UNC Hits a New Low

Apparently, the celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall is too controversial for some people. After spending about 4-5 hours constructing a replica of the Berlin Wall to celebrate the 21st anniversary of its fall today, I can say that I was extremely disappointed when I discovered that someone had lifted the wall this morning.

For those interested in the facts of the case, the final construction of the wall was completed last night around 8:00pm. The final size was about 6ft x 6ft. It was rather bulky and likely would have required at least two people to move. The wall was last seen at about 6:30am this morning by the morning shift for Rams’ Head Dining Hall. I discovered that the wall was missing at about 9:15am.

I think that this serves as a rather sad commentary on the state of political discourse at UNC. Can we not all acknowledge that the destruction of the Berlin Wall was a good thing, signaling the end of one of history’s most oppressive and totalitarian regimes? Can we not acknowledge that the world is a better place without the Soviet Union in it? Perhaps this is not even the issue. Perhaps the significance of the wall as the penultimate example of the failure of central planning, the misery that socialism inevitably entails, and the inability of centrally managed governments to provide even for the most basic needs of their citizens is the real problem here. Perhaps those who stole our wall are so blinded by ideology that they cannot even comprehend the walls that they have built within their own minds. But perhaps what is even more disturbing is that this university still cannot provide an environment where the free exchange of ideas is possible.

10 thoughts on “UNC Hits a New Low

  1. The East German regime's central planning, while clearly inadequate in comparison with American and western European free-market models at the time, could actually have been a whole lot worse and was by no means a "penultimate" example of anything.

    Every German who currently enjoys the great benefits that socialized medicine and organized labor bring to German society, east and west, would probably disagree with your unsubstantiated claims of socialist "misery" with gusto. By American standards, German society is still "socialist," and their quality of living is much higher than ours.

    But despite these two highly salient and inexplicably ignored facts is a simple question: do you actually have any reason to think that your wall was pinched for political reasons, other than your intuition? Before you accuse UNC of sinking to new lows, don't you think you should actually have proof that this was taken for the reason you think it was taken?

    That being said, I hope you get your wall back/get a new one and re-enact the fall. German reunification and democratization is something to celebrate, and such celebrations should not be obstructed by people stealing props, either for hypothetical political reasons or because they want spiffy lawn art.

    1. Just how much worse could it have been? You have a completely totalitarian state that completely controls and monitors the lives of its citizens. Any sort of dissent is suppressed and, you're not even allowed to leave the place. In fact, the regime was so benevolent that people were willing to risk death rather than continue living there. The regime's central planning was much more than "inadequate" it was cruel and inhumane.

      If I may paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, socialism's great until you run out of money. The current rioting and general chaos that has seized the socialized nations of Europe (particularly France and the UK), seems to indicate that Europe's little socialist utopia has run smack into reality. While I have not been monitoring the German situation that closely, it's my understanding that they have become introducing some austerity measures to stave off the sort of chaos that has seized France. I'll also note that the current German arrangement would not likely last very long if the American military industrial complex decided not to put Europe under its umbrella.

      I arrived at my conclusion indirectly, i.e. I eliminated any other conceivable reason for why the wall might have been removed. This included checking with UNC Facilities Management, the Dining Hall, the Student Union, and DPS. Though, your sentiments are appreciated.

      1. I thought we were talking about central economic planning, like when the government says “we need this much yarn, and this many shoes, and this much unsalted butter. We will set quotas accordingly.” But you are talking about totalitarian political control. Now, there is a legitimate debate to be had over the degree to which central economic planning requires totalitarian and police state controls to back it up, but it’s still a wild jump to say that any degree to central planning requires the Stasi and the gunning down of attempted exiles. Central medical planning in England and Canada, to take some obvious examples, don’t require that. There is no clear and necessary connection between totalitarianism and central economic planning; it all depends on the degree and type of central planning. (And this alone is hardly an argument against central planning. Totalitarianism has also been used in the service of pro-market reforms, such as by Pinochet. That obviously doesn’t mean free-markets and totalitarianism are two peas in a pod. Once again, it all depends on the type and degree of the economic goal in question.) And again, if we are talking about central economic planning, I reassert my original claim that East Germany was not the penultimate example of central planning’s failure. Despite the fact that Stalin disassembled and shipped most east German heavy industry to the Soviet Union after the war as reparations, by the time the Wall fell East Germans were substantially better off than most other people behind the Curtain.

        What’s going on right now in Europe has many implications. The total collapse of European social democracy is not one of them. Not only does such an interpretation completely ignore the quiet up north (i.e., the strongly social democratic Scandinavian lands) but it doesn’t take into account the most obvious reasons for discrepancies in social unrest between the European nations: national character. If the French are rioting and the Germans aren’t, that’s not because the Germans took austerity measures while the French stuck stubbornly to their socialist ways; it’s because the French, and Parisians especially, like to riot. It’s what they do. Think about Paris in 1789, 1792, 1832, 1848, 1871, 1944-5, and 1968. German austerity measures, on the other hand, are just that: they’re austerity measures. They aren’t a fundamental restructuring of the German social democratic system. They aren’t going to get rid of socialized medicine in Germany, and they aren’t going to get rid of the beautiful idea of co-determination in the corporate boardroom. And guess what! The German economy is still higher performing than the American, and Germans still have a much higher standard of living than we do. What a beautiful thing socialism can be!

        “I'll also note that the current German arrangement would not likely last very long if the American military industrial complex decided not to put Europe under its umbrella.”

        And I’ll note that this begs the question: if the American military can oversee the establishment of a stable, high-performing European social democracy, why can’t we have one in America? That question becomes much more urgent when one considers the fact that America had a large hand in restructuring the German political system after the war, a system that does a much better job than our own of ensuring people real freedom of choice on election day. Clearly, capitalism doesn’t always mean more choice, nor socialism less.

        I will just say in closing that what you see as a symbol for the fall of the Soviet Union is much more properly seen as a symbol for the reunification of thousands of families and millions of people that all belong together. Germany is not Soviet Russia. The real significance of the wall’s fall is not the demise of the Soviets, but the rise of a unified and social democratic Germany.

      2. Central planning does require central control (albeit, depending on the regime of varying degrees) and the surrender of personal freedoms. While central planning does not necessarily require totalitarianism, it does make it a whole lot easier for totalitarianism to come about. Once you surrender your freedom to decide how many tomatoes you're going to grow this year or how many loaves of bread you will buy this week, it's really not a huge jump from central planning to totalitarianism. Also, I don't think I made myself totally clear with my "penultimate" reference. I wasn't referring just to East Germany, but rather taking the Wall as the symbol of the failure of the central planning of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union.

        I think the situation in northern Europe may be at least be partially influenced by the higher tax rates in that area of the world. I know Norway and Sweden have some of the highest taxes in the world. So, in the short run at least, they'd be able to sustain higher levels of government spending. But, I don't see that being very sustainable in the long run. National character does play a role, but I also don't think the French are completely irrational. Simply put, the welfare state currently enjoyed by most of Europe is not fiscally sound. German austerity measures are but a temporary fix, much like raising the retirement age for Social Security would be a temporary fix. It kicks the can down the road without addressing the fundamental cash flow issues these programs have. Also, I'm not sure where you're getting your data on German standards of living. My quick perusal of the CIA Factbook shows US GDP per capita a good 25% above German GDP per capita. That to me seems like the most objective measure of a nation's standard of living.

        My point about the military was that if Europe actually had to pay for and provide its own defense, it couldn't afford its welfare state. I'll also question your description of Europe as stable (given the situations in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, and the UK) and your description of it as high performing (given that with double the population of the US, the EU produces approximately the same GDP as the US). Also, socialism necessarily involves less choice. Definitionaly, socialism requires vesting some aspect of economic control in some far-away capital. That leaves me with less choices.

        While I'm sure reunification is certainly a part of the fall of the Wall, I think that only focusing on that misses the fact that everything behind the Wall operated as a satellite of the Soviet Union. Most of the governments operating behind the wall (including East Germany) were puppets of Moscow. That is why Reagan told Gorbachev (and not the leader of East Germany) to tear down the wall.

      3. I'll let the rest of this debate rest. But rereading your comments, I absolutely have to object to your method of "objectively" measuring the standard of living. There is a lot more to standard of living, obviously, than a per capita GDP rating. Unemployment rates and infant mortality, just to name a couple, factor in. Check the comparative stats between the US and Germany on those two.

        But the most important reason why per capita GDP isn't nearly the whole picture is that an averaged GDP tells us nothing about wealth distribution. Per capita GDP can be enormous, but if inequality is also enormous, then the majority of people aren't enjoying the high standard of living that the rich (who are skewing the per capita assessment) are. Look at our ranking in the factbook on distribution of family income. We're on par with large swaths of the third world. Most of the rest of the developed world, Germany included, has much less inequality of distribution in family income. That means there are less super-rich to skew the per capita assessment and that more people are enjoying the higher standards of living.

  2. Margaret Thatcher never dismantled the NHS–that coveted cornerstone of world wide socialism. As well, it's really Americans who are having to take a hard look at reality and appreciate that markets fail and state intervention isn't entirely a bad thing.

    1. Margaret Thatcher kind of had to deal with the whole Soviet Union thing, which may explain why she was not able to devote the time necessary to abolish the NHS. I'm curious what market failure you are referring to. If you mean to point to the current housing situation. That was mostly caused by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of which you'll note are government enterprises. Outside of such public goods as roads and the military, there are very few areas where the government can operate more efficiently than the private sector.

  3. "socialism necessarily involves less choice"

    Less choice than what? "Choice" in medical care, for example, is 100% meaningless to me when I can't afford primary care, much less emergency care. Most people would happily sacrifice their theoretical yet useless freedom to choose medical providers in exchange for lifetime, guaranteed care.

    1. Less choice than free market capitalism. The American health care system as it stands now is not even close to approximating a free market. The unnecessarily high level of government intervention in health care has so distorted the market, that many people cannot afford it. So, while I agree with you that an inability to exercise one's freedom is problematic, I do not believe that current issues present in the health care market are a result of unbridled capitalism, but of attempts by government planners to micromanage the industry.

  4. "The unnecessarily high level of government intervention in health care has so distorted the market, that many people cannot afford it."

    If your free market fantasy is true, then why are health care costs lower in countries with much greater government involvement in health care?

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