Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Qualitative Left

Sorry about my lack of posting the last couple of weeks. I’ve had lots of things on my mind, lack of motivation at night, David Lapidus County Board work, an inability to finish posts, and other poor excuses. I’m going to try to be a little bit less rhetorical in the future because I’m much more interested and focused on the real issues and real status of our society today politically, socially, religiously, etc. than loosely throwing out partisan talking points or irrational criticisms. Thus, I’m sorry if I have offended others in previous posts. The following piece has been in the works for quite a long time but I’ve finally finished it. While numerous writers have looked at extreme liberal thinking and have tried to paraphrase their encounters generally, they have not come up with an accurate label for these far-left individuals. Labels tossed around include “socialists”, “moonbats”, “limousine liberals” and “Hollywood left” but none of these terms really accurately describe the thought process of the far left. You can call the liberal elite of this country anything you really want to but I’m going to coin this demographic “The Qualitative Left”.

Who these people are?

One of the quickest things I picked up on campus, both within the classroom and outside discussion is that the left loves to make claims about conservatives and big business and will offer talking points consisting of ignoring the poor, destroying the environment, caring only about money, and the list goes on. These same people will speak harshly about Republicans who aren’t in favor of increasing the minimum wage, want a more equal tax policy, don’t want more social welfare programs, want to drill in the Artic. But are these people usually able to discuss issues objectively and understand why raising the minimum wage might be detrimental to the business climate, why a tax policy may be hurting investment opportunities, why social welfare programs in the past have not proven to always get people out of poverty, and why drilling in the Arctic may be wise to keep oil prices down? No, and very often you will be talking to people of the “qualitative left”, a mass of demographic that pulls disproportionably from woman, minorities, liberal arts professors, social service professionals, teachers, artists/creatives, and nonprofit activist types.

There are many factors that are central to forming people’s political beliefs and typical answers will include parents’ political beliefs, religious beliefs, geographical upbringing, and education. I think one of the key components is your college concentration which not only helps form your worldview but also is an indication to what type of thinker you are. All people think both quantitatively and qualitatively but the Qualitative Left tends to be draw from liberal arts majors based on humanities and less math intensive social sciences. The data from Facebook reflects that students in more qualitative majors will be more liberal and the more quantitative and career-oriented majors are more conservative (or less liberal). These liberal arts majors are where the Qualitative Left draws their strength from and these students will be the teachers, artists, professors, nonprofit activists, social workers, etc. of the future.

Quantitative Majors:

Real Estate= Lib (31) VLib (3) = 34; Con (41) VCon (1) = 42

Finance= Lib (60) VLib (6) = 66; Con (85) VCon (10) = 95

Math= Lib (106) VLib (38) = 144; Con (35) VCon (2) = 37

Accounting= Lib (76) VLib (9) = 87; Con (76) VCon (6) = 82

Mechanical Engineering= Lib (125) VLib (22) = 147; Con (137) VCon (9) = 146

Physics= Lib (64) VLib (18) = 82; Con (15) VCon (2) = 17

Civil Engineering= Lib (31) VLib (6) = 37; Con (17) VCon (4) = 21

Economics= Lib (211) VLib (33) = 244; Con (137) VCon (12) = 149

Qualitative Majors

English= Lib (387) VLib (32) = 419; Con (62) VCon (3) = 65

Political Science=Lib/VLib= NA (Exhausted Search Engines, estimation over 1,000 each category); Con (229) VCon (24) = 253

Art= Lib (149) VLib (58) = 207; Con (17) VCon (0) = 17

Social Work= Lib (90) VLib (24) = 114; Con (5) VCon (0) = 5

Journalism= Lib (397) VLib (71) = 468; Con (74) VCon (5) = 79

Education= Lib (114) VLib (20) = 134; Con (24) VCon (1) = 25

History= Lib (399) VLib (122) = 521; Con (116) VCon (11) = 127

Sociology= Lib (247) VLib (96) = 343; Con (42) VCon (6) = 48

Nursing= Lib (169) VLib (22)= 191; Con (78) VCon (3) = 81

Marketing= Lib (90) VLib (7) = 97; Con (35) VCon (0) = 35

Management/Human Resources= Lib (20) VLib (1) = 21; Con (12) VLib (0) = 12

The data comes from Facebook and rests on a number of assumptions. First, the sample is representative of the real political proportions of the major. I think Facebook is a fair assessment since a large percentage of the student body is on the site. Second, the sample of UW students can reflect the trends of other schools in the US and thus our society in general. Obviously, you look at every UW class 30 years later there will be fewer liberals and more conservatives but the general trends will most likely still exist for most majors. Third, the “quantitative majors” are filled with “quantitative thinkers" and vice versa. There are obviously many exceptions to all students in all these majors but I think this generalization is fair. Fourth, the data leaves out moderate, libertarian, apathetic and other political data. It would have taken more time to get the data and I think looking strictly at the right versus the left should provide an accurate assessment of generally where the Qualitative Left study and are trained.

Problems with Qualitative Thinking

There are many problems with qualitative thinking in terms of public policy. First, in terms of looking at policy decisions from a cost-benefit analysis and exploring the trade-offs of particular legislation, qualitative thinking leads a person to believe that particular legislation is either good or bad. To the qualitative left, they see a tax policy such as the ending the estate tax as “unfair” or “a give-away to the rich” because it would effectively give wealthier people (who have large estates) the right to not be taxed again on their financial assets. These same individuals would fail to understand the argument that these individuals have already paid taxes on this sum of money or that private-sector investment and private giving might substantially increase. Quantitative people can obviously disagree and can make sound arguments pro estate-tax or anti estate-tax but the problem is the qualitative left often cannot even debate or begin to understand the issues.

Second, when discussing the merits of a particular policy in quantitative terms, the qualitative left will change switch the discussion framing the issue emotionally in qualitative terms. I experienced this ploy often during SSFC meetings and one particular instance stands out. When we were discussing the merits of SAFEwalk in terms of financial dollars per walk, hours on duty, and whether SAFEcab could be a more cost effective alternative, members of FUSE kept bringing up woman’s safety using the language of “a rape should be prevented at any cost”. Maybe the city of Madison should create a police state with thousands patrolling the dorms, apartments, and streets to ensure that no woman ever gets harassed or sexually assaulted….sounds awful cost-effective and wise in a society of limited resources. Safety isn’t even one of the main issues where qualitative thinking is normally applied. Topics where qualitative thinking is more often applied are the environment, housing, welfare, taxes and military.

Third, the qualitative left in general puts much more weight in evaluating public policy decisions on a social level and factoring in other qualitative variables. Social variables are very hard if not impossible to measure, even more difficult than environmental variables. Thus, the idea of triple-line accounting (economic, environment, social) is so hard to implement in a cost-benefit analysis. But even within triple-line accounting, the environmental and social costs need to be quantified and often the left will refuse to do it. They will refuse to try to quantify these variables because they’d rather that the social and environmental costs/benefits be put ahead of fiscal issues or they don’t have the ability themselves to even estimate these variables. If we have absolutely no ability to estimate the social or environmental costs/benefits, I believe that they should not be included in any analysis. Here’s a quick example of the left putting excessive emphasis on social and community well-being. When hearing about a plant of a large company closing in their city or country, they think solely about the people who are going to be losing their jobs and not about the efficiency of the economy, the possible gain to shareholders, or effect of people in another geographical vicinity gaining jobs. Typical blame will be placed on greedy management rather than restrictive union rules, low productivity, or a change in the economy. Sympathy will go out to the workers who lost their job and people will lament the loss of social ties and future of the community. The losers will be emphasized and any gain to particular stakeholders will not be mentioned. The discussion of the alternative (ie socialism) will not be discussed but surely aspects of capitalism will be criticized. Why? One possible reason: comparative advantage probably isn’t even in the vocabulary of the qualitative left.

The idea of the difficulty in engaging liberals in political discussion has been well documented by conservative writers including John Leo, Ann Coulter, Dennis Prager, Jonah Goldberg among others. This is because of a number of reasons but it most definitely stems from the qualitative thinking of many in the far left. Go to the central hubs of the far-left blogosphere like The Huffington Post or Daily Kos and this pattern of thought will be reiterated. Why actually discuss the trade-offs and central aspects of legislation when you can throw inflammatory comments and make unsound but rhetorically witty comments? It’s because the left’s ideas often do not make sense quantitatively and hold little objectivity. Being outnumbered in a qualitiative left bastion of thought, educated conservatives and libertarians can continue to win debates because of the ability to think logically, numerically, objectively. Hopefully, the Republican Party can fully return to being an objective party with an emphasis on fiscal restraint, social restraint, and clear quantitative thought. The Democratic Party in its current state with its far-left electorate and supports will never advocate rationale and objective policy.