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June 27, 2006


Interesting distinction. Just curious, do you ever use "egalitarianism" in a positive way?

"The problem here is that the meaning of "lefist" is quite clear, while the meaning of "liberal" is actually quite fuzzy. There are people who may call themselves "liberal" because they oppose populist pro-Christianity laws and care about the environment, or even because they like to go to art museums, but they are patriotic Americnas who aren't especially concerned with promoting egalitarianism."

Those are just moderate leftists. There's a pretty big gap between extremists and moderates on a lot of things, and since the Left is out of power they're free to be as radical as they want. The extreme left in the universities is really quite comical.

Inequality irritates the leftist. The liberal acknowledges it as a necessary feature of a civil society but seeks to assuage some of its effects, through say, creating social safety nets.

I remember reading that FDR was at least partly responsible for the current usage of the term liberal, as opposed to the Whig-classical liberal sense still current in the remainder of the world.

So what does the US call the political stance that the rest of the world calls liberal?

An other word for "liberal" is "social democrat". An other word for "leftist" is "progressive". Bill Clinton and John Rawls are "liberals". Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky are "leftists".

Instead of using "liberal" or "leftist" consider using "social democrat" or "progressive". Those terms are more likely to convey information and elicit mutual understanding.

Think of "the right" and "the left" as two warring armies. Each army is made of coalitions. The armies advance and retreat on the field of battle, cede territory to each other. Coalition members will occasionally defect. These maneuvers explain why "the left" of a prior era will occasionally look like "the right" of a latter era and vice versa.

"Libertarians" are one of those (small) factions that straddle the political divide. These days, they are more often found on the right than on the left. That may change. But a political migration is likely to take several election cycles at the very least. And the early prognosis is not good.

People predicted that the alliance between libertarians and traditionalists would fall apart after the fall of the Soviet Empire. This did not happen. Writers like Thomas Frank, who are influential on the left, recognize the division on the right. By aligning with one or the other, Democrats could split the Republican party. But people like Frank can't seem to decide whether they hate religious kooks more than they hate capitalist pigs and are unlikely to make the changes in the Democratic party necessary to attract one faction or they other until they do.

I prefer ultra-descriptive terms, while acknowledging that people can hold contradictory positions (usually due to not thinking things through to their essense). Therefore, when someone says they are in favor of minimum wage laws, I call that person an "idiot", while if they say they are against people breaking into homes to steal property that doesn't belong to them, I call that person "reasonable". Some people tend to hold idiotic views on specific topics, which leads many to use other labels, such as Democrat (holding primarily idiotic economic views) or Republican (holding primarily idiotic foreign policy or social freedom or religious views). These other terms are not as useful however, as there often is much variation in the "idiocy" level between members, which is why I argue for more direct labeling to apply to specific positions.

Why not get rid of all the ambiguity and just say "Leftie-Strawman?" Based on your definition of "Leftist", you're just going to caricature their views anyway.

It's silly to use labels anyway, unless they're self-chosen like membership in a political party. It's meaningful to say that (e.g.) 43% of registered Democrats believe X, but railing about "leftists" does more to obfuscate reality than explain it. If you disagree with Chomsky on foreign policy, go right ahead and say why, don't just call him a leftist moonbat. By using labels like "leftist" you throw people with all sorts of disparate beliefs under one umbrella and attempt to tar them all with the views of the most extreme.

I don't know JA. I don't think the anti-immigrationists who are causing Bush so much trouble right now necessarily belong to different groups, but the difference between businessmen and palecons is important to the Democratic party.

Also non-chosen things like race have a big effect on how people vote.

You're right, SciFiGeek. I should have said labels are only useful when well-defined, not necessarily self-chosen. So "African-Americans" is more or less well-defined, as is "college professors," but "leftists" is not. The problem is when people rant about "leftists" or "the liberal elite" (or "the religious right," which I'm guilty of using myself) and it's not clear who they're talking about.

Your nomenclature is highly misleading. Many leftists rejected the Democratic Party with Nader, though some continued to vote for Democrats. Leftists, liberals, and centrists can easily be distinguished. If you want to lump them, that's just propaganda. (Most Democrats are centrists).

I agree with John Emerson that most Democrats are centrists, in that they are basically in favor of the status quo in so far as it can be maintained. I also agree with Tex that Social Democrat for "liberal" and Progressive for "leftist" are more clear. I do think that "Social Democrat", unlike "Centrist" implies anti-nationalism except possibly in France, and am of the impression that nationalism is about as negatively correlated with IQ as religion is, for the simple reason that psychologically *nationalism is an example of a religion, or rather, of a catefory of religions*. Anti-globalization rallies tend to be a mix of nationalist centrists and nationalist progressives, while corporatist "liberals" and social democrats nod their heads with concern and dismay.

If one is to view progressivism in the most sympathetic light, and viewing positions in terms that their adherents can accept is one definition of political maturity, it is probably necessary to point out that they differ from social democrats in the degree to which they believe equality of opportunity or equality of process a) already exist, and b) will tend to become more established by default as the result of historical trends. If they were more intelligent they might notice the manipulation of housing prices through zoning as an example of how the system is rigged against the poor to middle class, but since they are generally fairly stupid they don't notice such details and simply guess/intuit that the playing field is unlevel from the radical inequality of outcomes. One can fairly criticize their research methodology and can point out that their methods range from ineffective to actively harmful to their causes, but one must, in fairness, acknowledge the correctness of their basic conclusion about the actual prevailing conditions in the world as it is.

Liberals and even moderates (e.g. Matt Yglesias) also call themselves "left", but most leftists call themselves left too, and don't grant that title to liberals.

The degree of intervention in the market is the distinctor. Liberals believe in a relatively small amount of intervention, whereas leftists propose much more. Liberals want to preserve capitalism with some tweaking, whereas leftists are really anti-capitalist.

Equality of opportunity is the liberal substitute for equality of result, which leftists are more willing to advocate. Affirmative action is usually justified as compensation for previous inequalities. Liberals fail to realize that if you accept an individualist competitive system, you can get quite severe inequalities without unfairness.

Conservatives have picked up "equality of opportunity" mostly as a wedge against liberal programs which seem to aim at equality-of-result. Conservatives, except a few free-marketers, do not really believe in equality of opportunity. They believe that everyone has the right to pass down as much advantage as he can to his kids.

"Liberalism" in the American sense may have been invented by Roosevely with his "Four Freedoms". "Freedom from want" was not a classical liberal freedom at all; it's a move toward leftism.

"If they were more intelligent they might notice the manipulation of housing prices through zoning as an example of how the system is rigged against the poor to middle class"

There's a Texas city, a big one, with no zoning laws. Does anyone remember which one it is?


Houston, at one time, has virtually no zoning laws. Dallas used to also have very limited zoning laws.

But yet, Leftist have used zoning laws to preserve their advantages. Just look at Boulder Colorado or many places in Vermont. What is humorous is that the left will pass zoning laws that make housing in certain areas of a city or metropolitan area cheaper. the zoning laws have the unattended consequence of turning those neighborhoods into majority/minority neighborhoods. Then the same leftist scream "environmental racism."

Many blacks cannot easily be pigeonholed on a simple left/right spectrum. It's not at all uncommon for blacks to have leftist economic views, with strong support for big government and most social welfare programs, yet at the same time be deeply religious Christian fundamentalists who are strongly opposed to gay marriage and who also are pro-military.

It's not leftists who pass zoning laws. Not conservatives either, nor liberals. Just small local self-interested "a-political" residents and the like. The implications are simply not appreciated by almost anyone.

So how bad is the inequality in Houston or Dallas compared to, say, Boston or Philly? (NYC is in a class by itself: I saw a list of city inequalities (Gini coefficient) that had, I think, red-state cities near the top...except for NYC, which was in first place.)

"Many blacks cannot easily be pigeonholed on a simple left/right spectrum. It's not at all uncommon for blacks to have leftist economic views, with strong support for big government and most social welfare programs, yet at the same time be deeply religious Christian fundamentalists who are strongly opposed to gay marriage and who also are pro-military."

So then they're on the upper left of the Political Compass. It seems to work pretty well for most of the things we have been discussing.

"It's not leftists who pass zoning laws."

I have demonstrated in previous posts (thanks to Steve Sailer's research) how there is a huge difference in housing affordability in red states vs. blue states.

This is a clear indication that free market policies favored in Republican states results in lower housing prices.

So it is indeed leftist politics that's associated with zoning and land use laws that cause high housing prices.


To tie two of your ideas together. Most blue states are blue because of minority voters. In very few states to Democrats get a majority of the votes of white voters. Thus, the high IQ whites in the blue states, like California or Mass, have to figure out ways to keep away from the minorities who, also, vote for Democrats. Zoning laws, the manipulation of public transportation, and housing patterns all aid in that.

"Zoning laws, the manipulation of public transportation, and housing patterns all aid in that."

Partially true in that poor southern whites had to worry about loss of status in integration...but it's the red states with poor public transportation, no?

I don't think it's free market policies, mostly because I don't think free market policies *are* favored in red states. Steve, as you know, attributes the difference to geography and sprawl, NOT regulation.

NYC zoning laws seem to be about maintaining high real-estate prices for land-owners, NOT about segregating whites and non-whites. After all, in NYC everyone uses public transportation and you have LOTS of poor non-whites in many expensive areas, and LOTS of areas a block away from those expensive areas with no poor people at all (due to police policy? Something else? I have no idea).

"Steve, as you know, attributes the difference to geography and sprawl"

I disagree with Steve. Vermont, a rural state, but a heavily Democratic state, has high housing prices.

"NYC zoning laws seem to be about maintaining high real-estate prices for land-owners"

All zoning laws have that effect, but it's mostly about leftists who don't understand economics who think they're zoning laws are somehow helping the poor when they do exactly the opposite.

HS, I think in your last comments about zoning you are confusing leftists and liberals. Leftists aren't powerful enough to control zoning. Maybe rent control can be called a leftist idea, but it isn't very common.

Also, red suburbs in blue states have pretty serious zoning, so I think looking at housing on the level of states is a mistake. (though Vermont is an interesting point)

I agree that the fact that leftists, liberals, right wingers, centrists, and even libertarians don't understand economics at all is disasterous. OTOH, it's my general impression that zoning is never or almost never a political issue *at all*. It's always the sort of BS that government pulls on it's own. Just because economically competent people disapprove doesn't mean that liberals are fighting for it!


Well, tell me, Michael Vassar, then who DOES understand economics then? Youv'e just about listed every group under the sun, LOL!


I wouldn't exactly agree with this assessment. Bill Clinton continued and amplified the drug war, invaded Bosnia, took a weak position on gays in the millitary, fought against gun rights and implemented censorship for the internet. All of these things are very un-liberal, at least not in the sense of classic liberalism.

Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky are actually more liberal in many ways than Clinton was. They are certainly more leftist, but they are also more liberal, due to the fact that they actually adovocate less government control and less authoritarianism in a variety of ways.

Terms like "leftist" or "rightist" are quite vague. Another problem is that the meaning tends to be related only to the political spectrum of a specific place or time.

On the other hand, I would suspect that anyone who calls themself a "leftist" or a "rightest" holds fairly extreme views and is not likely to want to engage in much constructive disucssion. So, it's, perhaps, a kind of red flag.

Now, how about "centrist"?

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