The Other I

February 21, 2021

Can both sides be both right and wrong?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:22 pm
Image result for right and wrong

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is often called “populism” in the press and it’s emergence around the world. Two parties, by definition, represent different points of view. But in successful democracies, they respect each other. And listen. And even compromise. What has happened to the two-party system in the US, and other countries with historically successful democracies around the world for centuries?

Last week as I was going through various documents in my recently-deceased husband’s study, I found a handful of newspaper articles collected between 1918 and 1951 by his grandfather. His mother died in childbirth when he was born in 1884, and two months later his father also died, leaving him an orphan who was unofficially adopted by an uncle. At six years of age, he was sent to work down in the Yorkshire mines when children were made to crawl into spaces too small for adults to reach. He did not go to school but learned how to read at the local Sunday school, where he was awarded repeatedly for his understanding. He was extremely bright and remained a vociferous reader all his life.

The early newspaper articles showed that he supported Communism, on the grounds that it was a system that would give the poor an equal chance to earn a decent living. After WWII ended, during which his daughter left school at the age of 12 to support the family and developed an extremely successful grocery store serving the town, he dismissed Communism outright. But he was skeptical as well of the UK Labour party introducing socialist legislation which created the National Health System giving free health care to all at the point of need, social security, and the nationalization of many private businesses, including transport.

Now I have recently learned that a similar change is taking place among many Chinese citizens who have escaped absolute poverty on the farm as they have moved to the cities where factory workers are employed. They are not in a position to dismiss Communism outright, but they are showing increasing desire for independence and escape from the encompassing regulations of government.

Reading this, it now seems to me that there are valuable potential strengths in both left-wing and right-wing government policies. The best of the left-wing policies support the worker, believing that they should be given the opportunity to earn a living wage, and given support when they cannot do so. This might be due to poor health, or wages that make it impossible to escape over-crowded housing, to obtain a good education, or even to eat a healthy diet. Effective governments, then, often legislate such things as fair wages, permitted work hours, health care, pension plans, even anti-racism..

The down-side of potential socialist governments is that it sometimes encourages those who simply don’t want to work, who, in other words, become free-loaders. Or it supports governments themselves which are power-hungry, who are unwilling to give its citizens the right to made decisions for themselves.

The best of the right-wing policies emphasize the importance of letting people make decisions for themselves, of hard work, of taking the risks of creativity. The fact that nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children is a reflection of the best of right-wing policies that trust individuals’ own desires and impulses.

Unfortunately, two of the greatest potential down-sides of right-wing policies is a failure to recognize social conditions such as racism, ethnicity, or poverty which make it impossible for people, to make the kind of free choices they would like. The other problem, as is so evident today, is the refusal of those who have achieved, or merely inherited, significant financial or social superiority to let it go. I see it in different manifestations in both the US and the UK: there are those who feel they are intrisically superior, leading to a destructive and self-centered “us and them” attitude.

So both right- and left-wing politics, it seems to me, can pose great dangers to democracy. Either way, the greatest danger is the unwillingness to share my views with people who disagree, to listen to opinions differing from my own, or to say “I might not know everything,”

Seth Klarman Quote: “You need humility to say ‘I might be wrong.’”

Or even to say “I might be wrong”!


  1. Hi Terry – I’ll reply at greater length. But for now, you say: ‘…when he was born in 1984…’. Shouldn’t that be 1884?


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — February 21, 2021 @ 5:58 pm | Reply

    • Oh thank you, Chris. I’ve made the correction. Looking forward to your next comment “at greater length,” as you put it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by theotheri — February 21, 2021 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Terry,

    I agree with much of what you say here. However I think I would resist any suggestion that there’s a fundamental moral equivalence between ‘moderate’ left-wing and right-wing positions. That resistance could of course be pure tribalism on my part. The 2019 UK election was the first and only time I voted anything other than Labour, and I have voted in every UK election I have been able to since the early 1970s. In 2019 I voted Liberal Democrat on tactical grounds (because of Brexit), and as it turned out it wouldn’t have taken many more similar tactical votes to have removed our local Tory MP.

    That’s not to say I automatically think every policy introduced by a left-of-centre government is good and every policy introduced by a right-of-centre government is bad. But for me the intrinsic moral superiority of the ‘left’ position is that it recognises structural inequality as a serious problem which it is the responsibility of government to address. Since I have been aware of such things I have seen periods of relatively low inequality and periods (like now) of relatively high inequality. But I do not remember ever living through a period when inequality was something which could be ignored. Until I do I think I will see right-wing policies generally as more likely to be the problem than the solution to anything.

    There will of course be potential downsides of implementing policies designed to reduce inequality. But Daily Mail headlines about shirkers and benefit cheats seem to me to be more often evidence of an orchestrated attempt to whip up popular support for benefit cuts than evidence of systematic wrong-doing which has no other solution than increasing poverty among the most powerless.

    This though may be the relatively easy stuff. I wish I knew economics well enough to understand why the post-1945 consensus had to result in 1970s ‘stagflation’, to which Thatcherism was perceived to be the ‘only’ practical alternative.


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — February 22, 2021 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  3. Chris – I find your comment really interesting. And not too far off from my own experiences. Like you, I’m more far more left- than right-wing oriented. But I did see, first hand in my husband’s Yorkshire family, post WWII Labour laws that made highly gifted and experienced workers put under the management of younger, better-paid and much less experienced managers. I know one engineer who managed a coal mine for the entire war who was not even allowed to resign to look for another, better-paying job, without a medical reason. And I have seen first hand, both here in Britain and in America, workers deliberately denied promotions because of racial or ethnic backgrounds. But in America, it was the Republicans who initially developed policies to liberate the Blacks supposedly made free as a result of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and it was primarily Democrats that did everything to keep Blacks in inferior positions. And now just look at what has happened to right-wing politics in the States. Almost a complete reversal.

    Like you, I wish I understood economics better. Though, truth be told, from what I have learned, economic theories themselves reflect in their own way the initial assumptions reflected in politics.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by theotheri — February 22, 2021 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Terry. Yes I knew about the Democrat/Republican flip in the US. After all the notorious George Wallace was a Democrat. It’s almost a geographic flip too, because wasn’t the pre-Civil Rights South a Democrat stronghold? I didn’t know though about employment woes in the post WWII mining industry. Presumably that was related to the nationalisation of the mines?

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Chris Lawrence — February 23, 2021 @ 9:04 am | Reply

      • The nationalization of private enterprise included much more than the mines. All private transportation and shipping companies, both for short and long distances, for instance, utilities, and international communications were nationalized. And of course, still in evidence today, was the nationalization of of the railroads. None of these seem to have survived the test of time. On the other hand, government control of health and medical care, as well as social security, and unemployment insurance today, while not accepted as perfect, are emphatically accepted almost across the board as controls we want to keep, and have been adopted by many other governments — including the US.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by theotheri — February 23, 2021 @ 9:33 am | Reply

  4. Happy to see you on my page!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by tskraghu — March 7, 2021 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  5. I read somewhere at least an year ago if not more that the scandinavian ciuntries have succeeded in finding the golden mean and people are happy with it.


    Comment by tskraghu — March 8, 2021 @ 1:17 am | Reply

    • The weekly The Economist has several times expressed the view that the Scandinavian countries have succeeded in maintaining the Golden Mean between right and left. They do point out that their governments spend a higher percentage of GDP than most countries on health, pensions, unemployment insurance, etc. Interestingly, within the last few weeks, a leading column in the Economist focuses on Denmark and this very issue. The next question, though, as I see it, is what are the characteristics of cultures which will or won’t tolerate this kind of government spending. I suspect that in what I call the “us and them” divisions in even major democracies (ie, like the USA), the “golden mean” would not be tolerated. I don’t know India well enough to have an opinion, but from my desk, Modi doesn’t look like a “Golden Meaner”. Be interested in your view.

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by theotheri — March 9, 2021 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

      • Nothing to do with Modi. There’s a resentment built over a period of time in a cross-section against preferntial treatment of certain sections in their access to sociual programs. Reasons: a) the basis is considered to be not fair and logical b) motives are seen to be rooted in vote-bank politic c) corruption in roll-out and some instances of gross abuse and d) and not in the least the perspective and the program not sold in a way to win over broader sections. The resentment not withstanding, all parties take to freebies, appeasement and vote-bank politics. Only in recent times the govt has not hesitated to take certain decisions, not necessarily populist. Not sure if the bills to pay for many of these programs have reached the guy with the purse yet. Wise prioritization, innovative solutioning, ensuring buy-in and execution efficiency are the keys for success.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by tskraghu — March 9, 2021 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

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