Here’s Where I Stand: Let’s Disagree Well

This has been an interesting couple weeks of politics, getting sick of politics and not listening to myself about politics. I’ve been twittering and spouting off about politics because it riles me up. Because I disagree. Because I hear things that strike me as wrong and I want to respond. And what I failed to realize is that so often we just disagree (like I said before and then ignored) and pouncing on each other doesn’t help. I’m sorry.

I think politics would be a lot more friendly if we could cut out the rhetoric and just focus on an issue. If we could see where and how we disagree and just be fine with disagreeing. It’s easier to find a path forward if you understand where the other person is coming from. Too often in politics (myself definitely included), we don’t take the time to do that. Instead we jump to the conclusion that you must be stupid. That’s probably why I don’t usually talk much about politics (I tend to disagree with the standard Christian/Republican stance) and why in the past two weeks of talking more about politics I’ve annoyed some people and riled up others. Not that frustrating or riling is bad, but I’m not sure what I’m accomplishing.

Take the Test
So let’s accomplish something. My sister-in-law took one of those online quizzes that tell you where you’re at politically. These things are always goofy because on some questions I hem and haw and then wonder if I had answered differently if it would have changed the outcome (I checked, it didn’t change much). But at any rate, I think it can be helpful to see where we stand.

So give it a try. It’s about 40 questions and takes less than five minutes.

Done? And now I’m going to talk about the results, so to really be fair you should take the test and post your results in the comments.

My results: I’m a Democrat. Socially permissive and not so much economically.

You are a
Social Liberal
(71% permissive)

and an…

Economic Liberal
(23% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Strong Democrat

Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid.com: Free Online Dating
Also : The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

I think a test like this can be helpful because it lets us see how we disagree. And that’s important. This test basically plots where you land on social and economic policies. Do you favor control or permissiveness? You can see the social/economic chart and the political ideology chart (on the quiz site it also gives a celebrity chart for kicks. I landed on Hillary Clinton, though let’s say I’m closer to Bono.). (Yeah, it is a fairly simplistic tool, but it’s something.)

Explaining Where I Stand
I’m fairly permissive on social issues. Let people do what they want to do, within reason. As a Christian this stance makes sense for me because I don’t think you can legislate morality. As Barack Obama said in a much mis-characterized speech, “Who’s morality are you going to legislate?” This is the same social position Libertarians hold (founding father Thomas Jefferson is the poster boy in that camp).

Economically I’m less in the free market and more in the let’s help each other camp (notice that I get pretty close to socialism). I think people need help from time to time and the government should help them out. I think the rich can afford to help the poor within reason. This is perhaps best illustrated in comparing Barack Obama and John McCain’s tax plans. Obama raises taxes on the wealthiest, and cuts taxes for the middle class, with more of a spread the wealth mentality. McCain does practically the opposite with much smaller tax cuts for the middle class and much larger ones for the wealthy, with more of a trickle down economics mentality. I’m no economist, so maybe that’s an unfair characterization, but I think in general that’s accurate. Personally I don’t think McCain’s strategy works because people are inherently greedy. Just because you give the rich a tax cut doesn’t mean they’re going to spend it in a way that helps the rest of us.

Learn From Where You Land
At any rate, it’s interesting to see where people land and why. I noted that as a Democrat I landed fairly close to the Socialist camp. But if you’re a Republican there’s a danger of landing pretty close to the Fascist camp (which explains my dislike for the strident nationalism of the Republican party). Just for kicks I tried to take the survey as a fascist and ended up a strong Republican. I don’t mean that as a slam, but it shows two things. First, it’s hard to get in somebody’s head and know how they think (it took me a few tries to get a Darth Vader result). Second, what I thought was being fascist really wasn’t. And it goes all ways (what you take for anarchy may be Libertarian).

So I hope that gives some framework for understanding politics. It’s kind of funny that the major political divide in America is between socially conservative and economically permissive Republicans and socially permissive and economically conservative Democrats. They’re polar opposites on those issues. Disregarding everything I know about politics, I’d expect to see the major divide be between control (Totalitarians) and permissiveness (Libertarians), because at least they’re both consistent (all control/no control).

And as a side note, I think it’d be incredibly interesting to study this kind of thing throughout governments throughout history. For example, where did Franklin Roosevelt fall on this chart? Or Jefferson Davis? Martin Luther King Jr.? Mother Teresa? And on back into history. Some are pretty obvious, but others are less clear.

In Closing (finally)
Where the rubber really hits the road is that I think it helps to understand this when we talk about politics. Because too often we line up on our sides and sling arrows at each other (I’m just as guilty of this, as I’ve proven this week). But in reality we’re not going to get anywhere that way. Our ideologies are opposed. It’d be easier if we just acknowledged where we stood instead of attacking each other. Unfortunately, I don’t know many people who are good at doing that. It’s more fun to just crack a joke.

Sometimes I wish the candidates (both of them) would acknowledge this kind of thing and let it be an election between ideologies and not all the other crap. If you believe in economic permissiveness and social control, vote McCain. If you believe in economic control and social permissiveness, vote Obama. (And unfortunately we don’t have any other major choices so if you don’t solidly line up in those camps you need to make some compromises; or vote for a third party [“Go ahead, throw your vote away! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!”])

In the end, I think the reason I got so riled up this week is because I see so many Christians who think the Republican approach is the only way to go. And that’s just not true. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to be blacklisted (again) if I vote Democrat (and for a reality check, some people would not only blacklist me, they’d send me to hell, as Sarah Palin’s former pastor has said). Unfortunately this chart doesn’t really show defense very well, but I think that issue makes my divide with the Republican side all the more clear (that’s another blog entry). I guess I need to realize that my way isn’t the only option either.

What we all need to learn how to do is disagree well:

“As I continue to wrestle with complex human and political issues, I resolved myself to one thing: the starting point must be that the church is a place where we can grapple with difficult questions with grace and humility. And I believe that, even more important than thinking identically on every issue, we must learn to disagree well. Our ability as a church to disagree well is as powerful a witness to the larger society as our uniformity on every issue.” (Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, page 234)

And while Claiborne and Haw are talking about the church, I think learning how to disagree well would do our larger society good as well.

So where do you stand?

70 thoughts on “Here’s Where I Stand: Let’s Disagree Well”

  1. Bravo, Kevin. You articulated perfectly the frustrations and hopes I’ve had for this election (and politics in general).

    I’ve took that political spectrum test a few years ago, but I probably ought to take it again now.

  2. I appreciate that you are attempting to share in a way that doesn’t alienate. So often both sides resort to name-calling and character attacks.

    As for where I stand, you can read that here:
    http://highcallingblogs.com/blog/ten-commandments-of-talking-politics/326/

    OR if you come by my house for a cup of coffee, you’ll see a sticker in our window. We figure anyone who comes over to the house is in relationship with us enough to talk about these things. But that’s just us.

  3. Thanks for the post Kevin. I’ve been thinking along a similar line lately. I typically stay out of politics as a believer we have no record of Jesus jumping into the larger governmental politic of his day (religious politics was of course another matter).

    But whenever elections come around stuff starts to stir in me.

    I’ve been on my own journey the last couple years, regretting that Jesus get’s tossed in with so much of the way the Religious Right has handled it’s voice in public policy. I went out and around and have come back though to embrace the fact that as an American with a responsibility to vote. I believe in less government and greater personal economic and social responsibility. And I place more responsibility on the church to fill in the gaps that I say I would rather the government not do. Which of course means I better be doing something.

    Both Val and I are “conservatives” and have been challenged in recent days that if this is what I believe (limited government), it’s my responsibility to help those around me that need it—for me to love my neighbor as myself (which is the greatest and most perfect law for government).

    So we’re starting to put our money and time where our philosophy is—and where God shows us.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, these are tough issues—we are in a very unusual place as Christians in history with a right & voice to steer our own country. Even though it’s not our true home.

  4. First, great post.

    Second, I think Twitter lends itself to those one-liners, what with it’s 140-character limit, so I don’t think you use Twitter for the extensive, thoughtful more along the lines of this post. Twitter is a gut-reaction medium.

    Third, the biggest problem with conventions is that they aren’t designed to foster any sort of intelligent debate. They’re meant to take cheerlead for your candidate and establish momentum for your campaign, usually while taking pot shots at your opponents. I do think Palin’s and Guiliani’s speeches were particularly negative. I found Guiliani’s to be insultingly so.

  5. The test called me a socialist. And it really doesn’t surprise me at all. I know I’ve got a “what’s mine is yours” mentality and if there was a way to make communism work without it become all crazy and corrupt, I’d be all for it.

    The idea of living in community appeals to me. People pooling their resources to benefit each other. I know some people who have made it work on a very small scale, but it’s something I’d like to see happen in a bigger way.

  6. I landed where I thought I would, a centrist veering on libertarianism.

    I am a big believer in a smaller federal government, less bureaucracy, letting people keep their hard earned money. I think checks & balances are important, so government needs that and it should spend money only on things that benefit everyone, like libraries, education, & museums (to name a few). While I think a social safety net is important, I think it should be through the local government or local private institutions where accountability and individual care can be given. I think the federal government getting its hands in that turns into a bureaucratic nightmare. So, I suppose I agree with some socialism and democratic principles, I just don’t trust the federal government with that kind of stuff. I also think that people who earn money should be able to do what they want with it, but should be honored by our country when they choose to give it to noble causes. I could go on, but I think this is a snapshot of where I stand.

    There you go, Kevin. My guess is that Josh will be just a bit more libertarian then me. :-)

  7. “people are inherently greedy”

    Wow, that is really cynical, and inaccurate. I think that people are inherently good and ethical, and will most often do the right thing. Is it a religious thing to think that people are inherently bad? Americans are extremely generous, and I’m talking about voluntary charity, not money that was taken by the government and then re-distributed.

    http://philanthropy.com/free/update/2005/01/2005011901.htm

    http://philanthropy.com/free/update/2003/08/2003082801.htm

    http://philanthropy.com/stats/

    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Story?id=2682100&page=1

  8. Thanks for the comments everybody, this has been great.

    Shawn, it’s good to hear about a Republican trying to do their own part. Sadly, I don’t think that happens enough.

    Dave, I think can be part of the problem with Twitter. Just because I can share my gut reaction, doesn’t mean I should.

    Limor, I don’t think it’s cynical or inaccurate to say people are inherently greedy. It’s a basic tenet of Christianity: People are bad (that’s why we believe we need Jesus).

    In a broad sense, if you look at the economic disparity in the world and how incredibly wealthy we are in the U.S. compared to the extreme poverty around the world and how relatively little we do to help, yes, I’d say we are greedy. That’s not to say we’re not generous or don’t do incredible things to help. But is it really that generous if it doesn’t cost you much? (and I think we’ve disagreed on self-sacrifice before)

  9. Relating to greed:

    I don’t think of greed in terms of money. Yes, Americans do donate money, however with how little change in is being made in the world in regards to poverty it seems pretty obvious that there is still a lot of greed coming into play.

    Sure, we donate money and then we go back and decide which of our 2 or 3 or 4 cars to take to the store to buy designer clothes. We need to have big houses, boats, RVs. Or kids need to go to private schools that cost as much as a college education. The list goes on and on (and obviously varies from person to person).

    What would happen if Americans lived in houses that were just big enough, drove 1 car or even used public transportation full time, bought cheaper clothes, didn’t buy as many “toys and then took the money they saved on all those things and donated it to people in need?

    It’s greed that says “I can spend $30,000 on a new camper but I’ll only send $50 to X charity”. It’s greed that makes a person wear a $300,000 outfit
    (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/politics/2008/09/cindy-mccains-300000-outfit.html) and own 7 houses.

  10. OK, now I’m going to get into trouble. I have to call you guys on your own lifestyle. Are you living as minimally as possible? Who gets to decide what is minimal enough? What is my motivation to work really hard in order to provide a better life for my family, if most of the money I ear gets taken away? Lastly, why should I be forced to pay for things that I don’t agree with. Leftists want taxpayer funded abortion. What if I don’t want my money going to pay for that?

  11. And that’s why I’ve been very up front that this is something I struggle with. I try to live my life as simply as I can, and for the most part I fail miserably. I constantly struggle with the question of how minimal a life I should live.

    But I do try. We’re a one car family and have been for almost eight years now. We try to minimize our purchases of clothes, toys, and goodies we don’t need. I’m a horrible cheapskate when it comes to clothes. My lawn mower is a handy-me-down reel mower the owners of our previous house left behind. We rarely buy CDs, movies or books (anymore–we used to have quite the book addiction). We canceled Netflix and we don’t have cable. I’m content with my old couch and our ugly carpet that we could replace, but we don’t need to. I’ve sold off or donated most of my old collections and the crap I used to cart around but didn’t really need. We do have a large house, but that’s also because I work at home and need a decent sized-office, it gives us the opportunity to let family and friends stay with us, and it’s a house we plan to grow into over the next [hopefully] 20 years.

    As for your other questions, that’s probably why I didn’t come down as a socialist. I think these need to be personal choices–I don’t expect everyone to make the same choices I do.

    But I still think people are inherently greedy and so the government needs to step in and provide some of that help like welfare, unemployment, food stamps, basic health care, etc.

    We are rich people people in an age when people die of hunger, and I don’t know what to call that besides greed.

  12. One thing I forgot to add (and it’s probably the most important point to my statement) is yea, I’d consider myself greedy. I’ve got lots of stuff that I don’t need. But at the same time, I’m also trying to work on that. Sometimes I feel like we are failing miserably at living minimally and sometimes I feel like we are making progress in that area.

    Aside from that the point I was trying to make is that just because American’s donate money to various charities or wherever does not mean they are not greedy.

    ——-
    On you question of working hard and your money being taken away…I’m not sure if you are referring to my statement on greed or if you mean my thoughts on living in community.

    (I’m using the term “you” to mean all people, not you specifically, so please don’t think I’m attacking you)
    If it’s relating to greed, well it wouldn’t be “taken away”. You’d work hard and provide for your families needs. And meet those needs. But the extra money for all the “wants” could go to charity. And part of meeting the needs of your family also means the fun side of life. You don’t have to give up any and all hobbies. You don’t have to stop taking vacations. But could some of those things be cut back? Buy clothes at Target instead of the pricey boutique? Shop at grocers that support small local farms? Be a 1 car family instead of 2?

    If you were asking the question in the context of living in community, then my answer is your money would not be taken away. Living in community simply means you pool your resources. Where you may be lacking someone else may be able to provide for you and vice versa. What you earn is yours but you have the opportunity to combine what you earn with what others earn so that everyone is provided for.

  13. Again, no one seems to be answering the question of who gets to decide. You also assume that most people don’t live as simply as you, and yet you say that you fail at your own task. I’m not going to list all the ways that Rick and I live simply, because frankly it’s irrelevant. We happen to value simplicity, but that is our choice, just as it is a choice for everyone else. My grandmother lived in a very small room with her parents for over 10 years. They shared a bathroom with everyone else who lived on the same floor of their building. They subsisted on cabbage, and very little else. They were able to live like that, should we? Who decides what the “basics” are? Who decides how many children you should be allowed to have, so that others can have your money to pay for their own children? Who decides if you need 2 shirts, or 10, regardless of price? Who decides if you’re allowed to buy enough produce to eat every day, or if that is an extravagance you can live without? Who decides if you really need a home computer, or if you should just go to the library and use a public one? Who decides if you’re worthy of medical care, if you’re chronically ill, and are eating into someone elses’ share? Who decides if your child deserves a college fund, or if you should use that money for the community? Who decides? Setting an ideal for strangers, that you yourself see as unattainable, and expecting them to live up to it, while you do not, is all sorts of wrong. I know that you have repeatedly said how you fail to live up to your own standards, but doesn’t that make you sad? Doesn’t that make you feel like maybe you’re not trying very hard? That maybe you need to be better at it, before you start dictating that others should live up to those standards as well?

  14. To answer your question about who gets to decide. I’m not 100% sure. I know, I know. It sounds like I’m being all wishy-washy about my beliefs but here’s the thing, there is no good example of the type of society I’m envisioning. Obviously our current models of communism are terrible and I don’t want to copy those and the examples I’ve seen on a small scale, while functioning very well, it involves less then 5 families so it’s difficult to get a feel how it would play out in a large scale effort.

    In my perfect world there wouldn’t be one person who gets to decide on what people can and can’t have. It would be decided within the group. And it wouldn’t be so much of a “you can/can’t have this”, “you don’t need this” type of decision. It is people living, working together to benefit everyone. Not some mandate saying everyone gets 10 white shirts and 4 blue pants and that’s all. It’s being aware of what you have, what you need, what is excess, what others need and how you can help.
    —-
    No, it doesn’t make me sad that I am failing to live up to my own standards. It makes me want to work harder to live up to those standards. I know that I am trying to live simply and I’m not dictating how others should live. I was pointing out how I define greed and how I think the problem of greed could be solved.

    You have to admit that even Americans/Europeans who are living simply still have way more than those living in developing countries. Think what could be done if everyone truly lived simply.

  15. You’re still not really defining your terms. I have no problem with true co-op style collectives. People can choose to participate in those, or not to participate in them. I have a huge problem whit people who want to force me to be a communist. I wouldn’t stop you from joining a commune, but please don’t make me join one against my will.

  16. Great post, and glad I took the survey so I know where I stand, which is very similar to Shawn and Limor, it seems.

    I’d like to respond to Abby, specifically the 2nd paragraph of the latest post. What I’m hearing you say is that, within a community of people, the group should decide. Essentially pure democracy with everything regulated; so the group votes on how everyone should live.

    The thing I wrestle with regarding greed and minimalism is: why should harder workers pay for things for people who don’t work at all? i.e. life-long welfare recipients who are more than happy to stay that way

    So our family’s charitable giving is almost always to organizations that help those that are truly helpless, especially hunger-related and basic needs. What really gets me fired up is the “forced giving” of gov’t programs to who knows where (and likely much less efficiently run than a non-profit).

  17. Limor, I think where we are having the conflict is you are comparing your ideal government (which is one that is already set up, although not in office) to my ideal government which is a several idea pulled from a few different styles to create my “ideal”.

    And while it seems that I lean towards a communist model (everyone working to contribute to the common good) I absolutely do not agee with people being forced into something like that. I like the idea of living simply and pooling our resources but yes, it should be an option. Now, in order to avoid having a bunch of mini governments spring up all over the US due to people “opting out” of the system, making the choice not to participate in my ideal may mean relocating.
    And honestly, that’s an option people have today. If you don’t like the president come Nov. and don’t want a part in his new system (whatever that may be) you always have the option of leaving and choosing a new system to live in.

    —-
    Tim

    (Hi, it took me a couple minutes to figure out who you were…)
    Anyway, yes, what you read into my response is pretty accurate. It’s not one dictator saying how long or where people work. It’s a group deciding how best to use the resources they have.

    As for your comment on life long wellfare, etc. That drives me nuts as well. I’m all for the government supporting people and helping them back on their feet – but that’s the key, they need to get back on their feet and begin contributing to society. I think unemployment is a good example (not flawless, but better than a lot of gov’t programs). You are eligible for money but not forever and not an excessive amount. It’s there to help you get by while things are rough but it’s not meant to sustain you/your family forever.

    I’ve worked with a lot of the “lifers” on wellfare and it’s sort of a catch 22. They get on it and realize that they are receiving more than if they worked a min. wage job so they just stay on it. Seriously, if those were your options, wouldn’t you do the same? But there are also other factors that go into that, such as generational poverty, lack of education on daily life (i.e. creating a budget) and I don’t feel that there are enough resources to help people get out of the system. Social workers are over-worked and underpaid and there is only so much they can do.

    But as far as greed and living simply – you don’t have to give back to the government, if you don’t want to (I’m not talking about my hypothetical society, I’m talking about real life). You can, like you said, donate to non-profits or even give the cash directly to your neighbor if you want. You can also donate time, resources, talents, etc. Not all giving needs to be monetary.

    —-
    (Sorry if it’s not too clear 12:45 in the morning is not the best time for me to write about things that take a lot of thought.

  18. “I’m no economist”

    Well you’ve got THAT right, at least.

    Do you know how frustrating it is for someone who actually understands economics to discuss them with someone who really really doesn’t? I’ll tell you, it gets really frustrating. Just so you know, why certain people in your life might get, you know, frustrated. Because they really do understand economics?

  19. I should have said, “Someone who really doesn’t understand economics and doesn’t bother to take the time to learn.” Because that makes it much worse. It’s not that complicated a subject.

  20. Oh, and from a biblical POV – let’s be clear here (my apologies for not having my thoughts together for one post; I’m working) – from a biblical POV there is no way to justify such economic fascism. Not old testament nor new. From thou shalt not steal to thou shalt not covet what is thy neighbors, to a man sitting under his own fruit tree, there is no biblical justification for stealing from anyone, even if you have good intentions for the money. Even the tax in the OT was only ten percent. Plus of course the poor were allowed to glean the fields. So don’t think you’re promoting some “Christian” form of economics – there is nothing Godly about theft in the name of altruism, and the results are disastrous for rich and poor alike, devastating to the economy, as well as socially disastrous.

  21. OK, remember that part where I talked about disagreeing well? I think it was the point of this whole post.

    Those last three comments, Annie, those are a good example of not disagreeing well. Snarky comments, adamant proclamations about what the Bible says and distortions of someone’s viewpoint are not helpful. Nor is not sharing your viewpoint in the first place.

    I think the early church in Acts is a great biblical example of what Abby is talking about. And nobody is talking about justifying stealing. How many times has Abby talked about her system being an opt-in type system (and she’s admitted it’s an ideal that hasn’t worked)?

    The point of this is to see where we stand, understand how far apart we are, and be OK with that. Asking questions is great, but you need to have some respect, you need to understand that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re wrong or ignorant, and most of all you need to understand that the whole point of this is that we disagree and we’re not likely to convince each other of our varying view points (especially in a few comments on a blog post).

  22. Abby, I’m glad that you clarified things. I feel a lot better now. As I said I don’t have any issues with people who want to live on communes, etc. I just don’t want to be forced into anything like that. Unfortunately the left continues to work toward that end. To put government in control of everything and everyone,to take away your right to live as you see fit. I’d rather move to Montana, buys a bunch of guns, and lose my social security number, than live as a socialist or communist. As for this;

    “They get on it and realize that they are receiving more than if they worked a min. wage job so they just stay on it. Seriously, if those were your options, wouldn’t you do the same?”

    People who have self respect wouldn’t continue to be parasites.

  23. Limor, I’m actually working on a blog post to try and clarify my ideas and put them together in one coherent form. Hopefully that will help clear things up a little.

    As far as people not having self-respect. I’m not sure I agree with that. Most of the families I knew were looking at their options and saw that the best way to take care of their family was to stay on welfare. I tend to think of a parasite as something unwanted/uninvited. Whereas these people are taking advantage of something that was offered to them. And if you offer a program such as welfare, I think it’s also part of your responsibility to help people successfully transition out of the program as well. The key word being “successfully”.

  24. Abby,

    Three points based on your response:

    I absolutely agree that employment is a good example of a decent gov’t program – useful, but temporary, with one exception.. those individuals that have seasonal jobs and systematically get on unemployment in between times they’re working. They chose that job – I shouldn’t have to pay for when they’re not working

    “They get on it and realize that they are receiving more than if they worked a min. wage job so they just stay on it. Seriously, if those were your options, wouldn’t you do the same?”

    Well, I would evaluate why I’m only able to attain employment at a minimum wage rate. I’d use the system to live, and since I wouldn’t have to work, would get an education (no matter how long that took) – yes, it’s expensive, but loans are almost always available to cover the entire amount, and the payback will eventually come. Then when I graduate, I get a job that I probably will enjoy, feel like I’m contributing to society in some way, and get paid more than welfare.

    “you don’t have to give back to the government, if you don’t want to”

    Oh yes, I absolutely have to – it’s called taxes, and is one of the biggest factors, IMO, of the economic liberalism vs conservatism spectrum. Liberalism says, “raise taxes (on whomever..that varies, but is irrelevant for this point), and give it to whomever the legislators decide”, whereas conservatism says, “tax only to the bare minimum to keep us safe and provide basic community benefits and infrastructure, and let individuals’ compassion give as their hearts lead them”. I’m firmly in the latter camp.

  25. “I tend to think of a parasite as something unwanted/uninvited. Whereas these people are taking advantage of something that was offered to them.”

    I never agreed to give them my money, therefore they are unwanted. Many are abusing something that was taken by force from me and then handed to them with very few conditions or follow up.

    I would also like to poke a hole in your economics, if I may. You criticize consumerism, and I agree with you to a certain extent. However, you seem to be ignoring a really huge by-product of consumerism, jobs. People buy stuff, the factory/store/company that sells the stuff needs to increase production in order to keep up with the demand. They hire more people. Those people get paid, go out and buy stuff. etc. If people didn’t buy stuff, you would have very few jobs, and most of them would likely be government jobs.

  26. Tim,

    I didn’t realize that when you said forced giving you were referring to taxes. I guess I’ve never counted taxes as any type of donation. I agreed to live by the laws of this country. The law says pay taxes and so I pay them. And while I don’t like where a lot of my tax money goes, I still pay it but I in no way consider that “giving”.

    I was assuming you meant donating to some type of large scale organization that is designed to help but you’re never quite sure where the money goes or who it’s helping vs. giving to a smaller non-profit.

    Like I said, 12:45 in the morning is not the best time for me to respond to comments.

  27. “Well, I would evaluate why I’m only able to attain employment at a minimum wage rate. I’d use the system to live, and since I wouldn’t have to work, would get an education (no matter how long that took) – yes, it’s expensive, but loans are almost always available to cover the entire amount, and the payback will eventually come. Then when I graduate, I get a job that I probably will enjoy, feel like I’m contributing to society in some way, and get paid more than welfare.”

    And this is where the system breaks down. Often times people who live in poverty do not have this thought process. What you described above is planning for the future, long term planning. It’s a skill that is taught to children by their parents. Sometimes subtly, sometimes very bluntly. However, people in poverty live in the now. If money is received it is spent on immediate needs. Plans are made for how they are going to survive today. It is a true and unfortunate product of generational poverty and it is a very difficult cycle to break. (A good book on this is Ruby Paine’s Understanding Poverty). So given that people tend to plan in the NOW it’s easy to see how if given the choice, they would choose to stay on welfare.

    There are all sorts of job training programs for people on welfare but the programs are designed to teach them a skill or to get them a job quickly, when really the program should be focused on counseling people to change the thinking from short term planning to the long term planning. But unfortunately they don’t.

  28. Let’s make it an even 30 comments. Wow. You’d think we were talking about bananas or VW headlights.

    Anyway, three thoughts:

    1) Limor, your suggestion that buying stuff creates jobs seems like putting cart before the house. Certainly that’s the way the economy works, but that doesn’t mean we should spend more to create more jobs. That’s not sustainable. That reminds me of George Bush’s call to go shopping after 9/11.

    2) I think what we’re overlooking in much of this is democracy. I think the system Abby keeps trying to describe is a democratic socialism, where the people have the power to decide how the socialism works.

    Democracy is what this country is all about–power to the people (with certain protections and freedoms guaranteed). So if the people decide they want welfare, so be it. If you don’t like it, well, it’s a democracy. Rally a majority to your side, or deal with it. It seems to me that trying to inflict your ideology on a majority who disagree with it is undemocratic, whether your ideology is socialism or libertarianism.

    3) There have been a lot of questions trying to explain the democrat/socialism view of economics, but I’d like to hear some explanation of the republican/libertarian view. Most of you seem to want limited government control of economic decisions. So what government control/restrictions/regulations are there? What stops abuse and corruption? What keeps people from being taken advantage of?

    It seems like the standard answer (and perhaps not your answer) is that the market will correct itself and charitable people will support those who need help. From my perspective, I don’t think the market always does correct itself. That’s why we’ve needed laws to protect workers, laws to stop abuse, etc. And I don’t think charitable people, as generous as they may be, have been able to do enough to help people in need. That’s why I see the need for some government control/regulation in economics. I still believe in a free market (I’ve got my own business for goodness sake), but I think we need some protections in place and can’t rely on business to always do that.

  29. Kevin,
    1. What I think Limor is saying is that paying less taxes (or “giving less” or “obeying the law” as other people here have put it) puts more money in my pocket. I can then take that money and a) save it, earning interest, which I or my heirs will spend or donate; or b) spend it at Menard’s or the grocery store or on a car, spurring the economy by allowing other people to make money, creating businesses and jobs; or c) donate it to a person or cause who is in need.

    2. Just because the majority wants something doesn’t make it right. In fact, all this “power to the people” talk makes me nervous, and let me explain. This country was founded on individual, personal liberty. One is not permitted to step on another’s freedom so long as harm isn’t being done. If a skinhead wants to think, speak, or write something odious, I can’t be allowed to stop him. If the majority or the “power of the people” want to stop him, should they? After all, they have the power.
    I don’t like “power to the people”. I like “power to the individuals”.

  30. Abby,

    I see what you mean about my reference to taxes. No, I don’t consider taxes my tithe or charitable giving.. ;-) But assistance to the poor (or any other group) can be by the gov’t or separate organization. I’m just saying that we could trim the amount of spending (and thus taxes, once the budget is balanced) if we cut out all the “mandatory giving” via taxes. Then people would take more net income home and thus have more to give (and the non-profit will be more efficient than gov’t anyway). Enough about that from me..

    The “living in the now” welfare recipients caused me to step back and think about it more. My initial thought is, “well they’re not doing anything.. don’t they have enough time to figure out how they’re going to get out of that state of living?” I suppose in many cases they’re single parents and thus are busier than a married homemaker (obvious, I know). But I would think it would leave some time during diaper changing to think about your future – I guess it’s just passed down generationally, as you said.

  31. Kevin, I think you’ve got your last point almost there. The issue is not that there are laws in place by gov’t to protect people from abuse, etc. The issue is gov’t taking over the financing of it and funneling the cash through their hands and putting a bureacracy around it. In that way, I can choose to give to some cause that I support, rather than being forced to give (through taxes) to whatever special interests (good or bad) the lawmakers decide.

    Let me give an example of inefficiency in gov’t: nearly every department (I’ve never seen one that hasn’t) has a budget, and it’s a use-it-or-lose-it (and not get the same amount next year) mentality. In the private/non-profit sector, you’ll use it if it makes sense, and save it for later if not.
    In fact, it’s encouraged and is looked favorably upon by superiors. So you get departments that have 450 toner cartridges that they’ll never run out of (and another dept needs them at some point but can’t use any), etc..

  32. “I still believe in a free market (I’ve got my own business for goodness sake), but I think we need some protections in place and can’t rely on business to always do that.”

    You can’t believe in a free market, but also believe “protections”. One cancels the other out. People who believe in big government think that they, and in turn government, knows what’s good for you. That you are some sort of child, or idiot, and need to be told what to do, for “your own good”, or “the common good”. I am not so arrogant as to assume that I know what is best for others, only for myself.

    The more heavily we rely on government, the less we rely on ourselves, and the lazier we become. With each additional tax, law, and government job created, we lose a little more freedom. We become more desensitized to the nanny state, gradually with these changes. One day we will wake up to find that every decision is made for us, and we have sold our rights, piece meal, to our government, until we have no rights.

  33. Rick,

    1) Limor prefaced her statement by talking about consumerism, not taxes, so that’s how I took her statement (in fact, she never mentioned taxes). But looking at your argument, we’re still coming down to the same disagreement. You think less taxes so people can spend their money how they want. I think more taxes (on higher incomes) so we can ensure some basic services that I’m not convinced people would provide out of charity (at least not enough to cover the need).

    2) I understand your point, but we’ve got a democracy and that’s the drawback: Sometimes people are stupid. ;-) I think that’s why basic freedoms are protected, so stupid democracies can’t take them away, but the exact specifics of how everything else works is left up to the people.

    Tim,

    I think inefficiency in government is a problem that can plague any ideology. Certainly in bigger government there’s more opportunity for it, but inefficiency is a problem to be battled, but it doesn’t invalidate an ideology (in my opinion).

    Limor,

    Perhaps by “free market” I don’t mean it in the way you might mean it, but I mean that I have the freedom to make the choices I want to make about my business. It’s not a communist system where the government decides what Monkey Outta Nowhere gets to do.

    If you’re going to protect individual liberty, whether we’re talking about business or social issues, there has to be a line drawn somewhere. Whose liberty trumps whose? Does my freedom to not be discriminated against trump your freedom to run your business the way you want to? Does my freedom not to be harmed by second hand smoke trump your freedom as a property owner to allow smoking? Does my right to pile trash in my yard trump my neighbor’s right not to look at trash (or have higher property values or whatever)?

    I think at some point there are limitations to personal freedom, and I suspect part of why we land in different ideologies is because we answer that question differently. We all think we have different basic rights that should trump someone else’s freedom, and that colors this discussion. Any time you defend certain rights you have to limit freedom. Personally, in addition to civil rights, I think education and health care should be basic rights, and giving everyone access to those requires some sort of limitation, whether it’s taxes or business regulations or whatever. And you certainly have a voice in that (this is a democracy). The cry of the colonists wasn’t “No taxation!” it was “No taxation without representation!” You get a voice in the process, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win all the time.

    I think it’s OK to have a balance between the personal freedom many of you advocate and some safety net from the government that supports people in time of need and ensures that people aren’t taken advantage of. I don’t think that makes people lazy, I think it helps people. I don’t think it has to be one way or the other, you can have some middle ground without waking up one day to find everything gone, like Limor suggests.

    So are there any business regulations that you (I’m asking anyone in the Libertarian/Republican side of things) think should be in place? Child-labor laws? Accounting practices? Equal pay? Safety?

    Are there any social welfare type programs that you think should be in place? Social Security? Welfare? Unemployment? Workman’s Compensation? State-financed education?

  34. And let’s add a few more, because this discussion seems too pigeon-holed: Regulations against predatory lending? Anti-monopoly? Disaster assistance? Economic incentives (like certain tax breaks to lure tech companies, etc.)? Food stamps? WIC?

  35. Tim,

    Generation poverty is something that is difficult to understand if you’ve never experienced it and it’s hard to imagine not stopping to think about your future. I feel lucky that I’ve worked very closely with people who struggle with this and have often explained their rational for why they do things they way they do to me. Which brings me to my next point. I agree with you on the taxes issue. I think it would be ideal to trim the “mandatory giving” by removing some of the programs from the government and relying more on non-profits, charities, etc. However, my big concern is that without the government run programs are people in this country truly aware of the need and would they be able to support those in need? Like I said before, it’s a problem that can’t be fixed simply by tossing money in their direction. It involves changing the way a person thinks about/plans for their life and un-teaching something that has long been ingrained in them. Just look at this small group of people…we all have very different opinions on this subject and I don’t think any of us are budging on our opinions, now imagine trying to change the thinking pattern of an entire class of people.
    As much as I am not a fan of the current system I do think we need to have a system. I’m more of the “if it’s broken, fix it” as opposed to the “if it’s broken, just get rid of it”.

  36. “if the people decide they want welfare, so be it. If you don’t like it, well, it’s a democracy. Rally a majority to your side, or deal with it.”

    Is that would you would have said to black people pre-civil rights, or to Japanese Americans during interment? The majority thought that it was OK to take away their freedoms. As Rick said, just because a majority has agreed to something doesn’t make it right. You can be a practicing Socialist or Communist under a Libertarian government. You can’t be a practicing Libertarian under a Socialist or Communist government. As a Libertarian I’m not telling anyone or stopping anyone from giving some, all or none of their money away. If most people believe in giving to the “poor” then why wouldn’t they be able to under a Libertarian government?

    You’re very wrong about losing rights. Government will always expand to fill its allotted space. The more room we give it, the more it will grow. What Tim pointed out, about the departmental budgets, proves my point. Unless we force government to spend less, it will always spend as much as it has in the past, or more.

  37. Limor, I talked about how it’s a democracy with certain freedoms *guaranteed*. It’s a democracy with protections for the minorities. And if those protections aren’t in place, that’s when people need to rally to make them happen, which is the only way it’s happened (civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, etc.).

    By your reasoning you can’t be a practicing Libertarian under any government except a Libertarian government. But that doesn’t mean Libertarian is therefore the best. And that’s not what we have.

    As for losing rights, it’s clear we all disagree, so it doesn’t help to proclaim how wrong anybody else is. As Abby said, yes there can be problems in government (or business or anything), but I think that means we should fix the problem, not get rid of government. There can be a flaw in the method, but that doesn’t invalidate the idea.

    In general, I’m still curious to hear what programs/regulations/measures (if any) you Republicans/Libertarians think should be in place? I’m also curious to hear what you think about limitations to freedom. Whose freedom trumps whose? (just want to make sure those questions don’t get lost–we grilled the socialists, now let’s grill the other side ;-) )

  38. I have explained the concept of individual freedoms, private property, etc. about a million times over. I could recommend some books on economics if you need some heavy reading :)

  39. Limor, I haven’t seen you answer specific questions about whose freedom trumps whose and which rights trump freedom. I also haven’t seen you answer these specific questions about what programs/regulations/measures should be in place. If you’ve answered those elsewhere, I’ve missed it or perhaps didn’t fully understand (I wouldn’t ask if I knew), but at the very least I’d hope you’d share your views here for the sake of everyone else in this conversation. Abby explained her position and I hope you (or others, I’m not only asking these questions of you) will do the same.

  40. Instead of repeating what I have previously said, I’ll just quote Ayn Rand.

    Individual Rights
    “Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.

    For instance: a man has the right to live, but he has no right to take the life of another. He has the right to be free, but no right to enslave another. He has the right to choose his own happiness, but no right to decide that his happiness lies in the misery (or murder or robbery or enslavement) of another. The very right upon which he acts defines the same right of another man, and serves as a guide to tell him what he may or may not do.”

    Property Rights
    “The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

    Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.”

    Proper Role of Government
    “The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.”

  41. Thanks for responding and continuing this dialogue.

    So it sounds like you want absolutely no government involvement in business, right? So what’s to stop abuses? What stops predatory lending practices? What stops child labor abuses? What ensures that people aren’t discriminated against?

    On the social front, are you advocating absolutely no government safety net? Are people only to rely on themselves and charity? What if charity isn’t enough? What about disaster relief? What about the disabled or sick who are unable to work? What if you’re injured on the job? What if you lose your job? What about libraries?

    And on the rights front, I’m still not understanding whose freedom trumps whose. Do I have the right to play my music as loud as I want to or do you have the right to peace and quiet? Does my right to install a 20-foot fence trump my neighbors’ rights to have an unimpeded view or to have uniformity for the sake of property values? As a business owner do I have the right to pay women less or do they have a right to equal pay?

  42. I think that you’re giving people in today’s world very little credit. Would you patronize a business that doesn’t allow black people, or gays? Of course not, neither would most people. There is a huge misconception about women making less money than men. I will refer you back to Thomas Sowell (my favorite economist), in his book “Civil Rights”, he talks about the disparity between what men earn and what women ear. If you actually look at what fields women go into, how many of them work PT/FT, and a few other factors, the disparity disappears. Not very PC, but based on facts. Unless your neighbor is causing some health hazard, he/she has a right to build a big fence etc. If you want uniformity move into a condo. The noise, if indeed it is ear piercing, does violate your right to some peace, but if he wants to paint his house bright pink, that’s his business. It’s not your property, you have no right to dictate taste.

    Predatory lending is a very misleading term. When Rick and I applied for a mortgage (in MI) we were approved for about twice as much as we were planning on spending. Because we are not morons, that fact didn’t change our house buying budget. If someone is dumb enough to get a mortgage which they can’t pay for, it is their own fault if they lose the house. The nice thing is, that the mortgage company that approved such an irresponsible investment will then suffer too. Look at the housing market today. The government shouldn’t bail out these poorly managed mortgage companies, because they got themselves into their own mess. They should go bankrupt. If you leave the market alone, it takes care of itself. If you force people to be responsible and self reliant, most of them will step up to the plate.

    Safety nets only lead to risky and stupid behavior. As for those “less fortunate”, you are again underestimating the power of privatization to improve things a million times over. Private charities would be able to manage a smaller amount of money more efficiently than government manages a huge amount of money. You’re also forgetting that without having to pay massive taxes, people would have a lot more money to take care of their own family and loved ones.

    I think where we differ is how we see the nature of man. I see people as fundamentally good and ethical. Given the chance, I think that most people would do the right thing. You see people are fundamentally evil and immoral. That’s why you think that people should be treated like children, and micro-managed.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t evil people in the world, but they are not the majority, and in a free society they would not have the opportunity to abuse anyone else.

  43. So effectively, I’m saying civil rights (or safe working conditions or ethical practices, pick your poison) when the democratic society demands them, and you’re saying civil rights when the market forces demand them. Is that fair?

    I guess as last resort I’d rather rely on the collective voice of people to correct abuses, then for the optional whim of markets or charitable givers. If market forces or charity or whatever can correct a problem first, then great, but if they won’t or can’t do it, I want the democracy to step in and do it. I think that’s putting a fair amount of trust in people.

  44. Limor – You are saying you do not want your taxes to go to “safety nets” such as welfare, correct? Then if there is no welfare, what responsibility do you feel you have towards helping those that would have received welfare?

  45. There would be plenty of non-profits that would fill-in for those on welfare, and we could contribute to the ones that have the most appealing/useful philosophy as givers.

  46. Tim – and what happens if not enough people contribute to those non-profits?
    Non-profits can also decide who to give their money to. What happens to the people who don’t qualify/meet that non-profits (or any non-profits) requirements?

  47. Hey Tim, I’d love to hear your answers to the questions I posed about what a government should and shouldn’t provide. Do you agree with Limor’s Ayn Rand approach that it should only be police, army & courts? What about education, parks, libraries, workplace safety regulations, etc. (to name a random few)?

  48. To answer Kevin’s questions..

    “So it sounds like you want absolutely no government involvement in business, right?”

    No, there obviously needs to be laws for the regulation of business – my main point is that the money doesn’t flow through the gov’t to spend.

    “So what’s to stop abuses? What stops predatory lending practices?”

    I think I both agree and disagree w/Limor regarding predatory lending practices. I think it’s ultimately the borrower’s fault for getting into a loan that they can’t payback. But I also think that there should be some kind of more useful summary sheet for variable rate mortgages that show the borrower a potential typical situation that they may be in later on. Similar to listing info about credit cards (annual fees, % rates, etc) I agree that we shouldn’t bail out the lenders no matter how long the economic slump is – perhaps that’ll prevent another one in the future.

    “What stops child labor abuses?”
    I think any child over something like age 12 should be able to work for pay, but the standards like OSHA sets would get more strict the younger the person is. It’s up to the business owner to accept some of the risk for hiring that young of a person (e.g. my wife opened, ran, and closed a bookstore in the mall when she was 13).

    “On the social front, are you advocating absolutely no government safety net? Are people only to rely on themselves and charity? What if charity isn’t enough? What about the disabled or sick who are unable to work?”

    Generally, I think this comes down to everyone having the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. More specifically, I think the gov’t “safety net” should be something like pockets of communities, where they all live together (like a dorm) and each have responsibilities in caretaking. They get “paid” in the form of housing and food and a bit of spending money (for clothes and other items), in exchange for some kind of services that they provide for the community. There would probably be exceptions for disabled individuals. In that way, they learn the value of work (even if minimally), and are still cared for – it also significantly reduces costs to the taxpayer.

    Charities would supplement what’s provided by the gov’t to improve their quality of life, with (I would imagine) an emphasis on getting out of that situation and getting a job outside the community. I definitely see a role being played there for counselors of all types (esp. financial education and addiction treatment, as applicable)

    Disabled veterans would be in a separate category and would fall under a similar system to what exists today, similar to welfare, but based on type and level of disability. They “deserve more” since the gov’t essentially caused their situation.

    Also related – keep unemployment benefits as it exists today, but exclude the benefit between seasonal employment.

    “What about disaster relief?”
    That’s what insurance is for. It’s mandatory and included in purchasing a house. If it’s really expensive, you may want to look at not living in a hurricane zone or flood plain. That said, I would accept that there should be some funds set aside for transport of people to some safe location, as that’s not always possible for everyone for various reasons (preserve their right to life).

    “What if you’re injured on the job?”
    There’s insurance for that, as well. Worker’s compensation is mandatory anyway (and I’m fine with that). Long-term disability insurance could be mandatory for all I care as well (I don’t think it is now) since it’s relatively inexpensive. Unemployment would take care of this as well, if it’s an injury that prevents the person from returning to that line of work.

    “What if you lose your job?”
    Get on unemployment and look for a new job. If you can’t find a new job, ultimately you’ll be moving in to a welfare community as I describe above. If you don’t like that, you should’ve done some of the following:
    – gained more skills
    – not gotten fired (if applicable)
    – built up an emergency fund
    – chosen a more in-demand occupation

    “What about libraries?”
    I think most of us have already stated that services for the good of everyone should be provided by gov’t. The taxation should be near the level of the service provided – e.g. roads would be a mix of local, state, and federal. Libaries would be mostly local with some state. State parks would be state, etc..

    “And on the rights front, I’m still not understanding whose freedom trumps whose.”

    This depends on what the freedom is – if it directly affects someone else’s safety or is unreasonable (yes, that’s vague, but see below), then it’s an issue.

    “Do I have the right to play my music as loud as I want to or do you have the right to peace and quiet?”
    It depends how loud – I would support a law that would put a maximum decibel level at the edge of your property for various times of the day.

    “Does my right to install a 20-foot fence trump my neighbors’ rights to have an unimpeded view or to have uniformity for the sake of property values?”
    In general, yes you can install your fence, up to a level that is safe (so it doesn’t fall down on their property or on the road, etc). Most of the “why can my neighbor do XYZ on their property” issues can be resolved by investing in a larger property.

    “What ensures that people aren’t discriminated against? As a business owner do I have the right to pay women less or do they have a right to equal pay?”

    Again, laws would still be in place for this sort of thing. Regarding equal pay for women vs men, I agree with Limor that this is overstated and should be an absolute non-issue, with the exception of publicly listed salaries/hourly rates (there couldn’t be one for women, one for men, etc). It’s a fact of the marketplace that rarely does anybody know another employees’ salary unless they say it themselves (private sector only). You accept the salary when you accept the job.

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