fhwang.net

Looking for a new faction

New York state has a thing called Electoral Fusion, which is maybe the closest our country’s gimpy electoral system can get to having a parliamentary system. It lets you vote for the same candidate under an alternative party, and although your vote will still count for the candidate it will also be identified as belonging to a different party, and maybe you can be counted as swaying the winning party one way or the other.

By way of illustration: On Election Day I went to my polling place, and one column had Obama & Biden for the Democratic Party, and a column right next to it had Obama & Biden for the much smaller Working Families Party. I could vote for Obama & Biden under the WFP ticket, I’d get counted as a Democrat who leans more towards the WFP worldview, and my vote wouldn’t go wasted. It would have almost no practical effect, but what can I say? I like third parties.

Only, I didn’t do that this year. I’ve voted WFP many times before, but over the past few years I’ve found myself drifting away from their traditional progressivism. I voted mainline Democrat, not because I’ve stopped loving quixotic political movements, but in fact because I’m starting to feel like I’m in a faction that barely exists.

I suppose this happens to a lot of people as they get older, they begin to add more nuance to their political views, and become more comfortable with ideological tensions and tradeoffs. These days I’d say my beliefs are a blend of:

  • The progressive’s moral concern for the poor, and for the environment
  • The capitalist’s belief that private enterprise needs to be given a lot of space to innovate—for the enrichment of society, with the enrichment of a few lucky individuals as an acceptable side effect
  • The anarchist’s belief that laws, courts, and regulations should not supplant a broad-based, societal commitment to the daily practices of community decision-making
  • The centrist conservative’s emphasis on empirical process and concrete results over good intentions that go nowhere

I’ve voted Democrat almost all my life (I did vote for Nader in 2000), and I’ll probably do so all my life. But there are things about the Democratic Party that really rub me the wrong way. The lack of precise thinking about when it’s useful for government to get involved in markets leads to bizarre, fuzzy-headed proposals like the auto bailout that will likely be passed in January. And I feel like the left has a lot of orthodoxy it can’t shake off, especially regarding concepts that may not actually help the poor, but make a lot of us middle-class liberals feel better about ourselves. Like, every time somebody on the left rants against payday loans I get really uncomfortable. Sure, payday loans are a shitty option. Guess what—when you’re really poor, all your options are shitty. Should we be congratulating ourselves for working to take some of those options away, or should we be actually trying to reduce poverty?

On the other hand, I can’t go down any sort of laissez-faire route or (shudder) libertarianism, not least because I don’t think poor people get at all a fair shake in this society, or that we can solve environmental problems without strong regulation. But I want the right sort of regulation, and so often that never seems to be the sort we get …

I can’t even figure out what this would be called, exactly. “Left-technocrat”, perhaps? Well, you can see why I’m not in marketing.

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Tagged: economics, politics

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