Politics. Left & Right: Merit = Wealth?

The labels ‘left’ and ‘right’ date back to French Revolution in 1789, but that history hardly conveys what the terms mean today. This post reviews that original concept and history, and looks further into how the concepts have evolved into todays positions of ‘left’ and ‘right’. This post starts discussion on how the concepts apply in politics today, and while using Australia as an example, the principles are quite applicable globally.

  • Example of Right Ideology
  • Example of Left Ideology
  • The Implications: Merit = Wealth?
  • The Centre
  • Case Study: Tennis & Effort vs Merit vs Wealth
  • The Politics of Envy: Who Should run a country?
  • Conclusion: Australian Election

Example Of the Right Ideology

The leader of the Coalition ‘right’ party in the coming federal election in Australia has a motto: ‘a fair go for those who have a go’. This could be interpreted as ‘financial success for those who try hard and earn their success’.

The policy to deliver this ‘fair go’ is to keep taxes flatter for the highest earners, because it seems illogical to tax people at a higher rate simply because the work harder.

Example of the Left Ideology

The Labor Party (left) wants to have higher taxes on the ‘top end of town’, in order to fund greater social welfare. Their plan is that those who can most affort it, should contribute more to society.

The Implications: Merit = Wealth?

The position of the ‘right’ of a ‘fair go for those who have a go’ being achieved by tax reductions for the highest earners, is that the highest earners are those who are ‘having a go’. Logically it follows that those on lower incomes are clearly not sufficiently ‘having a go’. The position of the right is that merit can be determined by wealth as those ‘who have a go’ will enivably aquire wealth.

The right: Merit = Wealth undefined

The position of the left that those who have less wealth may be deseving more, for example increasing health for all from common (taxed) funding are taking the oppostie position.

The left: Merit = Wealth undefined

Truth is that given all else is equal, for two individuals who have the same opportunity, skill set and training, the individual working harder should generate more wealth. However, in world where globaly inequality is on the increase, all else is rarely equal. In fact, wealth already in place may have a bigger impact on the generation of further wealth than merit. So determining merit through wealth may only be possible if everyone starts with the same initial wealth.

The Centre.

The most extremes views are that merit can always be determined soley by wealth in all cases (extreme right) , on the other extreme, that there is absolutely no link (or perhaps an inverse link?) between merit and wealth in all cases(extreme left). The left argue that as current wealth may also be determined by initial wealth or ‘privilege’, any link is at least unreliable in practice. Political parties are almost all somewhere on this continuum between the extreme views, generally major parties being just to the left, of right, of a central balanced view. Most major parties have member who do believe that there both cases where wealth is linked to merit, and cases where wealth is not linked to merit.

The ‘top end of town’ is the same group the right identifies as, logically, the hardest working! The left often believes that same group are those who have enjoyed initial privilege. The right wants to give them even more incentive, the left to tax them. The debate between left and right often becomes a debate about just how true is the statement that the wealthy represent those of greatest merit, and the hardest working.

The ‘right’ is not normally so extreme as to believe that only those who prosper are deserving of reward, and the ‘left’ is not normally so extreme as to believe sucess should not be celebrated. While a very extreme right would logically channel all further resources and rewards to those students or athletes who already perform well, a very extreme left would resist giving ribbons for coming first in a running race and insist on only having participation awards.

In Australia, and most countries, the ‘right’ and ‘left’ parties are both a balance of ‘left’ and ‘right’, with the differnce between parties being the perception of where the correct balance lies. The Coalition party in Australia has a mixture of members

Case Study: Tennis & Effort vs Merit vs Wealth.

Consider the ‘sport’ of professional tennis as a model, as results in this profession are very public. Roger Federer has the greatest earnings in the sport, but does it follow that there is not one single other player that works as hard at the sport as he does? At the very highest level, all players do all work hard. Just below that highest level there seem to be some individuals who work less, still most of that next tier group work as hard as the highest tier. Below that very top tier, as you move down the rankings it does not seem that the number who fail to apply themselves fully increases.

The link between wealth and merit is not purely that effort = merit, but also that talent = merit. Almost all agree that the best male player should earn the greatest wealth…but how much greater than a lower player providing the same effort is the subject of debate. Should the top ranked female player earn the same as the top ranked male player, even if that male player would win a match between the two is alse the subject of debate. Again, this is somewhat a debate between ‘right’ and ‘left’ ideologies.

The best predictor of tennis ranking, and therefore pay, is seen as talent, not work ethic. Work ethic does play a role, but not the only role. Another component is opportunity. The rare opportunity to be coached at tennis, in an elite tennis facilty, from a young age is a far more decisive selector of who succeed than almost any other factor. This model from tennis is quite relevant to most careers, and the opportunity to even have a tennis career, can also apply to most careeers.

The Politics of Merit & Envy: Who Should People Vote For?

Political parties all sit somewhere on the spectrum between extreme left and right.

It would seem obvious that the rich would believe wealth does result from merit and they should not be taxed just to distribute their wealth to those who do not merit that wealth. Thus they should vote for the right.

It would also seem obvious those who are not part of the group who are extremely wealthy should believe in the ‘Robin Hood’ approach of more taxes for the wealthy and desire more distribution of wealth. Thus they will vote for the left.

However, sometimes the wealthy do feel they should contribute more and is their wealth should be used to help more. In fact there is an interesting trend in which groups of the wealthy tend to feel this way, but that will be saved for another post.

Counterbalancing that “some rich voting to help the society overall rather than focus on helping the rich”, we have some from outside the wealth group voting to focus on more benefits for that wealthy group. The motives include:

  • that voting to distribute wealth is the ‘politics of envy’ and even those who are not part of that wealthy group indeed do not deserve to part of the wealthy group
  • the wealthy group has earnt the most merit and the more we empower those of greatest merit the better for all
  • These people are most practiced at generating wealth and voting against policies to most empower the wealthy is voting against generating wealth
  • People who propose moving to the left are inherently incapable of managing things as evidenced by them voting for taxing those who are proven managers

The end result is it is not always obvious how any group will vote.

Conclusion: Australian Election?

The Australian election should be a poll on ‘have we moved too far to the right as a society”, but it is more complex. Most do seem to agree the answer to the question is yes, but still they fear change. Even though we may have moved too far to the right, many may feel, and are being encouraged to feel, that there is a financial cost to any change to this trend. Even if the current trend is that only the rich are getting richer, and most people are getting poorer, we need to stay on that trend as any other path is a risk.

So the election will be as much a question on how many people fear change, as it is poll on if the current direction is working.

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