wealth, low unemployment, homogeneous populations, low expectations psychologically, family and social structures, and plentiful alcohol.

Send URL's supporting your government intervention thesis.

Massimo Pigliucci

So you think the fact that European countries have those characteristics has nothing to do with the kind of society, and government, they have? Really??

No, I wouldn't hide behind that unprovable negative. It's possible that some kind of controlled capitalism is particularly compatible with a good life, a sense of satisfaction. I just don't think the point is proved yet at all. China will be an interesting case study in the coming years.

I wonder why Michael Moore chose Japan and Germany for his dramatic conclusion, and not Denmark. The FDR narrative demanded it, I think. Meanwhile, most informed people know that economic intervention by the Japanese government condemned its citizens to decades of a very low standard of living. And why doesn't Germany ever appear on those "Happiest People" lists?

And maybe Scandinavia has an ideal system dependent on an ally and unbridled capitalist trading partner, the United States, who, among other things, has paid for its defense?... Read More

Complicated. I'm not saying you're wrong.

I suspect you know more than me about the science of complex systems. Aren't top-down solutions full of unintended consequences, and therefore a bad idea? Aren't stable improvements initiated from the ground up?

Aarya Amir Shayan

Prof. Pigliuicci, I´ve always admired your venomous replies when debating Creationists, but I never thought I would be the subject of the same rhetoric!

Now to your points. Have you ever actually lived in Scandinavia, or are you assuming the standard of living is higher because of some report or such? I am asking honestly, not in anyway disrespecting you.
I have lived in Sweden for 18 years, and also lived in Norway for 2 years, so I hope you will grant me some authority in the matter. In Sweden, the Social Democrats were voted out of office in the last election, as I am sure you are aware. In Sweden, people have to wait for up to six months for a simple toe X-Ray. In Sweden, many people die every year whilst waiting to get medical treatment, either in the emergency rooms or whilst in line. In Sweden, the increasing rate of students failing basic education is at an all time high. In Sweden, teachers, doctors and scientists are fleeing the country because they feel they are not rewarded for their efforts. But I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

Creationists seem to believe that if they manage to find a fault or a flaw within the Theory of Evolution, they win by default, and at times I feel the same way with the left. I certainly do not propagate the American Model of Capitalism, but it certainly doesn´t mean that because that has failed (which it, undoubtedly has), the social democratic movement wins by default.

A question I personally believe we need to address here is from which point of view we are discussing Capitalism. From a philosophical point of view? Moral one? Pragmatically? Practically?
I have always admired the Lefts outspokenness on fighting poverty, but their efforts have always been inadequate. When you say: "They do not show that unbridled capitalism is best for society at all. Indeed, the higher standards of living and social contentedness...", I am forced to ask: Compared to what??? Capitalism has led to the metamorphosis of dozens of countries in the last 30-40 years from being developing countries to becoming industrialized nations, evaporating poverty, injustice, oppression, malnourishment, inequality and providing instead wealth, freedom, democracy and education. These have been achieved in countries in Asia and Africa through the same tenants the left so fiercely oppose! How is this possible??? I stand by my claim that Mr. Jones has not understood a single word of the book in question, because if he had, he would see that the correlation between Capitalism and the massive decline in poverty around the world is undeniable, and unprecedented in the history of human civilization.

As for the ad hominem... I was under the impression that an ad hominem meant that one would disregard an argument, by proposing that the person who makes the argument is bad, or such. Therefore, I believe I am innocent of the accusation, because I have not done anything of the sort.

I could go on for hours, talking about the tele-market in Sweden, before and after it was deregulated. I could speak of what´s happening to SJ (Swedish Railways), when they are loosing their monopoly and how it affects the people positively. The slogan "Power to the people" actually only works in a deregulated market, because the fate of every corporation is then in the hands of the consumers. If we don´t like something about a certain company, we buy from their competitors and they are run out of business. We don´t need a bunch of incompetent bureaucrats to do the job for us. For the interest of our discussion, I will end my post here, and again encourage you to read "In defense of Global Capitalism". It will enrich your life.

Massimo Pigliucci

Aarya et al.,

wow, way too long a discussion for me to reply to every single point. Still, no I don't think one is an authority on a country because he has lived there. Personal anecdotes and opinions are important, but my view of Scandinavian and other European countries is based on surveys of self reported happiness and satisfaction, where they all beat the crap out of the US.

As from the point of view I am attacking unbridled capitalism, it is the moral one, not the pragmatic. If slavery worked, pragmatically speaking, would you be in favor of it?... Read More

Oh, and yes, attacking the character of the opponent in lieu of addressing his arguments *is* an ad hominem fallacy.

Peter, I never said that any country has an ideal system of anything. That's a straw man. But that doesn't mean that the almighty US can't learn a thing or two from other places.

Aarya Amir Shayan
And there we have it... We´re not discussing capitalism here, we´re discussing the US...

I agree with you that I am not an authority, I merely suggested that I *have* some authority in the matter. As for beating the crap out of the US, how about comparing it to, say Taiwan? Or Estonia? Or that real vessel of capitalism, Hong Kong?

And as for the point of view of attacking Capitalism... I am more than willing to discuss it from a moral point of view. Here´s the challenge, if I may: Capitalism has led to the industrialization of dozens of developing countries in the past 30-40 years, bringing wealth, prosperity, increased standard of living, freedom and democracy. Had the left had its way, Taiwan, Ghana, South Korea, India, Mauritius and others would still be in shambles, with a massive rate of absolute poverty. Yet the left always claim to have moral superiority over the right. I can´t see how anyone can morally justify attacking a system that has brought so much goodness to developing countries. Maybe you could be so kind to explain? Explain why India would be better off without Capitalism. Explain why Taiwan should be on the same level as Rwanda in terms of development? Explain why that would be moral.... Read More

This is the reason I defend Capitalism. That it´s the only system that has successfully combated poverty and everything that comes with it. And to claim to have moral high ground when going against this system is an oxymoron.

The US isn´t a good representation of Capitalism at all. I could go on for several hours showing why United States version of Capitalism, which is more like "state capitalism", is as representative of Capitalism as Stalins regime was for Communism. But that´s another debate.

Finally, if that definition of ad hominem stands, I think we are all guilty of it, and it doesn´t even matter. You can label an argument X, but it doesn´t make the argument better or worse because of it. I have heard you several times implying to Kent Hovind or Jonathan Wells that they are either dishonest or they have not understood what they are attacking. I did the same with Mr. Jones.

Again, thank you for taking time for this interesting discussion, I appreciate it very much.

Massimo Pigliucci
Aarya, please re-read my post carefully: I do *not* attack capitalism, I merely suggest that it needs to be kept in check because it carries negative social consequences. For one thing, it is primarily responsible for environmental disasters; and secondly it has put millions of people in the streets in order to enrich a few shareholders. I consider... Read More both immoral.

As for US vs. other countries, again where did I ever say that the US is the worst country in the world? I guarantee you that if that's what I thought I wouldn't be living here. But that doesn't mean there is no room for improvement. Much improvement.

Aarya Amir Shayan

Millions of people in the streets? Can you please tell me how you arrived at this conclusion? In fact, what it has done is that it has *given* homes to *hundreds of millions* of people around the globe. And what has happened when it is "kept in check", as you propose? Well, have a look at the EU regulations for import and export for farmers inside and outside its body, and how this has affected African farmers, and further down the line, the economy in the countries affected.

I am somewhat surprised that you wish to have these regulations. I assume that you know or know of Michael Shermer. I recommend his latest book, "The mind of the market", on how the Market works much like Evolution, in a bottom-up design.

As for the Environmental disasters, again I would humbly suggest that this is incorrect. Which countries are mostly responsible for toxic waste being spread in to the atmosphere, the ones with open markets, or the ones with regulated markets? Across the board. I am more than willing to present you with data clearly proving this, and you can also find it presented in Johan Norbergs brilliant book.... Read More

I never implied that you said that the US is the worst country in the world, and I completely agree with you that there are rooms for improvement. I would on the other hand suggest, although I might be wrong, that the improvements need to lead to more free, unregulated markets, not less.
One problem with these sort of debates is that we compare countries, as oppose to entities and institutions. I might be incorrect, but I believe that the more honest approach would be to compare businesses that deal in a free market to those that function in a regulated market. But then again, I might just be conspicously trying to divert the topics to a path that would benefit my point of view.

Massimo Pigliucci

Aarya, I doubt either one is going to convince the other. Yes, I know Michael and I've read his book. I think he is completely off in terms of both science and morality, and I told him so. That's precisely the problem when skeptics turn libertarian, like Penn & Teller. Oh well.

Aarya Amir Shayan

Prof. Pigliucci, you are a brilliant mind, one I admire and respect beyond what I can express in words. I would never dream of trying to convince you of anything I believe in. I use this platform more to test my knowledge than anything really, and I´m sorry for that.

I don´t really care about about labels such as "Libertarian", or "Social-democrat" or such, because I find them restrictive. But if I had to place myself in any box, it would be that of Libertarianism (propertarian). I believe your blog about Libertarianism has some ad hominems and straw man arguments, and I believe it to be fundamentally incorrect, just as I am sure you believe my convictions are. I became a supporter of Capitalism from having been a devout Socialist, because the data proved me wrong. I am yet to hear a single argument from the Left that I believe is not debunked, unproven or "topped" by arguments in favor of Free Market Capitalism, but if I find any arguments to the contrary, I´ll have no problems in admitting to be wrong and change my point of view.

We can discuss which system is the best system for the rest of our lives and never reach anywhere, but I will always defend the system that has helped millions of people out of poverty in to wealth. And that is my moral stand. That is capitalism.... Read More

Finally, I wish to thank you once more for a very interesting and enriching debate. I find it astonishing to interact with someone I have admired for so long, and to be able to measure my arguments with. Thank you for your time, and I hope this won´t be the last time I have the pleasure.

Yours truly,

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