My dad was born in 1921, so naturally he was fairly liberal. I was born in 1955, and my politics were shaped by the 1970s. So I became a right-winger. Admittedly, I’m something of a right-wing liberal, but I’ve always been vaguely affiliated with the right. When I read this recent post by Yglesias, I had a sudden feeling of deja vu:
I still think there’s a deeply problematic solipsism in most of this reporting. Apple makes lots of stuff that lots of Americans own and therefore it’s possible to make people feel a kind of psychic chain of guilt when they hear about bad conditions in the factories building the components. But this is a bit like the South By Southwest human hotspots problem, what Apple stands accused of is complicity in the misery of Chinese workers but its real crime often seems to be exposing our delicate western sensibilities to the misery.
You don’t read articles about working conditions in factories making socks destined for export to Kazakhstan, and you don’t read articles about working conditions on the rice farms that people eagerly leave to go toil in the sock factory. That rice and those socks are invisible to us and so too are the workers. What we need to see and hear about are bad conditions wherever they may be, not just the ones that provide the appealing news hook. When you read something bad about a Foxconn factory and then see that thousands of people line up for the chance of a job at one of them, that really ought to make you wonder. What were those guys doing the day before they decided to stand in line? How did that look? If you want to understand the depths of poverty that exist in the world, you can’t just look under the streetlamp.
Great stuff, and indeed this sort of critique of progressives is basically what made me a right-winger. Liberals (in the American sense) seemed so illogical during the 1970s, so naive. I suppose my younger readers are now shaking their heads in disbelief: “Everyone knows the conservatives are the stupid party, and always have been.” They’d point to global warming denial, creationism, irrational fears of hyperinflation, or claims that “the military isn’t that expensive,” and hence a good way to employ the youth of America.
Yes, I know all that, but everyone is shaped by what was happening when they were young. I recall:
1. Progressive hostility to the hard truths of cost/benefit analysis.
2. Hysteria over chemicals in food, even though science didn’t back them up.
3. Denial of the role of money in inflation and support for crack-pot solutions such as wage price controls (Yes, I know about Nixon, I’m talking intellectuals now.)
4. Denial of the disincentive effects of welfare programs.
5. Soft on communism. By that I don’t mean pro-communist, I mean anti-anti-communist. When I was young calling someone an “anti-communist” was basically an insult in liberal company. If you called Mao or Castro a brutal tyrant you were viewed as an embarrassment; as something of a something of a McCarthyite. Chilean economic policies were viewed as evil. Now the Chilean socialists have adopted them.
6. Denial that punishment deters crime.
And I could go on and on. It seemed to me that liberals weren’t willing to engage in clear, hard-headed, logical thinking.
I can already anticipate all the push back I’ll get in the comment section. I do realize than in any decade there are good and bad points to both sides. Lots of them. So I’m sure you can find many exceptions to my generalities. I’m just giving you my gut impression, FWIW.
Some might argue that even if Yglesias was born in the 1950s he would have become a lefty. That he has an especially compassionate heart. I doubt that (recall that Breitbart tweet). I think he is very well-intentioned, but so am I and the other right-wingers I know. But he doesn’t strike me as someone with a typical progressive personality. They don’t write posts as dispassionate as the one I just quoted (and I could cite other recent Yglesias posts in the “neoliberal” vein.) Rather I think he affiliated with the left because he’s younger than me, and the left seemed the more rational worldview when he came of age.
PS. I have a theory that everyone actually lives about one decade (or maybe 15 years); during the others they are just tourists passing through. Coppola seemed incapable of making a non-masterpiece during the 1970s, and couldn’t click in any of the other decades. For me 1970s pop stars like Elvis Costello and Graham Parker are towering figures; for 1960s or 1990s people, they’re just minor footnotes. You had to be there to understand.
PPS. Think the 70s were mindless disco? Check out the lyrics to “Man out of Time.”