Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Economics of Political Identity

If I told you that I’m an avid sports fan, what does that really say about me? It wouldn't tell you how much I love my family and friends; it wouldn't give you any clue as to what my religious or political beliefs are, nor would it reveal my character. It’s just an aspect of my personality. The amount of information you can draw from that statement would reflect more on the interpersonal relationships you have with people who have an affinity for sports. If I told you I was an artist, you might assume I’m creative and a free spirit, but what else could you draw from that statement? Why do we attach superficial labels to ourselves that neglect to define who we are?

Cognitive linguistics deals with the way we conceptualize words. Everyday we interact with people based on a set of frames that we use to understand each other. It’s more convenient than trying to understand every nuance of human life. The trap is making sure you are dealing with someone who views the world in a similar enough way as you do to understand all of the identifiers we use as a way of distinguishing ourselves and ideas in the world. Our breakdown occurs when language is distorted.

Political and religious affiliations are one the biggest group identifiers we link ourselves to. Some have decided that the totality of their being can be summed up with generic labels like conservative, liberal, or libertarian. Our political machine has given us so few choices that in order to identify with larger groups we are forced to declare a nom de guerre based on which side of the political ledger we fall into.

 Most of my friends avoid politics. Those who choose to engage are passionate about their positions and can articulate them. However, we know this isn't true for all of our fellow citizens.

One of the biggest problems facing our body politic is the lack of critical thinking. Instead of clearly stating the positions they hold, most politicians use an Orwellian double speak to mask their true intentions. It would be entirely too easy to just say they are liars. The fact is most politicians excel in many areas of social interactions. The politicians are just a symptom of the problem. The rising costs of elections have caused decent politicians to make decisions contrary to their beliefs. Our lack of critical thinking as a nation has made it easier to deceive us. A smarter electorate would add a level of integrity back to our politics.

Why choose to link yourself with ideas constructed by someone else? When you think about what it means to be a liberal, conservative, or libertarian: none of us fit into the neatly crafted boxes these terms provide. I know libertarians who supported the governments role in integrating the school systems in the 60’s, but oppose the enforcement of the same laws when it comes to private business. I know pro-choice conservatives, and liberals who want to cut spending to social programs.

The problems facing our country are to complex to believe that any of the choices above  have a monopoly on fixing them. Liberals believe we can have an active Federal Reserve and prime the pump back to prosperity. Our conservative friends believe we can just cut taxes and everything will go back to normal. While libertarians believe that complete and unfettered markets will pick the winners and losers in society.

I've read the greats: Friedman, Hayek, Marx, Mills, Keynes, Sowell, Paine, and Von Mises, if you think any of these men put together a perfect guide for an economic system you're holding on to a flawed economic dogma that can be taken apart with deep dialog. Some of these men were more right than others, but they each had flaws in their work. The Laffer curve was a sick joke on all of us: Reaganomics hurt those who needed the most help, cheap money policies do create bubbles that eventually burst, and abolishing the Federal Reserve would completely untangle the global economy.

Those are just a few examples of the economic theories held by our political parties. Some of their social and geopolitical ideas held will eventually make their way to these pages, but for the sake of this article pointing out the shortcomings of these prevailing policy positions is enough to prove the point I’m trying to convey: if our politics can’t correctly identify and solve the problems of our politics, why do we think they can correctly identify and solve the problems inside of us? Who you are is much more complex than the letter beside the candidate you vote for, and if not I will be praying for you.