In Galbraith's Economics in perspective. A critical history (a spanish edition, bear that in mind), by chapter 2 the author says:

The conservatives, in a non-socialist economy, proclaim the right to private propery, while the leftist socialist (liberals, in the american jargon) proclaim energically, but cautiously, the superior interest of the State or the colective

Original English text (1987):

The conservative in the nonsocialist economy stands with unthinking eloquence for "the rights of private property," while those on the social left — liberals, in American parlance — contentiously but cautiously assert the higher claims of the state or the public interest.

I understand that (roughly) non-socialist$\implies$the State does not intervene$\implies$individualism and private property and also that socialist$\implies$the State does intervene$\implies$colectivism (but not necesarilly negating private property)

I do not understand the leftist socialists = liberals in the american jargon probably because I don't really understand what leftist and liberal mean.

Can someone clarify the sentence please (from an economical point of view)?

Also please bear in mind that the sentence could be terribly translated (from spanish) and that I'm only begining to read about these topics and not yet familiar with the type of reasoning used in social sciences.

Thanks! and please add whatever tags you think are needed

  • $\begingroup$ To clarify, you are asking what Galbraith meant by these phrases, not what others do or what the current meaning of these phrases are, correct? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Mar 27 '20 at 18:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Giskard exactly. But any answer also including a modern meaning is welcome $\endgroup$ Mar 27 '20 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ I would recommend that you do not welcome answers about the modern meaning, you may attract some very political people. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Mar 27 '20 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Giskard I won't accept answers with only the modern meaning. I want yo know what the author wants to say when he said it $\endgroup$ Mar 27 '20 at 22:14

There is a discussion of this in the Wikipedia article “Modern Liberalism in the United States”. Although the objective of this site is to offer more authoritative answers, I think the Wikipedia article is adequate for giving context, as this is really a question about politics, not economics as it is understood now.

The key point is that Europeans and Americans use “liberalism” differently, as was explained in a 1956 essay by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. link to essay.

The European usage emphasises freedom of commerce, which is normally referred to as libertarianism in the United States. This is a philosophy that is tied to a specific vision of the economy.

The American version of liberalism emphasises other non-economic rights, and in fact favours the welfare state. This is as about as close to “collectivism” that you get in “mainstream” American politics (e.g., the Democratic Party). (Bernie Sanders is a notable exception, and is unusual as an elected American politician that self-identifies as a socialist.)

I’d argue that American Liberalism is not very well defined in an economic context, other than being less free market oriented than the Republican Party. However, that could cover almost the entire political spectrum of some other countries, like Canada (where I’m from).

(Left and Right are terms that came out of French politics, and the meaning depends upon the country. The left is usually collectivist.)


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