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Q&A With A Conservative Student on Socialism

Brief responses to important basic questions.

A libertarian-leaning undergraduate at the University of Connecticut and member of the Young Americans for Liberty, Isadore Johnson, asked me if I would be willing to answer a series of questions about socialism and capitalism for the university newspaper and I agreed. He sent me a very long list. Below are his questions and my replies.

JOHNSON

I’d first like to discuss what socialism means. First, I’ve read that you define socialism as “a system where sectors of the economy and basic aspects of human society are moved outside of a market system and into communal ownership… people taking ownership of basic human needs like housing, health care, education, and food is… a non-negotiable minimal condition of socialism.” Does that misrepresent your point of view? 

ROBINSON

This isn’t a quote from me, it’s a quote from Fredrik deBoer, though it was published in Current Affairs. I am not sure I would agree that this is the “definition of socialism” though it does describe important aspects of the socialist ambition for economic life. 

First, let me start by saying something that is going to be very frustrating and unsatisfying, which is that if we’re looking for “the” definition of socialism, we’re not going to find it, because socialists have historically disagreed. There is a fairly clear socialist political tradition, that is to say, a rough set of ideas and movements and parties and thinkers that can be identified as a distinct tendency. But within that tradition there have been many arguments over whether socialism is (as Eduard Bernstein thought) basically a set of guiding notions by which you slowly make society better, or whether it is a very specific kind of economy. Different people calling themselves socialists have looked at other people who call themselves socialists and told those people they weren’t real socialists. The Marxist Left Review thinks Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of the most prominent socialist magazine in the country, is not really a socialist. So if I give one definition there will be others who disagree. 

Let me tell you, though, the way I start talking about socialism in Why You Should Be A Socialist. I’ve recently been interviewing a lot of DSA members, and they all give contradictory definitions, so I’ve been trying to come up with a satisfactory description of what I think they have in common. I think of it first as a kind of instinctive egalitarian feeling, a strong sense of outrage at exploitation and abuse, and a fundamental objection to a world where wealth and power is unequally distributed. I talk about this as a kind of “socialist ethic,” a set of values and principles that kind of guide how we look at the world. If you look at a world where children labor in fields while rich people live lives of ease and luxury, and aren’t outraged, you’re not a socialist. (Some libertarians are fine with child labor.) 

But it doesn’t end there. From there, socialists start thinking about how the economy works, and there are fundamental features of it that they object to, because those features conflict with the principles. So, for instance, if some children get better schools than other children get, that’s not acceptable. If some people can’t afford food or basic health care, that’s not acceptable. Now, that’s where we start getting to what Freddie is talking about: the belief that many basic things should not be sold on markets but should be provided for all equally, because that is a demand of basic fairness. So the British NHS is a socialist institution, built on the principle of solidarity: Everyone gets to go to the hospital, regardless of their financial means, because we are all in this together. Even if there are some people who are relatively more well-off than others, you shouldn’t have to be well-off to go to the best schools and get the best healthcare and a decent place to live. 

The egalitarian instinct in socialism makes it very hostile to the concentration of ownership among a small number of people, and to the existence of social classes. This is where all the talk about “worker control of the means of production” comes in. Socialists object to the way that some people get to make their money just from owning stuff while others must make their money by selling their labor. An institution run on socialist principles would not have a small class of profit-reaping owners and a class of toiling laborers. This is why Current Affairs is more socialist than Amazon is: The editorial board collectively owns the magazine, and the staff make decisions democratically and collaboratively. I’m technically in charge of day to day operations, but I’m also accountable to the board, who could fire me if they don’t like the job I’m doing. (Amazon’s employees can’t fire Jeff Bezos.) Nobody is profiting at Current Affairs, none of us can get rich from it. 

It might be worth drawing a distinction between socialist ethics and socialist institutions. Socialist ethics are feelings of solidarity and egalitarianism. Socialist institutions are democratically controlled and minimally hierarchical. Some people think that socialism just means “government ownership,” but I think that is a mistake. Socialism means common ownership, so if the government is not democratic, the ownership is not common in any meaningful sense. I think it is fair to regard the public library as socialist, because it is not owned by one person or a small group of people, but by society as a whole. But if public libraries were effectively controlled by small groups of elites, and there was no democratic oversight, to me they would cease to be socialist. 

Let me just briefly mention “markets.” I think markets are often very ill-defined. But there are some “market socialists” who believe that trade will be an important part of any socialist “system,” and that what matters is ownership. So, for example, if you distributed shares of Amazon equally to everyone in the world, you would have “socialized” its ownership, but you wouldn’t have gotten rid of markets. David Schweickart, in After Capitalism, argues for a kind of market socialism where we don’t change how exchange works but we just alter who owns the stuff. Freddie, I think, disagrees with this, and believes that this kind of market socialism is not really socialism, because socialism involves “decommodification,” i.e., making it so that things aren’t “traded.” This is a vibrant and live debate within socialism. Personally, I am hesitant to talk about “systems,” and think we should be careful about talking about “a socialist system.” There are economies that would conform to greater or lesser extents with socialist principles, and I don’t think we necessarily know yet the best way to design institutions to maximize democracy. I think certainly the contemporary American corporation does not do that, and so-called “socialist” states did not do it either, but we are only at the beginning of the socialist experiment. 

JOHNSON

In what way are people given control; is it workers of a sector or society at large? Who does socialism defer to when it comes to making decisions? If socialism defers to society at large, which decisions are more public?  How much deference do we give to regulatory agencies?

ROBINSON

Again, this is not a question with one answer. Some socialists believe that, for example, firms should be “worker owned,” i.e., Apple should be controlled by the workers of Apple. But it wouldn’t be controlled then by “society at large,” because most of us don’t work for Apple. I think there are problems with going too far in one direction or the other: If you have a world of competitive worker-owned firms that are “self-interested,” they’re going to do things that are socially harmful even if they might be rational for that firm (this is just the prisoners’ dilemma). If you operate solely in the “collective” interest you might have a central planning bureaucracy that inflicts unacceptable harm on some in the name of the greater good. So there is no answer to the “or” question. We must have society-wide accountability for institutions, but we must also make sure that the primary people making the decisions are the ones within those institutions. Likewise, regulatory agencies are clearly important (if a worker-owned firm operates like a profit-maximizing shareholder owned firm, it will have the same problems like environmental destruction, etc.), but central authorities often turn into bureaucracies that don’t appreciate the needs of people on the ground. 

I know this is a little frustrating as an answer, but I think it is true that we do not yet know how to design optimal institutions. Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here though: We’re saying that given that the principles of socialism are clearly sound, we have a question about how best they can be achieved. I think this is the right kind of uncertainty to have: I want the debates in the country to be about how socialist values are best put into practice, not about whether they themselves are good. Small worker cooperatives within a market structure or large-scale nationalized industries? I lean toward the former, but I think that’s the debate to have. 

JOHNSON

How does socialism deal with specialized goods? (Example: My sister has celiac, it’s pretty uncommon. Would most people advocate increased options? How would deliberation work with an example like this, and more broadly to healthcare and restrictions on what people can and cannot do.)

ROBINSON

So, I’m just going to repeat the same answer here first, which is that “socialism,” since it is not one single thing, would not have one answer for how to deal with cases like this. Obviously the problem we have right now with specialized needs like this is that the only people who get those needs attended to are people who have money. If you have a pure free market system, then the diseases that will get research funding are the ones that rich people have or are likely to get, because that’s where there will be money to be made. A free market system quite obviously produces horrors in healthcare, because it means that people constantly die because they can’t afford treatment. If we were angels, private charity might solve this, but unfortunately the people who tend to be rich do not seem to care that people die from lack of healthcare, so private charity can’t save the free market system. 

That leaves us with the question: What is the alternative? Well, let’s agree, once again, that the place we start in looking for an alternative is that the capitalist principle (to each according to their ability to pay) is a failure and the socialist principle (to each according to their need) is a good one. We want a way of making sure everyone gets the treatment they need. So, first, we might start with something like the British NHS, which guarantees basic healthcare to everyone regardless of wealth. But people will point out that the NHS is bad at dealing with those specialty cases: It might not want to spend 400k on some experimental treatment for some rare thing that only one person has, when it could save 10 lives treating something more common with the same money, and so there will be “rationing.” Now, that will be used as an argument against “socialism,” but that’s not what the problem here is. The problem is scarcity: The resources available are not enough to treat everybody. So the real question is: Are you going to decide who gets treated based on ability to pay, or based on some other principle of justice? That other principle of justice might end up looking in part like utilitarianism, and utilitarianism has all sorts of ugly consequences (like neglecting rare things in favor of common ailments). But I think the real solution to this is not to go back to free market healthcare. It’s to commit to investing adequate resources in public research to where we don’t face these kind of hideous scarcities. The problem with the NHS isn’t the principle of rationing, it’s the fact that it’s not funded enough. If there are people who have treatable illnesses who are going untreated, then we are not spending enough resources on medicine. So we begin with the socialist principle: How do we ensure that treatment is based on need rather than social class? And then we figure out what it would take in order to give people what they need without having to make utilitarian “tragic choices” any more than strictly necessary. 

JOHNSON

Where do you draw the line between a basic good for living and one unrelated to it?  (Are gyms something that should be socialized?)

ROBINSON

Well, line-drawing is always hard. I feel like we can ask this question about gyms once we’ve gotten people all of the things that we agree on are basic: food, healthcare, housing, workplace democracy. Should we have a network of worker-owned gyms on a marketplace competing, or should gyms be like public libraries or parks? Personally I like decommodified things so I would like a free public gym the same way we have free public libraries. We might not get one for a while, but since libraries are great I see no reason why gyms shouldn’t be similar. Public pools are a thing, after all. In fact, many parks have outdoor exercise equipment, so in a way we already have socialized gyms. There’s one of those near my house. This utopian concept is already here! More of those? Yes, I think so. 

JOHNSON

How does socialism deal with the tragedy of the commons or free-rider effects?  What happens if someone does not want to work? Can you compare that with a capitalist system for instance?

ROBINSON

Interestingly the “tragedy of the commons” is often something of a myth. Garrett Hardin, in his original article, gave the example of a common pasture, and said that since each herdsman is trying to maximize his herd, he will overgraze, thus destroying the pasture. But that was a story. It had nothing to do with what happens in real life. Elinor Ostrom actually won the Nobel Prize in Economics for investigating how commons functioned in real life. She found that because the “rational maximizer” view of human beings is false, what actually tends to happen is that people develop both formal and informal sets of rules for governing the commons. That makes sense, frankly, and we see it every day: Generally, library patrons aren’t just trying to maximize the number of books they can check out at the library for its own sake, and if they did, a rule would have to be imposed. So in some areas I think these things are very overstated. In healthcare, very few people will maximize the number of surgeries they get, but if you have problems like that, you just have to make some rules. If someone really does start abusing the all-you-can-eat buffet, well, then maybe you have to say it’s not really all you can eat. 

The economic “free rider” problem is generally actually an argument for the public provision of goods and services, in the places where it happens. The classic example is lighthouses: If someone builds a lighthouse privately and tries to charge people to use it, it’s easy to “free ride” by not paying. That’s why lighthouses should be paid for with taxes or with a government-imposed fee on all boats entering a harbor. We want people to have free rides. A hiking trail should be publicly owned, because if it’s privately owned then you have to build a gatehouse and police it to make sure nobody’s entering without paying. You have to develop a whole massively inefficient and unnecessary exclusion and payment collection system, and of course people have to think about whether they have enough money to hike. The commons is beautiful because we can use it without having to go through all of that hassle. 

The classic question of people not working if there is a robust welfare state is often posed to socialists. There are two answers: (1) if someone really was such a terrible person that they were unwilling to do anything to support others, and insisted on simply taking as much for themselves as they could get, well, that person would still not deserve to die or be homeless, even though they were an asshole. Fortunately such people, who are called libertarians, are quite rare. (2) “Work” is a term that should be scrutinized more, because people use it a lot without saying what it means. The people who do not want to work, right now, largely don’t want to because work sucks. And work doesn’t suck because “productive activity” itself sucks, but because jobs suck, and jobs suck because you are pretty powerless at them and don’t get respected. If we change the nature of jobs I think work can be made very satisfying, I have a strong belief that people crave activity over inactivity, because not doing anything is boring. Perhaps some people will want to spend their life sitting bored indoors rather than building stuff and helping others, but I think that will be a rare few, once workplaces aren’t such miserable places to be.  

Johnson

What exactly is capitalism?

Robinson

Well, I think capitalists often get away with defending markets as if markets and capitalism are synonymous. But I think that’s a mistake, and we’re better off thinking about “ownership,” class, and power/control/democracy. The fundamental thing socialists object to about “capitalism” is not markets (the market world of lemonade stands and small proprietors would be much less objectionable), but the distribution of wealth and power. We call it capitalism because there is a class of capitalists: people whose money does the work for them, and a giant class of people who own very little. I would describe capitalism as a system where owners give the orders and workers have to listen, versus a system where workers themselves are the owners. It is much more a question of “Who is in charge?” than it is about whether money should exist. Defenders of “capitalism” often spend a lot of time talking about the “socialist calculation problem”—the question of whether goods can be “rationally” allocated without trade—probably to avoid the more fundamental question, which is about economic hierarchy and dominance. It is much easier to defend markets (which “market socialists” do as well) than to defend having workers be given very little say in their workplaces and reaping only a small fraction of the rewards of their labor. 

Johnson

Can socialism exist within capitalism (with regards to collectives)? 

ROBINSON

I believe “socialistic institutions” can certainly coexist “within” capitalism, that is to say you can have some institutions that are democratically controlled in the interest of all and others that are hierarchically controlled and operated for the benefit of private owners. We have libraries, as I say. Current Affairs is, I would argue, a socialistic institution, in that we make decisions collectively and it’s operated in the interests of its workers and subscribers rather than in the interests of a class of absentee owners. The question, to me, is whether a given institution obeys the core principles of socialism: Is it run democratically? Are rewards distributed fairly? 

Now, whether you can have private enterprises that operate socialistically and yet survive capitalist competition is another question, but I actually think worker coops are pretty competitive, and Current Affairs has managed to operate on a model without owners and profit and survive.  

JOHNSON

Is your version of socialism a top-down model?

ROBINSON

No, my sympathy has always been with the libertarian socialists who believe in devolving power as much as possible. Some things have to be done in a top-down fashion in that you need large coordinating institutions (e.g., international law), but those institutions themselves need to be democratic and accountable. I am suspicious of elite rule and worry about the concentration of power. My instinct is that people are the best judges of their own interests generally (there are obvious exceptions, which is why I disagree with libertarians, and I also don’t believe market behavior under conditions of manufactured choice is an indicator of real preference). So while this is an abstract question, my general instinct is that whether we’re talking about a company or a government, power should be distributed as widely as possible without sacrificing efficiency. 

JOHNSON

Can capitalism be removed from socialism?

ROBINSON

I think so, in the sense that I don’t think there’s any inherent reason why you need to have an owning class and a working class. I don’t think you can turn people into angels, but you can certainly have it so that economic institutions are operated roughly democratically. 

JOHNSON

Does altruism exist under a socialist paradigm? Should it?

ROBINSON

I think caring about other people is essential and forms the core of the socialist ethic. I cannot imagine a world without altruistic behavior. Socialists are rightly skeptical of the power of charity to fix systemic problems but kindness, self-sacrifice, generosity: These are all the foundations of working together successfully. Socialists often speak rather contemptuously of “charity,” because they see it as a very superficial remedy that does nothing to change power relationships. I share some of these critiques, but I also think we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of love and solidarity as the building blocks for a healthy society. 

JOHNSON

How does socialism start under your ideal?

ROBINSON

By electing Bernie Sanders president. Quite serious about that. More specifically, through Bernie’s plan to built a giant movement of ordinary people that get elected at every level and start pushing forward socialistic initiatives that make ordinary people’s lives better. If those initiatives are well-designed and people actually start to see results from them, this will bring more people into the socialist camp. We need to deliver on our grand promises. Then when people see that single-payer healthcare makes their lives easier, and free public college is amazing, they will come with us on the more radical stuff like worker control of industry.

 Also see my fictitious memoir from the future, My Affairs: A Memoir of the Magazine Industry (2016-2076) which contains a detailed explanation of how we built socialism. 

JOHNSON

Should rights necessarily be seen as democratic? If not, how does one go about them?

ROBINSON

Rights are a complicated question. Where do they come from? Are they simply conventions? Did human rights exist before people recognized them to exist? This gets us into the entire foundation of morality and I can’t begin to go into it here. All I will say is that for rights to be meaningful as rights, they need to be as close to absolutes as possible, or at least insulated to quite a great degree from the ability for majorities to simply take them away at will. Of course, you’re always going to face tough questions though over how to balance rights: Does your right to live in peace trump my freedom to shout political slogans at your window at midnight? The fact that rights can be murky, however, does not alter the basic principle: We should try to come up with a list of the things that everyone deserves pretty much as an absolute, and then try to make sure that everyone does, in fact, have those things and they’re not arbitrarily or unjustly infringed upon. 

JOHNSON

Which rights are immutable in approaching a socialist idyll?

ROBINSON

I would say that we should start with the rights codified in the UDHR: a basic standard of living, democratic participation, civil liberties. It’s a very good list, it holds up well many years later. 

JOHNSON

Do you have any common ground with the right?

ROBINSON

There are certain arguments the right makes that are worth bearing in mind. I talk in Why You Should Be A Socialist about the principle of caution: being careful not to dismantle institutions without having good replacements, not getting carried away breaking eggs and forgetting to make your omelet. I think “conservatism” if it means conserving things can be good. But for the most part I fundamentally disagree with the right: The things they want to conserve are the things I deplore (bosses, the racial wealth gap) and the things I want to conserve (the public school system, the environment, the lives of the dispossessed) are things they want to destroy. 

JOHNSON

Would the EPA and the FDA exist within a socialist framework (and how much power would regulatory agencies have?)

ROBINSON

I think you’d absolutely always need some independent oversight institution charged with making sure that drugs are safe and the environment is protected. I don’t think even the best socialized drug production company could be trusted to self-regulate, so, yes, I think you’ll always have something like the FDA, though I am open to arguments that the FDA is too cautious and slows down the progress of research, maybe you want a different balance between the need for oversight and the need to allow experimentation. 

JOHNSON

Why are markets bad? Are they (relating to school choice, healthcare, and natural monopolies)?

ROBINSON

I’ve mentioned a bit of why I don’t think trade should govern how much healthcare you get or how much schooling. Generally I prefer a “commons” because markets, even when the participants are roughly equal, are at the very least burdensome. Constantly having to make price calculations in your head is quite annoying, it’s very freeing to just be able to go to a public park without having to go through an admission booth and pay a fee. My hometown beach, for example, has always been a public beach and I never even realized there were beaches you had to pay for until I left. It’s a much worse experience when everything is commodified. Getting to roam freely without thinking about money is wonderful, which is why I’m in favor of robust commons. Imagine if you had to pay $1.00 for every Wikipedia article you read. It would be awful. 

In schooling, I think any introduction of money is going to exacerbate inequality. If you can buy your way to a better school, parents will pass on their own advantages to their children, and erode “equal opportunity.” So you need free public schools of roughly uniform quality. Being able to buy your children better teachers destroys any possible idea that we live in a “meritocracy.” I’ve also written about what it would look like if we financed elementary school with the kind of market system we use to fund colleges: You’d have first graders taking on decades of debt, instead of just getting universal free tuition. Now, whether there should be some element of competition among public schools to improve them is I think an open question, though that can happen without privatizing them. Personally I’m pretty skeptical of the benefits of competition in many spheres, and I have an optimistic view of public schools because I went to an excellent one and know there’s no reason they have to be bad. 

JOHNSON

How might Democratic socialism challenge dissidents (people who lose the popular vote or lack general influence)?

ROBINSON

There is a common belief that democracy means “majority rule,” and thus people fear democracy because it squashes minority rights. I think that is a bad way of looking at democracy. It is more properly defined as a participatory process where people get proportional input into decisions to the degree those decisions affect them. Now, you’re never going to have perfect answers to questions of how to balance competing interests, but I think any truly democratic process is not just about the popular vote but is about making sure everyone has a meaningful say. “Consensus process” is an effort to realize this, though it has giant logistical problems and you can end up ceding too much power to lone individuals who want to override the majority will. To me, though, if you guarantee all the freedoms and rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you won’t have too much of a risk of trampling on people, because those are some pretty strong protections and we should all agree on those as a baseline. 

I was just reading Socialism Re-Examined, the last book by the great democratic socialist Norman Thomas, and one thing he points out is that democratic socialists actually have one of the best historical records of defending the rights of dissidents. We always stuck with the war resisters and the civil rights demonstrators and the union organizers even when self-described capitalists were trying to get them jailed. You always need to be vigilant about civil liberties violations, but if anyone is going to be good on these issues, it’s the democratic socialists. 

JOHNSON

How would socialism better deal with climate change?

ROBINSON

Well, I think you can look at Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal plan for a start on the specifics. The first point is that one of the main reasons we have such a climate crisis is because of the capitalist model, where self-interested corporations pursue the interests of a small group of owners. Because of that, fossil fuel companies have made billions shifting costs onto other people. (Of course, that shows that the idea of capitalism as “free markets and private property” is false, because if we really had those things fossil fuel companies would be sued out of existence for the giant act of theft they’ve committed by destroying the world.) Climate change is a problem of private profiteering trumping the social good, where some people benefit a lot from destructive acts that hurt all of us as whole. So we need to act as a whole in order to stop it, which means a Global Green New Deal. 

One important aspect of the socialist approach, and the reason the GND includes jobs programs and other things people think are unrelated to climate change, is that we understand that unless you deal with inequality, you can’t deal successfully with climate change. If you just impose a carbon tax, and it ends up being passed on to working people, they’re going to become enraged (see the gilets jaunes protests in France). The costs need to be absorbed by those who can most afford to pay them. 

JOHNSON

How would pay work in a socialist system?

ROBINSON

Open question. We’re not anywhere near the point yet where we can think about this, and I am cautious about discussing whole new “systems,” but I think the basic framework to begin to think about it is that whatever pay structure you have, you don’t want some people amassing vastly more wealth (and therefore social power) than others. So maybe people get paid more to do nastier jobs, and sanitation workers and cleaning staff are the highest-paid members of society and are all millionaires. I’m fine with that kind of limited wealth inequality. But as I say, this gets into “sketching out the utopia” territory and I don’t think anyone is qualified to answer a question like this yet. 

JOHNSON

Would a government be necessary under socialism? 

ROBINSON

Depends what we mean. How do you define the government? You’d always need coordinating institutions. A coercive government, though? I can imagine a world without one. I am not qualified to speculate on whether human beings are ultimately capable of building such a world in the long term though. 

JOHNSON

Are hierarchies bad? In which ways? What does one do with naturally forming hierarchies?

ROBINSON

I’d put it this way: All hierarchies are suspect, and people at the top of any given hierarchy have a very strong interest in convincing you that the hierarchy is natural and that things would fall apart if the hierarchy was dismantled. So if we look at historical hierarchies and their justifications (the divine right of kings, the idea that some people are naturally fitted for slavery, the belief that those who understood dialectical materialism were fit to plan the economy), we can see that many of them were very flimsy rationalizations. I suspect that arguments in favor of existing hierarchies of wealth and power are quite similar. 

I can’t answer the question about “naturally” forming hierarchies, because I am not sure I understand what “natural” means. The violent subordination of people by other people has historically occurred “naturally” in the sense that people seem to have an inclination to do it, but our efforts to restrain it are no less natural. My aim is for the one natural urge (compassion) to win out over the other (domination). There are many ways you can do this. I believe you have to slowly cultivate a more empathetic culture that has respect for people’s rights and cares about their treatment. Sometimes you use coercive institutions to destroy these hierarchies, as we did with the elimination of chattel slavery. 

We’ve managed to make great progress here: We even believe in animal rights to some limited extent, even though this too has been seen as a “natural” hierarchy. I don’t think anyone who believes that the hierarchies that remain are natural and inevitable can prove their case. We simply have no idea whether we can eradicate these things, because we haven’t made a meaningful effort. Is a classless society possible? Nobody can say for sure, but I think it’s worth (carefully) trying to find out. 

JOHNSON

Would prisons exist in a socialist framework and how does one go about controlling/removing bad people?

ROBINSON

I have written about prison abolition before so I’ll just direct you to that. The short answer is: I think we want to aim for a world without prisons, or at least a world in which the coercive restraints we have to use look nothing like the ones we have today. (There is no reason for a prison to resemble living in an Orwellian nightmare city.) I have confidence that we can eliminate most crime once we take seriously the need to address its causes, since there are plenty of towns in the world that have very little crime already as it stands. Will we ever get to zero? Perhaps not. But I think we might get to the point where the only people coercively restrained are those with severe violent mental illnesses, and those people are dealt with compassionately in institutions designed to treat them rather than simply warehouse or punish them. 

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