When I peruse a liberal/progressive website, I am amazed by the amount of hateful invective hurled at us conservatives. The same hate is often hurled at progressives on our own websites. I did not realize that we were such bad people. After all, most citizens, conservatives and progressives, want what is the very best for society. Most of us strive for what we believe to be “the common good.” That being so, why the hate?
The trouble must lie in our differing conceptions of what constitutes the common good.
There are at least three major areas of disagreement. One is economic, the second relates to governmental philosophy, and the third is spiritual. I will not pretend to go into these issues in great depth. I will only touch them very lightly to give you sense of what I believe the great debate is all about.
In this post, I will briefly examine economic issues.
We live in a modified, merit-based capitalistic economy. An individual is expected to gain greater economic rewards based on ability, ambition, and energy. Of course, other factors also come into play – environmental constraints, health, the effect of monopolistic practices, etc. Generally speaking, however, experience has taught us that the competitive capitalistic model has created more wealth for the greatest number of people than any other economic system yet devised by man. That’s because it taps into human nature. Humans are naturally acquisitive and competitive, and competition promotes productivity. All western democracies have adopted some form of capitalism, and even so-called socialistic governments have adopted capitalistic practices to some degree. Those economies in which the central government exercises rigid control over the means of production have been abject failures. Imagine your local post office running the electric power company, the police department and the fire department, and you get the general idea.
The chief defect in the American capitalistic system is that it has allowed wide disparities in the accumulation of wealth. There is a growing economic gap between the rich and the poor. Though our American poor are in no danger of starvation or utter deprivation, their access to basic needs such as preventive health care, good schools, etc. is limited. These economic inequities contribute to resentment, social turbulence and conflict. Also, since a greater proportion of blacks are among our poorer citizens, the situation adds fuel to racial tensions.
Another problem has been poor management of our Federal finances. For years programs have been created without making provisions for their future financial requirements and stability. The government has long been operating on borrowed money, and the national debt is racing toward an unsustainable level.
There have been many attempts by Democrats and Republicans to modify our capitalistic system in a way to reduce economic inequities. A goodly portion of the population pays no Federal income tax, and the taxation rate is scaled to be much higher on the big wage-earners. Also, there are a variety of programs designed to assist the poor. Nevertheless, inequities remain, and the general impression seems to be that the situation is growing worse. What can we do about it?
The most essential requirement is that people of good will, conservatives and progressives, work together to seek solutions. Stop the name-calling and hyperbole. Unless proven otherwise, credit your political opponents as being honest persons with good intentions, and then sit down with them around a negotiating table.
As a starting point, I suggest that negotiators might agree on the following principles:
- The income gap between high and low income citizens must be reduced.
- The present tax laws are unnecessarily complex and allow unfair exploitation by skillful tax attorneys and their clients. The laws must be simplified and tightened.
- Business taxes are relatively easy to access and collect, but those taxes are passed on to the consumer in the form of higher costs for goods.
- In determining a proper income tax rate, one must always be cognizant of the law of diminishing returns and the counterproductive, disincentivizing effects of excessive taxes on high wage earners.
- To equalize economic opportunities for succeeding generations, there should be a reasonable limitation on the transference of wealth to one’s heirs. Nevertheless, the family farm and small family businesses should be protected.
- There should be no attempt to level incomes by means of government handouts. Handouts create dependency, destroy incentive and are demeaning. When such largesse is necessary, it should be dispensed through work programs. Welfare in the form of food stamps, child support payments, etc. should be restricted to the truly needy.
- One goal of the negotiators should be to have Federal income receipts match outlays. The huge Federal debt is a severe burden on our government and limits our ability to adequately fund essential activities.
- The Social Security and Medicare programs must be adjusted to give them long-term fiscal viability.
Do conservatives and progressives agree on these points? If not, what are the areas of disagreement? Can we find some common ground?
We have a huge task ahead of us.
Come, let us reason together.