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Keir Starmer’s phoney social democracy Capitalism will never be compassionate

Starmer will never be able to change capitalism. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Starmer will never be able to change capitalism. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)


July 8, 2024   5 mins

A number of people are uncertain about whether the new Labour government is socialist or not, including those in the new Labour government. Keir Starmer called himself a socialist during the campaign, while Rachel Reeves refused the title. As for Tony Blair, even as a social democrat he stayed mostly in the closet, trying to keep the markets sweet by behaving as though he wasn’t one. Other Labour leaders have called themselves socialists to curry favour with their rank and file; but it’s generally understood that “socialist” is code for social democrat, and won’t provoke the displeasure of the Masters of the Universe. It’s fine to be a socialist as long as you aren’t actually one.

Social democracy has ended up as a compassionate form of capitalism. The problem with compassionate capitalism, however, as with seat belts or Save the Children, is that it’s hard to find anyone who’s against it. Campaigns for bleeding the workforce dry or shackling them to their benches don’t go down well with the electorate. The father of English liberalism, John Locke, believed that three-year-olds should be put to work in factories, but today this wouldn’t be acceptable, even in Tunbridge Wells. Even Left-wingers would prefer the present system to behave as humanely as possible as long as it is in business. Those ultra-Leftists who abstain from supporting humane reforms because it helps to prop up capitalism were accused by Lenin of being afflicted by an infantile disorder, and most of them would seem to have died out as a result of it. In that sense, the choice between reform and revolution is spurious. In fact, social democracy started life in the late 19th century as a current within the revolutionary socialist movement, agreeing with its aims but arguing that they could be achieved by reformist means. 

The other problem with tender-hearted capitalism is that tenderness of heart is bound to be in short supply by the very nature of the system. In the end, human welfare is likely to play second fiddle to the profit motive. And there will be plenty of brutal, barbarous capitalists as well. Social democracy is the faith that capitalism and human well-being can be reconciled; but if it comes to a choice between them, the market generally dictates that you sacrifice well-being to the demands of capital.

The compassionate bit in the phrase “compassionate capitalism” means that this keeps you awake at night. But it doesn’t mean you don’t do it. “We put the welfare of our workers/the safety of our passengers/the satisfaction of our customers first.” No you don’t. That’s a blatant lie. You put your shareholders first and hope that this proves compatible with the welfare, safety and satisfaction of others. Some of the time it does and some of the time it doesn’t. It depends on economic factors which are for the most part beyond your control. Social democracy is plagued by the paradox that to avert the harshest effects of capitalism, it needs that system to thrive. The question is not whether Starmer is a social democrat, but whether capitalism will allow him to be one by generating that magical entity known as growth. In this respect, being a social democrat is not like being a baptist or a vegan.

A quick definition of a socialist, as opposed to a social democrat, is anyone Starmer throws out of the Labour Party. This isn’t to say that socialists and social democrats don’t share some common ground. Both object to a society in which some people carry £16,000 Hermes Birkin crocodile handbags while others grub in garbage bins. The difference is that socialists think such inequalities are as natural to market societies as tattoos are to David Beckham, while social democrats hope they can be ironed out without too much upheaval. In this, they are at one with the Right, though not in their belief in a modest amount of public ownership, their less indulgent attitude to the well-off and their enthusiasm for the public sector.  

Another way of putting the point is to say that Right-wingers believe in chronicles, while Left-wingers believe in narratives. A chronicle is a record which places items side by side without grasping them as interrelated (“The Queen died, then the King died”), while a narrative explores causal connections (“The King died because the Queen died”). That there are rich folk and also poor folk is a chronicle; that there are rich people because there are poor people, and vice versa (by and large, broadly speaking), is a narrative. Right-wingers tend to believe that there are beggars and billionaires in the same sense that there are diabetics and non-diabetics, rather than in the sense that there are murderers and murderees. 

The social democratic faith that gross inequalities might gradually be eroded is pathetically dewy-eyed. These inequalities have now plunged to abyssal depths, as Marx predicted they would in The Communist Manifesto. So has the gulf between private wealth and public squalor. Some schools have fencing instructors while others have holes in the roof. There are hospitals which serve boeuf bourguignon for lunch and others outside which patients lie for hours in ambulances.

The solution to inequality isn’t that we should all wear navy overalls, receive an exactly equal amount of pay, and report the slightest hint of idiosyncrasy in our neighbours to the authorities. One thinker who rejected this dreary vision was Karl Marx. In his view, it is the commodity form, not socialism, which reduces things to a dead level. Marx was opposed to equality of income because it ignored the concrete differences between individuals, not least their different needs. Equality doesn’t mean that we should all be treated the same, but that everyone’s diverse needs should be equally attended to. Equality isn’t a property people have, like their weight or height or skin colour, but a way of dealing with them in all their unique particularity.

Social democrats tend to believe that things are fundamentally moving in the right direction. There are problems, to be sure, some of them fairly sizeable, but with sufficient determination we can sort them out. There are patches of horror and inhumanity in an otherwise satisfactory social landscape. Socialists wonder if people like this have either taken leave of their senses or simply don’t read the newspapers. It’s not that socialists are nihilists or defeatists; on the contrary, they hold that a transformed world is a realistic proposition. It is just that such change must be achieved against the grain of the world as we have it, which is far from being an auspicious place: the modern era has witnessed some magnificent advances in humanitarian values, but at present they are forced to co-exist with genocide, destitution, the spread of authoritarianism, the rise of the far-Right, the threat of nuclear annihilation and the growing possibility of climate catastrophe.

“The social democratic faith that gross inequalities might gradually be eroded is pathetically dewy-eyed.”

The true fantasists, then, are not wild-eyed anarchists or harebrained utopianists but those in sober suits for whom radical change is either unnecessary or beyond our capacity, an outlook of which past history is a living disproval. More particularly, it is the dreamers for whom a world groaning in agony can be reformed by a modest wealth tax or a spot of nationalisation. The German philosopher Walter Benjamin observed that revolution is not a runaway train but the application of the emergency brake. The argument that matters now is between those who think that the brake on climate disaster can be thrown while maintaining current property relations, and those who regard this as a potentially lethal form of nostalgia. As Naomi Klein puts it in Doppelganger, the alternative to getting rid of those who put their profits above the survival of humanity is “effectively deciding to let continents where ‘inferior races’ reside burn and drown because… the alternative interrupts the flow of limitless accumulation”. In this crucial clash of views, social democrats would seem to be on the wrong side.

When I was a student, I spent a summer vacation working as a warehouseman at a branch of M&S. There was a large chart on the wall of the canteen, inscribed with graphs in various colours, and I asked a fellow warehouseman, Henry, what it all meant. He explained that the different graphs represented the monthly sales of our store compared to other branches of M&S, and that the point of this was to encourage some amicable competition between these various groups of workers. All those who worked in my branch were aware that, despite this esprit de corps, they could be fired or have their wages slashed at any time, and most of them recognised that the main point of the amicable competition was to create the right psychological climate for pumping more profit out of them. They were expected to identify with a company that they knew was in no sense their own. Henry and I stared in silence at the chart for a while, and then he spoke. “It’s all phoney, isn’t it?”


Terry Eagleton is a critic, literary theorist, and UnHerd columnist.


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j watson
j watson
4 days ago

Of course many commentators went back and reviewed Marx after the 2008 Crash and found that his diagnosis had much that had proven correct. Much of that still holds. Where the dispute remains is the prognosis.
Inequality has increased and gone into reverse the last 40yrs, accelerating significantly in recent years raising major questions about the efficacy of Neo-Liberalism. Trickle down does not work to the degree needed to maintain the bonds of community. This begs v fundamental questions about how we have capitalism structured and for who’s benefit.
The Author makes clear, as did Marx, equality of outcome is not the aim. It would stifle human development. But he is ‘lite’ on steps to achieve a better distribution.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Only a man who never went shopping could have conceived the Labour Theory of Value, with its underlying assumption that investment always produces a return – an assumption seemingly shared by Rachel Reeves. He was right about class though.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago
Reply to  j watson

“Of course many commentators went back and reviewed Marx after the 2008 Crash and found that his diagnosis had much that had proven correct. Much of that still holds. Where the dispute remains is the prognosis.”

Marx has time and time again been proven wrong on every point and prediction he has made, so much so that all the Marxists had to abandon the economic aspects of his theories and instead focus on culture to remain relevant. Let’s look at some of his predictions shall we.

– The most capitalist countries will the first to become communist.

Well so far not a single capitalist country has become communist unless it was invaded by the Soviets, in fact the only countries to fall to communism were the least capitalist countries and instead absolute monarchies.

– The great war will lead to a global communist revolution
Hmm I don’t know about you but looking around their really was only one major revolution and although it was technically a socialist one it was a little too nationalistic for most. Meanwhile France, the UK, and most of the other countries of the world made it through intact and are still around today.

– Inequality would continue to increase.

Well this is one people point to the last 20 years proudly as if it proves their point, igniring that inequality has been shrinking for the 80 years before that, and maybe it’s not necessarily related to some sort of inherent structure of the system itself but something else phoney baloney going on. Beyond that it seems to me that the societies that follow Marx have had, and still do have much much more inequality than the current capitalists ones but maybe I’m mistaken and China actually is some sort of liberated workers paradise, not a system where they put nets around factories to keep the workers from jumping off the roof.

– Socialist governments will eventually become vestigial and whither away to a glorious religionless, goventmentless, classless society.

And finally Marx’s primary thesis and prediction and the biggest porky of the lot. Every time the Reds have seized power it seems that rather than society magically turning into a little utopian paradise it devolved into a hellish slave state that would make the most tyrannical of kings and emperors from days of yore jealous of the absolute control the communists have had over their people.

And before you object I know “that wasn’t real communism” and “those don’t count because…” And “this time it will be totally different.” I’m sure it will son I’m sure this is the one time that the politicians will become honest upright and trustworthy and actually govern in the people’s interest and there won’t be any scheming, lying, or gaslighting of the people.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
4 days ago

The left has a lot of invective, but it hasn’t got a clue. At least conservatives and social democrats have practical plans for how to organize society rooted in human nature. I would like Mr. Eagleton to tell us what a society where everyone’s diverse needs are equally attended to, and all are dealt with in all their unique particularity would look like. Who are we to look to for this, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China? These socialist societies resulted in millions of dead unique individuals. 

Ivan Kinsman
Ivan Kinsman
4 days ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Socialism is a dead duck. Even Starmer recognises that and no surprise he kicked out the Far Lefties like Corbyn and his ilk.

Peter B
Peter B
4 days ago
Reply to  Ivan Kinsman

I wouldn’t be too sure about that.
The Left is also renowned for its factionalism and purges. Expelling Corbyn in no way proves you aren’t a closet socialist.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
4 days ago

One has to feel sorry for Terry Eagleton. He’s spent his life staring at “the charts on the wall”, and is ending it the biggest phoney of the lot.

Why so? He’s been unable to move on, or change a damn thing, whilst the system he so despises has allowed him to be precisely that which he maintains it doesn’t: a unique individual. In a truly socialist society, he’d have been expunged from the system (in his case, education) for being non-conformist. That makes him a phoney; most of all, to himself.

This essay reeks of it; a last ditch attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.

T Bone
T Bone
4 days ago

Terry- Explain how pure Socialism could possibly function in a Free Society? It REQUIRES force. It’s just rule by Bureacratic Expert. It’s the Government acting as a Giant Monopoly. It’s by definition arbitrary and undemocratic. Who decides what people are entitled to what amount of government benefit and/or privilege. Experts and who credentials the Experts? Politicians. Socialism is perpetual politics. Everything will always be “divisive” in a socialist system…at least until the “experts” decide dissent is a public health threat.

Martin M
Martin M
4 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

Exactly. The maxim “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is a good example. Who decides these “ability” and “need” things? The answer is always somebody who lives in a very nice dacha.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

I suspect the answer will always be a committee composed of academics and chaired by Terry Eagleton.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
4 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Весь вопрос—кто кого опередит.

N Forster
N Forster
4 days ago

Other than to get a glimpse of how people think who have managed to combine both conceit with naivety, it isn’t obvious why Unherd keep Eagleton on the payroll.

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
4 days ago

What a load of drivel. As for that supposedly insightful Naomi Klien quote it is on the backs of the poorest people in western society and the world that the radical green moves will fall the hardest and fastest. She and the author are unsurprisingly guilty of exactly the accusation they’re making of others. It’s a perfect illustration of Rob Hendersons ‘Luxury Beliefs’ in action. I’m not sure what path the authors life has taken since that M&S warehouse but I’ll wager the awfulness of capitalism has been kind to this UnHerd contributor and now he’s advocating for pulling the ladder up behind himself and the rest of his cohort and letting everyone else struggle at the bottom of the barrel.

Ivan Kinsman
Ivan Kinsman
4 days ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

The best writer I have read on Socialism is Ayn Rand who, through her novels, shows up the group think and lethargy which it introduces into a society. I am always reminded of this by countries such as Poland that had to endure the Russian jackboot and whose economies stagnated, with everyone having a job but no-one interested in doing any work for their party overlords.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
4 days ago
Reply to  Ivan Kinsman

And isn’t it interesting how it was the shipyard workers, the bedrock of militant Socialism in the West, who threw it out.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 days ago
Reply to  Ivan Kinsman

Ayn Rand is not the best writer on anything. She is not a good writer at all. She championed selfishness as an intrinsic virtue, a severe if understandable hypercorrection of the Soviet misery she experienced first hand. Her Objectivism is not objective or balanced. In her world view, no taxes are just, but her expensive treatments were covered by Medicaid after she contracted lung cancer. It’s not that she never had a good point, but her novels are little more than stilted polemics, and she did not walk her talk.

sal b dyer
sal b dyer
4 days ago

I’m so glad I went through my socialist phase as a teenager and outgrew it quickly. I remember sitting in some meeting or other, listening to nonsense such as the above. The chap next to me [a complete stranger] leant over and whispered “These people don’t live in the real world”. The penny dropped, I left and never went back. Poor Terry having to live with perpetual disappointment.

Sean Lothmore
Sean Lothmore
4 days ago

The socialist narrative tends to shy away from dealing with the realities of demographics. But when it does, things get nasty.

Andy White
Andy White
4 days ago

The Left has always had the most convincing critique of modern life and this superb article is a prime example. But it leaves you thinking “…yes… then what?” How could a confrontation with the markets play out without jeopardising the living standards of the very people the Left are trying to help? Their answers to the “then what?” question are far less convincing.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 days ago

The Sunday Times analysis yesterday revealed what most of us already knew: Starmer’s support, like that of Blair, is strongest amongst the rentier class of the home counties, who will no doubt be rewarded with steadily increasing house prices and lots of £100k plus holiday jobs in an expanded public sector, just as Blair’s were.

Socialism, yes. Socialism for the rich.

Ivan Kinsman
Ivan Kinsman
4 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Andrew Neil in The Daily Mail:
But perhaps the area of Left-leaning dominance that is best financed and most powerful is to be found in the myriad state agencies known as quangos (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations) — public bodies financed by the taxpayer, at arm’s length from the government but with members appointed by government and often with substantial funds and regulatory powers.
Quangos are now ubiquitous in British public life. There are almost 300 of them with a combined annual budget of around £250 billion — an incredible 20 per cent of public spending — and range from huge operations (the Environment Agency) to prestigious organisations (the Arts Council) to obscure ones that most folk have never heard of (Active Travel England) and whose duties and responsibilities are a mystery.
They are a huge gravy train for the great-and-the-good Left. They are largely populated by metropolitan middle-class professionals who have little aptitude for business and profess a fashionable dislike for the profit-motive, which goes down well with their peers. But they like the status and rewards of high-profile public life. 

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
3 days ago
Reply to  Ivan Kinsman

Is that the same Andrew Neil who strongly supported lockdowns with severe penalties for those who wouldn’t be vaccinated…or a different non supporter of State compulsion Andrew Neil whose existence has previously gone unnoticed?
If the former then he has no credibility left whatsoever…

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
2 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

‘Champagne socialism’ has been a known phenomenon for decades. It’s always the middle classes who champion a certain type of ‘compassionate capitalism’. They want the spoils of capitalism but at the same time despise themselves for it. Acquire it, but behave as if you don’t really want it – & neither should anyone else. Such a sad cognitive dissonance.

Frank Litton
Frank Litton
4 days ago

As an outsider, not a native, not based in the United Kingdom, a regular visitor to Unherd, I relish the provocations to think again, or perhaps to think at all. The diversity is a delight, the commitment to the long-thought, admirable. I envy the culture from which emerges. I detect, however, a dark strain whenever a piece by Terry Eagleton appears. Is anti-intellectualism embedded in British culture? How else to explain the chorus of abuse that inevitably follows in the comments? Without argument, without reason, without discussion, without courtesy, he is dismissed as ‘academic’, ‘out of touch’ perched in an ‘ivory tower’, captive to a ‘discredited ideology’. Is it his working-class background? His Irish roots? The catholic formation that marks his work? Far more likely, what we have is a case of a ‘prophet in his own land’. Prophets compel us to gaze on what we would rather not see. And Eagleton does this with some wit. Prophets typically offer hope; return to the right path, follow it and we will be redeemed. Eagleton, or rather Marx, fails us in this regard. Marx thought, not without reason, that the contradictions inherent in Capitalism would result in crises and, eventual collapse. A social dynamic accompanied the economic dynamic as classes came to self-consciousness and the largest, the working class confronted the bourgeoisie to win a victory for the ‘universal’ interest. None of this has come to pass, and we no longer have reason to suppose it will. Perhaps, We should not be surprised that prophet without hope is cast beyond the pale.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago
Reply to  Frank Litton

I also am from across the pond as the tea drinkers would say, and enjoy Unheard for much the same reason you do but I find it disagreeable how anti-intllectualism is treated as some sort of sin, as though people were against thinking at all rather than the individuals who classify themselves as intellectuals as though “the experts” can do no wrong.

Many of the worst crimes and movements of human history have been prepetrared by the intelligestia who were so smart if people just listened to them everything would be fine. Examples include sterilizing the criminal, anything to do with race, eugenics was quite popular among the intellectuals until a certain Austrian painter made that viewpoint unfashionable, the current “soft on crime” push, and a dozen other examples.

Maybe the issue is not with intellectualism and thinking per say but rather the haughty superior condescending bearing with which the “intellectuals” conduct themselves, reminiscent of a 17 year old that has figured out everything about how the world works if just he was in charge, and at the same time the terrifying insistence of enforcing their particular ideas onto the rest of us lot via the force of law.

But what do I know I’m just one of those “deplorables” in those worthless fly over states that “clings to my guns and Bible” and could never understand the great workings of the minds such “I am the Science” Fauci.

Patrick Martin
Patrick Martin
4 days ago
Reply to  Frank Litton

Unfair. I agree play the ball, not the man. But few comments have been personally abusive of Eagleton; most have been devastatingly critical of his arguments.

Peter B
Peter B
3 days ago
Reply to  Frank Litton

It could only be “anti-intellectualism” if Eagleton were a genuine intellectual. I think most readers here are pretty well educated and have reached the conclusion that he isn’t (I certainly have).

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago

To be frank I found this article rather black and white, and thus oversimplistic. It is not a stark choice between unfettered capitalism or no capitalism at all. It can be a choice between unfettered capitalism and a balance between state and capitalism i.e. moderated capitalism.
I am a member of the Social Democratic Party. As a party we are convinced this model can work. There is an increasing wealth gap in the UK that is obvious for all to see, brought about by a full-on capitalistic model. There needs to be a narrowing of this income gap and social democracy can achieve it. and in our manifesto it states:
SOCIAL MARKET ECONOMYOpen, competitive, free markets are the best and most efficient system for providing general goods and services. At the same time, successful nations depend on a strong and capable state to provide fundamentals such as the rule of law, public order, energy supply, transportation, education, and to ensure that free markets function properly and do not descend into cartels or monopolies. The public and private sectors are complementary parts of our society and should not be regarded as opponents. This is the SDP’s distinct Social Market position.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago

“The social democratic faith that gross inequalities might gradually be eroded is pathetically dewy-eyed. These inequalities have now plunged to abyssal depths”

So the 19th century factories full of children, the destitute, starving and those in debtors prisons are not worse than the poorest in society today? Sorry, I must have imagined the incredible progress and near-exponential increase in GDP per capita and material net gains for everyone in society since the industrial revolution. Not one of the 50+ socialist states that ever existed (and failed) produced these results (usually they went backwards).

You’ve got to laugh at someone who quotes Karl Marx seriously…but then I look at Venezuela where people really do eat from bins outside the elites’ Humvees parked in front of high end steak restaurants in what Hugo Chavez called a true socialist state, cheered on by the Guardian and other fellow travellers…and I realise it isn’t a joke for millions people, even this long after after the cold war.

There are lots of people like Terry Eagleton, and they all end up eaten by their revolutions. Just ask Arthur Koestler

Bernard Davis
Bernard Davis
4 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

What reactionary twaddle. One word refutes your argument: China. Have you been living under a rock for the past 30 years?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 days ago
Reply to  Bernard Davis

Eh? The minute Deng Xiaping took power and dismantled Mao’s Marxist economic framework (which, as usual, killed millions) and replaced it with capitalism…guess what? Chinese lives improved exponentially and it eventually took China up the GDP table to no.2. China is simply now a repressive capitalist state, perhaps more in common with General Pinochet’s Chile than the Soviet Union, it is not Communist (although Xi seems to want to take it back to USSR style governance, so watch out for that)

I would suggest it is you who has been under a rock

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago

If, to quote the article, “social democracy is the faith that capitalism and human well-being can be reconciled” then perhaps socialism is the faith that centralised planning and human liberty can be reconciled.

michael harris
michael harris
4 days ago

In this, and in very many other tracts, try substituting the word ‘narrative’ with the word ‘story’. Then see if you think somewhat differently.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago

“change must be achieved against the grain of the world as we have it”
That sort of euphemistic language from the hard left has always scared the hell out of me.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago

“The argument that matters now is between those who think that the brake on climate disaster can be thrown while maintaining current property relations, and those who regard this as a potentially lethal form of nostalgia.”

I always love when the communists believe that somehow their little dictatorial economic philosophy is inherently more environmentally sustainable than capitalism. It’s always always funny to see the pretzels they turn themselves into when you ask them what happened to the Aral Sea, or the Chinese Swallows.

I also love how the only possible solution to the climate catastrophe is never things like alternative energy, nuclear power, and sequestration or anything else it always seems to be the only possible solution is the imposition of a totalitarian government telling people where they can and cannot drive, what they can and cannot eat and basically controlling everything in their lives.

“the alternative interrupts the flow of limitless accumulation”

I finally find this little gem glorious for its cognitive dissonance. The beginning started talking about how the existence of poverty proves that capitalism is wrong, then concludes by saying that we can’t make anymore stuff, that we can’t alleviate poverty by the production of more goods. I find it hilarious how socialists seem to scream that we need to take the money from the rich without actually producing anything more as though money itself will feed and clothe people instead of representing an abstract store of value. I don’t know about others but for me I’d just prefer a world in which everything became cheaper because of the plenty rather than taking everything and reapportioning it by force. I mean one school of thought has done more to increase human longevity, advance human capabilities and basically by and large eliminated starvation as a spectre haunting humanity. The other has led to string after string of psychopathic maniacs commiting the greatest atrocities the world has ever seen.

But it will 100% work this time I’m sure.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

It’s an extreme version of the ‘pie problem’ exhibited by 18th C France and Britain, both with comparable sized populations and scientific and engineering talent pools – socialistic/bureaucratic France believed there was only a limited pie to round the whole world, if you wanted more pie you had to take it from someone else. capitalist Britain simply believed that if you wanted more pie then you could make it, and keep making more pies. Guess whose economy and living standards grew the most?

Your last comment nails it – have you ever read ‘Socialism, the failed idea that never dies’ by Kristian Niemietz? This is basically the subject of the whole book, it ends with a brilliant what if? scenario with east Germany giving it a go as a kind, compassionate socialist state (spoiler: it fails as always)

Link: https://iea.org.uk/publications/socialism-the-failed-idea-that-never-dies/

Claire M
Claire M
4 days ago

Excellent, entertaining and insightful article that nails Starmer beautifully. Starmer is shifty and lacks integrity. As DPS he was complicit in some pretty dreadful underhand acts – including rendition (torture of political prisoners abroad) and persecution of Julian Assange. He’s an imposter of the worst kind.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 days ago

 it’s generally understood that “socialist” is code for social democrat
It is amazing how people will twist the language into all sorts of knots to justify their aims. There are no social democrats. There are people who want to fund an expansive welfare and understand that taxing the productivity of a capitalist economy is the only way to do it.
This wording creates an illusion that is apparent in the US where people think education and health care are “free” because no one pays at the point of sale. They pay all along, in the form of higher income taxes and VATs, both of which if tried here would spark a second revolution.
Life affords no free lunches and the effort to fight that truth is no small reason for the massive amount of Western debt. Inequality exists no matter the political or economic isms that are involved. It exists in every walk of life, it exists among friends and co-workers, and it exists within families. No amount of govt intervention, known less politely as force and coercion, can change that.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
4 days ago

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if just one country in South or Central America, Africa, Southern Asia or South East Asia had become wealthy or even prosperous by following the path of socialism: just one.
As it is, socialism is the romantic dream of the the envious in the capitalist West.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 days ago
Reply to  Rachel Taylor

Over fifty times it has been tried…and failed…and the very best quality of life achieved by a socialist/communist state was East Germany. Where secret police are a feature not a bug, and where you were least likely to be brutally murdered by the state (just horrifically psychologically tortured or beaten if the Stasi were feeling energetic)

Peter B
Peter B
4 days ago

I simply don’t believe Mr. Eagleton’s anecdote about working in M&S when he was a student. At that time, M&S was a famously paternalistic company which looked after all its staff. In fact, I’ve never come across any instance of M&S “slashing employees wages at any time [moment]” simply because local/market conditions might have made that possible. I say that, knowing people who’ve worked there until quite recently. Frankly, I hope they sue him for defamation. Except that he’s not worth it.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 days ago

Surely Terry has lead a highly cosseted life, and his abiding faith in the impossible social revolution which never comes is more like a secular version of the Christian faith in human salvation & Heaven than anything rational, empirical or coherent.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
3 days ago

I just wasted 3.minutes reading this nonsense. Ps M&S were the best and most generous employers in those days.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
3 days ago

Capitism is purely barter. It’s not just the best way of adding value to human endeavour, it’s the only way. It’s also the only way we have gone as far as we have in reducing poverty around the world.
We humans need incentives to do our best. Without aspiration and reward there won’t be any wealth to redistribute. Socialism is nowadays is a euphemism for communism lite. I say ‘lite’ because everyone still wants their consumer comforts. Socialism relies on inexperience and gullibility to survive as an ideology. Humans can’t be equal unless we’re genetically engineered.

Max More
Max More
3 days ago

“The solution to inequality.” No. Inequality is not a problem. It is the outcome of free choices. Why is quality of outcome a value at all? The kind of inequality we should work against is the benefits created to certain parties from manipulating the coercive power of the state. Whether socialist or social democrats, these people will only sustain and increase the number of parasites using the state for their own gain.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
3 days ago

I am at a loss to understand why UnHerd continues to publish the infantile, unworldly thoughts of Mr Eagleton.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

Look at this thread… It generates clicks. I think it’s great, Terry is enabling the capitalism he claims to hate

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 days ago

Socialists believe they should own everything and thereby deny anyone they dislike the chance to feed themselves. They believe that they have the right to extract not just a percentage of the fruit of people’s labour but all of it. Socialism is slavery.

David Giles
David Giles
3 days ago

“Campaigns for bleeding the workforce dry or shackling them to their benches don’t go down well with the electorate.”

As long as we continue accepting such idiotic descriptions of Capitalism we will doom ourselves to perpetual poverty. We are emotionally exactly where Russia was 60 years ago.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke
3 days ago

An interesting piece but irrelevant as far as the new Government is concerned as it is neither socialist nor social democratic. It is a Conservative Government 2 or maybe the previous Government was social democratic but there is not a scintilla of difference between them except that the new crowd are fresh. The other lot, understandably, were exhausted after fourteen years. Britain is now in the position we have been in since 1922 – two identical parties alternating in government. Continuity is one thing, no change of government in 100 years is something else.

M To the Tea
M To the Tea
2 days ago

People often confuse socialism with many other things, like fascism, because they don’t understand it. They have never seen it, so it is the unknown that scares them. However, if China could become the most powerful country within 25 years, beating the father of capitalism, perhaps we should consider adopting some of their practices. LOL do not beat the messenger!