Saturday, March 15, 2008

different kinds of Liberals

The third op-ed from my most recent essay in the Jeff/NA News-Tribune-- on political labeling, and here, in particular, on the different types of liberals. (The first essay was on labeling in general and different types of libertarians. The second essay was about different types of conservatives.)

In two previous submissions, I described how political labels are unclear but still popular. I recommended that we move away from describing politics along a spectrum of left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative-and noted that people have different beliefs about the role of government in the economic and social/personal realms.

That said, the terms liberal and conservative are still useful — as long as they are modified to give them more precision. In my previous submission, I described various types of conservatives. Here, I will describe various types of liberals.

The term liberal was originally connected to those who were free. (Our English word derives from the Latin word liber.) For example, the development of the “liberal arts” was a body of knowledge related to what free people should know in order to exercise their freedom properly as good citizens.

Under John Locke, the term was expanded to encompass “natural” rights or liberties-to life, property, religious beliefs, and so on-as eventually enshrined in our country’s founding documents. The term was expanded further in the 19th and 20th centuries as an extension of freedoms to previously excluded classes-women and ethnic minorities.

Under FDR and his “New Deal,” in the shadow of the Great Depression, the predominant view of government turned from protection of freedoms toward provision of resources. These new policy goals were more economic than political-and they were increasingly seen as “rights.” (FDR described his policies as “a second Bill of Rights.”) In a time of growing faith in the government’s ability, “liberals” increasingly embraced government. (The length and the depth of the Depression are best explained by a set of bone-headed government policies. But that’s a different essay.)

Ironically, people have been “liberal” with the definition of liberal and so it has come to mean very different things. What used to be called “liberal” is now occasionally called “classical liberalism”-an emphasis on freedom, and in particular, freedom from an oppressive state.

But typically, the term means something nearer the other end of the spectrum-the avid use of government solutions as a means to whatever ends. Mostly, the term is avoided by those it would best describe and used by their opponents as an insult. (Often “liberals” prefer to use the term “progressive.”)

As there are different types of conservatives, so there are different types of liberals. Clarity requires more precise language.

Some so-called liberals are members of special interest groups that seek to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Labor unions are the most obvious examples of this. In manufacturing, they pursue a range of labor and product market interventions that lock out potential competitors. In education, teacher unions want to preserve the monopoly power of the government schools. Restricting competition is a common way to make one group better off at the expense of others.

Other groups perceive that they are better off with “liberal” policies-most notably, the elderly and African-Americans. Both groups also feel an historical connection to liberalism-the elderly to the New Deal and African-Americans to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

Many people in all three of these groups-unions, the elderly, and African-Americans-are moderate or even conservative on social or military issues. But their perceived economic (or social) interests trump those issues.

Other liberals are primarily focused on a single issue such as poverty, abortion, the war in Iraq, the environment, “gay rights,” and so on. There is often overlap between these categories, but the primary focus is one issue over the others.

One other distinction is worth making. It’s interesting that some liberals value freedom for the most marginal in society-while others are not comfortable with additional freedoms (because they don’t trust the way that the freedom will be used). The result is that some liberals seek less government intervention and are relatively attracted to markets while others fundamentally distrust the market and want much more government.

The former are more truly liberal or progressive while the latter are better described as elitists or statists. Two examples will help draw the distinction. Elitists don’t like WalMart, but liberals do-for what the company offers in terms of opportunity for workers and especially for consumers. And liberals want the inner city poor to have educational choice through vouchers or charter schools. But such freedom makes statists nervous and so they prefer the status quo-with government’s monopoly provision of schooling services to the poor.

Most “liberals” find a home within the Democratic Party-and so, it is common to equate Democrats with liberals. But a recognition of the various types of liberals makes clear that those within the Party are driven by different issues and different worldviews. In any case, discussions about politics would have more clarity if we chose more precise labels.


At May 11, 2008 at 10:29 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Wonderful article, I had no idea.
I think most liberals are somewhat tricked into being part of the democratic party.
I thought I was a democrat for the longest time, until I figured out that my opinions were almost totally conservative. Simply because my father and his father all voted democrat. Seems to me the democrats just want to take things away from you, for your own good.
I want limited self government.
I think its Andrew Wilkow who says: Power to the MEeple, not power to the people.
Give me my power, and leave me alone you liberal SOB's.

At May 11, 2008 at 11:43 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Thanks for your encouraging words!

I think you're right about Democrats in particular. Because people only pay attention to an issue or two, then the Democratic party can be attractive if those needs are met (or perceived to be met).

Of course, conservatives want to take away some freedoms.

And Republican politicians-- apart from conservatives-- are almost as eager as Democrats to try to purchase your votes with your money.

At September 12, 2011 at 3:16 PM , Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse said...

You claim that, "In education, teacher unions want to preserve the monopoly power of the government schools. Restricting competition is a common way to make one group better off at the expense of others," is misleading.

Teacher unions do not run school districts. Democratically elected school boards do that job. In addition, policy for public schools is decided at the state level, which means the legislature of each state sets the standards and expectations for the school districts in each state.

What's wrong with government/state funded schools being run by democratically elected school boards?

There are over 14,000 public school districts in the U.S., and discerning parents may choose where to live, which means 14,000 choices. Parents that do their homework before buying a home, may easily find one school or school district that is better than others and that is a form of choice, which is what my wife and I did. All the information one needs to make such a decision may be easily found through Google.

We bought the home we live in now in a public school district that was highly rated. Our daughter attended middle and high school in this Northern California public school district, where she earned straight A's for six years and then was accepted to UCLA, UC San Diego, UC David and Stanford, where she is starting her second year.

When I asked her how many "bad" teachers she had while attending public schools in California K-12, she said only one name came to mind.

Finland and Singapore, with two of the best school systems in the world have government run schools and more than 90% of students attend these schools. In fact, in Finland, the best school system in Europe, 97% of students attend public government run schools and the teachers all belong to strong teacher unions but teachers decide how to run their schools and parents offer strong support, which is often missing in the US.

Then you claim that public school teacher unions restrict competition. Wrong again.

There are 33,366 private schools in the United States, serving 5.5 million PK-12 students. Private schools account for over 25 percent of the nation's schools and enroll about 10 percent of all students.

By comparison, in Finland and Singapore, about 3% of students attend private schools.

In the US, most private school students (80%) attend religiously affiliated schools, and most private schools are small: 87% have fewer than 300 students.

Then there are homeschooled students, which add up to about 1.5 to 1.7 million students.

Parents, if they decide to do so, have many choices where their children may go to school.

At September 12, 2011 at 4:25 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

You're assuming a level of competence and other characteristics to do homeschooling. And you're assuming an income that allows choice in housing and schools. Congrats to you-- that you have choice. The question is whether those with lower incomes should have (much) more choice-- and what would constitute a "liberal" position.

At September 12, 2011 at 7:54 PM , Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse said...

There is no need for school choice in America. The campaign for school choice is politically/religiously motivated and has nothing to do with creating better schools. Teachers teach and students learn. Teachers cannot learn for students. It's a simple equation. Anyone that has studied childhood development knows that the first six years of a child's life are crucial to develop a desire for life-long learning in an individual.

The most difficult students to work with are Latino-Hispanic and 70% of the high school where I taught was of that ethnic group.

However, in every class I taught there were students of every ethnic group that did the class work, homework, read the assignments and studied. They did just fine. The difference was usually the parent.

The following link will take you to the results of the 2009 PISA test for America

In comparison with the 64 countries that took the PISA test for 2009, the US did quite well.

Nowhere is the average American student near the bottom of the 2009 PISA test. In fact, among the 64 nations tested, the US ranked in the top 36% for Math, the top 30% for Science, and the top 16% for Reading.

• U.S. 15-year-olds had an average score of 487 on the mathematics literacy scale, which was lower than the OECD average score of 496. Among the 33 other OECD countries, 17 countries had higher average scores than the United States, 5 had lower average scores, and 11 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average. Among the 64 other OECD countries, non-OECD countries, and other education systems, 23 had higher average scores than the United States, 29 had lower average scores, and 12 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average score.

On the science literacy scale, the average score of U.S. students (502) was not measurably different from the OECD average (501). Among the 33 other OECD countries, 12 had higher average scores than the United States, 9 had lower average scores, and 12 had average scores that were not measurably different. Among the 64 other OECD countries, non-OECD countries, and other education systems, 18 had higher average scores, 33 had lower average scores, and 13 had average scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. Average score.

• U.S. 15-year-olds had an average score of 500 on the combined reading literacy scale, not measurably different from the OECD average score of 493. Among the 33 other OECD countries, 6 countries had higher average scores than the United States, 13 had lower average scores, and 14 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average. Among the 64 other OECD countries, non-OECD countries, and other education systems, 9 had higher average scores than the United States, 39 had lower average scores, and 16 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average.

All the US has to do to see those scores improve is empower public school teachers to make decision in the classroom as Finland allows and supports its teachers. As is, the structure of US schools was not decided by teachers but by political and religious agendas and to turn the education of our youth over to the people/groups behind these agendas would be an experiment doomed to failure.

There are already models of success around the world that the U.S. could study and learn from.

A good place to start would be Finland, Singapore and China.

At September 12, 2011 at 9:15 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Do you generally trust government-run entities with tremendous monopoly power-- or just in K-12 education?

Do you think the level of govt-provided choice in post-sec ed is appropriate?

At September 13, 2011 at 10:56 AM , Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse said...

Yes, more than appropriate considering what they have to deal with. When we reach beyond the hype and "glass half empty" lies of public education's political and religious enemies, we discover that America's public school teachers are doing an incredible job with the challenges they face and the restrictions placed in their paths by politicians obsessed with standardized testing.

Saying the public schools in the United States are a monopoly would be the same as claiming the U.S. Post Office is a monopoly without mentioning FedEx, DHL, UPS and e-mail.

There may be two large teacher unions (NEA and AFT) but these unions are broken into 14,000 different branches and each branch negotiates separately with the democratically elected school boards of each of those 14,000 school districts for wages and benefits and the teacher unions do not dictate policy or curriculum—the democratically elected officials at the school district, state and federal level do that after much debate and lobbying.

In fact, if we were to compare all the pay scales of each of those 14,000 public school districts we would see a wide difference in pay and benefits between them.

The public schools are not one huge monopoly controlled by one CEO, such as Jim Skinner of McDonald's, who makes decisions that affect every McDonald's franchise store.

In the thirty years I taught, the union branch I paid my dues to, which was a member of CTA/NEA, never told us how or what to teach and never offered workshops in those areas.

The school district administration was responsible for the workshops teachers attended, and administration answered to the democratically elected school board that is guided by the education code of each state. If a democratically elected state legislature decides to not follow federal guidelines, they may do that by refusing to cooperate if they are willing to see the federal education funds cut off.

In fact, several states have done just that over NCLB. Here's a media piece on that topic.

At September 13, 2011 at 11:05 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

"What they have to deal with"? Wow, that would be really offensive. You seem like a plant by the pro-choice people with language like that!

Standardized testing is a predictable and predictably failing effort to regulate a govt-run entity with tremendous monopoly power and a society with a lot of messed-up families.

Yes, teachers do a great job. The question is why education should not be provided with (a lot more) choice-- and why teachers prefer a system that gives the govt a lot of monopsony power over them.

Yes, it is similar to the Post Office. At least, one can go to the branch of one's choice. And yes, govt-enforced monopolies can face outside competition as the USPS is learning, painfully. But that sort of competition is much more limited in education, particularly for those with fewer means.

To your point, the monopoly power is not so much a top-down supply-side monopoly. The monopoly power is far more evident on the consumer side. If you don't have choices-- given your context-- then you face tremendous monopoly power, given the way the govt has set up support for education services.

So, would you support free public universities, but you have to attend the one closest to your home?

Do you support govt-produced food purchased at the govt-run grocery store in the neighborhood closest to those with few means?

At September 15, 2011 at 11:41 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Confucius once said: "One who is not good at learning should not gloss himself 'the teacher'."


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