A fascinating question in The Guardian

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A fascinating question in The Guardian to which we have the answer.

Where now are the earthly paradises from which an idealist can take hope?

Well, yes, where?

With Barack Obama on his way to a changing Cuba, the left is fast running out of countries to revere

In our lifetimes the answer, which country should the British left look to as the example of the good society, has changed. From the various Soviet abominations, through Nicaragua, some have more lately looked to Greece, to Argentina under the Kirchners, possibly to Brazil and Venezuela. There was a brief moment when Pol Pot was the man although that little embarrassment is generally smoothed over now. And of course Cuba's totalitarian poverty has always been there as a goal.

Yet if we were to rerun matters from when socialism was first thought of as a reasonable method of organising society, say the 1870s or 1880s, we'd have to admit that none of those places have done as well as the North Atlantic countries that almost all of us reading here inhabit. The largely capitalist, largely free market, economies are those that have delivered that list of wants and desires. Free at the point of use education, health care. Cheap food for all, the UK is currently falling down a bit on decent and cheap housing but most of Europe manages it. It is possible in our current day and age for a human to flourish as no other groups of societies have ever managed to permit, let alone allow or encourage.

That is, if we think of the stated goals then the road to that socialist paradise is some version of the capitalist free marketism. And we're really not all that sure how important the capitalist part is, even though we're entirely adamant that the free market part is vital. Because almost all of the disasters of those socialist attempts have come from the attempts to destroy markets rather than the simple nationalisation of the means of production.

There are of course possible variations within this system. The Nordics do rather more taxing and redistributing than we do for example. They are also notably more free market, robustly so, than the US or UK. But the end result of our 150 years or so of experimentation seems to be that if you want to make the common man better off then you're restricted to that narrow band of policy choices somewhere between classical liberalism and social democracy. We've tried almost all of the other schemes out there in one place or another and none of them have worked. Corporatist fascism doesn't, anti-marketism doesn't, the various flavours of socialism lite don't and the attempt to get to communism was a disaster everywhere.

That is, if you want to create utopia you really ought to have the gumption to note that by any historical or global standard, you are standing in it. Nope, it's not perfect, we too can find things that we think can be done better. We can even think of radical policies that we would hope to see enacted: but the basic underlying structure of a society that works seems to have been proven. Let the market rip and tidy up around the edges as much as you desire. Tax it more or less heavily as you wish to redistribute. We would tax less than others, they would redistribute more than we. But if anyone really does want to lay claim to the title of "scientific socialism" then it really is necessary that they take account of the evidence.

What actually can we prove works? A largely market, even free market, society with some level of taxation and redistribution on top of it. Nothing else does seem to.