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What was socialism like in the United States during the 20th century?
Think America would never elect a socialist? Think again.
- While America seems like a haven for capitalists, socialism has a long and often successful electoral history here.
- Milwaukee had socialist mayors until 1960.
- Today's resurgence of interest in socialism has nothing on the red tide of 1912.
Socialist candidates are cropping up all over the country. In Texas, they are being elected to judgeships. Two of them serve in Congress, and another one works in the Senate. Chicago has a Socialist alderman and the city council of Sommerville, Massachusetts is controlled by an alliance of left-wing members.
While it may seem like reds are all around us, this isn't anything new or even all that impressive. After all, there was a time when a Socialist got 6% of the vote for president, and more than 1000 of his comrades held elected office all over the country.
1912: A red dawn?
About 100 years ago, Socialist candidates were doing rather well all over the United States. None were more visible than Eugene Debs, the perennial candidate and labor organizer.
Debs helped to found the American Railway Union and the Industrial Workers of the World. He saw unionization as every bit as important, if not more important, than political work in improving the lives of the working class. His excellent speaking ability and national fame after leading the Pullman Strike made him a natural choice for a presidential candidate. He ended up running five times.
In the 1912 election he got nearly a million votes, which was roughly 6% of all votes cast. This was more than double what he got just four years before and prompted some to foresee a Socialist president in a mere eight years. They would have to settle with about the same number of votes in 1920, though this represented only 3.4% of the vote in that election.
While he ran for president repeatedly and once for Congress, he was only ever elected to be a clerk in Terre Haute and once served in the Indiana General Assembly. Despite this, he has remained an icon of the American left. Bernie Sanders kept a portrait of him in his Burlington office when he was mayor.
Deb's vice presidential candidate in 1912, Emil Seidel, was the mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which also had a majority of Socialists on the city council and county board. A conservative "sewer" Socialist, his administration focused on an active and effective government rather than the overthrow of capitalism. His administration created a public works department, the city park system, and closed down many casinos and brothels. He hired a young Carl Sandburg to be his secretary.
Milwaukee would have two more Socialist mayors governing for a combined 38 of the first 60 years of the 20th century. It remains the only major American city to elect a socialist to its highest office. That was just one elected official though; in 1912, more than 1000 Socialists were elected to offices all over the country, including aldermanic, mayoral, legislative, and administrative offices.
This would be the high-water mark for the Socialist Party, however. Later attempts to reach the heights of the 1910s fell short. An attempt to create a coalition party with progressives and populists did well in 1924 and then collapsed. Norman Thomas worked as hard as he could to nab just 2.2 percent of the vote for president in 1932. When Upton Sinclair, the author of The Jungle, ran for Governor of California in 1934 he ran on a socialist platform called End Poverty In California but ran as a Democrat because of how toxic the word "socialist" had become.
Was there something in the water? How could there be so many of them?
A great deal of the success of the Socialists at the dawn of the 20th century can be attributed to the spirit of the age. The Progressive Era was filled with reform movements that called for changes to society and institutions in the name of progress. Many reforms that shaped modern America were implemented during this time. The spirit of reform reached every level of governance and had a significant impact on one presidential election in particular.
In the 1912 election there were four noteworthy candidates: the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson, Republican president William Howard Taft, progressive candidate Teddy Roosevelt, and the Socialist candidate Eugene Debs. Wilson and Roosevelt ran on progressive platforms and took 68% of the popular vote between them. If Deb's total is added to that, a full 74% of the voters were behind progressivism and socialism that year. President Taft, running as the conservative option, won a mere two states and got 23% of the vote, earning him third place.
Roosevelt's performance was extraordinary and telling. Running with a newly created party – the Progressive Party or Bull Moose Party – after he was denied the Republican nomination, he won 25% of the popular vote and came in second in the electoral college. This remains the best performance by any third-party candidate to this day. However, his entry into the race split the Republican vote and likely gave the election to Wilson.
Different platforms, similar planks
President Theodore Roosevelt working in 1905. His 1912 campaign centered around a bold, progressive platform called the New Nationalism. While his defeat prevented its implementation, its core ideas would later be implemented by his cousin FDR during the New Deal.
Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Nowhere was this desire for reform more evident than on the platforms of the Socialist and Progressive parties. While they differed in their fundamental philosophies, major themes of the progressive era reforms can be seen in their platforms.
Consider the similarities between these points of the Socialist platform:
- "shortening the work day in keeping with the increased productiveness of machinery."
- "a rest period of not less than a day and a half in each week."
- "forbidding the employment of children under sixteen years of age."
- "equal suffrage for men and women."
- "a non-contributary system of old age pensions, a general system of insurance by the State of all its members against unemployment and invalidism and a system of compulsory insurance by employers of their workers, without cost to the latter, against industrial diseases, accidents and death."
- "The extension of the public domain to include mines, quarries, oil wells, forests and water power… further conservation and development of natural resources for the use and benefit of all the people."
- "The adoption of the initiative, referendum and recall and of proportional representation, nationally as well as locally."
And these points on the Progressive platform:
- "The eight hour day in continuous twenty-four hour industries."
- "One day's rest in seven for all wage workers."
- "The prohibition of child labor."
- "equal suffrage to men and women alike."
- "The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use."
- "Natural resources, whose conservation is necessary for the National welfare, should be owned or controlled by the Nation."
- "we urge on the States the policy of the short ballot, with responsibility to the people secured by the initiative, referendum and recall."
Several, similar points could be found on the New Freedom platform that Woodrow Wilson took to the White House and implemented.
Of course, progressivism and socialism aren't identical, and there is much they disagreed on. For instance, Roosevelt would have merely regulated large corporations while Debs would have nationalized them. Both platforms still manage to reflect a dedication to improving the condition of everyone, making institutions work better, and a sincere belief in the ability of reform to improve life – all hallmarks of progressive era reform.
The recent spike in interest around socialism and the increasing number of socialist office holders is nothing new, and it might be more surprising if we didn't see it today. Whether this interest is driven by an ideological shift towards public ownership of the means of production or a more general desire for progressive reform of any kind remains to be seen.Until then, we should be in for a few exciting years of American politics.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.