Are You a Liberal or a Conservative? Are You Sure?

(Dan here….perhaps food for thought on a Sunday)

Scott Baker is a professor at the Henry George School, the State Coordinator of the NY Chapter of The Public Banking Institute,  and the author is America Is Not Broke!

Are You a Liberal or a Conservative? Are You Sure?

Quick, without looking at the answers – or at what your favorite pundit is saying – how would you answer the following questions? Is it Liberal or Conservative?

1. Being opposed to rescuing the big financial institutions

2. Wanting America to become (more) energy self- sufficient

3. Being in favor of expanding the Space Program

4. Supporting Family Farms

5. Supporting Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion

6. Supporting a check on the Executive and Legislative branches by the Judicial branch

7. Being in favor of a strong National Parks system, wherein the Parks are preserved for recreational use, kept clean and safe, and not for commercial development

8. Being in favor of strong enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act

9. Support of a strong and well-funded Veteran’s Administration system for the health needs of former soldiers

10. Wanting to preserve Medicare and Social Security for future generations

11. Wanting to balance the Federal budget (somehow)

12. Being in support of monitored, open, and verifiable Elections

Whether you identify yourself as Liberal or Conservative, please find some friends or family who identify themselves as the opposite from you and ask the same questions.

You may be surprised at how close your answers are to each other. For example, on question 14, Conservatives and Liberals may both want to end the deficit spending that’s ballooned since Ronald Reagan – though Conservatives want to do it typically by cutting spending, and Liberals want to do it typically by collecting more taxes from the affluent. I think Conservatives will be surprised how many Liberals support a strong space program (#3) — as long as it is demilitarized — while Liberals will be surprised at how many Conservatives are in favor of supporting the Family Farm (#4).

So yes, we may disagree on the methods of obtaining the goals, but we can still agree on the actual goals.

Then what is going on here? Why are we shouting at each other in the media, in the streets, and in person? Could it be that we are not as divided as we believe, or even that we have a common enemy, something that we can almost all agree to dislike, even oppose?

Here is another question to help clarify things: Do you agree with the following statement: America should be a country where anyone who works hard and honestly, can obtain a better life for themselves and their families? -or- Is America a country where anyone who works hard and honestly, can obtain a better life for themselves and their families?

I am willing to bet more of you answered yes to the first question than to the second. In fact, the majority of answers for each question might even be reversed. This is bad. This means the American Dream – paraphrased above, has come into serious doubt.

Why? Well, take a look at the your answers to the questions and those of your friends’ of opposite political identification. Discuss. Does a common theme something like the following emerge: ordinary people do not have the same opportunities and rights as certain very wealthy people and corporations in America today? That is, do you and your friends who identify themselves as from the opposite political spectrum agree that something is just not quite right in the system (anymore)?

Perhaps you are not so opposite after all.

Perhaps as President Obama used to say, there really is more that unites us than divides us. I’ll leave it to you to decide to whose advantage it is to make us think we have less in common than we do. Politicians pandering for votes without really doing anything about the big problems? Media—including those pundits with vocal opinions and big ratings on TV? Big Corporations—who make us act against our own self-interests in order to preserve their profits?

Is there a moral difference from someone who becomes rich by creating a “better mousetrap” (e.g. a way to charge an electric car in 5 minutes and get 300 miles on a charge, a cure for cancer, etc.) vs. someone who lives off the wealth of his ancestor’s fortune, or who collects “rent” from others who are creating that better mousetrap, or are working for those who do? Or, to put it more generally, is it OK to get rich from the results of your own labor, but not OK to get rich from monopolizing resources while simply profiting from their scarcity?

If you answered Yes, you might want to consider if there is another way America should reward its citizens. Some way that supports the innovation and productivity that springs from the Free Market of ideas, while at the same time, doesn’t reward people who have “gamed the system” through favorable laws or connections, while not really producing anything of value. Note: if you think committing fraud while providing borrowers with loans they ultimately cannot repay, then stop here. Put the test down.

See a pattern yet? Americans, and perhaps all decent people, believe in rewarding someone who works hard and honestly to get ahead, but not in rewarding someone who just gets ahead by manipulating laws and the system, or who monopolizes resources and corrupts the system to exclude others from competing.

What kind of system would let you have it both ways? Consider that the common opponent of both Liberals and Conservatives may be the same: the Monopolizers of resources – natural, but also including political and monetary power.

Now, knowing that it is not the country that is poor, it is the people (or, at least, too many of the people), where should our focus lie? Should we spend our time making largely false accusations at people we have allowed others to label as different from us, or at the real source of the problem, the 1% of the people who own 40% of the country’s wealth or 50% of global wealth, via a monopoly, and not from production (which alone cannot provide that kind of wealth)?

Maybe we should return to that question I put aside earlier: In whose interest is it that we fight against each other?