Is there a neat little box into which people can classify your political views? Hopefully not, since the generally available boxes cannot do justice to a complicated world.
I speak from experience.
People have trouble describing my political views. During my 36 years at Adrian College, I was often considered highly conservative, but at least one student thought I was a Communist.
This latter conclusion might have been because I was reading Pravda every day.
But most students understood that I read it as background for my Soviet government class and to study the slanted information Soviet leaders fed their people.
Students knew that I also read the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a left-wing mouthpiece.
Adding to the confusion, my commentaries have run in publications that range from very conservative to very liberal.
It turns out that classifying people along a one-dimensional liberal-conservative spectrum is grossly inadequate. Life is not that simple!
My 1981 college textbook identified three basic questions of political philosophy: 1) What ought to be? 2) What ought to be done? 3) What is the nature of man?
The distinction between what ought to be and what ought to be done suggests that we can turn the one-dimensional liberal-conservative spectrum into a two-dimensional classification.
One dimension refers to a person's substantive ideas (about what ought to be) and the other to that person's procedural ideas (about what ought to be done).
In terms of this system, I am substantively not just liberal, but radical.
There are many things in today's world I would like to see changed.
But procedurally I am conservative. I believe that trying to improve the world by war or violent revolution brings change, all right, only in the wrong direction.
Rather than resorting to war or revolution, ` we must bring about progress by means of peaceful reforms.
If asked to choose between uncritical adherence to the ideas of Adam Smith or Karl Marx, I would refuse, though my views are much closer to Smith's.
Marx's economic views were horribly muddled. I share his yearning for a classless society, but vehemently reject his claim that such a society could be attained by violent revolution.
We probably should pay less attention to the ideas of Smith and Marx and a lot more to the American economic philosopher Henry George (1839-1897), who thought that "There is danger in reckless change, but greater danger in blind conservatism."
George's fundamental insight was that a different "logic" applies to the distribution of value created by human labor, on the one hand, and the distribution of value created by the gifts of nature.
Wages are inherently unequal since the labor of some people is more valued than that of others. But labor is not the only basis for distributing income.
George's analysis suggests that the portion of economic value created by natural resource scarcities, like "manna from heaven," should be captured by government-as-trustee for the public and distributed equally to every member of that public as a periodic "social dividend."
"Social dividend?" No wonder people find my ideas confusing! "Social" sounds a lot like "socialist,” but on the other hand "dividend" sounds capitalistic.
During my 1970-1971 sabbatical at the Harvard Law School, I studied labor law with Archibald Cox.
As a young lawyer, Cox had worked for Francis Perkins, Franklin D. Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor and the first women to sit in the cabinet.
He saw her one day marching around her office muttering, "I love confusion! I love confusion! Confusion is so productive!"
My advice to readers: don't let yourself be shoved, and don't shove yourself, into a conservative or liberal box. Try to think about issues on their own merits without regard to party lines.
If people find your ideas confusing, you can consider yourself a success.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. Read Professor Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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