I'm only a very amateur economist but I've been impressed by a large exhibit hall I saw at the Technik Museum in Speyer
. The museum is an amazing destination if you're ever anywhere near it: you can climb inside and walk all through a real U-Boat, a real Russian space shuttle, and a real Boeing 747, among other things. The exhibit that so impressed me, though, was just a hall full of a few decades of models of the one standard state-produced car from Communist East Germany, the Trabant.
The Trabant was the only car you could get in East Germany. They were affordable, but the bottleneck for getting one wasn't finding the money, but waiting until one was available for you. In one way, though, the long wait didn't matter.
In that hall in Speyer there were Trabant models from a time span of something like forty years ... and they all looked just the same. While in the west BMWs and Benzes and VWs were morphing from the 50's to the 80's, the kludgy old Trabant never improved. This was a penny-dropping moment for me about Communism.
At least in East Germany, Communism worked just as advertised. It delivered a good standard of living for everyone, not just the rich. The problem, though, was what that "good standard" meant. It was a fixed standard: a good standard of living for Russian peasants in 1917, or for East German workers in 1950. The standard of living that counted as "good" didn't rise over time, the way it does in capitalist societies. If the two Germanies started from comparable levels in the 50's, by the late 1980's the eastern side of the Wall looked like a primitive wasteland compared to the affluent west.
And this wasn't a glitch. Communism right from Marx on has ignored the whole phenomenon of technological improvement. Even while actually making technological progress, to the point of building H-bombs and launching satellites, Communist countries were doctrinally committed to treating progress as a curse that could at best be endured, because the whole logic of Marxism collapses if one admits that economics is not a zero-sum game and things can keep on getting better if we find new ways to do things. Keeping the Trabant the same wasn't a Communist bug. It was an intentional, foundational feature.
Current American capitalism may be like socialism for the American rich, inasmuch as the state provides all kinds of benefits for the wealthy, but I think it may also mean Communist stagnation for the American poor. Maybe this is what gives MAGA its ugliest element, that it's not really grievance over any absolute loss, but resentment at missing out on gains made only by others.
MAGAns are conservative, not in the sense of being true capitalists, but in the Communist way of wanting to freeze everyone at the same old level. MAGAns don't want to be rich like other people, because that would require embracing all the scary modern things that have brought us from the 1960s to now. They want the other people not to be richer than them.
That's not a healthy way of dealing with the problem of having been left behind by progress, but it is a symptom of having been left behind. Maybe that didn't have to happen. Maybe there could have been a way to bring all those rural, southern Americans along across the turn of the century, if unfettered American capitalism hadn't just let the elite forge ahead on their own. I don't know. All I think I can really see is that the question of who has injured or been injured is trickier than one might think, because prosperity is a moving target. You have to think not just of what people have now, compared to what they used to have, but of what they potentially could have had now, if things had improved for them.
I was a teenager before it was cool.