| | | |
By Thomas Sowell
Posted May 15, 2007
That people on the political left have a certain set of opinions, just as people do in other parts of the ideological spectrum, is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is how often the opinions of those on the left are accompanied by hostility and even hatred.
Particular issues can arouse passions here and there for anyone with any political views. But, for many on the left, indignation is not a sometime thing. It is a way of life.
How often have you seen conservatives or libertarians take to the streets, shouting angry slogans? How often have conservative students on campus shouted down a visiting speaker or rioted to prevent the visitor from speaking at all?
The source of the anger of liberals, "progressives" or radicals is by no means readily apparent. The targets of their anger have included people who are non-confrontational or even genial, such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
It is hard to think of a time when Karl Rove or Dick Cheney has even raised his voice but they are hated like the devil incarnate.
There doesn't even have to be any identifiable individual to arouse the ire of the left. "Tax cuts for the rich" is more than a political slogan. It is incitement to anger.
All sorts of people can have all sorts of beliefs about what tax rates are best from various points of view. But how can people work themselves into a lather over the fact that some taxpayers are able to keep more of the money they earned, instead of turning it over to politicians to dispense in ways calculated to get themselves re-elected?
The angry left has no time to spend even considering the argument that what they call "tax cuts for the rich" are in fact tax cuts for the economy.
Nor is the idea new that tax cuts can sometimes spur economic growth, resulting in more jobs for workers and higher earnings for business, leading to more tax revenue for the government.
A highly regarded economist once observed that "taxation may be so high as to defeat its object," so that sometimes "a reduction of taxation will run a better chance, than an increase, of balancing the Budget."
Who said that? Milton Friedman? Arthur Laffer? No. It was said in 1933 by John Maynard Keynes, a liberal icon.
Lower tax rates have led to higher tax revenues many times, both before and since Keynes' statement -- the Kennedy tax cuts in the 1960s, the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s, and the recent Bush tax cuts that have led to record high tax revenues this April.
Budget deficits have often resulted from runaway spending but seldom from reduced tax rates.
Those on the other side may have different arguments. However, the question here is not why the left has different arguments, but why there is such anger.
Often it is an exercise in futility even to seek to find a principle behind the anger. For example, the left's obsession with the high incomes of corporate executives never seems to extend to equally high -- or higher -- incomes of professional athletes, entertainers, or best-selling authors like Danielle Steel.
If the reason for the anger is a feeling that corporate CEOs are overpaid for their contributions, then there should be even more anger at people who get even more money for doing absolutely nothing, because they have inherited fortunes.
Yet how often has the left gotten worked up into high dudgeon over those who inherited the Rockefeller, Roosevelt or Kennedy fortunes? Even spoiled heirs like Paris Hilton don't really seem to set them off.
If it is hard to find a principle behind what angers the left, it is not equally hard to find an attitude.
Their greatest anger seems to be directed at people and things that thwart or undermine the social vision of the left, the political melodrama starring the left as saviors of the poor, the environment, and other busybody tasks that they have taken on.
It seems to be the threat to their egos that they hate. And nothing is more of a threat to their desire to run other people's lives than the free market and its defenders.
By Thomas Sowell
Posted May 16, 2007
Radically different conclusions about a whole range of issues have been common for centuries. Many have tried to explain these differences by differences in conflicting economic interests. Others, like John Maynard Keynes, have argued that ideas -- even intellectually discredited ideas that political leaders still believe in -- trump economic interests.
My own view is that differences in bedrock assumptions underlying ideas play a major role in determining how people differ in what policies, principles or ideologies they favor.
If you start from a belief that the most knowledgeable person on earth does not have even one percent of the total knowledge on earth, that shoots down social engineering, economic central planning, judicial activism and innumerable other ambitious notions favored by the political left.
If no one has even one percent of the knowledge currently available, not counting the vast amounts of knowledge yet to be discovered, the imposition from the top of the notions favored by elites convinced of their own superior knowledge and virtue is a formula for disaster.
Sometimes it is economic disaster, which central planning turned out to be in so many countries around the world that even most governments run by socialists and communists began freeing up their markets by the end of the 20th century.
That is when the economies of China and India, for example, began having rapidly increasing growth rates.
But economic disasters, important as they are, have not been the worst consequences of people with less than one percent of the world's knowledge superimposing the ideas prevailing in elite circles on those subject to their power -- that is, on the people who together have the other 99 percent of knowledge.
Millions of human beings died of starvation, and of diseases related to severe malnutrition, when the economic ideas of Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao in China were inflicted on the population living -- and dying -- under their iron rule.
In both cases, the deaths exceeded the deaths caused by Hitler's genocide, which was also a consequence of ignorant presumptions by those with totalitarian power.
Many on the left may protest that they do not believe in the ideas or the political systems that prevailed under Hitler, Stalin or Mao. No doubt that is true.
Yet what the political left, even in democratic countries, share is the notion that knowledgeable and virtuous people like themselves have both a right and a duty to use the power of government to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on others.
They may not impose their presumptions wholesale, like the totalitarians, but retail in innumerable restrictions, ranging from economic and nanny state regulations to "hate speech" laws.
If no one has even one percent of all the knowledge in a society, then it is crucial that the other 99 percent of knowledge -- scattered in tiny and individually unimpressive amounts among the population at large -- be allowed the freedom to be used in working out mutual accommodations among the people themselves.
These innumerable mutual interactions are what bring the other 99 percent of knowledge into play -- and generate new knowledge.
That is why free markets, judicial restraint, and reliance on decisions and traditions growing out of the experiences of the many -- rather than the groupthink of the elite few -- are so important.
Elites are all too prone to over-estimate the importance of the fact that they average more knowledge per person than the rest of the population -- and under-estimate the fact that their total knowledge is so much less than that of the rest of the population.
They over-estimate what can be known in advance in elite circles and under-estimate what is discovered in the process of mutual accommodations among millions of ordinary people.
Central planning, judicial activism, and the nanny state all presume vastly more knowledge than any elite have ever possessed.
The ignorance of people with Ph.D.s is still ignorance, the prejudices of educated elites are still prejudices, and for those with one percent of a society's knowledge to be dictating to those with the other 99 percent is still an absurdity.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.