Monthly Archives: January 2015

Superficial Extremism

It’s actually kind of frustrating. Politically and economically, we are so bipolar, so bipartisan, that even the idea of a third-party candidate in any election is almost always laughable. “Why is he even there? Does he really think he has a chance?”

My wife watched the 2014 gubernatorial debate back in October, and it was equal parts farce and tragedy. In republican-dominated Georgia, republican governor Nathan Deal had a simple platform: “I’m a tough old sonuvabitch and Jason Carter is a radical two-faced crunchy liberal.” Jason Carter, the democratic candidate, was running on “I honestly have no idea who I am but I’m not Nathan Deal, who has literally stolen money from impoverished children.” (Note: these are not real quotes, but I think if they were, Georgia would be exactly the same today as it would if they said whatever they actually said.)

Then there was Andrew Hunt, the libertarian candidate. He knew and cited specific figures from Georgia’s financial, industrial, and agricultural conditions. He talked about scaling back bureaucracy, making the police more effective, and improving the education system. Nobody cared. Carter and Deal jabbed each other and Hunt, when allowed to speak, talked about improving Georgia.

I can’t imagine I’m the only person who became frustrated watching it. Actually, I have a hard time imagining anyone not noticing the shit-parade. So why do republican an democrat voters alike not hit the poles and vote for someone like Hunt? Why does everyone laugh at how campaign ads are only about sociopathic the other candidate is, but nobody ever resolves to do something about it? It’s actually not even completely the politicians’ faults: their incentive is to make grand promises to get elected, and upon entering office, the only way they have a chance of appearing effective in such a short term is to spend excessively.

I once discussed tax choice with a friend in a car ride, and his reaction was angry. Neither inquisitive, nor challenging, just angry. He told me that I didn’t understand how bad people really are, and that they’re going to put their taxes in the wrong place. He told me that the last time somebody came up with a radical idea was communism, and obviously that didn’t work. He recommended I watch the movie Divergent to see what happens when you try to change a system.

Why is it that we so readily acknowledge when bureaucracy is broken, but become afraid and aggressive when someone suggests a new idea? Anything that’s not neatly housed in our current mental models are considered extreme or radical. Linda and Morris Tannehill, authors of the book The Market for Liberty put it this way: imagine trying to tell a serf from the Middle Ages how modern society is structured. Would he actually believe that society could work where people are free to choose their vocation? In Beyond Democracy: Why Democracy Does not Lead to Solidarity, authors Frank Karsten and Karel Beckmann point out that an argument against slavery in the southern United States was that slaves would not be able to live on their own, nor would they want to. The same argument was proposed as the feminist movement started to gain attention.

In the book If Mayors Ruled the World by Benjamin Barber, the author pointed out that while leaders of states and nations are busy engaging in ideological gridlock with their parliaments about how to spend your money, mayors take out your trash. As I listened to his well-written book, mostly on my daily commute, the reasonableness of it got me thinking of the phrase “superficial extremism.” Like tax-choice, voluntaryism, and other ideologies, it appears at first to be a ridiculous notion, but as you dig deeper, the ridiculousness of the idea of bands of mayors ruling the world becomes eclipsed by the ridiculousness and clumsiness of our current government structure, which could best be described as a meat on meat on meat on meat on meat on meat on meat sandwich.

Proprietism plus tax-choice is, to me, superficial extremism. Like all novel suggestions as to how to structure a society, it appears radical; like it’s too different to have any merit whatsoever, yet most of us would generally agree with its facets. We generally agree that individualism is good thing, and that individuals perform their best when they are made responsible for their work. We agree that the corporate structure allows leaders to be rewarded for failure and allows poor performing employees to stay employed for too long. Even the conservative among us can agree that executive pay is excessive and that law enforcement doesn’t need to waste infinite dollars in the pursuit of busting victimless crimes. Even the liberal among us agree that government can be wasteful and that a distribution system better than socialism is out there, somewhere.

Even if not with proprietism, nor with any other idea related to proprietism like tax-choice or ESOPs, I hope we can transcend the bipartisan rhetoric. I hope we can start to appreciate theories and ideas that seem extreme at first rather than reject them because of a fear of the unknown. I hope we can realize that because of our own superstitious nature, preservation of the status quo is what actually has a tendency to get extreme.