March 11, 2016
As I wrestle with the radically opposed views our people have come to so strongly hold, I increasingly feel that it comes down to a very few basic principles, which may be illustrated in the form of questions.
Regarding opportunity: (A) Do you believe many people need and deserve a helping hand, and with that, will contribute to society; or (B) that everyone can and should make it on her/his own if she/he only tries hard enough?
Regarding social services: Do you believe (A) that the majority of those in need are decent law abiding people who want to work and keep trying to find jobs: or (B) that the majority of those in need are happy to live off welfare and other social benefits?
Regarding immigrants: (A) Do you believe that most trying to get into our country (whether legally or illegally) are good people, just like you and me, and that they will contribute to our betterment, just as our immigrant forefathers did; or, (B) that far too many of them bring crime, terrorism, and steal jobs Americans need and want and we need to severely restrict immigration?
Regarding economics, which is most needed at this time: (A) Getting money into the hands of the people who will spend it and thus drive demand and motivate the wealthy to expand businesses and jobs; or (B) reducing taxes on businesses and the wealthy who will then invest in businesses and create jobs?
Regarding our federal government: (A) Do you believe a strong federal government is needed to assure safety, rules and regulations, health care, education and other basic services on a basis consistent across all states; or (B) do you believe the federal government is simply impossible to manage and we should turn most of these powers over to the states?
Regarding incentives: (A) Do you believe that those who succeed, regardless of whether by luck or genius, should share a portion of their wealth with others; or (B) that those who honestly become wealthy deserve to keep all of it and do with it as they will?
Regarding foreign conflict: (B) Do you believe the US should take the lead and intervene in foreign countries where human rights are at risk; or (A) do you believe the US should only do so as a last resort after negotiation and engaging agreement from other nations?
Regarding globalization: (A) do you believe we should work to extend foreign trade: or (B) that foreign trade only results in lost US jobs and we will be just fine without it?
Regarding taxes: (B) Do you believe that reducing taxes will stimulate the economy and create sufficient new jobs; or (A) that government intervention is some form of redistribution is needed to accomplish that?
My apologies if I have insufficiently disguised my own bias, which is now A in all cases. And a reader may rightfully observe that stating the above as A and B choices is far too simplistic. There are complexities. There are nuances. And those who are more liberal may nevertheless sometimes choose B over A, and vice versa, depending on their values. Some liberals who greatly fear for safety may oppose immigration just because there cannot be 100% assurance that not a single terrorist will slip in.
As I’ve tried to make my case for A with friends, I can’t see that I have changed anyone’s position. I have come to the conclusion that our biases are very deep seated. The Trump and Sanders campaigns seem to illustrate that a leader who speaks to such critical biases immediately garners a loyal following, regardless of the logic to support their proposed solutions. And once a strong public stance is taken by supporters, it’s near impossible to persuade one person to change. Facts don’t seem to matter. The bias trumps facts.
Our biases may come from parents, from environment, from education, or from personal experience. In my own case, my positions previously tended toward B on some points. I wasn’t influenced to change by arguments with friends, or from speeches, magazine articles or books. As to reading or TV, I think I gravitated to media which was consistent in bias with mine.
I was influenced deeply by only one thing. It was an extended experience. I went back to school for a year in my late 60s, studied beside 20 somethings, listened to all the lectures, wrote all the papers, took all the tests for credit. I had to study the core data, as opposed to just reading opinions from the Wall St. Journal and The Economist, which I came to see were full of the biases of those publications. I wish everyone had the interest and opportunity to go back to school and really dig into the data and the issues.
Americans are highly polarized. Our major differences begin with how we can better address inequality. How can we produce better jobs, enable better wage growth, while at the same time preserving the opportunity for our best and brightest (could be me, we all think) to strike it rich and not have to give most of it to the government.
Economics is not 100% of the answer, but it is a huge part of it. Would that all candidates for high office were required to take a basic economics course at a major university, and get a passing grade.
Of course, economists disagree over much. But some things are universally agreed among all economists. One of these is that there is ZERO possibility that US economic growth can be raised to the levels (6-10% GDP growth annually) to pay for the tax cut plans and the job growth promises of most of our candidates (e.g., Trump). Zero.
Much as we vilify government, it is the only tool we have by which we can come together to deal with that which is impossible for the private market alone to accomplish.