Monday, August 25, 2008

Are You a Liberal?

I was looking at a far-left site that had a test to see if you are a liberal. I didn't bookmark the site so this is from memory:

Half of a town's residents live well. They eat meat daily and throw away a lot of food. The other half is too poor to even buy meat and is usually hungry. What would you do?
The idea is to convince you that you are a liberal but didn't realize it. The situation is contrived to evoke an emotional response. You are supposed to either feel pity for the hungry poor or outrage at the callous rich.

I'm going to point out two immediate flaws. One is that, in the US, the obesity is a bigger problem among the poor than hunger. The other is that this exercise divides the town into "halves". In the real world you get either a pyramid with lots of poor on the bottom and a few rich at the top or a bell curve with very few poor or rich and most in between. For the sake of argument, I will ignore these problems.

As a Libertarian/Conservative (the think-man's conservative), I have a different take on this. I want to know more about the background. Why is there such a disparity? Let's consider a few alternatives:

1) The rich half exploits the poorer half. The rich must be the owners and the poor the workers. This is classic Marxist theory and the version that you are supposed to assume.

2) The "rich" half is hard-working. The "poor" half is made up of hard-core unemployables who can't hold a job even when they get one. They lack skills and motivation. They also call in sick regularly. Most of them are already living on public assistance (taxed from the wealthier half) but squander much of the money they receive on alcohol and drugs. By shifting the circumstances around I arraigned it so that the poor deserve to be poor.

3) This is a college town. The "rich" half is made up of college professors and staff. The poor half is made up of students. In the first two examples we have the hidden assumption that the two halves are static. If you were born in one class you will always be there. That is not true in America where there is a lot of shuffling over time. Most people have low wages in their early 20s but this increases with time as they have more to offer. The student living on Ramen noodles today might be a CEO in a couple of decades.

4) We are looking at China. The rich are the people in the cities who have good jobs. The poor are the traditional farmers, many of whom still live in the same conditions as their ancestors. Many have been displaced by the government in order to make way for more factories and larger cities. If communism is the ultimate expression of liberal politics then liberals have to recognize that China is where their policies lead. The government has nearly unlimited power and often abuses it. Just before the Olympics began NBC ran a story on a village of rice farmers who were facing starvation. The government had diverted the water supply that they needed for their crops to supply the Olympics. Where there had been rice paddies there was now dessert.

This is a valid test for liberals. They tend to approach the world as problems that government waiting for government intervention. They overlook realities - the people they want to help may not respond as expected, or they may not need help, or the problem may have been caused by previous government meddling.

So, if you react to a problem by deciding that increased government action is needed without knowing all of the facts then you are a liberal. If you want to know more about the root causes then you are conservative.

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