Friday, December 28, 2012

Liberal values

I saw the above graphic all over the Internet recently, but didn’t have time to comment on it at the time. I think it’s especially good at showing the core difference between liberals and conservatives.

There’s been an appalling increase in selfishness among those on the right. We see it most clearly in their Ayn Rand inspired rhetoric about “makers and takers”, that “taxes are theft” and similar greed-based talk about how all people should be on their own.

The essential philosophical flaw in this rightwing view is that no one is an island—we all depend on each other for our survival, no matter how advanced the society or how high our economic status. This is true even for rich conservatives: A business cannot function without customers, and customers cannot be customers without money. It is in business’ self-interest for their customers to have enough money to be customers. Even Henry Ford knew that.

However, conservatives think that liberals want to just give rich people’s money to the poor to sit around and do nothing. There’s no truth to that at all. Instead, liberals want to reduce harm, such as bad health, poor education and bad housing, and that takes money.

Liberals also want to increase fairness. Most people accept that allowing discrimination against people solely because of their race or gender, among other things, is inherently unfair, and we accept the need for laws to prevent discrimination.

Conservatives argue that as long as everyone has the same—such as, they pay flat income tax rates (or, as in the graphic above, they stand on the same-sized box)—then everyone is equal. Liberals say that we need to work actively to reduce inequality (like making sure everyone can see over the fence) because doing so reduces harm and increases fairness. We want to spend money not on handouts but on a hand up for poor people.

The social contract in western democracies has long been that we pay taxes according to how much we make so that we can collectively build a base beyond which struggling people can’t fall. We all—liberals and conservatives alike—want people to take responsibility for themselves, and to use their natural abilities and talents to take them as far as those abilities and talents can take them. We liberals see helping the least among us as not just a duty, but as a necessary step toward making that shared goal possible.

Equality is necessary for any society to function. Without it, social resentments can lead to violence, but even when it doesn’t, it holds back the entire society. Easing inequality, then, is for liberals a basic and important goal. This graphic shows that liberal view well.

There’s a lot of rubbish on the Internet. Sometimes, there are good and effective visual representations of issues, etc. This graphic is one of those.

I have no idea who made the graphic, or I’d give proper attribution.


Roger Owen Green said...

Shared on Facebook

Arthur Schenck said...

It was—and on Google+ and on Twitter (and, of course, Tumblr and various blogs), and I have no idea where I saw it first. I suppose in the future I should note where I first saw something like this, though it's not exactly attribution.

Roger Owen Green said...

I was too cryptic. Shared your link on FB.

Arthur Schenck said...

I noticed that after I'd commented. AND thanks for the pluggage on your blog! :-)

Unknown said...

Liberals don't exist in the Democratic party. Leftists believe in equality of outcome, which evenly distributes goods. "To each according to his ability to each according to his need". Your argument then falls flat on its face and it is those on the left who have the problem. Conservatives simply want freedom of opportunity.

Arthur Schenck said...

I don't normally comment on old posts, certainly not one nearly nine years old. In this case, however, nothing much has changed about my views.

You say, "Liberals don't exist in the Democratic party", which sounds like you're using the word "liberal" in the Nineteenth Century sense still used in some countries, but not the United States (or lots of other countries). In the USA, Liberals—in the modern sense of the name—do, indeed, exist in the Democratic Party. They're not necessarily very far to the Left, however, generally somewhere nearer to the Centre than any true Leftist is (and, as a "big tent" party, the Democratic Party has plenty of true Leftists, too—along with conservatives, for that matter).

When you talked about what you think Leftists believe, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what Liberals want (I explained what Liberals want in the context of fairness in this post). Liberals aren't seeking "equality of outcomes", but are working to make equality of outcomes possible by ensuring fairness and equality in society (like non-discrimination laws, as I mentioned in the post, for example). That has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with "evenly distributing goods", something no Democrat literally advocates. You're clearly confusing Liberals with Marxists, which no Democrat is (the furthest Left Democratic politicians are most comparable to European social democrats, not Marxists). Your whole argument, such as it is, fails because you conflate Liberals, Lefists, and Marxists, and you falsely assign other people's beliefs to Liberals.

You also say that conservatives "simply want freedom of opportunity". There's no such thing. You apparently mean that people are free to pursue opportunity, which all Liberals want, and I presume at least some Conservatives must want, too. However, in the USA, conservatives practice the politics of exclusion to either actively prevent some classes of people from pursuing opportunity, or, at best, ignore that many people have no realistic hope of pursuing opportunity because of the way society is structured to prevent it. Racism, sexism, and homophobia, are only a few examples of structural barriers to people being unable to pursue opportunities.

Democrats want to raise up people who have been held back by structural barriers in society so they can compete fairly and work to follow opportunity. That doesn't prevent people who start out with advantages from pursuing their own opportunities, it just means that they may have some more company on their journeys. And that is what Liberals want.