I used to be a liberal

There have been several fault lines in this election: young vs old, black vs white, conservative vs liberal, conservative vs progressive, men vs women.  But amongst all those, one fault line is crucial to Republican hopes in the fall: conservative vs. liberal This is a fault line that favors the Republicans ~ always has, and always will.  This is a fault line that Democrats do not "get" ~ why does it favor the Republicans when we are clearly the good guys ? .

I used to be a liberal, and I am not anymore so I believe I am qualified to answer this question.

First, a primer on who is a liberal ?

You can find extensive discussions on the liberal philosophy here and here  A major component of liberalism is social liberalism, which contends that society must protect liberty and opportunity for all citizens. This is a fine goal, but becomes unattractive when discussed in detail, specially when it is pushed to the extreme.

So let us break this down: Our overall goal is to foster "equal opportunity" for all.  What metrics should we use to measure our progress towards that goal ?  

After all, the availability of "equal opportunity" is harder to quantify, results obtained as a follow on to that "equal opportunity" is easier to quantify.  Therefore, in order to measure our progress towards the overall goal, we have instituted measures that supposedly quantify "equal opportunity", but instead quantify the result of that opportunity.  Such measures are diversity in the schools, for instance.  But what constitutes diversity ?  In the absence of any societal interference, the Ivy Leagues would be dominated by Jews,legacy students and Asians.  This is not permissible from a diversity viewpoint ~ so what fraction of Jews would be acceptable ?  Would that fraction correspond to the fraction of Jews in the world ?  Or the fraction of Jews in Boston (if we are discussing Harvard and MIT) ?  Or the fraction of Jews in Boston plus an arbitrary allowance of some sort ?  What, exactly, constitutes diversity ?

Let us stop here and consider what happened: we started with a very commendable goal (protecting opportunity for all) and quickly started discussing some ridiculous questions.  It is here that liberalism gets into trouble.

Let us now consider the motivation for protecting opportunity for all.  I think even most conservatives believe that every man/woman/child should be given some basic human rights, including the opportunity to pursue a productive life.  The difference crops up when considering the question: what happens when an individual (or a group of individuals who are concentrated in a particular demographic) do not pursue productive lives? The liberal will argue that the context matters ~ prior history of abuse, or discrimination, makes it hard for this particular individual (or demographic) to pursue a  productive life.  The conservative will agree, to a point.  The liberal then goes onto argue that, given the prior history of discrimination, we should provide enhanced opportunities for that particular demographic.  The conservative will agree, to a point.

The difference between the liberal and the conservative is simply in the metrics: how much history of prior discrimination justifies enhanced opportunities for a particular demographic, and how much should those opportunities be enhanced by ?  Conservatives tend to emphasize individual responsibilities ~ "it is your job to stay in school, even if your grandfather was horribly treated by my grandfather"..they say!

Unfortunately, liberals in the US have come to be associated with "contextualizing to the extreme".  Contextualizing someone else's problem can be boneheaded for several reasons: (a) we may get the context wrong, and really offend that person (b) we may get the context right but still offend that person ~ because we come across as too intellectual (elitist) (c) we may get the context right, not offend the person, and still be wrong ~ the issue that should have concerned us was the lack of individual responsibility

I believe that there is a time and a place to examine the "context" for one's predicament, and there is also a time and a place for individual responsibility to be emphasized.  And that is where I parted ways with the liberal philosophy.

If I am not a liberal, then what am I doing on this blog ?

I consider myself to be a progressive ~ one who believes that the goal of society should be to redistribute opportunity (and wealth) from those that have it to those that do not, regardless of the context.

I believe that those that have wealth (and opportunity) do so largely because they are born into it, and rarely because they have truly earned it (I was myself born into more opportunity than most people in the world).  I believe that those that have wealth and opportunity do so largely because of the sacrifices made by those that came before them (MLK, Einstein, FDR etc. fro you; Gandhi/Nehru etc. for me), and consequently owe it to them to help those that are less fortunate.

And how does one redistribute wealth and opportunity without getting bogged down in the "how many Jews constitute diversity" type questions ?

If one is discussing this within the context of a nation, then you do it simply by having a progressive tax policy (taxing the rich at a higher rate) that funds societal goals (creating opportunity for all).  The goal should be to open more schools and colleges, such that everyone (Jew and gentile) who wants to go to school can go to school.  The goal should be to make it affordable for everyone who cannot currently afford it.

And if one is discussing this globally, then you do it by banning the sales of weapons, and by negotiating truly free trade agreements (free trade agreements always favor the less well off since they are less able to "protect" their markets in the absence of a free trade agreement).

What does liberalism have to do with the present election

It is simply this: we have had several opportunities to discuss "contextualization" in this election cycle.  And in each case, the progressive side (us) has also shown the "liberal" face (contextualizing things to the extreme).  This is a fault line that loses elections.

Successful "liberal" politicians (Pres. Clinton, for instance), have known when to stop talking about context.  Unsuccessful ones  never do ~ the most famous example of this was Gov. Dukakis when he was asked about his wife being raped.

Your comments are welcome!!

Tags: conservative, liberal, progressive (all tags)



Re: I used to be a liberal

Interesting. Would you say your less contextual feelings put you into the Reagan Democrat group?

by ellend818 2008-04-23 09:49PM | 0 recs
I had a PhD at age 24!!

That would make me sooo not a Reagan Democrat !!

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 09:54PM | 0 recs
Wow that is awful quick

to have a PhD.

As a liberal I would say that the prisoner's dilemma could provide a basic picture of why more people are conservative.

by Student Guy 2008-04-23 10:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow that is awful quick

Can you explain a wee bit more =)

I know what the PD is.. are you suggesting that conservatives are in it for themselves, and will screw others in the process ?

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 10:22PM | 0 recs
I would say that

most people find the betrayal payoff more appealing than the weighted cooperate/be betrayed payoff.

It starts with a mindset (I shouldn't have to pay for infrastructure Y in area X).  The club of growth is a showcase for this style of thought.  The government getting my money is like the weighted/be betrayed pay off and not giving them money (voting against school board levies, people who support an increase in infrastructure, etc) is like the betray/double betray payoff and most people see the latter as better than the former.

Liberals should be explaining the game as "Deer Hunt" (which is a PD like scenario with the payoffs changed I'll explain it if you want) instead, but they fail to frame society that way.

by Student Guy 2008-04-23 10:29PM | 0 recs
Yes, please explain

I do not know the deer hunt scenario

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 10:34PM | 0 recs

the deer hunt is between tow parties just like PD only the payoffs are different  I can't imbed a table so I  will link to it

http://www.gametheory.net/dictionary/Gam es/StagHunt.html

by Student Guy 2008-04-23 10:49PM | 0 recs
So the difference is that

in the deer hunt, the pot becomes bigger as a result of cooperation, while in PD, the pot stays the same ?

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 10:55PM | 0 recs
The difference is that

in the Stag Hunt there are two equilibrium strategies while in the PD there is only one.

Also the payoffs that chart gives is lower than I think the payoffs are in society.  The cooperate pay would be something akin to 40 in the chart if liberals could properly define the game, most of the time they don't get that message out and the game reverts to the PD.

by Student Guy 2008-04-23 11:04PM | 0 recs
So, if I understand your definition of liberalism.

liberalism will offer a choice to the consumer: cooperate for the stag, or hunt alone for the rabbit ?

But conservatives also offer this choice.  They talk about liberties and of the "thousnd points of light" in equal measure!!

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 11:11PM | 0 recs
No what I am saying is that

If it is properly defined people who are rational actors will choose liberalism.  If it is not properly defined rational actors won't pick liberalism.  The conservatives push it as a PD, liberals don't push the Big Coop bonus Stag Hunt very hard.

by Student Guy 2008-04-23 11:28PM | 0 recs
And as to the rest..

Most progressives are also for lower taxes (or else, we would have had both candidates campaigning on a platform of higher taxes).

Most progressives are also against trade agreements because they ship some jobs overseas (less emphasis is placed on the common good here)

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 10:38PM | 0 recs

both candidates say they will raise taxes (it was in the travesty of the ABC debate)

by Student Guy 2008-04-23 10:50PM | 0 recs
Did they really say that

or did they say that they would tax the "rich" (defined as those that make >250k/yr)

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 10:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Actually

I'm all for higher taxes if it is done in a progressive, rather than regressive, or neutral way.  If by "raise taxes" you mean raise taxes on the highest quintile, full steam ahead.  

by ProgressiveDL 2008-04-23 11:03PM | 0 recs
Do you favor an increase in the SS cap ?

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 11:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Do you favor an increase in the SS cap ?

That's progressive, isn't it?

BTW, does sevenstrings stand for a sitar?

by nklein 2008-04-24 12:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Do you favor an increase in the SS cap ?


and sevenstrings is derived from string theory

by SevenStrings 2008-04-24 06:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Do you favor an increase in the SS cap ?

Please explain this to me then.  How is having everyone paying a equal percentage of their income less progressive then having the poorer pay a higher percentage of their income?  I didn't mean the tax would be progressive in that higher-income individuals will pay a higher percentage than lower-income individuals.  Raising the cap would be more progressive than leaving it where it is.  (I do understand that this may have deletorious effect on people w/ incomes between $100,000 to $200,000, which is why some waiver is and should be discussed).  But there is absolutely nothing wrong with discussing the issue.

by nklein 2008-04-24 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Do you favor an increase in the SS cap ?

Everything that you said is true:  Increasing the cap makes the SS system less regressive.

Unfortunately, it also creates a bigger surplus in the SS system; and this surplus then subsidizes the general fund.  Therefore, you obviate the need for tax increases in the general fund (which is currently in a deficit).  Any tax increase in the general fund is always very progressive (the rich get taxed a lot more).

Therefore, increasing the cap on SS makes the SS more progressive (which sounds attactive to you), but makes the overall system less progressive.

You can find more details in

http://www.mydd.com/story/2008/4/2/22933 /02197

by SevenStrings 2008-04-24 12:46PM | 0 recs
I understand your objection, but...

I don't see how to solve the SS problem without it.  I would not object to some type of adjoiner to any cap increase to both exempt people earning between $100,000-200,000 and requiring a supermajority if they want to raid the SS trust fund.  Beyond the supermajority I do not understand how to stop the problem of raiding the trust fund, but to do nothing about the inequality of the cap and the potential problem in SS seems negligent.

by nklein 2008-04-24 09:13PM | 0 recs
There is no SS problem to be solved right now...

In any case, let us consider your solution.

The SS fund is currently in a surplus, and is subsidizing the general fund.  Therefore, if you prevent the SS surplus from being raided, then you have to make up the shortfall in the general fund.  This would require a massive tax increase in the general fund.  I would like to hear your candidate propose this... but I wont hold my breath for it.

There is no inequality of the cap: I assume you are referring to the regressive nature of the SS tax.  The regressive tax is okay, since the payoffs are also regressive.  It is not okay if the regressive tax is used to subsidize the general fund.  That is a problem we have right now.

Your proposal makes it worse.

I am sorry...you have been snookered!!

by SevenStrings 2008-04-24 09:59PM | 0 recs
Why don't you believe the SS Administration?

Are they liars? Why are thy saying there's a SS solvency issue.

A massive tax cut is not necessary, just a shift of the deficit funding.  If we're going to be borrowing money from other countries anyway, why steal money from our nation's insurance program?  Hell, none of these are great options, but something needs to be done during the next presidency to solve this issue.  Furthermore, a massive reduction in expenditures accompanied by an exit from Iraq will hopefully reduce our deficit and thus lessen the need for borrowing.

Also, please explain to me in what way are the payoffs of SS regressive.  SS is funded by everybody paying a percentage of their income up to the cap and after retirement everybody receiving a monthly payout until death.  That's how insurance programs are supposed to work, isn't it?  Some people may pay more in health insurance people b/c of pre-existing condition or region, but everybody is entitled to an equal payout.  How is that different than SS?  How is that regressive?  Why is it fair for a person making $150K to pay a higher percentage of his income than a person making $500K?  There's just no logic to the cap.  To this day, I think FDR or Congress put it in to protect the rich and I see no reason to maintain it while SS solvency is threatened.

by nklein 2008-04-24 11:34PM | 0 recs
Why don't you believe the SS Administration?

The SS administration is projecting a surplus for at least 15 yrs.  They are projecting solvency for another 30 years after that if the general fund repays the SS trust fund what it has already borrowed (which is what you are proposing).  Why do you not believe them

I never said a tax cut is necessary.  I said a tax increase in the general fund would be needed if the SS surplus was taken away.  If you believe that ending the war in Iraq combined with spending cuts would obviate that...then someone has sold you snake oil.  And I would like to hear your candidate list which spending programs you would cut.

SS payoffs are regressive because those that contribute from a $500k/yr base get the same monthly check as those that contribute from a $150k/yr base.

And yes, there is a logic to the cap ~ or there would be if the cap was much lower (at about $80k/yr).  BEcause at that level, the SS surplus would be zero, and the payoffs would be directly tied to what you put in.

It is not that complicated...if you just choose to  think it through instead of buying into the fearmongering indulged in by the candidate you favor.

by SevenStrings 2008-04-25 04:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Why don't you believe the SS Administration?

First, there is no Obama fearmongering in this.  I've been opposed to the cap since I first heard about it in my government claas in high school (1998).  I have yet to understand why in an insurance program where everybody receives equal payments, it is acceptable for some to pay part of their income, but not for others to pay the same percentage of their income.  There has been no reasonable explanation given to me yet why that is equitable.

Second, I miswrote when I said cut; I meant increase.  Also explain to me how ending the Iraq war will not decrease our expenditures.  Every time we ended a war it has decreased our expenditures in the past, why is that not the case now?  Now, I understand there are still expenditures required due to this war (Veteran's care and so on), but it is going to be nowhere near the $100 billion to $150 billion spent a year on this war.

Furthermore, I do not understand what you are trying to say here: "And yes, there is a logic to the cap ~ or there would be if the cap was much lower (at about $80k/yr).  BEcause at that level, the SS surplus would be zero, and the payoffs would be directly tied to what you put in."  Are you saying there is no logic to the cap now, b/c it allows for a surplus (a surplus btw that the SS commission in the 80's instituted to ensure the solvency of the program)?  If that's the case, why have a cap at all?  Why don't we reduce the percentage down to a level where we can tax everyone equally?  I know people making less than $100K would like that.

Finally, the SSA says that SS will become insolvent in 2017.  That's 9 years, not 15 years.  You are right though that the trust fund is projected to be enough until 2041.  But this is a seriuos issue and ignoring the issue of SS is not what leaders do.  I can tell you that almost nobody under 30 expects SS to be there for them.  We shouldn't procrastinate on an issue that costs trillions and perhaps tens of trillions of dollars and more importantly affecting hundreds of millions of people.  "Social Security is at a crossroads.  We face enormous challenges to shore up the system," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.

by nklein 2008-04-25 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Why don't you believe the SS Administration?

You have all the information, and yet you manage to twist it around so horribly...you must be a political consultant.  Let us consider this:

"I have yet to understand why in an insurance program where everybody receives equal payments, it is acceptable for some to pay part of their income, but not for others to pay the same percentage of their income."

A fair system is one where the returns are proportional to the contributions, and not to the fraction of the income.  Since those that make 150k and 500k contribute the same amount, they get the same amount.  You twist this around to say that those those that earn 500k should contribute more than those earn 150k, yet get the same payoffs.  I am sure you will agree that you are being silly!!

We are spending about $10B/month, or about $120B/year on the war.  Even if we go by your number of $150B/yr, and assume that it will go down to 0 (which it wont, and even if it did, it would be recessionary), the deficit (including the  surplus generated by SS) is about $300B/yr.  The deficit in the general accoutn itself is about 5% of the GDP ($700B/yr out of a GDP of $13T/yr).  $700B is $150B + $550B.  At best, you would have to increase taxes by $550B (or about 4% of GPD).

And as to when the SS system will go kaput...you should read this

by SevenStrings 2008-04-25 08:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Why don't you believe the SS Administration?

"You twist this around to say that those those that earn 500k should contribute more than those earn 150k, yet get the same payoffs."  That's entirely my point though.  A person who makes $20K a year contributes less than a person who makes $90K, but then they get the same benefits.  Why is that fair, but it is unfair for a person who makes $500K to contribute more than a person who makes $150K?

"A fair system is one where the returns are proportional to the contributions, and not to the fraction of the income."  If that's the case SS has never been a fair system.  SS pays out equal to people even though some people contribute a percentage of an income of $20K and others contribute from an income of $100K.  Obviously the person who makes $100K is contributing more monetarily than the person who makes $20K thus the returns are not proportional to the contributions.  SS was never designed to be the system that you describe.  It's insurance program.  It's designed to insure that nobody in retirement is reduced to such a improverished state so that they can't provide for themselves, thus everybody is entitled to equal SS benefits.  It was designed so that we all put in an equal percentage (not amount) of our income and thus we don't have to worry about how we'll eat in old age if we lose all our money.  That's why I don't understand why higher income individuals don't have to pay an equal percentage of their income.

On the issue of the debt, I said if we don't want a massive tax increase we'll have to shift how we fund the deficit.  Obviously, now we fund the deficit through whatever can be stolen from the SS trust fund while still making payments and foreign lending.  If we want to stop stealing from the trust fund and don't want tax increases, we'll just have to find more sources of foreign lending.  These aren't good choices, but if we want to ensure the longevity of SS we have to do something in the near-term.

by nklein 2008-04-25 10:33PM | 0 recs

Right now, you are not "funding" the deficit...you are borrowing from the SS fund, and simply printing more money (T bills rather).

Foreign lending does not go into the deficit ..at least not directly (foreigners buy the T bills, but that is indirect).

Your proposal amounts to increasing the deficit to about 8% of GDP.  Good luck with the cataclysm you will cause as a result  


by SevenStrings 2008-04-25 11:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Do you favor an increase in the SS cap ?

To be honest, I don't understand Social Security in a complex enough way to be able to make a really good argument about it either way.  Ideally, I'd like there to be a way for people who either earned a certain amount or who have very large 401(k)s/pensions to not receive Social Security at all.  I realize that probably wouldn't be feasible politically.

If we're going on wishes, I'd like to see SS as a program that basically steps in and replaces the lost pensions for people who could not survive without it.  I'd rather millionaires not get SS at all, even if they paid into it.  Basically, I envision SS as an insurance program where you pay into it as you are working on the chance you may need it to survive in old age.  If you either have a certain amount of assets or made a certain amount of money (I know this would be subject to all sorts of accounting tricks), you don't collect on this "insurance."  If you fall below a certain threshold after retirement age, you can start collecting.  

by ProgressiveDL 2008-04-24 05:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Do you favor an increase in the SS cap ?

I have diaried about it here

by SevenStrings 2008-04-24 10:00PM | 0 recs
Re: I used to be a liberal

How do you explain your apparent demographic fit as an Obama supporter but your lack of extreme progressiveness? Do you think it is more examination of the nuances and gray areas?

by ellend818 2008-04-23 10:12PM | 0 recs
That is an interesting question

but one that I could turn around...

how do you explain Sen. Obama's demographic support amongst the "white liberals" or the "college educated" ? Is it based on issues ?  What issues are those ??

And I consider myself to be an extreme progressive ~ one who happens to believe in free trade etc.

by SevenStrings 2008-04-23 10:17PM | 0 recs


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