What I like in each political party
This is basically most of my political philosophy. Naturally, it’s been colored by my study of history and economics. I want to express what I think each party does right, and why I’m firmly in the Democratic column right now.
What Republicans have right
Incentives — When people have a reason to do something, they usually do it. So if health care is free for people who make less than $35,000, and I made $36,000 last year at an hourly job or as an independent contractor, I will work less. This almost happened to me one year under Romneycare in Massachusetts.
Invisible hand — The free market generally sets prices where they should be, and business is usually more efficient than government at producing products of value that people want. So unless there’s a specific reason for government to get involved, it shouldn’t. That’s why price controls failed in the 1970s under Nixon, and that’s why the Soviet Union fell apart, and why China abandoned the controlled economy. I agree in general that the job of the government is to set up the conditions necessary for a thriving, efficient free market and then step back. Where I differ with Republicans is on just what those conditions are.
Abuse of the system — There are people who abuse the social safety net. Period. I don’t think that the scale of the abuse is as big as Republican politicians imply, but abuse sure is there.
Entitlement reform — I’m in favor of this temporarily, but I’m sure that will change. When FDR created social security, it was a tax leveed mainly on businesses, so you can think of it as a ‘hazard pay’ to workers that companies pay for the wear and tear on their bodies as a result of aging. Managed by the government. To look at it another way, it’s an increase of the minimum wage with payments forcibly deferred. Or, in a third way, the government says to companies ‘your workers may not be thinking of their old age when deciding whether to work for you for the wages you offer, but you must for them.’ But there are two critiques Republicans may fairly make that I agree with: 1) Is it really the government’s job to make that decision for workers? And then to manage the money for them? Maybe not. 2) Spending lots of money on the old isn’t a good investment. It produces very little. Essentially, if social security were eliminated, we’d see an improved economy, but also more dead old people on the streets. If you want to make a utilitarian argument that “old people are useless”, I’ll hear that argument right now, but that’s probably just because I know few old poor people. I’m sure that will change as I get older.
Free trade — Republicans have historically been more aligned with free trade than Democrats, although looking at the current nominees for president you’d have a very different picture of things than you would if you looked at congress. So I consider being pro-free trade as a right wing view. I’ve taken enough Economics to understand much of the theory behind free trade as a positive to everyone, and also see shutting ourselves away as bad for our international influence and alliances.
What Democrats have right
Race — There is systemic racism in our country. In some places it’s overt, and in some places not so much. I quoted a study that showed that people with non-white names get called back for job applications significantly less often given otherwise identical resumes. Someone I was talking to then told me “Sure, I’d call back [Matt Anderson] before I call back Jayshawn Crawford, but that isn’t racism.” Yes, Alec, it is. Not only is it racism, but your failure to think through the implications of your statement mean that you don’t understand the experience of minorities in America. Since people like Alec make up much of the Republican party, that is one big reason minorities more often vote for Democratic candidates. EDIT: 2 hours after I typed this, I see Trump in a video clip making a similar mistake on CNN to Jake Tapper about the ‘Mexican’ judge.
Gender — Similar to race, there are a lot of double standards at work in society. Democrats address them or try to equalize the playing field, Republicans try to maintain the status quo. See also “legitimate rape” (Todd Akin), and the family values voters who will be voting for Trump the cheater over Clinton the cheated-upon.
Safety net — The structure of the unmodified free market is, with variations, an exponential equation: those in positive territory move exponentially upward, those in negative territory move exponentially downward. As evidence, I submit compound interest, which affects pretty much all money, invested anywhere. If the purpose of this country is to “promote the general welfare” (U.S. constitution), it’s hard to make an argument against the existence of a social safety net, unless you do it from an effectiveness standpoint. Republicans say that the role of the safety net should be taken up by private charity. The are a couple problems with this… 1) People don’t give enough charity for that, and 2) Most charity is intra-communal, not inter-communal. I was mulling over what to do with the money I will give to charity, and someone I was at a Jewish event with suggested sending money to the children of the victims of terror in the West Bank settlements. In other words, to people he sees as part of our community. I quietly rejected the suggestion with great internal rage, but let’s look at the reasons for that rage: I consider those settlers to not be part of my community (and I vehemently disagree with their politics). I’m much more likely to give money to a food bank either in Providence or the town where I teach. Poor old Podunk, KY has no chance of getting my charity. Poor communities will be disadvantaged by such a system.
The problem with pure capitalism — The free market is very efficient. And what’s the most efficient distribution of money? Putting it all in one place. When capitalism is unfettered, the gap between rich and poor widens. With credit cards now so efficient, it’s possible to end up with an infinite gap. The government should counter-balance this natural tendency of capitalism, and “spread the wealth around” (Obama during the 2008 campaign, often quoted by McCain then as a negative thing).
Welfare mom doesn’t mean lazy — Libertarians especially seem to have this odd idea underlying all their other assumptions that people start off with equal opportunities at the moment of birth. I disagree, based on the people I have known and the influential moments in my life. My parents, their community, and the schooling opportunities open to me probably made me what I am more than my raw ability did. Meanwhile, Republicans talk about abuse of the social safety net, usually coded racist language, but let’s take them on good faith for a second. Consider the incentive structure of public assistance: If your job opportunities suck, you’re probably better off on public assistance. If your job opportunities suck, it’s because of a mixture of your natural ability, who your parents were, and what opportunities exist in your community and region. If your opportunities don’t suck, you’ll get a job because they pay better. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the free market some more. Economic theory has this idea called ‘opportunity cost’, which means that every decision or action has a cost: If I’m typing, I’m missing out on spending time with my students at graduation, or my wife, or playing sudoku or getting another job. If the opportunity cost is too high, people don’t do a thing. Which is why I’m not typing this at school or when I have something better to do. For monetarily successful women, having children has a very high opportunity cost. We should not be surprised that the poor have more children; their opportunity cost is way lower. The free market is to blame.
Government corruption — If the government isn’t financially insulated from the free market system, it becomes merely part of it, and votes can, through one set of incentives or another, be bought and sold if the price is right. Citizens United was just one more layer of insulation stripped away. The most important piece of insulation is the right of all people to vote. (One more reason I’m for immigration reform.) This is why I had a soft spot for McCain after he pushed his election reform bill through in 2002. (In 1997, a different bill of his was blocked by Republican filibuster.) Of course, within 10 years, his 2002 law was rendered totally obsolete.
Taxes — Taxes are at or near modern lows. In the 1950s, the highest marginal tax rate was 90%. That’s (part of) why US infrastructure (and education, and deficit) is suffering. Republicans are right that if taxes were ridiculously high (over 99%), there would be no incentive to work harder. But the highest tax bracket isn’t over 99%, hard-working people are usually NOT in the highest marginal tax bracket, and those who are (Steve Jobs) are doing it because they love their jobs. My personal favorite is the estate tax, which I would like to see near 98% for estates over $5 million. Having a permanent idle class is bad for any society. An individual should be able to enjoy the wealth they’ve earned/created themselves, but not one created by their great-great-great grandfather. Why 98%? Because during a lifetime, that will approximately cancel out the compounding interest one could earn off inherited money. I’m cool with keeping income taxes comparatively low.
Externalities and ‘Tragedy of the commons’ — If you don’t know about the tragedy of the commons, google it. Essentially, If I buy houses in your neighborhood and open up a new airport right next to your house, your property value will decline, what with the noise, the air pollution from jet fuel, and the traffic jams. But there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s my land. Ditto if I open up a strip club or bar which attracts an unsavory lot to your neighborhood. I’m mostly talking of environmental damage here, not declining property values. If things were totally fair, the companies that polluted the Flint river to the point that its water wasn’t just undrinkable but also downright damaging to the pipes should be paying for not only the damage to Flint’s water works, but also to clean up the river. This is why we need stronger environmental protection. The carbon tax is one specific idea, but it isn’t the only thing needed. And yes, I’m sensitive to right wing critiques that regulation is burdensome. But many companies make large profits despite a net negative effect on society. Those companies should be forced to pay fees. That way either they’ll innovate to cause less collateral damage, or raise their prices to match the true cost to society of their products.
Science — I trust scientists on global warming. I know the sort of idealism and drive for truth-seeking that those folks have. See Richard Muller, in 2012.
Church and state — Although I’m quite religious, I believe that the separation of church and state is a good and important thing, and am against people like Ted Cruz, or anyone who is against abortion, placing their faith in the life of the fetus from conception over the welfare of the definitely-living mother.
Conning schemes and government regulation — People don’t have perfect information when making all their monetary decisions, and though the internet is starting to help with that, we aren’t nearly there yet and never will be. The government has a role in making sure imported objects aren’t toxic, in making sure financial institutions aren’t robbing their customers blind… Basically, I’m a Lizzie Warren fan. Making sure companies can’t make money off of being con artists or usurers is, in my opinion, part of making sure a free market runs as it should, preventing companies from distorting the market by preying on low-information (or intelligence) customers.
The monetary system — Conservatives like to say “it’s your money, not the government’s money”. Just one problem with that. Read your money. Mine says ‘federal reserve note’, has the treasurer of the United States’ and the treasury secretary’s signatures, and says “United States of America” on both the front and back. And so forth. Cash is a government system that helps us keep track of debts we have to each other, and credits, i.e. debts of society to us (at least in theory). The government administers this system to fight counterfeiters, and conducts policies to ensure that the system remains stable and trusted. The government, i.e. we the people, absolutely have the right to say “part of society’s debt to you was only possible because of society, so you have to give back to society at large part of your cut”, or “society doesn’t owe you all that much just because society owed your parents all that”.
Government is not like business — It should not be managed like one. After all, the whole idea of business is to try to squeeze profits out of assets. Government should be doing just the opposite, because its assets are we, the people.
Foreign lives matter — I suppose this is a left-wing position. At least by comparison with both left and right leaning people I know. I guess I believe this because I know people from other countries. But also we are all more interconnected both economically and politically that many Republicans want to admit. Take the money Americans spend on drugs. America has a pretty powerful government, so most drug production occurs abroad, and then those drugs are imported via smuggling. A lot of drugs are imported from Latin America. American drug use funds Latin American gangs, which fund nearly open war against their governments, which creates danger and lawlessness to civilians, which creates emigration, which creates an illegal immigration problem here. The point isn’t that what goes around comes around. Rather, that we’re all connected, and things that happen abroad are partially our fault, even if we decline to take responsibility. One country stirring the waters affects all countries in the global monetary stream. And the USA has the biggest paddle.
Immigration — We used to have an open door policy to immigrants. In this age of terror and ease of travel, that isn’t a good idea. But we should have far easier access to legal immigration than we have now. As evidence, I submit the 11 million people living quietly in this country without legal standing. Many of whom work quietly for less than minimum wage because it’s still better than going home. The only argument I can see against this is the “cultural purity” argument, which is really about linguistic purity, i.e. racial purity, which is really beneath us, I must say. Lemme make this offer: I’ll trade conservatives English-as-a-national-language in exchange for immigration reform which makes legal residency easy, and which makes it simpler for English-speaking, multi-year residents to become citizens.
Drug policy — Here’s where I get pretty radical and inventive. My first coherent thought on drug policy was about 8 years ago: “legalize everything”, I said, “because if you can buy pot online or at CVS, then my former students in Dorchester won’t have any incentive to shoot each other over turf”. Also, there would be less Latin American (and USA American) violence and lawlessness if we removed that income stream from criminal organizations. But would drugs disappear? Probably not — just look at cigarettes. And the new (less harmful but just as addictive) e-cigarettes. So here’s a radical, innovative way to prevent drug use: Make it legal to use everything, but make it illegal to sell anything. Furthermore and importantly, put a bounty on informing on drug dealers. Imagine the dilemma of the would-be small-time drug dealer. Does he advertise? Every person he tells he’s a dealer to has a monetary incentive to turn him in. On top of that, who’s more in need of quick money than a strung-out addict in need of a fix? Every addict who knows two dealers will inform on one of them. Without small time dealers, the distribution chain will be broken, drug dealers will be caught more easily, and simultaneously, addiction is de-criminalized, making it easier for addicts to get the help they need.
Health care — Is public safety, national security, or constitutional rights involved? (Yes, not really, no). Is the free market doing a good job of handling this, and can the government do a better job? (No, and maybe). So according to my standards, government should probably get involved here, but not definitely. I think Obamacare could be improved on, but it’s actually not a hot-button issue for me.
Gun control — I’m all for universal background checks. It’s a public safety issue. Much like car registration. I’m not for restrictions on how many guns one can own, but I honestly don’t think I know anyone who is.
Death penalty — I’m neutral on it as a concept, but there’s been evidence that it is applied with racial bias, which makes it just like the justice system as a whole, I’m willing to bet. (I can just hear that guy say ‘Sure, I’d be more likely to convict Jayshawn Crawford than Matt Anderson, but that isn’t racism.’) The death penalty specifically isn’t my priority.
What sort of Republican would I vote for?
So right now I’m basically a straight-ticket voter for the Democratic candidates. But theoretically, a socially-liberal Republican who focuses on streamlining incentive structures within government-business interactions and advocates strongly for things like an end to corporate welfare and subsidies. Who is clever and innovative. Who isn’t averse to higher taxes, or the social safety net as a whole, but wants them to work better. One who believes the scientists when they say global warming is real. One for repealing Citizens United. One who tries to get the regulation agencies more efficient and modernized, even while willing to increase funding for them if necessary. In other words, a non-ideological pragmatist who would, today, probably be more at home in the Democratic party. And that’s why I’m at home in the Democratic party, too.