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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New ‘Culture War’ Addresses Fairness of Wealth Allocation

Jonathan Haidt has an interesting post, “Of Freedom and Fairness: The new culture war is about economic issues, and the side that better sells its idea of fairness will have the upper hand” up at Democracy Journal. With the old culture war moving off center stage, Haidt argues that,

…Economic issues such as taxation are moral issues–no less so than social issues like gay marriage–and neither side has full control of the key moral foundations that underlie economic morality: fairness and liberty. Both sides are vulnerable to being outflanked and outgunned. Both sides could use a detailed map of the moral ground on which economic battles are waged.
In this essay I offer such a map, showing the territory currently controlled by Democrats (equality and positive liberty) and by Republicans (proportionality and negative liberty). What remains up for grabs is “procedural fairness”: the integrity of the process by which we decide who gets what. Both parties are open to charges that they don’t want everyone to “play by the same rules.” Both parties have ways of answering this charge and persuading the broader public that its concept of fairness is the better one. The party that wins that point will have the upper hand in this new culture war.

Haidt sets out to probe the moral foundations of political choice with respect to economic policy-making, noting the “taste buds of the moral mind: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation…I wanted to find out if left and right in the United States were in some sense different nations, each with its own set of beliefs, facts, and values.” He adds,

To find out, my colleagues and I created a website at www.YourMorals.org, where we posted more than 60 psychological surveys and experiments. More than 300,000 people have completed one or more of those surveys. When people register at the site, they indicate their political orientation on a seven-point scale running from “very liberal/left” to “very conservative/right,” with additional options for “don’t know” and “libertarian.” The results on our most basic survey, the “Moral Foundations Questionnaire,” support our basic prediction that liberals rely primarily on the first three foundations, whereas social conservatives use all six. People who identify as libertarian, or who say that they are liberal on social issues but conservative on economic issues, tend to look more like liberals–they have little use for the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations. Where these “economic conservatives” differ from liberals is in having much lower scores on the Care/Harm foundation–they dislike the “bleeding heart” attitude often seen on the left.

It’s a long post and Haidt has a lot more to say on the topic, and pinpoints some potential trouble spots for Dems down the road, such as perceptions about Dems protecting trial lawyers and affirmative action. He concludes,

Andrew Jackson’s campaign slogan from 1820 seems apt for our time: “Equal opportunity for all, special privileges for none.” If Democrats can manage the pivot from race to class in the coming years, and can make the argument for how and why government programs should be used to create positive liberty for the poor, in ways that violate neither proportionality nor the negative liberty of others, they’ll be able to reclaim Jackson’s slogan. It will be an inspiring banner for them to wave in the new culture war over fairness and liberty.

Indeed, effective messaging rooted in shared morally-sound values about economic fairness will be critical for Dems in the near future — as will economic performance.

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