Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's about ideas not us and them

This article is intended to clarify a certain perspective in my blog. It is in response to a comment I received yesterday about how as long as the debate is framed as "my team is better than your team", nothing will change. There is merit to that perspective and today, I would like to explore that with you, dear readers. You can see the comment at the bottom of my blog post from yesterday.

To begin, I don't hate people. I really don't. I recognize that they are human beings and that they are prone to error, just like me. I wouldn't want to be hated because I made a mistake, so I treat everyone as I would want to be treated.

In political discourse, for people I might term as "the adversary", I don't hate them, either. I just don't like what they do. I try to convey the sense that it's not the group that is the problem, it is the ideas they sometimes promote. In yesterday's post, I failed to make that clear. A bad idea is a bad idea, no matter who the proponent happens to be.

For example, in general, I like President Obama. He's done great work with getting Obamacare passed and that law is saving money for the taxpayers. The CBO has consistently revised estimates of health care spending down since the enactment of Obamacare. Millions of people now have access to health insurance where there was none before. And the law has survived many attacks in court, even with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. We can be sure that the law will be under attack for quite some time until "the adversaries" see that gutting Obamacare will cost them more than they wish to pay.

On the other hand, Obama has been in an apparently mindless pursuit of two very important treaties on trade, each between many countries including the US. The problem with these treaties, the TTIP and the TPP, is that they claim to be "free trade" deals when the trade barriers are already very low. The only possible explanation for all of the support for them is that they are essentially massive power grabs for large, very well established corporations. We can infer this by noting who gets access to the texts and who attends the negotiations. Ordinary people, in general, are not stakeholders at these negotiations since they do not attend these meetings.

Do I hate Obama for his unwitting support of these deals? No. But I certainly let him know my opposition to them on Twitter and wherever the subject comes up. Those two treaties are, from what I have gathered so far, very bad ideas for everyone except for the wealthiest among us.

Yesterday, I wrote in detail about my concerns regarding a desire for unchecked power by a certain faction that is well known as "conservatives". In yesterday's blog, I used that term as shorthand for "people who love Reagan and the Laffer Curve", but that post isn't to say I hate the people who support the ideas espoused by Ronald Reagan and Arthur Laffer. Politicians can be very personable and charming - that's part of how they get the job in Congress. I might even enjoy a conversation with any of them, even if I disagree with their politics. I may disagree with their ideas, but I most certainly don't hate them.

There are some great ideas that are supported by conservatives. In Colorado, they shine like bright stars doing good things. Colorado legalized marijuana and they now have a thriving new sector of the economy that is generating tax revenue. They are reducing the possibility of a pointless prison term for thousands of people who may do no more harm than spend more time eating Mallomars and staring at light bulbs. They are getting mellow.

Conservatives in Colorado did something else in at least 53 different communities. They asserted local control from the state government over local choices in broadband. Some did so in referendums where local control received better than 90% of the vote. Those communities can now plow millions of dollars into a fiber network for their small conservative towns that will provide a great boost for their local economy. Fiber networks offering gigabit access to the internet at reasonable prices for everyone in town are a great idea no matter who proposes it. It's called "Community Broadband" and the majority of community broadband networks are in conservative jurisdictions.

Despite the disdain we hear from conservatives in Congress about how expensive infrastructure is, here in Utah, a Red State, cone zones are everywhere. Hardly a day passes that I don't pass some sort of road work as I go to work or to run some errand. I love to see this because I know that when those guys put the shovels down at the end of the day, they will spend money. Here, in Utah.

There was a time when I was afraid of government. During that time, my occupation was to gather documents from the government with the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act. My requests were mostly directed at the Internal Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board in California. It was a very interesting experience for that work taught me more about government than any history or social studies classes have ever taught me. I learned how to use the FOIA and the PA in a little workshop and became a big fan of the Sunshine Laws. One thing I learned in that workshop is to be nice to the disclosure officer so that he doesn't round file my request.

During that period of my life, I got to know disclosure officers in two agencies. I began to see that they are people, too. They just want to go to bed at night, knowing that they did the right thing. They're like me. They need air, water, food and space. They need love. They need to know that they're a part of larger group, something we call, "society".

From that point on, I was no longer afraid of government, and therefore, and I'm not even sure if I could say that I hated the government. I simply had a mild distaste for government. But working with the disclosure officers I met during that time really changed my perspective. People in government choose public service for a reason. They seem to believe that working in government is the best thing they can do for themselves and us, the people they work for. This is true for conservatives or liberals, Democrat or Republican. I'm not a cynic, I just don't like bad ideas.

The subtext of everything that I say on this blog in a political sense, is that I am more concerned with a bad idea than bad people. Conservatives are not bad people. There are no bad people. Supremely confused people abound and sometimes, we see them on Meet The Press. But they are not bad people and they don't deserve to be hated.

Any ideas, from any source, conservative, liberal, Republican or Democrat, must have supporting evidence to show that it works. In economics, the record has been clear: Democrat presidents tend to fare much better than Republican presidents. There may be disagreement on whether this is true or not between conservatives and liberals, but there will always be facts. The record has shown pretty clearly, at least to me, that liberal economic policy works.

A good idea is a good idea, no matter what the source. Supply side economics is not in the set known as good ideas. There is simply no empirical support to show that it works. Fortunately, the people who support supply side economics are not bad people. Confused perhaps, but not bad. There is no "us and them", there is only us. Some of us have the facts, and some do not. The question we must answer is how to live together when we disagree?

Can we all admit that there is no "us and them" and work together to solve the problems that face us all without seeking an advantage over someone else? I remain hopeful that we can.

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