The Economics Of Dueling POLITICAL VIEWS
There seems to be a disturbance on the steps of the Shady Valley City Hall. Why it's the twins, Donna and Rhonda, engaged in yet another of their long-running, and overly heated, political arguments. Donna, you see, is a devoted Democrat and Rhonda is a rigid Republican. They haven't found much to agree on since, well, come to think of it they've never agreed on anything. In their current debate, Donna is making a strident case for stricter regulation of the banking industry and Rhonda is championing the virtues of free enterprise. I had better hitch up my jogging pants and intervene before their argument comes to blows -- again. While I do, let's ponder the source of differing political views.
What's the Difference?
If you're like most card-carrying members of the third estate you probably wonder if there are any real differences between politicians who espouse liberal Democraticese and those who profess conservative Republicanism. Aren't they all just a bunch of slick-talking, vote-seeking, pocket-lining, power-hungry egomaniacs bent on deceiving the public and getting elected? Well, sure, but they also tend to have some basic philosophical differences guiding their slick-talking, vote-seeking, pocket-lining, power-hungry pursuit of office.
Let's see if we can discern a few of the fundamental political, social, and economic differences among conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.
- Conservative Republicans. Like Rhonda, conservatives tend to champion free enterprise, or limited government control of the economy. They make the argument that people should be rewarded for their hard work and shouldn't expect government handouts through the welfare system. They are also heavily into national defense, law enforcement, and promotion of the fundamental values of family, God, and country upon which this great nation of ours was founded. (Makes you want to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" doesn't it?)
- Liberal Democrats. As Donna is prone to note, liberals take a more paternalistic view of the government. It is the last and only hope for many members of society who have suffered at the unscrupulous or uncaring hands of others. They contend that business would run amuck, exploiting workers and consumers in every market exchange, if not for government oversight. They also tend to be more concerned that everyone in society has equal access to a fair share of the economic pie, regardless of race, creed, sex, religion, shoe size, bank account, eye color, or planet of birth. (Their hearts bleed for all.)
These differences often (not always, but often) place conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, on different sides of issues such as school prayer, environmental quality, worker safety, abortion, the death penalty, welfare reform, business regulation, sexual harassment, and, well, just about every other newsworthy topic over the past 10 gadzillion years.
But you say, "Wait one moment, I'm a registered Democrat, but I support school prayer and think taxes are excessive -- two conservative favorites." Or you might contend, "I'm a lifelong Republican, but I want a cleaner environment and support a woman's right to abortion -- both of which are usually in the domain of the liberals." Does this make you schizophrenic, hypocritical, or both? Not necessarily, as we'll see in a few paragraphs. In fact, there are few truly liberal Democrats or absolutely conservative Republicans that support, without question, the "straight" party line. Many members of the third estate have a combination of liberal and conservative views.
A First Stab at the Second and Third Estates
A good jumping off point on political views is the difference between the second and third estates. As we've already noted a few times, you're own personal membership in the second or third estate is based largely on your ownership and control of resources and your resulting wealth and income. Members of the second estate tend to have extensive ownership and control over resources, especially highly valued capital and natural resources. The third estate, in comparison, includes a lot of consumers, workers, and taxpayers, who control little more than their own labor resources.
My job here would be a heck of a lot easier if the dividing line between the second and third estates was crisp and clear. Unfortunately (for me), there are some people like Winston Smythe Kennsington III who are charter members of the second estate, with vast wealth and the ownership of several Fortune 500 companies, and others who personify the third estate by toiling away for nothing more than a weekly paycheck that's quickly eaten up by taxes, food, rent, and gasoline; but there are a whole bunch of people who fall into an enormous gray area separating the second and third estates. If you do a lot of working, consuming, and taxpaying, but also have an impressive investment portfolio, are you in the second or third estate?
This is question is important because Republican and Democratic views originate with the second and third estates. Republicans tend to be from the second estate and Democrats are populated with the ranks of the third. The reason is that political ideology is often guided by economic interests. If I'm a wealthy second estate Republican, then I would like to see policies that increase and protect my wealth. This would make me really, really big on law enforcement and national defense. If, however, I'm a hard-working, consuming, taxpaying Democrat from the third estate, I'd like to see a close government eye kept on the exploitative tendencies of business. I want the government to give me a chance to increase my own wealth. Different economic interests give us different political views.
Our Economic Mountain
In Fact 1, Our Limited Pie, we talked about the economy as an economic pie. A slightly different metaphor is more suited to this trek through political views -- a mountain. The more resources, production, income, and wealth you have, then the higher you are on the economic mountain. Some of us toil near the base and others exert control from the top.
Our economic mountain tends to have three pretty distinct terraces -- top, middle, and bottom. The top of the mountain is reserved for the fortunate wealthy few who are members of the first and second estates. The majority of the population who make up the third estate occupy the middle and bottom terraces, with the middle class conveniently on the middle terrace and the poor huddled at the bottom.
More than Rocks
Our mountain, though, is more than just economic wealth -- it's really the combined political, cultural, social, and economic institutions, ideals, and values of society. Think of it as cultural wealth. In the good old U. S. of A., our cultural wealth includes such things as the English language, a European heritage, the ideals of family and marriage, a Judeo-Christian religious inclination, private property, individual liberties, the U. S. constitution, and assorted beliefs that we probably take for granted most of the time.
This means that your position on the mountain depends, not only on your economic wealth, but also on the degree to which you possess these common political, cultural, social, and economic institutions, ideals, and values. A poor, black, Satan-worshiping, Portuguese-speaking, female immigrant from Haiti, who practices polygamy, is likely to be on the bottom terrace. However, our good friend, Winston Smythe Kennsington III, who is a white, anglo-saxon, protestant male, with ownership of several Fortune 500 companies, and direct ancestral lines to the founding fathers is right there at the top.
Looking Up and Down
Those at the pinnacle of the mountain and those at the bottom have some pretty straight-forward, although opposite, goals in life. If you're in the second estate, then you want to stay at the top and are most concerned about protecting yourself from the lower two terraces, and those from another mountain -- that is, foreign country, who want to invade your turf. Thus, you favor a strong police and military to protect your property, an educational system that instills your cultural wealth in your kids, and a legal system that lets you do whatever you damn well please with your mountain. Conservative Republicans tend to reside at the top.
If you're on the bottom terrace, in contrast, you have no where to go but up. When you try to climb to the middle or upper terraces, you're confronted with barbed wired, avalanches, and other barriers imposed from above. The second estate, in particular, seems to enjoy throwing rocks at you from their exalted perch. Your only chance of rising to a higher elevation may be to flatten the entire mountain with a bulldozer -- which scares the hell out of the second estate. You support policies that equalize income, tax the wealthy, regulate the business practices of the second estate, and change the cultural wealth of the mountain to include your own personal beliefs. This is the domain of liberal Democrats.
The middle-class occupants on the middle terrace are right there in the middle of this battle between the top and bottom. The big question then is: Are you more concerned with the rocks hurled at you from the top or with the thundering hoards and their bulldozers at the bottom? Or alternatively: Who is your biggest threat -- the top or the bottom?
Your Democratic or Republican political leaning depends on you answer to these questions. Democrats tend to feel more threatened from the top and Republicans are more wary of those at the bottom. But it doesn't have to be all one or the other. Because our economic mountain is complex and diverse, you might tend towards the Democratic view on some topics and the Republican view on others.
Enter the First Estate
Although political leaders of the first estate reside at the top of the mountain, they can do so only with the support of the second and third estates. In that the first-estate Democratic leaders tend to have the numbers on their side (most people are in the third estate) as they champion the interests of the huddled masses at the bottom, they would seem to have an easy time staying in power. However the first-estate Republican leaders with the backing of the small, but incredibly wealthy second estate, are formidable political adversaries.
The trick, of course, is to get the middle-class siding with the top against the bottom, if you're a Republican leader, or the bottom against the top, if you're a Democratic politician. Unfortunately for be middle-class, the political ploys between Republicans and Democrats best help those at the very top or very bottom, with only minimal benefits for the middle. Such is life!
With that in mind, consider a few tips on political views:
Tips on Our Ideological Economic Mountain
- All of us, whether we realize it or not, have a political view shaped by our location on the economic mountain. In fact, in many cases, our view is shaped by our parents' location on the mountain when we were young.
- Support or opposition for government policies is invariably shaped by ideology. Be wary about those who favor or criticize something until you know their underlying view.
- Don't be used as a pawn for those on the top or bottom of the mountain. Be wary of sacrificing your body just to protect the wealthy from the encroaching hoards at the bottom. Also, don't let the bottom use you as a stepping stone to greater heights.
- Perhaps most importantly, keep an open mind. It's a big mountain.