A Working Definition of Right-leaning versus Left-leaning

The Problem  

One of my economic students had a problem dealing with the many definitions circulating that attempt to describe what it means to be either right-leaning or left-leaning, in a political sense. She was confused trying to discern among the many voices she was hearing. For instance, many people today label the mainstream media as mostly left-leaning. What does that mean and does it matter?

That student wondered whether or not they should care if a news article is written from a right-leaning or left-leaning perspective, as long as the facts are correct. Bernard Goldberg wrote a good book about this subject, which book I recommend, called Bias. Please read the book, if you want a more detailed explanation as to why Goldberg thinks the journalist’s political perspective matters plenty.

My present intention is simply to distill the various arguments being made into a few useful identifiers that will allow clarity to enter this dialogue.

Left-leaning –

Wants larger government;

Looks for and supports government solutions to social and business problems;

Looks for additional government regulation;

Looks for government intervention in market prices, that is, setting price floors and price ceilings;

Looks for equality of results;

Sees government as the source of “rights”;

Sees government as enforcer;

Prefers the comfort of knowing what to expect;

Right-leaning –

Wants smaller government;

Looks for individual or market solutions to social problems;

Looks for less government regulation;

Likes the price signal sent by prices generated through relatively unfettered market competition and supply and demand interaction;

Looks for equality of opportunity;

Sees government as protector of “rights” that exist without government say so;

Sees government as a referee of a reasonable rule-of-law;

Enjoys the messiness of freedom and uncertainty;


Whatever the arguments espoused by so-called conservative politicians, or progressive politicians, or liberal politicians or ‘tea-party’ politicians, does not make their proposal left-leaning or right-leaning, as the fact is that a left-leaning politician can champion a right-leaning policy and a right-leaning politician can fight for a left-leaning policy.

What is useful to know is whether the policy being pushed is either right-leaning or left-leaning. Policies, not politicians determine the ‘leaning’ nature of the political ideology of the idea under consideration. Using this working definition provides all of us an easy way to measure the political bearing of political arguments and discussions.

Please allow me to differentiate between reasonable government regulation enforced under a reasonable rule-of-law, with government administered justice applied blindly and evenly to all offenders and government price intervention – which government price intervention by definition is a left-leaning policy. This is not the same as the government serving as a referee or an enforcer of a reasonable rule-of-law. The phrase “government intervention” is sometimes inappropriately applied to government regulation.

The founding fathers set up a limited government, which is not necessarily the same as a small government. To ascertain the right-leaning and left-leaning nature of a policy requires we must first look at the facts on the ground today and then choose how we move the American Economy to a different point in the future by implementing policy.

There absolutely must be reasonable government regulations applied appropriately to free market transactions operating with a reasonable rule-of-law and this notion of reasonable regulation is not really a right-leaning or left-leaning issue, per se.

Like Richard Epstein points out, he is not a Libertarian calling for zero government regulation. Instead Epstein and each of us wants to have what each of us judges to be the right level of government regulation, to make free markets work the most efficiently and effectively they can.


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