Some contemporary leftists love to talk about “late capitalism” as if the system were in its dying stages, destined to land on the trash heap of history as socialism triumphs. This is BS, or at best wishful thinking. The phrase has been around for ...
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"Publisher’s Round-up" - 5 new articles

  1. The Triumph of Late Capitalism
  2. Politically Healthy Language
  3. When It Rains, It Pours
  4. Putting the “It” Back in “Anti-Semitism”
  5. Who Was that I Met Last Night?
  6. More Recent Articles

The Triumph of Late Capitalism

Some contemporary leftists love to talk about “late capitalism” as if the system were in its dying stages, destined to land on the trash heap of history as socialism triumphs.

This is BS, or at best wishful thinking.

The phrase has been around for many decades but was more recently popularized by Fredric Jameson, author of Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991).

It appears to most of us that history is moving in the other direction, with capitalism finding ways of developing in a variety of ways in purportedly socialist countries, for good or for ill.

Consider contemporary Russia, which abandoned its supposed socialism for an old-fashioned form of crony state capitalism. Russia needs a trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt type more than another Lenin. 

I agree with those who argue that such systems are really closer to fascism, but I think it's confusing overkill to use that term.

China’s leaders continue to cling to the term "communism" while fostering instead an even more classic sort of capitalist entrepreneurship.

Cuba continues to discourage individual enterprise but it flourishes nevertheless. In Vietnam capitalism also flourishes, competing directly with China. Even in North Korea the economy is being propped up by profit-seeking individual enterprises. 

Those who describe contemporary Western economic systems as part of “late capitalism" sound as quaint and unplugged from reality as apocalyptic religious types who have been preaching for centuries that we are living in the latter days.

Capitalism has many problems, but it is metastasizing, not fading away. All around the world greedy profiteering is triumphing over working for the common good, with precious few nations moving in the other direction.

I detest almost everything that Stephen Miller has said and done in the Trump administration, but I have to admit I agree with most of what he wrote in in his Washington Examiner article “Why Liberals and Socialists Love to Harp on ‘Late Capitalism.’”

Politically Healthy Language

During David Remnick’s interview with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on his recent New Yorker podcast, he asked her why she calls herself a “socialist” when her ideas sound very much like New Deal liberalism. I was exasperated by her reply just as I’m exasperated by the way Bernie Sanders does likewise and also by the way he calls his advocacy of a program of reforms a “revolution.”

The insistence by these very smart people in trying to reclaim their opponents’ accusations by adopting their terminology and redefining it to suit their own views strikes me as politically obtuse. Bernie belongs to the generation that thought moving from “protest” to “resistance” to “revolution” was a boldly courageous stand when instead it fractured the overwhelmingly non-revolutionary anti-Vietnam War movement and helped to promote opposition to it. Ocasio-Cortez should know better.

Merriam-Webster’s note on “socialism” makes clear that these politicians are being more provocative than accurate:
In the many years since “socialism” entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, "pure" socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.
Neither of them advocates nationalizing American industries. At best they are Western European-style democratic socialists, advocating a system in which capitalism generates the wealth which can then be taxed and shared for social purposes.

The exception is the private health insurance industry, which both candidates have said they want to abolish.

I can’t help sympathizing, since I wish we had a single-payer government system like Britain’s; but the fact is the overwhelming majority of voters are opposed to this notion, and embracing it as an immediate goal just confirms in the public’s mind that the Republicans may have a point in claiming “The Democrats want to take away your health insurance.”

Ezra Klein analyzes this problem thoughtfully in his Vox piece “Abolish private insurance? It depends.”

In my opinion a smarter answer to the question would run along these lines:

Private health insurance companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, have plenty of problems that need to be solved to provide affordable health care and reduce the amount Americans spend on it. Medicare and Medicaid have their own problems, but they are far more efficient than the private industry, and would be even more so if conservatives had not legally barred the government from seeking lower prices for drugs.

I prefer the proposal to open a program like Medicare to the general public as an option and let it compete on an even playing field with private insurance. Then we could see which was more attractive. "Free market" advocates don’t like government competing in the marketplace, but this is one instance in which the evidence is pretty strong that it would be healthier both economically and medically for the US to provide such an option. That would be a truly free market.

Just don’t call it “socialism.”

When It Rains, It Pours

A member of a Facebook photo-editing group I belong to writes that he did not like the “pail sky” in one of his shots, so he created a substitute sky with some wispy clouds in it.

Musing on what a “pail sky” might be, I realized it must be the kind from which it “rains buckets.”

Then I wondered if anyone had used the spelling “pail face.” Sure enough, there’s a “pail face” hashtag on Instagram that brings up images of people with very light complexions.

Some people have used “pail face” deliberately as a pun, but this doesn’t seem to be a very common usage.

A sarcastic contribution to The Urban Dictionary defines “pailface” as “One who is shamed by having a pail or bucket placed on their head.”

“Beyond the Pail” gets more action, however. The Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. brews a pale ale which some people claim goes by that name, though I’ve unable to confirm that on their own Web site.

For my discussion of this latter phrase, see p. 36 of Common Errors in English Usage (3rd ed.) or check out the online version.

Putting the “It” Back in “Anti-Semitism”

With the recent upsurge in anti-Jewish speech and acts there has been a great increase in the use of the words “anti-Semite” and “anti-Semitism” in broadcast news. These terms have long been widely used in as a polite synonym for "anti-Jewish," perhaps somewhat influenced by nervousness about the word “Jew” which I discuss in my Common Errors entry on that word.

But I have noticed that many pronounce the fourth syllable in “anti-Semitism” as if it were spelled “met,” with a distinctly soft “E” sound, even though “antisemite” should remind us that it should sound more like “mitt.”

“Semitic” as a term designating certain people and languages has an interesting history. It originated in the 19th century as a term to designate a group of Middle Eastern languages including Hebrew, Aramæan, Arabic, Ethiopic, and ancient Assyrian. The name was derived from the name of Noah’s eldest son Shem, considered in Jewish tradition to be the ancestor of the Hebrews, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Lydians, other related groups called “Ishmaelite,” after Shem’s eldest son Ishmael.

Muslims consider the Arabs to be descendants of Ishmael and therefore qualified to claim the term “semite” as well. Some have argued that the term “anti-Semite” should therefore apply also to prejudice against Muslims. This is a bit of a stretch since most Muslims are not Arabs, and neither group has traditionally identified itself with the term “Semitic.”

Currently there is also a heated debate about the use of the term “anti-Semitic” to designate attitudes and speech which oppose the politics of the state of Israel. This is a political debate, not really a linguistic one, abundantly explored elsewhere.

For well over a century the word “Semitic” has most commonly been used as a synonym for “Jewish” and “anti-Semitic,” and those who argue that it should be extended to Muslims may be suspected of harboring anti-Semitic attitudes.

I don’t expect broadcasters to pay any attention to the distinction I’m making here, but it would be nice if more of them would put the “it” back in “anti-Semitism.”


Who Was that I Met Last Night?

I've noticed that more and more often people at informal gatherings are liable to introduce themselves by given name only, presumably because that seems more friendly; but if you want to establish any kind of ongoing connection you’ll need to provide a family name as well. There are times I have suspected that the other person is thinking “I don’t expect to ever see this guy again, so I’ll just go with my first name.’

Once the pattern is established, it’s awkward for a later speaker to give his or her full name instead—though that might be genuinely useful, especially if one anticipates working on a project with the new acquaintance.

The Japanese generally exchange cards upon meeting, which seems very formal to Americans but can be quite useful.

In a purely casual social gathering—such as encountering someone at a bar—one person may want to preserve her/his privacy by going with given name or nickname only, whereas the other person may hope to establish an ongoing connection by offering their full name. I see no way around this except to be conscious of what each pattern may imply.

If you intend your new acquaintance to get in touch with you, it’s best to go with full name. The same goes for praising individuals in a public speech, where you should try to make clear just who it is you’re talking about if not everyone in audience knows the individuals already.


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