Right, Left, And Inequality

Oct 28 2011 @ 10:41am

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Both sides are failing us, argues Martin Wolf:

Socialism is a conservative force, dedicated to defending entitlements built up over a century. Meanwhile, organised labour is only strongly entrenched in the public sector. This gives it the same conservative agenda: defending the welfare state…

If the traditional left offers no answer, can the free market right return to business as usual? No. People who believe in the marriage of democratic politics with market economics need to address what has happened. They need to do so, above all, because there are darker forms of politics waiting in the wings: nationalism, chauvinism and racism. That is what happens when the conventional elites fail and frustration takes over. We do not need to watch this tragedy again.

The key distinction – and it's one I made in my Newsweek piece – is between an ideological opposition to inequality and a pragmatic one:

Americans still rightly want merit to be rewarded and don’t like class warfare. But raising taxes on those who have benefited the most from the past 30 years to help reduce the debt is not class warfare. It’s an obviously pragmatic attempt to get some fiscal sanity back …

Wolf twists the knife further:

Few begrudged Steve Jobs his fortune. The view on those who emerged rich from rescued businesses is very different. The era of bail-outs must end.

It is one thing to bail out the banks because it is in our own interests to do so, however painful. It is another to ask the middle class to bear the entire burden, while the bankers take home their massive bonuses, double-down on lobbying to keep re-regulation at bay, and have the Congress so wrapped around their fingers financially that the core trust required to make market capitalism – and liberal democracy – work evaporates.

Wolf is right. This is a challenge to the right, as much as to the left. And there's a real case to be made that in certain respects, the Tea Party and OWS have the same target in front of them: crony capitalism.

(Protesters from the 'World Development Movement' demonstrate outside the offices of investment bank Goldman Sachs on October 27, 2011 in London, England. The Anti-poverty campaigners were also demonstrating their support for the ongoing 'Occupy London Stock Exchange' protest adjacent to St Paul's Cathedral. By Oli Scarff/Getty Images)