Reply to “Libertarian Optimism Bias …”

In this entry on George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton, I noted that 50 or 100 or 200 years ago, leftists associated progress with material happiness while rightists were more skeptical and tended to say that progress wasn’t always such a good thing.   Nowadays, the debates usually go in the other directions, with people on the left being less positive about material progress and people on the right saying that things are great now and are getting better.

Will Wilkinson replied here, analyzing the current differences between left and right as different views on government intervention:

Nothing beats a "crisis" to rally support for a big government effort. Right statists constantly drum up moral panics about sex and drugs. Also, Mexicans are "invading" and terrorists will surely blow us all up while singing the Star Spangled Banner at baseball games if we don’t allow the executive Jack Bauer to torture military detainees whenever he wants. Similarly, left statists warn that the shores of Manhattan will be inundated by rising oceans and very cute baby polar bears will die in droves. Also, inequality is soaring, threatening the foundations of democracy. And the middle class lives in terrifying "economic insecurity." And so on.

This is an interesting point.  Once again, it might be helpful to compare with attitudes 50, 100, etc. years ago.  Shaw, like many other socialists, supported government intervention in the economy and also thought that material progress would give us higher living standards and better lives.  (To put it in Wilkinson’s framework, Shaw saw problems with society that he thought could be alleviated by government intervention, but he framed this in an optimistic view of material progress, rather than in a "there’s more to life than just money" attitude.)

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