Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writing On Politics

I was asked

Why haven't you been writing much about politics lately? Surely it is a meaty topic given the upcoming election?

I haven't written much recently because I have had company.

Another reason why I have not written much on politics is because I want to create a definitive site on desirism - which I have been doing at a desirism wiki I will be returning to.

However, a third reason I have avoided writing about politics is because it is extremely frustrating and depressing.

A couple of decades ago, there was a faction of the Republican Party that felt that it was very important to provide and support institutions that provided people with food, shelter, health care, security, and opportunities to live their lives as best they could. These were not government solutions - which were prone to corruption and bureaucratic inefficiencies. They were private solutions offered within a framework that guaranteed that people treated each other fairly and honestly and peacefully.

It is a faction that would look at Africa as a model of leftist aid and intervention where things have gotten no better in 30 years, and at China where the economy was freed up and hundreds of millions of people were lifted out if poverty, and say, "See! That is what I am talking about." It is a faction that would have celebrated the fact that hundreds of millions of people living in China had better access to health care, better access to education, more freedom, and opportunities than their parents thought possible. It would have told Democrats, "If you care about doing real good in the real world, that is how it is done."

It would not accuse Democrats as being evil or of wanting nothing but to destroy America. It would accuse Democrats as being naïve - as having good intentions but as failing to recognize that the good they are trying to do is being swallowed up by corruption and inefficient bureaucratic centralized planning.

That Republican faction probably still exists, but I have trouble seeing it.

Now, the Republican Party is the favorite of those who promote fantasy over reality. They deny the findings of science and, in doing so, promote policies that would may work in the fantasy world of their imagination, but that have no place in the real world.

I compare them to a person stepping out onto the street having faith that the truck heading their way does not exist. The person who steps out onto the street ignoring reality deserves what she gets. However, these reality-free Republicans insist on dragging the rest of us onto the street as well - and the effect on our children will be disastrous.

This earlier faction held that it was great to seek personal wealth, but not in ways harmful to others. Killing others for profit was not considered a part of "free trade". Force and fraud were condemned. Theft was considered a moral crime and legitimately made the subject of criminal punishment as well.

Consequently, poisoning the air and water - or filling the atmosphere with chemicals that would destroy the life, health, and property of others - was immoral and ought to be illegal. It does not matter how wealthy it made the person causing harm to others - that was not a legitimate way to make a living. In the language of the day these harms were called "negative externalities." To the degree that negative externalities existed, to that degree the economy was suffering from inefficiencies - failing to produce the best results.

These points were central to a form of economic organization called the "free market". This term was once used to refer to a system where countless private transactions ended up promoting the overall public good. However, for this to happen, force and fraud had to be prohibited and costs and benefits had to be internalized. Where force or fraud was permitted or costs and benefits were not internalized, people had an opportunity to gain personally at the expense of others, or failed to invest their time and resources efficiently.

Consequently, governments were used to punish force and fraud in the market place, and to see to it as much as possible that the costs and benefits of goods and services reflected the total social cost by internalizing the cost of negative and positive externalities.

However, this "free market" interests very few people in today's Republican Party.

Today's party is dominated by people who think it is perfectly legitimate to do harm to others in the course of pursuing profits. It labels any attempt to prevent people from poisoning the air or the water, or to internalize the costs others must face as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, as "government intervention" that must be condemned. In doing so, they condemn the free market itself, favoring instead some new system that they ALSO call a "free market" (since market research shows that this name helps to confuse people and get them to buy into this alternative to the free market).

Today's party shows little respect for truth.

Some of Romney's campaign statements are flat-out lies - like the lie that President Obama attempted to eliminate the work requirements for welfare. This was a claim that Romney used in a recent commercial and continued to use even after it was shown to be false.

In Romney's first political advertisement, he had a clip of Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." Actually, what Obama had said was, "[McCain's] campaign actually said, and I quote, 'if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.' " The shortened clip in the commercial was not an innocent mistake. It was a lie. It using it, Romney identified himself as a liar when there was still pleanty of time for the Republican Party to select a more honest person into the role of Republican standard bearer. However, Republicans did not care enough about truth to condemn this action.

The claim here is not the Republicans must not make mistakes or that Democrats do not lie. Any response among these lines misses the point. It would not matter if the Democrats spoke nothing but lies - that does not give Republicans permission to care nothing for the truth. The faction I am writing about would not accept, "Democrats lie so Republicans can lie, too." Instead, it would accept, "Republicans, at the very least, ought to care about the truth and condemn lying, not only when Democrats lie, but when other Republicans lie as well."

They were not hypocrits that called something evil when done by a Democrat but turned a blind eye when Republicans committed the same evils.

It was a faction that felt that people can make their best decisions when they are accurately and fully informed of the facts of the matter. Attempts to manipulate people through deception might provide some short-term benefit but, in the long run, promoted a culture of deception that would harm society. It was not to be done, and was not to be condoned.

For the same reason, that former Republican faction liked to base their conclusions on the evidence. It should be possible to be a conservative and, at the same time, believe that human activities are increasing the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and that this is warming the planet. This should be no more difficult than being a conservative and believing that a bullet fired into the brain of an individual tends to severely impair brain function. Scientific facts are neither conservative nor liberal.

In the faction that I once knew, a person could accept these facts and still believe that a market that is free of force and fraud, where costs and benefits were internalized, and where people were permitted to freely negotiate and trade among themselves as fully and accurately informed agents produced the best overall solutions. It reduced poverty, promoted education, and gave the most people access to the best medical care.

Today, to be a conservative, you have to deny reality. You have to pretend that greenhouse gasses produce no ill effects - as well as deny evolution, deny the fact that the universe is more than 10000 years old, deny research into the effects of giving young people accurate information about the reproductive system, rewrite American history so as to support the myth that the founding fathers wanted a Christian nation and brand its advocates heroes even after much of their research has been shown to be fraudulent, and think that we can control the frequency and course of hurricanes by altering laws regarding homosexuality, abortion, and school prayer.

However, there now seems to be a faction in the Democratic party - still young - that says, "You know, what matters is fighting poverty, promoting widespread access to quality health care, promoting freedom, and giving people opportunities. And if this system can accomplish these ends, perhaps it is worth looking at." It is a weak voice at the moment. It is currently hard to tell whether the Republicans will take these people back, or the Democrats will make room for them.

I find it hard to write about politics these days because people on one side of the political isle considers an evidence-based conservate to be a traitor, and the other constantly misinterprets what they write to cast them as members of the now-ruling faction of the Republican party.

But, perhaps, those are the very same reasons why it should be done.


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mojo.rhythm said...


You sound like an old-school Rockefeller Republican. Would that be accurate?

mojo.rhythm said...

By the way,

I don't think it is fair to compare China and Africa. They are not exactly a ceteris paribus situation.

Moreover, China's market liberalization has only gone so far. Their state sector is still absolutely enormous and very interventionist, going light-years beyond nightwatchman duties and basic poverty reduction programs. If anything, your comparison, at best, only pushes the case for partial neo-liberal reforms.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I would not qualify as a Rockefeller Republcan. There is an argument for wealth redistribution - namely, inequalities in wealth allow thipose who ave more to bid resources away from those who value them more but are too poor to bid for them.

Three Problems with Capitalism

However, respecting the fact that there are problems with capitalism does not require me to be blind to the problems with alternative systems.