H.L. Mencken on Capitalism vs. Socialism

H.L. Mencken on Capitalism vs. Socialism

Timothy Taylor 02/09/2019 4

This characteristically pungent comment is from H.L. Mencken’s 1956 collection, Minority Report: H.L. Mencken's Notebooks (Johns Hopkins University Press edition, 1997, p. 264):

"The chief difference between free capitalism and state socialism seems to be this: that under the former a man pursues his own advantage openly, frankly and honestly, whereas under the latter he does so hypocritically and under false pretences."

It can be useful to toss this distinction into discussions of socialism and capitalism. Is the argument for old-style, full-blooded state-based socialism a claim that a change in the economic and political system will lead to preferable outcomes, even though the nature of people remains essentially the same?

Or is it an argument that by altering the economic and political system, human beings will also act in fundamentally different ways?

Or that socialism will attract a different kind of people to leadership roles, who will on average act in different ways than democratically elected leaders?

A version of this article first appeared on Conversable Economist

 

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  • Sara Trussler

    The economic system doesn't matter, we will always screw things up

  • Anthony Rees

    Socialism won't survive the AI era

  • Tom Moss

    Each country has its own version of capitalism and socialism

  • Jason Boyes

    Thoughtful read

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Timothy Taylor

Global Economy Guru

Timothy Taylor is an American economist. He is managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a quarterly academic journal produced at Macalester College and published by the American Economic Association. Taylor received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College and a master's degree in economics from Stanford University. At Stanford, he was winner of the award for excellent teaching in a large class (more than 30 students) given by the Associated Students of Stanford University. At Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Taylor has been a guest speaker for groups of teachers of high school economics, visiting diplomats from eastern Europe, talk-radio shows, and community groups. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News. He has published multiple lectures on economics through The Teaching Company. With Rudolph Penner and Isabel Sawhill, he is co-author of Updating America's Social Contract (2000), whose first chapter provided an early radical centrist perspective, "An Agenda for the Radical Middle". Taylor is also the author of The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works, published by the Penguin Group in 2012. The fourth edition of Taylor's Principles of Economics textbook was published by Textbook Media in 2017.

   

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