« Why Was I Not Informed Of This??? | Main | Bin Laden Success Yet Another Thing Obama Inherited from Bush »

April 30, 2012

Good Reads

Arnold Kling, who has been reading several of the same books the Editorial Staff are currently reading, sums up the authors' key points particularly well:

In a political debate, you feel like the other side just doesn’t get your point of view, and if they could only see things with your clarity, they would understand and fall naturally in line with what you believe. They must not understand, because if they did they wouldn’t think the things they think.

By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is–stupid. You don’t need to hear them elaborate. So, each side believes they understand the other side better than the other side understands both their opponents and themselves.

Haidt examines this belief that we understand our opponents and he finds it to be incorrect. We are not very good at predicting the moral reasoning of our opponents.

Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as "very liberal."

One may speculate as to why liberals might show the least understanding of their ideological opponents. However, the important point is that neither side understands the other very well. Hardly anyone could pass what economist Bryan Caplan calls the “ideological Turing test.”

In Caplan's test, I would have to appear on a panel with several of my ideological opponents. My goal would be to articulate their point of view so sympathetically that an audience of ideological opponents could not distinguish my views from those of the other panelists.

What the psychological research shows is that most partisans would be extremely unlikely to pass such a test, because we fail to understand the nuances of others' points of view as well as we think we do.

The psychology of moral reasoning leads me to question my own partisanship. The arguments I make for my point of view are likely to be rationalizations. I am likely to value my group identity, leading me to scrutinize opposing points of view to find errors while I overlook flaws in my allies' reasoning.

When I make a case for my point of view, I am likely to reinforce the bonds with my allies but only alienate further those with whom I disagree. When we encounter opposing points of view, we are unlikely to maintain an open mind; instead, our instinct is to look for weaknesses and to make the least charitable interpretations possible.

It's this last that bothers me most: someone disagrees with me, therefore they must be doing so maliciously (or because they're stupid or ignorant).

Kling offers a few tactics for elevating the tone of the debate. Most invoke one of Haidt's central themes: that civilization and society depend on the reasonable expectation of reciprocity, which presupposes the existence of effective ways to deter/punish free riders. I can't help but wonder how much of the vitriolic tone of today's hyperpartisan debates is driven by the conservative perception that government is [disastrously] using force to coerce us into behaving in ways that worsen the free rider problem and promote moral hazard (and thus erode trust/reciprocity) and the liberal perception that a better system of government that encouraged the best parts of human nature would increase both generosity and individual responsibility.

Though I have grave doubts about the ability of government to manage anything well, the core principle that underlies progressive utopianism is not quite as loony as it sounds:

... we found that you don't need to shoot a chemical up someone's nose, or have sex with them, or even give them a hug in order to create the surge in oxytocin that leads to more generous behavior. To trigger this "moral molecule," all you have to do is give someone a sign of trust. When one person extends himself to another in a trusting way—by, say, giving money—the person being trusted experiences a surge in oxytocin that makes her less likely to hold back and less likely to cheat. Which is another way of saying that the feeling of being trusted makes a person more…trustworthy. Which, over time, makes other people more inclined to trust, which in turn…

If you detect the makings of an endless loop that can feed back onto itself, creating what might be called a virtuous circle—and ultimately a more virtuous society—you are getting the idea.

I've seen this effect over and over again in life, so I can't doubt its power. What I have problems with is when government wants to override individual judgments about who does or does not deserve our trust.

I'm still digesting Haidt's and Kahneman's books but if you're interested, Kling's well thought out review is worth reading in its entirety.

Posted by Cassandra at April 30, 2012 08:35 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.villainouscompany.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/4149

Comments

"I can't help but wonder how much of the vitriolic tone of today's hyperpartisan debates is driven by the conservative perception that government is [disastrously] using force to coerce us into behaving in ways that worsen the free rider problem and promote moral hazard (and thus erode trust/reciprocity) and the liberal perception that a better system of government that encouraged the best parts of human nature would increase both generosity and individual responsibility."
It's a measure of my close-mindedness that I completely understand the first half of this, but draw a total blank on the second. How would a system of government encourage the best parts of human nature? I understand how people in their private interactions would do so: by rewarding each other's generosity and trustworthiness. My best notion of a government that encourages the best parts of human nature is one that trusts people, on the whole, to be free, and treats all participation in government as an opportunity for service rather than for control.

I think I just failed the Turing test.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 30, 2012 10:29 AM

"When one person extends himself to another in a trusting way—by, say, giving money—the person being trusted experiences a surge in oxytocin that makes her less likely to hold back and less likely to cheat. Which is another way of saying that the feeling of being trusted makes a person more…trustworthy. Which, over time, makes other people more inclined to trust, which in turn…"

This person evidently never met a con man such as my uncle who, when he made a surprise visit (3,000 miles from where he was supposed to be imprisoned after having been caught during his previous escape), said all he wanted was a little money to get back to where he was supposed to be. So my Mom bought him a one-way bus ticket to the city of his choice. He got off at the first stop and cashed out the balance of his ticket.

Posted by: DL Sly at April 30, 2012 10:37 AM

Hmm....

In a political debate, you feel like the other side just doesn’t get your point of view, and if they could only see things with your clarity, they would understand and fall naturally in line with what you believe. They must not understand, because if they did they wouldn’t think the things they think.

I hear this almost exclusively from the Left side of the current debate.

By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is–stupid. You don’t need to hear them elaborate.

On the other hand, I hear this almost exclusively from the Right side of the debate.

Note, though, that Left and Right have little to do with Liberal or Conservative.

all you have to do is give someone a sign of trust

To do this, though, there has to be a going-in perception of the possibility. Stakes matter, too. There are situations wherein I will not bet my wife's life on a "possibility" of trust, but that I might my own--if only due to the simplified mechanics of one life to be protected vs two.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 30, 2012 10:37 AM

I think I could pass the ideological Turing test. Partly because I fully accept that those on the Left are not evil and out to destroy the world, partly because I have several good friends who are far to the Left of me politically. But mostly because I used to inhabit that space, politically. I fully believed that everyone ought to share, and that equality was something that could be meted out. And to a certain extent, I'm still sympathetic to the people who fall through the cracks in society and believe we have an obligation to help them.

That all changed when I had to move out and live on my own. Oh, sure, my parents still supported me, and I guess I could have moved back in if I didn't make it on my own. But I'm too stubborn to do so (and I have my self respect). I never went full Objectivist, but I think that being forced to deal with the real world and seeing the consequences of Communism first hand in the Soviet Union in 1990 (as in, in person) removed any doubts that the world is a terrible place, and human nature will prevent Marxism from ever actually working as intended. So rather than be bound up in the "wouldn't it be great if" mindset that I had been part of, I now have a "well, this is what we've got to work with, what's the best we can make of it". And for me, right now, that's libertarianism.

But I've trolled around Socialist discussion boards undetected (I did have one dude say I was a bit hardcore on the Marxism, and that I should tone it down), but that kind of fun loses its appeal when people take you seriously. And I currently hang out on the Dextrosphere where I'm only occasionally uncomfortable with the opinions of others (who famously said that "Hell is other people"?). Mind you, I find most Libertarian boards to be wretched hives of babbling insanity (more of the "in an ideal world" stuff). So I guess, in short... I like it here. In the Company.

Posted by: MikeD at April 30, 2012 10:38 AM

...draw a total blank on the second. How would a system of government encourage the best parts of human nature? ... My best notion of a government that encourages the best parts of human nature is one that trusts people, on the whole, to be free, and treats all participation in government as an opportunity for service rather than for control.

Actually, you just passed the test, as I understand it. You've outlined a mechanism whereby government achieves the "liberal's" goal. Now you're just quibbling over technique.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 30, 2012 10:42 AM

I don't think so. A government that trusts people to be free is probably going to be fairly chilly about letting a good deal of tragedy and inequality go unaddressed.

Because I often have a dysfunctional reaction to people in need, at least in the abstract, I find it helpful to check my strongest libertarian impulses by considering their impact on needy creatures against whom I am not so efficient emotionally defended: the number one candidate being homeless dogs. I really have to fight against a compulsion to believe I am responsible for the happiness and welfare of all dogs, whereas with human beings I am much harder-headed. So sometimes I can empathize with a wild-eyed Progressive viewpoint by substituting innocent puppies for the human victims my political opponents are worried about.

The problem is, of course, that it's one thing to feel paternalistic about domesticated creatures and another to formulate public policy on the ground of similar feelings towards my fellow human beings.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 30, 2012 10:51 AM

Oh, I'm MUCH more solicitous about animals than I am about people. I'll equate babies/toddlers with indoor pets just on the basis of dependency on others (ignoring the cute factor... I like cats and dogs better than most peoples' toddlers). Outdoor pets are more like pre-teens (i.e. they can feed themselves in a pinch, but still need a home provided for them). Stray animals are like teenagers. Yeah, they CAN get by on their own, but it never ends well, and I wouldn't trust one I didn't know on the street. An adult? Sorry, you're not as cuddly as an animal.

Posted by: MikeD at April 30, 2012 11:09 AM

By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is–stupid. You don’t need to hear them elaborate.

On the other hand, I hear this almost exclusively from the Right side of the debate.

I hear it too, but don't agree that most of these folks can accurately and fairly sum up progressive beliefs. They almost always oversimplify.

I think a fair rendering of progressive social policies is that we are the richest nation in the world, and we can afford to care for the weakest members of society. Where this view falls down in my estimation is that it is based on "best case" thinking and ignores moral hazard (because of which the number of needy people actually goes up over time) and the free rider problem (which rightly diminishes willingness to support such policies).

Conservatives sometimes act as though the world would end (or maybe just free enterprise would go t*ts up) if the marginal tax rate were to go up even a smidgeon. This requires one to ignore the fact that marginal tax rates are pretty darned low compared to other times when the economy did pretty well.

I think it's probably correct to say that high tax rates create perverse incentives that can squelch venture capitalism and healthy risk taking, but that's obviously not an absolute. IOW, it's a question of how much additional taxes are required to squelch growth? 5%? 10%?

We're talking tradeoffs here, not "increase X and reduce Y by the same amount".

My biggest problem with government spending is that we're not spending on infrastructure - we subsidizing individual households. That creates nothing for the future except more dependency on govt, more poverty, and more "near poverty". And it crowds out spending on things that benefit everyone and make it easier for us to compete in a global economy.

My other problem is that half of us are paying NO federal income taxes and thus have no real skin in the game.

Posted by: Cass at April 30, 2012 01:31 PM

Conservatives sometimes act as though the world would end (or maybe just free enterprise would go t*ts up) if the marginal tax rate were to go up even a smidgeon.

From my perspective it's less of a "the whole thing will shut down!" and more of a "give em an inch" bit. And truth be told, there's a lot of history to back up the "give em an inch" school of thought. I love looking at the origins of the (peacetime) income tax as originally laid out in 1893. It was 2% on all income over $4000 (~$107k in modern money terms) and only hit less than 10% of the population. So 90% of all Americans had "no skin in the game", but everyone was assured that this was only a tax on the super-rich (again... the top 10% included those who made less than $110k in adjusted dollars) and wouldn't affect anyone else. Well, we see how well that worked out, don't we.

And the fact is, the government has proven time and again that when they are presented with new revenue, they can't help but spend it as soon as it comes in. So any increases in the marginal rates is going to be immediately eaten up, so why let them increase the rate? The government MUST learn to live within its means, and the sad and sorry fact is, we the people keep rewarding their failure to do so by putting them back in office year after year. It's not everyone except my guy who's the problem. It's everyone, full stop.

Posted by: MikeD at April 30, 2012 02:08 PM

...don't agree that most of these folks can accurately and fairly sum up progressive beliefs.

Why I noted that the Right shouldn't be confused with conservatism.

Where this view [that we're rich and can afford it] falls down in my estimation is that it is based on "best case" thinking and ignores moral hazard....

This fails in my estimation, quite apart from and in addition to your failure mechanisms, through a couple of mechanisms:
1) because we can, therefore government says we must
2) what is an individual moral duty (to help our fellows) should be mandated by government. Moreover, individuals doing their moral duty do so through a number of pathways, some more effective than others, but nearly all with some positive effect. Government mandates the One True Way.
3) the seeming arrogance of the Know Betters that they should tell us plebes both what our duty is and how we must satisfy it. While they sit on their own money, demanding to spend,exclusively, OPM.

Conservatives sometimes act as though the world would end...if the marginal tax rate were to go up even a smidgeon.

1) Just because we got away with it in other times does not mean we should try to run the same risk again. Government--nor the Left--has not demonstrated a need that justifies government taking our money and allocating to ends other than our own.
2) Raise the tax rate just a smidgeon today. Raise it just a skosch it again tomorrow. Just a smidge again the day after. It never stops. Nor the Left nor Liberalism has explained a limiting principle for where this stops. Anecdote time: Fox News talk show hosts routinely, of late, ask those on the Left what is the fair share for the rich to pay (eliding, for the sake of the question, what is "rich.") The routine answer falls into either of two categories: "I don't know," or "I'm not going to get into specifics." In such an environment, the only reasonable place to draw the line on tax rate increases (baldly asserts this Conservative) is at zero.

My biggest problem with government spending is that we're not spending on infrastructure....

My problem here (though not my biggest) is that no one--nor Left nor Right nor Liberal nor Conservative have offered a definition--squishy or concrete--of what is "infrastructure."

I think a fair rendering of progressive social policies is that we are the richest nation in the world, and we can afford to care for the weakest members of society.

I think you set your period too soon. I'd add the clause , and we know best how to do so.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 30, 2012 02:21 PM

Isn't it a bit like saying liberals believe that if we reduce the marginal tax rate by 1%, babies will starve all over the U.S.? It's not a matter of the degree but of whether the approach is right.

"We're rich enough to afford it" makes total sense to me when uttered by the people who believe they are rich and believe they can afford it. Go for it! -- with your money. Much of the fight between conservatives and liberals is over whether the liberals are entitled to spend the conservatives' money on the liberals' priorities. After all, when liberals object to paying taxes to finance evil wars, conservatives don't usually answer, "But we're rich, and we can afford it."

Posted by: Texan99 at April 30, 2012 02:51 PM

Isn't it a bit like saying liberals believe that if we reduce the marginal tax rate by 1%, babies will starve all over the U.S.? It's not a matter of the degree but of whether the approach is right.

As a generic question of ideology, I agree. Here's my problem:

Regardless of how we got there, we now have a HUGE federal deficit that threatens the stability of government. I don't like that we're in the mess we're in, but I do believe we shouldn't ask our kids to pay for our lack of self control. Would I pay higher taxes *if* I knew we'd be paying down the deficit?

Absolutely. No question. Gladly.

Do I want to pay higher taxes to subsidize more deficit spending and leave my kids with an even bigger mess than the one we're facing today?

No way. This gets to both Eric's and T99's comments: it's a question of trust (and of the reasonable expectation that if I pay more, it will bring about an end result I support - lower deficits). Right now, that trust isn't there. And my state taxes are going through the roof b/c I live in the People's Republic of Maryland with no increase in services.

After all, when liberals object to paying taxes to finance evil wars, conservatives don't usually answer, "But we're rich, and we can afford it."

No, but they do say, "We all have to pay taxes for things/policies we don't agree with", just as we all have to obey the laws whether or not we personally agree with them.

As you know, I agree with most of you on why redistribution isn't a good idea. It's just that I can see the other side's points.

I also happen to believe that some redistribution is probably not a horrible, terrible thing. It's just that we haven't figured out a solution for the moral hazard problem, nor the free rider problem, nor the sustainability problem. Or the defining down of "poverty" to "near poverty" or "unemployment" to "underemployment".

The problem with progressive utopianism is that there's no limiting principle. The problem with conservatism is that we haven't figured out how to get people who enjoy free govt. handouts and the redistribution of wealth to vote against them.

Posted by: Cass at April 30, 2012 03:41 PM

...we haven't figured out how to get people who enjoy free govt. handouts and the redistribution of wealth to vote against them.

I think we had a franchise discussion, or two, somewhere or other. And some of that franchise discussion supported a skin-in-the-game requirement of some sort.

On the matter of trust, this is an argument for smaller government, regardless of who's allowed to vote for it. A smaller government is more trustworthy, if only because it's easier to control.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 30, 2012 03:51 PM

For me, given that the world is an imperfect place, and given that people are perfectly willing to help others (but rarely with their own money or time), I feel that for what charity does not cover, the ought to be a MINIMAL safety net. Not a standard of living, but a short term (no more than 3-5 year) assistance program for people who fall upon hard times. If after that time frame you cannot get back on your feet, you should be able to elect to enter an official assisted living program. In this program you will be allowed to live in minimal housing, healthful food will be provided for you, and if you are medically capable, you will be put to some form of labor to help defray the cost you incur. While on the program, you do not have the right to vote in elections. You can voluntarily leave at any time, but you are ineligible for the safety net (and the vote) for an equal amount of time you were on it. If you cannot make it on your own, you're back in the assisted living program instantly (or you make your own way without it). No one is forced to live on the dole, but while on the dole, you're required to live where you're told, eat what you're given, and work where instructed.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure I'm ok with the idea of enforced birth control for the duration of your stay on the dole. If you want children, you can totally have them. But not on the taxpayer's dime. And this is speaking as a Libertarian. Mind you, I think this is MUCH more compassionate than the Libertarian ideal of "if he starves, he starves".

Posted by: MikeD at April 30, 2012 04:10 PM

Liberals and conservatives can agree that we all have to live with the idea of letting our tax dollars be spent on things we don't personally agree with. But that's an argument for not getting all upset about everything we disagree with, not an argument in support of any particular policy, such as redistribution of wealth. So while "a fair rendering of progressive social policies is that we are the richest nation in the world, and we can afford to care for the weakest members of society," I maintain that "we can afford it" is not a valid argument for redistribution any more than it is for warmongering. Also, I question whether it's true in the sense it's usually stated, considering the deficit. It's certainly no more true than to say that we're the richest nation in the world, and therefore any family that lives here is extremely likely to be able to support itself without government assistance if it makes realistic choices, and we can trust private charity to handle the rare exceptions.

After all, although liberals tend to assume that the argument is over whether people should help the weakest and neediest members of society, the real difference between liberals and conservatives is not usually whether we should help, but whether the decisions on how to spend all of our wealth for that purpose should be made mostly collectively or mostly privately. Yes, there are conservatives who don't care if we help anyone, but there are also liberals who don't care about anything except being on the receiving end. They are both antisocial fringe elements without enough votes to have a big impact.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 30, 2012 04:18 PM

After all, although liberals tend to assume that the argument is over whether people should help the weakest and neediest members of society, the real difference between liberals and conservatives is not usually whether we should help, but whether the decisions on how to spend all of our wealth for that purpose should be made mostly collectively or mostly privately.

I think the fundamental disconnect is over the social contract. The term itself is problematic: liberals think govt. should do whatever we decide it should do. So their social contract is a Living Document subject to redefinition by each new generation.

Conservatives tend to think that America is a Constitutional Republic, with the Constitution declaring an up-front limit on what the polity can decide we want government to do.

Though I am firmly in the Republic camp, I do see that the Constitution doesn't actually address 3/4ths of the detailed issues we keep trying to apply it to. Hence, Marbury v. Madison.

But once you allow the judiciary to "interpret" away limits on the power of the federal govt., you're back into "government is what we say it is" territory, only "we" isn't the electorate but 9 appointed-for-life judges.

Posted by: Cass at April 30, 2012 04:40 PM

I maintain that "we can afford it" is not a valid argument for redistribution any more than it is for warmongering. Also, I question whether it's true in the sense it's usually stated, considering the deficit.

Well, we can get away with it until we can no longer "afford" to kick the can farther down the road and let someone else deal with the true costs of our decisions :p

Posted by: Cass at April 30, 2012 04:42 PM

Conservatives tend to think that America is a Constitutional Republic, with the Constitution declaring an up-front limit on what the polity can decide we want government to do.

This is a mischaracterization of the Conservative position. While there is a fringe that insists on this immutability, the Constitution that is at the heart of our Constitutional Republic provides a very plain mechanism for the polity change what we "decide we want government to do," including changing that limit. It's right there in Article V.

Moreover, the other major document of our social contract, our Declaration of Independence, describes very clearly another mechanism for altering our government should it prove too consistently and too badly wanting--indeed, we are enjoined by our social contract to move to that last resort in extremis.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 30, 2012 05:59 PM

Cassandra
I think the 3/4ths thing the Constitution doesn't address ARE addressed in the 9th and 10th amendments in the Bill of Rights. It's just, for the most part, they can't get these things passed at the state level (except maybe Illinois and California, which are going....bankrupt?).
********
MikeD

"...I now have a "well, this is what we've got to work with, what's the best we can make of it". And for me, right now, that's libertarianism."

I will vote for you if you ever want to run for poltical office.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at April 30, 2012 06:21 PM

Aye chihuahua :p

Yes, I have heard of the amendment process (I may even have written about it a time or two). No more comments for me during the work day!

I think there's an argument for the Constitution being too difficult to change by amendment, though. When you start to see people going around something to achieve the same end, that generally suggests they've given up on the process.

After the Bill of Rights in 1791, only 17 amendments have garnered the required votes. My personal favorite is the last one - first proposed in 1789, finally passed in 1992.

Give Congress its due - they can still annoy us out of our lethargy when they put their minds to it.

Posted by: Cass at April 30, 2012 06:32 PM

I think there's an argument for the Constitution being too difficult to change by amendment....

It should be hard to change. It's not like a business plan, that gets changed weekly to codify what we're doing today.

The problem is that the Progressives have never tried to amend it. It is hard. And, since they already Know Better, they have no need of convincing their fellows of the rightness of their position--they much prefer simply to impose their positions by Executive Order or Agency Rule.

Moreover, the Constitution, by design, limits the Federal government, and much of what the Progressives want to do is outside those powers. They have to bypass it.

Besides, doing hard things is anathema to them. They want everything handed to them on a silver platter. Paid for with OPM.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at April 30, 2012 08:35 PM

It should be hard to change. It's not like a business plan, that gets changed weekly to codify what we're doing today.

This, and lots of it. I was challenged on this very thing by some Left-leaning friends. I pointed out that laws are made in violation of the 10th Amendment all the time (to include Obamacare), and their response was "well, we don't need the 10th Amendment anymore." When I pointed out that if that's true, it shouldn't be hard to get an Amendment repealing it, they responded that it's too hard to get an Amendment passed. So I did some research.

Yes, there have only been 17 passed. But the process is only hard when the political will to pass one is not there. Amendments have been passed in less than a year's time. Some, as you point out Ms. Cass, take over a hundred. But that's more an exception than the rule. If the American people have truly grown beyond the need for a 10th Amendment, or if the Founders only put in the 2nd given the firearms of the day (which, let me tell you, is is a lot of fun to blow the minds of liberal friends to point out that most cannons in the US were privately owned, and not government property when that was written), or whatever "living document" stuff they want to claim... then passing an Amendment doing away with it should be easy. It's been done before. But to IGNORE the Constitution says that the document is not even as enforceable as a business contract, and any part of it can be ignored if and when the government decides. And the next time someone suggests legislating around the Constitution that if they're ok with that, then they're also ok with legislating away freedom of speech, or religious liberties (including the imposition of a national religion), the protections of our legal system, and so on. They get real defensive when you point that out.

I will vote for you if you ever want to run for poltical office.
It would never happen. Mostly because I am not rich, an ideologue, nor a masochist. Political office is sought by those who probably should not be trusted to hold it. At least at the Federal level, if not the State level. But thank you for the kind words.

Posted by: MikeD at May 1, 2012 08:47 AM

"...the real difference between liberals and conservatives is not usually whether we should help, but whether the decisions on how to spend all of our wealth for that purpose should be made mostly collectively or mostly privately."

"...there are conservatives who don't care if we help anyone,..."

So, because I believe that government shouldn't be helping anyone with everyone's money, I'm fringe and anti-social!? Really!?!
Hard to believe that these comments came from the same person.
I think I need to back away from the computer....

Posted by: DL Sly at May 1, 2012 09:29 AM

No, DL, I think I meant the opposite of what you took me to say! I mean there really are conservatives who don't feel it's important for anyone to help anyone -- not through the government, and not privately, not at all. But they're unusual, an anti-social fringe. I'm sure you've seen the statistics showing that conservatives on the whole give more to private charity than liberals do. That kind of mainstream conservative lines up with the principles you espouse, and with mine as well: charity is often a great thing, but it ought to be more private than government-sponsored.

In other words, I equate the occasional conservative skinflint who honestly doesn't give a crap about his neighbors to the occasional liberal leech who lives only to milk the system for benefits. I believe and hope that they're both outside the mainstream. Most of the rest of us are just having an argument about whether aid to our fellow human beings should be administered by private, voluntary institutions (including families) or by a tax-funded mandatory government program.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 1, 2012 10:32 AM

T99, thanks for elaborating further. And now that I've properly purged the blood from my caffeine system, I think I understand what you meant. However, I do have a coupla quibbles:
a) "...charity is often a great thing, but it ought to be more private than government-sponsored."
Substitute "ought to be more private" with "ought to be exclusively private" and you have charity. Anything else is a tax and the use of government force upon me for the gains of others.
b) "...the occasional liberal leech who lives only to milk the system for benefits."
Sadly, I believe this end of the spectrum to be much more mainstream than anyone realistically wants to admit.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 1, 2012 11:27 AM

Well, me, too, but I was trying to fight my prejudices. Liberals of my acquaintance fervently believe it's quite clear that the opposite is true: they're sure that almost no liberals are really using it as an excuse to be a leech, and they're equally sure that most conservatives secretly wish all the poor people would just go suffer in silence somewhere invisible.

Also, I'm using "charity" more loosely to mean any intervention (though I agree with your point that it's not charity of the sort that we're morally called to support), so I include the possibility of some government functions whose purpose is to alleviate hardship. On the whole, for instance, I don't think FEMA is a terrible idea, even if its execution often is terrible. I'm prepared to consider situations in which the need for speed and coordination is so great that a mission of mercy might need to be financed and controlled by the government. I just don't think situations like that are anywhere near as common as the average liberal probably would suggest, and I think they ought to be re-evaluated constantly with a steely skepticism.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 1, 2012 11:45 AM

"Charity at the point of a gun is more properly called theft." - Ghengis Khan

"Quotes from the Internet are difficult to source." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted by: MikeD at May 1, 2012 12:36 PM

I haven't read any of the four books Kling reviews but I have now read his review. It seems pretty clear that he begins with the idea that compromise and working together are possible, if only we could free ourselves from our tribalism and from its handmaidens, confirmation bias and rationalization. What he doesn't seem to consider is that we may actually be at a point where what the two sides (loosely, Left and Right) want are not just different in quantity but different in quality; in other words, different enough so that compromise is not possible.

Kling's premise seems to be that anyone who believes the differences are irreconcilable does so only because he or she demonizes those on the other side of the spectrum. I don't think that's true. I, for example, don't believe that people who want a different version of the United States than I do are "the Great Evil"; I just don't want the kind of country they do. And I don't see a clear path in which giving them some of what they want leaves enough of what I want to avoid that dilemma.

Posted by: Elise at May 1, 2012 01:32 PM

So what's the alternative to compromise?

The electorate has always been composed of people who want very different things. How does anyone, ever, get anything accomplished?

Do we all place equal importance on every issue? I suspect not (just as I am deeply suspicious of the argument that if neither party can get everything it wants, failure has occurred).

If that is really true, then representative government cannot work. If *that* is true, what is the alternative?

Posted by: Cass at May 1, 2012 01:36 PM

Kling's premise seems to be that anyone who believes the differences are irreconcilable does so only because he or she demonizes those on the other side of the spectrum.

I didn't get that from his review, but I could be mistaken.

I don't even think he was saying that our differences can be glossed over. They're real, and they aren't going away any time soon. Both sides have a shopping list of issues. They have priorities.

We haven't passed a federal budget in 3 years. I'm still waiting for someone - anyone - to tell me how we get what we want without doing violence to what we *say* we believe in. I see only one way: compromise.

If there's another (short of Eric's bloody revolution, which is always on the table but is more attractive in movies than in real life), I'm open to hearing about it.

Posted by: Cass at May 1, 2012 01:41 PM

Here's my problem with compromise - or perhaps my definition of it. (I'm going to use Left and Right for simplicity's sake.) The Left wants more of what we've already got: for example, more Federal spending and more centralization of control at the Federal level. I want - and I think the Right in general wants (or claims to want) - less spending and less Federal control, more devolution to the States.

So it's not just that we want different things; it's that we want things that are diametrically opposed. Under that condition, where we are now - becalmed - is a sort of compromise: the Left doesn't get more, the Right doesn't get less.

I caught a very small piece of a TV program talking to Jerry Brown (yes, Governor Moonbeam) in the last day or two and he, of all people, has the best answer to what we need (other than either a bloody revolution or a (hopefully peaceful) secession/split): a definitive election, one that firmly and unmistakably ushers one side or the other into power in the both the Executive and the Legislative branches.

I would also add that such an electoral sweep has to hold for a number of subsequent elections both so long-term initiatives can come to fruition and so the Supreme Court can be re-made in the image of whichever side achieves this electoral victory. Given the Senate seats up in November, it is mathematically possible for either the Democrats or the Republicans to achieve a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

Posted by: Elise at May 1, 2012 02:24 PM

I caught a very small piece of a TV program talking to Jerry Brown (yes, Governor Moonbeam) in the last day or two and he, of all people, has the best answer to what we need (other than either a bloody revolution or a (hopefully peaceful) secession/split): a definitive election, one that firmly and unmistakably ushers one side or the other into power in the both the Executive and the Legislative branches.

No... not just no, but hell no. Gridlock is a feature, not a bug. Neither side has a plurality amongst the populace, so neither side should have absolute control over the reins of government. Add to that the fact that even if 67% of the House and Senate and the White House all go to one party that the other side will not surrender and accept being shut out of power. I think that's honestly a recipe for disaster and/or armed conflict. If one side is truly shut out of the debate and cannot even mount a filibuster in defense of their side, there WILL be trouble. Maybe not rioting, though I debated using that word several times, but possibly.

Posted by: MikeD at May 1, 2012 03:02 PM

I think Cass may be referring to the fact that both sides ostensibly want to reduce the deficit, though one has a preference for reducing it by lowering spending and the other by increasing taxes. You could conceivably do both, if there could be a modicum of trust, which, in view of past broken promises and the general tendency of a democratic government to buy votes with freebies, strikes me as unlikely.

As much as I believe raising taxes is a sure-fire way to ruin the economy and decrease overall prosperity, I could live with a temporary increase in taxes if I believed (1) it truly would be temporary and (2) the government was on a credible longterm downward curve of intrusiveness and expense. That would mean I'd have to find people to negotiate with who didn't believe that the purpose of higher taxes was to knock the rich down a peg or two for everyone's good, or that the purpose of government was to compensate for the common man's shortcomings in virtually every area of life, or that any proposed decrease in government's role was not morally equivalent to drowning puppies or encouraging sociopaths to put arsenic in children's ice cream.

Until that time, I'm going to keep voting for people who refuse to raise taxes, and I'll hope that people in other countries quit loaning us money.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 1, 2012 03:07 PM

Neither side has a plurality amongst the populace, so neither side should have absolute control over the reins of government. Add to that the fact that even if 67% of the House and Senate and the White House all go to one party that the other side will not surrender and accept being shut out of power.

It really scares me that so many folks in our party (and the other party) don't get this on a gut level.

"Consent of the governed" isn't just a pretty phrase. The Founders intentionally created a system where neither side would seize power and shut the other side out of the process because they understood (just having completed an armed revolution) that government derives its legitimacy from the consent of those it governs. Which means we have to deal with the other side, like it or not. Mike's right: this is a feature, not a bug.

I'm not sure their system scales well, but I can't think of a better one. The country is far larger and more diverse, affluent, technologically advanced, educated, etc. than it was 200 years ago.

If we can't learn to compromise, the alternative is dissolution and an end to our democratic republic. This is the problem with being a nation of in-duh-viduals - we've lost sight of the forest for the trees and everyone thinks they're a giant redwood.

This is why I disagree about the Constitution being hard to amend. The fact is that it is effectively being amended by judicial fiat. One way or another, it will be changed or gotten around. I'm not sure how requiring 3/4 of the states to agree (vs. nine judges) is a victory for
representative government.

The intent was noble, but it was long ago overcome by reality. And that's what we have to live with: reality.

The reality is that neither party has been able to get a controlling majority to vote for them. There's probably a reason for that :p

Posted by: Cass at May 1, 2012 03:21 PM

Compromises vs trust....

Sometimes compromise isn't possible. Look at abortion, for instance. Some favor allowing it, with principled argument. Some favor disallowing it, with equally principled argument. What compromise is there to this? It's the same with welfare or any other form of government-mandated wealth redistribution. How is compromise on one's principles possible? Further, if one compromises on one's principles, how can anyone, including the just-compromised-with opposition, trust that one?

The "Right" has been compromising with the "Left" for 80 years. What has that gotten us? A steady slide away from our principles. Sometimes compromising is nothing more than the thief stealing the family's jewels, then demanding compromise: he'll only keep half. Because he's willing to compromise.

So what's the alternative to compromise?
The electorate has always been composed of people who want very different things. How does anyone, ever, get anything accomplished?

Why do we need to "get anything accomplished" in every administration? Look what lack of gridlock got us the first two years of the present administration (and Elise's loose "Left" would argue the same for the last two years, with equal justification).

Gridlock is a feature, not a bug. Neither side has a plurality amongst the populace, so neither side should have absolute control over the reins of government.

It usually is, but sometimes a bug is just a bug. It's going to take such a majority to reverse the damage and destruction wrought these last 80 years. It certainly a very dangerous path to walk, but compared to the dangers we're facing now, I think not more so.

Back on trust, I could live with a temporary increase in taxes if I believed (1) it truly would be temporary and (2) the government was on a credible longterm downward curve of intrusiveness and expense. The Democrats have been welching on exactly such agreements ever since the Reagan tax "increases."

Finally, The fact is that it is effectively being amended by judicial fiat. One way or another, it will be changed or gotten around. I'm not sure how requiring 3/4 of the states to agree (vs. nine judges) is a victory for representative government.
The intent was noble, but it was long ago overcome by reality. And that's what we have to live with: reality.

Because one side did all the compromising. Now it's time to stand on principle. And thereby become trustworthy, again.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 1, 2012 03:56 PM

Why do we need to "get anything accomplished" in every administration?

Are you saying that the federal government can continue to operate indefinitely with no budget?

Really? How about the military? Is having no budget better for the deficit than having a budget?

It's going to take such a majority to reverse the damage and destruction wrought these last 80 years. It certainly a very dangerous path to walk, but compared to the dangers we're facing now, I think not more so.

I don't agree, but considering that we have nowhere near the majority that would be required to do what you want to do, that would seem to be a moot point, don't you think?

Now it's time to stand on principle. And thereby become trustworthy, again.

What, exactly, does "standing on principle" entail? How will that prevent SCOTUS from continuing to amend the Constitution without the consent of the American people?

Posted by: Cassandra at May 1, 2012 04:34 PM

Sometimes compromise isn't possible. Look at abortion, for instance. Some favor allowing it, with principled argument. Some favor disallowing it, with equally principled argument. What compromise is there to this?

OK, let's look at abortion. One extreme would like to outlaw all abortion, everywhere. They would like to amend the Constitution so that no state could allow abortion on the grounds that a fetus is a human being with all the civil rights thereuntoappurtaining.

The other extreme doesn't see any moral problem with killing live babies.

And then there's the compromise: abortion is legal, but limited. And no killing live babies.

Neither side got all of what they wanted, but there *was* a compromise.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 1, 2012 04:50 PM

Neither side got all of what they wanted, but there *was* a compromise.

Yeah--the thief got to keep half the stolen jewelry. Abortion continues. Killing some live babies being better than killing others.

That's the problem with compromising on principle. You lose the principle.

What, exactly, does "standing on principle" entail? How will that prevent SCOTUS from continuing to amend the Constitution without the consent of the American people?

What's your alternative? Keeping in mind that TOTUS and COTUS also "amend" the Constitution at will. Keeping in mind, also, that SCOTUS only began compromising--I mean amending--the Constitution after FDR succeeded in packing it. We're humans. We're always going to drift away from the ideal. Sometimes, though, it's necessary to jerk things--and people--up short and return to the ideal--to drift anew, assuredly, but no longer farther than we've got now. For a few generations, anyway.

Are you saying that the federal government can continue to operate indefinitely with no budget?

When did I say that? Recall the context of your own remark, which I took to mean (unless I also misunderstood) a need to get something, anything, accomplished, any law passed just so we can say we passed a law. Certainly a budget is legally required. Even necessary. But more than that is needed the discipline to follow that budget, whatever it might be. With all the times it's routinely exceeded for [pick a "good" reason--both sides offer them for their special exception], having one isn't materially different than not having one.

More, though, my point here was that every Congress does not need to sit around passing laws just to feel like they're doing something. Sometimes doing nothing is the most important thing it could do. This is most often achieved through gridlock. It would be better achieved through deliberate, consensus decision.

As to compromise generally, I've quoted this before, but I'll repeat myself. This is what the other founder of the Progressive Movement, Herb Croly, had to say 100 years ago in The Promise of American Life:

To be sure, any increase in centralized power and responsibility, expedient or inexpedient, is injurious to certain aspects of traditional American democracy. But the fault in that case lies with the democratic tradition; and the erroneous and misleading tradition must yield before the march of constructive national democracy…. [T]he average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to serious and consistent conception of his responsibilities as a democrat.

How are Barack Obama and his fellow Progressives behaving differently from that today? How is compromise with that possible and still preserve the United States in anything other than name?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 1, 2012 05:26 PM

Hit the POST button too soon.

Killing some live babies being better than killing others. Should have been "Killing some babies being better than killing others."

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 1, 2012 05:27 PM

The United States has had a number of re-aligning elections over its history. Granted, the re-aligning election of 1860 had bloody consequences but other than that we've survived those re-alignments fairly well.

This is part of why I added that an electoral swing would have to persevere for a number of elections. The 2008 national elections could be viewed as re-aligning but their results didn't persevere for even one more election partly, I would argue, because the Democrats thought it was more re-aligning than it was. If, on the other hand, Obama is re-elected in 2012 and the Democrats pick up a lot of seats in the House and Senate then maybe we do have a re-alignment going on and 2010 was just a hiccup.

To look at it from the other side, let's say the Republicans take the Presidency; end up with 57 Senate seats; and end up with, say, 60% of the House seats. They repeal Obamacare and replace it with something less draconian; they tweak Medicare; they change the rules for Social Security for people under 55; they roll back a lot of the new Executive Branch regulations; they encourage fossil fuel exploitation. The world doesn't end and in 2014 they pick up a few more Senate seats and a few more House seats. Then they do more: they start chipping away at the Departments of Education and HHS; they change the income tax structure; they stop doing so much income transfer from State to State. Things go well and in 2016 Romney is re-elected and the Republicans pick up even more Senate and House seats. Then we have a re-aligning election the other way.

Yes, when it comes to money issues there is always a way to find a compromise because dollars are fungible. It is possible to find a compromise on some non-monetary issues like abortion. It's not a compromise committed activists on either side will like but it is a compromise. For other issues, though, like increasing versus decreasing Federal spending; greater Federal control over our lives; even continuing to run huge deficits, compromise may not be possible. If not, then either we live with gridlock - the status quo *is* the compromise - or we need a re-aligning election.

Posted by: Elise at May 1, 2012 08:50 PM

Elise:

While I won't deny the possibility, I'm a lot less confident than you. I'm going to re-post something I wrote back in 2009 shortly after Teh Won, won. It has to do with the pattern of power transfers over the last 100 or so years.

I think it's always useful to go back a long time and look at the patterns. Maybe this will be helpful - maybe not :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 1, 2012 09:15 PM

Yeah--the thief got to keep half the stolen jewelry. Abortion continues. Killing some live babies being better than killing others.

Eric, you're now forcing me to argue in favor of something I hate. I forgive you for it, but I don't like it.

Is it morally unacceptable for any abortion ever for any reason? What if we have the extremely rare and narrow case where during an extremely dangerous labor, a doctor determines that either the the mother will die, or the child, they'll try to save both, but likely one will die. The mother is medically incapacitated, so it's up to the father to choose. If he chooses to save the mother's life... should he go to jail for the murder of his child? Is that seriously the position we want to stake out?

I hate abortion. But by god, if we're going to state that anyone who causes the death of a fetus ever is guilty of murder, then we've done EXACTLY what the rabid screaming lefties accuse us of. We've criminalized miscarriage. Or at a minimum we've required an autopsy in each and every case of miscarriage. My own mother had four. Do you REALLY think it's a good idea to put a mother who just lost a baby through that?

And if you don't, and there are no autopsies, then what's to stop women who want abortions from using abortifactants under the table to make it look like a miscarriage? Obviously it'd be illegal. But even when it was illegal, it STILL HAPPENED. Back alley abortions are not some thing that never happened, except in the scary tales of leftists. If we're take this position that all abortion everywhere should always be illegal, then you're going to need to solve the legal grey area of miscarriage. This is a bad place to be.

The COMPROMISE is that we acknowledge that the world is an imperfect place. And that there is a need to allow for the fact that bad things happen to good people. These bad things include medically necessary abortions to save the life of the mother. I'm not sold 100% either way on the case of rape victims (the mother AND the child). I understand both positions and I empathize with both.

To me, the honest solution is to let the Federal system work the way it is supposed to. That is to say, the Federal government has no say in the matter. It's a Tenth Amendment issue and should be left up to the individual states. If California wants to allow abortion, California allows abortion. And the folks who don't want their tax dollars paying for organized murder can vote with their feet and move somewhere (Utah, perhaps) that does not allow abortions ever.

Posted by: MikeD at May 2, 2012 09:40 AM

Mike,

I'm as conflicted about abortion as you--and for me that's a sharp move to the right compared to my college days. However, I was making an argument about principle and the relationship between compromise and principle.

Certainly human principles are flawed and want exceptions. Human compromises about human principles are the best we can do to deal with those exceptions. The fly in this ointment, though, beyond moral questions, is that exceptions--compromises--are only the top of a slippery slope running down to deep darkness. And everyone wants an exception--often for very good-sounding excuses.

When we compromise, often we get the best we can do to handle an exception to our principle. But what we have then is a compromise; we've lost the principle.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 11:56 AM

No, we haven't lost the principle.

We've admitted (as I do, and I'm basically pro-life, but not pro-abortion) that a principle like believing that abortion takes a *human* life has value, but also that there are conflicts between the life of that tiny human and the lives of the mother.

Most priniciples admit of some exceptions to the general rule. I think lying is wrong, but if Nazi stormtroopers came to my house and asked me to turn over Anne Frank, would I lie?

Absolutely, even though lying is something I strongly believe is morally wrong. Nearly every legal system on earth allows for extenuating or mitigating circumstances. Ones that don't are generally considered barbaric and antithetical to human freedom.

There are lots of grey areas out there. Like MikeD, I don't want to force rape or incest victims to risk their own lives and health to have a baby when they never consented to sex in the first place. I wouldn't force a child who was raped by her father to bear the child.

I still admit that we'd be allowing a human life to be taken in that circumstance. I haven't lost the principle. I simply understand that inflexible rules that treat everything as equally important are generally a bad bet.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 12:13 PM

Post a comment

To reduce comment spam, comments on older posts are put into moderation 5 days after the last activity. Comments with more than one link also go into moderation. If you don't see your comment after posting it, try refreshing the screen. If you still don't see it, your comment is probably in the moderation queue.




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)