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A selection of correspondence

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What is socialism?

I was surprised by your briefing on millennial socialism, particularly its take on the democratic socialists represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, and the false equivalence with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party (“Life, liberty and the pursuit of property”, February 16th). “Socialism” in America, much like “liberalism”, “conservatism”, “republicanism”, and, at least until recently, “nationalism”, has a very different connotation from what is meant in Europe. For example, the Democrats’ laughably imprecise “Green New Deal” is an aspirational hodgepodge of disparate goals, many of which are espoused by The Economist, such as fully accounting for the price of pollution. It is not a serious plan to take over industry by a radicalised Democratic Party. Treating it that way appears to be the starting-point, and false premise, of the equivalency between the American left and Mr Corbyn.

The policies of Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Mr Sanders seek to mimic those of Nordic countries, which are certainly capitalist. Most of the American left would be pretty well satisfied with public services similar to those of Canada or Germany. Norway’s or Denmark’s would be the moon shot. No one is talking about workers of the world uniting.

JAMES FISHER
Grand Rapids, Michigan

What the millennials are proposing is egalitarianism, not socialism. There is a distinction. The questions of what services the government should provide do not revolve around socialism versus capitalism, but rather liberty versus equality.

TERRY ORTLIEB
Castle Rock, Colorado

For years right-wingers in America have claimed that climate change is nothing more than a mask for implementing socialist policies. In one fell swoop the Green New Deal has turned this conspiracy theory into a reality, which will undermine legitimate environmentalism in the United States for years to come.

TIM REVELS
Austin, Texas

The streets of San Francisco

I was glad to find coverage in a global newspaper of what has become a crisis possible only in ultra-progressive San Francisco (“The lax tax”, February 16th). The Bay Area’s celebrated innovation and wealth are offset by a calamitous failure of public leadership to balance safety with individual rights.

A walk from the Castro to the Embarcadero takes in three miles of tents that block access to the sidewalks for our elderly residents, faeces and urine marking the way for family prams, overdosed junkies who have passed out and are possibly dying, and drug-dealers openly selling their wares in view of City Hall and shocked tourists.

Residents are fed up. I have reported thousands of encampments to the city. Some of the city’s leaders seem to be taking the issue seriously, but part of the solution involves enforcing the law. And in San Francisco, the land where anything goes, officials prefer protecting the rights of people to swing their arms (and weapons and needles) over protecting the collective chins of law-abiding citizens. It is an embarrassment to civilisation broadly, and to progressive America in particular.

PATRICK ERKER
San Francisco

Evading tax is harder

The debate on taxing the rich and the case for inheritance and wealth taxes does not take into account the changed environment within which these taxes now operate (“A way through the warren”, February 2nd). The tax-transparency agenda pushed by the OECD makes it much easier for administrations to get information on the assets that taxpayers place overseas. At the same time, the emergence of new technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence will soon make tracking the assets of the rich more effective. These developments mean that two of the traditional arguments against these taxes—that they are difficult to enforce and carry a heavy compliance cost—are no longer valid.

JEFFREY OWENS
Director
Global Tax Policy Centre
Vienna University of Economics and Business

All the world’s a stage

Is the “absurd plot” of “The Wandering Earth”, China’s first blockbusting sci-fi film, any less absurd than the fare that Hollywood routinely produces (“Lights! Camera! Win-win outcomes!”, February 16th)? Hollywood frequently portrays America leading the charge to save the planet, multilaterally if it can and unilaterally if it must. But when a Chinese film follows the same plot, it receives a supercilious critique. In fact, China may well play the role of global policeman in the not-too-distant future.

VIJAY KRISHNA
Bangalore, India

English as a lingua franca

An important part of the jigsaw was missing in your article cautioning against the use of English as the medium of learning in developing countries (“Language without instruction”, February 23rd). Sadly, these schools have been missing out on the switch to systematic phonics that has been taking place in Anglophone developed countries. Children learn to read at twice the pace with such teaching. In African countries the change is especially needed. Languages there typically have just five vowels, for instance, so the Latin alphabet can map them well. However English has 17 vowel sounds, so children need the deeper understanding that phonics gives, to distinguish “ran” from “rain”, for example.

It is outdated thinking to label English as the colonial language. Instead, as you indicated, the importance of English, and the reason why parents chose it, is so that children can get a profession and travel. Don’t say it too loudly, but private schools in Francophone countries increasingly teach in English.

CHRIS JOLLY
Jolly Phonics
Chigwell, Essex

What should the language of instruction be when the mother-tongue is orally spoken but not written? In Morocco there is a long-running debate on whether primary education would be better taught in French or in modern standard Arabic, or whether they should shift altogether to English. The trouble is that the mother-tongue is none of these; it is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, which is unique and not mutually intelligible with modern Arabic. Moroccan Arabic is also not written down traditionally, hence the lack of support for teaching Moroccan children in the language. One could conclude that Moroccan kids would best be taught in modern Arabic, though many Moroccan youths speak better French.

KOLE BOWMAN
Atlanta

I’ll tell ya, life ain’t easy…

The Graphic detail on the link between unusual names and individualism was fun (February 16th). But it came as no surprise to music fans. Johnny Cash popularised “A Boy Named Sue” at a concert for San Quentin’s prisoners. As the song recounts, Sue’s name guaranteed that he would grow up to be one tough cookie.

DAVID WATKINS
Bournemouth

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