Political Typology Quizzes Annoy Me

I put this on Facebook.  Then, 40 minutes later, I had this stab at an explanation…

According to this: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz I’m a a “liberal.” And in this one I am “solid liberal” or “post-modern” depending on how I answer. http://people-press.org/typology/quiz/. Why do I find myself arguing with lots of liberals then?

I find myself able to take either side in almost all of these forced choice pars in these things.  They are designed to squeeze people into set categories.  Neither one of them even has “progressive” as a political ideology.  I am not sure it is one, but it is worth thinking about. Off the top of my head, an embrace of pragmatism as an approach to knowledge and action is part of being progressive.  Let’s talk about what can work for this problem and not look to “ideology” to decide how we should approach an issue.

Three examples come to mind.

One, schools and religion.  I don’t think banning any whisper of religion from public schools is the best reading of the establishment clause.  As  I get it, even the supreme court recognizes religious expression as a form of culture.  The bright line is coercion or proselytizing.  However, for many schools or other public entities, it is simpler to ban than to handle the nuance of deciding if a menorah, cross, or whatever is clearly cultural as opposed to endorsement of a religion.  To pull it off, you need to trust officials to use judgement.  So, a pragmatic response is to figure out how to balance trusting judgement with means to redress clear violations of religious freedom and the establishment clause.

Second, educational funding.  I had an interesting discussion the other day with a friend and I mentioned that I would rather have MORE diversity among schools, and if a school choice- voucher system accomplishes that, fine.  Basically, focus public education policy on some broad outcomes and free up schools to differentiate and yes, compete, for families and their students.  Among his concerns was what happens if school officials are given too much autonomy and they enact discrimination or other harms.  He is invoking racial segregation under Jim Crow.  I get it; we don’t want to re-create that, but a system where each family and each school can be distinctive is not the same as forcing some to go to inferior schools.  Smaller schools that can create a sense of difference and cohesion will work better and hence a liberal approach of equalizing inputs through enforced sameness is a mistake.

Third, the tax code.  I believe in progressive taxes.  There are two reasons.  One, the wealthiest should pay more proportionally because their wealth is created and supported by more of government spending- courts, police, military, transportation, disaster relief, education (yes, we pay to educate the workers who create value in firms the wealthiest own).  Two, apart from economic fairness, we believe in social fairness.  Capitalism always exacerbates inequality and therefore it is good to tax progressively to create avenues to reduce inequality.  The periods of the greatest amount of activity to reduce inequality in the US, roughly the 1930s to the 1980s, saw the lowest rates of inequality.  Since the onset of neo-liberal economics in the a980s, roughly, economic growth increased along with gross measures of inequality.   Anyway, this is my case for progressive taxation.

However, that does not mean defending the current status quo tax code (at the federal level).  I’ve not done the math or seen anyone else do it, but I can imagine getting behind a simplified, progressive, LOWER set of tax rates.  The complexity of the tax code sucks up a lot of human capital.  Is it necessary?  Well, yes, for me.  I can’t stand doing income taxes.  What would happen if we had federal marginal rates at 0% (for people at living wage or less), 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25%  No other exemptions or deductions.  This would decouple a dynamic national economy, as well as personal financial decisions like getting a mortgage, from the tax code.

It would also obsolesce a chunk of the accounting profession.  But maybe their human capital could be redirected to tasks that they may like more and may create other economic or social value…

But, as to typology and ideology, I’ve never seen a “liberal” politician discuss anything like this.

The False Ideology of a Neutral Center

Note: This is cross-posted on The Nets We Weave.  Though not the usual form of writing here, it grew beyond a simple comment to become a budding column or essay.

I took the plunge and posted this on facebook:

I am irked by “centrists” like Matt miller on KCRW’s Left Right and Center who think center ALWAYS means that left and right are equivalent in their commitment to ideology over good ideas and therefore the only possible solutions to economy, politics, and government is some sort of “third way.” And they think non-choice is non-ideological.

On a side note, I never know how much politics or “political economy” (the broader interrelated questions of fairness, governance, philosophy, and values) to put on FB. I have often said, and should write more about the double-edged sword of FB- it is based on network growth and inter-connectivity, but the broader a network becomes, the more limited it’s uses. At the extreme, FB will become an on-line version of Lake Wobegone nomrs: to avoid unsettling anyone, only discuss the weather in polite company.

Anyway, Matt Miller, the host and apparent “arbiter” on Left, Right and Center (a great show even if it is made by the communists socialists Nazis at NPR,was on a tear about the need for a new label for “radical centrists.” He made his version of a passionate plea for now being the time for a brave new “third way” politics (was he around during the 1990s when Blair and Giddens did this? and, um, that US president, named, um, Clinton?)

Matt Miller makes some good points, sometimes. But I find he often starts where much of the “mainstream”media seem to: that the excesses of left and right are always there, always misguided, always driven by ideology over facts and therefore the only hope for progress comes in some third way. Even as his OWN SHOW has left and right weaving in and out of agreement on issues like the Fed, China, and Afghanistan, he cannot let go of the animating narrative of his life.

Sometimes the “very” left is simply correct. For example, there is growing wealth and wage inequality in the US, and tax policies have much to do with it. Or, the distortions in health care of the US compared to other comparable societies is due to all the money that flows to the various sectors of the Health-industrial complex. No amount of compromise with the right can make those critiques go away.

Rarely, the “right” is correct. Ron Paul wants to audit the Fed. I am with Bob Scheer on this one. The Fed as it has become run is a distortion of democracy in our economy. I can agree with some critiques of changing or weakening values in US society, although I won’t agree with solutions or causes, probably.

So, I would rather Miller’s idea of a radical center be more of arbiter between right and left than always elevate its (false) sense of being above the messy fray by being aghast at the ideology around it. There is no non-ideological center…