Monday, 15 May 2017

Left, Right, or Optimal?

Whenever a label causes more disagreement about what it is supposed to mean than helps to identify what is on offer, it is time to discard it.

‘Left’ and ‘Right’ have had a good run, but what do they really mean anymore?

Who seriously thinks that more nationalisation or privatisation is always a good thing regardless of circumstance? Is it more in line with the ‘Left’ to want to protect jobs in the nuclear or fossil fuel business, or to press for withdrawal from those sectors on environmental grounds? Won’t most people be concerned when they learn about vulnerable people suffering without help, or when they hear that the economy is faltering because businesses are hit by unfair competition and systemic instability?

Some on the ‘Right’ may still want to keep shrinking the state, but many are unhappy that the shrinking has gone too far, especially when it affects policing and military budgets as well. Meanwhile, few among those who champion freedom as the overriding value are at ease with being bombarded with demands to curtail the freedom of people on grounds of their race, religion, gender, or sexuality. Some feel that a nation should look to itself and ignore other countries’ conflicts, while others believe a strong country will always make its presence felt all over the world.

Instead of squeezing disparate outlooks into ill-defined boxes, would it not make more sense to see what people’s views are in response to, not one-sided presentations of an issue, but accounts of problems with the relevant facts?

For example, most people are inclined to agree that government should leave people to it if they are managing fine by themselves, but ought to step in when there are problems that will get a lot worse without state involvement. Few would object to the government using the necessary powers and resources to keep us safe from terrorism, crime, squalor, disease, and other forms of debilitating insecurity; provided there is democratic oversight and proper accountability. Hardly anyone believes that all must bow down to a single rigid code of worship and behaviour, and fewer still think that people can do whatever they want regardless of the harm they can cause to others.

Rather than arguing what ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ position should be, perhaps we should just focus on working out what the most optimal approach is to dealing with the problems we face. Why assume benefit payments must be higher or lower, when the question is how can people get a job with at least subsistent pay, and what safety net would actually be adequate? Why insist on harsher or more lenient punishment, when the issue is what sentence would be proportionate to the injustice caused, protect society, and improve future behaviour? Why press for an arbitrary level of immigration, when the numbers allowed in should relate to the needs of existing residents? And why assume state regulation must be good or bad, when what matters is whether the proposed regulation will help or hinder our safety and prosperity?

It can be difficult at times to let go of tribal colours or totemic symbols. But when it comes to the wellbeing of our society, we’ll all gain if we can push aside unhelpful labels, and concentrate on finding out what the most optimal solutions are likely to be.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Very enlightening. I whole-heartedly agree