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January 03, 2011



Excellent post today, really good. How else to break the success to the successful paradigm?

Nick Rowe

Yes. A very good post.


From a Marxist point of view, the problem isn't the market in products but the market in labour hours, and the fact that the two are denominated in the same currency. If you can buy more carrots than me, that's inequality. If you can buy my time and get richer by doing so, that's injustice.

Adam Bell

I have to say, you're making the same mistake you level at Gopal, but less egregiously. There's a tension between advocates of improving individuals to lead to an improved society, and those who advocate improving society to lead to improved individuals. Your linked pieces very clearly put you on the latter side of the equation; your emphasis on structural factors indicating that you believe these are important - perhaps more important - than individual behaviour. This is very revealing.

Markets are an effective institution not because they rely on selfishness, greed and stupidity, but because they require the individual to improve themselves in order to succeed. This is why Adam Smith advocated participating in the market as a better form of tutelage than military service; it forces you to analyse your own actions and improve your judgement. Abdicating responsibility for doing so to the State fails to have the same effect - which is why I'd argue you're on the wrong side of the equation.

Phil Ruse

The left could start by not confusing equality with equality of opportunity.


Ummm, have you actually checked with the populace if they know what
"worker ownership, a citizens’ basic income, a liberal immigration policy, steeper inheritance taxes"
actually are, what they would really mean for them in real life rather than in Daily Mail world? I don't think so. Thus I find your assertion rather like chopping people's legs off and then saying there is no demand for shoes.

For toleration of inequality, it isn't just a matter of the media. It is also the culture in general, for which the media is merely the conduit. The way that modern commercial culture is in every part of society these days means alternatives are harder to bring to the attention of the general mass of people, those who have not been asked about their preferences. This is all sounding a bit like the "Why do people vote BNP?" malarkey, where the answer is that they do so because the current parties and political way of doing business ignore them and their views. Many of these people could be won for a more left of centre viewpoint, if people were making more effort in general to do so. I note that A very public sociologist, for example, is a member of the labour party for precisely that reason, and there are others out there doing what they can.

But until people (ie the general populace, or at least those in the great flabby middle of society) get as much chance to be exposed to leftist type political views and whatever such institutions remain/ are being rebuilt/ whatever, then things will indeed appear as hopelss as you present them.


There are, I think, more and better motives for the hostility towards paedophiles than the fact that they are different.

Major Plonquer

The truth is that Capitalism is where man exploits his fellow man. Socialism is the other way round.

Anon E Mouse

Perhaps your description of a "just society" (The brute fact is that there is no public demand for liberal socialist policies) is how "just people" define the term.

Once explained there seems to be no appetite anywhere in the world for Socialism and certainly not from the Labour Party in government or not.

Maybe you were brainwashed about socialism in university and need to move on...

Fubar Saunders

Good article... subjected I see, to the usual knee-jerk reactions from the left leaners who insist on calling anyone who doesnt agree with them stupid... entirely proving the writer's point.


The Left doesn't deny that markets *can* harness selfish motives to socially beneficial effects it just takes the (empirically demonstrable) line that this is far from an assured outcome and that markets can also, and often do, produces seriously socially destructive effects.

I think you economists call such things 'negative externalities'. But, of course,they're only 'external' to the people involved in the market transaction, not to the rest of us. Your profession also has a wider concept of 'market failure' which I understand to be situations where market exchange results in inefficiencies. The Left , in all its forms, is naturally interested in these phenomena and advancing ways of correcting them.

Where it does get more intellectually challenging, of course, is in the Left's attitude to property rights. It seems impossible to me to be anywhere on the spectrum from a full blown Council Communist to the mildest social democrat and *unequivocally* respect existing property rights per se. If one did, the idea of redistribution would be anathema. Yet markets depends secure(ish) property rights. So there is a tension there.



This is interesting but I think the truth is a bit more complicated. Not only is the population to the right of Gopal and Penny, but it’s to the right of the entire political class, give or take a few loonies at the fringe. The shortest path to a more left-wing politics is simply to bypass the great unwashed and completely ignore them. Which, of course, has already happened. More democracy would take us to the right, not the left—tighter immigration policies, capital punishment, etc.

James Parry

Isn't part of the problem this talk of 'The Left' as if it is some identifiable community of believers, and of 'left-wing policies' as if they come in some kind of well-understood package. In reality the so-called left is heterogenous and full of contradictions (as Chris shows week in week out). So is it a surprise if the public's responses fail to conform tidily to this rickety left-right abstraction?

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