May 17, 2007

Understanding Domestic Liberalism

Carroll Andrew Morse

One common bond connecting the different pieces of the liberal domestic agenda together is the belief that people must accept that they will be forever be paying more and more to the government to receive less and less. Consider the major domestic issues facing the United States right now…

  • Education: Liberals see nothing odd when continuing tax-increases greater than the rate of inflation are needed just to preserve the existing system (hello, Portsmouth, Cranston, and East Providence, for starters). Neither school choice as a more rational way for allocating resources, nor the weak correlation between education spending and education outcomes is worth discussion.
  • Healthcare: Liberals generally favor a government takeover of the healthcare system a) so they can provide universal coverage by increasing the price of healthcare without improving the breadth of services available to the people doing the paying and b) so they can use the power of government to control costs by limiting treatments.
  • Retirement security: Liberals do not believe that changes in the basic structure of social security should be considered. They believe that government will always be able to shore-up the existing system by raising taxes and/or reducing benefits by tinkering with cost-of-living adjustments and moving up the retirement age.
Besides too readily incorporating the idea that paying more to receive less is somehow the norm, the central ideas that comprise the domestic liberal agenda share a second feature in common. They are all based on an assumption that centralized, bureaucratic systems should be the first choice to solve a problem -- if a strong, central bureaucracy can’t deliver a better solution than exists now, then it’s obvious (to liberals) that no system can!

The fact that contemporary liberalism, when addressing the three biggest domestic issues of the day, combines an affinity for centralized bureaucracy with an uncritical attitude towards social systems that deliver ever-diminishing returns is no coincidence. It is the natural result of the version of liberal ideology than came into being in the 1960s and 1970s…

  • Tenant #1: America is experiencing an inevitable historical decline. Sure, America had a good run for about 300 years or so, mostly because of favorable geography, a lack of hostile neighbors and good luck. But that part of history is now over. Paying more to receive less will be the norm for the foreseeable future.
  • Tenant #2: Average people can’t be trusted to deal with the ramifications of the great decline, so their lives need to be directly managed by government as much as is possible. It is only the elites within government who possess the necessary wisdom to properly cushion people from the effects of America's shrinking role in history.
Once you understand this basis of contemporary liberalism, as an added bonus, you can also understand the core difference between liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans (now called “moderates”), a difference in belief about how you get people to follow the leadership elite…
  • Liberal Democrats tend to believe that people will not follow, unless they are directly paid off directly in some fashion. That’s why (historically), Democrats have tended to be more tolerant of corruption than Republicans.
  • Liberal Republicans, on the other hand, tend to believe in their own ability to convince people that they are the natural leaders of society. They believe they can make a compelling argument that they’re the managers who will make big government work for everyone.
That's where we are right now. Is there anyone out there willing to make a case for an optimistic version of American liberalism -- in their policy choices and not just their rhetoric?

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Let's call it what it is - it's socialism.

Posted by: Jim at May 17, 2007 5:40 PM

Let's call it what it is - it's socialism.

Posted by: Jim at May 17, 2007 5:40 PM

Andrew, let's call it what it is: wrong.

The basis of modern liberalism is that, if monied interests are left to their own devices, those monied interests will not stop until serfdom is re-imposed. (That is what is known as, either, a 'reductio ad absurdem,' or 'hyperbole.')

A free market may, initially, be efficient, but it will, eventually, be unfair. Modern liberalism was not created in a vacuum, based on someone's theory. It came about as a direct response to real problems that came about when monied interests was left virtually unchecked.

And, btw, monied interests will begin to interfere in the market as soon as they are able to get away with it. Think: monopoly, as in the Standard Oil Trust.

Our schools are more segretated than they have been since attempts were imposed to de-segregate them. Why? Because of economic segregation. And then wealthier communities can afford better schools, and ones that do not have to face the problems attending on poverty. The result is a growing income inequality. And some of this is due to the Reagan tax cuts, which have eliminated a huge chunk of fed money that was available to schools. Hence, the current system where all of this has to be made up at the local level.

So, if you voted for Reagan, and W, you voted to have your local taxes increased.

A couple of observations:

Unlike modern liberalism, which came about in reaction to specific societal problems, modern conservatism is wholly a theological construct. 20 years after Reagan said benefits would "trickle down," they haven't, and yet conservatives continue to insist, in the face of all evidence, that this will happen. Someday. And yet, the median wage has been stagnant since Reagan was in office. Explain that one.

Second, I love the tendency here of people to give something they don't like a disparaging name, and then acting like the issue is settled. Calling it 'socialism' is not a trump card. And, btw, there are very few socialists in this country. Believing in a basic safety net is not socialism, aand it never will no matter how much you want to believe it.

Dems are more tolerant of corruption than Reps? Have you not been paying attention for the last several years? An entire string of Reps, the whole K-Street Project, mixed with 2 or 3 Dems.
Do you have any, um, evidence of this? And don't use RI as an example. The corruption that is endemic here is due to the one-party system. I believe much the same conditions existed back in the 50s & 60s when the Reps ran the show.

...Liberal Republicans, on the other hand, tend to believe in their own ability to convince people that they are the natural leaders of society...

This concept of "natural leaders of society" is called "aristocracy."

"Natural leaders"? Based on what criteria? I'm sure writing that made you feel good, but that don't make it true.

That statement is simply arrogant beyond belief

Posted by: klaus at May 17, 2007 6:18 PM

Ummm, Klaus, I'm pretty sure that Andrew wrote that about liberal Republicans with something, let us say, other than approval and self-association.

Posted by: Justin Katz at May 17, 2007 9:59 PM

That which you espouse is called socialism. It is a proven failure.
Cloak it however you want, that is all it is.

Posted by: Jim at May 18, 2007 6:28 AM


You're wrong on several points.

1st, the GOP haven't "run things" in this state since 1934, not the 50s and 60s like you said.

2nd, income hasn't stagnated over the last 20 years. in fact, on average, wages more than doubled over the period of 1980-1990 and nearly doubled again between 1990 and 2000. by comparison, the period between 1950 - 1970 saw wages increase at a slightly lower rate. further, over the last 20 years, home ownership has increased to its highest level ever, more people (of all races) are attending college than at any other time, and thirdly, reagan wasn't the first to use tax cuts to stimulate the economy. less than twenty years before him, jfk did the same thing. in fact, we might as well mark on our calendars the birth of modern liberalism as the day jfk died.

but everything in my mind goes back to education. unless we have a thriving education system, "economic segregation" and personal wealth are not going to improve. andrew made a very sound point in this regard which you seemed to have ignored. that is, in order for us to improve our education system, money is not the be-all end-all. rather, we need to think outside of the union box. we need to get creative with our solutions. the fact that you reverted back to reduced federal spending as being responsible for our failing schools shows that you cannot move beyond the money=success equation even though among 25 developed nations, the US spends more per pupil than anyone else.

me? i tend to think of conservatism as being defined by personal responsibility: over one's decisions, livelihood, and community responsibilities, whereas liberalism is defined by transference: of one's decisions, livelihood, and community responsibilities to the government.

Posted by: robert at May 18, 2007 8:53 AM

>> Our schools are more segretated than they have been since attempts were imposed to de-segregate them. Why? Because of economic segregation. And then wealthier communities can afford better schools, and ones that do not have to face the problems attending on poverty. The result is a growing income inequality. And some of this is due to the Reagan tax cuts, which have eliminated a huge chunk of fed money that was available to schools. Hence, the current system where all of this has to be made up at the local level.
Our schools are not more segregated, they are more integrated than ever. Wealthier communities do not “afford” better schools. The schools in wealthier districts tend to have parents that reinforce their kid’s education and may themselves be better educated, thus the students perform better in these districts. It’s not a money or a teacher issue at all. Per pupil spending in RI bears no correlation to the wealthier vs. poorer districts or to high vs. low performing districts . The wealthier towns already subsidize the school systems in the poorer districts. You could increase education spending substantially (haven’t we done this already in all districts) in the poorer districts and see little change. As long as there are poor attendance rates, inadequate emphasis on schoolwork by parents, little respect for authority, and disruptive classmates, these students will always perform less well than others. No amount of education funding is going to change that.

Liberalism’s premise of economical equality is absurd. It has never existed and never will exist unless you manage to stagnate the entire economy to the point that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy an equally low standard of living. Think Communist Russia.

Posted by: Frank at May 18, 2007 9:54 AM

The big fallacy with Liberalism lies in its' insistance on focusing on the symptoms, and not the disease.

Liberals talk about "income equality", "equality of opportunity", etc. The problem is, there is no "equality of responsibility", or "equality of desire" amongst those they wish to bestow all these other "equalities" upon.

Liberals refuse to acknowledge that all men are not created equally, when it comes to drive, desire, motivation, etc.

Liberalism (socialism), at its very core, requires one to consistently defy human nature to hold any truth, meaning or success. It will never happen.

Posted by: Jim at May 18, 2007 10:31 AM

Jim, very well said.

Posted by: Frank at May 18, 2007 10:46 AM

Good points, Jim. And to relate them directly to what Klaus said, big-government liberalism is based on a particular theory of human nature, no matter how much its believers might protest that "everything I believe is real; everything you believe is just a theory".

However, I don’t see a total equivalence between liberalism and socialism. Socialists used to believe (in theory, once again) that once the distorting effects of capitalism had been purged from society, everyone would be able to reach new heights of achievement and growth, with minimal interference from government. Liberals seemed to have junked the end of the plan. They now more or less openly claim that there will never be an end to the need government to amass more power, because wherever freedom exists, it might produce an undesirable result that can only be corrected through government action. Therefore we will always need a government powerful enough to reach every corner of society.

Posted by: Andrew at May 18, 2007 11:18 AM

Dear Jim,

Unless you can show where the government has taken over the means of production of goods and services, it's not Socialism. Nice try though. (I know - a Conservative types Socialism and thinks they automatically win the argument - so sad. Don't fret, Liberals pull the same BS when they describe you as having no heart or being uncaring.)

What's really disturbing about this thread, and American politics in general, is the need to seek extremes. All of us should be Liberal/Progressive regarding some issues and Conservative regarding others.

The idea that you take a stand on an issue without thinking it through is rather alarming. Even worse that you would put your faith in a brand, or even worse, a "label".

No one set of thinking or philosophy has all the answers. If that were true, we would have discovered what it was by now. A good deal of both philosophies present tenents that are self-contradictory and therefore impossible to follow.

I would much rather hear someone argue that "Government has no place on X issue because . . . ." rather than "Anyone who belives government has a place here must be a Liberal (Socialist) and you know what that means . . . . ."

Acoording to the results of the last election cycle, the rest of the country seems to agree with me.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at May 18, 2007 3:17 PM

So many lapses in logic, so little time...

All "-isms" are based on a particular theory of human nature. Liberallism, on the other hand, recognizes that monied interests have always expanded their power at the expense of the poor. As a result, the rich get richer, unless there is a method of income redistribution.

As evidence, I cite 5,000 years of recorded history.

And no, the liberal view of things has never existed. It's a recent invention that has been fought tooth and nail by monied interests since its inception, which I would date to the New Deal.

As someone astutely pointed out, Socialism advocates gov't control of the means of production. I don't advocate that. Labels are crude; there needs to be a combination of economic incentives and a social safety net. As someone else pointed out, not everyone is created equal. There will always be losers in the race to riches, and people who cannot seem even to compete. What do we do with them? Free market principles say we should throw them to the wolves. I disagree.

Sorry, but there have been any number of articles in the past dozen about school re-segregation. I know that doesn't fit with your ideology, but that's the way it is.

The whole personal responsibility thing is a canard. It's a throwback to the belief that the poor are wicked or lazy, and their poverty is a visitation of God. Talk to people in the Rust Belt states about that. Companies started offshoring and thousands and thousands of people saw their standard of living collapse. That's the Market for you.

Oh--wages HAVE stagnated. Sorry, forgot I'm talking to economic illiterates. I should have specified REAL wages, not nominal wages. If your wage goes up 10%, but inflation has gone up 12%, your nominal wage has increased, but your real wage has fallen. Real wage = actual buying power.

Real Median Income in 1975 was $35,000--if you adjust it for inflation into current terms; in 2005 it was $31,000. That's not just stagnation, that's a drop.

So saying 'wages have doubled' is just flat wrong, in real terms. Remember--you can only spend REAL dollars.

Posted by: klaus at May 19, 2007 1:21 PM

Oh--but what about the "Natural Leaders of Society" thing?

I wanted to hear your defense of that one.

Posted by: klaus at May 19, 2007 1:23 PM

1. Klaus, the belief the "5,000 years of recorded history" can be summarized by saying that "monied interests have always expanded their power at the expense of the poor; as a result, the rich get richer, unless there is a method of income redistribution" has a name, and it’s not "liberalism". It’s Marxism.

Then you go on to provide a bunch of examples that you believe illustrate how government has failed to take from each according to his ability and return to each according to his need. You know who said that, right?

In short, your explanations aren’t doing any favors for those who’d like to claim that liberalism is not socialism.

2. And I'm not sure how you've come to the conclusiion that contemporary liberals don't want government to control as much of the means of production as it can its hands on. It's liberals that want government to take healthcare over as directly as is possible, liberals who reject that their might be anything to gain through widening the availability of private education, liberals who want to decide when a company has made too much and confiscate their profits, etc.

The two major pieces of Marxism that liberals have truly disassociated themselves from are that...
a) Their goals should be accomplished by a violent revolution, and
b) That the state will eventually whither away.

3. I have to cross my party line example to begin to make my point (that you have missed) about the "natural leaders of society". Imagine a politician who stated “he’d been bred for leadership”. In RI, you don’t have to imagine very hard. Is it out of line to think= that this is someone who believes he is the natural leader of society? How else would you like me to interpret this comment? Do you think this politician is the only person who believes this, or the only one who’s said it?

Now imagine that the person above becomes Attorney General of a state, and during his term, administers some light punishments to some obvious cases of corruption. Is it way out of line to think that this is someone who believes that a little extracurricular cash changing hands is something that’s a normal political process, and therefore someting not worth worrying too much about?

Finally, and if you don’t believe that some politicians will try to build support by convincing people that they’re the natural leaders of society, then how do you explain Lila Sapinsley?

Posted by: Andrew at May 19, 2007 6:15 PM