In practice Socialist nations just substitute inequality based upon income and wealth for inequality of rank within the party. Party leaders in Socialist or Communist nations always have very cushy lifestyles compared to the masses.
The difference is that they did nothing to create that wealth. They only expropriated it from others. Which in the long run undermines the standard of living of the masses.
"that any taxation is a violation of rights and thus should not happen?"
This is where being a Georgist Single Land Taxer comes in handy. I can claim that any tax on production is a violation of rights, and thus the tax on the value of undeveloped land is deontologically acceptable.
There is no magic metric for judging the relative merits of different national economies, or for judging the degree to which qualitatively different mixes of privileges, immunities, and coerced wealth transfers makes one national economy more "socialist" than another. Indeed, empirical metrics are entirely inappropriate for formulating economic theories, since the mental states that are relevant to economics can't be directly observed or compared to a measurement standard by others, nor subjected to the kinds of experimental controls that are needed for rigorous logical inductions.
The correct method for an economist is to start with the self-evident truth that humans are purposeful actors, and deduce from that universally-valid causal theories that can then be applied to qualitative explanations of particular historical situations (i.e. abductive reasoning). An important aspect of abductive reasoning is that when evaluating different possible causes for a given outcome, the stronger explanation will be the one that involves the causal factor that also best explains other observed outcomes, and that best explains changes in the outcome of interest over time.
This approach greatly complicates comparisons between national economies. Rather than focusing on whether one economy is more "socialist" than another in some aggregate sense, an economic historian must examine specific privileges, immunities, and coercive transfers occurring in each country and the constellation of effects each of them is associated with.
In comparing America and Sweden, I would say that both countries are engaged in capital consumption and thus gradually deindustrializing and eroding the well-being of their working classes, but the Swedish policy of high progressive taxation and the American policy of printing fiat dollars to finance enormous government deficits and periodically bail out Wall Street and other privileged private entities have dramatically different impacts on their respective elites. Different forms of coercion can and do push inequality metrics in different directions.
Ordinary Swedes might enjoy their path to gradually increasing economic dysfunction more than ordinary Americans do, but one must make a leap from comparative economic history to ethics to claim that future poverty is a good thing if it promotes greater equality now. Pol Pot's regime, with its radical deindustrialization/deurbanization of Cambodia and profligate use of the killing fields to keep dissenters in line, was a flop in terms of producing useful goods, but it was enormously successful in terms of making sure that goods were equally distributed. If "coercive redistribution" to achieve equality is the goal, then the Khmer Rouge regime and not Sweden is the relevant example to ponder.
Once it is conceded that some inequality can be justified by the pursuit of other values and that even most socialists don't want to live under a Pol Pot-type regime, then they have to go back to the drawing board to come up with some other specious justification for usurping the moral and intellectual autonomy of others.
The core value of the "capitalism" they oppose is not the enrichment of a few wealthy capitalists, but rather a system of justice where each individual has exclusive control over the use and disposition of oneself and one's peacefully-acquired property; with private ownership being the essential institution that safeguards individual autonomy. Private ownership of the means of production doesn't mean that a capitalist owns one's workers or customers, nor does it prevent other people from exercising their liberty to become capitalists themselves and compete in the same line of production. Since coordination and exchange can only arise from voluntary cooperation in a system based on peacefully-acquired private ownership, a capitalist can only become rich by serving the interests of others, and doing so well enough that one isn't driven out of business by one's competitors.
If a few people grow richer by unjust means of privileges, immunities, or coerced transfers of wealth, that isn't the fault of the institution of private ownership; placing the blame on capitalists and "capitalism" for the unjust accumulation of wealth is misdirected. It is the market-rigging privileges, etc. that need to be abolished.
I tend to think your overall sense that something is wrong here is correct but I think there is a better to express than wrangling over definitions. Say instead:
Sure, other things being equal more egalitarian distributions are better. However, the question of pragmatic relevance here isn't whether god should wave a magic wand and make a one time redistribution but whether countries tend to do better when they adopt certain kinds of policies. Indeed, if you aren't sure about particular policies isn't it a mistake to encourage people to generally be more inclined to adopt such policies?
Two thoughts regarding your many excellent points above:
1. I'm sure it must be frustrating to you that you have to make arguments you've made countless times to eager but unread socialist college freshmen to, instead, highly educated and intelligent fellow PhDs. Your points, though quite well put, are nothing many of us, non-academics, haven't heard many, many times before. Why are these people so unstudied and incurious? Thoughts? It reminds me of your point in your book on education, that people forget what they learn in a course soon after the final exam. I wonder, if you asked Sehon to repeat your critique of his position in, say, 6 months, how well he'd do.
2. Your point about justice in initial acquisition is not only well put, but, given what's happening in the Middle East right now, quite timely. In case some of your readers had the same thought, I'll mention Stephen Halbrook's seminal article in Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol 5, #4, "The Alienation of a Homeland: How Palestine Became Israel*" It's available free online.
Socialism requires a high level of social trust, which, at the very least, makes it un-scalable. The quote from the Danish prime minister says it all - “The welfare society is fundamentally a community, which is based on a mutual trust that we all contribute,” Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said in March at a summit of the country’s municipalities. “All that is being seriously challenged by parallel societies.” The PM made this statement in defense of the draconian measures the government is taking to preserve Danish ideals. i.e. tearing down their low income immigrant housing! https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/26/world/europe/denmark-housing.html#:~:text=The%20government%20says%20the%20plan,the%20country's%20generous%20welfare%20system.
Why do people think Sweden has lower GDP/capita then the USA?
1) They spend 50% of GDP instead of 44% on government?
2) Their Heritage economic freedom score is 10% higher then the USA?
3) History, Geography, Resources, etc?
4) Socialist Healthcare?
5) They kept schools open and didn't mask.
6) Not enough middle eastern refugees, diversity is our strength.
Your rebuttal is well said.
I think the discussion of the Fraser Institute metrics, as well as government spending as a fraction of GDP, is a key aspect of this debate. These statistics are as you point out used selectively by both sides to bolster their position. But I would further argue that they are highly questionable and not a good bedrock for a position here. For example, I graphed government spending/GDP according to the IMF against the Fraser regulation score. These are the two pieces of evidence Sehon offers in his response piece. It turns out that they are weakly correlated (R squared = 0.29), but in the OPPOSITE direction that Sehon argues, i.e. higher spending is correlated with less regulation. If you restrict the analysis to "the West" (I used Europe without Russia and Turkey and with US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), the correlation is actually zero. Even if you just look at Western Europe, US, and Canada, it's pretty weak (about 0.15), although now in the opposite direction. The regluation index is strongly correlated with their overall economic freedom index, so the results are more or less the same with that one as with the regulation index.
I think this is yet another reason that analysis at the level of nations is not the best way to understand policy issues. GDP is unreliable, and I'm sure the Freedom and Regulation indices are full of researcher degrees of freedom that reduce reliability. I think it's much better to think about issues individually as Bryan wants to: does immigration restriction help, or not? Zoning? Etc. Comparing a massive menu of policies, history, culture, demographics, and natural resources to another one just seems futile by comparison.
"Socialism" in the authoritarian leninist/maoist sense mainly only came to be under unique circumstances or war and/or civil war in backward countries a long time ago.
Nobody in Sweden wants to introduce a Leninist state, and they indeed guard their democratic privileges. When Sweden felt certain "socialist" reforms weren't working they didn't starve the peasantry and purge dissidents, the legislature passed reforms based on the will of the people to move in a different direction.
It seems really pointless to go on the on about the Soviet Union when that isn't what most people calling themselves "socialists" or admiring the Nordic model want.
"universal redistribution, education subsidies"
Most people that like the Nordic model seem to want more of that stuff. Maybe they disagree on some details. The three big things I hear about are universal healthcare, free daycare/generous maternity leave, and probably cheap university.
It's hard to defend the US health system as superior because it isn't.
I can't quite parse the way the Swedish child support system works and I favor cash over subsidized daycare, but the bottom line raising kids costs money whether you do it yourself or farm it out. I don't think it's the end of the world for the childless to have to subsidize the raising of the next generation they aren't producing themselves.
The American system of wildly expensive college funded by government backed undischargable debt doesn't seem particularly superior to Sweden either.
So I don't know. The areas people gripe about appear to be one where Sweden does at least as well if not better then the American status quo.
If someone called for a VAT to fund a bigger child tax credit would you call him a commie pinko?
Bryan, this is all good and well but you are a hypocrite for holding a tenured position and you should just resign from your academic position.