Socialism off to a Poor Start in Seattle

A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 20 2013 1:27 PM

Socialism off to a Poor Start in Seattle

All power to the Soviets?

Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Seattle City Council member-elect Kshama Sawant recently displaced a longtime business-friendly incumbent from the City Council, and is noteworthy for her status as an avowed socialist. In many ways, I hope her political career blossoms so as to provide sensible liberals with someone noteworthy to triangulate against. Sen. Bernie Sanders is in some technical sense a socialist, but his views don't seem distinct from those of a dozen or two other Democratic Party senators.

By contrast, this from Sawant is some real socialism. Boeing is getting a bunch of orders for its new 777X planes. The company tried to use the lure of building those planes in Washington State to get the machinists union to agree to some concessions in other areas of negotiation. The machinists said no. So on the face of it, 777X production is going to end up somewhere else. Sawant thinks the union should counter by seizing the means of production:

“The only response we can have if Boeing executives do not agree to keep the plant here is for the machinists to say the machines are here, the workers are here, we will do the job, we don't need the executives. The executives don’t do the work, the machinists do,” she said.
Sawant says after workers “take-over” the Everett Boeing plant; they could build things everyone can use.
“We can re-tool the machines to produce mass transit like buses, instead of destructive, you know, war machines,” she told KIRO 7.

Can Boeing's front-line workers actually retool an airplane factory and turn it to bus production and win contracts to sell buses that raise enough revenue to keep everyone employed? Only time will tell for sure, but in the real world the answer is "no." This is exactly what you need executives for. Retooling plants, establishing relationships with suppliers and customers, understanding the size of the market for buses, and all that other stuff is a nontrivial task.

Meanwhile, here's the socialist take on land use:

“The first thing we need is a council that will defend existing housing and not destroy existing housing in the name of density & sustainability.”

Let's just say I disagree. I have seen some interesting research, though, on urban planning in the communist bloc. What it shows is that whereas in capitalist countries urban cores are denser than urban fringes because the land in the core is more expensive, that's not the case in socialist cities such as Moscow. In those places a relatively nondense core tends to be ringed with new high-density construction, because the high market price of land in the core doesn't translate into new development. Why it would be good for Seattle to emulate that pattern and push investment out into the suburbs and encourage sprawl is beyond me.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



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