Thursday, April 08, 2010

Birthday Wishes for Political Perspective

Two years ago I made a birthday wish for happy parenting. Though the advice I posted wasn't the best, it was thought provoking. This year my request is inspired by the most recent post by the OkCupid blog. The main idea was to show that the Democratic Party appeals to many Americans, but that this strength is also a weakness. By gaining the support of large sections of America in the most recent election, the Democrats have organized an unorganizable group. They may have agreed it was time to reign in Wall Street, but they aren't going to agree on issues like health care, abortion, or foreign policy. This explains what we why will see Republican resurgence in November's election.

That very interesting point aside, OkCupid also created some great graphics that spurred this years birthday wish. I've graphed my own political beliefs before, but perhaps they aren't permanent:

This chart shows a transition from libertarian (top left) to authoritarian (bottom right). Kids start out young and idealistic, but as they grow older and have more money, they want less risk and more control. Though at 25 I am still solidly libertarian, I have seen myself move ever so slightly towards the middle. I have not changed my convictions about what an ideal government looks like. However I have realized that most people do not hold the same convictions. In a democracy sometimes compromise is better nothing. As much as it irks my conscience to say that, I believe it is true.

Over the last few years I have created two political versions of myself. The hardcore libertarian who wants a government to exclusively provide property rights and the pragmatic citizen who realizes that he has very little influence in politics (and if he did he might be more pragmatic). Many on the fringe are afraid to actually engage in politics for fear of compromising their ideologies. This falacy keeps those most passionate on the side lines. This realization has been helpful in my teaching and in my own learning. Politics is more of a hobby and less of a personal mission to rationalize the world. Who would have thought a dating website could create such thought provoking information?


  1. If the best government in your view is one that the vast majority of Americans don't want, if it were one day implemented, could it ever be "government by the people for the people?" I suppose maybe if it really is ideal, people would love it once they had it?

    I love seeing where your going with all this. I like that you're not sacrificing your ideals, but still recognizing that some of them are the privileges of a citizen who doesn't have to contend with political battle that democracy continually is.

    I really liked what you had to say about the most passionate being on the sidelines for fear of having to compromise their core beliefs by involving themselves in the political world. That's really insightful.

  2. Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

  3. This post was so good, I had to comment three times.

    "In a democracy sometimes compromise is better nothing."

    I would say in a democracy, without compromise, all you're gonna get is nothing.

  4. Thanks, thanks, and thanks again. I think you're right, democracy is all about compromise. Some are easy, like exchanging freedom to kill for a right to not be killed. Then there's the other 90% of issues (2nd Amendment, zoning laws, etc).

  5. Amike5:14 PM

    First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! For your gift, I'm posting a comment here on your actual blog, so as not to annoy you. :)

    I think the chart's probably accurate--though I'm 30 and I haven't yet made that boomerang turn QUITE yet. But I've always had one problem with the libertarian-authoritarian framework, and this is why I'm not a libertarian anymore: the difference between "permissive" and "restrictive" is not the same as the difference between "less govt" and "more govt."

    A "permissive" society is one in which individuals have a wide range of options, are aware that they have those options, and are actually capable of pursuing those options in practice. (Where to live, where to work, what to buy or not buy, whom to associate with, etc.) The end goal of classical liberalism is not "less government" but "permissiveness," and they're not the same. Ex: children who get pulled out of school and put to work to feed their families don't really have "lifestyle options"; getting them to that point requires not only child labor laws, but also education and a basic minimum of food, shelter and health care. Govt doesn't have to provide all that directly (that stifles independence, which is also limiting), but it's got to come from somewhere--and a society that denies those basic preconditions does not get to call itself "permissive," regardless of how laissez-faire its government happens to be. A society like that doesn't actually "permit" a friggin' thing.

    So it's not about lost idealism or a desire for control--it really is okay to join the dark side. Come, Brookie! It is an inevitability! Join us! Join us in the top right corner!

  6. Interesting take. I don't think there are many examples where more government actually leads to more permissiveness. I don't claim that laissez-faire gives all people more options, especially in the short run. A child with the option to work or starve is free, but not very. What I claim about capitalism is that in the long run it lifts that child's entire continent out of lives with those terrible choices. See China today. Or better yet, see American 200 years ago when it lifted itself out of poverty without government interference (or more likely because of a lack of government interference).

    We have the luxury of debating about whether every gets health insurance because of the great things human ingenuity has done through the incentives created by the free market.

    Education and extensive heath insurance is important in a post-industrial world, less so in the global South.

    And thanks for adding your discussion to the actual blog. I know I appreciate it, but I'm sure my other readers do to!

  7. "I don't think there are many examples where more government actually leads to more permissiveness."

    Are you kidding? The law prevents people from being hurt for their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and all manner of things.

  8. I'm not so sure. Discrimination laws are very murky.

  9. But it's not just discrimination. Doesn't the first Amendment do a heck of a lot to promote a permissive society?

  10. The Constitution isn't the same as passing a law. It was wasn't meant to enlarge government, it's meant to restrict it.

  11. It's also meant to protect our rights.

  12. I would also argue the Constitution is exactly the same as passing a law. The supreme law of the land.

  13. I think we are saying the same thing. Can you name a non-constitutional law that give citizens more freedom?

    You can probably come up with one. But I bet you can't come up with many.

  14. Okay last comment for me, the Constitution was created to restrict the size of the federal government. Most laws since have been passed to enlarge the influence of the federal government (some for good, some not).

  15. Amike9:30 AM

    See, the only thing with posting on THIS comment thread is that I never get notified when people reply. I have to check back frustrating. There oughta be a law. :)

    Historically, the Constitution was created to strengthen the federal govt and expand its power, not to restrict it. The Framers were very concerned about the FG having too much power, of course--which is why the Const'n contains so many restrictive provisions--but the point of the convention in the first place was to amend (or discard) the Articles of Confed'n to make the power of govt more centralized.

    This is why anti-government types and populists all tended to be opposed to the Constitution at the time (Patrick Henry) or at least very skeptical of it (Thomas Jefferson). Today's "libertarians," were they alive in 1787, would probably have been deeply split: those who are "libertarian" out of a principled mistrust of government would have been strongly against the Constitution, while those who are "libertarian" out of a principled TRUST of the MARKET would probably have been in favor. (Alexander Hamilton, e.g.: he pushed for an extremely strong federal government, b/c he believed that centralized authority was necessary for the development of what would later come to be called capitalism.)

  16. You can subscribe to each post you want to hear comments from or you can subscribe to all posts.

    Good point Amike, but for the last 250 years, the Constitution has been used to keep the government small. And in a republic, which we are, the Constitution is the guiding principal for ruling. This plays out as keeping the government small.

    Surely you would admit that if we didn't have a Constitution we would have more government today.

  17. Thanks for the dose of history, Amike. That was exactly where I was going to go. BTW if you create a Blogger account, you have option to subscribe to individual post comment threads (IE, get an email update when someone comments here and only here). A "subscribe by email link" will appear if you're signed in to Blogger or any Google service. That saves you having to read a feed of all of Harrison's blog comments.

    Though it's extremely hypothetical, if we didn't have the Constitution I assume we'd still have the Articles of Confederation, which would mean less government.

  18. BTW I feel I should say I totally agree with you that the majority of laws expand the Fed Gov't, and expanding Gov't is what Gov't does. I just think there are plenty of laws that promote permissiveness in our society. I think the Constitution itself, along with anti-discrimination law like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights act are prime examples. You disagree. That's cool.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.