01 November 2012

Please. Everyone shut up and look in the mirror.

I've seen and heard multiple people insisting on a desire for political figures to "do what's right", or to "do something" rather than bicker and argue pointlessly. I maintain that there are many, many problems with this desired approach to government.

Firstly, "doing what's right" is a very uncertain phrase, wherein people would likely find that their elected political figures would be doing a lot of things they wouldn't like very much and replace them with people that will do what they want, rather than what is actually necessary and effective to do. The American public wants a lot of inconsistent demands, low taxes and expensive public (and federal) services for instance. Mitt Romney's entire political shtick seems to be based around delivering this magically flavored ice cream where both are possible. There's a reason it's successful. Promising people things that are not possible or are not wise (more or less anything he's said he will do regarding China), is politically popular.

Second. The impetus of requirement to "do something" is very troubling. Often doing nothing is a perfectly reasonable response to a problem. Indeed, the public seems content for the government do very little about problems like Syria or Iran (as it should, as I'm not sure there's very much we could effectively do in the first place). It only becomes a concern when it is OUR problem. A natural disaster occurs, somebody better be helping out. To be sure, one may concede that there are basically good Samaritan style reasons why we might want some public goods and charity dispensed in the wake of a wave of tornadoes or a hurricane, earthquake, volcano, tsunami, whatever. And while there are arguments why we might not want large scale public assistance (for example, to incentivize people to relocate to places that don't have these major disasters), we also need to acknowledge that these are otherwise desirable places for people to live (California's climate for example is excellent, coastal cities around the world are always high demand, etc) and that some measures are appropriate to protect the citizenry from the folly of such geographical stubbornness. But this is distinct from saying the government must do everything in such scenarios to assist, or, more concisely, to point out that just because a legitimate form of public goods may exist in disaster assistance, does not mean that a form of legitimate public goods or externalities also exist in some other realm of intervention and assistance. Medicare for example is distinct from the provision of public health. Same with public school monopolies and education (or hospital monopolies) or Social Security or the Post Office and so on down the line.

Finally, the reason that we have (basically) two political teams that fight and contest everything is that we (basically) have two Americas, sorted ideologically into combative teams. Both sides only claim victories not when they work together (and when they do work together, generally I am skeptical that it's beneficial anyway), but when they achieve something ideologically designed and can lord it over their enemies. The reason isn't just zero sum politics, but that the public perceives only these sorts of victories as desirable. The public wants it this way, we desire the incivility and contest. We desire the battle and the shedding of blood in our rivals; "their" defeats and "our" triumphs. We do not desire unsatisfying compromises about what kind of governance we shall appoint through reasoned debate over these mutually exclusive demands into some sort of utilitarian affected views where the public shall and shall not intervene into the private business and affairs of our countrymen to achieve stated ideological goals. Only boring policy wonks celebrate technocratic achievements of this kind. If we wanted effective conservatives, and effective liberals, we would elect them, support them, and recognize them. We do not.

We should blame ourselves and shut the hell up about these inconsistent desires for productive, effective governance and incivil electoral combat. You can't have both. This is your problem. Not the politicians.
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