On this week’s Radio Free Delingpole podcast I discuss with Peter Foster of Canada’s Financial Post an issue which has long puzzled me: the liberal-left’s extraordinary capacity for cognitive dissonance. Or, if you want to put it more bluntly, for epic self-delusion.
I’m thinking, for example, of Ed Miliband’s proposals to introduce rent controls, despite copious historical evidence that this measure always and inevitably has exactly the opposite effect of the one intended: creating more housing scarcity; hurting the poor.
I would include in the same category several of the measures introduced by the Cameron administration: the 0.7 per cent of GDP ring-fenced for foreign aid, despite all the evidence that the billions of dollars bombarded on Africa have had the unintended consequence of leaving some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as poor (sometimes poorer) than they were 50 years ago; the minimum wage which – as any sane economist can tell you – is a tax on jobs and therefore a disincentive to employers to hire labour; the “green jobs” the Coalition’s drive for renewables has allegedly created, even though they are in fact nothing more than Potemkin jobs, entirely dependent on taxpayer subsidy, and therefore a grotesque misallocation of scare resources which would otherwise by directed towards real, lasting jobs in areas of the economy which create genuine value.
All this, as Thomas Sowell would put it, is Basic Economics. So why do so many politicians – from the Obama left to the Cameron faux-right – not get it? And why, for that matter, do all those voters who applaud their statist measures and urge still more government intervention not get it either?
This is the question asked by Foster in his superb new book Why We Bite The Invisible Hand: The Psychology of Anti-Capitalism (Pleasaunce Press). And he comes up with some fascinating answers.
My favourite is his suggestion – though he puts more politely than I do – that people on the liberal-left are insufficiently evolved; they are too much in thrall to their “monkey brains” – monkey brains which of course those of us on the right possess too but with one crucial difference: we’re clever enough and advanced enough to allow the logical part of our brains override them.
Yes, I know. It sounds like a glib reversal of the kind of theory you see advanced at places like the HuffPo and Slate and the Guardian’s Komment Macht Frei. You know the sort of thing: “scientists” have shown that conservatives behave the way they do because their brains are wired to be more selfish/greedy/fearful/aggressive/insert appropriate pejorative here.
But Foster’s theory makes a lot of sense to me. (And if you want to pick holes in it, fine: another of the key differences between conservatives and liberal-lefties is that we on the right aren’t scared of debate).
It’s rooted in the fact that most of our mental evolution – perhaps as much as 99 per cent of it – took place in the long period when we were hunter-gatherers. This began in the Pleistocene era 1.6 million years ago and ended roughly 10,000 years ago when we made the leap from living in small, closely related tribal groups (“whose existence revolved around hunting, food gathering, sex, fighting and “local politics”‘) to the larger settlements which marked the birth of civilisation.
How does this bear on the left-liberal “mind”?
Let me give an example. One of the fundamental misconceptions of the liberal-left is that you can’t get richer without others getting poorer. This is the root cause of the widespread belief that capitalism is unfair and that government intervention is essential in order to create “social justice.” But it’s a fallacy, based on the delusion that the economy is like a pizza pie where the more one person has the less there is available for everyone else. What this popular leftist delusion ignores is that – at least in advanced capitalist nations – economies tend towards growth, which means the pizza pie gets bigger and bigger, meaning everyone (not just the One Per Cent) gets better and better off. There are mountains of evidence to show that this is so (read eg Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist). Why, then do even quite educated people on the liberal-left choose to ignore it?
Because mentally they’re still stuck in the Pleistocene era, is why. Subconsciously they’re living in the days when the hunting party has come back with, say, a scrawny warthog, or a large rat, and that’s all there is to go round their community. The economic world has grown a great deal more sophisticated since then, but the left-liberal brain – or at least the most dominant part of it – hasn’t. In the left’s head, the size of the economy is as fixed as the amount of meat on that large rat is fixed: that’s why, for them, fairness is such a life and death issue. Because in the prehistoric era their brains inhabit, it really was.