One of the ongoing themes that I endeavor, with little success, is to identify critical ideas on which the progressive/left and conservatives (and for that matter libertarians) differ in their views of political and social matters. If have the good fortune to have two liberal/progressive dialog partners here. In recent conversations over the last few months this difference has arisen and I wonder if this point of difference is applicable to a wider groups, i.e., right/left, and significant.

The key point in to consider is that the progressive/left in question has abandoned  the 10th Commandment while the right has not. The 10th commandment speaks against coveting one’s neighbors possessions. A simple ethical generalization of this is that this is an injunction against considering one’s economic condition by comparison with ones neighbor.

In two separate conversations both of my progressive interlocutors have held positions relative to this commandment at odds with mine. Just recently in conversation regarding poverty, it was held that an American family with color TV, phone, air conditioning, and two children (likely overweight) making  $22k per year are subsisting in poverty. My contention was that poverty looks more like being malnourished eating fried dirt in Haiti or children up all night, hot-bunking because the family doesn’t enough space for everyone to sleep at night. The reason it was held that the American family noted above was poor was because in comparison to the average family in American they were far less wealthy. Calling that American family poor is only true in comparison with their neighbors … which is as noted above contrary to the 10th. That family is not historically poor nor are their poor when contrasted with real existential poverty (that is poverty that threatens your ability to subsist or exist). 

In a similar conversation a few months ago in which I observed that the AGW proponents (mostly on the left) are hypocritical regarding carbon emissions regarding their driving habits. I contended that the failure to undertake low or zero cost behaviors which reduce carbon that are not taken up by AGW (or advocates of lowering  gas/oil consumption) is evidence of hypocrisy. The example I had given was that one saves 10-20% in gas mileage driving 55 as compared to 65 or 70 mph. Given that 30-40% of the population putatively believes reducing carbon emissions is an imperative and their failure to normally drive 55 (in 65 or 70 mph  speed limit zones it is in fact legal to drive 55 … often slower) is hypocritical. The defense used against hypocrisy was a comparison with one’s neighbor. That is why should the AGW person do this if this practice is not universally (or a significant majority) are not also following suit. While this is not exactly against the 10th commandment it is similar. It is a decision that one’s actions are right or wrong not taken by themselves but in the context of one’s neighbors actions. 

So the question at hand might be is to ask whether we can find other evidence that those on the right are less likely to consider the correctness of actions or to evaluate their condition by using comparisons to their neighbors than the left? There is some support for this. The progressive/left is far more class conscious than the right. They are concerned with economic inequities where the right is more concerned with economic growth. That is to say the progressive/left wants to “correct” the growing gap between the poorest and the richest while the right will hold that the important point is that everyone have an aggregate increase in wealth. Since the 60s or 70s everybody (that $22k family included) in the US has become substantially better off. This the point that the right focuses its attention on (and that policies and actions to keep that increase moving it what is important). The progressive/left points out that this is irrelevant and there is significant problems with the growing gap between the 20th percentile in wealth and the 80th. To even make this comparison is in direct conflict with the teaching inherent in the 10th commandment. So suggest that this is a problem is to point out that those in the 20th percentile covet. Mr Paul Collier in his book The Bottom Billion, mentioned not infrequently here, contains a lot of data from demographic, social, and political data from the third world over that last 40 years. He noted that there was no correlation between wealth disparities being present and the likelihood of civil war. This seems suggestive of the notion that while the progressive/left thinks that wealth disparities are a significant source of social unrest, that this idea is not founded in social data but in their own sensibilities. 

Filed under: ConservativeLiberalMark O.

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