Issues 2008: Conclusion and Summary

There’s no shortage of policy discussion by the candidates on their web sites. There are policy papers galore, on issues from foreign policy to families, all neatly circumscribed by the state of the discussion in Washington and generally with neither details nor verve. During the campaign the candidates have increasingly relied on bland inanities and the campaigns and the media have become increasingly obsessed with minutiae and the gaffe or scandal of the day.

Over the period of the last week I’ve posted a series of discussions of some of the important issues that face us:

I’ve posted these not with any illusion that they’ll influence the campaigns but in the hope they’d spark some discussions and thought that got beyond the candidates’ positions or non-positions. We need to think less about the mechanics of elections and more about the reasons we have elections. Government is a technology, no more good or evil than any other technology, and there are real-life problems to be solved in which government is the only tool at hand. Elections are a way of broadening the discussion beyond a handful of elite often hereditary leaders and building support among the people for these solutions.

I recently read a description of the state of politics in the republic that I thought was pretty good and I want to expand on it and adapt it. The country is currently divided between people who’d like to see the United States move towards an idealized version of the social democracies of Europe and people who’d like to see the United States move towards an idealized version of some point in the past. I’d feel more confident about these two contrasting approaches if more of those who favor moving towards social democracy wanted to pay for it themselves and didn’t see themselves as beneficiaries or even managers of such a solution. I’d feel better if those who favor a lot less government exhibited a better understanding of why the FDA, the SEC, and the Social Security Administration exist than they apparently do.

These competing groups see the process we’re engaged in as what mathematicians call a “zero sum game”, a transaction in which one group wins, the other loses.

This is a dangerous course, I don’t believe that it has to be that way, and for either side actually to try to implement their unrealistic idealized versions of things would be disastrous. We have different circumstances here than prevail anywhere in Europe, different circumstances than prevailed here 70 years ago or 200 years ago and, importantly, I don’t see anybody from either group urging us to adopt the conditions that actually prevail in Germany or France or the conditions that actually prevailed long ago here but impossible idealized versions of them.

Rather than seeking to win or, worse, ensuring that our opponents lose, we need a moderate political system rather than a radical one in which compromise is seen as better than defeating our opponents because both parties in a compromise are better off than they were before the compromise and compromise enlists adversaries as allies rather than encouraging reprisals.

Make the model for our politics trade, not war.

Other contributiions

Tom Traina at Heretical Ideas compares the two candidates’ positions on civil liberties. In my view it’s not the candidates that should be contrasted, it’s the candidate before being elected and after being elected. For some reason or other presidents see the issue of civil liberties differently than candidates do.

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