Does the Left have a corresponding great lie?
Jan 15, 2014

Does the Left have a corresponding great lie?

Yesterday, I gave a pretty harsh critique on the self contradicting core conservative talking point of cutting debt and taxes to create jobs. What I argued was that if your vision is a dramatic reduction in the size and scope of government, then be honest about it and run on that. People will approve or they won't, but don't dress this up as being able to magically reduce the debt, cut taxation, and increase jobs simultaneously as if there are not contradictory trade offs to each of these.

So what about the left? Is the left similarly about a dramatic increase in the size and scope of government, and they are being dishonest by trying to dress this position up in one way or another? I think the answer is a somewhat qualified no. Or at least, they are not being equally as dishonest.

Similarities first: both sides heavily use the "create jobs" mantra. When the right says "create jobs", they mean cutting taxes. When the left says "create jobs" they mean government spending programs like infrastructure investments, job training, and the like. Creating jobs is just so vastly important to the electorate that running on this benefit is natural. If it was just this, I wouldn't object to either. It is true; both cutting taxes and spending programs do create jobs in a vacuum, albeit the latter is often more effective at it.

The contradictory part, for the right, was the pairing of this with cutting the debt since reducing taxes in a vacuum increases deficits. This is where there isn't a similar contradictory point being made on the left: nobody suggests, for instance, that government spending for job promotion is going to cut the deficit. When it comes to reducing the debt - another laudable goal like job creation - "reducing the debt" on the right overwhelmingly means cutting spending. For the left, at least for the left as they exist today, "reducing the debt" is simply not a euphemism for "raising taxes". Whether it is Barack Obama's deficit cutting plans which focus overwhelmingly on spending reductions, or the NDP's insistence on not increasing taxes, major parties on the left in the US and Canada simply don't mean a one sided raising of taxes to cut the deficit, they are at best a mixture of the two (which is quite sensible).

Finally, while their is a strong vein in conservative ideology that government is inherently bad and needs to be minimized wherever possible, I don't think there is a corresponding vein in liberal ideology suggesting that government is inherently good and needs to be maximized wherever possible. The left admittedly usually wants to grow government into specific areas whether it has higher government involvement. US Democrats introduced Obamacare (and many wanted even more government involvement ala Canada); the NDP wants a national pharmacare program, to name two examples. And of course sometimes the right does this too, identifying specific programs and issues they believe are wasteful and should be cut. However, I don't think I am being unfair to suggest that as an aggregate the left lacks a sort of universal "grow government wherever possible" sentiment to correspond to the innumerable generic statements from the right about the evils of government and the need to cut it. It has more nuanced flavour, advocating "effective government" opposed to merely bigger or smaller government, picking and choosing specific issues that need to be addressed, and rarely droning on about the generic strengths of government in and of itself.

Personally, I am quite happy to be honest about ways I want a bigger government. I think the government should have stronger environmental stewardship, more involvement in incentivizing clean energy, increased higher education and research spending, a stronger social safety net, increased assistance for first nation peoples, etc etc. I am also quite happy to admit - as many politicians on the left are not - that I am willing to pay for that as well as for fiscal responsibility through a combination of some spending reductions (first and foremost military), but also nontrivial tax increases done in ways to move towards a more egalitarian society. There is a bit of a tendency to hide from the latter part of this that, while less egregious than the right's rhetoric, should be proudly owned up to by the left. Acknowledging that fiscal calculations have to balance out instead of only ever talking about the nice sounding positive sides is a strength, not something to run away from for fear that ever saying the words "increased taxes" will make you unelectable.

The big picture of politics:
Politics is, at its core, a debate over what our government should and should not do. It is entirely natural that politicians will split into separate camps based on whether they want the government to do less, or to do more. This general pull and tug - fought over specific battles on specific issues - is what guides governments to take or not take the actions they do. So I can hardly begrudge that right leaning (ie smaller government leaning) parties exist; it is not just expected, but necessary that we have this basic check and balance to answer this important question. What I can begrudge, however, is the idealogues, on either side, and particularly those that try to hide their idealism in nice sounding rhetoric. Those that want to effectively eliminate government, or those that want near total government control, but cast these positions in terms of things like creating jobs and cutting the debt. Partly due to the collapse of communism and the popularity of libertarianism, it seems that such idealism is far more rampant on the right than on the left. Either way, both sides - but I'm looking more at the right here than the left - need to be honest about it.

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