Liberal Beliefs: Causal Irresponsibility – Part One

You meet all kinds of people on Facebook, including people you wouldn’t meet in real life, including people you would meet but not seek out in real life. Recently, I became involved in FB discussions with a lady liberal. She is articulate and honest. She is worth talking to because (excuse me B.C.) she seems to be over 25. (Liberals under 25 need no explanation. Politically too, they are thinking with their glands!) My new FB friend will go by the name “B. C.” as I report on and comment on our exchange. This is Part One of a two parts series.

JD The overlap between liberals and conservatives’ beliefs is considerable. The difference is about how things work. Liberals don’t care about that issue. (That’s the charitable explanation.)

JD I meant that liberals and conservatives in American largely agree on what is good, with some major exceptions. So, conservatives tend to think that abortion is bad while liberals often seem to argue that it’s a good thing. Yet, there is much agreement around the proposition that good health and quality medical care, good food, education are all good things.
BC Liberals do care about how things work. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 works; the 40 hour work week works; National Parks are one of the shining glories of our nation; our interstate highway system works; the GI Bill works; NASA works, the Internet works. Public libraries. And on and on. None of these government agendas would have happened without liberals.

JD I meant to say that liberals often don’t concern themselves with the mechanics of society. They tend to think that raising the minimum wage is good because some people will undoubtedly earn more money as a result. They don’t contemplate the possibility that the indirect effects of such a measure might be that large numbers of people will earn less money, or that some people will be completely and forever priced out of the job market. I would say that liberals tend to be causally irresponsible. By the way, I think that there should be empirical evidence supporting either kind of claim and that both liberal and conservative doctrines should yield to the facts. when they are available.

JD Several good points. This deserves an essay for a response. But it was not what I meant. Who voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964? I agree that the Internet works but I am not sure what that demonstrates. Help me start the essay please….

Here, we have a hodge-podge, any way you look at it. I will separate the ingredients in this thick soup.

First, I will grand B.C. the forty hour week for lack of relevant information. Everywhere, it was a reform forced on employers by the political process, by liberal economic actors – such as labor unions – that had captured government. The reduction of the legal work week from whatever it was, or no limit, down to 40 was economically like an across-the-board pay raise. I don’t know if there is an economic literature that deals objectively with the society-wide consequences of this massive pay raise. I am sure there were some consequences, in the form of inflation, in particular, but I don’t know for sure what they were.

National Parks: It’ a subjective issue. I am glad that tracts of the country were put out of reach of development. Subjectively, I think it’s too large an area overall. I am sure that it could have been done through private initiative. (It’s being done now by the Nature Conservancy.) It might have been too late though. I find the way National Parks are run detestable. I never go to the one closed to where I live, Yosemite, because it’s administered like an inferior military installation and I did not sign up for a stint. In general, that’s the best the Federal Government can do: more or less duplicate the military.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 shows that political intervention sometimes works as intended, something few deny, even conservatives. When a society has been implementing immoral policies for a long time, it usually takes a political act to affirm collectively, “No More.” That was the case with institutionalized racism. Incidentally, the final vote on the Act was as follows: For/against: Democrats: 63/37
                                                                                                Republicans: 82/18

It would not have passed without a substantial Republican majority. It take chutzpah, or trained ignorance to give liberalism the credit here.

Our interstate highway system works. It does what it was built to do. It embodies the natural, and legitimate role of the state in a democratic society. Besides, it has good military implications, like its model, the German autobahn. The relevant legislation was signed under Pres. Eisenhower I am not aware that any credit should be going to liberals for this achievement. It does fall well within the general liberal framework that government is good.

NASA does not work. It send projectiles way high at extremely high cost. Private concerns now do the same for a small fraction of the cost. NASA is forever looking for new things to do to justify its continued existence. It’s been riding a long wave of romanticism about the “conquest” of space that leaves me underwhelmed as it reminds me of many previous irrational collective ventures. That would,include the War on Drugs, systematically lost for 40 years in a row but yet continuing as if victory were just beyond the horizon.

The Internet is a wonderful success. It has changed life for the better, including the lives of the many poor worldwide. At its origin was a vague, tiny grand by the department of Defense. It was vague because the DoD just requested that the grantee design some system of communication that would be so decentralized that it could not be destroyed by nuclear war, for example. Needless to say, the actual system went thousands of times beyond expectations. After, the original tiny grant, it was all the result of private initiative and of private enterprise. It seems to me that the existence of the Internet should be used to illustrate the power of non-governmental action instead of the reverse, as B.C. seems to do. Watch the impotent efforts of many different nation-states that have tried to produce their own Internet with government programs. (Watch the now abandoned French government’s “Minitel,” for example and be prepared to laugh and cry.)

The GI bill made is easy for returning military to undertake university and other studies. It worked just as planned. There is no conservative argument against the GI Bill because it was reparation, a compensatory program. Millions of American men were deprived by their participation in world War II of the possibility to advance, to improve their life chances. The method chosen to make up for their loss was intelligent because it almost certainly also benefited people who were not it intended beneficiaries. That’s because, by and large, the more education, the higher the productivity, the better off everyone is. There is no conservative objection to the GI Bill because it was just.

Public libraries work in the sense that they do lend books at a low cost to the readers and provide ancillary services to children, for example, that I find useful. Until recently, it would have been difficult to says whether public libraries are even moderately efficient because all libraries were public, at least to some extent. (Even the libraries of private universities are open to the public part of the time). Now, we are told that private Internet ventures are forcing public libraries right and left to reduce their operations. These exemplary public organizations thus begin folding as soon as a direct competitor appears. This lead me to suspect that public libraries “worked” for a couple of hundred years because they had a monopoly on the distribution of a valuable good: inexpensive reading.

There should be a negative terms for the act symmetrical to a Freudian slip. I mean what somebody on one side of an argument omits, fails to mention and that should by all logic be mentioned. After referring to the GI Bill and to public libraries, B. C. I would have expected would have mentioned public schools. She did not maybe because, they are, to a large extent, a shameful failure. It’s true that many or most manage to teach their charges more or less how to read and how to write a little. As far as I can tell, they take about ten years to achieve these modest results. I think it should take two years, three years at most for the “differently gifted.” Test after test suggest that the average high school senior does not know anything. The first year of college, often the first two years, have to be intensely remedial, even in elite universities.

It’s possible that public schools do other useful things with the children who are forced to attend, I mean beyond their custodial duty and their obvious role as mating facilitators. I have never come across mention of those. I am open minded. I hope someone will make a cogent argument. In the meantime, I note that on every dimension those paragons of government endeavor regularly come second best to their private sector competitors that are allowed to exist. That’s true controlling for the socio-economic and the racial background of the students. Public schools, the apple of the liberal eye are major failures after 150 years of existence.

In the next installment of this essay, I will address the next seemingly simple assertion that B.C, made in the course of our FB discussion. Here it is:
BC Liberals work for programs that benefit ALL of us. They champion cooperation – even a pooling or resources – for the common good. …
JD The “common good,” there lies part of the problem.


About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
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