Aside from occasional swipes at Bush in the sidebar, I rarely talk about politics on this site. A number of friends have asked about my own political standing, so, today, I’m breaking from the largely non-political nature of self-aggrandizement to lay down my own thinking. Don’t worry, though; come tomorrow, it’s back to inane blogging per usual
First, let me say that – the efforts of thousands of ‘warbloggers’ to the contrary – I truly believe blogging about politics rarely has any significant effect on the way politics plays out in the real world. Simply put, to change political outcomes, you need to change people’s minds, and the audiences for political weblogs are too self-selecting to do that effectively. I’d estimate that about 90% of the readers of any political blog already firmly agree with the writer’s position, while the remaining 10% would never possibly be made to agree with it, and are just there to heckle in the comments. In other words, 90% preaching to the choir, 10% lost cause.
That said, I must admit to feeling more than a bit of guilt for my online political apathy. Earlier in my life, I was much more politically minded; enough so that, one year in high school, I somehow pulled “Next Bill Clinton” in the yearbook. (That’s now funnier to me for it’s extra-political implications than it’s purely political ones, but I digress.) As I became increasingly immersed in the world of technology and business, however, politics began to take a back seat in my mind. At one point, I remember asking a very successful CEO whether he had ever thought about running for senator. His laughing reply: “I’d rather own a politician than be one.”
Over the last few years, however, the people around me have begun to politicize significantly, naturally pulling me back into the fray. On the one side, most of my film and Yale friends are classic left-liberals; on the other, most of the entrepreneurs and finance types I know are libertarians and neo-cons. According to any of the many, many online political affiliation tests, I fall squarely in the first group – and, of course, with New York intellectual hippy parents, and a Bay Area upbringing (amongst those the New York Times called in the early ’90s “the quiche and Volvo set”), that shouldn’t be a surprise. But, while I fall about as far left as possible on social policy, economically, I often make a poor liberal; while I agree with the liberal aims of wealth redistribution, I also place a rather un-liberal belief in the power of the free market.
Which is to say, I really believe in the efficiency of capitalism, at least as the best route for allocating resources to drive progress in science, technology and (resultingly) social change. At the same time, unlike libertarians, I also believe that markets tend to allocate resources without regard to social justice. If a goal of the system is to make sure nobody is left behind as the world moves towards the better (and, certainly, I believe that should be a central goal), then the market needs a bit of prodding. The question, then, is mainly one of building change through free market initiatives that are constrained just enough to require the solutions they naturally enact are socially just.
For a better explanation, consider something like the need for a livable wage, a complex issue with real difficulties on both side.
On the one hand, unskilled workers simply cannot live, much less build families, on $5 hour. Combined with the lack of health-care for the uninsured, and the profound lag of education in urban centers (well behind the average of our already overall rather ailing system), I don’t believe anyone can intelligently argue that these people aren’t getting the short end of the stick. The right’s answer, ‘education and training’, is remarkably ingenuine; do conservatives really believe that, with a few night courses, an immigrant janitor can retool himself into a high-paid software whiz?
At the same time, mandating that business simply pick up the slack by raising the minimum wage to $9 or $10 an hour isn’t economically sustainable. Mandating that private firms pay that much for people who, in purely economic terms, are only ‘worth’ $5, would simply put $5 skillset workers in competition with $10 skillset workers, leading to vast job losses across the $5 crowd, placing the group in a worse position than the one the living wage movement set out to fix!
That said, a number of remarkably intelligent, market-driven solutions do exist. I particularly like one proposed by Columbia University economist Edmund Phelps, who has researched extensively the possibility of a sliding-scale tax credit to employers. Phelps’ solution provides a real livable wage, yet is excellent from a business perspective, as $6 workers would still cost $6 of businesses’ money – with government putting up $3 or $4 to match.
As well as giving both employees and employers what they want, the solution even makes sense for society as a whole; from a strictly utilitarian perspective, the cost of the subsidy pays for itself, as research has shown that the social benefits of work (in terms of less crime, welfare dependency, etc.) exceed less skilled workers’ productivity (which limits what employers can offer in wages).
Which is to say, really intelligent solutions do exist to this and any number of other major problems in our country, from education and health care to foreign policy. The difficulty, really, is that the best solutions make poor bumper stickers, and politics, at least as practiced today, seems to consist mostly of rallying cry appeals to either the left or right’s lowest common denominators.
Which, in short, explains my issue with politics. Simply supporting candidates doesn’t seem to me to be the best way to improve the world. Instead, I’m vastly more optimistic about the possibilities of guiding the policy decisions made by select current officials, helping them towards approaches that improve at once both the lives of their electorate and their own re-electability. Certainly, lobbying has long been the tool of big business; so have complaints that big business seems to own government. Coincidence?
So, in short, such targeted, mercenary lobbying is where I focus my political efforts. It’s a primary focus of the Indigo Foundation, a nonprofit I chair. If corporations own politics, perhaps it’s time to take a more corporate approach to achieving less corporate aims. Rally’s are fine, but I’d rather have results.
All that that being said, come November, I’ll be voting for Kerry. Not because I’m particularly thrilled with him, but because I’m exceedingly appalled by the possibility of another four years of Bush. Even anyone not revolted by his record on social issues should be gravely concerned by the speed with which he’s running the country into the ground fiscally. Economically speaking, he’s perhaps the worst thing that’s ever happened to our government, and I don’t believe that statement is hyperbolic.
One final note: remember, for better or for worse, that we currently have a two party system. A cursory study of game theory explains that you can’t switch over to a multi-party system simply by slowly building the constituencies of third-party candidates over time. Feel passionate about the need for a multi-party system? Do something productive, like pushing hard for alternative voting systems, such as run-off voting, which, if implemented, would instantly create a rich multi-party political nation. Until then, realize that there are two real candidates, Bush and Kerry, and that by not voting for one, you unintentionally vote for the other. Which is to say, tell me you’re going to vote for Nader again in this election, and I swear I’ll punch you in the face.