1.26.2011

A Political Calculus...

Friends I have known in graduate school that have discussed current affairs with me have occasionally expressed surprise at the positions I have taken. These positions seemingly combine a socially liberal with a fiscally conservative bent, which is not entirely accurate. Most conventional representations of political spectra rely on a single axis, running left to right, with American liberal/left-wing/socialist/labor/progressive on one end, and right-wing/conservative/reactionary on the opposite end. It is a model that does grievous harm to the great diversity of opinion, and is noteworthy mostly for its lack of granularity.

My political calculus is informed to a great degree by political scientist David Eastons's work on systems models. Based on the idea that government is a mechanism for turning inputs into outputs, I posit the following: I retain the horizontal line formulation, but in lieu of the left-right paradigm, I substitute one of more or less government intervention. A sliding cross bar represents the positions of social conservatives and social liberals, who while disagreeing vociferously about the nature of government interventions they want to achieve, nevertheless agree that they want to utilize government as a device to intervene in other peoples lives. It is vital to recognize that intervention is not costless; every time the state intervenes the aggregate wealth is reduced, and everybody in the community is a little bit less well off as a result. Consent to public intervention often enough and everbody is markedly less well off.

It is worth noting that I reject the formulation of libertarian theorists, who insist government intervention is wrong in (almost) every case. By way of example, I currently live in Upper Alton, IL. Homer Adams Parkway is the main drag through U/A, and I assure you faithfully that it would be uninhabitable without the traffic signal at the intersection of HAP and Alby. That traffic signal represents a government intervention. Libertarians would, in rather shrill fashion, tell you the traffic signal was a government intrusion into their private lives. I'm telling you that you or I would have to move to Missouri if it wasn't there, local driving skills being what they are. So the question arises: How much government intervention, and what kind? The only thing that is clear to me at this juncture is that reasoned discussion, supported by empirical evidence, is the most promising approach to finding an answer. Not shrill polemics.