No, left wing is not an insult

The latest playground insult for adults? You\’re so \’leftwing\’

David Cameron seems to be hoping \’leftwing\’ will stick as an insult – much like the way \’liberal\’ is thrown about in the US

Ignorant, counter-productive, these aren\’t insults either but they are usefully descriptive of much of the British left wing.

Yes, I know, I\’m going off on Worstall Rant #162 and will soon start foaming at the mouth and screaming.

There\’s nothing at all wrong with desiring a richer, greener, more equal perhaps world. Similarly praising the dignity of manual labour, thinking that we\’d all be better off with a bit more community and a little less individualism.

Even the elimination of rent seeking, the removal of the power of one over another.

You can agree or not agree with any of these goals as you wish: they\’re goals, largely determined by your priors, your morals and prejudices. I might disagree with some, you might. Might prioritise individual liberty a little more than that communal outcome, whatever.

But what drives me into that screaming froth mouthed rage is that so much of what is proposed by the so called \”left\” in Britain is actually counter-productive given their expressed goals. And I can only think that this is because they are ignorant of the consequences of the actions they propose to supposedly reach their goals (I doubt very much that any of them are bright enough to be evil about these things. I\’ve worked, as you know, in politics and none of them strike me as that clever).

Yes, the dreary litany: they argue for higher corporation taxes when such taxes are, in large part, actually paid by the workers in lower wages. They argue for high tax regimes, highly progressive tax regimes, to fund a large state, without realising that you can only fund a large state with regressive taxation. They argue for national pay deals refusing to see that these kill people. We must keep the NHS as the last Stalinist bureaucracy in Europe despite the obvious failures of such Stalinist bureaucracies.

Polly\’s \”we must be more like Sweden\” without anyone going and doing the work to understand why Sweden fucking works.

And this is where the froth mouthed screaming rises to hysteria: I could design them a system which achieves their goals better than the idiocies that they themselves put forward. We know how to lower the gini, we know how to provide more affordable housing, we know how to provide better equality of opportunity and even greater equality of outcome.

But the fuckers just won\’t listen, will they?

20 comments on “No, left wing is not an insult

  1. In similar vein, there is the political left’s proclaimed disapproval of fascism and the “far right” combined with their enthusiastic defence of the Islamisation Europe. Islam – that’s the movement which has “fascist” and “far right” written all over it: murder of authors, cartoonists and publishers one does not like, the belief that anyone leaving one’s movement should be killed, homophobia, etc, etc).

  2. “There’s nothing at all wrong with desiring …”

    I agree.

    But there is ALL WRONG with ENFORCING such desires on all the rest od us, like that arse (lack-of-)Energy Secretary Huhne.

    Alan Douglas

  3. Maybe, Tim, the things lefties say they want aren’t always the things they actually want.

    Revealed preferences, and all that.

    Maybe a good percentage of Guardian readers are, like the Pharisees of old, more concerned with being seen to be good and holy than the fruits of their highly conspicuous piety.

    On the other hand, maybe lefties genuinely believe in a sort of secular egalitarian doctrine of sola fide.

    Only righties grubby their minds by considering such unpleasant things as facts and outcomes.

  4. An irony is that the left had a golden opportunity to create a year zero in 1997 but blew it. They had a massive electoral mandate to rethink how to create a new model of the society and economy at a time when conditions were benign.

    Major’s ill-fated “New Labour New Danger” slogan was unfortunately wrong. Unfortunately for them (and possibly for all of us) they bottled it as was epitomised by asking Frank Field to think the unthinkable on welfare reform only to be told that what he thought was unthinkable and wouldn’t be done.

  5. Surely “desiring a … more equal … world” is inconsistent with “the removal of the power of one over another”; the equality that “the left” desires is equality of outcome, which is only achieved by taking from some and giving to others.

  6. Botzarelli, I don’t think Labour “had a massive electoral mandate to rethink how to create a new model of the society and economy” in 1997.

    They only got back into office after 18 years in opposition by repositioning themselves as a centrist party, appealing to “Mondeo Man” and aspirational working class people who a decade earlier would have voted for Mrs Thatcher’s party. Not frightening the horses with Clause 4 and all that CND stuff that kept them out of power in the 80’s.

    Tony Blair understood that the British electorate is fundamentally small-c conservative.

  7. Further to what Steve says, I don’t think you can take it as a given that parts of the left want what they claim to want. Once they see that obtaining such goals can only be done by means of which they do not approve, it becomes obvious that the means of which they do approve are actually their desired ends.

  8. So what is the paradise that the left aspires to?

    Iain M Banks, a self proclaimed leftist sci-fi author, writes stories set in the ‘Culture’- a high tech but environmentally responsible civilization where everyone can have anything they desire, money has ceased to exist & people only work if they want to.. The final expression of communism. As one of his characters describes the prospects for Earth. “They do not know it but their future is the deepest red…”.
    Yet there’s not the slightest sign that socialism does in fact lead to that future. In practice the more socialist the state the less people have, the harder they have to work to get what they have & the greater the inequality between those at the top & those at the bottom.
    Conversely, the ‘Culture’ is actually more nearly an expression of climax capitalism. Productivity has risen to the point where the value of goods has declined to zero. Wages have however risen to infinity. You literally cannot pay anyone to do anything they don’t desire to. If people work they do so for the sheer pleasure of the experience.

    Debating this point with the author can be entertaining…..

  9. Hmmm, I suspect the weakness on the left is a tendency to assume that good things can always be had for free, simply because they are good things (something about the universe being fundamentally fair, I suspect)

    You know, relieving poverty is good, so there must be a way to do so. I know, rich people won’t notice a bit more tax, they have more money than they need anyway. Hey presto, everyone is happy.

    See also the protests yesterday. They get defined-benefit pensions, then expect contributions to be fixed also.

  10. See also Blair’s “But he [Saddam] is evil, isn’t he?”

    Possibly, but that doesn’t mean any intervention will make Iraq a nicer place to live…

  11. Only at The Guardian do they not realize that for most people ‘left-wing’ has been an insult for at least twenty years.

    I also liked Tim Blair’s take on this article: “How terribly unfair. The left would never use “conservative” or “rightwing” in the same way. Ever.”.

  12. bloke in spain, that’s a common theme in left wing thought, the future, rather than past, Golden Age. Ian B has often pointed out the essentially fundamentalist religious nature of left wing thought and although I can’t really agree with him concerning the purely religious origins and nature of Protestantism and Puritan beliefs I think he’s spot on about the left ( particularly the Anglo-Saxon left ) being the inheritors of a narrow faith based view of the world – I think this is a large part of the reason for their otherwise baffling support of Islam, they admire the certainty.

  13. @13 I’d certainly give IanB a great deal of support in that opinion.
    Where I don’t go along with him is including Murphy as an adherent to that philosophy. Man’s a snake oil salesman to his core.

  14. Iain Banks’s Culture is a post-scarcity society. The reason no-one has to work if they don’t want to, that money doesn’t exist, and that people can have anything they need or want, is because they have essentially unlimited resources. I think he has said that this is the only way he thinks their peculiar socio-politics could possibly function (i.e. it wouldn’t work today on Earth).

    “There’s not the slightest sign that socialism does in fact lead to that future” possibly because the Culture’s “socialism” comes from having unlimited resources not unlimited resources coming from the socialism.

  15. How can “left-wing” be an insult? Is “blonde” an insult? Well, Nye Bevan would not have worried and I can think of a gorgeous blonde who got a first at Oxford while going out with a rugby blue and schoolboy international. [Yes, she just noticed me as a friend of a friend, but only just]. You (Tim) may view me as left-wing but I do not regard that as an insult, just a difference in viewpoint. If anyone suggested that my blonde big sister was less than brilliant, they would merely demonstrate their stupidity.
    Who was the greatest single benefactor to the poor in my lifetime? An Old Etonian called Maurice Harold MacMillan, whose boast that working class pensioners were, thanks to him, better off than they had been when breaking their backs has been continuously misrepresented by the media ever since. Some think SuperMac was left-wing – I can live very happily with that sort of insult, but not with one that suggests that I am comparable with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or the ci-devant Lord Stansgate

  16. Of course Left wing is an insult. The world is divided into two sorts of people – those who don’t have much (and tend to be young) and those who do (and tend to be old). The sub-set of the former who are intent on taking from the latter for their own benefit (and anyone else who comes along for the ride) is a Leftist.

    Everything else is just flummery to persuade themselves and others that they are right to steal and murder. It is not essential to what they want to do, although they would be unlikely to do it without first convincing themselves of their own moral righteousness.

  17. ukliberty – “Iain Banks’s Culture is a post-scarcity society. The reason no-one has to work if they don’t want to, that money doesn’t exist, and that people can have anything they need or want, is because they have essentially unlimited resources.”

    Although, obviously, that is not true. If I want a planet of my own, I am unlikely to have it even in the Culture. If I want the Mona Lisa on my wall, it would be hard to have it. No matter how rich society becomes, there are limited supplies of some things. And there always will be.

    “I think he has said that this is the only way he thinks their peculiar socio-politics could possibly function (i.e. it wouldn’t work today on Earth).”

    So as a stupid dreamer, he is clear sighted enough to see that.

    ““There’s not the slightest sign that socialism does in fact lead to that future” possibly because the Culture’s “socialism” comes from having unlimited resources not unlimited resources coming from the socialism.”

    I am not convinced of that either. Where Banks is annoying (besides his conceit that individuals play no role in History and hence his heroes play virtual no useful role in the plots of his stories at all, and the fact that he cannot see mass murder in terms of his friends, but always the Nazis no matter what colour their skin, or their species or how far into the future) is that he has a reliable deus ex machina at hand – the technology of the Culture. No matter what the situation, it is always the AI or the Drone or the Spy gear that saves the day. The socialist world of the Culture is assumed to be more technologically advanced than pretty much anyone else. His assumption does seem to be that a properly socialist society would be more technologically advanced than a capitalist one. That seems a causation to me.

  18. It’s amusing to argue about a fictional utopia.

    If I want a planet of my own, I am unlikely to have it even in the Culture.

    Why not? There are loads of planets, the vast majority of people don’t want a planet of their own, and the Culture can probably build planets. Of course you’re right in the sense that if everyone (some 30 trillion people) wanted a ‘real’ planet for their own in the same galaxy it would not be possible, because there are only some 50bn planets, but I was careful to use the clause “essentially unlimited” rather than just “unlimited”.

    If I want the Mona Lisa on my wall, it would be hard to have it.

    Why? They can perfectly duplicate it. The artwork would no longer have the same monetary value, of course. But then money doesn’t exist internal to the Culture. The artwork would no longer be unique, but do you want it for its uniqueness or do you want it because it’s aesthetically pleasing?

    His assumption does seem to be that a properly socialist society would be more technologically advanced than a capitalist one. That seems a causation to me.

    He writes,

    a planned economy can be more productive – and more morally desirable – than one left to market forces … [a paragraph or two about the evils of the markets, ho hum] …

    What is vital for such a scheme, however, and what was always missing in the planned economies of our world’s experience, is the continual, intimate and decisive participation of the mass of the citizenry in determining these goals, and designing as well as implementing the plans which should lead towards them.

    … we may, within a century of the invention of electronics, duplicate – through machine sentience – a process which evolution took billions of years to achieve, so we shall one day abandon the grossly targeted vagaries of the market for the precision creation of the planned economy.

  19. ukliberty – “Why not? There are loads of planets, the vast majority of people don’t want a planet of their own, and the Culture can probably build planets.”

    Because population growth tends to mean most places have people. More than one. If not us, then someone else in a universe with many intelligent, space-traveling races. But suppose they can build one – at some point even a really abundant economy has to decide how many hospitals and schools are worth giving me a planet. These issues don’t go away. Really rich societies just raise the threshold, not abolish it.

    “Why? They can perfectly duplicate it. The artwork would no longer have the same monetary value, of course. But then money doesn’t exist internal to the Culture. The artwork would no longer be unique, but do you want it for its uniqueness or do you want it because it’s aesthetically pleasing?”

    It has monetary value because the original is worth something to people a copy is not. This is the old Spirit of Saint Louis argument – the blind wished to touch it, but the Smithsonian would not allow it. So they agreed on a copy, but only if it was directly underneath the original. Copies just won’t cut it. I will want the original. So will everyone else.

    “a planned economy can be more productive – and more morally desirable – than one left to market forces … [a paragraph or two about the evils of the markets, ho hum] …”

    So he starts off with two religious points of view

    “What is vital for such a scheme, however, and what was always missing in the planned economies of our world’s experience, is the continual, intimate and decisive participation of the mass of the citizenry in determining these goals, and designing as well as implementing the plans which should lead towards them.”

    You mean ….. like the way people influence markets by buying things each and every day?

    “… we may, within a century of the invention of electronics, duplicate – through machine sentience – a process which evolution took billions of years to achieve, so we shall one day abandon the grossly targeted vagaries of the market for the precision creation of the planned economy.”

    So he has another deus ex machina – machine intelligence. Who act like Gods to solve all the problems with his stories.

    Religious fables of a particularly, when you get down to it, unpleasant variety. He just does not like people.

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