When discussing politics we often frame the conversation in terms of left and right, progressive and conservative, socialist and capitalist. What do we mean by those terms? It’s important, because unless we more or less agree on the definition of something, there’s no way we can have a meaningful conversation.
A friend told me that Karl Marx created the word “socialism” to describe just one of the stages of communism. He insists that at present there are no socialist, and certainly no communist governments in Canada, the United States, or Europe; only Social Democrat governments that do not attempt to own the means of production, but try to direct the economy through regulation and taxation. If Alberta’s NDP is Social Democratic, they sure do!
Socialist governments, on the other hand, actually nationalize industries, and then, in theory at least, distribute the resulting wealth equitably to all the citizens. The economic chaos in Venezuela illustrates just how well that works. As Hungarian economist Janos Kornai observed; shortages are the chronic problem with socialism.
Communists just take over and imprison or liquidate anyone who objects, including 70 million or so in the last century.
Communism, Socialism, and Social Democracies are all parts of “The Left.” And by the way, so were the Nazis. The word, Nazi, comes from National Socialist, and the Nazis actively coerced businesses, and citizens, into supporting the objectives of the state.
Conservatives in all their iterations are referred to as “The Right.” Conservatives believe that individuals have the first responsibility, and the right, to decide how to look after themselves, their families, the less fortunate, and their own interests. They also believe in sensibly regulated capitalism, and free enterprise.
True conservatives are in agreement with the left in their opposition to crony capitalism, and corporate welfare.
On social issues, Leftists believe that government appointed “experts” must be allowed to intervene to help citizens run their lives. In practice, it leads to the slavery of dependency, and it distracts governments from doing well, those things which only governments can, and must do.
The left seems to believe that an economy is a zero-sum game. If someone gains, someone else must lose. But in the past 30 years, capitalism and cheap energy from fossil fuels have added so much new wealth to developing countries that extreme poverty has dropped from 35% to under 10%. That sounds like a win win to me.
On the social side, most conservatives do not nonchalantly abandon long-established customs, unless those customs interfere with another persons human rights. We are certainly born with a predetermined colour, sex, etc., but how we live out that reality is based on our choices. It requires a remarkable level of hubris to demand that our choices should override another persons fundamental rights and freedoms; property rights, assembly, speech, and religion.
Left and Right have fundamentally different and opposing world views. The right believes that the individual, family and community are preeminent; the left believes that a citizens first allegiance is to the the state. When we talk to each other, we need to remember that difference.
Being of the Right, I would tend to agree with Winston Churchill who famously suggested that Christopher Columbus was probably the first socialist. “He left not knowing where he was going; didn’t know where he was when he arrived; and he did it all on borrowed money.”
Next week, Red vs. Redneck; an online debate.
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