Thursday, August 21, 2014

Left and Right

One of the biggest plusses of the 2014 elections has been that fact that Indian youth has become more engaged in the political process. We see more political discussions online, see fearless expression from youngsters and an overall increase in curiosity levels as well.

I sense that youngsters in the Country want to talk politics more, especially the ones that have cast their votes for the very first time. Very often they find themselves unable to partake in discussions because they do not know the jargon or are unable to place the different names that the older generation refers to (I went through this when I was younger, I would never know any of the names or terms). This very often turns off the youngsters and they become disengaged. This is a shame.

This piece is a bid to improve the vocabulary of political discussion. I never understood these terms left or right or center-left, center-right, etc. And when I started understanding them, I realized that a great many were using these monikers incorrectly.

There are two axes on which we can define Left and Right, the Economic axis and the Socio-Cultural axis. Very often, the parties to the right on one axis are also on the right on another axis, so we do not care to distinguish between the axes. But it helps to know both axes.

Left vs. Right - The Economic Axis.

Essentially, the left espouses the role of government; and the right wants more freedom for the market (private sector)

Left and Right - The Socio Cultural Axis

On this axis, the right is conservative, holds the idea of "values" dear, holds religion to be important and is proud of lineage and tradition. The "left" is liberal, prizes the idea of individual freedom, and believes that the state has no role in prescribing morality.

Countries placed on this matrix

Caveat Emptor: The above diagram is merely thematic. I have put this here in order to encourage some form of thinking/discussion. So, if you have any views on where some country ought to be placed, please voice those.

Indian leaders, parties placed on a matrix

Again, the above chart is subjective. Kindly bear that in mind. Might be a fun exercise to think in terms of where you would fit in.

I am mildly right of center economically, and sharply left of center socio-culturally. So, I will probably occupy (2, -5) in what will henceforth be termed as the enlightened quadrant.

Thoughts, comments are welcome.



  2. Some thoughts:

    1. It's not "absolute", and every issue, once more nuanced, can be broken down to two or three different issues which may lie in different quadrants. For example, the immigration issue. Right wingers are usually pro-immigration from an economic stand-point (allow more visas / permits etc. to skilled foreign labor to help domestic industry) but against it from a social p-o-v. Other examples - banning / limiting porn or prostitution, or parental notification laws in cases of abortion.
    2. Former USSR was definitely not socially progressive. They had laws against freedom of speech, against practicing religion etc. So I'd place them maybe at (5, -5).
    3. The problem with two axes is that often pro-large corporate-policies are seen as pro-business, but they're often anti-small-business. Eg. laws against forming monopolies. So where do we place such policies on the scale - left or right?
    4. Gandhi was understood to be much more pro-business than Nehru. He supported small businesses and didn't want the State to start or run businesses.
    5. Hong Kong is no where close to (4,-5). Maybe closer to (0,-5). And China pre-1980 is very different from China now. Current China is probably (4,4).
    6. Weirdly, the four end points are not all that far from each other. Through history, we've seen that extreme right and extreme left positions are actually quite similar (forced or extreme patriotism, ie. bordering on xenophobia, goes hand-in-hand with force nationalization (like Indira Gandhi did).
    7. The 2008 US economic bailout of the banks was seen as left-wing because it meant the government stepping in with $$, but was actually extremely pro-business and anti-people, and in real terms, quite right-wing.
    8. It seems to be easier for countries (and maybe even people) to move along the economic spectrum over time (either way) than to move along the social spectrum.
    9. That's why it was easy for China to go from top left straight to top right much more easily than to come to the center.
    10. There should also be a political spectrum. I don't know yet what exactly the end points will be :). Multi-party vs single-party? Democracy vs dictatorship?
    11. There is also something about end-goals that needs to be described and tabulated (maybe not right here in these graphs, but somewhere). Most times, the end goals of what a perfect society looks like are similar, and different political views are just different beliefs about what gets us there. Example, people who believe in minimum wage laws (seen as a left-wing belief) say that these laws encourages employees to consumer more, and will lead to more demand and therefore is pro-business and economic growth. People against minimum wage laws (seen as right-wing policy) also want the same end goal of economic growth, and they believe that letting businesses set their own pay rates will eventually lead to more people being hired, and will create more jobs and therefore more demand and then to economic growth. This is like the model of Abrahamic religions - their concepts of "heaven" are strikingly similar even though they believe different things that get us to that end goal.
    12. Some times, however, the end goal is dramatically different even if the policies are the same. I cannot imagine North Korea's dream of an ideal society, or Saudi Arabia's dream, coincides with the American dream or the Indian dream. In North Korea's case, they don't even think economic "growth" should be the end goal, just that economic self-sufficiency is necessary and, well, sufficient. They don't believe reducing unemployment is a worthy or necessary goal, simply because the State is the ultimate employer. This is - maybe - like the model of Abrahamic religions vs Hindu/Buddhist/Taoist philosophies.

    1. Is this Amit Das? If it is not, I should introduce you to my friend Amit Das. Good points. Will reply in more detail a while later.

  3. Great article with very informative charts. Simple and succinct! Thanks for posting.