Sunday, August 22, 2010

partisan versions of reality

I was recently in a position of being asked my political opinion as the local economic authority by people I don't necessarily agree with but who expected me to uphold their positions. Thinking about what I could have said (other than nodding and squeaking out some noncommittal platitudes), and listening to them discuss further amongst themselves, I realized that my main beef with Democrats, unlike my beef with Republicans, is mostly factual rather than ideological.

I suppose that's why, in this two-party-option society, I instinctively side with the Democrats despite having large differences with both. Then again, it could also be because while I agree with the stated positions of Republicans on non-social issues, the logic of the majority in getting there is just as faulty as the Democrats'...

The root of the problem, of course, is utter economic ignorance and/or denial of the power of incentives. You may or may not think it's a price society should be willing to pay, but laws setting the minimum wage above the market level DOES increase unemployment. Unemployment insurance DOES increase the amount of time people spend unemployed. Shortening pharmaceutical patents or fixing the price of prescription drugs WILL decrease innovation. People from other countries DO come to the U.S. for specialized medical treatments (and our private universities and many other things) that they can't get in the public systems in their own country. Redistribution DOES reduce the overall size of the pie. There IS an unavoidable choice between long lines and high prices. Trade-offs exist in every economic choice. There is no free lunch.

If everyone could just accept that reality and stop bickering over things that can't possibly be true, the ideological differences would pale in comparison. Yeah, I definitely err on the "when in doubt, choose freedom" and "people rise to expectations, let them take care of themselves and each other" - ie small government - end of the ideological spectrum. But I'm certainly not opposed to the government doing things it can do to help people in minimally-distortionary ways and without enormous unintended economic/political consequences down the road. The amount of wealth in the U.S. is hugely more than is needed to feed the entire population. If the government wants to guarantee basic survival, I have no major problem with that. But the promises the Democrats want the government to make are orders of magnitude larger than that, and completely unrealistic and infeasible. Sure it'd be great if everyone could have the middle-class lifestyle that the far left likes to yell is a 'civil right' (don't get me started on the abuse of that phrase...), but we don't live in Neverland.

There's already so much needless bickering and grandstanding in politics, can we at least have a little humility and be honest about the unavoidable costs of what we want to do and focus on persuading people we should do it anyway?

And also, integrate economics and statistics into the standard high school curriculum...

No comments: