Morning links

Bruce Bartlett at economix on the basic income, with some discussion of Jessica’s post here and Matt’s paper in Basic Income Studies.

On a different topic: Nelson Mandela’s shift on markets; Isaac Chotiner at TNR “Conservatives haven’t wrestled with Mandela’s legacy because they haven’t wrestled with the Cold War” (I worry about this with respect to libertarians, too, as I think I mentioned here about Pinochet last year); astonishingly enough, Newt Gingrich on Mandela.

I’ll note that Mandela’s substantive shift discussed in the first linked article means that the round of “how dare you praise Mandela now when you didn’t praise him in the 1980s” criticism in the last week is at least partly misguided.  That’s not an excuse for having been soft on apartheid, but one could have opposed apartheid and still thought that the pre-1990 economic vision of the ANC was a dangerous one– then changed one’s evaluation of Mandela when he changed his evaluation of the economic world.

I’ve been wondering in the last week whether there’s a tendency to explain the transition in South Africa in terms that are excessively South Africa-specific.  Would De Klerk have acted as he did without the simultaneous events in Eastern and Central Europe, or the democratization of the Philippines, South Korea, Chile?  The position of “anticommunist authoritarian tyrant supported by the US” looked a lot more precarious by 1990 than it had in previous decades, and the position of “reformist leader who transforms the old order” was looking a lot more appealing in the age of Gorbachev.  Conversely, as noted in that article, “nationalize the means of production” was a lot less appealing by then, too.  “Peaceful transition to a democratic polity with a mixed economy” in short, isn’t something that necessarily would have happened in 1980 or 1985; it became a plausible map for partly non-local reasons.  This was all once a commonplace but I think it’s been lost sight of; South Africa either gets treated as sui generis or gets compared only to other African countries.

  • Sean II

    So it seems there must be different standards to apply when deciding just when it became inexcusable to be a communist.

    1945 seems like a good deadline for anyone dwelling in the 1st World. The big facts were in, many of the best arguments were already available, the merits of liberal democracy were evident, etc. I consider anyone who persisted in being a communist after that point to be negligent, or worse.

    The cut-off for 3rd Worlders (or people working in Sociology departments) has to be much later, perhaps even as late as 1989. Of course there absolutely should be a provision for bonus time, to be awarded in case of imprisonment by a loyal Western client state. Mandela clearly qualifies.

    And yet…communism was a far greater evil than apartheid, and would have been so even for South African blacks. So one thing you have to say about Mandela is that for most of his life, he was on course to become one of history’s great monsters, to be mentioned alongside Mao, Minh, and Mengitsu (just keeping it to the M’s).

    But on the other hand…for many years everyone grimly accepted the idea that apartheid would end either not at all, or in a vicious bloodbath, and instead it ended peacefully. So he gets enormous credit for that.

    Although…even if the ultimate courage in life is changing one’s mind, Mandela didn’t move far enough, and the important fact remains that South Africa isn’t really working today. It also seems to be getting worse, not better. People may soon find it necessary to say things like: “Thank goodness Mandela isn’t here to see what’s become of this.”

    • Sol Logic

      What about the claims that he participated in terr orist acts and never apoplogized? Wouldn’t that be enough of a reason to not consider him a hero?

      • Sean II

        As others have said already, terrorism is not wrong in and of itself.

        The French Resistance were clearly terrorists, and also clearly the good guys, likewise Afghan mujahideen of the 1980s (the less bad guys), or wandering back a bit further, the summer soldiers who took potshots at redcoats in the 1770s, etc.

  • We would all be better off if, rather than deifying Mandela, we accepted the fundamental truth that all human heroes are flawed, and that’s okay. What is worthy of praise is racial equality. It’s possible to praise Mandela for his impact on racial equality while condemning him for his communism. That’s the truth, anyway. Communism causes suffering, and racial equality causes prosperity.

    We should never run from the truth. How we view Mandela should not come down to which message we want to see win the PR wars.

    • j r

      That’s great, but what do you do when the people opposing communism are the same people opposing racial equality?

      If you’re stuck at the bottom of the pit and someone drops you a rope, do you stop and ask him his political affiliation? You may consider his motives. You may think about what he’s going to ask in return once you get out of the pit, but you’re immediate reality is that you’re stuck in a pit. And all those people talking about freedom aren’t particularly keen on helping you.

      I’m all for cheering on the United States for opposing an aggressive Soviet Union. However, let’s recognize that for many in the third world, choosing between the Soviet’s guy and America’s guy was a bit like choosing between the Crips and the Bloods.

      • Was this intended as a reply to me, or to the blog post? It sounds like we are saying more or less the same thing.

        • j r

          It was in response to the bit about condemning Mandela for his communism. I hate communism, but I feel no compunction to condemn Mandela for it. If I were in his position, I would have accepted help from just about anyone who offered.

          Had he actually begun enacting communist policies once in office, then yes, I would have no problem condemning that.

          • My whole purpose in writing my original comment was to express the very idea you’re expressing now, so… I can apologize for being unclear I guess. I think you might be fixating a bit too much on the word “condemn.” Clarity means identifying good and bad as such. That’s all I’m getting at.

          • Sean II

            I find myself charmed by this tragically awkward moment of total agreement between you two.

  • TracyW

    It’s really amazing that people keep discussing a UBI without discussing the cost of it.

  • TracyW

    It’s really amazing that people keep discussing a UBI without discussing the cost of it.

  • TracyW

    It’s really amazing that people keep discussing a UBI without discussing the cost of it.

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