The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Is Cruelty Required?

Is it possible to have a society without cruelty?

That’s really the fundamental political question. (Economics, as you know, is a subset of politics, not different from it. So it’s also the fundamental economic question.)

It’s fair to say that there has never been a major society without cruelty baked into it, at least not since the rise of agricultural kingdoms about three thousand years after the invention of agriculture. Previous societies often had a lot of violence, but it’s not clear they all did, and some hunter gatherer band level societies seem to have had little cruelty.

But every major agricultural civilization has been cruel, and so has every major industrial society, though some are less cruel than others (insert reference to Scandinavia). Even those, however, are enmeshed in a system of industrial production that is, at best, exploitative, as in the case of conflict minerals, low paid workers, killed union organizers, and so on. Because it is not possible to run a decent society in the modern work in autarchy, even relatively kind societies are enmeshed in economic arrangements that cause great suffering hundreds to thousands of miles from them.

Cruelty is endemic even in good societies in the sense that our fundamental economic relationships are based on coercion; if you don’t work for someone else, probably doing something you wouldn’t do without the whip of poverty at your heels, and under supervision, well, you will have a bad life. School is based on coercion; do what you’re told when you’re told, or else, and so is work for most people.

That’s just the way our societies work, and while details vary, it’s more or less how they’ve worked since agriculture. Oh, the peasant may not have had close supervision, but they gave up their crops, labor, and lives under threat of violence, and they knew it well.

Even positive incentives are coercive. Get good grades and you’ll get a good job, etc… Please the mast… er, I mean, boss, yes, boss, and you may get a raise.

But a great deal of real cruelty lies behind the positive coercion in our major societies. American jails are startlingly cruel, filled with violence, rape, and fear. Chinese prisons aren’t so nice either. Police exist to throw you out of your house if you fail to pay the rent, which some double digit percentage of Americans are about to experience, because their society has mishandled an epidemic.

Sell cigarettes without the sanction of the state and your last words may be, “I can’t breathe.”

Our societies are based on positive and negative incentives. The amount of each varies with time and place. Finland right now has a lot more positive, and a lot less negative and a lot less consequences for disobeying. 50 years ago, the US put a lot less people in jail and gave those it allowed good jobs (white males) much better, nicer lives.

But there’s still always that threat in the background. And it’s always based on cruelty: “Bad things will happen to you, either actively or passively if you don’t go along.”

Now there are things we need to get done, collectively, in society. Build and maintain housing, grow and distribute food, keep the internet running (these days), but how much cruelty and coercion is required to do those necessary things? How much do you have to threaten people to get them to do those things? How cruel do you have to be to them if they don’t do them?

But another problem is that most of the coercion and cruelty in our societies has nothing to do with creating necessities like food and shelter and medicine and internet.

It has to do with making sure that some people have far more than they need, and others have far less. That some people have good lives with little coercion, while others live in constant fear. One problem with the boss, you lose your job, and you wind up homeless or in prison, and then even more terrible things happen.

Terrible things that are meant to happen, of course. We could lock up a lot fewer people and treat those few far better. We have more empty homes than homeless people and throw out at least a third of our food. No one need go hungry or homeless, and as for the internet, well, ISPs make close to 100 percent profit, so yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s no reason anyone should go without basic internet access.

So the cruelty in our societies is a choice. We can feed and house everyone, give everyone health care and have plenty left over, but we want billionaires and huge militaries or something, so we’re cruel. We’re cruel in the small details of everyday life (those maste…, er bosses) and we’re cruel in how we structure life, and it’s all a choice we’ve made.

Is it necessary? Must we be cruel? If we must be cruel, how cruel? What cruelty is actually needed, how much is just a preference or only required because we want very unequal societies?

Are we cruel of necessity?

Or desire?

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A Small Insight About Power, Markets, and Post-capitalism


Open Thread


  1. krake

    I think the Neetch was correct, that cruelty and festivity are comingled poles.

  2. Zachary Smith

    Is it possible to have a society without cruelty?

    I doubt it. Not until somebody figures out how to have a society without The Seven Deadly Sins.

    1 Lust
    2 Gluttony
    3 Greed
    4 Sloth
    5 Wrath
    6 Envy
    7 Pride

    Individuals can be cruel in many ways and for many reasons. In groups the tendency is even more pronounced. I was thinking of the Minersville School District v. Gobitis when I started this post, and I’m not sure where it would on the above scale. Eight hyper-patriotic peckerheads in Black Robes created a SCOTUS decision which made it Open Season on Jehovah Witnesses every day of the year. The so-called Greatest Generation took full advantage. Very much like modern cops do with their SCOTUS-invented doctrine of “qualified immunity”.

    I greatly fear some basic human nature is involved with willingness to inflict cruelty and the indifference to the pain it causes.

    “War means fighting, and fighting means killing.” Confederate cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest famously declared.

    That fellow was a genuine monster, but he isn’t wrong with the quote. All populations have some number of people with the propensity to be predators – why work when you can steal? Societies have the same tendencies – wars of aggression are a staple of the history books. Take a look at a book most everybody owns but hardly anybody reads – the Old Testament of the Bible. Wars of extermination. Extremely bad people doing evil things for reasons THEY believe to be justified.

    Pre-WW2 Germany was able to comb through the population to find people willing to exterminate concentration camp inmates. Indoctrination of the armed forces made the soldiers capable of horrors in the occupied lands – especially the USSR. Bush the Dumber had no difficulty recruiting his torturers. So far as I know, this is true for every society on the planet. Some nations work to suppress the evil, and others encourage it. IMO the planetary situation could be greatly improved if it the behaviors of Nation States was “regulated” by laws with teeth, but who really wants a World Government? Nobody I know.

    About the best we can hope for within any individual nation like the US of A is to try to stop the worst of the abuses. Even then, vested interests are going to fight any such attempts every step of the way. Vulture Capitalists and Looters like things just the way they are!

  3. Hugh

    I see this as Hobbesian. People are inherently selfish and therefore need to be constrained with violence. I’m not Hobbesian. Historically, state violence has been used haphazardly and always excessively. I do not see why we should be prisoners of our history. While violence has dominated the discourse, what keeps societies together is cooperation and solidarity. States (violence) come and go. Societies (cooperation) even with all their problems endure centuries.

  4. Brian A. Graham

    I don’t know if you have read any histories of whiteness, but David Roediger wrote one of the seminal works about thirty years ago entitled The Wages of Whiteness. One of his chapters dealt with the transformation of language to describe various occupations as “free” laborers sought to differentiate them themselves from the enslaved. One of the transformations was the substitution of the Dutch word “boss” for “master.” The irony is that “boss” means “master.”

  5. Krystyn Podgajski

    Cruelty: pleasure in inflicting suffering or inaction towards another’s suffering when a clear remedy is readily available.

    Is it possible to have a society without cruelty? Is that even a question to ask? Humanity has become sadistic to its own end becasue sadism pays. Sadists are running the world.

    Humanity choose Mammon over God/Buddha/Lao Tzu/whatever.

  6. GlassHammer

    I think society mostly runs on ignorance in order to allow its own evils to exist.

    It’s the only way to perpetuate an unjust system and still be able to look ourselves in the mirror.

    This is why improvement is so hard. You have to remove the blinders, see the ugly problem, accept it’s there, and fix it. The problem is most people don’t want the blinders removed at all.

  7. Willy

    It seems that business sections of bookstores are still full of texts advising managers and managerial hopefuls about managing people humanely using positive means. I don’t see any advertisements anywhere for university degrees in ruthlessly corrupt sociopathic cronyism. Yet who do we see succeeding?

    When I was a gigger, I did work in places with the sane and humane boss. I also never minded the tough but fair taskmaster. In either case my work was appreciated and things got done and the company profited. But it seems that half of my employment was under cruel and incompetent management, where good people got bullied, assholes were promoted, and promising projects were mismanaged into ruin.

    The latter seems an end game, an eventuality for even good companies. I’m guessing that power games reward all the wrong people, and nobody’s figured out how to prevent this. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in grade school, with the bully dominating the playground while the nicer kids fall in line as enablers instead of just joining forces to revolt and eliminate the bully.

    I think cruelty happens because our fears allow it to happen, and the fearless are more than happy to oblige. Sooner or later the latter eventually takes control of organizations for the simple reason that they have more weapons which they’ll use, including the ability to sleep well at night regardless of who they’ve screwed.

  8. Harry Bergeron


    It\’s not a matter of wanting billionaires or cruelty. It\’s a matter of valuing freedom over the alternatives, to offer people the ability to make their own choices rather than live in a vast open air prison where everyone is completely equal whether they like it or not. Where everyone is equally shackled.

    Understand there are sound reasons why millions of people in Hong Kong are terrified of China taking things over. They do not want to lose their freedom. Ian, are you willing to tell all those people in Hong Kong that they have nothing to be scared of? That life under Xi will be a socialist utopia? It does not look like they have much of a choice?

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Historically, the -no one left behind- route is the fastest way to get to a police state, Ian. Just ask anyone who survived the Khmer Rouge.

  9. Stirling S Newberry

    Just the extreme case of psychopaths and the people who worship them say no. On the plus side, they are people who want things to be better and are will to push themselves and the people who are in their employ harder.

    There are benefits to some cruelty, though much is just wasted angst.

  10. Stirling S Newberry

    We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.

  11. Dan

    Thank goodness for the poets.

    Simple Fishermen

    I am sitting in a beautiful, shady
    place on the river bank.
    It is four o’clock, a hot afternoon.
    I have been attending a
    director’s meeting.
    What pros and cons, sharp
    words, ins and outs, ups and
    downs of the financial world!

    I am worn out. I have come here
    to forget and to rest.
    Ah, to live here by the river,
    and be a simple fisherman,
    Like the men I see below me
    near the shore drawing up
    their nets!
    How peaceful the river
    and the fishermen!

    One of the nets seems to be
    caught in the river.
    They cannot draw it up.
    Several are trying
    Such swearing!
    Such placing of blame back
    and forth!
    It looks as if there might be a fight.
    I will go back to the
    director’s room.
    The directors are gone by now.
    Perhaps I can rest there
    awhile, before I go home for
    the night.

    Fishermen and bank directors –
    life everywhere is the same.

    From The Desiderata of Happiness by Max Ehrmann

  12. dbk

    Is [systemic] cruelty required?

    No, it’s not. We shouldn’t confused cruel individuals (there are some, even some in very high places, alas) with cruel political-economic systems.

    A political-economic system whose prime objective was something other than unbridled profit via resource exploitation (including exploitation of human capital) might not be shot through with cruelty.

    What if a system’s goals were equitability and sustainability? What if its Gini coefficient were closer to 0.20 than 0.60?

    We feel trapped in a system to which TINA. But there are alternatives, and some of them might result in considerably less societal cruelty.

    Happy to entertain objections – responses by other commenters.

  13. Stirling S Newberry

    That’s well and good… except is a load of crap. Just utter bullshit. Why? Because of game theory. The only way to get a game right is to build into the game tit-for-tat. The problem with that is it cruel to the people who want at arms race. You can get people to think that “now is good enough.” They live in the richest countries. So yes, if you’ve won, now is good enough. But that’s not the view of most of the planet.

  14. GlassHammer

    Is this the part where we distinguish group psychology as a different animal from that of the individual? Because we are going to need to make that distinction to get anywhere.

    Scale of the society is also going to need a mention since that sets hierarchy and power distributions.

    Also, an answer to the question “what are we striving for” needs to be provided.

    Another fun topic is how much society is determined vs. emergent.

  15. Hugh

    Life isn’t a game.

  16. bruce wilder

    yes, the psychopaths who crawl to the top and would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven

    but what about the bloody-minded or whatever you call them at the bottom? you can say, “well, there wouldn’t be a bottom, problem solved” but I am not sure that is really an answer to every aspect of coordinating cooperation.

    if people are following rules, don’t the rules have to be devised rationally and enforced? and, if rebellion against rules and supervision prevails, do people actually have enough information to behave responsibly?

    i am not saying unruly children have to be beaten, but i do think some restraint will be necessary from time to time. People in proximity to one another will have disputes that can only be arbitrated by third-parties. this seems like one of those anarchist thought experiments that recreate the world from first principles, but end up back at something suspiciously like the same world.

  17. Feral Finster

    Krystyn: I would say that sociopaths, not sadists, run the world.

    In some ways, this is worse. If we were ruled by sadists, such as comic book villains, the evil that our rulers inflict would be too obvious to ignore or paper over.

    Instead, we are ruled by people who are just as evil, but who are also masters of rationalization, of making us rationalize, of Hobson’s choices.

  18. Gunther Behn

    Authoritarian leaders control societies by being ‘The Great”, the Fuhrer, having risen to power by being craftier and more brutal and wise than their contemporaries. The populations they control are masses of Others, who surrender their individual will to a collective — but, aping and identifying with The Leader, they often care about no one and nothing outside a tiny circle.

    It’s easy for a nation full of people like that to commit cruel acts (and, on each other), or endorse such acts are done in their name.

    Societies that believe in plurality, in diversity and have a collective sense that reflects living as part of a community don’t appear to have much motivation to be cruel to each other. They’re also less likely to support political programs that victimize internal groups or external ‘enemies’.

  19. Ché Pasa

    As an example, the Brits were unimaginably cruel throughout their imperial period, notoriously so, grotesquely so, but they weren’t cruel to everyone everywhere. Primarily the cruelty British rulers and functionaries doled out was applied to rebellious or uppity or in-the-way natives, poor people at home, the Irish because somebody had to do it, and anyone else who had something someone with more power wanted.

    Did British society have to be organized the way it was and to some extent still is? Well, in order to become the biggest and one of the shortest empires in world history, there was probably no other way. And even some of the imperialists came to understand that what they were doing and the way they were doing it was simply wrong, and having an empire wasn’t worth it.

    Of course, society can be organized cooperatively rather than coercively. In fact, at most levels, at most times, cooperative social organization is the norm. Even within a coercive imperial environment.

    The question is what it will take for our rulers — whoever they may be — to recognize that cooperative organization is likely the only way to get through the current and coming catastrophes, and the current crop of sociopaths in charge cannot, no matter how they may bellow and rage, organize cooperatively.

  20. capelin

    Hugh wrote;

    “While violence has dominated the discourse, what keeps societies together is cooperation and solidarity. States (violence) come and go. Societies (cooperation) even with all their problems endure centuries.”

    Yes! We forget how much more fucked up things would be without the billions of acts, everyday, of people acting out of love/respect/life/good.

    As to Ian’s question, my answer would be no, not as an absolute, that’s basically an impossibility. There is an inherent balance to life, like that yin/yan circle thingy. Can’t have one without the other, there needs to be a reference, not stasis.

    Could there be a society with far, far less cruelty? For sure, but only with truly representative and accountable governance. Not while the elites are entrenched at the helm.

    Governance is the biggest issue facing the world, bigger than climate change, which is a subset of governance, and certainly bigger than Covid.

  21. Ché Pasa

    Not to forget the institutional cruelty of British boarding schools that trained up generations of British and colonial factotums. As somebody said about race prejudice in some old fashioned musical, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

  22. don

    And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

  23. don

    sorry: omitted citation: gerard manley hopkins english convert i believe to catholicism (i’ moravian)

  24. GlassHammer

    Look if you set a system for large amounts of self dealing you are going to get large amounts of cruelty.

    Right now western countries are in a self dealing extravaganza (which is all a guilded age really is btw) and you can’t keep that going without propagating violence and normalizing selfish behavior.

    And you can’t fix self dealing without removing the guilty and putting them in prison. That’s right, prison is 100% required to fix the problem. The problem is everyone knows the solution but the path to enabling it is blocked by decades of laws making the illegal legal and an army of criminals who benefit from the illegal remaining legal.

  25. Willy

    Maybe somebody could do a study of native Americans, with many juxtapositioned cruel and peaceful societies. The Hopi seemed a sanely peaceful society, but the Commanches were near. A thousand miles south were the Aztecs, so murderously cruel to their neighbors that a little band of Spanish easily found all the Aztec enemies they needed to help them conquer one of the world’s largest city states. Apparently, people do have their limits. But why did the suffering have to wait for a few conquistadors to show up before they banded together to topple the power which tormented them?

    The detailed history or logistics isn’t as interesting as the psychology. What were these people thinking?

  26. Stirling S Newberry

    1 Oct retread

    Season deserts bole
    See-saws October hole
    Face-downwards print
    Decalcomania milkman echo
    Lumbering curb knocks
    Genii muscular Surrender
    Funeral treacle.

  27. Hugh

    Someone pointed this out to me so I looked it up on google. Last night, police in Louisville cleared out an encampment of protesters in the city’s downtown making 56 arrests. Their cover story was laughable. Supposedly, the city’s special response (think Buffalo) team was sent in at 2:30 in the morning after fireworks/gunshots/explosions/loud noises were heard.

    Unasked and unanswered questions are: why did it just so happen that this special response team was up and ready to roll at 2:30 AM? And were any of these loud noises anywhere around where the encampment was located? And what was it? gunshots or fireworks or explosives?

    After clearing the camp, the police chief said that a couple of pipes had been found (that could have been used for bombs). That is no guns. Apparently, no gunpowder either beyond maybe a couple of firecrackers. And that there might be a couple of pipes in a camp for stakes or supports completely escaped this fool. Nope, explosive devices.

    The reason I am harping on this is that this stinks of a police force and a mayor making up excuses, and pretty lame ones at that, to suppress and end protests. You had your day. Now go away. You had your protest. Now let’s get back to normal and more of the same ole same ole. For those who remember, this is how Occupy was done in. Expect more examples of this in othe cities in the coming days.

  28. Zachary Smith

    Is Cruelty Required to maintain US Imperial ambitions? That is what I thought when I read this story:

    Rubio, Cruz Bill Would Deem Cuba’s Medical Missions “Human Trafficking Operation”

    Cruz finished second to Trump in the 2016 Republican Primary. Rubio was third. Both are obvious pond scum. And from the link:

    The “Cut Profits to the Cuban Regime Act” proposed by Senators Rubio, Scott, and Cruz represent yet another attempt to sabotage Cuba’s historic efforts for self-determination in a political and economic landscape dominated by predatory capitalism. But, it is especially egregious when we consider the history of one of the bill’s sponsors, former Florida governor Rick Scott, who administered the largest case of Medicare fraud in the history of the United States, siphoning over $300 million into his own personal bank account.

    (we bitch a lot about Trump, but compared to what!)

    Another link:

    Trump Hammers Cuba While Cuba Cures the Sick Worldwide

    Bush Daddy used the first Gulf War to destroy Iraqi infrastructure like water treatment plants. Clinton followed up by refusing any useful materials to get through, and even the ***** Albright admitted the Clinton Administration was responsible for the death of at least half a million Iraqi kids.

    Conclusion: Cruelty is baked into the structure of the US of A as it presently exists. The practice can be seen no matter which direction a person looks. We just notice it more when a black person is executed by a thug in Blue who was quite indifferent to all the cameras pointed at him. He expected to get away with it. And he may yet.

  29. highrpm

    help me with the author of this, to the effect, “as long as there are meat processing plants, there will be wars.”

  30. Stormcrow

    Zachary Smith:

    Conclusion: Cruelty is baked into the structure of the US of A as it presently exists. The practice can be seen no matter which direction a person looks.

    Of course it is.
    How else can you possibly expect a state to develop, when it originated as a (i) slaveholding (ii) settler state?
    In order for something like that to function even marginally, cruelty has to be an essential part, if not the essential part, of the cultural DNA.

  31. Trinity

    “Our societies are based on positive and negative incentives.”

    No, not directly. The incentives merely reflect the underlying value system. Change what is valued and the incentives change.

    Just imagine where positive incentives are directed at teaching all children self discipline (chores first, then play), or positive incentives to abstain from child bearing for a few years to prevent too many mouths to feed at inconvenient times. No cruelty necessary. I know many women who don’t want children but are marginalized in this society. Why is this, when we also starve our children (or kill them in their schools)?

    Coercion is only necessary when you need to force people to work against their own interests or inclinations, especially in a regimented fashion. The teleworking explosion has shown us this. I have repeatedly heard stories that bosses who hated the idea of telework are surprised to find that productivity has remained the same or actually increased under 100% telework.

    Having some control over the work day has done wonders for people’s attitudes about work. And the (built in) incentive is to not muck up the chance for more of the same. No coercion necessary. And yes, there are some who hate telework. A friend of mine who works as an assistant to a boss has discovered under telework that she really does not actually do much at all. Manning the phones and running interference by being present was the bulk of her job, both of which are not as necessary under telework.

    And then there are many who cannot telework. Meat packers are coerced to work in unsafe conditions, but they have to do so while also understanding that the underlying value system values their output but not their lives.

    It’s no stretch to understand why mental illness and drugs that are designed to keep people complacent are needed in the midst of a truly insane value system. It is always about what (and who) is valued. Those values create the incentives, and if those incentives are cruel, this just means that coercion is necessary, not a given.

    That same set of values is also what underlies who is held accountable and who is not. It always boils down to what a society, a culture, values. And if you’ve failed to get the message, there’s tons of advertising and propaganda to remind you that your main function is to consume, including the consumption of propaganda.

    This current value system is literally consuming the world and our future, and cannot last. As someone noted here, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What goes up must come down. The only question is what the new value system will look like. Everything will follow from that, including a new set of incentives and whether coercion is necessary or not.

  32. Gunther Behn

    Re: @Hugh’s Louisville report. Thinking about Tulsa, memories of Occupy. This is preaching to the choir, but something feels different about how the past month has unspooled, compared with September of 2011.

    Disease and the beginning of an economic fall, sure. Three-plus years of a president openly corrupt and autocratic, openly supported by one political party, is a new(ish) element — but something feels different about this season.

    The same elements (race, inequality, distribution of power and wealth), are present, but — again, just a feeling — the context seems different. Race is the envelope in which all arguments about other sins of power are wrapped, a bill come due and presented at last.

    Maybe divisions between Americans are more hard-baked than they were in 2011. Maybe, due to Covid and a dead-stick economy, the Us-vs-Them, Either/Or; and with so many people focused on an artificial November deadline to ‘save’ America… things feel more serious, even desperate. Maybe it’s a recognition that if we don’t acknowledge how this argument about America is being presented, then we lose an opportunity we won’t get again for a long time, if ever.

    Authorities in Louisville — like many street cops going after protestors in the past few weeks — are using overwhelming force and intimidation. But the old formulas don’t have the same results as they used to. The images of brutal tactics can go around the world in minutes.

    You’d think, given how different these times feel, how a desperate, enraged fix-it-or-fuck-it seems to be drifting just below the surface — that the ‘authorities’ would recognize something is different and back off to avoid unnecessary suffering, confusion, death. Unless things are more serious than even I want to admit, and a confrontation is what the ‘authorities’ want.

  33. steeleweed

    The amount of deliberate, sadistic cruelty is trivial compared to the incidental cruelty of the modern world. I my view, the basic issue from which so much of our world and behavior stems is economic. Capitalism is based on capital and capital is excess wealth – more than is needed to survive. For some reason the possession of that excess seems to engender greed for more. Expressing and pursuing that greed has no scruples.

    As some of you may know, I’m a fan of the late Joe Bageant and have worked to keep his writing online. His memoir, Rainbow Pie describes the world of his youth and the changes brought on by WWII and the post-war years. That world was a community, based on family and human labor.

    He remarked that such small-scale, localized, mostly self-sufficient farming communities had worked pretty well for several thousand years. But they could not stand against the greed of Big Agriculture, bank-financed broad-acre farming controlled by Monsanto and Del Monte etc.
    As I contemplate his story, I don’t recall any instances of cruelty within his community – but there was sometimes cruelty in their rare dealings with the “outside world”, usually in the form of fraud by the “city slickers”.

    Dunbar’s Number – groups of 150-300 people can function humanely. Larger groups need imposed rules, which implies reward and/or punishment. If you want to do away with cruelty, Turn On, Tune In & Drop Out?

  34. Charlie

    About that ludicrous thought I’ve been having with regard to the few who have insinuated I should lead, here are three parts of my vision that would serve as slogans.

    1. Everyone gets a say.
    2. We will enforce the laws. No exceptions.
    3. There is no freedom without freedom from exploitation.

  35. Jan Wiklund

    Scandinavia isn’t that different any longer. Yes, it is different from the US, but not from most of Europe.

    It was, for a long time, because we had strong labour movements. Actually, Sweden had the most persistent strike wave ever in any industrialized country, in the 20s, begun with a bang of food seizures in which half a million people participated (out of a population of six million at the time). That made the upper class scary for a while, and eager for compromises. But that lasted only to the 80s.

    Norway could afford generosity a bit longer, thanks to oil money. But I think that is also gone now. And Denmark – well, that’s a funny country. Generally violence is harder there, from both police and citizens. They are still able to wrest concessions out of the upper classes, but they need strikes and street fights to do that.

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