For too long, wealthy people have been in charge of leftism. Two hundred years ago when industrial workers had no education to speak of and were being heavily exploited, it made sense for the wealthy to dominate leftism because the workers had neither the time nor the learning to analyze their situation. Wealthy leftists did have the time and learning, and they decided that capitalism was the problem. Now I’ve already argued against this (here, here, and here), since the alleged evils of capitalism will arise even in the absence of capitalism. But there are other problems. For example, industrial workers were by no means the only poor people. There were also servants (especially scullery maids), peasants, and the unemployed. Exactly how any of these people were going to be helped by attacking capitalism and allowing the workers to “own the means of production” isn’t at all clear, since at least some of these people weren’t really under the control of capitalists. Finally, there were big problems with the solutions leftists provided: socialism or communism.
I want to start afresh by looking at this problem from the eyes of the poor, and I want to start by asking, What is it that poor people want? That is quite simple: They want to be rich. Since this often isn’t possible, poor people settle for something less: They want to get out of poverty. Now when we look at what actual poor people do, we see that poor people are willing to relocate in order to escape poverty, but they almost never go to the countries that are dominated by the systems espoused by rich people's leftism (RPL). They almost never go to communist countries or even socialist countries. Instead, they have gone to rich countries that seemed to have opportunities for them to get money. In the nineteenth century, my ancestors, who (as far as I can tell) were all poor, came to America in order to escape poverty, and all of them had the satisfaction of escaping poverty themselves or seeing their children do it. Today, we see many people from Latin America come to America in order to escape poverty. They could go to countries like Cuba, Venezuela, or Bolivia where Spanish is spoken, where the culture is similar to the culture of their own countries, and where the economic systems are set up to help the poor according to the ideas of RPL, but they prefer to come to America, where the main language is English, where the culture is very different from what they are used to, and where the economic system is capitalistic.
Elsewhere, poor Indians migrate to Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Persian Gulf, poor Filipinos go to Taiwan, and many poor Africans go to Europe. Only the last of these cases supports RPL, for the countries of Europe are more socialized than the other destinations of the poor, but this is the exception that proves the rule, since in this case what attracts poor Africans isn’t Europe’s socialism but its wealth. Let Europe suffer a severe economic depression, and most would-be immigrants from Africa would stay home or look elsewhere.
So, the basic goal of the poor is to escape poverty, and they are indifferent as to whether the system in which they achieve this is capitalistic, socialistic, or communistic. They simply want money, and it is much more likely that a capitalist economy will have that in abundance than that other systems will.
It also helps when the poor have a good education that expands their opportunities, as well as political powers (in the form of voting) that gives them a voice. Here in the United States, we long ago gave workers political power in the form of voting and an education that allows them to rise. Both of these have made the United States a more worker-friendly country than was the case anywhere two hundred years ago. The conclusion, then, is that America is far better for the poor than its critics make it out to be.
What, then, is the best way to help the poor? It’s to ensure that it’s fairly easy to get out of poverty. Generally, this means that there should be plenty of jobs available for poor people. Ideally, there would also be low-interest loans for any poor person who has a good idea for starting a business, and there would be some sort of help when setbacks occur, as they often do. However, none of this need be done through the government, or if it is, it would be done by local government rather than the federal government.
With this new approach in mind, let me contrast Rich People’s Leftism (RPL) with Poor People’s Leftism (PPL).
RPL thinks that its goal is to help poor people, while PPL thinks that RPL’s primary goal is to ensure that wealthy leftists dominate and get great jobs.
RPL favors equality and so rejects upward mobility. PPL favors upward mobility via capitalism, since it sees that “egalitarian” schemes never work and are really disguised hierarchies with wealthy leftists at the top.
RPL respects wealthy liberals for wanting to help the poor. PPL observes that these wealthy liberals ensure that they are well paid for what they do and prefers to support wealthy conservatives, who at least are honest about where they are coming from.
RPL thinks capitalism is horrible, while socialism or even communism is best. PPL thinks that capitalism is fine or at worst a necessary evil, while socialism and communism, since the best jobs in such systems usually go to the wealthy, are nothing but systems that allow wealthy leftists to assuage their feelings of guilt about being wealthy while not actually doing anything for the poor.
RPL thinks it’s a bad thing that America has never had a viable socialist party. PPL thinks it’s a good thing, since socialism does little to help the poor.
RPL likes the idea of a revolution that would throw out the wealthy capitalists. PPL doesn’t like the idea of such a revolution because it would mean that (1) a lot of people would be murdered, and (2) wealthy conservatives at the top would be replaced by wealthy leftists, while the poor would remain poor.
RPL thinks that huge inequalities in income and wealth are bad, while PPL thinks that a lack of job opportunities that allow the poor to escape from poverty is bad.
RPL thinks that poor people can be afflicted with false consciousness when they fail to see that RPL is the answer to their problems. PPL thinks that the concept of false consciousness applies when poor people accept RPL instead of PPL.
RPL thinks a redistribution of wealth is wonderful, while PPL thinks that the reason that RPL thinks it is wonderful is because a lot of that money gets diverted towards rich leftists.
RPL likes high taxes so that the government can form a lot of agencies to help the poor. PPL thinks that all those agencies will be staffed by wealthy liberals, and it is tired of paying taxes so that wealthy liberals can get great jobs.
RPL sees government as the solution, while PPL sees government as sometimes helpful, sometimes hurtful.
RPL claims to be against private property, while PPL thinks that this is hypocrisy since in any “egalitarian” scheme, those at the top will get to enjoy private property while those lower down will not.
RPL thinks that “profit” is a bad word, while PPL thinks it’s a good word.
RPL thinks nationalizing an industry is a great move to help the workers. PPL thinks it’s a bad move because it does nothing to help the workers and merely replaces one set of bosses with another.
RPL thinks that socialism is the world’s future and that capitalism is doomed to die. PPL thinks that, as Margaret Thatcher has observed, socialism will sooner or later run out of someone else’s money, while capitalism will continue to thrive, as is shown by the fact that it allows for a constant influx of poor immigrants who can be integrated into the system.
RPL thinks that regulation of the financial industry is good because it helps the little people. PPL thinks that regulation does nothing since new tricks can be thought up all the time and that the better solution is to educate people about finance.
RPL is soft on crime, since it represents an attack on an immoral system, while PPL is hard on crime, since it generally just hurts the poor more than it hurts the system.
RPL thinks that “rebelling against the system” is wonderful. PPL thinks that this is a wonderful game for rich kids, but that it can severely hurt poor kids, making them unemployable and otherwise screwing up their lives.
RPL likes trial lawyers, because they go after corporations, and hates McDonalds and WalMart, because they exploit their workers. PPL likes McDonalds and WalMart, because they offer low prices which help most of the poor, and hates trial lawyers, since the increase in prices they cause hurts most of the poor.
RPL thinks that voting Republican is going over to the dark side. PPL thinks that voting Republican is a useful way to keep the people who favor RPL in line.
RPL thinks foreign aid to poor countries is good. PPL thinks that foreign aid is bad because it takes money from poor people in the First World and gives it to rich people in the Third World.
RPL complains about privileged white males, but PPL complains that the phrase “privileged white males” ignores important class differences among white males.
RPL hates the military, while PPL likes it, since it represents an opportunity for poor people.
RPL hates guns, while PPL respects them.
RPL is enraged at Sarah Palin, while PPL likes her because she seems to favor PPL over RPL.
RPL thinks it’s terrible that so many black men are in prison today. PPL blames the whole situation on mistakes from the Sixties, which RPL is reluctant to acknowledge.
RPL thinks that the changes that have been made in the schools since the Sixties are wonderful. PPL thinks that these changes are awful and have made it harder for poor people to get out of poverty.
RPL blames the high cost of college on the right, while PPL blames it on RPL because the inevitable increase in bureaucracy that is needed to implement their vision adds to the costs of college.
RPL wants affirmative action for race and gender, but not class background. PPL thinks that if there should be affirmative action at all, then it should include class background as well as race and gender.
RPL loves newspapers like the New York Times, while PPL thinks they cater too much to wealthy leftists (and what they think about the poor) and not enough to the actual poor.
RPL loves the idea of tenure in academia, while PPL thinks it’s just another way that RPL guarantees that wealthy liberals will get great jobs.
RPL thinks being green is important and good, while PPL thinks that being green often means small or no sacrifices for rich people but big sacrifices for poor people.
RPL likes mass transit, because it’s better for the environment. PPL is lukewarm about mass transit and wants to help poor people escape it and get cars.
RPL hates offshore drilling because of the potential environmental problems. PPL likes offshore drilling because it helps the poor by keeping the price of gas low while at the same time providing jobs for poor people.
When RPL sees an environmental problem, its first instinct is to restrict people’s freedom. When PPL sees an environmental problem, its first instinct is to look for a technological solution.
PPL is like the main character in the movie Bedazzled (the 1967 version). After selling his soul to the devil and getting a bunch of wishes which don’t turn out well, he manages to escape from the devil’s clutches, and when the devil comes calling again, he says basically, "Thanks, but no thanks." PPL says to RPL, “Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll do things our own way.”