Traditional political theory divides politics into two camps, the right and the left, and like it or not, this division is fundamental to the political organization of modern day America.
So what is the distinction?
The fundamental difference between the right and the left is approach to income distribution. In essence, right and left are socioeconomic distinctions. Those on the right believe people have a right to keep what they make, and those on the left believe that people have a responsibility to share what they make.
In practice both systems have problems. The right’s primary problem is resource constraint with wealth distribution as it’s secondary. The left’s primary problem is incentive with wealth distribution as a secondary.
It might be unfair to criticize an economic philosophy based on wealth distribution – given that the point of an economic system is to facilitate the distribution of wealth this is akin to saying that the system isn’t perfect – but I think the exploration of how each system fails is interesting so I threw it in there.
Let’s start by examining the resource constraint problem of the right.
Suppose that we have an economy consisting of 3 people; Mike, Fred and Ted. Mike and Fred make bread, and Ted grows wheat. Ted has a slight preference for Mike’s bread and as a result wants to eat it about twice as often as he wants to eat Fred’s.
As a result Mike of trading with Ted, he obtains enough wheat to make bread for himself, Ted and have a good amount of wheat left over, however Mike can’t use all that surplus wheat, in fact it’s kind of a hassle to hold on to it, so he starts looking for other trades he can make with Ted.
He realizes that future wheat will be much more valuable to him then wheat now, so he decides to trade present bread for future wheat. Let’s say that the terms are 10% of future wheat production for a one year supply of present day bread. In ten years time, Mike controls all the wheat production, so Ted has nothing left to trade.
He might be lucky enough that Mike would value his labor and let him continue to produce wheat on what is now Mike’s farm in exchange for whatever bread Mike feels Ted should receive, but then again, Mike might decide that it’s easier to make bread just for Mike, and that leaves him plenty of time to grow enough wheat, just for Mike as well. Poor Fred is left in the cold since he no longer has a source of wheat and wasn’t in a position to negotiate a deal to secure more. As a baker, Fred might be able to find work with Mike, if Mike is more inclined towards doing nothing than continuing to bake, but he also might not, in which case he becomes destitute.
When Ann and Lee show up to this party and they find that Mike Jr. owns everything, knows little of work and less of poverty, and has no use for them in his world, you can’t blame them for thinking that something is drastically wrong with the system. This is why young people lean left.
This is the hypothetical endgame of pure capitalism. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer because the rich can outbid the poor on the resources of the future. This is called “investment”.
In practice the economy is ridiculously complex with tons of different industries and resources, so the pace at which this steady state is approached is glacially slow and quite susceptible to disruption, but this is the resting state of pure capitalism towards which it is always it is always approaching. In the end, there can be only one.
Then we have pure socialism. “From each according to their ability to each according to their need”. In this economy we have Mike, Fred, Ted and Big G. Mike, Fred and Ted have the same roles as before while Big G, tells the others what to do. Big G doesn’t know thing one about farming or bread making, but he is good at planning. Big G knows that Ted should grow 20 units of wheat and Fred and Mike should bake 10 units of bread so each of them can have 5 units of Bread, so he says make it so.
Thing is Ted’s fields can only produce 16 units of wheat, still Ted for the greater good, knows he needs to produce 20 units, so he works extra hard and makes 19 units of wheat, unfortunately one of those units is blighted so only 18 units are usable. Mike and Fred start baking with the 9 units each. Mike is a skilled artisan and makes 9 units of bread, but one isn’t to his high standards so he holds it back for private consumption. Fred is more of a creative type, he realizes that in order for the plan to succeed everyone must do their part, so he cuts his wheat flour with 10% dirt and makes 10 units of questionable quality.
So, year one, Big G receives 8 units of good bread and 10 units of dirt bread for redistribution. Big G is disappointed. His perfect plan was sabotaged by incompetent traitors to the socialist ideal. Still, he’s got to split this bread up. Since he did his part, it’s only fair that he should have 5 good units of bread, to plan. Mike seems to have had some supply problems, but produced some fine quality bread despite his constraints so we should give him some good bread as well, but we can’t appear to be too unfair, so he can still only get 4 units like the others. So, as a good supporter of the plan Big G plans to give him 3 good units of his bread and one unit of dirt bread. The other two traitors can have 4 units of dirt bread, but one unit is left.
If Big G gave anyone an extra unit it wouldn’t look fair at all. This is a major issue. Big G better hold on to it, but what good is an extra unit of dirt bread? Not much, so Big G decides to revise the plan. Mike will get 2 units of good bread and 2 dirt breads and Big G will keep 6 of the good ones.
So, Ted who worked extra hard to turn in a great product and Fred who solved a major issue for the regime both end up with reduced rations of poor quality, Half of Mike’s fine bread has turned into bread that he wouldn’t feed to his dog, and Big G ended up with some extra food. In year two, Mike, Ted and Fred might have to think real hard about the level of effort they are going to be putting into making this socialist republic work.
Every time a socialist system is put into real practice, it ends up something like that. The issue with socialism isn’t so much the conceptual outcome, insomuch as it is naturally at odds the human condition. Plans go awry, power gets concentrated, perceptions start to sour and pretty soon the whole thing is off the rails. If you had an omniscient saint to administer and a way to suppress human envy, then it might actually be able to find some traction. Without these elements it tends to devolve towards poverty and totalitarianism.
So socialism concentrates wealth in the hands of the political elite and capitalism concentrates wealth in the hands of the economic elite, in the outcomes are the same, the chief difference are who sits at the top of the pyramid and how the lower classes are stratified. Ironically the best way we have found to balance the power to date, and thus enrich the lower classes, is to have the systems compete for the favor of the lower classes. If either side wins decisively, you should expect to be disenfranchised (or if your part of the lucky few elite, enshrined in power). Barring a major economic paradigm shift we should be trying to walk the middle road.
Which brings me to the reason that I started this blog. The extreme left is winning. They have allied with the groups who want to drive social change through government action and have started to dominate the discussion. Social change agents are naturally attracted to the left, since the minimum possible and maximum supportable government size gets smaller as you move right, culminating in a purely volunteer (amateur) government with commensurate scope on the far right of the spectrum, since pure capitalism doesn’t have taxation, and thus no revenue stream or budget or authority to enact projects.
If social change agents wish to effect social change, the most effective and immediate tool to do so is the government, so the further left we move on the political spectrum, the more power and authority the primary tool has, and the more attractive the tool becomes. The economic left side of the political spectrum, by virtue of it’s core tenets believes in using the government as an agent for social change, at least in so far as the redistribution of wealth, both are centrally concerned with the concept of fairness, even though they tend to define “fair” quite differently, so there is a natural alignment between these two groups.
This has allowed a combination of government intervention and extreme rhetoric to be employed in the support of specific, and I’ll go so far as to say questionable, social causes, (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jun/2/calif-bill-prosecutes-climate-change-skeptics/) and a marriage between identity politics and public policy has soured the discourse in our country and made political discussion tantamount to personal attacks.
The net result is that modern moderates are afraid to engage in discussion for fear that it will offend those with deeply entrenched opinions and an increasingly codified moral philosophy in which favor is bestowed upon on those who can most convincingly argue that they have been marginalized.
I’m pushing against the encroaching tide of silence. I’m hoping that people once again can evaluate and debate ideas on their merit, rather than a false affiliation with a social economic value system, and while I appreciate the extremest for setting the boundaries of political discourse, I’m hoping that we can once again steer the ship of state away from the shores, and, if it’s not too much to ask, I’m hoping you will join me on this journey.