What Is Resentment?
By Bryan Caplan
My Simplistic Theory of Left and Right states that “The left is anti-market.” There are three recurring critiques of my claim.
1. “Most leftists don’t hate markets.” I agree, but I never said that. You can be anti-X without hating X; indeed, this is normally true. When I say “The left is anti-market,” I’m claiming that when left-leaning people think about markets, their primary emotion is the much milder one of resentment.
2. “Most leftists don’t resent markets at all; we just have the following list of complaints about markets.” This would be a fine response if the list of complaints were mild. It would be pretty convincing if the typical leftist accepted half of the popular complaints about markets, but eagerly denied the other half. And it would be a great criticism if the standard leftist view were, “Markets are awesome, but regulation and a safety net make them even more awesome.” But attitudes in these ballparks are rare. One of my left-leaning friends approvingly quoted Bernie Sanders to show that even the Bern vocally appreciates markets:
A market economy is beneficial for productivity and economic freedom.
But if we let the quest for profits dominate society; if workers become
disposable cogs of the financial system; if vast inequalities of power
and wealth lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless; then
the common good is squandered and the market economy fails us.
But to my ears, Sanders words are resentment incarnate (and if there’s video of the speech, I strongly suspect his facial expression is non-happy during this entire passage). These are all big complaints – and he clearly thinks the U.S. and other modern market economies instantiate them. His complaints look even bigger if you remember that modern market economies already have well-developed programs and regulations intended to address these concerns, but Bernie’s still deeply dissatisfied. There’s no sign that he rejects any popular complaint about markets; instead, he eagerly adopts whatever complaints he can get his hands on. And he certainly isn’t saying his policies make markets “even more awesome”; instead, he’s saying that markets without the added checks he favors are simply bad.
Not convinced? Picture anything you consider basically good, but less than perfect. Say, moms. What emotional state would you ascribe to a person who said…
Mothers are beneficial for gestation and care-taking. But if we let the quest for maternal pride dominate the family; if children become disposable cogs of the after-school activities system; if vast inequalities of power and desserts lead to marginalization of the young and powerless; then the common good is squandered and motherhood fails us.
Frankly, this sounds like someone with dire Mommy Issues. Even if they insist they’re not “anti-mom,” neutral observers will understandably label them as such.
3. “Leftists aren’t anti-market, because our complaints are justified.” My Simplistic Theory isn’t intended to judge whether any ideology is true or reasonable. When it says, “The right is anti-left,” it doesn’t mean, “The right is more anti-left than appropriate.” Similarly, when it says, “The left is anti-market,” it doesn’t mean “The left is more anti-market than appropriate.” In both cases, I’m simply stating that each side feels resentment for something. Describing the enduring commonalities of left and right is hard enough without trying to simultaneously evaluate the ideologies.