I wonder whether it is possible for a new pragmatic Left to emerge from the wreckage of John Kerry's presidential campaign. One major obstacle to this development is the depth of attachment to erroneous idées fixes. Matthew Yglesias's comment on "social justice" is a case in point.
A true demand for social justice necessarily calls into question the legitimacy of the social order, the legitimacy of my having what I have, and does not just ask me to sacrifice some of my property and my position, but admit to myself that my possession of my property and position is, to some extent, unjustifiable and unjust. This is a hard thing to admit,..
Gavin and Dick might like to note that this is actually a pretty good example of the type of "incorrect opinions" to which Peter Nolan referred. Yglesias reveals that the primary concern of the "social justice" advocate is not, as one might suppose, to uphold the interests of the less advantaged in society but rather to validate a method of organising society which promises an egalitarian redistribution of all that "unjustifiable and unjust" property. It may seem like an abtruse distinction but the emphasis of the contemporary Left on the redistributionist means at the expense of the ends to which redistributionism is supposed to effect is why it is heading into a cul de sac.
There remains a deleterious obsession with intentions over outcomes. But intentions are ultimately worthless, it is "incorrect" to imagine that a good intention - to wipe out poverty - somehow justifies a bad outcome - perpetuating poverty - and it is also "incorrect" to complain of the "bad" intentions - tax cuts for the "greedy" rich - if the outcome of that "selfish" policy is a reduction in unemployment. I should note that it is possible, even likely, that good intentions lead to good outcomes and bad intentions lead to bad outcomes, but the point remains: it is the outcome which matters.
If it is hard to divorce the two, perhaps a thought experiment might suffice. Let us imagine two neighbouring countries, Laissaferia and Equalistan. Each are autocratic regimes. In each case the government is a secretive cabal which never reveals its "intentions" to the public. In Laissaferia, there is no public health system, no welfare safety net, no public education system. The payoff is that taxes are very low and there is little regulation. In Equalistan, there is an extensive public health system, no quibbles welfare and an extensive public education system. Balancing this is the redistributionist tax system which maintains wages in a very narrow band in the middle. Let's say there is very little difference between the richest and poorest Equalistanis.
Now, it is probably no surprise to anyone who has read this blog that I would prefer to live in Laissaferia, but my point is not so much to argue the merits of a liberal society over an egalitarian society as to point out that we may have that discussion and carry on the argument without any reference at all to the intentions of each governing cabal. It may turn out to be the case that Equalistan is governed by good hearted individuals and Laissaferia a bunch of rogues. Conversely it might be the case that Equalistan is managed by a nihilistic Borg-style collective and Laissaferia run by idealistic cavaliers. Or they could be both governed by computer programmes. In each case the merits and demerits of each society remain.
The point is that, what matters is what is achieved, what is likely to be achieved and not what leftist tradition says is the "correct" means for achieving the ends. The fact is that an economy is not one fixed pie which will remain the same size no matter what tax and redistribution regime applies to it. The economy can grow, slowly or quickly or not at all. Extensive redistribution generally acts against growth. Conversely, the type of regime which encourages growth will tend to increase "inequality" by the simple fact that when poor people get richer, richer people get richer still.
The best way for a new pragmatic Left to keep from crashing on the rocks is to ignore the siren call of egalitarianism. If the aims of the Left may be achieved by methods other than redistributionism - and they surely must be as redistributionism has failed miserably so far - those methods ought not be spurned just because they do not comform with leftist tradition. They might indeed turn out to be "correct".