But aren’t Republicans better for business?
Some people sure think so. In the 1980s I worked for a startup, and whenever he was asked about stock options, the CEO would talk about it depending somehow on whether a Republican or a Democrat was elected President. Why this wasn’t stopping other tech companies from getting rich, he never explained. But he evidently thought Republicans were better for business.
This is why Bob Deitrick and Lew Goldfarb’s book Bulls, Bears, and the Ballot Box is so interesting. They compare the economy under Republican and Democratic presidents from 1929 to 2008‒ as it happens, that works out to 40 years each. Their results are stunning.
Under Democrats Under Republicans
Avg. annual stock market return 9.60% 0.58%
Avg. annual change in GDP per capita 3.48% 0.50%
Avg. annual change in national debt per capita 0.83% 3.90%
Percent of months in recession 8.22% 29.59%
Avg. annual change in corporate after tax profit 4.53% -11.65%
Avg. annual trade balance -34.38b -174.10b
Remember in the last little stint the chart about government debt carried per party’s term? Spending money can always yield short-term gains. Furthermore, government deficit spending inflates the money supply, pushing prices (and with them returns) higher. It is when the bills come due that we see problems. Democrats are not known to spend more for nothing.
Now, the Republican numbers are weakened because they include Herbert Hoover. However, they aren’t improved much if you remove Hoover and, in compensation, Jimmy Carter. And arguably, it’s completely fair to include Hoover when current Republican doctrine is precisely to repeal every element of the New Deal, from Social Security to bailing out failed megacorporations to ditching the gold standard.
Is this the best we can do?
The main point of this page is that liberalism outperforms plutocracy. But it’s worth asking if any third system does better than both.
Again, the author misses the Congressional piece of the puzzle here. The only aspect of the economy that the president has control over is the regulatory apparatus under the administrative branch, fiscal policy, and foreign policy. All right that is a hell of a lot. But it isn’t the entire picture, nor does it take into account the fact that the trends have been ongoing despite the occupant of the Oval office.
By now it’s clear that communism isn’t an alternative. Capitalism does better than communism, for both rich and poor. This was of course not obvious a priori‒ for all anyone knew in 1932, Marx and Orwell were right, and capitalism was too stupid to thrive. In the early part of the 20th century, in fact, there were times when the USSR was doing better‒ it didn’t suffer the Great Depression, for one thing. But it’s now clear that this was the one-time effect of a transition from agricultural to industrial production. Once it was done, the USSR stagnated. China didn’t prosper until it effectively abandoned communism.
FINALLY! Finally our guy says something halfway reasonable (only halfway reasonable because any halfwit knows that communism led to the death of 70-100 million human beings and should not be defended, ever). Let’s just let him have that one, I won’t even talk about the shortages and murders in the USSR during the “part of the 20th century where the USSR was doing better than America.” Means and ends, my friends…
Dictatorships in general are also a bad idea, from a purely pragmatic point of view: either they strangle the economy with crony capitalism, or they destroy it with war.
Yes. But the author again forgets – FDR was very much like a dictator during his reign, and the author has praised him for ramming his programs through. In fact, remember when we were talking about the Commerce Clause and the flurry of regulations that happened thereafter? The cause for that change was the dictator-like will of FDR. In the 30’s, as he was trying to pass New Deal legislation, FDR ran into significant a significant road block – four men on the SCOTUS now known as the Four Horsemen (presumably a reference to the Apocalypse, but in actuality probably the baddest-ass nickname for a band of robes that ever existed). These men were strict construction constitutionalists, and struck down FDR’s tyrannical “progressive” plans over and over again. Eventually, FDR grew tired of the game, and announced his court-packing plan. The goal of this plan, if these Supreme Court justices would not vote as he wished, was to simply add justices of FDR’s choosing to the court until he had the majority needed to pass the legislation. As a result of this and possibly extra-legal threats by FDR-folk, the swing voting justice, Owen Roberts, changed his vote in favor of the New Deal programs involved. This is now referred to as “the switch in time that saved the Nine,” and it is likely the reason why we do not have 10+ government-obsessed justices as opposed to the 4 to 8 we have today depending on your point of view. What it did do is allow for Supreme Court cases like Lochner and its ilk, which changed government regulation of business forever.
Is that the kind of dictatorship you mean, dear author -the kind where a power-hungry circumvent the legal document designed to protect the people’s interests from an over-intrusive government? Nah, probably not. One guy running the country how he wants is democratic and liberal, didn’t you know?
Let’s also think about crony capitalism. Crony capitalism can be understood as the system of governance in which regulatory capture, government bailouts, and stimulation of the economy via injection of liquidity (money) into certain sectors is deemed to be the best way to rule. This is the system we have today. It is not capitalism, it is an aberration thereof, where the government picks who will receive windfalls, and socializes the losses of those that have been chosen.
But this is exactly what democracy is – the ability to influence legislation in your favor because you have the support to do so. Crony capitalism is the only result possible within the democratic paradigm – and it means that the skew of government laws and regulations will inevitably be toward the rich and away from the poor. Yes, there is serious wealth transfer going on in America – and it is toward the rich.
From my point of view, there’s no great difference between American liberalism and European or Japanese social democracy. Other countries often do a better job at the social part‒ our Social Security is well run, but we tend to half-ass the rest of the safety net. For awhile conservatives thought that the safety net was slowing Europe down, but that’s not the case. The irony is that Europe is now being mismanaged on conservative principles: the Europeans’ solution to a depressed economy is to put people out of work, tighten money, and lower spending. So they’re implementing Hooverism right now, and it’s working about as well as it did for Hoover. (Hint: not well.)
Two things (this guy just won’t give me a break). The myth of Hoover being a small government idealist is just that – a myth. He increased government spending, increased regulatory interventions in the market, and essentially created the New Deal policies FDR put in place.
Second, the U.S.’s liberalism (again undefined) may be like those forms of social democracy. But the European version developed after the French Revolution. Its motto is “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” meaning “freedom, equality, brotherhood.” The French have had some great philosophers in ages past, but it seems none were alive at the time of the development of this motto. Equality and freedom can never exist simultaneously, because true equality does not exist and must be forced. In steep contrast, our motto is “E pluribus unum,” or “from many one.” This motto was put in place with the American spirit in mind, specifically that the U.S. had historically been a place that people of all nations, colors, and ways of life could emigrate to and make a life for themselves free from burdensome government. It is a motto of self-sufficiency and freedom, not one that might be corrupted today because we like what Europeans do better (which won’t work in the first place). Why not move to Europe, if it is the paradise you believe it to be, and stop ruining our economy? Let them take 50-75% of your income and waste it on each other’s past bills. The author is mistaken – there has been nearly no austerity in Europe. Market forces are tearing the Eurozone apart, because the governments will not reign in spending…
It’s true that a very generous welfare state seems to reduce GDP per capita; e.g. the ratio of French to US GDP per capita is .731 (as of 2008). But if you look at GDP per hour worked, the ratio is .988. That is, French workers are just as productive as Americans; they just work fewer hours. And that’s basically a social choice: they start work later, they retire earlier, and they have longer vacations. That’s just a different set of choices on what to do with productivity gains. (And it’s not like we’re at the opposite end of the scale; the five-day week and the eight-hour day are 19th century innovations.)
Is there an untested alternative? I hope so! The modern economy is the culmination of centuries of experimentation and revolution, and I’m sure we’ll come up with something better. Heck, I’ve written an sf novel about it. On the other hand, the more radical your proposed changes, the less likely they are to a) work, and b) convince me to vote for you. Plus, if your new idea is “laissez-fair plus marijuana and maybe the Singularity”, don’t bother.
Let’s talk welfare and entitlements, or “safety nets” as people call them today. Welfare has a number of bad effects that our author presumably ignores. Welfare-supporting do-gooders often fail to account for economic law itself. Opportunity cost and scarcity still bind reality in light of government edicts. If wealth is to be redistributed, it will have to be taken from other places, distributed by an agency that will take a chunk off the top for overhead, and only then be able to “give” the money to those who “need” it.
Entitlement spending is also responsible for usurping the role family has traditionally taken. Social security (a program by which those with less income are forced to support the demographic with the highest income of any demographic), for example, has led to the isolation of the elderly from their families, one author notes:
A life of isolation from children and grandchildren, an “independence” that many of them would cheerfully trade for closeness to the people whom they nurtured throughout their lives. Instead they subsist on e-mails, semi-annual visits, some Hallmark cards, a Web-ordered floral bouquet on Grandparents’ Day—even as their descendants grow up with little or no exposure to their elders’ wisdom and cultural memory. My own nephews and nieces know little of their grandfather’s history, have absorbed almost nothing of his worldview, heard few of his tales, his recollections of the Great Depression and his service in occupied Germany—much less of our family’s origins in the Adriatic islands long ruled by Venice. I do not think that my clan is exceptional in its rootlessness; in fact, we are all too typical. The chain of memory that has traditionally linked the generations has been stretched almost to snapping, with the hearty encouragement of a government policy that reduces elders to a second adolescence—an over-funded independence, shorn of responsibilities or community.
Hans Hoppe elaborates this theory:
In conjunction with the even older compulsory system of public education, these institutions and practices [of welfare] amount to a massive attack on the institution of the family and personal responsibility. By relieving individuals of the obligation to provide for their own income, health, safety, old age, and children’s education, the range and temporal horizon of private provision is reduced, and the value of marriage, family, children, and kinship relations is lowered. Irresponsibility, shortsightedness, negligence, illness and even destructionism (bads) are promoted, and responsibility, farsightedness, diligence, health and conservatism (goods) are punished. The compulsory old age insurance system in particular, by which retirees (the old) are subsidized from taxes imposed on current income earners (the young), has systematically weakened the natural intergenerational bond between parents, grandparents, and children. The old need no longer rely on the assistance of their children if they have made no provision for their own old age; and the young (with typically less accumulated wealth) must support the old (with typically more accumulated wealth) rather than the other way around, as is typical within families. Consequently, not only do people want to have fewer children—and indeed, birthrates have fallen in half since the onset of modern social security (welfare) policies—but also the respect which the young traditionally accorded to their elders is diminished, and all indicators of family disintegration and malfunctioning, such as rates of divorce, illegitimacy, child abuse, parent abuse, spouse abuse, single parenting, singledom, alternative lifestyles, and abortion, have increased.
Moreover, Social Security returns around 1/6th of the income of average market investments over the same period of time. The system is completely inefficient, and largely steals the productivity of capital funds invested privately.
Look at the family makeup in the country our author wants us to emulate: France. The country is almost the definition of family disintegration. Then again, we are at a point in time where it is very much in vogue to be anti-family to begin with, so perhaps this is a good thing to the “liberal” ideal our man espouses. Could the out-of-wedlock birthrate rising from 5% in 1960 to 28% in 1990 (23% to 65% among blacks) have anything to do with our growing ability to rely on the state?
Fact: the amount of those in poverty in the U.S. has been decreasing since the beginning of the country (except small dips here and there, one of which being now). But look at food stamp programs:
This is great evidence of Robert Higgs’ ratchet effect, whereby the government exerts influence over one area, and any negative stats are taken to mean failure. Failure in the free market usually means lowing money, defaulting on debts, and going out of business. For government programs, it means more money for the program, and a raise to the first person to argue that what is needed is more of the same policies that have led to the failure. More! More I say! More of the same! Remember: subsidize something and you will get more of it. Tax it and you will get less of it. What does that mean for poverty in this country? History proves this to be true time and time again. Take Sweden today (a “liberal” paradise). A major study in 2002 determined that the median household income in Sweden was $26,800, compared to $39,400 in the U.S. The Swedish median household income was lower, even than blacks in the U.S., the lowest median household income demographic. One Social Security employee explains:
In the field — I was a supervisor out there for years and years — your staffing, your budget for supplies, and your awards money for the employees was based on work units. Now, work units were assigned based on the number of claims you took. So we would sit around and figure out how we could get more people on the SSI rolls, because it would benefit us. The more applications we took, the more work units, the bigger the staff: we could build up an empire.
Essentially, the question then becomes: which is better, government or private charity? Glad you asked. The moral argument is important, of course, because government robs us of the responsibility to care for our fellow man, as well as the moral credit we should get from helping our neighbors. Plus, it is essentially theft. If I pull my gun on a guy driving a Porsche down the street, take all of his money, walk around the block and give it to a poor guy, merely because my intentions are “noble” (arguable) does not make my action morally acceptable. This is the exact same thing. The moral quality of this type of thinking also needs to involve discussion of what happens when an entitlement culture develops. If I am entitled to a job, certain amounts of property, et cetera, then I am entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labor. Are there limits to that mindset? Will it be a productive mindset to the youth? Could it result in societal disintegration?
Not only does government charity have bad effects, it is completely dysfunctional compared to private charity. It takes $5 taken by the government to produce a $1 benefit to those it is “helping.” Would you give to a charity that only gives 20 cents of every dollar to the poor and wastes the remaining funds on red tape and pay for its employees? Again, that is not the whole story. In addition to being inefficient at allocating the funds, government involvement in charity crowds out the competition. For every $1000 given by the government in charity, private charity decreases by an estimated $750. Reason this with the input needed by the government to produce $1 of charity, and you can easily see that the state is at least around 667% less efficient than private charity. Meaning that if the market provided even one-sixth the funds that the government does to charity programs, it would beat out the government by 66% efficiency.
I want to also rewind and reflect entitlements through the left/right lens. You know the narrative. When a Democratic president is elected, welfare expands to help the poor, and when a Republican is elected, welfare is savagely slashed without thought to the poor. As it turns out, in a series of studies collected by Nicholas Eberstadt of AEI (a publication whose aims I disagree with often, to say the least) determined that entitlement spending (including welfare) expanded greatly under Republicans, not Democrats. In fact, though we have had exponential growth in this area since the 60s, the growth in entitlements and welfare was 8% higher on average if a Republican happened to be in office. Democratic growth of these programs was much less, at around 2% on average. So if you want the biggest “I give other people’s money to the poor!” candidate, chances are you should stick with the Republicans.
We could also analyze all of the “advances” in government support of the unemployed, such as the extension of unemployment insurance or job training programs. On the latter, one could talk about the Job Training Corps, a government program in 1965 aimed at giving the unemployed the skills they would need to function in the marketplace. Per person, the cost of this program was equal to an education at Harvard. Studies revolving around this program showed that people who completed the training had no better chance of employment than those who didn’t even show up for the training. In the first year, over 66% of the people who entered the JTC didn’t finish the program. But that is not all. The same type of program was initiated in the 90’s, called the Boston Compact. It was designed to give everyone who completed high school a job. High school dropouts increased after the program began. Numerous other job studies showed the same effects – job training programs did nothing to help unemployment (at the taxpayer expense), and in the worst cases increased it. Government estimates of the extent of these programs guess the cost to be $20 billion of spending a year, spread among 163 programs. Do you think that these programs are adding $20 billion a year to our economy?
I also got my hands on a study (a little dated, but the info is clear) by the Cato Institute. Tom Woods explains it:
The perverse incentives of the welfare state have all too frequently enticed the poor, blacks included, away from finding remunerative work and toward a mentality of dependency and entitlement. In 1995 the Cato Institute examined the welfare packages (which, recall, are tax free) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 40 states, the study found, welfare paid more than an $8 per hour job; in 17 it paid more than a $10 per hour job; and in six states and the District of Columbia it paid more than a $12 per hour job. According to researcher Michael Tanner, “In 9 states welfare pays more than the average first-year salary for a teacher. In 29 states welfare pays more than the average starting salary for a secretary. In 47 states welfare pays more than a janitor makes.” In the six most generous states, welfare benefits even constitute more than the entry-level salary for a computer programmer. Such incentives only reinforced certain perverse cultural trends, discussed below.
It is revealing that when the Bureau of the Census asked the unemployed poor in 1990 why they were not working, only 4.1 percent gave as the reason an inability to find work. Likewise, when Harvard economist Richard Freeman surveyed unemployed inner-city black youths in 1980, 70 percent told him they could easily find a job. By the end of the enormously prosperous 1980s, the figure had risen to 75 percent. They simply refused to take the relatively low-paying jobs open to them, even though the interpersonal and other skills one learns at such jobs have traditionally been the first step toward prosperity for a great many Americans, particularly immigrants eager to succeed.
Giving the mic back…
More practical benefits
So, liberalism does a far better job distributing the productivity gains in a modern society. But there are other practical advantages as well.
Yes, you have shown this to be very true.
A prosperous middle class is a huge and valuable market. Where do you think you can sell more hamburgers, movies, or iPads‒ the middle class of the US, or that of Mexico? This was Henry Ford’s insight: pay the workers more and they can afford your products.
The paradox of plutocracy is that when business can do exactly as it wants, the economy tanks. As Adam Smith noted two hundred years ago, businessmen distrust general prosperity; they’re so focused on reducing labor costs that they kind of prefer recessions. But if everyone reduces labor costs, national income is going down, which means the market is languishing.
A safety net encourages innovation. New businesses aren’t started by the super-rich, but by nobodies. The US’s liberal bankruptcy laws, for instance, encourage entrepreneurship, because the entrepreneur won’t be destroyed by failure. Curious how the “pro-business” party actually passed a law to make bankruptcy more punitive.
Regulation increases public health and safety. Sometimes it can be excessive, but that can be corrected. This is another instance of people forgetting the evils that liberalism got rid of. It was not actually a good thing when companies could put filth in our meat, dump industrial waste in our drinking water, and build deathtrap automobiles.
Matt Yglesias points out that high taxes encouraged firms to spend money on investment and research‒ things that benefit the country as a whole, rather than (say) William Koch building himself a replica private frontier town.
Liberals encourage immigration, which grows the market for everyone and brings in people with high skills and motivation. As Yglesias notes, everyone accepts that internal migration is good‒ if Chicago declared that no one could move to Chicago, this wouldn’t “protect Chicago jobs”; it’d make the city stagnate. But somehow conservatives want a stagnant national population.
Dampening unrest. If people see their income rising, they won’t storm into your mansion and hang you from the nearest lamppost. Oppressed people revolt‒ the medieval peasants were doing it all the time‒ but oppressed modern people have guns and bombs and a good deal less tolerance for misery than the peasants.
Of course we don’t think about violent revolution in the US, but why not? It happened in some very advanced countries (Germany, Italy), and there were some very restless people in the Depression and in the 1960s. Very simply, liberalism calmed them down‒ because people could see that they were getting better off. What if the conservatives succeed in impoverishing the middle class? How long will people buy into a system that’s operated only for the benefit of the Romneys and Galts and Gekkos?
If we do keep impoverishing people, we’ll be outcompeted by countries that mobilize their entire adult population for useful work. Having a permanent underclass, or a huge unemployed population, is in a strange way a luxury. It means we’re wasting productive resources. Right now our major competitors‒ Europe and Japan‒ are trying to outdo us in making bad choices. But we can’t count on that forever. And the day of a small First World is past anyway. China, India, and Brazil matter more than they ever did, and though they don’t have our efficiency, they have the manpower to make up for it. Hobbling ourselves by keeping the middle class struggling is just a poor choice going forward.
Romney vs. his lessers
As I was putting this page together, Mitt Romney was unusually candid in his contempt for half the population of the country. 47% of the country, he informed us, pay no federal taxes; this 47%, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. …My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
You can’t get much clearer than that: the Presidential nominee for the Republicans makes it completely clear that he is only concerned for that 53% who happen to pay federal taxes. That’s immoral, un-Christian, and disgusting.
But that’s just morality. Just as appalling is his use of this stale consie trope to tell his big lie‒ that Obama voters are irresponsible.
Let’s look at who pays federal taxes‒ and why not.
53% of Mitt’s targets (28.3% of the population) pay federal payroll taxes (the specific, regressive tax for Social Security and health care). That is, they are taxpayers.
Another 22% are old people. They don’t pay income taxes because they’re f‒ing retired. And they’re overwhelmingly voting for Romney.
Another 15% are non-elderly but poor‒ their total income is under $20,000. Maybe they’re part of our 8% unemployment rate; maybe they’re students; maybe they’re disabled. Decent people would like to help these folks, not castigate them.
Also, remember that everyone pays sales taxes, and almost all of Mitt’s targets pay state taxes.
If you sympathize with Romney’s contempt for the “moochers”, take a long look at this chart, which shows the top 10 and bottom 10 states in percentage of residents who don’t pay federal income tax.
Eight of ten of the moocher states voted Republican in 2008; eight of ten of the payer states voted Democratic. Romney was attempting to insult his opponent’s voters and ended up insulting his own.
Answers to a few objections
But postwar prosperity was due to !
The main point of this page is to contrast the system we had from 1933-1980 with the one we have now; that is, two American, capitalist systems. Look at the productivity chart again: for this comparison, both systems produce innovations at an equal rate. It doesn’t really matter how that productivity is generated. What’s changed is who’s rewarded for it.
I object, by the way, to calling it “redistribution”. Liberals don’t propose to take away money from the rich… because it’s not necessary. The capitalist system is a great engine for generating new ideas. Someone comes up with a new product; let’s say it generates ten million bucks in new wealth. Liberals would like to see everyone get some of that: the stockholders, the inventors, the employees, even the community (whether in the form of social services, or cheaper products). That’s not redistribution unless you believe that the CEO somehow owns that ten million dollars.
Not much to respond to in that little rant that has not already been said. It is plainly clear that our author does not understand any of the basics of economics. All I am hearing and seeing here is a rant against people who have money. One of the biggest problems in America is a lack of spending on capital equipment and private infrastructure. We are a consumer culture, and capital flees the country because the cost of having it, thanks to government regs and taxes, is not worth the return. This means that we are slowly exhausting our reserve of capital, and consumer goods and the price of living will eventually go up. Outsourcing is a good thing, when it lowers the cost of goods. But it only lowers the cost of goods when the government under which one lives makes production prohibitively expensive – such that it is cheaper to have little Chinese kids create a product, package it up, transport it across the seas, transport it to a store, and put on a shelf in your neighborhood. Don’t people realize how insane that is – and the reason why it happens?
Why am I even talking about capital? Because one aspect of why capital is fleeing is because of government burden on the “rich.” The rich have money they can invest into capital machinery and other means of producing wealth, but regime uncertainty, regulations, and taxes mean that it is not worth it. So they leave, and we are all impoverished as a result.
Let me just ask a common sense question: would you rather work for someone who is rich or someone who is poor?
But the rich deserve to be rewarded!
Conservatives are full of little parables about how the rich are “job creators” and how our Promethean overlords deserve to be rewarded for their labor. I don’t buy most of their arguments‒ CEOs do as much harm as good and they have no moral right to all the profit brought in by their employees. But this too is a digression. Liberalism doesn’t have any problem with rewarding the rich; during the liberal period we were a capitalist country and the rich doubled their income.
Again, not capitalist, since 1913.
The question is not “Do the rich perform some function for the rest of us?” but “Did they suddenly perform this function ten times better, so they deserve ten times more than they used to get, and the 90% deserve nothing at all?” There’s simply no metric that justifies this pay increase, nor the marginalization of the middle class.
It’s obvious why the rich don’t like liberalism: it restricts their income. For other conservatives, it’s that they hate the sixties. Or modernism in general. They don’t like people questioning authority‒ at least, the authority of old white men. They don’t like minorities protesting mistreatment and daring to vote, women asking to be their equals, Third World countries acting like they’re independent, regulations making it harder to poison the environment, sexual morality getting more permissive, drugs and muggings, long hair, religion being disrespected, art getting ugly and elitist.
And you know, things did get a little crazy in the ’60s. Some of it was defensible, much of it wasn’t. Some of the raucousness is because asking politely for more rights just doesn’t work. It’s been tried, and it gets ignored.
But again, it’s irrelevant to the liberalism-vs-plutocracy debate. It’s not 1968 any more; the hippies all cut their hair and stopped talking about Chairman Mao, which didn’t make it with anyone anyhow. Ironically, the young people of the ’60s are now likely Romney voters.
But liberals also want to !
I’ll address this more on the morality page, but the general response is: stop being scared of things that aren’t there. It’s pretty hard to disapprove of general prosperity for everyone, and the clear success of half century of liberalism, so many conservatives pretend that we want something else: Kenyan socialism, the USSR, or (shudder) being more like the pleasant and humane countries of Northern Europe. Stop worrying about fantasies. There are no monsters under your bed either.
Ramble ramble ramble WAIT!… Did this guy just say “Kenyan socialism,” when intending to mean Keynesian socialism? I think you have the evidence you need right there, folks, that the author has no clue what he is even saying. Kenya has absolutely nothing to do with Lord Keynes or the “socialism” we face. Maybe I am wasting my time here…
But capitalism is exploitative!
Liberalism is criticized from the left just as vociferously as from the right. I’ll address this another time, but I’ll just make two points here.
One, we’re looking at actual track records here. And just as I don’t buy libertarian fantasies, I don’t buy socialist fantasies. The actual attempts at building non-capitalist societies have been, at best, stagnant and inefficient, and at worst genocidal. If you want a really radical reform, you’d better have a really good plan to avoid the failures of your predecessors.
Two, I’m sympathetic to many left-wing complaints about liberalism (and, even more so, to complaints about liberal politicians). But the main obstacle to a more progressive society is not liberals, it’s conservatives. The brute fact is that many progressive positions appeal to no more than 25% or so of the American public. That means they don’t win elections. There are things I wish Democrats would champion more, but even if they were all angels that wouldn’t give us the House or get rid of the filibuster.
But there are more important things than utilitarianism!
If you’re not simply in denial about the success of liberalism, this is the only line you can take. And if your belief system really prefers something to general prosperity, well, that’s your preference!
The Republican Party is pretty clear on its preference: much more important than general prosperity is low taxes for the rich. I think their morality is deplorable, but I can’t fault their understanding of their self-interest. But whatever your bigger value is, the first question is, why should anyone else agree with you? Why should the 90% go along with a system that marginalizes them, when there is an alternative that doesn’t? Or if you think (erroneously) that liberalism is anti-religion, well, why should the non-religious help build your spiritual utopia?
The other important question is, why are you so sure that your good is incompatible with social justice and a prosperous capitalist society? The rich and the religous didn’t die off under liberalism, quite the reverse. The rich got richer; Evangelicalism became dominant. Look at what actually happened, not at the fear-mongering in the latest fundraising letter.
The bottom line
Liberals have not always been very good at communicating why liberalism works. There’s many reasons for this, but part of it is that it can be hard to defend the obvious from an absurd and deceptive attack. For half a century you had to be a crank to oppose what Roosevelt accomplished; liberals got out of the habit of arguing for their beliefs.
I hope this page will help. Liberals don’t need to apologize for their vision of how American society should work. Liberalism saved American capitalism and democracy, defeated Naziism, created a prosperous middle class, and benefitted every sector of society, from the back streets to Wall Street.
A round of applause, ladies and gentlemen! Not for the author or me, but for the fact that we are done here. What a ridiculous flurry of false claims, half truths, mistakes, misunderstandings, historical errors, blatant falsehoods, and confused assertions. Whew. I was getting fatigued there, if you couldn’t tell. More to come, this time a positive theory on my behalf…