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Why modern leftism and modern conservatism are both evil

Summary:
During the 1990s, neither leftism nor conservatism were evil. Now they both are. How did this happen? Let’s start with leftism: During the 1980s and the 1990s, neoliberal policy reforms led to the greatest improvement in human welfare in global history. Indeed nothing else even comes close. Billions of people moved out of extreme poverty. And no, don’t tell me that “correlation doesn’t prove causation”. The neoliberal policy reforms actually caused the sharp reduction in extreme poverty, and places that didn’t reform (like North Korea) remained mired in misery while reformers like India and China and Bangladesh saw huge reductions in poverty. To modern leftists, ‘neoliberalism’ is a dirty word. A very bad thing. Perhaps the greatest evil of the modern world.

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During the 1990s, neither leftism nor conservatism were evil. Now they both are. How did this happen? Let’s start with leftism:

During the 1980s and the 1990s, neoliberal policy reforms led to the greatest improvement in human welfare in global history. Indeed nothing else even comes close. Billions of people moved out of extreme poverty. And no, don’t tell me that “correlation doesn’t prove causation”. The neoliberal policy reforms actually caused the sharp reduction in extreme poverty, and places that didn’t reform (like North Korea) remained mired in misery while reformers like India and China and Bangladesh saw huge reductions in poverty.

To modern leftists, ‘neoliberalism’ is a dirty word. A very bad thing. Perhaps the greatest evil of the modern world. Any ideology that views the most wonderful thing that ever happened in the past 4.6 billion years as being a great curse is a truly evil ideology.

Of course left-wingers won’t go down without a fight, and they try to concoct arguments in defense of their peculiar views. “Of course we all agree that markets must play a role, it’s just about market fundamentalism”. Oh really? Just where are the market fundamentalists screwing things up?

The most neoliberal regime in Europe is Switzerland. Did they go too far? Would they be better off like the least neoliberal regime (Greece)?

The most neoliberal regimes in Asia are Hong Kong and Singapore. Would they be better off with a mixed economy like Vietnam or China?

The most neoliberal regime in Latin America is Chile. Would they be better off with the sort of Latin American regimes frequently praised by Sanders and Corbyn?

The most neoliberal regime in North America is Canada. Would they be better off with the Mexican regime? Here you might argue that the US (lower in the Heritage rankings and higher in the Fraser rankings) is more neoliberal than Canada. On health care yes, but not on many other issues. In any case, if the US is such a neoliberal hellhole, why do so many people want to move here?

The most neoliberal regimes in Africa are Rwanda and Botswana (and Mauritius, if that’s considered Africa). Would they be better off with Zimbabwe’s socialistic “land reform”?

The most neoliberal regimes in Oceania are Australia and New Zealand. How many better places to live are there in the entire world?

So where are all these regimes that “went too far”. Maybe the US on healthcare, but even our health care system is pretty socialist, with government spending on healthcare at higher levels than in Europe as a share of GDP. It’s just extraordinarily inefficient socialism.

As I look around the world, I see countries like Ethiopia moving toward freer markets, and that’s a good thing. I really don’t see any countries “going too far” toward free markets. If you find one, please let me know where it is. As far as welfare, even the more extreme neoliberals (Friedman, Hayek, etc.) never rejected a safety net, and more moderate neoliberals like Brad DeLong were even more supportive.

As bad as modern leftism is (and I haven’t even mentioned the fanatical “Chinese Cultural Revolution” aspect of modern PCism), it is still the lesser of evils when compared to modern conservatism.

During 2016, most thoughtful conservatives were appalled by Trump. Recall the “Against Trump” issue of the National Review, which laid out all their objections. Now conservatives (with a few lonely exception) have swallowed the kool-aid.

Conservatives often quibble that this isn’t really fascism, because no one is talking about eliminating elections and tearing up the Bill of Rights. True, and that’s certainly very important. But that merely means that we aren’t in the mid-20th century anymore. Today’s leftist aren’t going to kill millions of people and send even more to work in the countryside. They aren’t even going to nationalize big corporations and install Nixon-style wage/price controls on the entire economy. This isn’t the mid-20th century–I get that.

But in most other respects this is fascism, at least as I learned about it in high school. It’s authoritarian, exalting the power of the “great man” who is cruel (Putin, Kim, etc.) It blames our problems on unpopular minorities and foreigners. It’s deeply sexist, with more sympathy for men who are proven sexual predators than women who are victims. It engages in the big lie, day after day. It demonizes the media. It’s xenophobic, hostile to multinational institutions like NATO, the EU, the UN, the WTO, etc. It rejects modern science, and indeed any form of expertise, substituting a faith-based reality. It dismisses examples of police brutality against the poor, while whining when their own members are investigated for corruption.

Conservatives knew all this in 2016, when most preferred a more principled (or at least less unprincipled) conservative. Someone who believed that Congress should make decisions on federal spending, not the President. Now they’ve made a pact with the devil.

So I completely reject modern leftism and modern conservatism. I want nothing to do with either ideology. That doesn’t mean I reject the people–some of my best friends are conservatives and leftists. That’s fine, they are merely misguided. But their ideology is truly evil.

PS. Feel free to leave comments telling me that my ideology is also evil. I’m not a leftist or a fascist, so I won’t delete them.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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