Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Ideological Division of Labor

Modern liberals and conservatives fundamentally disagree about the following things (there is a lot of overlap, and the first item basically subsumes the rest):

1. The "division of labor" among social institutions such as the state, the church, the family, the market, the courts, and labor unions.

Liberals favor the state, the courts, and labor unions. Traditional conservatives favor the church, the family, and the market (to some extent). Libertarians favor the market and the courts (though mostly inasmuch as the courts defend the market and guard against majoritarian intrusion on liberty).

None of these is a perfect social institution, and so a sort of "meta" approach is to try to achieve some kind of optimal allocation based on their relative strengths and weaknesses (but this is fundamentally a question about values - more on this later). "Fundamentalists" of various stripes tend to be blind to the shortcomings of their preferred institutions. An important strain of modern conservatism is its critique of the state, while an important strain of modern liberalism is its recognition of the extent to which well-functioning states and courts are necessary for markets to work.

2. The extent of redistribution.

I don't have much to say about this at the moment, but it is obviously an important (arguably the most important) area of disagreement. I have phrased it in a somewhat conservative-friendly way, in that the "re-" prefix implies that there is some kind of natural pre-existing distribution of resources that is disturbed or perverted by state action.

3. The extent of regulatory control of economic activity.

I will address this in my next post. The basic idea here is that regulation is absolutely necessary, and yet it is prone to serious flaws that can make the cure worse than the disease. Implementing an effective regulatory system is one of the biggest challenges of modern governance, and countries that are good at it will benefit tremendously.


Blogger Sarang said...

Yes, and there are variants of all these positions depending on one's feelings about various institutions. For instance, as someone who tends to see a lot of issues through a civil-rights/civil-liberties lens, I am explicitly hostile to family, church, and (albeit less so) labor unions; these are all fundamentally non-inclusive institutions. A market plus functioning courts is something I'm basically in favor of. (I do not believe the Becker thesis that, on empirically relevant timescales, the market does much to combat discrimination.) The state I basically like because I think it is relatively blunt and mechanical, and hence egalitarian, relative to the other institutions.

3:26 PM  

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