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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Monday, October 17, 2011

Is the Left right?

When I see someone overcoming their long-held prior beliefs, I pay attention. Someone who sided with Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s doesn't have to be a supporter of financiers in 2011.

Note to rabid conservative attack dogs: criticism of the present over-concentration of economic and political power is not equivalent to the rejection of a (well-functioning) free market system.

I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right

It has taken me more than 30 years as a journalist to ask myself this question, but this week I find that I must: is the Left right after all? You see, one of the great arguments of the Left is that what the Right calls “the free market” is actually a set-up.

The rich run a global system that allows them to accumulate capital and pay the lowest possible price for labour. The freedom that results applies only to them. The many simply have to work harder, in conditions that grow ever more insecure, to enrich the few. Democratic politics, which purports to enrich the many, is actually in the pocket of those bankers, media barons and other moguls who run and own everything.

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was easy to refute this line of reasoning because it was obvious, particularly in Britain, that it was the trade unions that were holding people back. Bad jobs were protected and good ones could not be created. “Industrial action” did not mean producing goods and services that people wanted to buy, it meant going on strike. ...

A key symptom of popular disillusionment with the Left was the moment, in the late 1970s, when the circulation of Rupert Murdoch’s Thatcher-supporting Sun overtook that of the ever-Labour Daily Mirror. Working people wanted to throw off the chains that Karl Marx had claimed were shackling them – and join the bourgeoisie which he hated. Their analysis of their situation was essentially correct. The increasing prosperity and freedom of the ensuing 20 years proved them right.

... It turns out – as the Left always claims – that a system purporting to advance the many has been perverted in order to enrich the few. The global banking system is an adventure playground for the participants, complete with spongy, health-and-safety approved flooring so that they bounce when they fall off. The role of the rest of us is simply to pay.

This column’s mantra about the credit crunch is that Everything Is Different Now. One thing that is different is that people in general have lost faith in the free-market, Western, democratic order. They have not yet, thank God, transferred their faith, as they did in the 1930s, to totalitarianism. They merely feel gloomy and suspicious. But they ask the simple question, “What's in it for me?”, and they do not hear a good answer.

... The greatest capitalist country in history is now dependent on other people’s capital to survive. In such circumstances, Western democracy starts to feel like a threatened luxury. We can wave banners about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but they tend to say, in smaller print, “Made in China”.

As for the plight of the eurozone, this could have been designed by a Left-wing propagandist as a satire of how money-power works. A single currency is created. A single bank controls it. No democratic institution with any authority watches over it, and when the zone’s borrowings run into trouble, elected governments must submit to almost any indignity rather than let bankers get hurt. What about the workers? They must lose their jobs in Porto and Piraeus and Punchestown and Poggibonsi so that bankers in Frankfurt and bureaucrats in Brussels may sleep easily in their beds.

When we look at the Arab Spring, we tend complacently to tell ourselves that the people on the streets all want the freedom we have got. Well, our situation is certainly better than theirs. But I doubt if Western leadership looks to a protester in Tahrir Square as it did to someone knocking down the Berlin Wall in 1989. We are bust – both actually and morally. ...

17 comments:

silkop said...

This is not really about rich vs. poor or left vs. right. This is about cunning/smart vs. naive/stupid. The stupid typically don't understand their own shortcomings, so they compensate by an overblown sense of injustice. We should never forget that the stupid are much more dangerous than the cunning because (1) they (think they) are the 99% and (2) they are capable of damaging everyone, including themselves because (3) they have little to lose (or so they think). It looks that in USA the cunning have forgotten that the stupid need to be watched over and pampered to remain harmless.

Guy_Brodude said...

I generally agree with the author's sentiments, however, I wish he'd enumerated some specific ways in which the "game" is rigged in favor of corporations, big business and the ultra wealthy, beyond the generalized anti-bailout stuff. I read about one of this type of editorial per week, and it's easy to dismiss them simply because the accusations are usually quite vague and rhetorical.

galton said...

The left is not right. They can diagnose something well (bankers are being bailed out, healthcare costs too much, rent is too damn high) but they propose solutions that are 180 degrees wrong. 

Rather than proposing that banks be allowed to fail, they propose nationalization of banks (= further tax dollars wasted)
Rather than proposing that the FDA/Medicare/Medicaid be abolished and we towards cash pay for medicine, they want to move towards single payer.
Rather than acknowledge that environmental restrictions are used to prop up rents and stop development, they want rent control. 

Etcetera. They do not understand that a properly operating free market banking system would not have been forced to lend money to NAMs, would not be incentivized to push the envelope with FDIC, and would not have been bailed out by both Bush and Obama.

galton said...

For example, check out Paul Krugman

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/financial-romanticism/
"One line I’ve been seeing in various places, including comments here, is the claim that the real way to deal with Wall Street is laissez-faire economics: no more bailouts! On this view, policy makers should raise their right hand in the air, place their left hand on a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and swear in the name of A is A that they will never again step in to rescue failing banks. And all will be well with the world.
Sorry, but that’s a fantasy. ...there are in fact very good reasons to intervene to support banks during a financial crisis"

LondonYoung said...

"We are bust – both actually and morally. ..." - anyone really support this conclusion?  
Try this from just 1:30 to 3:00 ...  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt1fYSAChxs

nza said...

Assuming bad faith on the part of one's political opponents is a pretty bush-league rhetorical move. Have you paused to consider the notion that perhaps the "leftist elites" simply disagree with you about how to solve the country's problems? That there could be, say, moral, legal and constitutional issues with racial profiling and deportation of Muslims? That it's highly debatable, to say the very least, that the decision in Griggs vs. Duke Power is what set the "USSA" (I see what you did there) on a path to decline?

David said...

What is the left?  Answer me that.  Do I support OWS rage against the machine? Sure. That doesn't mean I support all or even most leftist positions.  If these people would confine themselves to supporting anti-bailout legislation and locking up financial wrongdoers, I think we could come to an agreement.

That's the problem ultimately.  Prosecuting Wall Street is popular because its such a slam dunk easy decision.  But just as politicians attach unrelated legislation to popular bills, political movements all want to attach their own economic hobby horses to punishing Wall Street malfeasance.

Ultimately left and right doesn't matter though.  It's all one party.  There is zero political avenues to support a pro 99% policy option.

fascistreactionary said...

If not bad faith, then foolishness.  However, how could such fools articulate and organize their ideologies?  We must look to the intellectual leaders of the movements for bad faith.

Dellas said...

This is not really. It looks that in USA the cunning have forgotten that the stupid need to be watched over and pampered to remain harmless.

nza said...

So if not A, then B, however not-B, therefore A. I don't think you've made a convincing case for the first disjunction — that there is either bad faith or foolishness on the part of the leaders of the left — and I don't think there's any evidence for the idea that anyone who's capable of articulating and organizing an ideology is thereby incapable of acting foolishly.

tc_2 said...

Or maybe this is simply more high-V, low-M superficial analysis by people who don't want to dig down and understand the details of how the financial industry works.  "Vampire squid" is a sexy hook but provides zero understanding.  Wall Street makes a lot of money - yes.  The question is, where does the money come from?  If their services are overpriced - who's buying?  

Max B said...

Exactly. Medical costs  are high cause of FDA , AMA monopoly on , large bureaucracies, frivolous lawsuits -all the elements of highly regulated market. Yes there is no "truly" free markets, and some anti-monopoly laws are needed. But what is actually implemented is government sponsored monopolies

David Cohlton Harold Eaton said...

In the past month, I have changed from conservative to hyper liberal. I know longer feel that the right's overwhelming faith in free markets, tax cuts, and deregulation will help us. I would rather tax the rich and have universal health care and a huge social safety net like other civilized countries.

reservoir_dogs said...

It is easy to focus on the bankers and call them the bad guys. Certainly they should bear their share of responsibility for the last financial crisis. What we tend not to hear are the culpibility of the so call 99%. To me, if a guy lie about his income to get a loan and then defaulted on the loan, he is every bit as guilty in causing the crisis. And most of these in the United States are in the lower end of the 99%. Similarly, in Europe, If a guy votes for a politician that are not behaving responsibly and only wanted to keep the patronage system where the government doles out jobs, This voter is also part of the problem. and most of these are in the lower end of the 99% for Europe as well.

To me, we bail out the banks not to garantee the jobs of bankers, but to protect the public at large from a bigger implosion if they all fail. To a less extend, the rectless bankers who made the wrong bets have paid a big price for being wrong. They have all been fired by the board or their banks went under. Many had a big chunk of their networth also taken out due to the failure of their banks.

The public also received bail outs by the government for behaving rectlessly in the form of forgiven loans etc. Just because they are the "little guys" should not absolved them of their responsibilities.

If we look back, we can point to places where the financial institution was immature and it grew as a result of some crisis. The Great Depression was a case in point. It left the fed which was much more effective in dealing with the current crisis. This crisis is no different. Our financial system is still growing and we will look back and see that this was the crisis that spurred the growth as needed. For sure, their will be other crisis as the system evolve. In some cases, the growth is part of the intitutional memory as well as changes in regulations. This may be one of those cases.

KenC said...

Good topic. Cause when you drill to the core all about perception-of life and human interaction. Who's getting what and why. Humans have two intertwining references and visions in their minds. Communal good--and what’s mine alone.



That is the essence of human struggle and that of course is not an original thought. “We” have just surpassed 7 billion carbon units (mostly filled with water) on this planet. Supposedly sentientent. Is there intelligent life here--or do we go elsewhere to find better?



Or is that unattainable in this era of “limited” governmental spending? And reasoning.

jaim klein said...

During the Cultural Revolution, students were "combatted against" for getting high grades. They were accused of anti-socialist tendencies for wanting to lift themselves over "the people". Is the left right?

Steve Sailer said...

Diminishing marginal returns. In Britain, some marginal tax rates were as high as 98%. Not surprisingly, cutting 98% tax rates did a lot of good. Not surprisingly, however, the next round of cuts does less good, and the round after that does even less good. Ideologically, however, we have the opposite effect: if cutting taxes once does a lot of good, that increases the confidence and prestige of those calling for tax cuts, even as the real world benefits diminish. 

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