Communism — Why Not?

September 4, 2009 at 11:27 am (By Realpc) ()

I keep hearing progressives use the word “communism,” and they obviously are not afraid of the idea. Certainly not these days, now that we “know”capitalism doesn’t work. They explain how happy everyone is in Scandanavian countries, and what a crime it is that the richest country on earth, America, does not take care of its citizens. If you tell them communism has been tried and it failed every time, they say it never was done correctly. If you tell them the Scandanavian countries are actually capitalist, they change the subject. If you tell them communism is not compatible with individual rights and freedom they won’t believe it. Or they’ll say we aren’t free anyway, in a country owned by giant corporations.

So why not give communism a chance, now that we don’t seem to have much to lose anyway? We’re being strangled by too-big-to-fail monsters, in league with a government full of crooks. How could communism be any worse than this? Aren’t we smart enough by now to create a system that is fair and efficient and logical, and compassionate?

You would think so, with all the noble prize-winning scientists and economists we have here. How hard can it really be?

What they don’t see is that creating a functioning economic system is one of those things that seems like it should be possible, but isn’t. Scientists have never created a living organism, they have never created a computer with anything like human intelligence. And for similar reasons, they will never create a functioning economic system (not to mention a functioning system that is also fair and compassionate).

Progressives have not ever been able to see the limits of science and human intelligence. If humans can build rockets and split atoms, they should becapable of anything.

I won’t try to prove my point in this short post. I’ll just say, for now, that human intelligence and science have limits. We can make progress in certain ways but not in other ways. And our progress always has unforeseen consequences. Conservatives generally know this, or at least are much more likely to know it than progressives. Progressives don’t know it, won’t believe it, and can’t see it.

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44 Comments

  1. Theo Boehm said,

    I KNEW there was a reason to keep the Soviet Union around.

  2. wj said,

    In some senses, it is simple elitism. First, the people proposing it just know that they are smarter than everybody else, so anything that seems like a nice idea to them must be a good idea. Second, and probably more significant, they just know that people elsewhere (outside their personal social circle, but especially in any country where people don’t live and act like their close friends and neighbors) are just inferior — and therefore anything that went wrong must have been due to that inferiority, not to any deficiency in their wonderful vision.

    Russians tried it? So what, obviously simple peasants who couldn’t understand. Chinese tried it? So what, not even white people. Etc., etc., etc.

    Actually, it doesn’t matter whether the vision of a perfect world is based on whacky economics or whacky religion. Actual evidence that conflicts with the vision will always be ignored, discounted, or put down to special circumstances which do not apply in general. Because, you know, the perfect vision must be . . . perfect. Not to mention unquestionable.

  3. huxley said,

    They abolished money in Star Trek. I don’t know why we can’t.

    More seriously, I can imagine a future in which humanity is so much wealthier that money is taken almost for granted. What if everyone effectively had a trust fund that generated $200,000 / year?

    Perhaps I’ve been sipping at the cup of Kurzweil too long, but when one looks over the sweep of wealth that has been generated in the past two hundred or two thousand years, I find it believable.

    It won’t make humanity or society perfect but it will be different. One way I understand the utopianism on the left is that they are impatient for the future and believe that they can legislate it into existence.

  4. Donna B. said,

    They might as well try to legislate human nature.

  5. realpc said,

    “Perhaps I’ve been sipping at the cup of Kurzweil too long”

    Yes you have. We can’t assume things will happen just because we can imagine them.

    “What if everyone effectively had a trust fund that generated $200,000 / year?”

    Money is inherently relative. If everyone has a lot of it, it isn’t worth much. That’s inflation.

  6. huxley said,

    Read me a bit more carefully, realpc.

    I don’t assume things will happen. I said, based upon the expansion of wealth from the past to the present, I can imagine a similar expansion into the future. Period.

    Money is inherently relative.

    Yes and no. There are survival and comfort thresholds. The difference between $1000/year and $10,000/year is a very different game than the difference $10,000/yr and $100,000 year.

    Notice how a fair number of people who have trusts in the vicinity of $100.000/yr simply stop working. Meanwhile, there are CEOs who go nuts about the difference between $1mil and $2mil per year.

  7. huxley said,

    If everyone has a lot of it, it isn’t worth much. That’s inflation.

    No. I’m speaking in adjusted dollars.

    The per capita wealth and income for Americans in 2000 is much higher than that of Americans in 1900 evem after the money is adjusted for inflation.

    Over the centuries there has been a steady expansion of real human wealth. I assume it will continue for some time longer, though how far I don’t presume to say.

    Some of our problems today are due to that expansion and the higher expectations people now have.

  8. wj said,

    There are survival and comfort thresholds.

    The survival thresholds are relatively absolute. But the comfort thresholds are very, very relative. You can be in grinding poverty in America, and have pretty much everybody in the country agree that you are — and be living on a comfort scale which would have been available only to the very rich a century ago, and still is unavailable to most of humanity. Indeed, you are poor on a comfort level that would have been unavailable, indeed unimaginable, to anyone on the planet two centuries ago. And yet you feel poor and deprived.

    As a result, while I agree that the level of wealth will most likely continue to rise (for Americans, and for human beings generally), money will still not be taken for granted. Simply because it will still mean the difference between different levels of relative comfort. And people will want that higher level of comfort. Not everybody, of course — just as there are people today who are happily living on very little because it is enough to survive and doing so allows them to do something that they want to do. But in general, there will always be a lot more who want material comforts than who have other priorities.

  9. realpc said,

    We have a lot of luxuries, gadgets and entertainment now, that was undreamed of 100 years ago. But it’s still hard to survive, in some ways even more so. It’s hard to get the education required for decent jobs, hard to find a job, hard to be in the rat race. People are exhausted just from trying to survive. And we have to buy and repair all this expensive equipment just to survive. You can’t function well in this society without a phone, plus a cell phone, and a relatively new computer and internet connection. And of course a car. It’s all very expensive. And just basic health care, if you ever need it, is so expensive we all need insurance, which is expensive. Our employers would pay us a lot more if they didn’t have to pay for our health insurance.

    Some things were a lot harder in the past, but maybe not everything. And it was possible to live simply, and now it isn’t. Not unless you happen to be wealthy.

    I think we have a hard life, and in that sense we are not so well off. Americans are sleep deprived and exhausted, usually working far more than 40 hours a week. And that’s often just to get the bills paid.

    If you have children they need all kinds of expensive things. In the agrarian past, children made you richer with their labor, but now they make you poorer.

    Progressives are always singing how things used to be so bad, have gotten so much better, and will continue to improve. But in reality some things are better, others are worse, and we have no idea what the future will be like. It probably won’t be anything like Star Trek.

    I find it ironic that progressives never blame progress for our problems, even though that is what caused most of them. Instead they blame business and the fact that people want to make money. But money is nothing but a symbol for food and shelter and everything else we need and want. Progressives want and need just as much as the rest of us.

  10. realpc said,

    “Over the centuries there has been a steady expansion of real human wealth”

    It all depends what you consider wealth. Now you can drive to the store and pay a lot of money for food. In the past you might have gone out in the woods and shot a deer. So it depends if you think it’s more fun to drive to the store and pay money. I think a lot of people would enjoy the freedom and independence of shooting the deer, of being outside rather than stuck in dangerous traffic.

    It depends what you like, and we are not all the same. There isn’t enough land and wilderness left for us to live independently anymore, if we wanted to. Giant agriculture companies have taken over that business. Traditional people all over the world are being squeezed and pressured out of their independent lifestyle, woven into the giant hectic industrial fabric.

    Our technology is very likely to destroy us, but if by some miracle it doesn’t, it will continue to generate new and unforeseeable problems.

  11. realpc said,

    And I would also like to add, even though it isn’t exactly relevant to the post, that progressives are at least as hypocritical as all those fundamentalist Christians preachers who cheat on their wives. Progressives want comfort and prosperity for everyone, they despise the injustice of inequality. They abhor racism and discrimination.

    That means progressives are good people, right? Well no, it means they THINK they are good people. And as we all probably know, it’s the people who think they are good who you really have to watch out for.

    Progressives believe they stand for love, and that justifies the contempt they feel for anything that opposes their vision. A progressive says she believes everyone in the world should be given food, shelter and health care. If you disagree then you must be mean and selfish and uncaring.

    She wants everyone in the world to be happy, and after wanting it she feels unselfish and satisfied with herself. She has done enough just by thinking it and saying it. Everyone should have all they need and everyone should be happy. If you don’t agree you must be bad or stupid or crazy.

    And the idea that everyone should be happy, or could be happy, is never questioned in the progressive ideology. All that is needed is people who are good and smart to make it happen, as long as the evil conservatives don’t ruin everything. But they always do, so the progressives always have that as an excuse. The bad guys screwed everything up for us.

  12. realpc said,

    And regardless — my original point was that it isn’t possible to create an economic system. Progressives — a lot of them anyway — believe the Soviet Union was a good idea and could have worked. And it’s hard for those of us who feel certain that the Soviet Union could not have worked given the best possible circumstances to explain exactly why we think that.

    It’s like perpetual motion machines — there are people who cannot accept that they are impossible. The feel sure it could be done and will be done. It always failed in the past because it wasn’t done right, they insist.

    Communism is something like that. There are communal societies but they are usually either authoritarian cults or small religious groups. Even most of the small communal experiments have failed, because the members of these societies must all be on the same wavelength. Either they all worship the cult leader, or follow exactly the same belief system.

    Many primitive societies have been egalitarian and somewhat communist, and these have sometimes been models for modern socialist ideas. But small primitive tribes are made up of people who all have the same beliefs and values, so within group conflict is not very likely. And if there was conflict, the groups simply split up and went their separate ways.

    Creating a large-scale complex communist society is a very different story. In communism, everyone must agree, but of course that is never the case in a large heterogeneous group. So force becomes necessary. And even if you manage to get the population under control through force, you still have to create the economic system. And that is not possible.

    Why exactly I think it isn’t possible is hard to explain and I already have written almost all the comments on my own post. But it’s similar to why scientists still don’t understand how the brain works, or how DNA works, and why they can’t create life or a machine with real intelligence.

    It has to do with levels in a complex system. We are on one level, and whatever created us is on a higher level. We cannot create anything more complex, or more intelligent, than ourselves. And economic systems are in some ways more intelligent than we are.

  13. huxley said,

    It all depends what you consider wealth.

    realpc: Oh, come on. Do you really doubt that overall people have more food, more possessions. better health, longer lives, and more leisure, as well as fancier technical gadgets?

    We were talking about material wealth, not spiritual values. You were taking me to task with one set of silly objections and now that you lost those points you are lurching off with another set of woolly complaints and indulging some set of pet peeves about progressives

    Bottom line: The standard of living for human beings has been rising steadily since we developed rudimentary technology and agriculture. Even though there are vastly more of us today, fewer of us are starving to death or succumbing to disease, life spans are increasing, people accumulate wealth and possession and leave them to their children, and so on and so on.

  14. realpc said,

    “better health, longer lives, and more leisure”

    No, you have bought all the progressive propaganda. But I can’t talk now, will later. But it’s my same old lecture about the myth of better health.

  15. wj said,

    It is true that some people today work very hard, and long hours, too. But anyone who thinks, even for a minute, that we do not have more leisure, etc. needs to do some serious research on one topic: subsistence agriculture. I have, in my youth, been close enough to have some first-hand idea what that is like. Physically, it is harder than any job you can find in 21st century America. (Yes, including stoop agricultural labor, which gets done almost entirely by immigrants because Americans just won’t do it.)

    And as for “just go out in the woods and shoot a deer,” yeah that works great . . . if there happens to be a deer available today. Or this week. And if there isn’t, you go hungry until something turns up. There was a reason that animal husbandry displaced hunting as the major source of meat in the diet, and it wasn’t people being blinded by propaganda.

    If you don’t think we have better health, just check out infant mortality rates. And, just to keep it separate from that, life expectancy at 20. Sure, you can trash your health thru bad choices. But first you get to live long enough to make those choices.

    Personally, I’m not totally convinced by progressive propaganda either. For openers, I have serious doubts about the pure wonderfulness, after a certain point, of simple material improvements. But that doesn’t mean just ignoring the actual material progress that has occurred. And to argue that material improvements so far have not given people significantly better lives requires IMHO willful ignorance.

  16. Rod said,

    Huxley, I respectfully think the problems with controlled economies are more complex. If everyone had a trust fund paying $200,000 per year, some folks would stop working, while others would continue to work. The price of most things would go up. (It would take a lot of money to induce somebody to take a job pumping out septic tanks, but the market would eventually set a price.) There are limited numbers of some things. People like the 6,000 square foot house with the marble foyer and a magnificent view of the city, but there are not enough of them to go around. You can be sure nobody would be able to afford them on a $200,000 per year income.

    If you abolished money altogether, people would still want the great house with the great view, etc. But now, it would be owned by the government and provided to people on the basis of government dispensation. How would that allocation work? In the former Soviet Union, the goodies were divided based on power and government influence. Kruschev had no more money that a street sweeper, but he had a lovely Dacha in the country, a nice car, etc.

    In a capitalist society, it is about how much money you have. In a communist society, it is about who you know.

  17. amba12 said,

    Talk about through the looking glass — I thought it was communism we knew didn’t work?!

  18. amba12 said,

    Scientists have never created a living organism

    Craig Venter claims to be on the brink of doing so, however. Of course, it’s a mere bacterium. And it may fail to live.

  19. amba12 said,

    Yes and no. There are survival and comfort thresholds. The difference between $1000/year and $10,000/year is a very different game than the difference $10,000/yr and $100,000 year.

    But, Huxley, that’s not counting inflation.

  20. amba12 said,

    Sorreeee, I spoke too soon.

  21. amba12 said,

    And it was possible to live simply, and now it isn’t. Not unless you happen to be wealthy.

    LOL!

  22. realpc said,

    “If you don’t think we have better health, just check out infant mortality rates.”

    Yes it’s all infant mortality, and that’s a whole other story and I have explained my opinions on all this here already. I have explained the infant mortality is low and there are antibiotics and surgery. And generally terrible health. And no one knows very much about the health of societies in the past. And some had leisure and some didn’t, and you are generalizing like crazy because you need to believe things are just fabulous now and getting ever better.

  23. realpc said,

    “Craig Venter claims to be on the brink of doing so, however. Of course, it’s a mere bacterium. And it may fail to live.”

    They are always on the brink of all the things I mentioned that they cannot do. And they cannot believe they can’t do them. Because they have no concept of higher levels of organization. They are materialist/atheists so higher levels are unimaginable.

  24. realpc said,

    “And as for “just go out in the woods and shoot a deer,” yeah that works great . . . if there happens to be a deer available today.”

    If you lived in a time and place where there were game and your tribe followed them, they were available. And sometimes people starved. That is how nature works, and nature is something you cannot accept. You would rather have giant agribusiness destroying all the farmland so, for now, no one has to starve. But instead of starving we have all kinds of other problems.

    I am not getting into this now. You only see one side because you that’s the side you want to see. I am not against modern life, but I am still able to look at more than one perspective.

  25. amba12 said,

    I have serious doubts about the pure wonderfulness, after a certain point, of simple material improvements.

    Yeah, like cars that all but wipe your butt for you, look in the rear-view mirrors for you, remember your iPod playlist and key it to your mood as discerned from skin conductance on the steering wheel, remember your fast-food preferences …

  26. amba12 said,

    Getting in a car like that is like getting back in the womb. It’s suffocating.

    The intelligence that runs us, below the threshold of consciousness, from the constant fine adjustments of metabolism, to the efficient exchange of gases, nutrients, and wastes, protein synthesis, DNA repair, breathing, heartbeat, nerve impulse conduction, subliminal attention ready to alert us to potential danger, opportunity, pleasure, the constant tiny adjustments that keep us suspended lightly in gravity — this is what’s being called “the new unconscious,” and it is infinitely more intelligent than we are. We could never create it or comprehend it. Even if we had mapped out one of its transactions, by the time we did it would have moved on matter of factly through thousands more. The sheer number of interlocking, interacting feedback loops is something no computer of our invention could keep track of. The book Blink just barely touched on it.

    Then of course, as in the Amazon intro to the first book linked above, scientists start “questioning whether consciousness serves much of a function at all.” Jesus Christ. Even if you’re a strict Darwinian you could figure out that subjective fear and pleasure alone play a vital part in the system. We’ve made it to the point where we’re capable of a higher emotion: amazement.

    I find it as impossible to believe that this system just fell together by blind accident, trial and error as that a guy in the sky with a white beard designed it all. The whole thing is permeated with intelligence, and probably even with a consciousness or consciousnesses that we’re not conscious of.

    The Feldenkrais Method, again, is a way that our consciousness can reach out and make contact with that consciousness, just a little bit — through the particular modality of the interaction between the dynamics of the skeleton, the nervous system, and gravity. You get to be conscious with a little corner of its consciousness for a moment. And you experience how brilliant it is, how fast it can learn.

  27. Charlie (Colorado) said,

    I keep hearing progressives use the word “communism,”

    Really? Where? Other than Van Johnson Jones, I mean.

  28. realpc said,

    ” find it as impossible to believe that this system just fell together by blind accident, trial and error as that a guy in the sky with a white beard designed it all. The whole thing is permeated with intelligence, and probably even with a consciousness or consciousnesses that we’re not conscious of.”

    You have more sense than most contemporary scientists. The contempt being directed at Intelligent Design amazes me. Why can’t they see what is so obvious to us? I guess they don’t want to see it, because it would mean science has limits.

  29. realpc said,

    “I keep hearing progressives use the word “communism,”

    Really? Where? Other than Van Johnson Jones, I mean.”

    I live in a blue state and I work for a scientific organization.

  30. realpc said,

    “If you abolished money altogether, people would still want the great house with the great view, etc. But now, it would be owned by the government and provided to people on the basis of government dispensation”

    That’s right. Communists have a bizarre faith in the ability of a governing organization to be fair.

    After the Cambodian revolution, the communists seized all possessions and wealth and abolished money. They did this because they thought money causes unfairness and inequality.

    And yes, abolishing money did make all the people equal — it also turned them into powerless slaves. They did what the government order or they starved, because the government was the only source of everything.

    Pol Pot only wanted to created a wonderful society, based on Marx’s teaching. He didn’t want to enslave and murder millions of people, but that is what he did.

    Money is the source of all evil, but that is only because it is the source of everything. It is merely a symbol for your ability to get the things you need and want. The more control the government has over money, the less power the citizens have.

    Through most of history there were kings and emperors with complete power over their subjects. Some were kinder than others and some were very cruel. But either way, you could never cross them.

    A merchant class gradually evolved in Europe and as they became richer the monarchy lost power. Capitalism made it possible for individuals to have some degree of rights and freedom, and this became the basis of the United States.

    Capitalism took off in the United States. This country was based on the idea that governments naturally become oppressive and must be controlled. Governments are necessary but dangerous. They are not loving and fluffy, your best friend — that’s your dog.

    Now we have a progressive movement that distrusts capitalism and worships government. George Lakoff said that conservatives see the government as a strict father, while progressives see it as a loving mother. He starts with the unquestioned assumption that everyone sees the government as a parent!

  31. realpc said,

    The American founders would not have been glad to see us worshiping our government and expecting it to care for us like children. But you can’t say anything about the American founders to progressives — they were just a bunch of white male slave-owners after all.

  32. realpc said,

    And by the way, just because I think government is dangerous and can’t be trusted doesn’t mean I trust capitalism and think it’s safe! Capitalism is treacherous, and we all know. But what progressives don’t know is that LIFE is dangerous, always was and always will be. They expect science to keep giving us ever-better comfort controlled environments where we don’t have to move a muscle. Safer and safer, easier and easier. They are blinded by the consoling mythology of ever-growing peace and comfort and safety, speeding along in air-conditioned cars and crashing into each other.

    Life isn’t safe, it never was supposed to be. Atheism is becoming a popular religion because it says nature is dead and mindless and therefore scientists can and will make it our slave.

  33. Rod said,

    It seems the alternate millennial image to Armageddon is increasing material wealth, it it may well be part of our future if we don’t destroy the planet and humanity first. But the fundamental difficulty is our envy and greed. The desire to rule the roost; to view everything through the lens of our own personal ego; is what got us into the situation where we need some sort of government in the first place. Left to our own devices, half of us can’t even find one person with whom to jointly subsume egos enough to remain married and faithful.

  34. Charlie (Colorado) said,

    “What if everyone effectively had a trust fund that generated $200,000 / year?”

    Actually, we do. I happened to do some computation recently for an article I’m going to write when I have a break from pay copy. Here’s an example: I can make a round trip to New York City by plane, in 5 hours each way, for roughly $200. (I see occasional specials for something like $70.)

    If I wanted to make that same trip by train in the 30’s, it would take me five days and cost, yes, around $200. Only that’s $200 in the 30’s, or around $2500 in today’s money.

    You can imagine a 1930’s newsreel, talking about the world of the future, saying “and in the year 2000, you’ll be able to travel from Denver to New York City in a matter of hours, not days, and it will only cost $15.”

  35. amba12 said,

    He starts with the unquestioned assumption that everyone sees the government as a parent!

    I see the government as a tumor. Something that started out as normal tissue but then began to multiply and metastasize and serve itself instead of the body politic.

    In regard to what Rod says, I find I’m still thinking about real’s swan piece.

    I wonder whether it isn’t natural to be a sociopath, without a conscience. Animals’ hierarchical and rivalrous social behavior is strictly governed by behavioral rituals and signals and by pheromones, not by conscience. Culture took over that governing rule in our case, but culture is malleable. So it’s stopped making society function like one organism in which every “cell” has its place and its duty. We humans still have our not very nice natural instincts, plus we have all kinds of crazy ideas on top of them, from compassion to the preeminence of the individual. On the one hand our minds are halls of mirrors that multiply and amplify our natural greed, lust, and aggression far beyond the boundaries of what’s necessary to survive and prevail, into boundless realms no animal could dream of. Their self-preserving, self-promoting drives are merely sufficient, ours are inflamed to extravagance by imagination. On the other hand, we are probably one of the few animals that actually realizes “the other is also a self” (Paul Ricoeur). The resultant fellow feeling can be a damned nuisance to our animal spirits. It slows us down from within and makes us question our drives.

    We’re a mess!

  36. Donna B. said,

    “What if everyone effectively had a trust fund that generated $200,000 / year?”

    The first thing that would happen is for somebody to clamor for a law that nobody could have MORE than $200,000/year! It’s difficult to decide whether envy or greed has the strongest pull.

  37. realpc said,

    “The desire to rule the roost; to view everything through the lens of our own personal ego; is what got us into the situation where we need some sort of government in the first place”

    If you read anything at all about anthropology you would know that isn’t true. People can get along well in small groups, the same as all the social mammals. Social insects can cooperate in very large groups, but of course we aren’t closely related to them. But cooperation and group living comes naturally to social animals. Yes they usually have at least informal leadership, but tyranny and oppression is really not the norm.

  38. realpc said,

    ” Left to our own devices, half of us can’t even find one person with whom to jointly subsume egos enough to remain married and faithful.”

    That’s because our modern society lacks a foundation in tradition. Traditions and norms are very useful things, but progressives can’t see this.

  39. realpc said,

    ” Animals’ hierarchical and rivalrous social behavior is strictly governed by behavioral rituals and signals and by pheromones, not by conscience. ”

    Amba,

    I agree with most of what you said. However I don’t think we can draw a line between instinct and learned culture. A lot of what animals do is actually learned, and they are not as different from us as we think. A lot of what we call “conscience” is really just social instinct.

  40. realpc said,

    I meant, I agree with most of what your comment said, except the line I quoted.

  41. realpc said,

    “tyranny and oppression is really not the norm.”

    Of course yes, I know that social animals use physical force. But I don’t see that as wrong. And their use of force is usually balanced and constrained in complex ways.

  42. realpc said,

    “I see the government as a tumor. Something that started out as normal tissue but then began to multiply and metastasize and serve itself instead of the body politic.”

    That’s what government always does, to some degree. But it also continues to serve the public to some degree, or it would be overthrown. The basic idea of the American founders, as I see it anyway, was to assume that government naturally tends to become a self-serving organism, and to find ways of keeping it reigned in. Progressives have completely forgotten this/ They remember how FDR saved the country (in their opinion anyway) with his strong leadership. Yes, there are times when the government needs to be strong. But we’re supposed to remember that the government will not voluntarily give back any power it took on during an emergency.

  43. Charlie (Colorado) said,

    But it also continues to serve the public to some degree, or it would be overthrown.

    A lot of tumors do too, although sometimes less well than you’d like. Thyroid CA still processes iodine and produces thyroid hormones. The problem is that it consumes the working parts of the body while doing so.

    Which means Amba’s metaphor is very apt indeed.

  44. realpc said,

    Charlie,

    Our government still functions. It does an awful lot for us that we take for granted. I am hardly a government lover, but we should try to be fair and objective.

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