Swimming Left

Forgot to post on Friday. I’m sure you all were heartbroken.

Scott had a piece on Trump where he said:

Everyone knows that America is getting more ideologically polarized these days. The right is getting rightier. The left is getting leftier.

I responded on Twitter:

It is fairly obvious we have been moving left. I then finished the piece and looked through the comments. Many of the people there seemed to think the US is actually moving right. Are they insane?

In the US you can now lose your job or your business for having the same opinion on gay marriage that almost everyone 15 years ago would have had. This is leftward shift happening in real time with no ambiguity to it.

But maybe on other issues this is not the case, so I’m going to look at the top 10 most important political issues to Americans to see how they’ve moved. (Oddly, despite the huge amount of attention placed on it, the number of people who think gay “rights” is the most important issue ranges from “*”, almost non-existent, to 1%). I’ll ignore two of the top three as they are non-partisan issues with no discernible left or right positions: dissatisfaction with government and unemployment. Everybody hates unemployment and dissatisfaction is non-partisan. This leaves 8 issues that 4% or more of Americans thought are the most important issues.

1) Economy in General – Generally, the left is for more state economic intervention, the right for less. Government spending as a percentage of GDP is a decent proxy for state intervention. Other than a temporary dip in the late 90’s, government spending has been consistently rising. On the economy the government is moving left.

2) Immigration – The left is generally pro-immigration, the right generally anti. The proportion of immigrants has been increasing since the 1950’s, although, this mirrors a decrease in the first half of the 20th century. As well, due to the removal of country of origin laws by the left, immigration has become increasingly “diverse”. Immigration has become more left.

3) Race Relations – The president is black. 50 years ago the US legalized racial marriage and public opinion has been growing consistently in favour of it. Jim Crow laws have disappeared. The last lynching was in 1964, while today, black mobs burn down black-run Baltimore and injure over 100 cops with the establishment’s approval because a black man was killed while being arrested for possessing an illegal weapon (a crime that is only a crime because of the left). Society has moved left on racial relations.

4) Healthcare – Obamacare was just passed a few years ago. The Bush public drug plan was introduced a decade before that. Moving left.

5) Education – Public education spending, staffing levels, and funding per student have all been increasing at a rapid pace. Moving left.


6) Debt/Deficit – The right is generally anti-deficit, while the left is generally in favour of Keynesian deficit spending. The debt has been consistently increasing, barring a decline following WW2 and a temporary drop in the lates 90’s. We’ll say it’s been moving left.

7) Terrorism – The War on Terror continues and was right-wing in origin, although the left has instigated the Libya and Syria theatres of the war. But we’ll say the (mainstream) right won this one, now that the left is playing the game.

8) Foreign policy/foreign aid/focus overseas – I’m not actually sure how to look at this one. Foreign aid is declining, a right-wing win, but I highly doubt it is the main component driving the importance of this issue. There’s more hate against Russia and ISIS more nowadays, but those aren’t particularly partisan issues. The opening of Cuba and the Iran deal are vaguely left. The Cold War is over; NATO’s still around. Free trade agreements are increasing, but that issue is largely non-partisan: the elites vs everyone else. I don’t think this one is able to be judged along a left/right axis, so I’m not going to assign anything to it.

The following three I looked at as well, because at first I accidentally was reading the May column, not the August Column, but they’ve been written so I’ll include them:

9) National Security – See terrorism. Us defence spending as a percentage of GDP has been on a fairly steady decline since the 50’s, with a leveling-out/small rise since the mid-90’s. The number of defence personnel follows a similar trend (in absolute numbers, so, percentage wise it has been decreasing even more so). The trend has been moving left.

10) Gap between rich and poor –  The Gini coefficient has been rising since the 70’s, but that was following  a fall in the first half of the century. The left is opposed to the gap; the right is neutral on it. While the right isn’t in favour of a gap, they aren’t really opposed, and the left are very opposed, so we’ll say this has been moving right.

11) Ethics/Moral/Religious decline – See gay marriage above. The number of religious people has been declining and church attendance has plummeted. Marriage rates have declined. Divorce rates have increased. Fertility rates have plunged. Bastardry has increased. Female-headed households have increased. Things are moving left here.


So, on a total of the 13 of the most important issues to Americans, I didn’t rate 3 of them. Of the remaining 10, 8 have been moving left and 2 has been moving right.

On the majority of the issues that matter most to Americans the left has been winning. The US is moving left.

I realized after writing this that the question I ended up answering has changed slightly from the initial question, which was where the party’s are moving, not where the country is moving.



  1. I hate it that an insurance plan (Obamacare) has been labeled “Healthcare.” Healthcare isn’t the problem. The problem is people who want inexpensive insurance premiums for healthcare.

  2. If I were you I would make those links imgur links because images have a tendency to get deleted from servers. But yeah you’re right America is moving left , although I think there is reason for hope online with the rise of Red Pill and other alt-right movements, and maybe the rise of the Trump Presidency is evidence that the pendulum about to swing the other way.

  3. Why is our nation more unequal than before? Unchecked immigration increases the Gini by flooding the country with extreme poverty and depressing the wages of the native poor. The dissolution of family values also contributes, as it hurts the poor more than the middle class, and the elite not at all. Both of these are left-wing policies, and they count as successes because they give the Left more inequality to demagogue over.

    Also note that the Gini coefficient counts earned income but not welfare benefits, so making the welfare state more generous only increases the Gini!

  4. From their perspective, the world has indeed moved right. It’s like riding in a car, and saying the scenery is flying by. They have moved left with the speed of the hour hand on your watch. From their perspective, the world moved right and they haven’t changed.

  5. Thanks for this. I just came over from Star Slate Codex and read his book review of Manufacturing Consent, which ties in very much to what you are talking about. I also read the Scott’s post on bravery debates linked from the MC book review, which ties into it even more.

    At the end of the bravery debates post, Scott writes:
    I propose that if you write something and, for even just a second, you think of not publishing it, because of the risk to your reputation, or your livelihood, or your family, or even your life – then go ahead and call yourself brave, and I will try to reassure you and tell you everything is going to be all right.

    As you said, we on the right have to fear for our livelihood if we are seen to oppose gay marriage or unchecked immigration. My boss even told me once, after we were both joking about how ridiculous global warming is: “You know when Im in public, I believe in global warming, and you should too”. I dont blame him, he runs a business, he knows global warming is nonsense, but he’s not going to lose business over it.

  6. Think about the War on Terror as a continuation of nation building and “making the world safe for democracy,” both of which are left wing projects. W. Bush adopted the left’s foreign policy. Just because the Democrats oppose it doesn’t mean it is not left wing.

  7. It doesn’t really make sense to try to aggregate all this stuff into a thesis about the country moving ‘left’ or ‘right’. Definitely we are moving to the ‘left’ on social / cultural issues. We are becoming less racist, less homophobic, less misogynist, less anti-drug, less religious, etc.

    On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that we have moved to the right economically over the course of the last few decades – basically since the post-WWII compromise fell apart and large chunks of the ruling class got back into the pro-rich class warfare game.

    It’s interesting how you describe the left and right positions on the Gini coefficient:

    “The left is opposed to the gap; the right is neutral on it. While the right isn’t in favour of a gap, they aren’t really opposed, and the left are very opposed, so we’ll say this has been moving right.”

    I am strongly in favor of reducing economic inequality, basically on the utilitarian grounds of a marginal dollar providing less utility the richer someone is, meaning downward redistribution produces major utility gains. It often does seem like the policies pushed by the American conservative establishment are purposefully designed to do the opposite and redistribute wealth upwards, to the extent that you can predict how conservatives will feel on any economic issue by asking what position would push the most money in the direction of the already wealthy.

    Your feelings about inequality are almost exactly the mirror image of my feelings as a leftist about the size of government. I’m neutral in terms of what percentage of the economy should fall under government control, I just want to do whatever is most efficient and effective at producing good outcomes for the country, which in our current situation does indeed mean expanding the size of the public sector in a variety of ways. Meanwhile people on the right are strongly in favor of reducing the size of government (or at least say they are), so we end up discussing the issue as “big government liberals vs small government conservatives”.

  8. I can’t help wondering about a different trend: the rise of the SJWs. I think the Left made hay successfully for decades raving about the Right’s strident addicts to righteousness and cheap moralism (addictivists?) in the form of the Religious Right. Now that the Left has their own analog to the R.R., it feels to me as though a sea change is in the offing. I’ve always been one of those swing voters, but right now it’ll take a lot of humiliation of the Left to get me swinging that direction again.

  9. I think they might be a result of people using different definitions. Some people consider “right” and “left” to be synonyms for Republicans and Democrats, while some people (mainly Leftists?) consider the Democrats to be a right-wing political party because they support large government (1, 4, 5, 6, 7). So, you’re showing that the country is moving Left-meaning-Democrat, but some Leftists disagree because the country is moving Right-meaning-more-government. It seems like a good case to taboo[1] the words, but that seems unlikely to every happen in politics, since arguing definitions is 90% of campaigning.

    [1] http://lesswrong.com/lw/nu/taboo_your_words/

  10. Brendan Long:
    some people (mainly Leftists?) consider the Democrats to be a right-wing political party because they support large government

    I know left and right do not have the clearest of meanings, but anybody who considers large governments to be right-wing have no proper understanding of the political spectrum. It reeks of reverse-engineering the spectrum to place your favorite ideology (I suspect a flavor of anarchism) on the left.

    Otherwise the left has always stood for large, diffuse, and weak governments, and the right has always stood for small, effective, strong governments.

    In any event, I doubt this misunderstanding is widespread enough to explain the number of people who think society is moving right. Rather, this is explained by the simple fact that people always like to believe they are the underdog fighting a powerful and ruthless enemy.

  11. “The Gini coefficient has been rising since the 70’s, but that was following a fall in the first half of the century. The left is opposed to the gap; the right is neutral on it. While the right isn’t in favour of a gap, they aren’t really opposed, and the left are very opposed, so we’ll say this has been moving right.”

    You’re backwards here. Liberals want a strong rich/poor divide because it secures them in power and leaves the people they rule with little ability to resist. The middle class is synonymous with conservatism… men who are neither masters nor slaves.

    Notice the graph spikes during the Great Society expansion of leftism and drops when WW2 made the welfare state a liability. America was then relatively non-leftist until the Baby Boomers sanctioned illegal immigration and free trade starting in the ’70s.

    For all the Left’s talk of “helping the poor”, the end result of that help is always slavery. You’ll never hear a Democrat leader brag about how many people no longer need him.

  12. Free Northerner:

    …despite the huge amount of attention placed on it, the number of people who think gay “rights” is the most important issue ranges from “*”, almost non-existent, to 1%…

    The way liberalism works concretely in America, the leftward movement of society is driven primarily by issues that most people don’t consider politically significant. The less important the majority of people think an issue is, the more that issue becomes a lever for moving things further leftward.

    I’ve explained how this works before, e.g.


    The mechanics of modern “issues”-focused democratic politics is built to isolate and destroy traditional values.

    Making politics primarily about specific “issues” means that most ordinary people are only really able to care passionately about a few of those issues (e.g. ‘the economy, stupid’ etc). On everything else they will default to whatever seems consonant with liberal slogans (freedom, equal rights, and their derivatives). “Issues politics” then becomes a series of battles between an isolated group of conservatives who care about that issue (e.g. legalized sodomite parodies of marriage) versus the liberals who care about it and the vast majority who take the liberals’ side by default because they want to be respectable and to support basic American values, etc.

  13. Zippy makes a good point.
    I think there’s an issue here where Left and Right don’t always take stands on the same issues. Liberals can care about Issue A that conservatives don’t give a fig about, while conservatives care about B that liberals aren’t even aware of. So, for example, my conservative uncle might rant endlessly about Benghazi, while my liberal uncle keeps rambling on about White Privilege.

    In many ways, the right and left have become more polarized from each other, but the right has been generally unsuccessful in the long term on most of their issues. They have not repealed Roe V. Wade; they have not eliminated Welfare or gotten deficit spending under control. They have not re-instated prayer in school. Hypothetically, they might have “moved right” in some opinion poll of what they profess to believe, or they might have simply felt more to the right as the country shifted suddenly leftward, but they haven’t accomplished their agendas.

    I was subjected to a portion of last night’s Republican debate, and just disgusted at the sheer amount of verbal garbage the candidates spouted that was nothing more than a re-iteration of Republican talking points for the past thirty years. They have failed to overturn Roe V. Wade for the past 40 years, but they are still up there promising that this time, they’re really going to do it! They promise to cut the budget, eliminate the deficit, and increase military spending! Where, exactly, do they think the money for the military comes from? These people don’t acheive their objectives or else their objective is simply “no change at all,” rather than rightward movement.

    By contrast, liberals have actually been achieving their goals. Whether or not they’ve personally become more liberal relative to the rest of the population, or relative to the past, they’ve had a lot of successes and convinced a lot of the country to agree with them.

    So we could get both increasing polarization of people and a general leftward trend on actual policies.

    People are probably more likely to spout liberal positions when they involve far away people or moral posturing that they suspect will incur no material cost to themselves, and more conservative positions when they bear the potential cost. That is, it’s easy to sit in the US and say, “Oh, yes, Germany should take as many refugees as physically possible,” while at the same time saying, “No, I don’t want to give one of the spare rooms in my house to a refugee.” Or “Ferguson police must stop shooting black people!” while demanding lower crime rates in one’s own city.

    But there are far more people in the world who don’t live in Ferguson (or Germany) than who do, and so the collective pressure of people making small, low-cost to them decisions about far away people can overwhelm the local pressure of people making great-cost to them decisions. So general consensus moves leftward.

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