The Self-Reliance Spectrum

April 10, 2014

                Political attitudes about self-reliance can be summarized as one of four.

                Position One can be summarized as "Every man for himself," or, of course, every woman for herself.  We all take care of those we care about, but no one should be asked to provide for others who are capable of providing for themselves.

                Position Two can be summarized as "Every person must provide for himself or herself, and contribute to the general welfare."

                Position Three can be summarized as "Every person must care for one another," and Position Four can be summarized as "Society must take care of me."

                In reasoned political debate, Conservatives advocate Position Two, and Liberals advocate Position Three, and both sides recognize that the differences are fairly subtle.   In the hyperpartisan political debate which has dominated the last twenty years, Conservatives advocate Position Two, but accuse Liberals of advocating Position Four, while Liberals advocate Position Three, but accuse Conservatives of advocating Position One.  What changes first with hyperpartisanship, in other words, is not what is advocated by either side, but the evaporation of trust based on the assumption of good will.

                Position one can be described as the "strong" position—that we much each take care of ourselves—and position four as the "weak" position.   In saying this, we can see that these four categories represent not a single spectrum of selfishness to generosity, but rather, two spectrums layered one over another, a spectrum of strength to weakness and a spectrum of selfishness to generosity.





                If we divide each spectrum into two ends, then we have the four positions.   Perhaps it is worth a sentence to note that there are shades of belief along each spectrum, not fully articulated here.

                Conservatives see themselves as advocating strength, and deny that they are advocating selfishness, although they are.   Liberals see themselves as generous, and deny that they are fostering and engendering weakness, although they are.   With the passage of time in a hyperpartisan atmosphere, people become defensive, and once they become defensive they begin to define themselves by the way that others see them.  Conservatives, forced to defend themselves against the charge of selfishness, begin to make excuses for selfishness, and eventually to embrace selfishness.   Liberals, forced to defend themselves against the charge of fostering weakness, begin to make excuses for the infantilization of the public, and eventually find themselves pandering to the weak.

                What can be done about it?

                What can be done about it is this:  to understand that strength and generosity are natural partners, and that weakness and selfishness are natural friends.  Politics divides us from our natural roles.    Let the weak be selfish; let the strong be generous.  I don’t advocate the tolerance of weakness, but I don’t advocate the tolerance of greed, either.


COMMENTS (93 Comments, most recent shown first)

Aren't we to think that postion four is the voice of those who think government should do everything for them? That seems misleading, though, since when did those the most in need, and deepest in poverty, have the political clout to insist that position four win out?

Perhaps an irony, or complication, is that the difference between position one and position four is not always so great. Those who want no interference from society (or gov't) also want society to cater to their selfishness.
5:40 AM Apr 25th
the-slasher and SkeptiSys-

On the Wall Street bailout, I couldn't agree with you more. Excellent points.

10:33 PM Apr 22nd

So conservatives are "de-legitimizing" liberals? Hmmm, if I were trying to de-legitimize the other side, I might say they were supporting armed resistance to the government and were a bunch of racists. And then I would offer no facts whatsoever to support my conclusion.

Just curious - after characterizing conservatives as you do, what exactly is it that you "respect" about them?

Listen , I know there are nuts on the right. I know there are racists on the right. There are also nuts on the left. And racists on the left as well. Each party even has had a Senate Majority leader in the recent past who said stupid things that have been charactarized as racially insensitive or racist.

Each party has had times where their nominated candidate has paid a price for things they said or did in order to fundraise or get nominated in the first place.

Really, isn't a comment about civility of discourse presumptively suspect when your thesis is "it's all the other side's fault"?
10:17 PM Apr 22nd
I have always felt that generous strength was the highest of all virtues, because we have so many examples of strength being used to abuse others. Thanks, Bill.

As for the present political scene, the amounts of government assistance received by the rich is easily greater than the amount spent on the poor. The rich have simply set the meme up so that you are supposed to respect what they get (without TARP there would have been a depression) while you are supposed to disrespect what the poor get (any non-high-school grad single mother can make it if she really wants to.) It has been this way since the Depression.

The only thing I find different about today's political discourse is that many conservatives -- and this is a group of people who I respect for the most part even though I disagree with them -- have sought to delegitimize liberalism to the extent that they are quite prepared to countenance violence to the political process if they don't get their way. This happened during the Depression too, of course, but in the worst times for conservatives in the 1960s, they never talked about armed resistance to the government (it was the left that was doing that). Now they are. Part of it, I suspect, is Obama's color. But it's very frightening, because things are only going to get worse for conservatives over the next decade or so. The demographics are running against them, and the electorate at the national level is not going to put them back into power for quite some time.
12:32 AM Apr 22nd
Brain, I think its better not to vote. Then you can't be held responsible for what evil government does. If you vote, you can't bitch, you accept the process and the results. "All political activity is aimed at: (1) gaining power, (2) holding onto power and (3) using power to transfer wealth, status and more power to the insiders." Bill Bonner.
11:44 PM Apr 20th
The biggest welfare recipients of the Bush/Obama years are the financial entities that received the bailout money of $29 trillion. When reading this post, I was thinking of them and companies like Exxon-Mobil, Disney, Verizon, the former Haliburton and others that receive disproportionate amounts of money from the public sector.

Based on that, entities like the Wall Street Journal that are called conservative fall under 'Position 4' and Liberals like Chomsky and Nader would I guess fall under 'Position 3'. Obama, Clinton, and Bush would also be under 'Position 4.'

So I am just guessing that the only way the post makes sense to me is if it ignores those welfare recipients and only concentrates on poor people that receive public funds. If so, I am against the idea that giving poor people money makes them weak and selfish but when given to rich people it has no negative effect.
7:45 PM Apr 20th
And I know you dismiss the idea of the right candidate coming along, but I think there are leaders who have changed the course of US history and political thought. (for better and for worse) Reagan, FDR, Lincoln, perhaps Teddy Roosevelt and even Kennedy. Chief Justice Warren. To a much lesser extent, Chief Justice Rehnquist.

So you never know...
10:43 AM Apr 19th
Maumike-Not trying to convince you that everything will be allright...just that your "all taxes are theft" comment was wrong, and that there is a need for at least some basic form of government.

And as a conservative, I argue with others that as that as part of our original contract, the Constitution, there were checks and balances that were placed on the government and particularly the federal government that were designed to keep that contract viable. Also, a process was put in place to amend that contract when necessary. And now those checks and balances have been eroded and the amendment process has been replaced by judicial fiat. Rather than a supermajority of the states or their representatives, it is now amended by 5/9 of the Supreme Court.

And when I tried to discuss that on this site, I got back a bunch of MSNBC-regurgitated stuff that wasn't even about what I wrote. And unfortunately, I think that's also happens on the national stage. And calling people names unfortunately makes for a better sound-bite than serious discussion.

All I can do is bring up the issue once in a while in a political discussion and try to get others to think about it. And also support and vote for candidates who are receptive to the above views. I agree it's not much, but I guess it's better than doing nothing.

10:17 AM Apr 19th
Sorry Brain, back in the day I would argue politics until dawn and then wake up and do it again. If we were sitting and drinking I might do it now, but not on this platform. I've argued and I don't think I ever convinced anyone, but 40 years later I smile when one of my friends says something I spoke years ago. Its a little victory. When I see things about filibusters, and judges and agenda's and that the democrats or republicans are gonna a save us, my eyes glace over. Maybe we can agree that taxes are, legalized theft. What I wonder about, is that there are 103,087,000 workers in America. 16,606,000, work for various governments, federal, state and local. So thats about 86,500,000 producing things. And that doesn't count the folks who work in the private sector who work to fulfill government regulations and taxes. So there are 148,000,000 who are taking from the 86,500,000 producing. Sooner or later it will break down. One can only print money for so long.... But if we just elect the right guys....Everything will work out. Maybe, but don't bet the farm on it. And if you have a farm, try and keep it, maybe you'll be able to feed yourself.
3:18 AM Apr 19th
Well, I must admit that all things being even the huddled 40 something MTTBF in Manhattan seem unequal the the full conservatists lifstyle;

1:07 AM Apr 18th
Yes but Whinny didn't write that aimed at a well off fellow moving to a socialized society right at an age to start scarfing up those old people goodies.
11:57 PM Apr 17th
You´ve just confirmed my worst fears about myself! I am 48 years old, have a well paying job, lots of money in the bank, and have been paying taxes for 30 years - but I am probably more liberal than I have ever been!
Oh well.... maybe I´ll be a late bloomer.....
5:37 PM Apr 17th
Every liberal generation has bet on youth and lost. You are a liberal until you get a mortgage to pay. As Winston Churchill said: ""If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.""
11:15 AM Apr 17th
OBS - I agree with you that the income tax is not the ideal tax, and if it is used the flatter the tax rate with the fewest itemized deductions the better. And I don't understand why income is taxed at a higher rate than capital gains.

But it is clearly constitutional because of the 16th amendment to the Constitution which allows Congress to tax the income of individuals. I don't even understand an argument to the contrary.

Not sure where you are going with the "opinions of slaveholders" comment. Care to explain?

BTW, re-reading the taxing power granted to Congress in the Constitution I don't have the foggiest notion what Roberts was thinking in the Health Care decision. There is still a chance that someone will wake up and realize that the enormous amount of power granted to HHS in the implementation of the plan is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the executive branch. I think that is why it was so urgent for the Democrats to eliminate the fillibuster for judicial appointments. They want to have their judges interpreting that issue in the lower federal courts, keeping the program going for a couple of years before getting to the Supreme Court. I guess the hope then is that it will be so entrenched that the Supremes won't touch it.
10:43 PM Apr 16th
Sgoldleaf -"Racist"? "White -Supremacist"? Your comments speak for themselves and don't deserve a response.

10:21 PM Apr 16th
To be clear, the projection is not that "white Americans"will become THE minority in 2043. It's that they will no longer consist of >50% of the US population. That only makes them the minority, if one thinks of all non-whites as a single racial denomination. I feel for those who think that way. And I understand why republicans fear this change. (XXXXX). According to projections, no group will be a majority at that point and white Americans will still be the largest group by far. (XXXX) As an aside, if I didn't get that OBS has a rather large sardonic side of his brain/communication, I'd jump a bit on his Muslim representation in his t-day analogy - it was handled very appropriately by Markrice and I like the conversation didn't devolved from there. As an aside to my aside, I don't agree with most of your (OBS) political conclusions, but from across the aisle I respect your perspective and though process and enjoy (at least some) of your humor.
7:55 PM Apr 16th
Steven Goldleaf
Why would I back off my comment that conservatives are dying off? It was a demographic observation--most of the real hardline rightwing types, as far as I can tell, are people of a certain age who will be dead in ten or twenty years. (As will I--the difference is that there are plenty of leftwingers among the young today who will argue for the positions I favor-- higher taxes, more social programs, more government, more regulations on businesses, more stringent environmental protection, etc.--while the younger people who consider themselves conservatives today who will remain among the living at least seem to embrace some so-called liberal values--immigration reform, gay rights, and such, meaning that in a de3cade or so, the liberal conservative arguments will still be here, but they'll be more reasonable because the old guard--the moralistic, Christian rightwingers will mostly be dead. That's how the numbers seem to be skewing--you can get away with racist, white-supremacist positions when you actually have a white majority in this country, but when your country goes 55%., 65% non-white, that position will no longer be tenable, so enjoy it while you can.
5:34 PM Apr 16th
@Brian" "I read in various places that around 2045, Hispanics or at least Spanish speaking Americans will be in the majority in the United States. Is this true? If so, does it worry you?"'''

Don't know if it's true, but I suspect the number you might be looking at is when whites will be in the minority, which is around 25 years out, at which time I plan to protest by becoming incontinent.​
4:33 PM Apr 16th
Yes, sorry Brian.

I (cough) shouldn't give up the ghost on the "taxation is theft" thing. I'm not a big Robin Hood guy. In a mirocosm, two guys on a desert island can vote the third guy out of his pet monkey. Taxation is a simplistic fear level is that writ large, the bare majority snagging wealth from the wealthy. I think the problem most people have is not so much taxes, but income taxes. There is a very real question about whether that is constitutional, if you are one of those guys big on the opinions of slaveholders. I don't like it because I just think it is counter-intuitive, punishing the productive. A tax on assets, on purchases, on property, on vice, etc., is far more palatable to many, methinks.
4:21 PM Apr 16th
OK. A lot there to speak to here. Good stuff this...
The lower birth rate really is a problem in that our welfare system is based on the young and healthy paying for the less young and healthy. So this is a challenge - actually one which immigration could help to address.
One misconception I would like to speak to is that the vast majority of immigrants come here to work, and they do work hard (when they are allowed to. In most countries, Asylum seekers are not allowed to work until their cases are being reviewed - a process that can take years). Another one is this business of the "Muslimization" of Europe. Right now the most accurate estimates place the percentage people in the EU who are Mulims at 3,5% - 4%. That´s still about 20 million, but we are not in any danger of being overrun by Sharia anytime soon. And even if there were more than 50% Muslims, and they all wanted Sharia (another misconception) this is why we have an EU constitution and charter of rights. No need to worry though, most Muslims tend to adopt Western European birthrate levels within a generation of arriving. As you say, reports of Muslims comprising 50% of EU population have no basis in reality.
Still, as you say the unrest seems real, in England, France, and Sweden. I think its also important to remember that for the first time in 50 years, we are experiencing real economic difficulty. We have to deal with dividing up a shrinking pie, and its painful. But immigrants only make up about 9% of the EU population. Its a small minority, and the huge majority of the work hard and do not take handouts. Its just not that big a problem
I am actually quite optimistic. The Eurozone is starting to get its act together, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have endured extreme fiscal hardship (which I believe to have been largely unnecessary) and are in much better shape than they were just a year ago. There are a lot of challenges (the common agriculture policy takes up 42% of the EU budget, energy, youth unemployment is way too high, and perhaps most fundamental general uncertainty about how far we should go with political union) , but immigration is really just a sideshow - a convenient scapegoat for what really ails us.
Here´s a question I want to ask you.... I read in various places that around 2045, Hispanics or at least Spanish speaking Americans will be in the majority in the United States. Is this true? If so, does it worry you?
3:48 PM Apr 16th
gawd, full of typos, I'm on a conference call. Okay, so it is easy to have Xmas dinner with your family and divide up the turkey among all the blond blue-eyed people (sarcasm) with whom you are in general agreement on most social topics, and you have a milion bucks and each person gets $50k and life is comfortable if not exciting. BUT THEN 20 starving Muslims come in, grabbing the turkey, rioting in the bathroom, wanting to get this mole looked at, and looking to borrow a kitchen knife to cut off the hand of the niece who raised her eyes to a man, the system may shudder a tad.
1:25 PM Apr 16th
OBS - I think you meant to address the immigration stuff to MarkRice. I'm swamped with "taxation is theft", can't take on immigration issues now...
12:22 PM Apr 16th
@Brian. The picture that was painted of the European immigration problems were as follows: live births among native Europeans (geneticly-native) have fallen below replacement level (as with Caucasians and in many other First world countries, Japan for instance). While a homogenous population, bonded by long years of culture, can equitably slive up the pie and hold conflict withih reason, the influx of 2/5/9 percent foreigners over 3/5/12 years causes a shock to the system. These people aren't coming over the border with a thriving transmission repair business, they are looking for society to get by, feed, clothe, educate and provide healthcare for their growing families, at least until they become productive earners. They do not have an inherent trust in the government, do not believe that the pie is divided fairly, and as soon as they get their feet under themk, will start making demands for goods and services. Many also bring a strong insular adherence to their language, their religion, dress codes, attitudes toward women and law -- the dreaded Sharia. There has been chatter in the US saying that doue to immigrant influx, high birth levels, and low birth levels among Christians/Caucasians, the population of (insert friendly placid European ally) will becomes 51 percent (Muslim/immigrant/meanie) by 20 (15/45/70). Upon quick research I found most of the last stuff to be bulls1t, so dropped my interest -- false in one, false in all. But maybe not. There is smoke in there, and the reports of cultural clashes, rioting and societal unrest seem genuine.
11:22 AM Apr 16th
Mauimike -Re-reading your comment, maybe you don't acknowledge that we need a government. I read "how do you keep what you worked for...that is the problem" and the acknowledgement that it is not a perfect world as the realization that some sort of government is necessary to protect the fruits of our labors. But if that is not the case, then I would simply point out that you have not explained how you would protect those who have done the work from those who would take from them.
8:52 AM Apr 16th
And that is my point. You say taxation is theft, but I am going to assume that if you acknowledge that government is a necessary evil then you realize that it has to be paid for. And I think I read you as acknowledging that fact (as you bemoan it).

So not all taxation is theft. And I don't believe that is anybody's position if you truly sit down and talk about it. Mainstream libertarians, I think, would tell you that taxation is not theft as long as it goes towards those things that government should take care of as part of the social contract. It becomes theft when it goes beyond that. I don't agree with that either. I think reasonable minds can differ on what is a proper government function without it being labeled a "theft"

And theft, by the way, is typically defined in penal codes as not just a forcible taking but a "wrongful" or "unlawful" taking. So when you see references to taxes as legalized theft, that is just an oxymoron. There is no such thing.
6:30 AM Apr 16th
Has there ever been a time when people would leave each other alone? Not that I see. As a species, We seem to have this unending urge to mind everyone else´s business. Maybe government is just a way to control that, that is acceptable to everyone - OK, point taken, to most. Without rules and a civil authority, one group will dominate another.
Of course I say this having lived on a continent for over 20 years where before the EU was formed different groups habitually attacked, invaded and murdered each other for thousands of years, so I may have a skewed view of it.
5:47 AM Apr 16th
Brain, I'm for Boomer Sooner. Set up a line, let people start behind it, with covered wagons and horses and whoever gets, what he gets, gets it, after it was stolen from the Indians, of course. I'm not sure I can answer your question. It assumes thats theres one answer and that answer has to be established from some central authority. Why? There could be many answers to the question. What if you had some land and everyone wanted to own the land in common and let each work it as they could and put what they made into a common bowl and shared. It could work, if everyone agreed. I'm not sure I'd want to live there, but as long as its voluntary and peaceful, I'm OK. Perhaps we can go by John Locke, "As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclosed it from the common." How does one keep what you have worked for? That is a problem. I think it can be worked out and the odds of it working out is better, when everyone is trying to keep what they worked for instead of letting someone who does no work decide. In a perfect world, working and taking care of the land might be enough. In our world good luck. Watch what's happening in Nevada. 4/19 is Saturday.
2:31 AM Apr 16th
Permit me to second Mark Rice from the vantage point of an American who has spent more than half of his 70 years in Germany. His characterization of the state of Dutch politics and society fits here fairly well.

I agree especially on the subject of immigration. Any biologist will tell you that inbreeding is dangerous to a population, that widening the gene pool is conducive to health. The same is true of societies. Germany has been enriched by the German-born children and grandchildren of Turkish 'guest workers' imported in the fifties and sixties and would do well to treat asylum seekers the same way. Unfortunately there is a nativist streak in public opinion, especially on the right, that makes it a tough political sell.

Indeed that nativist streak is the common thread uniting far-right parties all across Europe. There is a not insignificant minority that has utterly failed to learn from history.
7:37 PM Apr 15th
No, please, its a fair comment. I phrased my response as I did because I am genuinely interested in how this is viewed from outside the EU - especially in light of your own debates around immigration policy.
Each EU country has a sizable faction in its legislature that runs on an anti-immigrant platform (we have a particularly "colorful" guy here in the Netherlands named Gert Wilders...). They are always referred to as "far right", although I don´t really think that is an accurate description, as many of these parties have very left wing fiscal policies, or at least claim to. This is not a discussion around illegal vs. legal immigration, but rather more like "there´s too many of them".
For what it´s worth, I do believe we have a serious immigrant problem, but it arises from our inability here to see past the "other" and recognize the enormous benefits immigration brings. As a Canadian immigration is part of my history and my culture (just as it is yours in the U.S., I think). But here, we are just not used to it, and too often only see the problems. I believe very strongly that we need immigrants - they bring new ideas, they generally work hard and build things. of course, as I said, I am one myself, so I can understand if see this as an excessively subjective comment.
I am pleased you recognize that the real situation must be much more complex than a few incidents of riots - you can find enough people here who are certainly not so nuanced in their thinking.
1:18 PM Apr 15th
@markrice. I withdraw the immigrant comment. I am only going off coverage of immigrant riots in Britain, Sweden etc. over the past fewe years. Not qualified to speak to the long term financial and cultural effects, or which countries are at the point of the spear.
12:18 PM Apr 15th

I'm guessing if I asked you how roads, bridges, etc. are built without taxes you would answer that some sort of privatized system would be better. Rather than arguing that point, I have just one question for you. You are in charge of the colonization of a brand new country that is small enough that land, resources, etc are not unlimited. How do you define and enforce property rights?
9:42 AM Apr 15th
Immigration time bomb? Really? To be perfectly honest, I have always thought that we don´t have enough immigrants. Of course, I am one myself, so my opinion is surely biased. By the way, what do you base that on?
Oh, and I love it here - haven´t had a smoke since college. The Dutch tendency towards comprise is sometimes extremely irritating, the politics are incredibly boring, and the governments tendency to have rules about everything rather annoying. On the other hand, very few go hungry, all kids get a good education, there is relatively little crime (almost no violent crime to speak of), everyone is guaranteed decent healthcare and people are generally quite happy. Its´not all that bad, really.
4:48 AM Apr 15th
@markrice. EU countries like The Netherlands have built socialist societies that were utopian in some way some people....potheads jump to mind. But I think in the cast of world history, it is only going to last a generation or two. Europe has an immigration time bomb ticking under its feet.
2:29 AM Apr 15th
rgreg...okay, military spending. What then would be your foreign policy stances? You aren't one of those Pat Buchanan/Rand Paul bring-em-home-and-block-the-borders guys, are you?
2:20 AM Apr 15th
As a Canadian ex-pat living in Europe (The Netherlands), I find this discussion fascinating. I don´t suppose this is too relevant to the discussion, but effective tax rates in the United States are pretty low, compared with other developed countries. Where I live its 52% on all income above about $50,000 (I think.. not sure). In addition, we, as most European countries, have a VAT of around 20%.
Of course we have segments of the population that want to see much lower tax rates, but is interesting to see that in most other developed countries (certainly in the EU) government seems to me to be viewed much more as a way of getting things done, rather than an impediment. Certainly Dutch society, even its culture, is based on a fundamental desire for consensus and cooperation (this has its drawbacks too).
This is not a value judgement - I would never say we have it figured out over here. Its just an observation.
2:10 AM Apr 15th
I think you invented a word Mr. James, anchconservative. Back in the day I used to go by anarcho-capitalist, but then I can't get no respect. Theft, is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it." How is taxation not theft? First of all Professor, what do you think would be the percentage of people who would pay taxes if there was no threat of force? The only people who gave their consent to this government are the men who signed the Constitution. I never signed the damn thing. To discuss tax policy is like talking about how many angels you can get on a head of a pin. Do you want to know what the governments tax policy is? It will take everything that it can get away with and then take more. They got a new one now. Mary Grice, lost her $4,500.00, state and federal tax refunds, because when she was 4 and her father died and Social Security, overpaid the family. 50 some years later she's paying for a government mistake. Your government at work. I think these discussions about liberals and conservatives and left and right and the center and the fringes are rather silly. Its all a scam and if you can't see the corruption, the fraud and the fact that its all just a dog and pony show, stick around its becoming clearer everyday. The Romans had bread and circuses. America has food stamps and celebrities. Sorry Professor I do not trust government, the politicians and the ones who pull their strings. Why? I've read history.
12:45 AM Apr 15th
The notion that Mauimike is an archconservative is pretty funny.
11:23 PM Apr 14th
I really try hard to stay out of these political discussions for a multitude of reasons, but one of Old Backstop's comments makes me respond. I lean towards the ultra-left, but I could have written one of his themes, but with one slight difference:

"I think American government spending is totally out-of-control. What reasonable person can look at our debt to China and our military spending stupidity and not be alarmed?"

IMO, our military spending is much more dangerous to the future health, both financially and morally, of our country than our entitlement spending.
11:20 PM Apr 14th
Steve....this discussion is ironic to the point of suspicion, placed as it is in the comments to Bill's article. This article can be summed up as bemoaning polemic discourse that dismisses adversaries by stuffing them into convenient, faceless duffel bags and scrawling some emotive jargon across it like "here be those that think taxation is theft" or "enclosed within, deadbeats in search of handouts".

Unless you want to stick your fingers in your ears and make trilling noises, you probably would be better served to soothe your soul by humanizing your demons. I am a pro-choice, anti-assault gun, libertarian and fiscal conservative. I think American government spending is totally out-of-control. What reasonable person can look at our debt to China and our entitlement funding future and not be alarmed?

Does any reasonable person think that our country's problem is simply lack of aggression in taxing the "one percenters"? Does any mature adult not realize that altruistic, utopian desires for a society with comfort and prosperity for all requires a blank check we can no longer cover, if any society in history ever could? Is it okay with you if the social safety net becomes a hammock?

If forced into a choice between Tea Partiers howling "stop taking our money" and OWSers screaming "give us your money", I'm inclined to support the former. But the point Bill is making is, that is a false dichotomy. Our political partiies should not be defined by their baser members. It is a sophomoric debate tactic.
9:53 PM Apr 14th
So I googled "All taxation is theft". 90% of the first 2-3 pages of results yielded liberal websites that argued it wasn't theft. I then found a guy appearing on FOX news named Art Carden ( I think) who says all taxes are theft. Then there was an anarchist/atheist website who made the same argument. There was also an Austrian website as well taking that position.Then John Boehner comes up - during the government shutdown - saying something about "how much are we going to steal from the American people?" A closer look at his comments make it clear that he is talking about overtaxation and overspending - not all taxation. There are other people who argue that redistributive taxes are theft. Ron Paul made comments that income taxation was theft, as opposed to other forms of taxation.

It is hard to define Tea Party positions, because there is no true organized Tea Party. But "Taxation is theft" is a Libertarian position, and has been around as such since 1962. One of the criticisms of the Republican Party in the last 2 elections is that they drove Libertarians away to the Democrats because of their conservative social positions. So should Obama have gotten up and announced, "We don't want those crazy Libertarian votes"?

Don't forget, conservatives are also often criticized for wanting high levels of defense spending. Those are paid for with taxes, I believe. The taxation is theft line of thought would appear to be at odds with the traditional conservative view of expensive military.

By the way, I would note that I have expressed on this website before that I have no use for FOX News or Boehner. I also did not support Ron Paul in 2012.

And finally, there are radicals on the left as well. In a country as large as the United States you can find support for any crazy position. No one makes you disavow left wing radicals every time you give a political opinion.

I am angry because this is how conservative views are routinely distorted. We are racists, we kill abortion doctors, we believe in zero taxes. If we make the point that the Constitution should be interpreted by the Supreme Court rather than amended by the Supreme Court, then we are anti-woman and are "clinging to our guns and our bibles". And forget discussions of iideas like federalism. That's just a smokescreen for our evil views.

The problem with you, in short, is that you do not engage in discussions, you engage in tactics.

And I notice you still didn't back off of your eagerness to have those that disagree with you die off....

9:34 PM Apr 14th
Steven Goldleaf
I've said that I think OBS is a pretty reasonable guy, and I could have a serious discussion with him and people like him about appropriate tax rates and appropriate government expenditures, except he's got a load of people on his side (and your side, I take it) of the political spectrum who spend their days screaming about "taxes are theft." And you're denying that these people exist, and that they constitute a large part of the "conservative movement," and you see them around you every day--you have heard of the "Tea Party" haven't you? If not, Google the term. You might learn something. These people are imbeciles, demanding that the government shut down because they don't want it to pay the debts the Congress has already incurred. Now people who know better, normal Republicans and intelligent conservatives, had a chance to disown these losers and morons and fakers but instead choose to rely on them for a continued political base. You can't have it both ways, claiming to be reasonable and relying on radical know-nothings for your continued political existence. I don;t think this country can survive many more decades with a viable radical right fueling the conservative movement--what I hope will happen is that you will come to your senses, and cast them off as hopelessly retrograde political baggage, and compete with the Democrats for the centrist vote, allowing the Democrats to move to their left, and this allow a genuine political debate to take place, in a generation or two perhaps. We 're at a standstill now, with people like me holding leftist beliefs but having no place to enact them. There is no compromise possible with the current Republican party because they are beholden to people so vile that you won't even admit that they constitute the base of your party, much less denounce their views as foolish and harmful. I have no idea why you're so angry at me for that pointing that simple truth out, or maybe I do.
7:45 PM Apr 14th
Sgoldleaf -

You know, I decided not to get into any more political discussions on this site and that was largely based on a back-and-forth I got into with you that I felt had to be painful for anyone else to read. I sort of feel bad that I let one person drive me out, but at least I have been able to see from your interactions with many of the other readers that is in fact you that is the problem. In this thread you are doing the same thing to that you did to me. You assert a radical position that you say, without any proof, that many conservatives secretly hold, and then try to put us on the defensive with it. If you would address what OBS actually writes, you might have a productive discussion of progressive taxation versus flat taxation, property taxation and consumption taxation. He indicates that he supports property and consumption taxation, and "can live" wiith the uneven results of a flat-rate income tax. So he has said IN THIS THREAD that he supports taxation. Therefore, he does not consider it to be theft. Ahah, you say, but all Republicans try to appeal to a base that feels that way. What conservative candidate for office has ever said that? What conservative on this site has ever said that? (Mauimike is an anarchist, not a conservative. You might want to look up the difference. And no one is sucking up to him for his vote, since he doesn't vote.) I'm a conservative and I certainly don't believe that taxation is theft. How about you find some proof that this is a serious conservative position that candidates are appealing to before you make it the centerpiece of this discussion.

Here's a radical position: I can hardly wait for the people who disagree with my view of the world to die. You know who said that? You.

Finally, since the tone of your comments political and otherwise, have been repeatedly criticized by several contributors, even those who agree with the positions you are taking, you might want to consider the old adage that it is very unlikely that everyone else is wrong and you are right.

6:50 PM Apr 14th
And, Steve, that is why I never again will vote for anyone with R next to his or her name, no matter how reasonable an individual he or she might be.
10:37 AM Apr 14th
Steven Goldleaf
Am I defining the opposition as "taxation is theft" lunatics, or is Mike saying it clearly about himself? I think I'm just quoting him accurately, and you're accusing me of making up a strawman so I can fight with him. What I want is for you to denounce him, tell him he's crazy, refuse to acknowledge his importance to your cause, marginalize him as your enemy and mine, but you'd rather stab yourself in the heart with a grapefruit spoon than attack your own base. So I assume correctly that you cannot live without your base and, until then, we have very little to discuss. I will just have to support the highest, most confiscatory taxes I can and the most extreme leftist candidates I can find, even those too far left for me if I can find one, and wait for your generation to die off. You don't give me a lot of reasonable options.
6:45 AM Apr 14th
heh heh...ahhh...Steve, you aren't going to get the amusing aspect of this. You are doing exactly what Bill describes above -- defining all conservatives some jingoistic slogan e.g.: "taxation is theft" and then deciding on a few anecdotal experiences that everyone is thus and sio. That slogan can be parsed and debated, but it is nice and vague and inflammatory, particularly if you depend on the government to make ends meet in your life. Steve, You are just a typical bitter class warrior communist cloaked as a "Democrat" looking to to steal every dime that the hard workers in our society make so you and your lazy-ass comrades can have a free ride. (SEE! See how insulting it is to paint your adversary with some fringe language and toss him in a group?)
7:16 PM Apr 13th
Oldbackstop: See, I don't think I'm grooving into Bill's argument, and neither Steve. Steve says he'd like to talk to you and reach a compromise. I feel the same. And for his first what, three years? way too long--Obama said the same. "Let's work together." Well, he tried, and it didn't work, because the Republicans refused. So we get back to Bill's premise by implication, which is a symmetrical premise; and I reject that. It's not symmetrical. One side--the Republicans--refuses to work together. I'm not complaining here about their ideology, about Bill's 4 categories; but their refusal even to negotiate. That used not to be the case. Since January 2009, it has been, and we're all worse off for it.
7:05 PM Apr 13th
Have you ever noticed that every one who drives slower than you is an idiot and everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?

As Bill points out a lot of the problem is both sides are trying to make the other side seem like idiots and maniacs, when most aren't. And we see a lot of it here.

Politics thrives on bogeymen. Democrats seem particularly obsessed with republicans who are unelectable' the Angle/Akin crowd. Candidates that even Republicans can't get behind, not because they are too conservative but because they are incompetent. But they make it easy for Dems to put reps in positions 1. So the unelectable become the symbols of a party. "Tea Party Wing Nuts."

Of course, our current President is a Democrat, so by nature he has to be the Republicans' bogey man, saving plenty of fringe Dems from targeting. And so Republicans have to make every move Obama makes into a Category 4 offense. Even if it used to be a middle of the road idea. They have to make Obama into Akin.

None of it has anything to do with how to improve our economy or education or tax system. Every argument has to be tested against absurd ideological systems. What if we could do something much better? Who cares? It's a government take over, or cutting spending on children, or some other goddamn thing.

Until we get past this, nothing will get fixed.
9:17 AM Apr 13th
Steven Goldleaf
Am I making up Mauimike? He says "what I believe" many rightwingers say RIGHT HERE ON THIS BOARD, that all taxation is theft and he opposes it on principle. I'd prefer to discuss taxation with reasonable conservatives like you, and reach a compromise neither of us will be happy with, but they won't let you. They've vowed to cut off you and treat you like traitorous dirt unless you espouse their position--that all taxation is theft--and so you do, in order to survive politically. And I, quite correctly, label you as a "taxation is theft" nutjob because that's the position you choose to take for your own political survival. And if you're honest, you might resent the hardline rightwingers for forcing you into a position you don't really like, but you much prefer their core beliefs to mine.
5:48 AM Apr 13th
@Steve and flying. Again, I find it amusing that you are both grooving right into the argument track Bill spells out above, shooting over the heads of the moderate right center to focus on the radical right. Who cares about the fringes of either end of the spectrum with whom reasonable discourse is impossible? Why jump into the mud to argue with them? Do you think America is going to disband taxation or the entitlement programs? Of course not. So let the radicals bury themselves. Why brand everyone right of center with the positions you have "heard" or believe "all conservatives" to bear? You are better than that.
2:21 AM Apr 13th
I think Bill’s polarities are interesting, but too much influenced by his desire to be a gadfly political analyst.

Consider another pair of polar coordinates. Let’s drop the “strength--weakness” pairing -- the seeming naturalness of this disguises the lack of any real precision, and plays into ideology via easy entree into Bill’s “conservative --liberal” analysis, seamlessly inviting us all to take the usual sides. Pose instead a pair of axis poles that juxtaposes “selfishness -- generosity” to one’s social position in terms of “connectedness -- isolation”. Are we rooted in a social network? Or are we adrift in a sea of alienated, mostly empty, even less than “virtual,” connections?

The social context for every individual matters at least as much as the conscious labels we attach to ourselves and to others. In other words, consider pairings like “selfish--isolated” -- a recipe for gang-like thuggery or radical-politics enlistment, versus “connected--generous”, which could be a social liberal in Manhattan (those mocked as bleeding-hearts) or a community organizer, but equally a church-going donor to community causes in town setting in Kansas. The intermediate positions are curious as well: “generous--isolated” seems like a lost-soul in search of meaning, while “selfish--connected” is ripe with possibilities: the wealthy country-club good-ol’-boy? the neighborhood drug dealer? the “real housewife” of wherever?)

My real point is both simpler and more complex: there are many axes through which to see ourselves. Bill typically poses or presents axes (questions, theories) that focus on and interrogate our individual characteristics, and his analyses (often provocative and penetrating, I agree) appeal to those readers, a majority here, who never much consider the social/relational context as an immediately relevant factor. Myself, I read the political stuff and sigh. I’m an economic theorist and historian. Too much social analysis never poses the context at all, and thus never appreciates the strong sense in which we are all inseparable from our relationships (and therefore just as conditional and changeable as those relationships). Many analyses instead begin from characteristics of individuals and try, from there, to understand relationships as consequences or effects of what ”we” choose (as if there ever was an “I” or a “we” who could choose anything independent of context). Much of what Bill offers in his non-baseball pursuits seems to fit this “methodological-individualist” approach. He’s got a lot of allies in this, as I do indeed recognize, but for me, I’m not much persuaded. I’m here for the baseball (at which I am nowhere Bill’s equal) and I’ll do my own social analysis, since I’m not all that impressed by the dialog on the non-baseball topics.

10:56 PM Apr 12th
Steven Goldleaf
And I'll answer for myself as well--you seem quite reasonable at times, OBS, and when you seem so, I think we (you and I) could work out some political compromises, theoretically, between our rather extreme positions, such that you would feel you were being overtaxed with not enough oversight while I would feel undertaxed with too-harsh scrutiny of how fair the taxation process is, and we would be able to live with the results, unhappy though we both would be. The problem is that few to none of your fellow conservatives want to work out a deal such as I'm suggesting. They're hard-liners, won't-give-an-inch, death-before-dishonor, Obamacare=Death absolutists who consider compromise a dirty word, and who consider dealing with the likes of me to be an act of treason.
7:23 PM Apr 12th
Oldbackstop: You asked Steve Goldleaf why anyone should worry about conservatives who aren't rational or sane. Well, I can't answer for Steve, but I can for me: the insane irrational "conservatives" in and out of Congress have far too much power and they affect me. So I worry very much abut them.
6:18 PM Apr 12th
Steven Goldleaf
...awful LOT OF people like Mike...
5:20 PM Apr 12th
Steven Goldleaf
OBS, a candidate's tax returns are of interest to me if someone runs (as everyone does) on a platform of wanting to change (or keep) the current tax system. Of course, I don't have to see yours, it's none of my damn business, I suppose--unless you're running to be president. And if you do, and you want your tax returns kept private, Mr. Romney, I'm going draw the conclusions I choose to about your private reasons for keep your returns secret. (Of course, I'm not going to vote for you, Mr. Romney, in a million zillion years, so you don't give a damn about my vote.) And maybe I am lumping anarchists together with conservatives, OBS, but there are an awful people like mauimike who just don't favor any taxes whatsoever, and who will oppose them on principle (though no principle I recognize as human or social-minded in the least) and who consider themselves Rand Paul/Ron Paul/Barry Goldwater conservatives. Not me--them. Ask Mike which pols he respects. I doubt very much it'll be anyone I can stomach, though I think you'll like his choices just fine.
5:19 PM Apr 12th
@Fireball. I am not a Romney fan. I voted for him (well, c'mon), but I didn't work for him. I worked for McCain, who is a great man...kind, honest, and did his community activist work in a Hanoi prison. But this relatively sudden societal hatred of success in America is deeply disturbing to me. What business is a candidate's tax return to anyone? Conflicts, okay, but you know it is just for class warfare political purposes. The American Dream is what built this country, and it is largely missing from the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd. You can ask why, you can blame the economy or culture or the got-to-be-looking-at-a-screen-every-waking-moment phenomenon, but whatever it is, this country better figure out a way to motivate the generation coming into their earning years. To me, a key issue is the regulatory difficulty of starting a small business. Every American kid wants to be an internet billionaire, no one wants to start a construction business, or can't get by the licensing, bonding, insurance, fees, and every other roadblock government today throws up at young entrepreneurs. Rant out.​
3:41 PM Apr 12th
Steve, do you understand that you are doing EXACTLY what Bill is saying above? lol.... You are a poster child for his article :-) I don't believe that any rational/reasonable conservative (and -- important -- why would you care about any other?) would say we don't need taxes to pay for highways, law enforcement, emergency services, national defense, Now....are they saying the LEVEL isn't fair, or the METHODOLOGY isn't fair? And I just handled that issue. If you are sticking to your story here, you aren't dealing with conservatives, you are dealing with anarchists.
3:10 PM Apr 12th
Steven Goldleaf
my issue, OBS, is that most conservatives I've spoken to, including MauiMike, just fundamentally don't believe that ANY level of taxation is fair, especially if any of it goes to help out poor people. They're forever suspicious that some large fraction of welfare money designated specifically for orphans and those with disabilities that prevent them from working is going, instead, to healthy, lazy men in their twenties who are are guffawing at putting a big one over on the man. On that "principle," they will oppose any and all taxation--don't believe me, just ask mauimike.
2:33 PM Apr 12th
Fireball Wenz
As a liberal, I wish my fellow liberals were more focused on the effectiveness of the various governmental programs and just not the intent. And I firmly believe everyone's first obligation to society is to take care of oneself and one's family.

The problem with taxation in this country, as Warren Buffett freely admitted and Mitt Romney (who resisted releasing his tax returns not because he gamed the system but because they showed that the system was rigged for guys like him) hoped to conceal, is that once you are REALLY wealthy, you get a ton of welfare - like your baseball tickets written off a business expense.

A big part of the polarization is the two-party and primary-final voting system we have here.
1:35 PM Apr 12th
Steve, the rub is in what is "fair" here. To me, me paying $50,000 of my income and someone else paying zero after all their deductions is not fair. In a perfect world every citizen would get a bill. "Jeez, $22,000, are we getting that welfare reform going?" or "Jeez, how much money are we blowing in Slovakia?". So, it is already unfair because it is based on a percentage of income. But, fine, we need roads and a social safety net and national defense, so I'll put up with that.

THEN they make it a sliding scale. What my efforts and skills accrue me in income really should be nobody else's business, and the government should not be walking around rubbing their hands calculating how much they can take. They shouldn't be in my financial business any more than I should be stopping by lower income houses and telling them they shouldn't have the Comcast cable gold package, or did they really need a smartphone, or well the hell did those sneakers on your kid cost.

A fairer way to do all this would be to abolish the income tax, wipe out the IRS and the hundreds of billions America sucks away on tax preparation and concerns, and leave the taxation to business, property and consumption taxes. You want to own a 6,000 sq ft McMansion, pay the $25,000 a year in property taxes. You want to buy a Range Rover, kick $30k to the government. Your corporation has a windfall, pay extra to the government that creates the infrastucture that made it possible.
1:16 PM Apr 12th
Steven Goldleaf
See, now, instead of me arguing with llozada about his assertion that "2) I really don't think conservatives don't want to share (by paying taxes). I think conservatives just want more accountability on how taxes are distributed," I can instead ask him to argue directly with mauimike, who affirms my belief that conservatives when they're being honest, as Mike is here, simply characterize all taxation as theft, pure and simple. You can show Mike charts and graphs of how taxes are collected fairly and the revenue is being distrubuted fairly, and you know what? He's still against taxation, on principle, and he's going to insist that your charts are lies and your graphs are drawn up by Communists who want to suck the money in your pockets straight to the Kremlin. It makes very little sense to try to convince Mike otherwise, or to try to convince people like Llozada that there are really conservatives like Mike out there.
9:30 AM Apr 12th
"Politics divides us, from our natural roles." Very true, Mr. James. Outside of inheritance, (still the best way to..., have), we get things by theft or trade. I personally, believe in trade, I have this, I'll give you it for that. That is our natural role. Government is theft. How can anyone believe that stealing is the best way to conduct human affairs....How can anyone believe that stealing will lead to good? 4th commandment, "Thou shall not steal," four words its not that hard. Republicans, Democrats, their all statist. They believe that they know what is best. They know how you should live your life. Why? Because. Who gave them that power? Not me. They are using you. Its all BS. The only thing that you can do, is smell it and walk away. When you think about tipping points, watch whats going on in Nevada, cattle and such. If not today, tomorrow, governments always die, how can they not. Try not to be under them when they fall. If you think I'm wrong, keep voting, things will get better.....for me, them...or, somebody else. "you don't need a weatherman, to know which way the winds blows." Bob Dylan. And I live in SoCal. We don't have weather.
3:58 AM Apr 12th
Packbringley: Good point. I was not beating up on a liberal for being a liberal; instead I was beating up on a liberal for misquoting Bill and making a false argument, thereby giving liberals a bad name. But I--and apparently the country--agree with you; what we've seen over the past 5 years is not symmetrical at all. The Republicans in Congress have openly stated that they have only one agenda item, and that's to defeat Barack Obama. When that failed in the 2012 election, they decided instead to defeat his agenda. There are innumerable instances where the Democrats have said of a Republican idea, "hey, we like that, let's do it," and suddenly the Republicans say "Who, us? We hate that idea." So I put at least 80% of the blame for the current mess on the Republicans (not conservatives necessarily). But I know that many Republicans don't see it that way at all. I do blame the media for having been cowed by the right into reporting the mess "symmetrically," instead of saying plainly where the blame lies. Example: "The measure failed to pass in the Senate today" instead of "Although the measure got 58 votes n favor to 42 votes opposed in the Senate today, the Republicans invoked the filibuster for the 200th time this session and so the measure died."
2:50 PM Apr 11th
@packbringley. thanks for the numbers but that wasn't the tipping poiint thought. The tipping point comes when, through entitlements and various other payments and benefits, more voters benefit from high government spending than suffer from paying for it in taxes. Their votes then become a direct personal pocketbook issue. Then entitlement spending spreads, and more liberal spenders win elections, and more people are beholden to the government for their living, cycle, cycle.
12:36 PM Apr 11th
To be clear, that was re: a comment and not the article.
8:30 AM Apr 11th
On approaching the "tipping point" where the poor steal from the rich... Well, currently the rich are richer relative to the middle class and the poor than anytime since the 1920s and the trend appears to be accelerating. The bottom 90%'s share of the national wealth has fallen to less than 30%, while the top 0.1% (yes, 0.1) has increased its share 100% since the 60s, to 20%. Meanwhile the top marginal tax bracket has been slashed about 50 points since the 60s and 30 points since Reagan's first term. The income level of the the 50th percentile of Americans has been stagnant since 1980 (an 11% increase) while the richest 100th of the nation has seen its income rise by 115%. I'm not sure yours is the particular worry that fits the economic reality.
8:26 AM Apr 11th
I came here to suggest that this article be made public, because it shines such a spotlight on the problems with our system. I thought it would make people rethink the extremities of their positions. Then I read the comments and I see that I was wrong.
8:07 AM Apr 11th
Geez Bill, maybe next time you can tackle "What's the meaning of life?" or "Is there a god?"
12:47 AM Apr 11th
"To enamee - it depends on what kind of actions you're talking about. Making adultery illegal (or, conversely, not having ever removed the legal aspect from it) would be insane because it is essentially a personal issue."

See, this is where the liberals lose me. I am a libertarian, I do not believe the government should be in our personal lives. But I don't think society should be blind to the personal cataclysms adultery causes to families, people, children. The Bill and Hillarys of the left dismiss this me, there has to be some societal mores. Yes, we shouldn't have public stocks. But there is a moral environment difference between the Dems and the Repubs that I find compelling in my voting. Have there been Repubs caught blatantly and repeatedly cheating on their wives? Of course. Have they then been nominated for high office? If it was widely known, not often.
12:46 AM Apr 11th

1. Politicians frame their political rhetoric based on what they believe will give them the best chance of winning an election.
2. For several years now, hyperpartisanship has been helping politicians win elections.
3. Eligible voters have have a collective responsibility to be engaged in the democratic process, and are ultimately the people who decide which politicians are elected.

Therefore, the citizens of this country are ultimately responsible for the hyperpartisan mess we are in, and will ultimately be the ones who decide whether or not we fix it. If we demanded as much from our elected officials as we do from our other service providers, we would have more effective elected officials.

In other words, you get what you pay for.

Or, in the words of Walt Kelly, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

12:42 AM Apr 11th
The elephant in the room here is progressive taxation. As many have forewarned there is a "tipping point" in society when the majority of people get more from benefits than they pay in taxes. Then elections simply become about who can promise to tax the rich to feed the poor until there are no rich no more. I can't tell you where we are on that exactly, but I think the momentum has been accelerating dramatically of late. I can see the day when a Paul Ryan wouldn't get 30 percent, never mind be put on a national ticket. No one will vote for the guy who wants to scissor the national credit card that has sustained us.
12:29 AM Apr 11th
@OldBackstop: Sure, corporations are for the most part good things. Scotia Bank, Rogers Communications (owner of the Blue Jays), and Barrick Gold sponsored the play I just saw tonight. However, like everything else, we need to keep their power in balance.
10:28 PM Apr 10th
Interesting but I think that in history it's frequently true that one side is wrong about stuff and one side is right about stuff. I think this "they're all to blame" attitude, which is often the media line, keeps us from making good choices about which side is governing us more effectively and doing the most harm or good. Some people in this thread are beating a partisan around for "proving Bill's point." This is not rational. It supposes that a 50/50 view is truth, when there's no reason to suppose that. It's usually only in low-stakes parlor conversations that we can take such a stand. There's a lot at stake in one policy v. another policy. Real lives.
9:23 PM Apr 10th
From my (liberal) point of view, Republicans generally are at about 1.2, with the belief that just about everyone is able to care for himself and family, but I'll toss in a little for those who can prove to my satisfaction that they can't. Democrats, on the other hand, are at about 2.75, with the belief that there are far more who can't provide for themselves, and that of course it's the Republcans' fault that they cant.

But it's a nice piece for introducing the discussion. The problem seems to me that too few care to discuss and resolve the disparity-- they'd rather point fingers at the other side, and blame them for the fact that nothing is being accomplished, than to accomplish anything.
8:07 PM Apr 10th
I meant to write "leavening factors" in my previous post, not "leaving factors."
7:49 PM Apr 10th
Well, this is a good conversation, so kudos to Bill for starting it. TKissane: Presidential nominations are very different from primaries for Congress. Presidential nominations are a long, iterative process, and so various leaving factors come into play. We get to argue, in effect, about who is best. But for the House and Senate, it's just one primary election or caucus for each party. It matters less for the House because most House districts are safe, but Senate elections are statewide, and so in swing states, an extreme nominee loses. It seems to me that the Republicans have recently nominated candidates who were more extreme than the Democrats' candidates, because of the rise of the Tea Party. So we got Sharron Angle (Nevada), Christine O'Donnell (Delaware), Richard Mourdock (Indiana), Todd Akin (Missouri) and others who turned out to be too extreme for independents and even for many Republicans in their swing states, and so the Democrats won seats in the general election they had been expected to lose. I can't think of similar examples on the left recently. And this is for Bill, but I think presidential primaries have evolved because of extreme candidates like McGovern (left) and Goldwater (right), who both got crushed in the general elections. We haven't seen their likes recently.
7:48 PM Apr 10th
This line is just so fantastic: "Conservatives see themselves as advocating strength, and deny that they are advocating selfishness, although they are. Liberals see themselves as generous, and deny that they are fostering and engendering weakness, although they are."

A couple of thoughts:
1) I just loved the few folks that like the line above only when it agrees with their particular views, but it is wrong when it criticizes them. It works both ways folks: if it's true one way, then it is true the other. The homophobe preacher getting caught with a male prostitute IS AS BAD as the pro gun control senator that gets caught illegally dealing guns, or the environmentalist with the big heated pool.

2) I really don't think conservatives don't want to share (by paying taxes). I think conservatives just want more accountability on how taxes are distributed. If you go to your boss and ask for $100k to hire people he'll say that you need to make a very good case to get it. On the other hand, if you push back on more money say for education, then you hate kids. No discussion, it is jut that you are a mean person. This really doesn't help bringing the issue forward.

I also happen to come from a country with a very big government (a country that may or may not be trying to get rid of a dictator at this very moment, and that also has produced a few very good ballplayers, but I'm not saying which). Anyway, our governments historically have said that they will take care of the people's basic needs (health, education, housing, food, etc. this list isn't set and can grow) in one way or another, what this has caused is that at some point it is not worth for people to go out and work for a living, or said in a different way, why work if I can get the same for free. I don't expect anybody here to understand this, because if you are reading this you are obviously self motivated, a contributor. But I have seen first hand people trying to do as little as possible, or getting paid doing as little as possible; in other words pure laziness. Welfare without control (when is abused) brings out laziness, the same way that capitalism without controls brings out greed and thieves. Both systems create corruption.
7:21 PM Apr 10th
I should have written "nominate" below, not "elect", as I was referring to the primaries. And I don't deny the polarization Bill and the others are referring to; it's real and very unpleasant, at best. In fact, I don't think Bill's occasional ruminations about whether the climate could be a harbinger of civil war are at all exaggerated -- of course we might well not head that way, but there's enough noxiousness in the air to make it a legitimate (and, time may judge, perceptive) question.

Still, I think the politics of the major party presidential candidates are remarkably tame, given all the rhetoric we get between and leading up to their nominations.
7:12 PM Apr 10th
I should have written "nominate" below, not "elect", as I was referring to the primaries. And I don't deny the polarization Bill and the others are referring to; it's real and very unpleasant, at best. In fact, I don't think Bill's occasional ruminations about whether the climate could be a harbinger of civil war are at all exaggerated -- of course we might well not head that way, but there's enough noxiousness in the air to make it a legitimate (and, time may judge, perceptive) question.

Still, I think the politics of the major party presidential candidates are remarkably tame, given all the rhetoric we get between and leading up to their nominations.
7:12 PM Apr 10th
I don't think that the Repubicans elect the most conservative, or Democrats the most liberal. Dean and Kucinich, at least, were to the left of any recent D nominee, and Romney was probably the least conservative of the last R field (excepting maybe outliers like Paul and Huntsman, though to my view even they were more conservative than Romney, if he's judged by his record.)

The primaries drive each party, and each party's nominee, to their respective extremes only rhetorically, and they usually scamper back toward center for the general election (for obvious reasons).
7:00 PM Apr 10th
Nice short article. I know several others have complained that you've painted things too much in black and white, but you in fact acknowledged this in a sentence in the piece itself, so I don't know what else there is to say about that.

To enamee - it depends on what kind of actions you're talking about. Making adultery illegal (or, conversely, not having ever removed the legal aspect from it) would be insane because it is essentially a personal issue.

However, society is a web - everyone interacts directly and indirectly to support one another whether they are aware of it or not (and the people who are extreme advocates of self-reliance typically seem to be unaware of just how much they benefit from living in a society of other people).

It is acceptable to make generosity from the strong compulsory by law because they would not have what they have were they living all alone, all by themselves, with nothing and no one else around. Heck, even if anarchy ensued - no more guaranteed safety at work, no more guaranteed safety for your employee pool (so staffing is going to suffer), no more being able to patent or trademark things, much less certainty against robbery, no more stock market, etc etc.

Without the rest of society, getting on in the world is basically impossible. And if you think real hard about it, there's almost nothing any of us doing the day that isn't in some way aided and abetted by the fact that we live in a society of other people. When I was in college, a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) we read Adam Smith in my course on the history of macroeconomic thought. At several points in the text, Smith states that the wealthiest people in a society should contribute the most financially because they benefit the most from its protection.

It was a strange thing to read at first, until I thought about it and thought some more. Who has the most to lose if everything goes to hell? the people with the furthest to fall, right? Certainly not someone who's on the edge of starvation already. So, it is because of what they get - which allows them, and, potentially, all of us, in theory, to rise to that level that justifies the legal compulsion.

But you might say, well, not everyone's wealthy. Why do ordinary joes like us have to pay for someone else's benefit? Because the argument above is still valid for us, too - we don't benefit as much from society as the ultra-wealthy, but we do still benefit more than we would if it was all gone. And the fact that it is here is not just owing to us. And we don't have the farthest to fall, but we would still fall farther than a homeless person out in the street.

You also can't be above the bottom of the pyramid if there isn't a bottom of the pyramid to be above. So for all of those reasons, it is justified to make generosity legal.

On the flip side, those who are able to work or provide some other form of contribution to society should make those efforts, because by doing so they justify enforced generosity as the right course. In other words, we say, "you derive benefits from society, many of which you do not directly contribute, so we're going to tax you some to help provide aid to the poor". Assuming the poor in question are not elderly, disabled, mentally ill or children, it is reasonable to ask them to take steps to contribute back, because, after all, the logic is that because they contribute, generosity is justified.
6:37 PM Apr 10th
Oh, just to jump in the dogpile on @pgaskill: Basically Bill didn't say anyone advocated Positions 1 and 4. They're only there to stand as the mud flung by Position 2 and 3 at each other. Which is reasoned. No matter how conservative you are, gotta love the National Highway System (thanks to PJ O'Rourke for that example).
6:02 PM Apr 10th
This is a remarkable article; full of assertions without evidence, full of caricatures. On what basis does Bill decide that there are exactly four political attitudes about self-reliance, and if there are exactly four, who agrees that they are the four Bill described? Are all conservatives advocating selfishness? Are all liberals advocating weakness?

The one point I do agree with is that in a hyperpartisan environment, people's trust in each others' goodwill erodes. Maybe that's why Bill used caricatures. What I don't know how to do is to dial down the degree of hyperpartisanship. Our primaries reinforce it; Republicans choose the most conservative candidates and Democrats choose the most liberal candidates, and Independents don't get to win many elections. Perhaps we should get rid of the party labels. As a liberal Democrat, I don't trust Republicans, but I do trust some small-c conservatives. Perhaps some of them would trust me more as a self-identified liberal than as a liberal Democrat. After all, we do share some goals and ideas on how to reach them. I don't know, maybe it's worth a try.

(Yes, Pgaskill didn't even read what Bill wrote; he just gave liberals a bad name!)
5:32 PM Apr 10th
@hotstrat: you mean corporations like Ben&Jerrys? Or like my three person consulting firm? Or something more specific? Because the "c-word" is becoming a very silly trigger lately...I feel like saying: "Who paid your dad?" "Where is your 401k invested?" "Who runs that favorite baseball team of yours?" Who made the...well, virtually everything in your daily lives, unless you live in a Quonset hut making candles in Vermont.
4:31 PM Apr 10th
Bill, I think you sort of did a drive by on the heart of the entire issue in "but no one should be asked to provide for others who are capable of providing for themselves." It is not the Category One people that solely believe that -- it is 98 percent of Americans, at least in lip service. Everybody was for welfare reform -- Bill Clinton snagged it from the Repubs. The devil is in the definitions.

I worked as a communications consultant in welfare reform for the Giuliani Administration. To boil down an incredibly complex undertaking, we were trying to shape up the chronically unemployed and get them into McJobs. Now, to Giuliani et al these were lazy goldbrickers sucking off the teat and largesse of society. To the rational middle we were giving a helping hand rather than a handout. To the far left (virtually every journalist on Manhattan) we were heartless one percenters stealing bread from the mouths of the starving, who had plenty of time for media interviews and rallies, I might add.

To the liberals, these were the less fortunate, the permanent underclass, the forever victims of society --- even though they were of all races and ethnicities, the watercool term was "the White Man's Burden." Or they were the handicapped or mentally ill on various disability entitlement programs....and what a Catch-22 that was. If you were savvy enough to game the fill-out-another-form with-three-forms-of-id system, you definitely had your faculties. If you didn't you were on the street under the grid of all this stuff, yet driving the debate to expand the programs.

At any rate, at the end of that gig I was closer to the Giuliani camp in philosophy, but more understanding of the people who we had created as a society, the ones whose living came in the mail on Friday, whose parents had as well, and whose children would if allowed.

To me, as a society, you break it, you bought it. That is our burden for another generation. We just have to stop breaking it.

To anyone that really cares about this stuff, whether from our country's finances or as an altruist, focus your attention on where I have -- inner city education reform, or where Bill seems very interested, prison reform. Those are the points of the spear.

4:24 PM Apr 10th
Interesting. Present day conservatism has been driving me mad lately in my city (Toronto - you know, Rob Ford) and both of my countries (Canada / Stephen Harper and U.S.A .- Fox “News”, Tea Party, religious right wing, Koch Brothers, the Supreme Court, etc.) I think this spectrum does promote understanding, thank you, but in many of the liberal/conservative battles, it is not obvious. Perhaps, my blindness is just another example of what Bill is saying, but I'm trying to see.

Particularly, I am squinting to see how letting corporations run this country make us stronger individuals. Presumably it creates jobs, except that a good portion of those jobs are for overseas workers - and the profits that stay in this continent are ever more concentrated with the corporate elite. Meanwhile, it is a mystery to me how the deregulation of banks and industrial polluters are “contributing to the general welfare” - quite the opposite. (It probably would be mitigated if we could get corporations to pay a fair price for their contributions to the general detriment of society. Unfortunately, Canada's Liberal's "carbon tax" proposal is blamed for ushering in Harper's government in the first place.)

As for the religious right - it would be a stretch, I think, to say those issues have anything to do with these spectrums. Where it ties in indirectly, however, from my perspective, is that the pro-corporate right is using simple dogmatic true-isms that folks believe in without question - just using faith to support their proposals - even if they aren’t really for their benefit or most people’s benefit. Yes, liberals have been known to do the same smelly thing, but in recent years, the right wing has been bathing in it.
2:08 PM Apr 10th
And "pgaskill" immediately proves Bill's point. Bravo, sir.
12:53 PM Apr 10th
Bill's answer to the problem has a problem: he used the word "understand". I don't' believe in the masses. I don't believe people that identify themselves as belonging to either political party 'understand' much of anything. They BELIEVE plenty of things. They'd love to convince others of this belief, that it's correct, but understanding? No.

Pushing a belief beats understanding an idea, when it comes to the masses.
12:06 PM Apr 10th
This article never actually refers to Democrats or Republicans. The parties, as parties, are so close in so many ways that they're virtually interchangeable. When the Democrats are in power, the Republicans talk like they want less government intervention, but once the Republicans take power, they act like statists. On the flip side, when the Republicans are in power, the Democrats talk like they believe in civil liberties and peace and anti-imperialism, but once the Democrats take power, they're just as overbearing and imperialist as the Republicans.

Bill's distinction between "liberals" and "conservatives" is more authentic than a distinction between "Democrats" and "Republicans." But I still think the liberal/conservative dichotomy doesn't capture someone (like me) who doesn't think the state should usually enforce morality.
11:00 AM Apr 10th
I think it is important to recognize the role of, as Bill calls it, hyperpartisanship. The two major political parties are constantly running against each other in elections. In order to win you need to get more of your supporters to vote than the other party. One result is the "other party" is accused of being all sorts of evil things, to make your potential voters fearful that things would be very bad if "they" get elected. And since campaigning doesn't actually stop anymore this goes on all the time now.

Nuance in politics is not seen as an asset, so they go for strong us vs. them language and imagery. Moderate positions generally don't inflame passion, so moderates are accused of being extremists in disguise. So you get the "analysis" of opposing positions which, amazingly, reveals hidden racism or communism, or whatever.
10:50 AM Apr 10th
And where on these spectrums does one fit the responsibilty(?) obligation(?) of society to those who cannot care for themselves? I believe society has little or no obligation to care for those who can care for themselves, but some obligation to care for those who cannot. The especially clear example, in my mind, are our disabled veterans who lost the abil;ity for full self care in defense of our nation. I'm not sure how that fits in this.
10:18 AM Apr 10th
Pgaskill, aren't you just falling into the trap that Bill has laid out? I'm sure there are conservatives who would argue the exact opposite- that they are the ones that take the middle ground and are in step 2, while people with your beliefs are in step 4.
9:28 AM Apr 10th
I think of myself as about as liberal as they get, and I disagree with part of the background assumptions here, at least as it relates to what's going on currently: I think current Republicans (who see themselves as "conservative," although they're really what used to be known as "reactionary") fall in Position 1, and current Democrats (who see themselves as "liberal" or at least "progressive," although they're really what used to be known as conservative in the real sense of the word) fall in Position 3, not 4. I do NOT think Democrats take the position that society must take care of everyone to the extent that no one needs to take care of him/herself at all because society will do it for them.

And that's the difference between the two: current Republicans have taken the extreme conservative position, and Democrats have NOT taken the extreme "liberal" position.​
8:43 AM Apr 10th
I would also note the distinction between moral and political theory. In this case, I strongly believe that every person has a moral obligation to care for others -- but I don't think that moral obligation is also a POLITICAL obligation, such that people who work for the state should force the rest of us to behave in that moral way. One of the problems with political debate in general is that morality and politics are so often confused. If I think something should be legal, it doesn't mean I think it is morally acceptable.

So in this case, where does one fall in the spectrum if he thinks that selfishness is morally wrong and generosity morally right, but also that selfishness should be legal and generous behavior should not be imposed by the state?

-Matthew Namee
8:04 AM Apr 10th
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