Rawls’ ghost in the machine

Why a just society may require socialist robots

Rawls’ ghost in the machine

Karl Marx predicted the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) over 170 years ago. Buried within a dense, unfinished manuscript that he began in the 1850s but that remained unpublished until 1939, Marx predicted that “the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the… automatic system of machinery… set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself.” A complete and utter change in both form and function to the means of production.

AI can be loosely defined as the capacity of a machine to imitate human intelligence, whether in intensive pattern recognition, decision-making, or visual perception. It is set to reshape our society in ways we can barely imagine.

A 2016 study from the University of Oxford suggests that AI will eliminate about half of the United States’ human labour. In countries like Ethiopia where agriculture composes a substantial part of the economy, that number rises to 85 per cent.

This massive replacement of human labour by AI will radically change the structuring of our economic institutions. Some, including Elon Musk and Jack Ma, have argued that AI poses a cataclysmic threat to humankind — one that must be curbed.

As opposed to the approach laid out by billionaires who may have very good reasons to resist change to a system that has worked quite well for them I believe that the introduction of AI gives us an unprecedented opportunity to radically transform our economic and social systems for the better. Working not against AI, but with it, will allow us to build a truly just society from the upcoming ‘fourth industrial revolution.’

So what is justice, anyway?

Navigating this crossroads is no easy task, so I opt to employ a guide that will assist in building a just society. John Rawls, widely considered to be one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, presented an influential model of a just society in his aptly titled book, A Theory of Justice. In it, Rawls argues that justice is, in essence, fairness.

The proposed system is elegantly simple: it includes only two basic principles. The first is the “Liberty Principle.” In a just society, each person should have an equal set of basic liberties, familiar to those of us who live in liberal societies: freedom of speech, assembly, conscience, and thought; the right to vote for and hold public office; and so on. However, as Marx noted, while individuals can be religiously or politically free in a liberal state, they may not be able to act on those freedoms due to material constraints.

This brings Rawls to his second “Difference Principle.” This rule is egalitarian in nature; it prohibits all positions of inequality that are not in principle available to all think equality of employment and ensures that the inequalities benefit the least advantaged.

Having this roadmap in mind can help us assess the two questions that I think are at the heart of the debate over AI in the context of a just society: should AI be embraced, and who should own it?

Rise of the robots

Many are convinced that we should be worried about AI. The headlines write themselves. A Mother Jones article warned against job replacement, saying that “mass unemployment is a lot closer than we feared.” A piece in The Guardian discussed a “hollowing out” of the global middle class. Entrepreneur published a piece criticizing the European Union for its lax guidelines on AI.

Calls for halting the progress and implementation of AI are understandable, given that labour change has always been feared in capitalism. The iconic example of this are the Luddites, who destroyed textile machinery in protest of the replacement of traditional labour in the early nineteenth century.

However, maybe the Luddites weren’t necessarily protesting the machines as such. I imagine they would have been perfectly content with the implementations of textile machinery, which made their jobs less strenuous, safer, and more efficient, if their quality of life was not affected in the process.

The main concern people have with machinery, past or present, is not whether they will replace human beings. It is about income security but we will get to that later. Disregarding the loss of human labour, there is insurmountable potential for AI to create a more just society by improving upon our civil liberties, including our freedom of expression, assembly, fair trial, voting, life, and privacy.

It may, however, be tempting to ask whether liberal freedoms can be improved at all. After all, it seems that in an ideal liberal-democratic society, everyone already possesses these freedoms. There are no bars stopping racial or sexual minorities from voting, no Ministry of Public Security to thwart peaceful protests or democratic dissent, no ‘disappearance’ of dissenting journalists.

It is true that we enjoy an overwhelmingly inclusive set of civil liberties. However, the problem lies in the fact that their potential for application is unequal across the board. For example, a homeless man may very well have equal freedom of expression as the editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, but they do not have an equal chance to employ this freedom.

This pattern is much the same with other basic civil liberties: someone who lives in a rural community has a much harder time going to vote as opposed to urban dwellers; a person who holds major office can disseminate their voice much more effectively than a regular Joe; a Christian has an easier time practicing their religion than a Muslim. When applied to Rawls’ theory, this “scheme” of civil liberties is incompatible across the board, and is therefore, at least to some degree, unjust.

AI could act as the great equalizer for social liberties. It can make the world more accessible and freer for all users. The ability for advanced and logical problem solving can help overcome many barriers to civil liberties.

A self-directed and corporeal algorithm can, for example, help reach out and organize a protest, direct people to polling stations (or better yet, allow them to vote directly from their personal devices), disseminate voices to a large and diverse audience, and ensure that there is a fair legal process by representing clients.

It can allow for more accessible and integrative methods for religious practice, enhance our healthcare system, and protect our personal information and data from malicious software. A capable, accessible, and sophisticated intelligence has almost unlimited potential for the encouragement of positive liberties.

However, I would like to caution that current use of AI can also corrupt, rather than amplify, civil liberties. Predictive algorithms are used by police to disrupt peaceful protests, screen social media posts, or censor political opposition. Nevertheless, I believe that there are two sides to the AI story, and AI has the potential to ensure that our society is all the more just.

Some may scoff and point out that the picture laid above would be simply impossible to realistically implement. Why, they may ask, would the companies that create these algorithms be interested in enhancing personal liberties?

Indeed, it may be very well in their interest, and the interest of their shareholders, to limit our personal freedoms. They may do this by keeping us in echo chambers, blocking us from consuming content that is critical of companies or governments, or by selling personal information gathered by the algorithms to maximize profits.

How do we trust that AI will not exploit our civil liberties in the name of profit? The answer lies in the nature of ownership and control of the technology.

All ‘bout the money

Here, we arrive at the more pressing question: who should own AI? I mentioned previously that the main concern about machinery is not its nature rather, it lies with a potential decrease in quality of life. Here, Rawls’ second principle can come in handy.

There is a lot of money to be made in AI. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that AI has the potential to create between $3.5 trillion and $5.8 trillion annually across nine business functions in 19 industries and boost global productivity by around 1.2 per cent.

That may not sound like much, but the introduction of the steam engine and the spread of information technology only increased productivity by 0.3 and 0.6 per cent, respectively.

This outpour of wealth, however, would not satisfy Rawls’ second principle of justice under our current capitalist system. There would inevitably be an unequal distribution of the benefits and burdens of AI, one which would make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

A fully automated capitalist state would have two main outcomes, both of which would produce financial inequalities which would neither be accessible nor beneficial to all. First, there would be a marked loss of jobs.

Many middle-class jobs are classified as routine abstract work, such as accounting or customer service. Given that AI could easily perform most desk jobs, those slots would eventually disappear. Additionally, routine manual work, such as package delivery or agriculture, would also be gone.

The two fields that machines would presumably not replace are non-routine manual work, such as childcare or healthcare, and non-routine abstract work, such as architecture, coding, or researching.

This lack of jobs would be coupled with low money circulation. The number of transactions would fall, and money would instead be used for investments or savings. Given that only a select few would be privileged enough to hold their jobs, this would result in the gross accumulation of wealth in their hands because only they would have a disposable income.

This would, in turn, contribute to economic shrinkage, a terrifying concept for capitalists since it means that resources would be harder to acquire. The shrinkage would, in turn, result in more automation, since the capitalist class would benefit most from it, and more jobs would be lost. On and on the cycle would go, until the system presumably collapses.

The ‘just’ invisible hand

An automated capitalist state cannot uphold any of Rawls’ principles of justice. First, civil liberties could not be upheld in an equitable manner.

Superfluous economic power often translates into political power. Lobbying groups for the capitalist class would inevitably spring up, and with them a host of candidates who latch onto the rich for their own benefit.

White-collar crime is rarely prosecuted as severely as blue-collar crime, and the rich are often given much more leeway in the political and judicial system. The fair value of civil liberties would be controlled by the handful who managed to keep their jobs, leaving large swaths of the population with little to no political power.

This heightened inequitable distribution of civic freedoms would then render this society unjust. Decisions of societal importance would be within the scope of the market, and not by democratic process, to a much greater degree than today.

Jobs would also not be equally accessible to all. Today, we can see that inequalities drive inaccessibility. This effect would be multiplied by the extreme inequalities caused by automated capitalism. The recent college admission scandal shows this on the micro scale. The number of admitted positions at elite American colleges should, in theory, be egalitarian. The fact that students from affluent families could blatantly pay to get the spots is obviously unjust.

On the macro level, accumulated wealth allows systemic inequalities, where high-paying jobs are reserved for a limited demographic. Upward social mobility has been on the decline in the United States since the 1980s — coinciding with the introduction of Reaganomics — with middle- and low-income children struggling for upward mobility while children of the upper class inherit fortunes.

This perpetual cycle, through which high-income jobs are reserved for a chosen few since others could not hope to acquire the needed skills, would only be amplified by the dramatic inequalities that would stem from AI.

Lastly, any benefits that AI might incur would disproportionately go to the privileged. The means of production are currently held by a small group of individuals, and the loss of jobs and money circulation by AI would only accentuate this.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that in 2017, the average CEO at one of the 350 largest firms in the United States saw a salary increase of 17.6 per cent from the previous year, equating to an $18.9-million USD jump.

This jump could only be deemed just if it benefits the least advantaged in society. However, just by looking at employment compensation, we can deduce that this is not the case. While the rich got richer, the average employee compensation remained flat, rising by only 0.3 per cent.

This is not just a one-off year — this pattern has been observed in the capitalist system for some time. The gap between executives and workers has widened for decades, with the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio jumping to 312-to-one from the 20-to-one ratio in 1965.

Clearly, the inequalities are not benefiting those who are least advantaged, which points to a systemic flaw. AI would increase the wealth of the few, but the current system will ensure that the wealth does not trickle down.

An automated capitalist state, then, would not fulfil any of Rawls’ principles of justice, and would therefore be unjust.

If not capitalism, then what?

I’ll be blunt. I think that the only way that a more just, fair society can emerge from this would be the implementation of a fully automated democratic socialist state.

Democratic socialism is defined as a system by which all major means of production are publicly owned. This means that as a constitutional right, all citizens own and administer the assets they require in order to be cooperating members of society. In an automated society, AI used in major companies would be administered and profited from by citizens.

Many may point out that historically, socialism has not always reached its full potential. In countries such as China, Venezuela, or Cuba, the administrators of the system have amassed vast amounts of wealth through illegitimate means, which has led many skeptics to conclude that human nature itself rules out the possibility of true socialism.

However, in an automated world, human nature may not need to play a part in the distribution of the means of production.

In an article for The Washington Post, Feng Xiang wrote that, “If AI rationally allocates resources through big data analysis, and if robust feedback loops can supplant the imperfections of ‘the invisible hand’ while fairly sharing the vast wealth it creates, a planned economy that actually works could at last be achievable.”

Moreover, a nationalized AI system would mean that the elimination of wage labour would not pose a problem, unlike under a capitalist system. Human capital would be largely replaced by resource and information capital. Whereas this would spell out the inevitable collapse of capitalism, it would help a socialist system flourish.

The work and wealth that would stem from AI would be owned and administered by society at large, ensuring that the fruits of production would benefit all. This means that the first clause of Rawls’ second principle would be upheld. Since there would be no “offices” to be held, as human labour would be essentially eliminated, there would be no inequalities in attaining different offices.

This may sound like a frightening idea. After all, we are used to dedicating a majority of our lives toward a profession, whether out of a sense of duty, need, or passion. Eliminating that requirement could make life seem strangely barren.

However, I think that if we really internalize what the abolition of mandatory labour would mean, we can come to an understanding that we would, in fact, be much happier people.

Lack of work would make us much freer than we are today. We would have time to finally get to the book we’ve been meaning to write, to spend more time eating a nice brunch with friends, or to finally master juggling.

A world with little to no required work would mean that the work we do perform would be all the more meaningful. It would be done solely for our own personal enjoyment, or for the benefit of others, not for a perceived duty.

Positions would be defunct, only replaced by equally accessible activities which create no tangible inequalities, thus fulfilling the first clause of the second principle.

In an automated socialist state, natural resources and machinery, the main means of production, would belong to and be administered democratically by the public.

Each citizen would then have a guaranteed source of income, which would mean that any inequalities that arise out of luck, such as in the capitalist case, would be eliminated. The remaining amount of administrative labour would be equally divided among the population as part of their civic duties.

Thus, the benefits and burdens of AI would be equally distributed. Collaboration, rather than competition, would rule the economic market, with an increase of output meaning an equal rise in profits for all. Any fluctuations in capital would equally impact all, fulfilling Rawls’ second principle.

There are, of course, many other benefits of AI that I didn’t touch upon. Better healthcare, decision-making, research, forecasting, disaster response, energy distribution, and much more can emerge from the implementation of AI.

Most of all though, AI provides us with the unprecedented opportunity to transform our society into one that is more just.

Following Rawls’ classic theory of justice, we can safely conclude that implementing a fully automated democratic socialist state could create a truly just society. Some may argue that doing so would be like building castles in the sky — however, we’ll never know until we lay down the first brick.

Rosa Luxemburg: living flame of revolution

Toronto New Socialists host Professor David Camfield

Rosa Luxemburg: living flame of revolution

In the late afternoon sun on February 10, the Toronto New Socialists welcomed Professor David Camfield to speak on socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. Slight and soft-spoken, with a ring of curly hair haloing a narrow face, Camfield teaches in the Department of Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba. He is also the author of the academic books We Can Do Better: Ideas for Changing Society and Canadian Labour in Crisis: Reinventing the Workers’ Movement.

The audience, mostly middle-aged, sat on fold-out chairs. A man in a Democracy Now! ballcap shook hands with everyone around him, and others called greetings to one another across the room. The person who sat next to me turned and asked if I was involved in any organizing.

A hundred years after Luxemburg’s murder, I was glad to spend an afternoon discussing her life, ideas, and continued relevance today.

Luxemburg’s life

The event began with a land acknowledgement, then flowed into Camfield’s introduction. He briefly outlined Luxemburg’s life and her role in the German socialist movement. Rosa Luxemburg, he explained, was a leading figure in the dominant Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), until the outbreak of World War I. It may seem anachronistic, but the SPD was the greatest socialist success of the early twentieth century prior to 1917. In fact, in 1912, it captured 34.8 per cent of the vote to become the largest party in the country.

Luxemburg, who held a PhD in economics, was an influential speaker, organizer, and theorist of the booming German socialist movement. Her major economic work, The Accumulation of Capital (1913), examined the intrinsic connection between capitalism, nationalism, militarism, and imperialism. She was committed to revolutionary principles, and as such led the radical wing of the SPD. She frequently clashed with the reformists, especially future party leader Eduard Bernstein, who hoped to achieve gradual changes while maintaining the existing capitalist system.

These ideological schisms deepened as war preparations began in Germany and the country tilted ever closer to outright militarism. In the German parliament, where women were not able to vote, Bernstein’s SPD voted to approve the war. Devastated, Luxemburg rightly recognized Bernstein’s and the SPD’s support for the war as an enormous betrayal of principles and left the party. In response, she helped found the Spartacus League, which was dedicated to revolutionary struggle and systemic overthrow — not Bernstein’s policy of compromise.

Luxemburg was heartbroken by the division of proletariat and the turn toward nationalism instead of the international solidarity of the working class. She protested fiercely against the war and was arrested in 1916 for her agitation. She spent the duration of the fighting in prison.

After the war ended, Luxemburg continued to work with the Spartacists, who grew increasingly frustrated with the stumbling Weimar government. Without her foreknowledge, some Spartacists launched a premature revolt in Berlin in 1919. Though she recognized the time was not yet right, Luxemburg took to the streets.

Leaders of the reformist SDP responded by unleashing the Freikorps, a proto-Nazi gang of thugs, to subdue the crowds. They murdered Luxemburg in the street on January 15, 1919.

Lessons for today

Our world today, Camfield reminded the audience, is markedly different than that of Luxemburg’s. As such, some aspects of her analyses are absolutely temporally bound. For one thing, capitalism today is vastly different than it was in the early 1900s. Unions and left-wing political organizations were robust and relatively powerful in early twentieth century Germany, unlike today, where the contemporary power of unions has been drastically co-opted by bureaucratization and far-left political parties are relatively sterile. Nevertheless, posited Camfield, Luxemburg’s writings and theories still contain some relevance for the twenty-first century.

He narrowed this into five main points.

First, he said, Luxemburg’s theory that capitalism leads to complete social breakdown — with a final stage of intense regression and destruction — is clearer than ever: our world is literally melting from climate change, as driven by corporations.

Second, an advanced society with cooperative production is entirely possible and compatible with democratic principles.

Third, leftists must also remember that the start of a new order requires a social revolution — not gradual change. Real change cannot happen under capitalism, he reminded listeners, and reform will always be handicapped by the system that created it.

Fourth, this social revolution must be precipitated by a massive process of self-emancipation: in other words, the revolution must be led from below, not above.

Finally, Luxemburg’s commitment to internationalism rings particularly true today, when ultranationalism is rising and countries close their borders to migrants.

Rosa Luxemburg shouldn’t be deified, but neither can we afford to forget her. 

Editor’s Note (February 26): This article has been updated to clarify the contents of Camfield’s statements and the breadth of his academic work. 

The sociability of socialism

Evaluating the permissibility and popularity of an inchoate ideology on campus

The sociability of socialism

The University of Toronto has three registered socialist-affiliated student organizations: International Socialists, Socialist Action, and the NDP Socialist Caucus. Their professed political programs are to be expected. Undergirded by a desire to construct a social movement and inculcate a revolutionary spirit, these groups’ enunciated goals include the abolition of capitalism, an emphasis on socioeconomic class inequities, the centrality of labour’s role in their endeavors, and international solidarity with the oppressed.

According to Oxford University’s Socialism: A Very Short Introduction, “The fundamental characteristic of socialism is its commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society.” Infused with notions of global solidarity and cooperation, the essence of socialist thought is a critique of capitalism, privilege, ownership of capital, and the concentration of power among the wealthy. Since its modern inception in the early 19th century, socialism has appeared in many different incarnations. While Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism is in vogue, Cuban Castroism, Chinese Maoism, Soviet Stalinism, Venezuelan Chavismo, and Cambodian Communism each represent unique strands within a family of ideas under the umbrella of socialism.

What is unsettling, then, among the platforms of the university’s socialist student groups is their alacrity in disavowing themselves from socialism’s worst offenders, whilst simultaneously reflecting the intellectual foundations of these specific cases. Despite couching their rhetoric upon the analogous tenets of class consciousness, worker solidarity, social engineering, and, most importantly, a centralized economy, the ideology carries a great degree of appeal within university circles.

This, I believe, stems from two possible scenarios: either a lack of awareness about the history of twentieth century socialism, or a disingenuous attempt to obscure any accurate manifestations of the ideology’s ills. Tracing socialism’s contemporary history can demonstrate exactly why it has failed.

The consolidation of socialism within Russia, following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution — under Lenin, who was subsequently succeeded by Stalin — provides a telling example of the implementation of such ideas. Stalin’s initiatives included simultaneously collectivizing agricultural landholdings while eliminating class distinctions among the propertied, relatively affluent peasantry, or kulaks. This ‘classicide’ resulted in the deaths of over 3 million kulaks.

[pullquote-default]Tracing socialism’s contemporary history can demonstrate exactly why it has failed.[/pullquote-default]

Moreover, according to the eminent historian Timothy Snyder, instituting grain requisitioning and sealing the borders of Ukraine produced the artificial “silent genocide” — known as the Holodomor — that claimed roughly 3.3 million lives. To compound the Soviets’ reputation, from 1931 to 1957, two million prisoners from the USSR passed through the Gulag system in Vorkuta alone — nearly three million died in gulags. The Communist Party purged its three million member party in ‘The Great Purge’ of the 1930s, and approximately one third were killed.

As per The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terrorism, and Repression complied by European scholars in 1997 and translated to English in 1999, as well as The Gulag Archipelago, the sum total casualty rate of the Soviet experiment was 20 million lives.

Under Mao, China was even deadlier. As Niall Ferguson reiterated in Kissinger: The Idealist, “Mao alone, as Frank Dikötter has shown, accounted for tens of millions [of deaths]: 2 million between 1949 and 1951, another 3 million by the end of the 1950s, a staggering 45 million in the man-made famine known as the ‘Great Leap Forward,’ yet more in the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution.” The Hong Kong-based historian, Dikötter, describes Mao as overseeing “one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever known.”

Maoism blended the distrust of urban industrialization — a potential source of bourgeois elitism — and the conviction that revolution should gestate among the rural peasantry, “who would later join with their proletariat comrades in the cities to form classless paradises.”

There are many cases that echo the failures of socialism defined by collectivization, classlessness, social engineering, and the centrally planned economy. In North Korea, the Kim dynasty adopted collectivization and implemented other socialist policies that have resulted in the starvation deaths of up to three million people. In Cambodia, between 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge, a communist paramilitary group, perpetrated a genocide killing up to two million.

[pullquote-default]There are many cases that echo the failures of socialism defined by collectivization, classlessness, social engineering, and the centrally planned economy.[/pullquote-default]

More geographically proximate cases include Chavez’s Venezuela and Castro’s Cuba. In Venezuela, ‘chavismo’ exemplified “other revolutionary authoritarian Marxist ideologies”, repackaging the concepts of socialism, revolution, and the global left. Under the auspices of Chavez, Venezuela experienced mass food shortages, rolling electrical blackouts, skyrocketing inflation — exceeding 700 per cent — a shrinking economy, and nationalization that spelled national disaster.

In the Cuban context, Castro’s recent death — which inspired much equivocation on the part of socialists — masked his troublesome reign. Purging political opponents from the government, silencing media outlets, expropriation of all private property, launching political crackdowns, and perpetuating Cuba’s one-party political system all illustrate the severity of such shortcomings.

A comparative analysis between East and West Germany provides perhaps the best example of the vicissitudes of socialist policy. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, GDP per capita in West Germany was more than double that of East Germany; their life satisfaction was higher, and unemployment was lower. More than 10 per cent of East Germans emigrated following the unification of Germany.

Our study could extend to India, Chile, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, and some countries in Africa. Yet, what should be abundantly clear is the convergence between U of T socialist groups and the aforementioned case studies in terms of their ideological underpinnings. Both campus groups and the historical experiments that have so tragically failed are grounded in revolutionary change, collectivization, classless societies, and centralized economies, which represent undercurrents beneath the unifying wave of socialism.

One caveat is in order. The West, loosely defined by varying degrees of market-oriented economies, was embroiled in many acrimonious chapters throughout the Cold War. Under the leadership of the US, coup attempts in Cuba, Chile, Iran and foreign intervention in Grenada, Vietnam, and Cambodia, among others, represent the darker side of the Western Bloc’s involvement throughout the Cold War. Complicating such matters include the legacy of race relations, the Red Scare, and the growing bifurcation of society along socioeconomic lines.

[pullquote-default]What should be abundantly clear is the convergence between U of T socialist groups and the aforementioned case studies in terms of their ideological underpinnings.[/pullquote-default]

Nonetheless, the absence of gulags, mass starvation, one-party states, cults-of-personality, and large-scale expropriation of private property — and in turn, the erosion of freedom of mobility and freedom of expression,  to name a few civil rights — reaffirm the superiority of market-based economic policies and their efficacy in distilling prosperity to broader society, beyond any socialist ideological incarnation.

Only democratic socialism — which neither Toronto’s International Socialist or Socialist Action groups subscribe to — acknowledges the advantages of a market-oriented framework, and advocates for greater government intervention in easing society’s ills.

Mindful of such considerations, it is essential to review the development of many of these case studies following their transition away from socialism. China, which under Deng Xiaoping began a reformist agenda in the late 1970s, which included the decollectivization of agriculture, foreign direct investment (FDI), an increase in entrepreneurship, and the removal of price controls. These policies have helped lift 800 million people out of poverty.

Following independence in 1947, India, under the tutelage of Nehru, initially embraced socialist-inspired economic models. Declining growth rates and per capita income, food shortages, and the devaluation of currency are few of the problems wrought by such policies. India’s economy liberalized in the 1990s, espousing more market-oriented strategies. Between 1994 and 2012, according to the World Bank, 133 million Indians were lifted from abject poverty.

Similar success stories include East Germany, which eventually converged with West Germany’s standard of living, along with Estonia, Chile, and South Korea. Cases like these, which highlight global trends of decreasing poverty, and a rising standard of living all substantiate positions held by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Economic Forum — that free trade, economic liberalization, and reducing trade barriers “is a great enabler for reducing poverty, curtailing hunger, improving health, and restoring the environment.”

Apologists like Noam Chomsky and others will never be convinced. This reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the shortcomings of socialism, and embodies the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy, where their reasoning is unfalsifiable due to the lack of purity of criticisms. As U of T’s student groups attest, Stalinism, Maoism, or socialism’s other failed experiments neither represent nor reflect ‘true’ socialism.

The popularity of such groups on campus shows an alarming trend. Apart from iterations of socialism claiming more lives than fascism, it would be ostensibly inappropriate for universities to offer corresponding student groups. There would be outrage, protests, and wholesale condemnation — justifiably so. We are left, then, with an unsatisfying question: why has such a historically invalidated philosophy flourished and accrued social capital?

Ari Blaff is a student at the Munk School of Global Affairs.