In a recent comment about neo-reaction (forget about that for now, this isn’t about neo-reaction), economist Arnold Kling says “a major role of political ideology is to attempt to adjust the relative status of various groups.” One outcome of this is that,
… every adherent to an ideology seeks to elevate the status of those who share that ideology and to downgrade the status of those with different ideologies. That is why it matters that journalists and academics are overwhelmingly on the left. This means that the institutions of the mass media and higher education are inevitably and relentlessly going to seek to lower the status of conservatives.
This is an astute observation that seems rather obvious when you think about it, for we all have certain groups whose status we want raised. (As Kling says, “I would like to elevate the status of people who work in the for-profit sector and reduce the status of people who work in the non-profit sector.”) What is interesting is that we rarely consider this question openly and honestly.
Whose status do I want to see raised? If I were being perfectly candid I’d probably say my own (as most of us would). But if I were allowed a more idealistic answer I’d say that, as a Christian and in the context of my work for Acton, I want to raise the status of three groups: the poor, the vulnerable, and consumers.
From a biblical perspective, the first two groups seem to be obvious choices. Scripture contains numerous admonitions for us to not only recognize the poor and economically vulnerable but also to advance their concerns. In a way, the same could be said for consumers, though the biblical case for protecting consumers is less clear and direct.
I believe the nineteenth-century French journalist Frédéric Bastiat was making a biblically defensible point when he said,
consumption is the great end and purpose of political economy; that good and evil, morality and immorality, harmony and discord, everything finds its meaning in the consumer, for he represents mankind.
I’ve argued for that claim before, so I won’t rehash that here. Instead I want to return to the original question and consider why it is useful for political discussions.
Most every political debate involve differences of opinion on the means of helping certain groups. But too often we elide over the question of who it is we want to help. By clarifying whose status we want to raise we can avoid some of the confusion and misunderstandings that arise because of ideological differences.
For instance, many progressives may assume that because I’m a free market-loving conservative that I want to raise the status of Big Business — when, more often than not, the reality is exact opposite. Big Business tends to favor crony capitalism, which harms both the poor, the vulnerable, and consumers — the three groups who I most want to protect. So I often find myself want to lower the status of large corporations in order to defend other groups.
Understanding my status concerns doesn’t mean that progressives will agree with me, of course. But we can improve policy debates by being honest about whose cause we are truly championing.
So let me leave you to answer that question for yourself: When it comes to economic policy, whose status do you most want to raise?