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In my last post (The Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & Without), I discussed the individual dimensions of this classic struggle, a struggle, at the individual and interpresonal level, in which we are all implicated, and in which we all contribute to  both sides. The message, I believe, dovetails with other related posts on this blog (e.g., The Foundational Progressive Agenda, The Politics of Anger), a message that emphasizes that we have to build progress on a foundation of reason, humility, and goodwill, rather than on the inflexible assumptions of blind ideology and the continued political treadmill of mutual belligerence.

But as we deal with that fundamentally important personal level struggle, both individually and mutually, the outward battle to implement social policies that reflect the same commitment continues. Our widespread lapses at the individual level aggregate into both angry policies and angry politics, in which some can blithely blame the disadvantaged and their allies for trying to create a more equitable political economy, and in which those who oppose that brutal notion can fail to create an inherently attractive alternative. The question, on the political level, is: What does it take to penetrate the hardening of the heart and shrinking of the mind which informs the historically discredited and transparently unjustifiable political ideology of extreme individualism (otherwise known as “small government”)? One part of the answer, the part that is perhaps most overlooked, involves the personal aspect of the struggle between “good” and “evil” discussed in The Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & Without.

My own personal failures, for instance, have contributed to the weakening of the influence of my arguments, because arguments against the politics of anger are discredited by personal indulgence in anger. Hypocrisy in failing to implement at the personal level what we are advocating for at the social level may not undermine the merits of the arguments, but it does undermine their persuasive force. One cannot effectively advocate for a kinder state and nation while failing to be a kinder person.

We are blessed with extraordinary lives, able to savor the wonders of the world around us, the joys of daily life, the deep emotional gratification of loving relationships, and yet we squander this blessing with amazing regularity. We squander it as individuals, and we squander it as a people. And the two failures are intimately intertwined, though we treat them as entirely separate, or only conflate them when discussing the foibles of elected officials and other political actors.

I am suddenly deeply impressed with the need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, to be as an individual what I am advocating that we become as a people. It’s not enough to do so in the public sphere, in efforts to affect public policy or improve people’s lives. It must also occur in the private sphere, in our daily interactions, in our treatment of those who most challenge our patience and pique our chagrin. If we progressives truly want to help create the world that we envision, then we must work far, far harder at creating it within ourselves first, and, by doing so, establish a far more attractive and compelling force through which to create it in our social institutions. We must model it, exemplify it, demonstrate what joy and strength and tranquility it bestows.

This is by no means advocacy for reducing the challenge to do good to the individual level, as so many on the right try to do, as justification for addressing it not at all. These are two sides of a coin, two aspects of a single struggle: To exercise goodwill in interpersonal interactions while rationalizing political ideological brutality, or to fight for social policies predicated on goodwill while failing to exercise it in interprersonal interactions, are both failures of commitment, and choices that reduce the moral force of one’s professed positions and attitudes. Those of us who claim to be progressives must strive to progress within, without, and together; those of us who claim to be charitable must be charitable not just in how we act in the private sphere but also in what we advocate in the public sphere, not just at the individual level, but at the policy level as well. There should be no refuge in hypocrisy, whether of the left or of the right.

It is clear to me, as it is clear to many others, that the ideology of extreme individualism, the use of the word “liberty” as a justification for public mutual indifference and disdain for the most disadvantaged, the argument that trying to help the poor hurts them (always reducing such investments to mere hand-outs, rather than recognizing that programs to increase opportunities and to provide training cost money as well), the insulation of what’s “mine” from the threat that others might get some of it, define a political position that cannot both claim to be based on any commitment to the “good” (as I defined it in the previous post), and withstand scrutiny at the same time. It is a position maintained by false economic, legal, and moral arguments, justifying an intensely “me-first-and-only” rather than socially responsible commitment. I remain as adamant as ever in that position, which should, by all rights, be a magnet that attracts every human being with any desire to be a reasonable person of goodwill.

And yet it doesn’t. Somehow, people who take offense at being characterized as inhumane for adhering to what is obviously an inhumane political ideology are perfectly insulated from the pressure that that contridiction should exert on them. They have a set of platitudes and ideological certainties that mask the truth, from themselves and for each other, platitudes that simply distort the concept of “liberty” into the concept of “screw you,” and reject the notion that we can or should ever use our agent of collective action, our government, to address the inequities and injustices of life, though few dispute that the most prominent examples of having done so in the past (e.g., abolishing slavery, establishing civil rights laws and protections, establishing schools, etc.) are now indispensable aspects of our social institutional landscape.

The cruelties that invade our daily lives are the same cruelties that invade our political ideologies. The ability to ridicule others for personal pleasure while still imagining oneself to be an individual dedicated to the public good is the same blatant contradiction as the ability to insist that the poor are parasites while still believing oneself to be a reasonable person of goodwill. The challenge we face on either level, be it individual or social, is the challenge we face on both.

I suggest a new progressive agenda, one which is not based just on political advocacy, but also on personal responsibility. Let’s reunite these two sides of the challenge that we have so conveniently separated, and address them as a single whole. Let’s not seek only to implement kinder policies, but, while doing so, let’s strive to implement in our own lives kinder behaviors. It is not just that both are good, and that both contribute to the same good, but also, and perhaps more importantly, that they reinforce one another. Progressive advocates who are striving in their own lives to realize what they are striving publicly to implement will be far more compelling, far more difficult to dismiss, and far more effective than those who leave the two sides of this challenge artificially divided.

Those of us who are truly committed to progressing as a people must also become truly committed to progressing as persons. Let’s turn this movement into the one that can work, and work with any and all others who understand even some isolated aspect of what’s involved to accomplish it. It’s time to break the deadlock, and create a narrative that can’t be denied.

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  • Libertarian:

    For the first time on this site, I absolutely agree with something you’ve stated, “we are blessed with extraordinary lives, able to savor the wonders of the world around us, the joys of daily life, the deep emotional gratification of loving relationships, and yet we squander this blessing with amazing regularity”.

    I’m not sure I understand the concept of “extreme individualism” that you’re using to describe libertarian philosophy; at least not in the way you’re framing it as liberty being justification for PUBLIC mutual indifference. Liberty and individualism are nearly synonymous. If an individual’s labor, property and wealth can be quantified and parsed out based on what others determine to be “fair”, “equitable”, or “just”, than that necessarily means the individual’s liberty is being decreased. If on the other hand, an individual decides to voluntarily give-up a portion of their labor, wealth or property, based on what that individual determines to be fair, equitable or just, THAT is entirely consistent with liberty.

    I believe that you build a false premise, that the only route to collective altruism is through a central authority that decides not only what the proper distribution of property, wealth, property and labor should be, but also decides what form and to what extent the redistribution of wealth, property and labor (i.e. liberty) can take. One of the most glaring problems with that position (in my humble opinion) is that as we’ve seen the scope and power of the government grow, the corruption of the elected representatives has increased proportionally and the trust in the elected leaders has decreased. We see politicians regularly spending tens of millions of dollars (sometimes their own, usually somebody else’s) on elections to gain a job that pays $150K a year for a few years. This is due to the fact that as the size and scope of the government grows, so does its power and influence.

    I believe that there would be no significant and growing libertarian movement in this country if we could trust our elected government. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. History tells us, it never has been the case. In each and every historical example, the stronger and more powerful the central government becomes, the more corrupt and destructive it inevitably becomes. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. If one is to take the position that humans are inherently evil or selfish, then it only makes sense that eventually concentrating power to a select few will ultimately end badly. On the other hand, if one believes that humanity is inherently good, then it makes sense that humanity as a whole would not need to be compelled to do what’s right and good, as they will do that if at all possible.

    I haven’t seen arguments for an intensely “me-first-and-only” position. Using extreme definitions to define opposing viewpoints in my opinion doesn’t bolster your position. Further, you contrast the intensely “me-first-and-only” position with the “socially responsible commitment”, as if it’s one or the other, period. Finally, you seem to be rationalizing the two extremes by saying, “I remain as adamant as ever in that position, which should, by all rights, be a magnet that attracts every human being with any desire to be a reasonable person of goodwill.” In building this position, I suggest that it is you that’s creating an all-or-nothing starting point that has little chance of finding the compromise and breaking the deadlock that you claim to be seeking in your closing sentence.

    Here’s my point, and I hope you don’t take it the wrong way as I’m only using the words that you yourself have posted. Through the rest of your post, you describe those on the other side of your position with the following:
    Asserting that they are rightfully “characterized as inhumane”
    or that they hold an “obviously an inhumane political ideology”

    These statements, though fewer in your last two entries, are still central to the positions you are taking. In my opinion, you’re being counter-productive.

    I’ve worked hard to get where I am today. When I was a child my single mother and my two siblings lived in a small house in Leadville where we kept out the cold with the same wood-burning stove and coal-burning oven that heated our meals. We had to deliver papers as a family before going to school in order to keep food on the table. Bottom line, we did whatever we had to do to survive. You know what, I wouldn’t trade my difficult childhood where I had to scrap and fight to survive for anything. It taught me, my Brother and my Sister that what we make of our lives is up to US.

    During high school I always had a job, and in the Summer following my Senior year, I held two jobs, saved for college and got in (and paid for my books and tuition) on my own. The next year, I joined the Air Force where I continued to attend college at night while most of my peers were out partying. I earned my degree, and the promotion that went with it, and eventually earned a graduate degree as well. All the while moving every couple of years and raising a family. Now, after serving my nation for over 23 years, constantly on the move, I’ve reached a point where I can finally start saving some money, buying a house and positioning myself to help my three boys get through college. I don’t complain about having to pay taxes in general, but there’s a limit. I see a federal government that is wasteful and too often uncaring (I worked in that system for over two decades). I’ve given to charitable causes VOLUNTARILLY and paid my fair share of taxes as well. But to some, it’s not enough. To some it never WILL be enough.

    Here’s what I propose, the government, be it at the local state or ESPECIALLY federal MUST live within its means. ALL people that expect services from those governments must contribute. That way, if collectively we as a society decide to increase the scope and power of the government, we all will have a stake in funding that increase. That position seems to be more one of “extreme collectivism” rather than one of “extreme individualism”. What I too often hear or see advocated is a position of “SELECTIVE collectivism”, where we give extreme amounts of power to a select few, and they get to select winners and losers based on what THEY believe is “fair”, “equitable” or “just”.

    There is no doubt in my mind that if me and my family were to be given our food and housing when we were growing up, instead of earning it, I wouldn’t be as driven and successful as I am today. My Brother and Sister also both have worked hard their entire lives and are finally in a position to save a little bit and take care of our families. I refuse to be called selfish and cold hearted when I’ve worked harder than my peers to get where I am, and am already paying a larger portion of the tax bill at all levels than my less successful contemporaries.

    There is a limit to what the collective can accomplish, period. It’s easy to be altruistic when you’re using somebody else’s labor, wealth and property to provide for others. If it means demonizing and dehumanizing those that must be plundered to provide for the “common good”, history has no shortage of examples of that occurring. History also tells us that it always ends badly. Always.

    Yes, abolishing slavery, establishing civil rights laws and protections, establishing schools, etc. are now indispensable aspects of our social institutional landscape. There is no push to re-institute slavery, or abolish strides in civil rights, etc. If anything, libertarians are the champions of individual liberty and libertarian philosophy is what enabled those accomplishments. Public schools aren’t even something libertarians are against. We simply would like to see freedom in the system, i.e. choice. This is not a rich vs. poor position, one of the demographics with the highest levels of support for school choice and vouchers is the inner-city African-American population that sees the dead-end street that many urban public schools have become for their children.

    Am I selfish or even “inhumane” in my political philosophy? Call me what you will, I don’t think so. By the time I pay federal income taxes, payroll taxes, state income taxes, property taxes, and various sales taxes; I’m easily giving more than half of what I EARN to governments and their programs. Even with the federal government taking over ¼ of GDP to pay for its programs, we’re told it’s not enough, and they are now borrowing 33 cents of every dollar they spend, throwing a couple BILLION dollars each and every day onto our national debt. But the problem isn’t their insatiable appetite, if $6 Billion a day can’t sustain the federal government, no amount ever will. Indeed, our CURRENT budget shortfalls at the national level are minor, compared to the unfunded liabilities that the politicians (that some would have us trust to pick winners and losers and distribute our collective earned wealth) have dug a hole SO BIG, that it can’t even be grasped by the human mind. Unfunded liabilities for the United States are currently estimated to be over $111 Trillion dollars (www.debtclock.org). The GDP for the entire world is about $60 Trillion. At some point, we as a society has to decide that we simply can’t afford to have everything provided for us and expect Uncle Sugar to provide it. At some point we have to be pragmatic, instead of believing that our government is too big to fail or that we can simply get more and more from the state, because politicians tell us they have a plan to provide it.

  • Libertarian, Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    I can only repeat what I’ve said before in response to these positions:

    Property rights are not naturally bestowed, but legally defined, and have distributional implications of their own. You refer to what is currently defined by our current property rights regime as “what belongs to someone,” but “what belongs to someone” is something that is determined by how we define property rights. For instance, is it a restaurant owner’s right, over his own private property, to deny service to whomever he pleases? It was until 1964, at which point a civil rights act was passed which determined that it no longer was. Property rights aren’t about a person’s relationship to property, but rather about our relationships to one another regarding property. Failing to understand that leads to opposition to such things as The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which could never have passed your litmus test as currently defined.

    Rather than assume that current status quo distributions of rights, including property rights, are some sort of eternal natural fact of life (which they aren’t), I ask, “what increases the equality of opportunity and the fairness of compensation for what one contributes to the production of wealth?” Beyond that, there is our shared obligation to take care of those who, for one reason or another, are simply unable to contribute to the production of wealth (e.g., the very young, the very old, the disabled).

    A market system of compensation, which recompenses one for the market value of their labor, does not accomplish these things. It is not some sort of a realizatoin of perfection, but rather a particular system with particular strengths and weaknesses. It is an improvement, in many ways, over what came before, and, as should be obvious to anyone who studies history, unlikely to be the final word in perfection. History doesn’t end, and perfection isn’t achieved, in any of our social institutions, at any given moment, though there are always those who will declare otherwise.

    Don’t get me wrong: I have great respect for markets. They are very robust in the production of wealth, and they align individual and collective incentives in a very organic and smooth manner. But some sort of unrefined absolute private property regime (which, thank god, has never existed, and presumably never will) also involves embedded intergenerational inequalities that are simply not in line with the ideals toward which we should be continuing to strive.

    “Liberty” and “individualism” are no more synonymous than “liberty” and “collectivism,” because, as I’ve explained in several posts already, “liberty” only has meaning as an expression of our collective existence: We are free to say what we like (speaking being a social act), to adhere to the religion of our choice (religion being a social institution), and so on. Those liberties can be infringed upon by entities other than government: People can use force to retaliate against speech that they don’t like, or exercises of religion that they don’t like, and would do so with greater frequency in the absence of a government affirmatively protecting liberties as well as refraining itself from infringing upon them. We’ve learned that most poignantly with the Civil Rights movement, in which government had to do something that you keep arguing is what we must prevent it from doing: It passed laws protecting the civil rights of discriminated against categories of Americans in the context of the use of private property (restaurants, etc.). Liberty is a more subtle and complex concept that your ideology realizes, and adherence to your ideology undermines rather than protects individual liberties, by falsely insisting that there is no threat to them other than government, and that therefore reducing government automatically increases liberty. It doesn’t.

    I have never advocated for human intermediaries to make case-by-case decisions about equitable distributions of wealth. All systems have within them distributional implications (as well as efficiency, efficacy, and sustainability implications), and I simply advocate for refining our system to improve performance on all of these dimensions considered together.

    You are creating a false opposition between my supposed reliance on “central authority” and your supposed non-reliance on it. In reality, we are debating how to use it, and what use best serves our continuing attempts to improve our political economic performance along all of the dimensions I have mentioned. Corporations make centralized decisions, as do other large organizations, and governments are simply one large organizational actor in that environment, the one and only actor that is designed (albeit imperfectly) to represent the collective interests of the public under its jurisdiction (as opposed to merely the shareholders of the corporation, for instance). To remove that public corporate actor and leave the field to private corporate actors is not to increase individual liberty, but rather to cede the field to those other corporate actors least institutionally constrained to respect it, and simultaneously to lose the one vehicle through which nation-wide collective action problems can be addressed.

    What you call “corruption” is really an inherent problem in all principal-agent relationships, as I’ve already discussed frequently in response to your posts. Yes, the problem exists, but, no, it does not mean that such relationships should be avoided or that there should be any a priori assumption against them. It is simply one of the factors to be taken into account in a thorough cost-benefit analysis, on a case-by-case basis.

    The two 2009 Nobel Prize Winners in Economics, for instance, both made their careers demonstrating how non-market social institutional arrangements can sometimes be more economically efficient than market arrangements, when certain factors such as economies of scale and the structure of transaction costs are aligned in certain ways. One, Oliver Williamson, focused on the circumstances under which hierarchical organizations, such as governments, are more efficient, despite the agency problems involved (i.e., the problems of corruption). As I keep repeating, you have to do the analysis, rather than simply apply a sledgehammer assumption that is assumed good for all occasions.

    I don’t believe that humanity is either inherently good or inherently evil: I believe that humanity is what it is, and that our knowledge of what it is is imperfect but forever growing. We should apply that knowledge, in all of its nuanced complexity, rather than base any policy choices on any assumptions of the inherent “goodness” or “badness” of humanity. Again, no sledgehammers, only finer tools used for more precise analyses to guide more demanding policy challenges than the popular reductions that we tend to latch onto.

    You may not have recognized arguments for an intensely “me first” orientation, but any ideology that wants to abandon attempts to increase opportunity (which requires public investment) and decrease inequality (not by rote redistributions of wealth, but by targeted public investments intended to have structural effects), and which agues that the poor are “the consumptive class” rather than “the productive class” (as Uncle Fish repeatedly has, as part of an argument that implicitly portrays the poor as parasites threatening to take something away from the wealthy) is a “me first” ideology.

    Despite my never having advocated for give-aways, for some reason you and Uncle Fish constantly attribute to me such a position. I do not believe that refinement of public institutions to improve political economic performance along all dimensions constitutes “give aways.” Rather, it constitutes recognition of our shared endeavor, and our shared fate. In fact, Western European countries have for half a century had comparably robust economies to ours, with less inequality, more social mobility, and plenty of people doing plenty of work. Germany’s economy is currently far stronger than ours.

    Your correct generalization about incentives to work being reduced by welfare is misapplied to assumptions about the role that government inevitably plays, and about what other factors are also in play that run counter to those generalizations. People are far more able to lift themselves up when they have some assistance, such as childcare, training opporunities, and other programs that increase opportunities and remove barriers. That’s why every single Western European country, all of which you would dismiss as socialist failures, actually have far more rather than less social mobility than the United States: Extreme inequality (which definitely characterizes the United States today) is not conducive to the most efficient production of wealth, nor is extreme poverty the greatest facilitator of productivity.

    The distribution of wealth in America today has far less to do with who worked harder, and far more to do with the chances of birth, than you admit. Again, why is there such a strong statistical correlation between those groups that we all acknowledge were historically brutally exploited and disenfranchized (e.g., African Americans and Native Americans, to take two unambigious examples), and current poverty? You have to either posit a racist explanation (i.e., they are, on average, lazier than those who are descendents of the conquerors) or acknowledge that the legacy of history is still with us, and the current distribution of wealth is not primarily due to your largely fictional meritocracy. (Since I am referring to statistical correlations, pointing to exceptions does nothing to address my point).

    You are telling me what the limits of collectivism are, while I am telling you that there are precise economic models which address the issue. Let’s rely more on our best available knowledge, and less on our casually embraced assumptions. There will be robust debates in either case, but in the former case, the debates will be more disciplined by reason and evidence, whereas in the latter they will be more inclined to spiral into endless recursions of stagnant arguments, some of which by any objective measure have really already been settled.

    History does not, in fact, tell us what you have claimed. It tells us many things, far more precise and nuanced than that. Among them, it tells us that Japanese coporatism was strongly implicated in the post-WWII Japanese economic miracle, that Chinese economic growth in a very centralized and autocratic nation is highly robust, that there are endless variations on endless themes, and that it is really just a function of “confirmation bias” that some continue to believe the old canard that all forms of centralization lead to economic decline and failure.

    Even the United States itself exists today, and is the success that it is, due to a massive increase in centralization at various points in our national history, including the ratification of the U.S. Constitition (a huge increase in centralization over The Articles of Confederation), the Civil War (in which the federal government used military force to hold the country together, without which the United States wouldn’t even exist today, and its fragments would have become marginal players on the world stage), The New Deal (which despite much revisionism laid the foundations for an administrative structure which has facilitated the largest growth of wealth in the history of the world), and The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which not only increased the individual liberty of a discriminated against class of people, by means of federal government legislation over limitations on the use of private property, but also liberated valuable human resources to better economic advantage).

    We have to first agree to play at least to some extent by the methodological rules of law and science, which increase the robustness and accuracy of the process of discovering “the truth,” instead of simply shouting the same things back and forth, often, with all due respect, repeating arguments already addressed, simply continuing to ignore compelling counterarguments. Not all good arguments favor my position (there is a very narrow range of legitimately contested terrain, over how much and what kind of public investment contributes to or diminishes aggregate GDP growth), though few if any, with all due respect, favor the positions you outlined above. The real economic debate is between the Chicago School, and various post-Keynesian paradigms that continue to recognize the importance of public investments. That’s where we should focus the debate: Where the best of human cognition has been distilled to the best informed arguments most precisely formulated. And then we need to contextualize that debate within other debates, that consider values other than aggregate GDP growth.

    Nobody is being “altruistic with other people’s money.” When we argue over public policy, we are arguing over a contractual relationship that will bind us all. Those who argue for a carbon tax, for instance, are arguing for a carbon tax that is imposed on all of us equally. The fact that my parents are moderately affluent and that I stand to inherit perhaps $200,000 someday does not keep me from being a staunch advocate for higher rather than lower inheritance taxes, because I (like Warren Buffet) believe that the intergenerational hording of wealth is one of the things that runs counter to rather than in accord with our attempts to improve our political economy along all relevant dimensions. That is just one of many issues on which I argue against my own interests, because I try to stay focused on the public interest when arguing public policy, as I believe we all should.

    The moral philosopher John Rawls discussed how to approach this in terms of a hypothetical “veil of ignorance,” in which, when debating public policy, we should imagine that we don’t know into what situation we will be born, and advocate for the policy that we would want not knowing what lot we would draw in the circumstances of our birth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil_of_ignorance_(philosophy)). That is what progressives are trying to do; to then accuse them of “spending other people’s money” is to not only miss the point, but to intentionally obscure it.

    You dismiss my examples of massive federal government intervention as things libertarians would have championed, though your position is a constant rejection of massive federal government interventions. The abolition of slavery, for instance, was the result of the most massive imposition of federal government force in the history of the nation, and an example of the need of the federal government to intervene, sometimes in very costly and dramatic ways, to guarantee the liberties of the people who reside within our borders (slaves were not citizens). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was decried by many of your philosophy as an unforgivable intrusion of private property rights, for what right does the government have (so goes the argument that is very similar to the one you have made) to tell private owners of private businesses who they can and can’t refuse service to? Rand Paul had to hem and haw about The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is what ended Jim Crow, because your shared argument is completely incompatable with it. Claiming otherwise is crude revisionism.

    I’ve never stated any blanket opposition to school choice: I don’t simply embrace a sledgehammer ideology which then determines all of my positions. My ideology is: Do the analysis. There are some problems with voucher systems as currently defined, because private and religious school participants can refuse applicants, which will inevitably produce a very deep underclass of kids left completely behind. I also have concerns about the undermining of the school-community synergy, which I think is the best source of both public education improvement and improved communities. But I do not discount the possibility that a well-designed voucher program could contribute to increased educational success. So, when you argue against me, argue against me, not some perceived blanket ideological package that you attribute to me.

    Your conceptualization of what you’ve “earned” as something independent from our public policies is the underlying myth of your ideology. Our social institutional landscape includes a market economy, but a market economy is one aspect of a more complex whole, and one which couldn’t exist independently of the other contexts. You earn what you earn within and dependent upon that context, your income inextricably intertwined with the labor, income, opportunities, and efforts of others, both within the market economy, and throughout the social system within which it is embedded. Your wealth is a function of our social system, including numerous public investments in human and material infrastructure (education, transportation, public utilities, and, hopefully, healthcare).

    To treat the ungoing refinement of “the social contract” through which “your” wealth is produced and distributed as an infringement on something that is yours in some sense independent of that contract is merely a convenient misconception, one which allows you to defend a status quo that you prefer to improvements upon it that you don’t. It is essentially the same exact argument that has been used to oppose the abolition of slavery and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it is used now to oppose advances that are similar in nature.

    Again, in response to your last paragraph, it isn’t about “Uncle Sugar providing” for us. It’s about us as a people providing for ourselves, not just as individuals, but also as a people, imbued with a sense of social responsibility as well as individual initiative. The wealth that any of us enjoy is a product of our existence as a society, and of a combination of public investments and private initiative. My general position is that we should continue to confront the challenges we face, the challenge to best facilitate the public interest (which includes all of the considerations and values you raise, as well as all of the considerations and values I’ve raised), as a people. Any ideology that tries to undermine that commitment is, to my mind, an ideology that undermines the public interest at the most fundamental level, and so, in that sense, is an inhumane ideology, because we all suffer in the long run as a result, and those who are most vulnerable and most disadvaantaged suffer most.

    As for your economic analysis, unfortunately, it isn’t an economic analysis. Your estimation of the value of unfunded mandates in comparison to global GDP is a mere “factoid,” one of thousands of similar statistics manufactured for ideological and rhetorical purposes, that is the product of bias rather than of scholarship. While the debt we carry is a very relevant consideration in economic and fiscal planning, it is embedded in a far more complex analysis than the one you rely on. Our current debt, as a proportion of GDP, is still well within managable bounds, and deficit spending is very much a part of the robust modern economy. The concern is continued debt growth rather than the current size of the debt, because our failure has been not paying down our debt during periods of strong economic performance, as we should. However, paying it down during an economic downturn is simply bad fiscal policy.

    The Republican “Pledge to America” has been denounced by economists on both the left and the right as fiscally irresponsible and indefensible. Alan Greenspan, one of the champions of the general economic paradigm closest to your ideology, has said that continuing the Bush tax cuts for people who earn over $250,000 is indefensible and fiscally irresponsible. And yet the Republican caucus is holding the continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class hostage to a Democratic agreement to do what economists across the political spectrum have emphasized is bad fiscal policy. Let’s take the blind ideology out of our political conflicts, and rely instead on the competition of well-informed positions in pursuit of the best policies.

    No one here is arguing against the preservation of a market economy and private property rights. No one here is arguing against the vigorous defense of individual liberty. I’m arguing that we defend and advance those interests, and more, with our eyes wide open, according to the best information, the best analyses, the most precise applications of them, rather than according to information-stripped broad-brush-stroke ideologies, be they of the right or the left or anywhere else in the political ideological spectrum.

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