Do we want to solve problems or are we just virtue signaling?

Published 6:18 am Thursday, June 14, 2018

Using emotion and bias to obscure or distort political issues dances too closely with the worst instincts in politics. Therefore, reason coupled with control of bias and emotion is the preferred model for public debate.

Yes, I know, it is impossible to eliminate all bias; but, it does not help to parade them when you talk politics.  It’s like waving your dirty linen in public.  If you indulge yourself, you signal a desire to fight, not a desire to talk. No self-respecting person will sit quietly while being harangued.         

Listening to political argument is simultaneously frustrating, irritating and misleading. It is frustrating because listening to toxic people does not mean they will listen to you, so why listen? The systemic attack on free speech makes this evident. You can’t be ready to listen while preventing someone else from speaking.  Without communication, there is no progress towards a solution.

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Toxic political speakers are irritating because they assume they know your hidden motivations. There are always two assumptions here: 1) you have hidden motives; and 2) they know those hidden motives. The accusation you have hidden motives is insulting, while knowing hidden motives requires the ability to read minds, a skill I am unwilling to cede to extremists. Inevitably, the purloined motives are evil. Further, they expect you to waste time refuting the motives you don’t even have.        

Consider the conservative positions on small government and individualism. Toxic extremists claim these positions are motivated by a desire to rig the economy so only a select group benefits and other classes are excluded. This is a class-warfare argument and that is a persistent objective of big government dogma.  Economics clearly demonstrates that society benefits most when all its citizens contribute to the economy.  The more citizens who are dependent on the state the less prosperous the society. Prosperity is NOT a zero-sum game.

Extremist political dialogue is misleading because it’s not the whole story. They claim small governments cannot serve the public interest. There is no proof of that declaration. Kings, emperors and dictators require big governments. How could you be king, emperor or dictator with a small government? Neither can elites control citizens without a large government. Authoritarian governments are not possible with small governments. If you don’t want Trump to be a dictator, vote for a smaller government!

Individualism is the cornerstone of our republic. The founding fathers chose a constitutional republic to avoid the worst failures of simple democracy, it was a purposeful choice to avoid that trap. Our Constitution protects individuals from mob rule, or as they put it “the tyranny of the majority.”   

The market mechanism is the well-spring of global prosperity. The wealth you enjoy is due to the market mechanism. It most assuredly is not due to state-ism. The extremists on the Left have done everything they can to stop progress. Ask the millions still in abject poverty if they want their prospects canceled by ridged constraints based on problematic “science.” No, there is no “scientific consensus” that CO2 is the most powerful driver of climate change, that honor is held by solar activity.

Collectivist programs may be well-intentioned, but they fail because they undermine families and individual incentives. It takes multiple generations for a family to escape poverty. This explains why families are important to the process. Some individuals can do it in one generation, but they are the exception. Groups of people cannot be “bought out of poverty.” A significant part of the pathology of poverty is individuals do not know how to manage money. To learn, they must start small and grow into managing larger quantities.

Most conservatives welcome a real conversation about equal opportunity; but, no one is interested in being demonized for their views. If you want to talk, stop slapping me in the face; if you want to fight, I’ve got no time for you.     

Bob Martin is Emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College.