The Wheel of Politics

You’ve all seen the 4-quadrant diagram used by libertarians; here’s  a six-sided diagram that I think might be more useful:

Idealistic Progressives

Corrupt Democrats                                              Pragmatic Libertarians

Corrupt Republicans                                            Dogmatic libertarians

Idealistic conservatives

My goal here is to set things up in such a way that each group has a values affinity to those on one side, and an ideological affinity to those on the other side.  So you could circle any two adjoining groups, and describe a common feature:

  1. Progressives/Pragmatic libertarians:  Both tend to be secular utilitarians, or at least consequentialists
  2. Pragmatic and dogmatic libertarians;  Both favor very small government
  3. Dogmatic libertarians and idealistic conservatives:  Both are nostalgic for the past, and revere the (original intent of) the Constitution.
  4. Idealistic conservatives and corrupt Republicans:  Both are Republicans.
  5. Corrupt Republicans and corrupt Dems:  Both believe in realpolitik, are disdainful of fuzzy-headed, idealistic intellectuals.
  6. Corrupt Democrats and idealistic progressives:  Both are Democrats.

Thus on values the there are three pairings:  utilitarian, natural rights, and selfish.  On ideology there are three different pairings:  Democrat, Republican and libertarian.  Let’s apply this political scheme to public policy issues.  I would like to argue that most of the really important public policy issues are not even part of the ongoing debate in the press.  Here are some examples:

  1. The huge rise in occupational licensing.
  2. The huge rise in people incarcerated in the war on drugs, and also the scandalous reluctance of doctors to prescribe adequate pain medication (also due to the war on drugs.)
  3. The need for more legal immigration.
  4. The need to replace taxes on capital with progressive consumption taxes.
  5. Local zoning rules that prevent dense development.
  6. Tax exemptions for mortgage interest and health insurance.

These 6 policy failures impose enormous damage on the country, far more than the issues typically discussed on the evening news.  Why aren’t they discussed?  I would argue that it is partly because the disagreements tend to break down on values, not ideology.  Most idealistic intellectuals agree with me on all of these issues.  They are not issues that divide the left and the right.  It’s also true that most real world politicians agree on these issues.  However their views are exactly the opposite of the views of intellectuals.  Hence there is no “policy debate” in either the political or intellectual arenas, and hence no “fight” for the media to report.  They become invisible issues.

The media likes drama and conflict.  They will report on those issues where corrupt Democrats and corrupt Republicans disagree, and not where they agree.

BTW, perhaps I should explain what I mean by “corrupt.”  I don’t mean politicians taking bribes that violate existing laws.  I mean Republicans who support various special interest groups like doctors and seniors (Medicare), farmers, energy producers, car dealers, bankers, and the rich, even if it goes against their supposed “small government” ideology.  And the same would be true about Democrats who support various special interest groups like teachers unions, trial lawyers, government workers, etc, for non-utilitarian/egalitarian reasons.

I should add that most people I know do not fit neatly into any of the six categories I listed, but rather are a composite of two or more categories.  Also, the reason there are four right wing and only two left wing categories is because US politics is dominated by the right.  The missing categories are non-utilitarian leftists, such as Maoists who hate the rich, or radical environmentalists who care more about “The Earth” than human welfare.

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About Scott Sumner 492 Articles

Affiliation: Bentley University

Scott Sumner has taught economics at Bentley University for the past 27 years.

He earned a BA in economics at Wisconsin and a PhD at University of Chicago.

Professor Sumner's current research topics include monetary policy targets and the Great Depression. His areas of interest are macroeconomics, monetary theory and policy, and history of economic thought.

Professor Sumner has published articles in the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, and the Bulletin of Economic Research.

Visit: TheMoneyIllusion

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