The intersection of liberalism and (fiscal) conservatism

We have an opportunity on a number of fronts to combine the best ideals of liberalism and conservatism. Before we look at potential areas for agreement, there are three primary obstacles:

  1. The other side will get something they want.
  2. Both sides will share credit for good policy.
  3. Somewhere, someone might get something they don’t ‘deserve’.

These seem like silly, almost inconsequential barriers to making good policy, especially good policy that is cheaper than bad policy. However, Congress has not always been known to work for the best solution if it means that any of these three factors will be present. A closer look at these obstacles is warranted before we delve into the issues.

#1: The other side will get something they want. 

Oh, horror of horrors! Some approach our political system as a real-life Game of Thrones, in which the only acceptable solution to problems is for all enemies to be destroyed and their own goals implemented completely and without question. This is inherently un-American and offensive to all thinking people. Our entire system of government is designed to disrupt extreme voices and promote reasonable compromise.

Yet somehow, in today’s world compromise is seen as unacceptable weakness. Many would rather refuse any progress and stand on principle, even if compromising on any point would achieve nearly everything they desire.


#2: Both sides will share credit for good policy.

Politics in Washington (and many states) is so poisoned by hateful rhetoric that many legislators are unwilling to vote for anything if it means the other side will get to also claim victory. This makes no sense. A good policy for all should be the goal for every act of legislation. The mindset that there must be winners and losers is destructive and counter-productive.

#3: Somewhere, someone might get something they don’t ‘deserve’.

This is an especially heinous objection, in my opinion. Every day, every individual gets something they don’t ‘deserve’. Some would argue that life itself is a gift and something that no one has done anything to ‘earn’.

Many view poor people as lazy and unwilling to earn their way in the world. The truth is, most of the poor are working poor.

Poor people are also often portrayed as taking advantage of the system, ‘stealing’ benefits they don’t really need. The truth is, error rates for SNAP benefits are at an all-time low, meaning nearly everyone receiving benefits legitimately qualifies.

We are in a vicious cycle in which the wealthy are the only ones able to be elected due to corrupt campaign financing laws. The wealthy then implement rules that benefit themselves and their investments at the expense of those rely on their own labor for their income. These rules then shift more wealth into fewer hands, which then gives them greater power to modify the rules even more significantly in their favor. Their children inherit (deservingly so?) this wealth almost completely and then have the ability to continue manipulating the system without the awareness of how the wealth was earned or what it is like for others who struggle.

This is all compounded by a great pride in the American work ethic and rugged individualism. The American story is one where anyone can be anything they want if they work hard enough. Therefore, if you haven’t made it in America, it must be because you are lazy. This narrative works well to hide the systemic injustices that exist today and allows the wealthy to dismiss the fact that our society no longer provides a level playing field of opportunity.

The Middle

So what kinds of issues might be available for policy development that would satisfy both conservative and liberal ideals? First, let me note that not all ideals will be served here. For instance, these suggestions should appeal to fiscal conservatives, but not necessarily social conservatives. That being said, in this series of posts I will examine public policy initiatives which will save money, reduce crime, respect the dignity of those affected, and lead to positive social outcomes.

Some of these require more study before widespread implementation, but I believe there is enough data to at least warrant further inspection. We know that if we keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing, we’ll get the same thing we always have. That shouldn’t be good enough. Let’s strive for better, even if it’s a bit unconventional.

Stay tuned for the next in this series, coming soon!

John Oliver discusses Step 2 of my plan to fix America

You might remember that I have a 2 step plan to fix America. Step 1 is redistricting reform (exciting!) and step 2 addresses income inequality. Well, John Oliver must be reading my blog, because he tackled the topic brilliantly in the most recent episode of ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver‘ on HBO.

This show has become must-watch television. Each week John Oliver takes all the time he needs to provide context and deconstruct a complicated issue. He does it with incredible wit and humor, yet his points are almost inarguable. Just watch the video above. Can anyone deny we have a problem here?

I’m grateful to John Oliver for taking up my cause. He didn’t acknowledge me publicly but that’s ok; I know he’s thinking about me.

Fixing America in 2 Easy Steps: Step 2, Income Inequality

Note: Step 1 of the plan addressed redistricting reform. Read it here. 

Step 2: Income Inequality

Why we need to address it:

  1. By one measure, U.S. income inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928. (Pew Research Center)
  2. 6 percent: That’s how much wages grew for the median worker between 1979 and 2011. Earners in the 95th percentile saw their wages grow by 37 percent over the same time period. Earners in the top 1 percent saw their wages balloon by 113 percent. (The Washington Post)
  3. The top 1 percent pocket more than 20 percent of the nation’s income, and the 400 richest people in the country own more wealth than everyone in the bottom 50 percent. (NPR)

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The Plan:

Limit total compensation of CEO and other management to a certain percentage of the overall company average. I’m not sure what that percentage should be, but any reasonable number will be an improvement. For instance, at Whole Foods, the highest compensated person cannot earn more than 19 times the average for all.

Why it will work:

The system is currently broken. Many companies and their leadership no longer worry about long-term outlook. The only thing that matters is the next quarter’s earning report, which leads to short-term magic tricks with the books to justify ever-larger management bonuses. That person leaves with a golden parachute regardless of performance and someone else gets paid even more to clean it up. Repeat.

This is only possible because our representatives continue to modify the rules to increasingly benefit those who have already made it big. There are few, if any, penalties for outright criminal behavior, which only encourages even greater risks in search of a quick profit.

However, I believe this plan accomplishes two things:

  1. It gives the entire company an incentive to add profit.
  2. It maintains the principle that any individual can make as much money as s/he wants; however, unlike now, everyone that contributes to their success shares in the profits also.

Conclusion:

I believe this simple two step plan of addressing redistricting reform and income inequality would have positive ripple effects in more efficient and responsive government and economic growth. These effects would then lead to tremendous opportunities for our communities at all levels.

While it’s overly simplified here, it will never actually be implemented in any form. The reason is simple: there is no incentive for those who control and benefit from the current system to change it.

Essential Reading: 

The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats by Nick Hanauer