Sunday, August 08, 2010

Special-Interest Group

I have used the word tribe to describe the American cultural groups, including its political factions. I have made a point of including liberals in that primarily because they deny it. Perhaps the phrase special-interest group would serve better to describe progressives.

To themselves, liberals see their ideology as more a cast of mind, an attitude. They see liberalism as a viewpoint, almost a character, that others possess in greater or lesser degree. They are tolerant - in the fashion of adults very patiently teaching children or primitive peoples what is good for them; they respect learning per se - except that is no longer true; they are generous - particularly when it comes in the form of inducing the government to distribute funds to good things. Their characters are not devoid of these good characteristics - many are indeed tolerant, generous, and respectful of learning. But they do not see how these virtues are slowly poisoned by other attitudes, until they become net negatives for those around them. One can almost identify liberal ideas by this method - excellent ideas which left things worse off as the unforeseen negatives slowly gained ascendancy. Vietnam is a good example; the United Nations another; affirmative action is still a net positive for middle-class and upper-class blacks, and so thus perhaps good for intergroup comity and the nation as a whole. But black poverty has not remitted.

These negatives are often embedded in the special interest advantage of policies that progressives prefer. They may indeed believe that these are policies that make a better society, and are good for all of us, particularly the downtrodden. Heck, the policies they prefer might even be better, though that's another discussion. But there is no getting around that the growth of government occurs in specific areas, and these areas mean more jobs for liberals - directly, as in government, or indirectly in universities, nonprofits, and government-watching media. New regulations mean new regulators; student aid means professors; new services mean new service providers. A class of people benefit. I don't say that they vote only their own self-interest. I do say that like all moralists in government they are completely unaware that self-interest enters into the equation at all.

There is not only wealth, but status that derives from cultural dominance as well. That is more subtle, but just as powerful, and very much in evidence in progressive advocacy.


Eliz in Sacto said...

For the past month of so there's been an unsettling prayer in the midst of the general intercessions at my church (Episcopal) for God to grant our leaders wisdom to fairly distribute the riches our society enjoys among the poor. Bah. I knew that my denomination was one of Gramsci's greatest triumphs, but as long as a family member still works there and I am obliged to attend, I wish they'd at least *pretend* to keep a lid on the Marxism.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, because all wealth that accidentally happens to occur somewhere in a country, for no apparent reason other than that it falls into someone's lap, clearly belongs to our leaders to distribute it to those they think deserving.

They want to be God.

Dr X said...

"black poverty has not remitted."

I've heard this often, but if by remitted you mean lessened, I'd say that's incorrect.

This graph is interesting:

We see two periods of steep decline in black poverty since the mid 1960s. The first decline seems to occur with the implementation of the Great Society programs, so a liberal looking at that graph would say the liberal programs helped. The second steep decline comes with the booming economy of the 90s, so economic conservatives could point to that decline in poverty and say that general economic health reduced black poverty.

The periods of increase in black poverty appear related to recessionary periods in a couple of cases (early Reagan, late Bush 41). For some reason we also see a modest rise during the tenure of Bush 43? Could that be due to cutbacks on "liberal" entitlement programs that began under Clinton.

A couple of points: I think it's a mistake to treat conservative or liberal ideas as monolithic in their effects, whether negative or positive. It's easy to see that concentrated public housing was a well-intentioned but bad idea. It isn't so clear that this is the case with every liberal program. It's also easy to see that a booming economy helps the poor unemployed and underemployed, but historically states' rights wasn't so great if you were black.

We should also remember that there are secondary effects that aren't captured by a single variable like poverty. Both liberal policies and conservative policies have secondary effects that adherents like to downplay in their own policy ideas and emphasize in their opponents' ideas.

One other point

james said...

I suspect that some kind of analog of Godel's unprovability theorem applies to politics. There are true theorems you cannot prove within a mathemetical system. There are problems you cannot solve within a political system. If you change the system (adding a law as the analog of introducing a new hypothesis), that introduces different classes of unsolvable problems.
Maybe it will be better, and maybe worse, but it will never be perfect.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Dr X - link doesn't work, but I found it from the clues.

The graph picks up at 1966, the first year of Great Society Programs. It hides the 7 previous years, which show an even more dramatic decline. Something was bringing down black poverty, but it wasn't the Great Society. The GS didn't hurt, perhaps, though the decline did stop three years after it started - probably due to overall economic factors.

The rise in the late 70's seems to mirror the Carter years, the decline in the 80's a lagging indicator of the exit from the recession by 82. The long decline in the 90's were indeed likely bubble resultant, which popped with the bubble. I'm not sure why you consider those years of liberal policies just because Clinton ran noisily against conservatives while campaigning. He wasn't an economic liberal, and in fact took a lot of heat from liberals for NAFTA and GATT.

The graph is also truncated at the bottom, which everyone does but still disguises real numbers. It makes the rather flat-line Bush years, with a modest increase, look more dramatic.

I agree with you about complexity, secondary effects, etc, but that doesn't mean that we should miss the primary effects.

Texan99 said...

We had a bishop from Sonoma County, CA, give a guest sermon in my Episcopal church last Sunday. He told the old, funny joke about the visiting Pentecostal woman in the congregation who keeps shouting "Amen!" because she "got religion" (the usher sternly replies, "You didn't get it here").

A new bit in his delivery of this old chestnut was that the woman didn't hear anything in the service that she recognized as religion until she got to the sermon. I wonder if that was true of the bishop, too, who seemed indifferent to any of the uses of Christianity except as a soapbox from which to preach the redistribution of wealth.