Thursday, September 18, 2008

On social liberalism

I mostly vote for the Social Democrats, occasionally also for the Greens - in the last election in Finland I seriously considered our (very) moderate Conservative Party (Kokoomus) and still remember fondly the Young Finns of the early and mid-nineties (as overly market enthusiastic as they were). But none of these parties correspond very exactly with my own social liberal preferences though you certainly can find bits and pieces in all of them. Social Democracy is of course the closest equivalent with its historical compromise with market economy and its very effective combination of social justice with dynamic economy (that is now under ever increasing threat). Still, the socialist ethos has never felt very close to me with those certain even quite crude anti-elitist tendencies and mindsets of the tradition (the Finnish term is much more descriptive – “herraviha”). Perhaps that also comes from my Southern Ostrobothnian background , the naturally egalitarian and self-confident Province certainly has never felt the need to envy anyone or to harbour bitter grudges over generations…

For me equality is essentially the equality of opportunity. And it doesn’t mean that if one poor child out of a thousand that combines talent with luck succeeds that we would have achieved the equality of opportunity. As we well know, both talent and luck are equally distributed among both poor and wealthy children, so what we need is a fair chance for all poor children. And this then really needs certain strong social democratic structures to be established in the society: significant income redistribution, mixed economy, strong safety nets, progressive taxation, open high quality education and health care systems and so on. But the goal cannot be the forced equality of outcome – we naturally do have different talents, different luck, even different natures and inclinations. A free and fair social competition will produce relative losers and winners – this is both inevitable and beneficial. We need to guard against the elites that will always have the human instinct for monopolies and shutting down of the competition but we also need to guard against too forceful and also in itself elitistic levelling of the society. So, liberty is the highest value for me, not equality (as crucial as it is), but a society cannot be free unless a great majority of its citizens have a level playing field and are free to pursuit success according to their own inclinations and capabilities.

2 comments:

Topi said...

Perhaps you're an Ahtisaari social democrat, he doesn't harbor grudges, he brings people together.

stockholm slender said...

Well, I'm certainly not what passes for a conservative in these modern times though both Burke and Oakeshott are thinkers that I respect. So is Hayek but definitely not Friedman. In many ways moderate social democracy is close to my preferences, so Ahtisaari is certainly a positive figure though I've never seen him essentially political or ideological at all.