No, I am Not That Kind of Leftist
Outside of America there is often a rich variation of political parties and affiliations which don’t necessarily fit into the liberal or conservative category.
Hi there white Anglo-Saxon conservative! Let us clear out some things about me, because for some reason social media discussions always end up with me being accused of being some naive young liberal with no clue about how “the real world” works, while you will typically style yourself as an older more mature person who know how the world works.
I always find this accusation somewhat ironic, because:
- I am not particularly young. I am 42 and have two children in elementary school.
- I used to hold views somewhat similar to yours as a high school student, and early 20s. But I grew out of it.
I was somewhat of the family black sheep having a number of right wing ideas in a strongly social democratic family. Perhaps it is the rebellion of the young. In America being leftist may be rebellious against and old generation which tends to be quite conservative. Norway, where I grew up, is after all a country that has been run by democratic socialists for some 70s years and where voting on social democrats has been a typical thing for most people’s parents.
Thus being rebellious in Norway is more similar to becoming something of a libertarian or get sympathies for right wing populism. I idolized the US. I read Milton Friedman, and thought public transport, public education and health care was bullshit. That was until I actually went to the country I idolized (America) and realized free-wheeling capitalism just isn’t as neat as I had imagined it.
In fact I had a the naive stupidity of the kind of young people who idolize Ayn Rand. Fortunately I matured and realized Nordic social democracy actually works amazingly well.
People who Inspired Me
This did in fact not come easy to me. I read a ton of books about free market economics and why that was awesome, before I started to see the problems with capitalism and tried understanding the appeal of democratic socialism and social democracy. I kind of got to the left in politics through the back door. My idols are not people like Karl Marx or Che Guevara.
Quite the contrary my leftist thinking evolved more from reading economists such as John Maynard Keynes, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and perhaps more ironically due to Adam Smith himself, many regarded as the philosophical father of capitalism. After the 2008 crash reading Thomas Piketty helped a lot in understanding why capitalism why going so wrong.
None of these people are actually socialists. They are rather moderate economists who champion regulated capitalism.
The assumption by many of you conservatives is that us on the left, especially those of us with some socialist leanings are utterly clueless about economics and free markets. Quite the contrary I would claim it is because I understand economics and markets that I have become such a critic of capitalism.
Many conservatives I find don’t actually have anything but the most rudimentary understanding of economics. You understand supply and demand, mostly. But that is about it. You are typically completely unaware of the many ways markets fail.
Just to prove to you that I actually spent time thinking about this and understanding it. Here are some articles I have written about the failings of capitalism:
- The prisoners dilemma, is perhaps the most important example from game theory to understand why capitalism often doesn’t work, and simply cannot work in a particular market.
- Incomplete or Asymmetric Information is another favorite of mine. Also explain well why health care, education and many other markets work poorly.
- Manufactured Needs and Planned Obsolescence. Why capitalism doesn’t really give you what you want, and why it cannot save the environment.
Liberalism isn’t Democratic Socialism
Just because I sound like a liberal doesn’t mean I am one. America only has two political factions liberals and conservatives and try to pigeon hole everybody into either of those two slots. I come from a country with at least 9 different parties present in parliament. Liberals are considered part of the right, and I am a leftist.
The Norwegian left is made up of socialist inspired parties which includes:
- The Labour Party, branding itself as social democrats.
- Socialists, who brand themselves as democratic socialists and a green party.
- Former communists who also brand themselves as democratic socialists. They where a bit slow on the uptake but realized several years ago that armed revolution wasn’t such a hot idea and that places like the USSR was kind of a failure.
So basically when I call myself leftist in a Norwegian setting, it means I am some sort of socialist. But unlike what many Americans believes that does not mean one is entirely opposed to capitalism. Social democrats e.g. are quite okay with it within reason. Norway’s socialist party is more skeptical of capitalism but don’t seek to abolish or remove it entirely. Neither do I.
People like paining caricature of their opponents. So I like to clarify here my position before I get labeled something I am not. I am quite happy with people being able to start their own companies and keeping profits from that. I don’t think the state should own everything. Current state ownership in Norway is probably close to what I would ideally prefer.
No, I don’t think that everybody should earn the same. Actually I don’t think any socialist believes this.
In an American context it means I would have voted for people like Bernie Sanders, AOC and Andrew Yang. Now Yang unlike the former does not prescribe to any kind of socialist inspired ideology. But I am not particularly ideological. I like people who are willing to experiment with other systems. I think one first has to realize the current system doesn’t work and start experimenting with new stuff. Andrew Yang seems like a guy with a good analysis of some of the problems with modern capitalism and is willing to try new things.
Andrew Yang however does not see the problem from a socialist inspired perspective, but rather from the perspective of a technologist who understands that automation will cause massive unemployment. I am also a technologist, and so I empathize with this perspective.
So yes I am some sort of democratic socialist, but I am not anti free markets and I am not dogmatic about it. I am ready to ditch any ideology that doesn’t work in the real world.