Jay Reding.com

Condescension

George Will has an excellent column on how liberalism treats the lower classes with paternalistic condescension, using the recent lefty attacks on Wal-Mart as an example:

Liberals think their campaign against Wal-Mart is a way of introducing the subject of class into America’s political argument, and they are more correct than they understand. Their campaign is liberalism as condescension. It is a philosophic repugnance toward markets because consumer sovereignty results in the masses making messes. Liberals, aghast, see the choices Americans make with their dollars and their ballots, and announce — yes, announce — that Americans are sorely in need of more supervision by … liberals.

Before they went on their bender of indignation about Wal-Mart (customers per week: 127 million), liberals had drummed McDonald’s (customers per week: 175 million) out of civilized society because it is making us fat, or something. So, what next? Which preferences of ordinary Americans will liberals, in their role as national scolds, next disapprove? Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?

Will is right — the average reader of Mother Jones, The Utne Reader or the type who is part of the anti-Wal-Mart crowd tends to be lily-white, suburban, educated, and rich. Much of the liberal orthodoxy comes from a deep sense of noblesse oblige by those who have had the benefits of a well-to-do upbringing. The arguments about how the rich don’t really work for what they get always struck me as frequently examples of psychological projection — rich liberals projecting their own neuroses onto other members of their socioeconomic class. In the other hand, those who started in the lower economic classes and worked their way up tend more often than not to be Republicans. (And yes, all of these arguments are generalizations — but generalizations that are quite easily to observe.)

Liberalism argues for more control by the state to protect people from themselves — which is an inherently paternalistic and condescending line of argumentation. Hillary Clinton inadvertently spilled the beans when she talked of how the government must take things from you for the “common good”. Liberalism’s fatal flaw is that the “common good” is usually decided by people who are doing the taking — and that has never in history led to particularly beneficial results.

The whole Wal-Mart brouhaha isn’t really about Wal-Mart, it’s about who controls the destiny of the lower classes. Wal-Mart is hated because it’s successful, just as McDonalds, Chevrolet, and other major American companies have been targeted in the past. Their success portends the idea that people don’t need the paternalistic hand of government giving them everything. By the raw, hard numbers, Wal-Mart has done more for poor people than any government program ever has by reducing the cost of consumer goods to a level where everyone can afford them.

What we’re seeing in America right now is the unprecedented empowerment of the individual to control their lives. 20 years ago the idea that you could negotiate a travel package that would be the best deal possible would have been absurd — only a travel agent could do that for you, and only a fool would try to deal with the myriad little bureaucracies. Today, travel agencies have been supplanted by websites like Expedia, Travelocity, or Priceline. In just about every industry, the decision-making capability keeps getting pushed down to the individual level — and that’s a good thing. The whole crux of the situation is that you are better at making choices for yourself than someone making choices for you.

Liberalism goes against that societal trend, which is why liberalism has become more and more an ideology of opposition than a “progressive” force. What’s so “progressive” about saying that you can’t be trusted to choose your own retirement package rather than be forced into the one-size-fits-all system of Social Security? What’s so “progressive” about denying people the right to pick the right school for their children? What’s so “progressive” about denying people the right to pick the right health care system for them instead of being forced into yet another “universal” (read mandatory) government program?

The free market is supposed to be so detrimental to the poor, yet in the retail space Wal-Mart has given the less well-off unprecedented buying power by eliminating inefficiencies and lowering costs. The very same forces, if applied to things like health care, could make health care more affordable to the masses without sacrificing quality and without demanding that everyone be forced into one system of “managed” (read rationed) care.

Yet the doctrines of liberalism stand in the way of the empowerment of the individual. They prefer state-based solutions that by necessity reduce choice and individual autonomy. Apparently “choice” becomes paramount in how to eliminate one’s kids, but not when it comes to educating them. For all the talk of how liberalism is all about aiding the poor and the downtrodden, liberal policies have kept the poor and the downtrodden in their poor and downtrodden state. The battle over Wal-Mart is less about helping the poor than it is about helping the unions get a cut of the action. The fact that kicking Wal-Mart out would actively hurt the very people it’s supposed to help is irrelevant.

Will is right, liberalism and condescension go together hand in hand, and despite all the allusion of liberals towards helping the poor, ultimately liberalism is rife with the selfishness of noblesse oblige — for all too many it isn’t about helping the poor, but the outward appearance of liberal piety. An honest liberal will be in a soup kitchen, not at an anti-Wal-Mart rally.

UPDATE: Every so often, I hear something so massively stupid that I feel obligated to give it a public kick in the ass — and it also proves my point about liberal condescension as well.

You and Will want real capitalism? Let’s stop every single government payment to Wal-Mart. Let’s say that people who work at Wal-Mart are ineligible for public housing, health care or wage supplements. Let’s say that Wal-Mart has to pay for the damage it is causing to our society. That would be capitalism. What we have is corporate welfare and a government-sponsored monolith that is trending towards monopoly. What we do not have is a free-functioning market that you and your neocon buddies portend to love so dearly.

Let’s accept this hypothetic for a moment. Who gets hurt by saying that all Wal-Mart workers can no longer receive public services? It’s not Wal-Mart, except in a tangental way. Wal-Mart certainly has an interest in a workforce that isn’t malnourished and sick. However, the biggest losers are the people who work at Wal-Mart — people who are predominantly lower-class, predominantly minorities, and predominantly people who are either just entering or re-entering the workforce and need to build experience to get better jobs elsewhere.

Basically, Seth’s plan would destroy the lives of Wal-Mart workers. It would punish the very people that liberals are ostensibly supposed to protect. It would put those workers out of a job at the very least and leave them dead on the streets at the worst. And this is supposed to be from the side of compassion?

If a Republican proposed such a thing, they’d be instantly branded as heartless, cruel, and a racist. And that wouldn’t be a charge without merit.

Not to mention the issue of just who would make up for all those lost wages if Wal-Mart were to go belly up. Exactly how should Wal-Mart come up with the cash to give all their workers a “living wage” or full health coverage without going completely belly up? Even if all their CEOs gave up their money, that wouldn’t be enough to last more than a year — if even that. The left these days seems to have a kindergarten-level understanding of basic economics. It just isn’t possible for any corporation, even one as large as Wal-Mart to invent a way of pulling tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars out of their asses. Even if they could, they’d have to raise their prices through the roof to make up the shortfall — which would mean that the many low-income workers who have benefitted from the low prices that Wal-Mart has created would be out of luck.

Obviously this argument isn’t even remotely well-considered or thought out. Yet this is what passes for “thought” among the left these days. It isn’t about sane or rational public policies, it’s about playing to a silly little black-and-white worldview in which Wal-Mart is the big bad guy and the rich white liberals are the good guys and the workers are just pawns in the game.

And that doesn’t even go into the whole idiocy of the misuse of the term “neocon” and the typically overheated Manichean rhetoric of the left these days.

It’s this kind of completely slapdash, irrational, and prejudicial “thought” that constantly reminds me why I’m not a “liberal” — I like to think too much to qualify.

UPDATE: Mario Loyola points out an example of an intelligent argument against Wal-Mart.

My take on Wal-Mart is that in 30 years or so it probably won’t matter, since Wal-Mart’s dominance is as temporary as any retailers. One of the important aspect of a capitalistic system is that it is dynamic — for example, A&P was once far larger and more monopolistic than Wal-Mart ever was — and now they’re largely a footnote. Wal-Mart has roughly 5,000 stores nationwide — A&P had 16,000. That was in a country that was much smaller than America today. The argument that Wal-Mart is some evil behemoth that threatens everything that is good about America always struck me as deeply silly — and I’d imagine that to most voters it is.

12 responses to “Condescension”

  1. Mark says:

    People like yourself and Will are so breathlessly rushing to defend Wal-Mart on a near-daily basis because you fear the message of the “condescending” politicians will prove effective in forcing either government or the private sector to disassemble America’s modern-day robber barons. The political and socioeconomic agendas of you and Will are ascendant when wages are systematically oppressed, when manufacturing jobs are sent to the Third World, when the ranks of the insured rise by a million annually, and when workers have no means of recourse against organized commerce when it flexes its muscle. In short, if working conditions at Wal-Mart improve, either through government enforcement or public backlash, the Republican party and its global plutocratic endgame suffers a setback. That’s why you and Will defend the company nearly every week even though you don’t shop there yourselves.

    Put it to you this way. Wal-Mart, under pressure from “condescending politicians and activies”, has raised it wage levels for all employees in the past year. Were it not for the pesky forces of “condescension” holding the company’s feet to the fire, Wal-Mart employees would not have received a wage increase (or even a rudimentary health care plan) this past year. And that scenario, of course, is exactly what you and George Will would have wanted. It is only now, when anti-Wal-Mart advocates have made some progress in forcing the company to change its ways, are you worried that the GOP gravy train of cheap, disempowered, uninsured labor may be in jeopardy.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    You forgot the part where we like to kick puppies…

    Your whole argument is a massive (and massively stupid) straw man. The political and socioeconomic agendas of conservatives are ascendant when the freedom of the individual is maximized and the power of the state is minimized. I don’t give a damn about Wal-Mart as such. What it is about is the left demanding policies which would put millions of low-income workers out of their jobs. I know it’s so much more convenient to come up with stupid little straw men and knocking them down, but the fact that kicking Wal-Mart means that a lot of poor people get screwed is the consequence here in the real world.

    Indeed, your whole comment proves my point exactly – the majority of liberals don’t have a clue about the consequences of their policies or care about them in the slightest – just as long as they feel good about themselves. It’s the intellectual equivalent of masturbation.

    Were it not for the pesky forces of “condescension” holding the company’s feet to the fire, Wal-Mart employees would not have received a wage increase (or even a rudimentary health care plan) this past year.

    Except there’s no proof of that. It’s equally likely that Wal-Mart would have done those things regardless. In fact, Wal-Mart has offered a health plan and has raised wages before, without the crowd of ill-informed union-paid thugs cursing them.

  3. Seth says:

    “the average reader of Mother Jones, The Utne Reader or the type who is part of the anti-Wal-Mart crowd tends to be lily-white, suburban, educated, and rich.”

    And the National Review readership is diverse?

    Wal-Mart is not about choice, because most people who can afford not to go to Wal-Mart stay away. Rather, I’m against it becase Wal-Mart is anti-worker, anti-American production and advocates squeezing wages enough that people actually have to go to Wal-Mart because they can’t afford anything else. And it’s about privatizine profits and having me pay for risks. It’s about receiving government handouts so fat cat CEOs can make another billion.

    You and Will want real capitalism? Let’s stop every single government payment to Wal-Mart. Let’s say that people who work at Wal-Mart are ineligible for public housing, health care or wage supplements. Let’s say that Wal-Mart has to pay for the damage it is causing to our society. That would be capitalism. What we have is corporate welfare and a government-sponsored monolith that is trending towards monopoly. What we do not have is a free-functioning market that you and your neocon buddies portend to love so dearly.

  4. Mark says:

    “Except there’s no proof of that. It’s equally likely that Wal-Mart would have done those things regardless.”

    Sure it is….even though it completely contradicts Wal-Mart’s public and private business model, specifically internal documents leaked by former managers citing the company’s desire to trim per capita payroll by 5% each year. You must think everybody who reads your blog is a sap to believe there’s no conscious connection between Wal-Mart’s feverish cost-cutting business model and their “low prices”….and your premise that the growth of anti Wal-Mart activism and their decision to raise wages and install a rudimentary health insurance plan is pure coincidence.

    No, Jay. Most people, even most Wal-Mart consumers, wish for Wal-Mart to pay higher wages and offer benefits. It’s only country club Republicans like yourself who race to Wal-Mart’s defense in the face of any criticism, because you’re among a minority of Americans whose biggest fear in life is the prospect of resurrected social, political, and economic empowerment of the American working class.

  5. Jay Reding says:

    Sure it is….even though it completely contradicts Wal-Mart’s public and private business model, specifically internal documents leaked by former managers citing the company’s desire to trim per capita payroll by 5% each year.

    Which assumes that those people aren’t lying. Every company wants to keep its expenses down (except for ones that quickly go out of business).

    You must think everybody who reads your blog is a sap to believe there’s no conscious connection between Wal-Mart’s feverish cost-cutting business model and their “low prices”

    No, quite the opposite. The reason why Wal-Mart has been so successful is that they’ve forced their suppliers to become much more efficient than they had — something which provides a spill-over effect to every other retailer. Some suppliers choose not to sell to Wal-Mart for that reason. That’s their choice. However, we still all benefit from the methods that Wal-Mart has employed even if we don’t shop there.

    nd your premise that the growth of anti Wal-Mart activism and their decision to raise wages and install a rudimentary health insurance plan is pure coincidence.

    Pure coincidence? Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean that the anti-Wal-Mart crowd should be patting themselves on the back. The only thing they’re doing is driving a big wedge between rich urban liberals and the millions of people who work and shop at Wal-Mart.

    No, Jay. Most people, even most Wal-Mart consumers, wish for Wal-Mart to pay higher wages and offer benefits.

    The difference is that some of them are capable of understanding basic economics and aren’t demanding that Wal-Mart commit economic suicide, putting hundreds of thousands of minority workers out onto the street.

    It’s only country club Republicans like yourself who race to Wal-Mart’s defense in the face of any criticism, because you’re among a minority of Americans whose biggest fear in life is the prospect of resurrected social, political, and economic empowerment of the American working class.

    Does that straw man do a good job of keeping the crows away?

    Get real, the liberal political establishment has had their bootheel on the necks of every inner city for decades now — and their constant stream of failed policies have kept millions of minority workers as a permanent underclass. You have people like Seth saying that Wal-Mart workers should be punished for trying to get a job — if I were to use typical lefty logic, I suppose I could say he’s a racist who wants to keep black people on the Democratic plantation. Then again, I don’t need to reach to hyperbole, the idiocy of such a plan of action speaks for itself.

  6. Mark says:

    “The reason why Wal-Mart has been so successful is that they’ve forced their suppliers to become much more efficient than they had”

    Yeah….by pressuring them to shut down their domestic manufacturing operations and move to China or lose shelf space at Wal-Mart stores. You and Wal-Mart are the last of the true patriots!

    “However, we still all benefit from the methods that Wal-Mart has employed even if we don’t shop there.”

    That’s true…well, unless you’re a small business owner foolishly believing the Republican Party to be your political ally while fighting to stay alive against Wal-Mart who, unlike Mom and Pop, refuses to let business ethics or the common good stand in the way of record profits and crushing the competition at whatever price……or of course if you’re a working person trying to survive in the Wal-Mart economy of declining wages and widespread job defections to China joyously sanctioned by Wal-Mart’s “forced efficiency on suppliers.”

    “The difference is that some of them are capable of understanding basic economics and aren’t demanding that Wal-Mart commit economic suicide, putting hundreds of thousands of minority workers out onto the street.”

    So your premise is that any employer that raises wages or offers benefits will only end up putting hundreds of minority workers out onto the street? I guess it’s not surprising why you’re so quick to support a Somalia-style “ownership society”.

    “Get real, the liberal political establishment has had their bootheel on the necks of every inner city for decades now — and their constant stream of failed policies have kept millions of minority workers as a permanent underclass.”

    And the real “failed policies” destroying them are the outsourcing of union-wage manufacturing jobs to the Third World, met with nothing short of jubilation by every economic conservative on the planet, and the continued prohibition on narcotics which feeds off of desperate inner-city teenagers and has continued to lure them into the criminal underworld for decades now amidst bipartisan support.

  7. Jay Reding says:

    Yeah….by pressuring them to shut down their domestic manufacturing operations and move to China or lose shelf space at Wal-Mart stores. You and Wal-Mart are the last of the true patriots!

    Except there’s no evidence that actually happens in real life. In most cases, that manufacturing was already taking place in China.

    And for all this talk about all these jobs going to China, the unemployment rate doesn’t reflect it. Even when one counts total labor underutilization, we’re still as near to full employment as we’re likely to get over the long term.

    That’s true…well, unless you’re a small business owner foolishly believing the Republican Party to be your political ally while fighting to stay alive against Wal-Mart who, unlike Mom and Pop, refuses to let business ethics or the common good stand in the way of record profits and crushing the competition at whatever price…

    Except for the fact that small retail was already on the way out well before Wal-Mart. Mom and Pop stores generally paid their workers less than Wal-Mart does, didn’t have nearly the same benefits, nor did they charge the prices that Wal-Mart does. The idyllic world of Mom and Pop stores never existed in real life. Retail has always been a cutthroat business, and A&P put out a hell of a lot more “Mom and Pop” stores 75 years ago than Wal-Mart ever did — yet the American economy and small business survived.

    …or of course if you’re a working person trying to survive in the Wal-Mart economy of declining wages and widespread job defections to China joyously sanctioned by Wal-Mart’s “forced efficiency on suppliers.”

    And of course, that ignores the fact that the left’s preferred policy agenda would put those people out on the streets with no job whatsoever. Even if one were to accept those strawman arguments, the lefty position would still leave people worse off.

    So your premise is that any employer that raises wages or offers benefits will only end up putting hundreds of minority workers out onto the street? I guess it’s not surprising why you’re so quick to support a Somalia-style “ownership society”.

    No, you’re evidently unable to comprehend basic arguments. Demanding that Wal-Mart kowtow to unreasonable demands would put the company out of business. Your argument is yet another stupid strawman. I know reading comprehension isn’t your thing, but you should really try it. Unless your problem is less with reading comprehension than it is with intellectual honesty…

    And the real “failed policies” destroying them are the outsourcing of union-wage manufacturing jobs to the Third World

    Except for the fact that union-wage manufacturing jobs tend to be jobs held by non-minority workers. Except for the fact that those jobs have been declining for decades now. Except for the fact that the decline mainly comes from the fact that technology has meant that consumer goods last longer than they ever did before. Except for the fact that unemployment remains low.

    So yeah, that’s absolutely right so long as you ignore everything else that’s going on.

    and the continued prohibition on narcotics which feeds off of desperate inner-city teenagers and has continued to lure them into the criminal underworld for decades now amidst bipartisan support.

    Except the legalizing of narcotics would be devastating to the inner city — then again, given the quality of your arguments, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to find out you were high while writing them.

    Again, the three most important factors for determining poverty is 1) not finishing high school 2) having children out of wedlock and 3) chemical dependency. And those were the findings of the center-left Brookings Institute in a study conducted by former Clinton Administration officials — and yet liberal policies have led to declining schools (with no option of finding better educations elsewhere), a further degradation the family, and more drug addiction.

  8. Mark says:

    “Except there’s no evidence that actually happens in real life. In most cases, that manufacturing was already taking place in China.”

    Tell that to Rubbermaid, among dozens of other manufacturers that Wal-Mart insisted move to China or lose shelf space. You can’t be bothered to get familiar with those facts though. The very fact that Wal-Mart pressures manufacturers to move to China makes them heroes to you, worthy of unwavering praise.

    “And for all this talk about all these jobs going to China, the unemployment rate doesn’t reflect it.”

    Roughly 20% of the entire manufacturing sector has defected American shores since 2000. The new jobs are all at Wal-Mart, with wages and benefits 60% lower than the manufacturers they force to depart American soil.

    “Except for the fact that union-wage manufacturing jobs tend to be jobs held by non-minority workers.”

    People of color in urban areas represented (and still do represent) a disproportionately high percentage of unionized manufacturing jobs whose defections to the Third World has been destroying their communities for decades, while people like you tell them they’re damn lucky to have Wal-Mart jobs paying them poverty wages and offering them no benefits. It sure is a mystery why the Republican Party hardly ever able to get more than 12% of the African-American vote, isn’t it?!?!

    “Except the legalizing of narcotics would be devastating to the inner city”

    That has not proven to be the case in countries with liberalized drug laws. It’s hardly a cure-all solution, but it will lift the burden of the criminal underworld plaguing vulnerable underprivileged communities and shift the narcotics industry to suburban pharmacies. For you to not even acknowledge how the prohibition against drugs has destroyed urban America in the last three decades shows you’re unworthy of standing in judgment of ANYBODY else’s arguments.

  9. Seth says:

    I am amazed at how stupid someone can be who says he is in law school. Amazing.

    The point was to say that the public should not be paying wages to Wal-Mart workers. The number of Wal-Mart workers eligible for public assitance is outrageous. Us radicals on the left would say that a person working a full time job in the richest country ever to be on the face ot the Earth should not live in poverty to the point that they are eligible for public assistance. Wal-Mart pays part of the wages and you and I pay the rest. Then Wal-Mart gets to keep its prices lower, and keep more profits–therefore, people like me who refuse to step foot in a Wal-Mart are paying for Wal-Mart’s profits. Sounds like communism to me, but I don’t see your outrage. And if people who work at Wal-Mart were ineligible for public services, the people you think Wal-Mart is so benevolently letting have jobs would be less inclined to apply there and would find better jobs that actually pay them what they are worth.

    The point is that Wal-Mart should pay its workers, not the welfare rolls.

    Jay: I challenge you right now to tell us whether you support welfare for people who work at Wal-Mart. And, why, if Wal-Mart is such a great company, do they allow their workers to be so poor that they live in poverty?

  10. Erica says:

    Why don’t we take bets on how long it will be before Wal-Mart begins paying its employees in corporate truck?

  11. Jay Reding says:

    Jay: I challenge you right now to tell us whether you support welfare for people who work at Wal-Mart. And, why, if Wal-Mart is such a great company, do they allow their workers to be so poor that they live in poverty?

    Which ignores the fact that many people who work at Wal-Mart were on welfare long before they started working there. And a sizable percentage get off of welfare after working there. If Wal-Mart only hired rich white kids, then they’d have nobody on welfare, and tens of thousands of minority workers would have no jobs.

  12. Seth says:

    A person working a full time job in the United States of America should earn a salary that ensures they do not need public assistance. End of story. Work should pay off.