Questions Without Answers…..
Sometimes I have conversations with others about politics and public policy. Often, when I ask questions of my fellow conversationalists, I get no answer to a certain type of question. Here are some of them:
1.) When someone tells me that requiring voters to show photo ID is a form of vote suppression aimed at the poor who cannot afford ID, I ask if they’d change their mind if IDs were given to anyone on public assistance for free. (For that matter, nothing stops advocates, as individuals or organizationally, from paying for ID for the poor.) I never get a straight answer; they usually change the subject.
2.) When people tell me that they think we ought to go to war (or bomb, or some other act of war), I ask things like this:
-Should Congress declare war, as the Constitution requires?
-If you’re a Christian, is this war a ‘just war‘ that your church can morally support?
-If they support war, do they support paying for it through higher taxes? Would they support a draft if we need more soldiers? (the Pentagon says that 75% of each year’s crop of 18- to 24-year-olds is ineligible for military service due to poor entrance test scores, physical impairments, drug use or police record, so the supply of potential volunteers is short.) Would they support rationing food and fuel to help keep the military supplied? (We had a draft, a 90% top marginal tax rate and rationing in World War II, the last time we went to ‘declared’ war.)
-Can they find ‘Ubeckibeckibeckistan’ on a map? (Herman Cain was a leading Presidential candidate and admitted that he couldn’t keep his ‘Stans straight, even though he supported an aggressive stance in central Asia.) I expect people who want to bomb another country to know something about it, but that’s the geography teacher in me.
3.) On a couple of occasions, I’ve asked Tea Party supporters, in person or online, what government spending that they benefit from would they support cutting. Like them, I support a balanced budget; unlike every one I have asked this of (admittedly, a small sample size) has avoided giving an answer, even when I pose it as a challenge: If I give up my Veterans Administration benefits – which I earned – what will they give up, earned or otherwise? Silence is the only reply I get. Most Tea party supporters wouldn’t be simple enough to demand that the government ‘keep out of Medicare,’ but serious attention to the top budget line items – defense, interest on the national debt, Medicare and Social Security – is lacking. Without cutting these, no realistic solution to our debt crisis is possible.
4.) When people tell me that they support tax increases, as a number of ‘Occupy’ supporters and public employee union members do, I ask them what taxes that they’d pay would they support increasing. I also ask why they don’t just pay more now, if they’re willing to do so. Don’t claim all legal deductions and your taxes will go up; otherwise, just write a check for your voluntary additional contribution, as I am sure that the IRS will cash it. Again, this suggestion gets no takers, only silence.
Other examples abound. These are meant to be illustrative, and I chose two each from the so-called ‘left’ and ‘right’ ends of the political spectrum (itself an outdated concept of questionable validity). What becomes clear here are two things:
1.) Many people take positions on things without knowing much or thinking much about the question at hand. Many writers, such as the medieval Arabic scholar al-Farabi noted this. (Al-Farabi’s example is that children tend to follow the religion of their parents, often without giving the precepts of what they vow to believe any deep thought or analysis.)
2.) Most people act in their own perceived self-interest. This is a basic principle of economics. They may conflate their own interests with those of their fellow-citizens; they may not be fully conscious of their advocacy for what they call the right being their interest, or they may cynically insist that they serve the common weal while actually promoting their own benefit at the expense of all. Henry Hazlitt wrote of this latter phenomenon in ‘Economics in One Lesson‘ when he identified deliberate misinformation as being a tactic used by special interests to gain an advantage over their neighbors through the law. Special interests, Hazlett wrote, will get the best ‘hired brains’ that they can afford to spin plausible arguments in favor of their position, no matter what the truth of the matter is.
That most people put their mouths where their money is isn’t an observation confined to the purview of economists. Mark Twain noticed the same thing; as he put the matter: “You tell me where a man gits his corn-pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.” To that, this writer will add no more, except to say that a social studies teacher’s job is never done..