Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Reign of Liberal Injustice

Ever since the French Revolution the left has been all about Justice. So whatever the issue, whether workers, women, blacks, gays, and now Muslims, conservatives have always been put on the defensive. Who could be against Justice?

At the beginning of each push for justice, the left had a point. The workers worked long hours in miserable conditions back in 1850. Women did not have formal political rights in 1900. Blacks did not have full civil rights in 1950. Gays could not marry in 2000. Something had to be done.

But then there is my notion that there is no such thing as justice. Only injustice.  If it is true, then it would not be surprising to learn that leftist politics leads not to justice but injustice.

Here is an example of what I mean. A young Jewish kid back in the 1980s is lectured by a black preacher about Affirmative Action. If you fold a piece of paper, the preacher said, and then straighten it, the fold is still there. You need to fold the paper the other way to take the fold out.

This is to make the point that in order to erase an old injustice the only just thing to do is to create a new injustice. I don't think so.

But first let us stipulate the basic fact about our age, the Great Enrichment. Back in 1800 per-capita income in the US, adjusted for inflation, was $3 per day. Today in 2017 it is $144. In other words, per-capita income in the US is about 50 times what is was back in 1800. As Deirdre McCloskey writes, there has been nothing like it, ever.

The left argues that it is its education programs, its wage and hour laws, its emancipation of women, its civil rights for minorities that has brought people out of want and marginalization. Really? So has leftist politics made people 50 times more prosperous and liberated? I don't think so. Politics had nothing to do with the Great Enrichment. It merely rode it and took credit for it.

In fact all along, right up until the present moment, all the people in the know have known that nothing but disaster faced us in the future. That  is what Marx was predicting in 1850. Right now they are saying that Amazon is carpet-bombing the economy, or that training programs can't hope to retrain older workers and keep them in the workforce. So we need new government programs -- just what I can't imagine -- to force the economy to... well, to do something.

I argue that the left's program of "refolding" the fold to reverse the legacy of injustice is nothing but simple injustice, and that it only makes things worse.

Let's start with the workers and the wage-and-hours laws and union legislation that began in the 19th century. Do  we know what the workers wanted back then? Did they want to work eight hours a day, or did they want the money from a ten-hour day? We do know that the reason children worked was, usually, because that was the only way to get food in their bellies. Whenever parents could afford it, they sent their children to school instead of to work. Union legislation seemed like a  good idea, but it ended up letting the workers loot the corporation. That's why basic steel companies and auto companies in the US are shadows of their former selves.

And the main point here is that the workers were walking as fast as they knew how from the country to the jobs in the city. Why was that? Today the same thing is happening in China, where something like 12 million people a year are moving from the country to the city. And of course it is happening right now with the migration from the Middle East and Africa to Europe and the US. Living in a crowded tenement or a Grenfell Tower apparently is a small price to pay for getting out of the countryside. I wonder why that is? Could it be the grinding work or the grinding poverty in the countryside?

Either way, the left's good intentions have turned into manifest injustice as the white working class dies of despair after the collapse of the good jobs at good wages in unionized manufacturing. I wonder what would have happened if we hadn't racked up  a stew of privileges for "organized labor" and instead allowed the natural dynamism of the market to direct management and labor into other channels?

Let us look at women. As Georg Simmel wrote a century ago, women have been moving into the public square and they have been adjusting the public square to suit their more feminine sensibility. The reason they have been moving into the public square is that work has become less physical and more social, and that home work, from washing to food preparation, takes less time than a century ago. Also, women are not dying in childbirth like they did. Also, minivans and SUVs allow women to run around all over town and do things that were impossible when you did everything on foot.

But I wonder whether the sexual revolution, abortion, no-fault divorce, and careers for women are really such a good idea -- for women. Sexual revolution and abortion? If you ask me they have turned sex into a meat market, which is exactly the way young men like it. Careers for women? Sure, except that most women want to stay home and raise their children, and want a part-time job. No-fault divorce? Used to be that the rich were getting divorced and the poor were not. Now it is the other way around. Go figure. How about we de-politicize the Woman Question and let women figure it out on their own without the prodding and the conceit of left-wing political activists?

It is perhaps in race politics that the left has left the biggest precipitate of injustice. For it is in race politics that the left has achieved most clearly the opposite of what it advocated. African Americans have struggled to rise in the decades since the civil rights era of the 1960s. And the reason is simple. Liberals have enacted a mountain of injustice on the smoldering remains of Jim Crow. They have enrolled blacks in the lefty activist army and marched them around. But for what? African Americans exhibit the highest crime rates, the lowest marriage rates, and struggle to get out of the city and into the suburbs. Is that what the civil rights revolution was all about?

What about gays? Well, I think it is too soon to tell what the unanticipated consequences of gay politics will be. My only comment, as a 70-year-old grandfather, is to wonder what it means to be a 70-year-old without children and without grandchildren.

It is usual to fault the left for its genocidal crimes: the Ukrainian famine that killed 10 million in the 1930s, the Great Leap Forward that killed 30 million and the Cultural Revolution that bullied and shamed millions more, the Cuban revolution that has kept Cubans in poverty and oppression, the Venezuelan meltdown that is starving millions.

But I want to focus on the other things the left has done, that are not quite crimes but that have misled and ruined the lives of millions. I am talking about leading the workers away from learning how to work with, rather than against, capitalism and the price system. I am talking about force-marching women in a feminist direction rather than allowing them to discover for themselves how to create a more feminine public square. I am talking about stopping civil rights at civil rights and avoiding the injustice of Affirmative Action that has fallen so heavily on the shoulders of the white working class and on the supposed beneficiaries, African Americans.

I believe that we are just beginning the pushback against liberal injustice, and I also believe that, unlike the Enlightenment in the 18th century and the rise of the Left in the 19th century, the pushback is occurring without an intellectual vanguard to prepare the ground. This means that for the current leftist ruling class the pushback is occurring totally unexpectedly out of a clear blue sky, without the usual warning clouds on the intellectual horizon.

That is why the left is so outraged right now. And that is why we are not even at the end of the beginning of the new age, whatever it is and whatever it will become.

Ordinary people are finding out that their lives have been made worse by the intellectual ruling class of the last century. But nobody knows what they will do about it.

All we know is that political power is unjust. And eventually people must rise up against injustice or disappear into the dustbin of history.

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