Left and Right – Good and Wrong?

The old divide in politics between Left and Right can easily be condensed into the dichotomy: Left is altruism and Right is egoism. Translated into universal moral code it would be: Left is good, Right is bad.

There is on the other hand an old aphorism, which I suppose is international and goes like this:  If you are young and not a socialist you don’t have a heart; if you are old and not a conservative you don’t have a brain.

In my world this must have been concocted by an old reactionary, since it puts things on the head. If anything, conservative ideology is impregnated with emotion as opposed to cognition, whilst altruism requires ability to abstract thinking and conscious understanding, such as to identify oneself with other human beings with different backgrounds and traits.

As a slowly maturing child I had some vague political ideas of what we call here bourgeoisie character. In other words: as long as the naive boy was ignorant and immature he was politically a sloppy egoist (maybe evolution’s first choice). Then when he reached 20 in came the 1960s, and a whole new world opened to the post-teen as if he just had learned how to read. It was a revelation, never possible to rescind after that. Now as a rather old man his eyes are more open than ever.

People on the right-wing, if their thinking is not totally petrified, surely are aware of their ideology’s egoistic element. To comfort those people’s conscience there are a number of defense inventions made. On the economic front the most famous is the “Adam Smith gambit”. In short it says that prosperity for all will reach its optimum if everyone just strives for his own personal well-being, after which the famous “invisible hand” automatically will create a divine equilibrium, giving everyone his fair share.

To refute this gambit one just has to take a look at the world, and find – among many other deficiencies in the equilibrium – some three million small children dying each year from uncomplicated illnesses that would have cost us in the rich part of the world a pittance to cure. Empirically it’s thus obvious that the “perfect market hypothesis” has serious shortcomings. To Adam Smith’s honor it should be said that he is not at all so naïve in his main work Wealth of Nations as his right-wing interpreters want us to believe.

Smith was not just an economist but also a moral philosopher, and as such he had serious objections regarding capitalism, the way it functioned already in his days. He never used the term “invisible hand”, except one single time in the whole book, and then in a completely different context. He described how division of labor increased productivity, but at the same time denounced the kind of society it would create. He had not much sympathy for “the masters of mankind” as he called the capitalists of his time. To make Adam Smith a right-wing icon requires thus a very selective reading of his works.

That a socialized economy can function without central planning was not Adam Smith’s “discovery”, contrary to conservative idolizing. Mankind had presumably found that out on the shores of Africa a long time ago. It’s not much of a mystery either, rather a capability naturally produced by evolution. To take a really micro example: in my days we could be some twenty kids coming together on a grass field, one of us owning a football (“soccer” ball) – no parental supervision. In a moment we organized – democratically – two teams and started playing, each of us filling his specific role in the game. It required no planning whatsoever.

Since Left means good, and thus honest, we shall not overlook the benefits of market principles based on the “economic man” assumption (i.e. egoism). It’s obvious that we normally are more ingenious and work harder when we profit from the enterprise ourselves. But the profit mustn’t be in the form of money. The most decisive discoveries and inventions have been made by scientists and engineers who didn’t get a penny of the eventual billion dollar profits that could be the end result. They were happy with their professional achievement, which also is a benefit (but at the same time reveals the fraudulent money principles of capitalism, favoring the unworthy over the worthy).

Today’s China is held up as a triumph for market principles. Without diminishing the Chinese feat that example could require some analyzing. Indeed, a number of billionaires have emerged and a middle class of white color workers have prospered, but for the hundreds of millions on the impoverished countryside the outcome is more debatable. Before the capitalist era China was a much better place for the simple farmers than comparable countries such as India. Now the situation is more complicated.

The most abhorrent aspect of right-wing policy is the “winner takes it all” mentality, emphasized since the neoliberal seizure of dominance some 35 years ago. With just slightly less greed it would have been no big deal to eliminate the conspicuous manifestations of capitalism resulting in suffering for billions of people.

Worst of all is that our mentality has hit the rest of the world in the form of bombs and bullets, in short: with murder. But that’s another story.

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