A colleague of mine forwarded me this article in the New York Times, which compared the presidential candidates' usages of various terms. Some words require more context, but what struck him (and me, after I saw it) in this graph is the fact that Ron Paul doesn't use the words America or American very much, even as he talks a lot about war (usually in negative terms), the constitution, and liberty.
A simple possible convergent explanation comes from this graph of questions concerning how much how much a person identifies (e.g. feel's close to, has things in common with, uses the word "we") with people in their community, in their country, and around the world. Ron Paul and libertarians like him, may think of themselves as individuals, moreseo than the typical liberal or conservative, and less as members of a community, a country, or the world.
From a psychological perspective, this is a further illustration of the idea that moral reasoning is intimately inter-twined with social functioning in that people tend to have a moral profile that correlates well with the types of social functioning they desire.
I would argue that a healthy society needs all types of social concerns. Cohesive working units such as armies, companies, and to a lesser extent countries, are necessary for efficiently performing tasks and competing with/defending against other groups. At the same time, it would seem callous to be an extraordinarily efficient society that doesn't care about the plight of others who are not in our group. Finally, any society needs people who are less constrained by group concerns who can push society forward. We should be thankful for the diverse ideological perspectives in our country and rather than seeing politics as war, we could see it as an exercise in finding balance between worthy concerns.
- Ravi Iyer
Recently, President Obama appointed Richard Cordray to be the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in the wake of the financial crisis to protect consumers. What exactly does it mean to 'protect consumers'?
To some, the goal of the agency is to protect the poor, by regulating companies that provide "payday loans" to poor consumers, often charging extremely high interest rates. I recently listened to an old episode of This American Life, entitled The Giant Pool of Money, which detailed the struggles of some who were given loans that they couldn't pay and the resulting human cost. As a liberal, I am prone to be sympathetic to whatever we can do to improve the lives of the lease fortunate among us.
However, the thing that angered me most in the episode was the story of a veteran who qualified for a Veteran's Home Administration loan, but was instead given a loan for which the mortgage broker received a higher commission, and now pays a 10% interest rate. This veteran has a job and continues to pay his mortgage, but clearly was taken advantage of by someone who likely presented themselves as working on his behalf, but instead wanted a better commission. According to the episode, the commission for this purchase was $18,000 and mortgage brokers at the time were earning $75-100 thousand dollars per month (for a job with little societal benefit).
There will always be a way for people to take advantage of others, whether due to the desperation/need of others or due to their lack of understanding. However, not all immoral ways of making a living are necessarily illegal. Republicans have been consistent in their criticism of the Dodd-Frank law which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mitt Romney has promised to repeal it. There is something to be said for the idea that sometimes protecting the poor can cause inefficiencies in the economy and there is no doubt that the liberal impulse to help the poor, and extend them credit, was one of a number of contributing factors to the financial crisis, in that incentives were created to loan money to those who could not afford it. However, I think both liberals and conservatives would agree that when financial negotiations take place, steps should at least be taken to ensure that everyone understands the process.
Below is some data that is suggestive, though not definitive, that liberals and conservatives (as well as moderates and libertarians) might agree more about ensuring a fair process, as opposed to making sure that the poor are protected from predatory lenders. While liberals might feel that protecting the poor is a more immediate concern, the most consensus exists (higher wrongness scores for conservatives/libertarians) for ensuring that everyone completely understands the process when a negotiation occurs.
In the wake of his controversial nomination, Cordray himself positioned the agency as ensuring a fair process, rather than a fair outcome.
The battle between liberal and conservative ideas can be seen as the battle between the balance between ensuring a prosperous society and ensuring a society that cares for the least fortunate in it. Both goals are served by fair, open negotiations where all parties understand what is agreed to, and where people earn a living through activities that add societal value. Whether it is via Dodd-Frank, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or some other means devised by Republicans, I'm hopeful that a consensus can occur around protecting consumers from those who might take advantage of their relative lack of information.
- Ravi Iyer