The New Left vs. The Old Left

Will S. writes about the bizarre decision of governments to allow expatriates to vote as their own riding. In the post-script he notes:

Regarding Mrs. Lemaire’s victory, isn’t it odd that a ‘riding’ consisting of many employed by the financial sector (i.e. the private sector) would end up going Socialist?  Of course, it wasn’t just the French living in London or elsewhere in the U.K. who elected Mrs. Lemaire, but also ones living in Ireland, and the Scandinavian and Baltic states, too, so perhaps that’s how it happened.  On the other hand, I note that the North American riding was also won by a Socialist candidate, Corinne Narassiguin, who apparently is a New York banker!  What strange times we live in.

I do not find it all that odd. This is the difference between the old left and the new left (or liberal-left).

The old left was a movement of blue-collar workers out to get a better deal for themselves. It was a heavily unionized movement and, in the West, was mostly white. It was not overly radical on social issues, as blue-collar workers don’t generally tend towards that direction.

In the first half of the century, most Western nation began to put in place the beginning of the welfare state (pension plans & employment insurance), workplace safety laws, minimum wages, and other such regulations to protect workers, this eased the impetus of the old left. As long as blue-collar workers had jobs that provided them decent comfort and didn’t have to worry that an accident would leave them destitute, they were mostly politically content.

Enter the new left. This was a political movement focused on social issues: feminism, environmentalism, peace activism, anti-racism, etc. Economic issues were still of some import, but were pushed to the back.

In addition, the radical anti-capitalism of the old left began to melt away as the Communism began to demonstrate the horrors that occurred when you eliminated capitalism. It was replaced by a desire for an economic system of Keynesian-regulatory state superstructure based upon a capitalist substructure.

In the US, this takeover of the Democrat party by the new left occurred following the McGovernite rift in 72. Under the new left, liberal/left-wing parties began to shed their traditional base of the white working class, and created a new base, an alliance of academics, technocrats, white-collar bureaucrats (and their unions), and a bought-off underclass. The union movement began to trend towards white collar government work from blue-collar industrial work, until today where unions are primarily made of government workers.


So, what does this have to do with the financial sector?

The first is that new left/liberal parties are strongly based on the ideologies held by the educated upper-middle class (the underclass doesn’t really contribute to ideas overly much anymore, they just vote reliably as long as state benefits flow). These ideologies tend to be based on post-materialist values (environmentalism, feminism, etc.) rather than material values. In economics, they are “pragmatic” (read Keynesian), as they generally benefit from the current economic order, but feel guilt about inequality that they want the state to relieve.

One of the Keynesian beliefs central to the new left economic platform is avoiding deflation and keeping steady mild inflation (ie. printing money) to keep people employed.

Who benefits from inflation? Whoever gets the money first. The financial sector. This mild inflation is printing money for the banks.

In a economic bust, what does a Keynesian party do? Stimulus (ie. print more money).  Who benefits? The financial sector.

When the government creates bonds (ie. debt) to finance further spending who benefits? The banks and financial traders who buy the bonds. It’s a license to print money.

Who benefits the most from complex government contract bidding? Large corporations (you think, Jack the small businessman with 3 employees can figure out the complex government bidding process and win them against Halliburton?)

Who benefits the most from government regulations? Large, established corporations (ie. banks).



I know, it seems weird, that large corporations benefit form regulations, but hear me out.

Large corporations are generally (Koch aside) not ideologically libertarian or capitalist, they are “rational” organizations pursuing profit.

The most damaging thing to a large, established corporations profits is radical change. Large corporations are generally very bureaucratic and can’t respond rapidly to change. If left alone, upstart companies can introduce radical changes to their industry quite rapidly and hurt the profits of large corporations (or occasionally destroy them entirely). So, the corporations go along with new regulations. Sure, their profits might decrease a small amount, but they can afford it. The small, upstart company generally can’t.

For example, let’s take access for people with disabilities. McDonald’s can easily afford the thousands of dollars to put into place a wheelchair ramp and handicap washrooms. Joe’s Diner, which makes a profits of 40k a year, won’t have such an easy time coming up with the thousands of dollars necessary for renovations.

So any financial regulations may hurt the large banks and traders some, but you know who they hurt more: smaller banks and trading companies, their competitors and potential disrupters.


As we can see, modern left-liberal Keynesian economic ideology helps the financial sector more than almost anyone else. Those in charge of the parties know this (hence, Obama’s strong ties to Goldman Sachs), the useful idiots (ie. those anti-capitalists who still vote for these parties) follow along, because the parties know how to sound anti-capitalist (although, the banks know this is just a show) and to think otherwise would challenge their whole ideology and political allegiance.

The financial sector are also generally graduates of the (left-wing) academic system, so they mostly (more or less) agree on the basics of liberal-left social policies.

That’s why the financial sector will often vote for supposedly leftist parties and why I am not surprised that they do.


  1. Fair enough. I do realize how far the left has strayed from its worker focus since the ’60s, but they still invoke enough of the class-warfare rhetoric, that I might have thought bankers of socially-progressive bent would prefer a more liberal party to a more socialist one. Of course, if economic issues doesn’t matter at all to leftists today, having been replaced entirely by social issues and identity politics, then it stands to reason how they could attract people who have ended up as bankers…

  2. Good explanation of a rather basic idea, that still manages to escape the notice of your Typical College Grad; I’m going to use this in the future when I try to explain to them that – in a free market – there’d probably be a lot less big corporations.

    It’s interesting how the parties evolve, isn’t it? You didn’t mention it – I presume so as not to scare away the naive reader – but the Old Left wasn’t just ‘primarily white’, it was downright anti-black. It was the working-class white party, while the conservatives were the strong-government, moral agenda party. The new left had its inception in the Civil Rights era. Becoming aware of a growing voter base which they hadn’t tapped, they switched teams from the anti-black unions, to the pro-black civil rights. And now we have conservatives as the pro-rich-white, anti-black party.

    Left and Right remain, but stated goals and objectives shift like the weather; it’s the internal dynamic which matters.

  3. You got caught in moderation.

    It’s not that economics doesn’t matter, it’s that at one point the left was economics, now social issues matter more.

    The distinction between liberal and socialist is mostly gone. Classical liberals are now called libertarians (and are therefore crazy). Modern socialism has mostly accepted that state-ownership is self-destructive; they can only deny reality to a certain degree, so they try to control the economy in other ways (Keynesianism). Modern social liberals need state intervention to increase “rights”. So they’ve merged. Left-liberalism as it exists nowadays is the party of the state, so modern socialism and liberalism have more or less merged to increase the state, limited only by the limits of where state intervention destroys the economy. The distinction between the two is, at best, one of degree.

  4. I didn’t mention it because it wasn’t overly salient to the main point.

    Conservatives exist to preserve reality as it currently is and so are generally ideologically equivalent to last century’s liberals who forged the current reality.

    Modern liberalism has become the ideology of noblesse oblige through the European welfare state run by technocratic elites, while European conservatives of a century (or two) ago were the party of noblesse oblige of the aristocracy.

    Current liberal impulses (on both sides of the pond) are generally similar to European aristocratic impulses of old. The “elite” (for the former technocrats, for the latter nobility) guide the hand of government for the “best interests” of those who aren’t capable of ruling themselves.

    So left and right remain, but their objectives have switched.

  5. “The distinction between liberal and socialist is mostly gone.”

    Which is of course how Bob Rae ended up jumping ship from the NDP to join the Liberals. I’ll bet he’s kicking himself now…

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