I was listening to some political debate the other day and I was struck by how politicians rarely talk about trade-offs. They wish to offer solutions to very difficult problems, but they offer them as if there were no price to be paid. When was the last time you watched a cow get slaughtered in order to get your hamburger? For most, the answer is “never.” Cow slaughtering is a messy business and the cow comes up very short on the deal. Ground beef looks so much more friendly and delicious, especially when it’s charbroiled and put between halves of a freshly baked sesame seed bun.
Just as hamburger has consequences for the cow, political solutions have consequences. Examples like this have stark consequences, but political problems tend to be more subtle. When I try to sort out consequences, I like to think of the two extremes as a benchmark. Regardless of party affiliations, there are two basic political systems at work: capitalism and socialism.
In a purely capitalistic system, the government offers no support for the individual. Taxes are collected to maintain national defence and public resources (roads, parks, and maybe utilities). For EVERYTHING else, people are on their own. It is left to the charity of those for who have found success in the capitalistic system to help those who have not.
In a socialistic system, the government collects up all the income and redistributes it according to individual needs and if there’s any left over, for desires. All infrastructure is maintained by the state. In its pure form, socialism makes no allowance to reward those who are successful at commerce.
The problem here is that in their pure form, both of these systems suck. The “fix” is to borrow ideas from both of them. That’s what we have in the United States and lots of other countries. The role of government seems to be to decide where on the line between pure capitalism and socialism we want to be. The general consensus seems to be that Democrats lean socialist and Republicans lean capitalist. This, like so many political realities, is bullshit.
To be sure, each party has their pet positions, but they have nothing to do with their support of some political ideal. Republicans are happy to support tax breaks for rich people, which sounds a whole lot like government meddling to me. And, the Democrats love a good infrastructure project, which is exactly what the government should be doing in a capitalistic system.
So, both parties pick and choose from both socialism and capitalism to suit their individual tastes. I don’t like that we get two choices (Republican or Democrat) and politicians get a zillion choices. Republicans get to decide to reduce the size of government, which a lot of people think is a good idea, but they also get to choose to control social behaviors like abortion and marriage, which a lot of the same people think is a bad idea. It is ironically un-capitalistic to interfere in social issues.
The bottom line is that every choice has consequences. We don’t always like to see the blood and guts of our choices because it makes things less clear. And, let’s face it, we like clarity. It’s easy to cut spending to help refugees. It’s not so easy to watch a three year old girl die in her mother’s arms from an illness that could have been cured by a $5 trip to CVS. This shit happens, but we don’t want to know. Our politicians are happy to hide the consequences of our choices from us. It’s up to “we, the people” to look at the consequences of our and their choices.