Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Philosophical Dilemma of Left-Right Economics

A friend provided this gem a while back:
I guess it really boils down to one philosophical question: "Is it better for everyone to be poor but equal or is it better for everyone to be wealthy even if some are wealthier than others?
Progressive economists seem to think that minimizing the disparity of fiscal outcomes (regardless of the choices one makes--it seems to be) is the utmost priority, since disparity is prima facie evidence that robber barons are stealing money form the people by not paying more for their work than they are willing to accept.
Conservative economists seem to think that the overall history of the United States has been financial liberty causing unprecedented growth that has raised the standard of living such that America's poor are rich relative to the average yokel in most parts of the world, an effect that has made socialists around the world deeply angry at the arrogance of our success.

This recent contribution by +Darth Thotz quoting Margaret Thatcher really brings it home:
"And what a policy! Yes, he would rather have the poor poorer, provided the rich were less rich. That is the liberal policy!"
To a conservative, liberals seem so obsessed with fairness that they would prefer fairness to betterment and advancement.  Better to hold everyone back than to let some get much further ahead..  To a conservative, this is a pathological preoccupation.

This theme has surfaced repeatedly (and should) over the past year as Democrats made it a key bit of political marketing in 2011/2012 to demonize success, entrepreneurship, wealth, and financial incentive (i.e. profit) in order to defeat Romney's Kennedy-esque supply-side plan for growth.

Another recent post highlights the progressive view:

Yes, unless we make centralized authority even more powerful, corporations will steal our money by offering us cheap food and cheap appliances, offering iPhones, flashy sports shoes, huge Big Gulps, and cigarettes that we think we can't live without.  Because liberty is really slavery and slavery is really liberty.  Umm, which "Ministry" in Orwell's 1984 is that most like?  "Corporate Control" thus becomes the collectivist dog whistle for class envy and centralized nanny state control.

So even if 95% or more of liberals  assume that the "poor" and specifically minority demographics may have had improved standard of living on average between the reigns of Carter and Obama, a greater disparity is grounds for rethinking.  If the same policies that reduce the Ugly Disparity make the poor are worse off than they were before, , it's all right as long as the "rich" can be made much, much poorer than they were before.  (Who the %&#! do they think they are, making filthy money while people are struggling?!) So as minorities have been hit particularly hard by the stifled economy (and it can always be blamed on Bush), the President has fought hard to make sure that some gesture at greater redistribution was made even though it did little to change the size of the deficit.

Alexis de Toqueville said many poignant things about the uniqueness of America and its Founders' notion of republican government (some of which anticipate George Orwell's 1984 quite a bit).

Égalité is an expression of envy. Its real message to the heart of every Republican* is "No one shall be better off than I am;" and as long as this [idea] is preferred to good government, good government is impossible.  
And also:

There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.  [emphasis mine]
Was he a man ahead of his time?  Or has it been the same danger looming over us all along?  Dr. Benjamin Franklin would have thought it was the latter.
* Note:  Toqueville is not referring to the GOP, and is referring to something more inclusive than Jefferson's antifederalism; he is referring to the basic idea of government that Ben Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison thoguht they were giving the American people.

Toqueville quotes are from:

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