Sunday, October 02, 2011

Five thoughts on the left

Some passing thoughts about our friends on the other side of the political spectrum:

1. Never forget that the left is objectively anti-freedom. Every power given to the government is taken from the people. If one favors more government, one necessarily favors less liberty for its citizens. This is why the left and libertarians do not exist on an equal moral plane. While libertarians are content to let those with leftist beliefs live their lives free of coercion and largely as they see fit -- indeed, they can found a commune/worker's paradise and live out utopian socialist fantasies to their heart's content under a libertarian society -- the reverse is not true (the establishment of a Galt's Gulch in a welfare state setting would be illegal, as it would necessarily be in violation of numerous laws designed to support the welfare state).

Simply put, the left wants to use government coercion to  run your life as much as possible -- including purely voluntary transactions (who you buy from, how much you pay them, whether people can buy food cooked with transfats, etc.) -- while the libertarian right does not. The left thinks it knows what society should look like and which outcomes are desirable while the libertarian right has no such pretensions. The only reason there is not more of an outcry over this is because many people have made a devil's bargain with the left, by which they surrender their freedom in exchange for the lucre extracted from society's most prosperous (frequently those who are most productive). 

2. The expansion of government for the left is both an end and a means. Does anyone really think that if tomorrow all of the world's social ills disappeared that the left would call it a day, pack up the various elements of the welfare state and go home? Of course not. Even if no problems existed, new ones would be conjured up to justify massive government interventions. Indeed, to an extent we already see this through the rise of income inequality as a cause célèbre even though it is in no way obvious why this is a problem.

Remember that much of leftist philosophy is based not only on the goal of eliminating need and privation (a goal the right also shares, but differs on method) but the achievement of social justice, which is simply an ordering of societal outcomes as it sees fit based on a nebulous concept of fairness that is necessarily up for individual interpretation. Social justice cannot be accomplished without Leviathan

3. If the left is concerned with solving various social ills -- the adoption of green energy, hunger, poor housing, etc. -- why don't they just go out and try to ameliorate them on their own rather than turn to government? Why not start one's own solar company, food pantry or affordable housing non-profit? Think Wall Street is unethical? Start your own financial services firm. Think workers at Wal-Mart or in Bangladesh are paid too little? Start your own business and pay them more.

The decision to pursue social change through government rather than one's own individual initiative in turn leads to the absurd spectacle of politicians with zero experience in the private sector holding forth on such weighty matters as the type of energy we should consume, how our health care system should be structured, and the type of cars we should be driving. (Libertarians do not pretend to have the answer to any of this questions, and instead advocate returning freedom to the people in order to figure it out themselves. Leftist thought is implicitly arrogant while libertarianism is humble and a recognition of one's own limitations.)

Let me be clear, however, that many of those with left-wing beliefs do in fact start and fund such organizations, and for that they have my admiration. This is more directed at those who do not choose such a path and instead simply lobby for more government intervention to accomplish the social outcomes they desire. (Related points by Don Boudreaux here)

4. The basic tenet of libertarianism is pretty easy to spell out: people should be free to do as they want until the violate the rights of someone else (to include pollution and fraud), and government should only be charged with providing those services the private sector cannot (the military being a classic example). The left, however, is not nearly so coherent and it is unclear what the core principles of its creed are. Rather much of it is arbitrary and capricious. This is not a surprise -- simply look at the first principles of each school of thought. The first principle for libertarians is simple -- maximizing liberty. For self-styled progressives, however, their first principle is what? Progress? How is that defined? Who can make such a determination?

This lack of any precise definition helps explain such absurd contradictions such as leftist railing against corporations and corporate welfare, but then eagerly ladling out taxpayer dollars to favored industries such as green energy and high-speed rail. It claims to be a defender of the first amendment and against censorship, but then pushes for campus speech codes. It favors more government intervention in the economy while stopping short of communism and outright ownership of production (although health care is a notable exception), with no apparent rhyme or reason as to what the correct level of intervention is. It is given to the fancies of the moment, and whatever happens to be fashionable at a particular time. The contradictions are reconciled under the overarching rubric of "progress" (e.g. taxpayer money for solar companies may be corporate welfare, but solar power represents progress, therefore it is permissible). 

5. Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, the left is not liberal. The term is an absolute misnomer and one this blog strenuously attempts to avoid. Two definitions of the word are as follows:
  • Favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
  • Favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.
This is no way describes the modern American left, which constantly imposes new restrictions on personal freedom (especially economic freedom) and is intolerant of dissenting views and beliefs (note left-wing support for speech codes and legislation such as the Fairness Doctrine). The only true liberals are libertarians, who believe in maximum freedom, tolerance and minimal coercion. Everyone else are pretenders. 

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