2012 November 04 Sunday
Razib Khan: Diminishing Marginal Returns From Social Liberalism

Razib Khan sees diminishing marginal returns from modern social liberalism. I think the returns are already negative and have been for some time.

Rather than a coldly elucidated set of principles in a Benthamite fashion modern social liberalism is fundamentally a movement of justice rooted in feeling. That everyone get a fair-go, that everyone can engage in their own personal project of self-actualization. But at some point this universal principle is going to hit diminishing marginal returns. In the 19th and early 20th century progressives argued for women’s suffrage. About half of the population. In the 1960s in the USA they argued for civil rights for racial minorities, and blacks in particular. On the order of 10 percent of the population of the day in the United States. Over the past generation they have argued for civil rights for homosexuals who identify as gay or lesbian. Being generous, this is probably on the order of 5 percent of the population (I am willing to accept the proposition that the self-identified ~2 percent value may be an underestimate).

Razib argues that modern social liberalism is running out of people to uplift. I would add that the amount of discrimination liberals are trying to stop per person has gotten much lower as well. The liberals need to help the transgendered more than the transgendered need to be helped for example. There's nothing like Jim Crow around and liberals are scraping to bottom of the barrel in trying to help victim groups. In the process they've created a legal system and tax system that are victimizing the productive.

In my view liberals need to become more like Benthamite utilitarians (though not like Panglossian libertarian Benthamites who exaggerate benefits and ignore costs) because liberalism has let lose social changes that cause large and growing external costs. A more utilitarian approach is also necessary because at the same time, we've got other forces at work which are raising the costs of maintaining civilization.

I question our ability to maintain a rate of innovation high enough to cancel out the rising costs of maintaining civilization. We've got natural resource, demographic, and other trends which are not sustainable. Liberals need to get over their belief that more personal freedom and social programs (e.g. education which has declining and probably negative marginal returns at this point) will lead to a better future. We can't afford these delusions any longer.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2012 November 04 09:02 PM 

Abelard Lindsey said at November 4, 2012 9:20 PM:

I view the battle against real discrimination and the major gains of social liberalism having been achieved by the early 80's. The liberal-left has run out of legitimate issues since this time. This is the reason for their "scraping the bottom of the barrel" over the past 30 years.

Daniel said at November 4, 2012 11:13 PM:

As if on cue, Joe Biden proclaimed last week that transgender rights are the "Civil rights issue of our time".


The last thing these transgender misfits need are civil rights. They need a psychiatric ward.

Black Death said at November 5, 2012 8:38 AM:

All true, but liberals will never buy it. They feel that racism and discrimination are everywhere, lurking just beneath the surface, always present and just as evil, but more subtle and difficult to expose. Trying to refute their ridiculous beliefs is about as effective as throwing bricks at a tank. Liberals quickly embrace such bogus racism events as Tawana Brawley, the Duke Rape Hoax or the recent episode of the black woman in Louisiana who set herself on fire and tried to blame the Ku Klux Klan. When these incidents are exposed as travesties, liberals take no notice, they just move on to the next Sacred Cause.

Toddy Cat said at November 5, 2012 9:14 AM:

"the battle against real discrimination and the major gains of social liberalism having been achieved by the early 80's"

At the latest, at the very, very latest. You could argue 1972 or 1965 as well.

James Bowery said at November 5, 2012 1:07 PM:

As long as we're engaging in wishful thinking:

Liberals need to get behind assortocracy: government by assortative migration where a “sort” is determined by shared causal hypotheses in human ecology formulated as a concise statement of law governing the territory for those mutually consenting to that law.

This means greater individual freedom, so Randall won't like it, but really conservatives need to get behind assortocracy with the same ruthlessness that necons have pursued American Exceptionalism:

If some "liberal" opposes the formation of a society that excludes from its territory people on any basis mutually agreed to by the "sort" founding it, conservatives need to be morally prepared to kill that "liberal". That is the kind of ruthless individualism that can prevent the on-going hypocritical promotion of group selectionism that can only end in total world domination by a eusocial superorganism that trades individual integrity for group integrity.

It also happens to be the only way that progress in the social sciences can be made.

Check it Out said at November 6, 2012 4:57 PM:

There are no conservatives in the United States. The United States does not have a conservative tradition. The people who call themselves conservatives, like the Heritage Foundation or Gingrich, are believers in -- are radical statists. They believe in a powerful state, but a welfare state for the rich.

Check it Out said at November 6, 2012 4:59 PM:

Take the elections for example: I mean, what's the elections? You know, two guys, same background, wealth, political influence, went to the same elite university, joined the same secret society where you're trained to be a ruler - they both can run because they're financed by the same corporate institutions. At the Democratic Convention, Barack Obama said, 'only in this country, only in America, could someone like me appear here.' Well, in some other countries, people much poorer than him would not only talk at the convention - they'd be elected president. Take Lula. The president of Brazil is a guy with a peasant background, a union organizer, never went to school, he's the president of the second-biggest country in the hemisphere. Only in America? I mean, there they actually have elections where you can choose somebody from your own ranks. With different policies. That's inconceivable in the United States.

Matthew Wolfinbarger said at November 6, 2012 6:03 PM:

Public racism (both in the sense of "public sector" and "in public") against nonwhites has been eliminated, and indeed reversed against whites. But private racism (both in the sense of "private sector" and "in private") against nonwhites is alive and well.

Unfortunately, like other forms of private discrimination (relevant for me: those with Aspberger's or Aspberger's traits, those with ADHD, those with social anxiety, those with lifestyles inconsistent with conventional morality*), private racial discrimination is hard to regulate effectively. Regulating hiring is hard enough; it's even harder to control one's personal/social choices. Perversely, the "diversity" nonsense in the workplace has resulted in a workplace where, for example, Asians are kept out b/c they don't fit into the old boys club, yet a person who makes a joke about Asians or any other minority can be fired or at least summarily demoted. Laws that have been intended to protect workers have often made things worse for workers, due extreme/stupid rules being made to prevent lawsuits. In any case, fear of lawsuits seems to be a frequent excuse for stifling company policies.

In the end, both big government and big business are my enemy and in my opinion, enemies of anyone who isn't at the very top, or near the bottom.

*These groups often do have real deficits in performance, especially in certain jobs (for Aspberger's and social anxiety, anything requiring sales-type skills, for ADHD and lifestyle, anything where consistency and reliability are more important than creativity and [in my case] intelligence). But in the U.S. particularly, I believe there is far more discrimination against these groups than is warranted by actual performance deficits.

In any case, while profit is certainly the main motivating factor for business, anybody who knows anything about organizational behavior, or even just about how power works in general, should realize that personality and personal moral beliefs play a substantial role in business decisions as well (just look at how differently retailers in the same line of business treat low-level theft, for example--some see it as simply an economic loss, others as a big moral affront).

Randall Parker said at November 7, 2012 8:21 PM:


Why do you believe the private sector is seriously discriminating against non-whites? What's your metric for reaching that conclusion? Compared east and south Asian income levels to white income levels in the US? I'm not seeing this discrimination as measured in dollars.

Old boys club: Where is it? I do not see it. Worked in any large corps lately?

joe said at November 8, 2012 5:15 PM:

social leftism is a distraction from economic leftism, and so therefore social leftism will be promoted in the media/entertainment/education industries.

SAVE THE GAY WHALES! is up next, and then when that is through, something else.

And all the while, universal healthcare, progressive taxation, slowing down the war machine and mass immigration, all true leftism, economic leftism etc, that will be shoved aside.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled pseudopolitical discussion, online idiots.

R. Ellenstein said at November 11, 2012 2:44 PM:

Corporations are fundamentally illegitimate, they don't have to exist at all in their modern form. Just as other oppressive institutions -slavery, say, or royalty- have been changed or eliminated, so corporate power can be changed or eliminated. What are the limits? There aren't any. Everything is ultimately under public control.

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