Why Both Left and Right Are Wrong

The Left’s calling itself “progressive,” while in some ways annoying, isn’t entirely wrong. A key element is caring about other people, including those outside the traditional ambit of human concern (our own families and tribes), and even sometimes including non-people. UnknownThis is indeed progressive; this widening of human concern, working toward a better, fairer world, with lessening conflict and violence, compared to the past, reflects very real progress. It’s ironic that another typical attribute of the “progressive” temperament is denial of such progress.

It’s because being critical and cynical flatters the Left’s intellectual vanity. Indignation is a satisfying emotion. To be an optimist, on the other hand, to believe well of others, and that we’re making progress, seems just too sappy. It isn’t hip.

The Left views market capitalism with hostility, as though it’s some kind of perverted system artificially imposed by a conspiracy of a few to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest; which could be changed if we wanted to. Not a single element of that catechism reflects reality. A market economy is merely the natural, indeed inevitable, way that any bunch of humans interacts. Yes, with friends and family, we do a lot of sharing. images-1But otherwise if you have something of value – be it an object, or your labor – you won’t give it without getting something in return, indeed the most you can get (bar fraud or cheating). That is in fact merely justice (a word the Left loves). Striving to do well for oneself isn’t wrong; mostly people do that by creating value for others who’ll pay them for it. And this is how we’ve made a better, richer world — by people putting in efforts in order to improve their own situation. Is this the “greed” we hear so much about?

And the Left’s conception of justice tends to omit what ought to be its principal component: deservingness. While they do insist no one deserves to be poor, they meantime seem to deny that anyone deserves to be rich. At least they don’t see any entitlement to keep riches one has earned.

The right is less confused about the economics, but frankly tends to be grinch-hearted. images-2Its conception of justice is flawed in mirror-image of the Left’s – believing that when people don’t succeed it’s because they didn’t deserve to. That the less successful are basically slackers and moochers (this is why Romney’s infamous “47%” comment was so resonant). The right doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge how much luck determines one’s situation. And if the Left is overly obsessed with inequality, the right is too complacent about it.

Even cave people were humane enough to take care of the sick, infirm, or injured. Today’s right no longer seems to regard this as a fundamental societal obligation. Part of the problem is that the whole issue of helping the needy is crapped up by the fact that the great bulk of “help” goes to people who aren’t needy at all (look at the farm program, for example, most of whose subsidies go to millionaires). Unknown-1This blatant milking of the government teat tends to taint all such spending.

But we are a very rich society that can easily afford to take care of those less fortunate – if only we focused on just that.


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5 Responses to “Why Both Left and Right Are Wrong”

  1. Greg Says:

    Extremist on either side of the political spectrum are the trouble-makers. They are almost certainly wrong with the simplistic, ideological-driven positions they hold. The world is way to complicated for simple solutions to work in many cases. Usually the best answer for political/social problem is somewhere in the middle.

  2. Mike Harrison Says:

    Frank, you’ve mischaracterized both the “left” and the “right.” The left is not hostile to market economies: Keynes, for example, was a die-hard supporter of capitalism, but understood that market economies are subject to decline and decay, and wanted to fix them. But after Marx and George (1840s), Kuznets (1955) was the first to sense the enormous importance of income and wealth distribution to prosperity and decline, a point Keynes overlooked.

    The “right”, on the other hand, has economics mostly wrong. Neoclassical theory, now in the mainstream, improperly aggregates micro concepts, and ignores the constraints of the money supply and the excess rent collections that concentrate wealth with no contribution to tangible production. Beyond that, the mythologies of trickle-down and austerity have been repeatedly disproved since WW II, but they survive because they serve the interests of corporations and the wealthy.

    Early classical economists — e.g., Smith, Say, Malthus, Ricardo — were on the right track scientifically, asking the right questions. In the next generation, Marx and George were honing in on theories of growth, poverty and depression, just as Ricardo’s value-based theories were being refined by J.S. Mill. These would prove to be oversimplified, static models, but they were popular in the U.S. because the presumption of full employment equilibrium seemed to wipe out concerns about poverty and inequality. That gave birth to the neoclassical synthesis of J.B.Clark, et al, that merely presumed an optimal, inequality-free economy.

    The objective of “political economy” early on was optimizing social welfare, and most of the early classical economist (inc. Smith, Malthus, Mill, and Marx) were die-hard socialists. Today, the objective of American capitalism is unrestrained profit maximization..

    State-directed communism destroys incentives, and you and Greg both point out that the moral solution is somewhere in the middle.. What has been missing until quite recently, however, is the realization growth optimization is in the middle too — extreme, unfettered capitalism does in fact destroy itself (as Marx predicted) and fairly quickly. Rising inequality depresses growth, and that is the effective cause of depressions.

    The U.S. and world economies are well along toward that inevitability today. As Mill pointed out, this is not the result of “laws” but of society’s choices. That’s why we need to understand fully how economic inequality leads to depression. It’s not a question of “right” or “left” — it’s a question of survival. . .

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    Mike seems to have fallen victim to the inequality obsession, a common malady nowadays. All single-magic-bullet economic theories are wrong, and the inequality obsession is one of them. Inequality is a legitimate concern, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Followers of this mythos seem to have no economic policy except to make the rich less rich. Only by the bluntest of tools do they propose to raise the rest — best I can tell, simply by handing them some of the wealth taken away from the rich. This is not a route to a better society, nor a more just one.

  4. Mike Harrison Says:

    But you haven’t haven’t gotten to the substance: You ignore my factual claim that Inequality depresses growth. And You have to understand economic theory to understand that.

    Nothing makes my recitation here a “single-magic-bullet economic theory” except your say-so. Your post focuses only on morality, not on how economies work. Yes, it is complicated, more than you know. But all complex ideas are not necessarily correct. It’s quite facile to reject a few paragraphs because they do not tell the whole story. That is true of all of your own ruminations on economics as well, but do you carefully self-criticize each time, on the basis of your own narrow perspective or abstraction? N o – but you do set yourself up as all-knowing, the ultimate arbiter of fact, even when you present no facts!. .

    Your Book, “The Case for Rational Optimism,” reveals your bias: “‘various crises come and go, but for every step backward, we’re taking two steps forward.” Really? Everything is improving? Nothing is getting worse?

    “I’m not just dispensing ‘happy talk’ or wearing rose colored glasses,” but: “What I see no is more democracy, freedom, and human rights than in past ages, more productiveness, wealth, education, and knowledge, less child labor and infant mortality, better health and longevity, less poverty, hunger and illiteracy, more amenities and pleasure, less bigotry, violence and unfairness, more cooperation, compassion, options and choices.” (p.xii) This is a breathtaking list of wishful thinking and denialism — you’re not only wearing rose colored glasses, but you’re also wearing blinders… .

    So how do you show that you have the correct set of ideas? Don’t we have to objectively rely on real-world evidence? It’s what Steven Hawking calls “model-dependent realism.” We all have models in our minds of what is happening in our world, and it is these models that give us our view of “reality.” Your model is too careless, and distinctly ideological. You present a bias against pessimism, and negativity, and use that to discredit opposing views. That’s sloppy thinking, and it’s fatal to the scientific perspective.

    That, of course, pre-determines your reaction to any claim evidence shows that inequality is getting worse or that economic growth is declining, or that matter that poverty, hunger, and illiteracy in the U.S. are getting worse. People who reach such conclusions, from your perspective, are just negative thinkers, crybabies: And, you say, “America, traditionally the world capital of opportuniism, today has a bumper crop of carping crybabies” My own analysis is dismissed as “obsessive” and wrong because it is “pessimistic.”

    Your psychology is hardly distinguishable from that of Dinesh D’Souza and his movie “America: Imagine the world Without Her” That movie left me profoundly disturbed because he begged every question he asked and stacked the deck with simplistic, opinionated answers. Like D’Souza, you seem incapable of imagining the world without your IMAGE of America. D’Saousa gives us simple images of progress supported by slanted analysis, while you ignore reality too, but write off any negativity analysis as TOO SIMPLISTIC. My perspective represents “magic-bullet” fixes. What fixes? Did I get to remedies? You seem to prefer to just deny that any problem exists..

    None of this is helpful discourse, nor does it advance the cause of identifying reality. So I think our exchange of “ideas” has reached the limits of its rational possibilities. I’ll come back and check your response, but I won’t prolong this an further.

    Peace .

    . .

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    As I have written (https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/an-ideology-of-reality/), mine is an ideology of reality: instead of beliefs driving perceptions of reality, it’s perception of reality driving beliefs.
    To deny the degree of progress achieved in the U.S., and the world, in modern times, over a whole waterfront of key concerns (which was the basic thrust of my “optimism” book), demonstrates a mind blinded by ideology. (Just one illustrative datum: worldwide average real-dollar incomes rose five-fold during the previous century).

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