Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Episode 51: Red vs. Blue vol.1


Red Vs. Blue - Big Government vs. Small Government

When the news is slow, it’s hard to find new news to talk about. So I thought I’d introduce a new segment into the blog called Red vs. Blue. It is not meant to be a divisive entry about why I disagree with some conservative ideas, but rather to compare conservative and progressive thought in attempt to understand each side’s point of view. Without further ado… big government vs. small government.

With the economy as the leading issue on the minds of every American, the notion of big government vs. small government is the preeminent debate these days. The commonly held belief is progressives champion big government while conservatives prefer smaller government. Smaller government means that conservatives have a strong belief in the 10th amendment, which states powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or the people. However, there is what I believe to be a widely held misconception about the progressive stance on the size of government.

I think I can speak on the behalf of many progressives when I say we don’t want “big” government either, but rather a government just large enough to meet the needs of the majority of the people. Conversely, I believe conservatives believe in meeting the needs of the individual, or at best, a small constituency. This does not make conservatives selfish; because conservative thought is prevalent in less densely populated areas, it is typically more effective to self govern.

Regarding the economy, it is common to hear conservatives say “give me a tax cut because I can manage my money better than the government can.” Or regarding healthcare, conservatives may feel it is better to get a tax credit to cover healthcare premiums because they can choose how to access healthcare better than the government. Progressives however, see government spending as investments (albeit with not as much return as we’d like these days). Progressives would say “let us invest in education so that every American has equal access to quality education. Let us invest in green energy because we can significantly mitigate our dependence on foreign oil, while doing our part to protect the planet.” What is the origin of this dichotomy?

I believe the answer can be found back in colonial times. Big cities were located on the coasts because they were the centers of the ship trade, and to accommodate for storage and workers, communities were rather large. It was also the place where immigrants started their lives in America. From the very beginning, big cities had to deal with cultural clashes and many political, social, and moral perspectives. Thus, centralized government was necessary to as best it could, create laws that addressed the needs of the many. However, in the country, people lived in isolated pockets far removed from city life. They developed their own culture and way of doing things that worked for that community, and were guided by moral law (religion). As America expanded westward, the country had to evolve its legislation to incorporate the needs of the frontiersmen, while still maintaining legislative compatibility with the city culture. Such examples include drug and alcohol production. For a long time in the early 19th century, moonshine production was the lifeblood of some towns. When the federal government, banned alcohol during prohibition, it crippled the economies of moonshine producing regions. Naturally, the frontiersmen fought the federal government hard for their right to produce alcohol to the point of outright civil disobedience. Likewise, Kentucky was one of the largest producers of marijuana in the country. When the federal government tried to slow their operation, Kentuckians laid down fox traps to ensnare government officials looking for the crop so it could not be confiscated and destroyed.

It is amazing that nearly two centuries later, the ideology is nearly identical. It is no wonder that the electoral map is almost always blue in coastal areas and New England, where fur trade and fishing created large communities despite the lack of costal trade in some states. Similarly, it is no wonder that red states largely consist of the least densely populated states. How do we reconcile the progressive need for laws to benefit the needs of the many versus the conservative need for individual independence?

I’m not entirely sure we can. Obama’s wish (or really any president’s wish) to create a non-partisan government is but a wish. Non-partisan these days mean the party in charge has enough influence to sway the opposition to his point of view, thus alienating the dissenters. History has shown that progressive and conservative thought ebbs and flows in the political landscape, but one way or another, progressive thought wins when the time is right for it. From slavery, to education reform (via government funding), to civil rights, to information flow, these once progressive ideologies are now the norm. The next frontier is human rights, and with more states allowing gay marriage, conservatives are losing their grip on what was once an unshakable principle.

Does this mean conservative thought only serves as a barrier to progressive thought? I believe that conservative opinion serves as a social checks and balances system, thus the relationship is complementary. Perhaps there is some truth that without conservative dissent, progressives would spend spend spend. And without progressive dissent, the country would evolve at a slower rate. Let us consider the one time in recent history when conservatism was a highly valued principle for all Americans – the Regan presidency. All of the craziness of the 60s and 70s between civil rights and Vietnam created a progressive overload, and conservative ideals was desperately needed to restore balance to the American psyche.

Although the probability of conservatives and progressives becoming a non-partisan decision making unit is very low, what we have in President Obama is a leader who is the most thoughtful and intellectual president we’ve had in a very long time. His style is the closest to a non-partisan government we’ve seen because he is guided by intellect more than ideology. What makes him a progressive is his desire to create policies that serve the majority of Americans. Because he is not guided as much by ideology, some of his policies also make the left upset, for example, the non-commitment to prosecute C.I.A. officials that practiced torture. It makes sense, if trying to find middle ground, to release the memos to clear the air and expose our moral wrong doing (which makes the left happy), but not undergo full litigation and risk losing the confidence of the operatives he needs in the continuing war in the Middle East (which makes the right happy). The problem we are facing today is the lack of true opposition. Conservatives cannot simply reject every policy that comes off the Obama desk without reason. Without true checks and balances, progressives have free reign to pass whatever legislation they want. This is not a good thing. The worst mistake conservatives can make is not participating in political discourse. In trying to vehemently defend conservative ideals, they are actually losing more battles than they are winning. More of their ideals would make it into legislation with a president like Obama if they practiced true politics.

The issue of big government versus small government is the primary debate, from which all other debates derive. Thus, it is important to constantly examine our differences and common interests in hope that we can achieve true middle ground. Typically this is not possible because presidents are guided by ideology. Clinton was concerned with universal healthcare. Bush was concerned with tax cuts and national security. Had Hilary Clinton or John McCain won, we would once again have a leader who is guided largely by political ideology. Obama is our best to reconcile the differences between big city and small town ideologies. Let us hope that politicians from the left and right realize this soon so we can get real work done in this country.
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18 comments: on "Episode 51: Red vs. Blue vol.1"

Devrim said...

...His style is the closest to a non-partisan government we’ve seen because he is guided by intellect more than ideology. I don't know what you had been smoking but I want some of it. If Vermont wants to legalize gay marriage, and I feel very strongly against gay marriage, I can move to Texas.

If a bar owner is concerned about his employees health due to secondhand smoke, he can choose to turn the place smoke free. Likewise if somebody is concerned, they may choose not to work in a smoking bar. But when the government says "thou shall not smoke in bars" nobody has a choice.

needs of the majority of the people can be attained through labor. Therefore government just needs to be big enough to allow private enterprise to be as competitive as anywhere in the world. Today if I want to build a factory, I am required to pay hundreds of thousands to make an "environmental impact" study, pay millions in insurance. Instead I can open that factory in some 3rd world country. You on the other hand can choose to buy the product which I produced in the US with all regards to the environment or the one I produced in Mexico raping the environment. If enough people choose to buy environmentally friendly products, the factory in Mexico fails. No need for EPA to shove rules down business.

If the health of the Maine lobster population needs to be studied, the lobstermen of Maine can raise the selling price of lobster and fund such research, the taxes paid by Texas oilmen need not be touched.

As long as federal government is involved, small is beautiful.

conservative generation said...


Cheers! I love the discussion of principles. I've been trying to do the same myself. Helps me to understand everything. I probably won't agree, but it helps people see that the majority of us are all actually reasonable people. We just see things differently.

Love the checks and balances idea. It's very Foundersish. In fact, I believe federalist paper 54 written by Madison talks about the use of waring factions.

You are going to have a hard time convincing me that Obama is not an ideologue. First, everything he's done has been progressive. The fact that he may not be progressive enough for some on the left is no solice all the way over in the disenfranchised rightwingville. Second, honestly Bush made all the same kinds of sacrifices as far as the base was concerned. Lefts thought the stem cell ban was crazy rightwingnutzism. He didn't really ban embryonic stem cell research as the right wanted, he just refused to use federal funds to support it. To the left this was crazy right, but in reality he avoided the issue altogether (pretty, just right of center. Especially since the nation was 50/50 on the issue at the time). Same could be said of abortion and so on. So if Obama's some great centrist, Bush most also have been a great centrist.

I'm also a little confused that you want to encourage conservatives to become part of the debate, but you tore apart the Tea Party movement. I don't understand that one. I'm sure you were mostly referring to Republican politicians who are not engaging. So we took it upon ourselves to do it.

Moving beyond the finer points in your posting history. Many people including myself are not against government as a means to fairness (we just have different beliefs on how involved the government needs to go to make things fair). However, and I've stated this before...and Devrim points out to some degree, we are getting to a place where government is choaking capitalism through spending. We need to back the truck up before we can move forward.

Obama fiscally responsible? Haven't seen anything to indicate he is geniune. My latest post is on how "fiscal responsible" Obama so far has been a hoax. I'd love to see him. If he came out in earnest, I'd have a lot less to talk about as far as his spending plans go. I will never, however, give him a pass based on what he says off the teleprompter screen. We conservatives did that with Bush, we grumbled, he didn't follow through, we've learned our lesson.

Just a thought regarding principles, it may help separating fiscal conservatives and liberals from social ones. The water tends to get a little muddied when arguments transition between the two. Just a thought.

The Law said...

You are going to have a hard time convincing me that Obama is not an ideologueAnd I'm not going to try and do so... I think anyone in a position of leadership is to some degree an ideologue. If we were stranded on an island like in the show Lost, and one of use were elected leader of the island, we'd make decisions based off the very ideologies we write about in these blogs. However, Bush and Obama are not in the same league in the intellect department... we have yet to see the full cooperation of politicians from the left and right to see just how good Obama is at seeing solutions once multiple perspectives. See, this by no means republicans have to be yes men. It really means, vigorously finding new arguments that suuport their beliefs. And the stink of it is, there are politicans ALREADY doing that (Tim Pawlenti, and the governors or Wyoming and Utah for example). But then Rush Limbaugh and the party big shots call them suckers. Like I said, if republicans debated at teh very least in the same fashion we do in this blog, I guarantee your more conservative principles would make it into legislation.

Re: Tea Parties - Completely talking about politicians. However, in the case of almost all protests, it raises awareness of a problem, but doesnt offer any solutions. That's what we need politicians for.

On fiscal responsibility: another example, if conservative politicians debated, there could be siginifcant changes. The arguments they make for the economy are the exact OPPOSITE principles Obama believes in. It is like, if you got your girlfriend preggers, and you don't believe in abortion, I keep suggesting you take her to the clinic instead of coming up with other soloutions like adoption, or helping you put together a crib.

If Vermont wants to legalize gay marriage, and I feel very strongly against gay marriage, I can move to Texas.

My argument regarding this is how would you know a gay couple was married if they were sitting right next to you? I personally don't think it is our business. But for syntax purposes I think the fairest thing to do is to recognize ALL marriage, gay or straight, as a civil union under law, and leave the ceremony for the church to decide.

As fa as I know, there is no federal ban on smoking in bars, that is a state level thing. Even then, if enough people are angry about it, then the law can be amended or reversed, as it had been in NY... just a form they have to fill out that designates that bar as a smokign bar, and have to post a sign to let people know that it is a smoking bar. Can't be too mad about just having to post a sign, no?

The EPA example doesnt hold up. Because if businesses had their way, whatever smoke stacks they used when the factory was built, no matter how inefficient, is what they'll keep. Why would it be a good thing to have air quality like China? Laws exsist to keep us safe... where do you draw the line between law and lawlessness?

Devrim said...

where do you draw the line between law and lawlessness? I need a shoe, a shoe created in China costs the earth 50kg C02, and waste dumped to the local river, and me $25. If that shoe was made in US, it would cost 25kg CO2, the waste would be treated, and cost me $35.

If I am concerned about global warming, I would buy the US one. No laws needed. If enough people were concerned about the global warming, the Chinese factory would either shut down or upgrade itself to remain competitive.

First you need the lawmakers to make a law, than a subcommittee to study its effects, than an agency to monitor and enforce the law, than courts and lawyers to punish the offenders which all come out of taxes collected. When you let free markets do its thing, consumers voting with their money, it is free !!!

Devrim said...


The Soviet Union under the green thumb of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and '30s collectivized agriculture, thus starving millions of Russian and Ukrainian peasants who up until then had solid reputations as, well, organic farmers. With his infamous "Five Year Plans" Stalin also forced the rapid industrialization of Russia that left it with a legacy of belching smokestacks, dirty skies, fouled rivers, and -- in a Soviet version of "smart growth" -- thousands of those dreary gray apartment buildings known for poor plumbing and lousy electrical service.

Following Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev gave his tyrant-numbed people the infamous "Virgin Lands Campaign" (1954-1962), when he "relocated" 300,000 Russians and Ukrainians to Soviet Central Asia (mostly present Kazakhstan) to plow the vast steppe and grow wheat. After one good harvest, drought and Soviet agricultural policy combined to produce windblown erosion on a grand scale, turning the region into a Dust Bowl. By the early 1960s the Soviets were importing grain, mostly from Canada.

In China, Chairman Mao's "Great Leap Forward" (his own second "Five Year Plan": 1958-1963) aped the Stalinist model and starved tens of millions of those pesky peasants, as industrialization accelerated. Maybe "A Hundred Flowers" bloomed, but not much else. Mao remedied these excesses with the discipline of the subsequent Cultural Revolution, when he sent academics, intellectuals, and Communist Party higher-ups into the countryside as farm laborers. I've always liked this aspect of the Cultural Revolution. Imagine Ivy League professors spending their summers in Iowa shucking corn at gunpoint. Mao was on to something. But sadly, part of the Great Helmsman's monstrous legacy is that much of China today suffers hideous pollution problems, so much so that it famously shut down factories weeks before last year's Olympic Games to clear the skies, and athletes wearing surgical masks commonly appeared in the media. Lately -- and to the chagrin of international greenies -- the Chinese have completed the infamous Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, where they removed 1.25 million people elsewhere, and flooded archaeological sites and 13,000 farms to do it.

In Cambodia in 1975, those admirers of Maoist agricultural methods, the Khmer Rouge, sent much of the population of Phnom Penh and elsewhere hoe-in-hand to the boonies, and in the end 1.5 million didn't come back, notably university-educated French-speakers who wore glasses.

All of the above should tell us that you don't have to be the late Milton Friedman to know that free market capitalist economies have cleaner environments. Private property rights encourage it. If you own a backyard, there is a built-in incentive to keep it clean because it's yours.

The Law said...

That's a great bit of history, but there is theory and there is application. The clean backyards of which you speak only apply to neighborhoods with enough socio-economic might to combat construction. My AT&T service stinks in Southern California coastal areas where I live because the people dont want their skies mucked up with a single cell tower. On Long Island and Massachusettes, wind turbines couldnt be constructed off the coast (even tho they are barely visiable WITH binoculars) because they dont want to muck up the landscape. So where do these powerplants go? in Urban areas, where people are too poor to give a crap... heck, it may even provide job opportunities.

Your free market idea, particuluarly with the shoes example, would work in theory, but we both know that's not what would really happen. First of all, it is cheaper to produce a heavy polluting factory. So right off the bat, US and China in your example would more likely have equal polltuion output. So, then that means both US and China can sell that shoe for $25. The next determinign factor would be the shoe itself, whether it has features that are appealing. Let's say China has a better shoe, we lost the sale AND the environment is crappy.

The one element you forgot in both examples is that the US, as well was Europe, and more recently Scandanavia, have been increasingly vigorous with environmental standards. Otherwise, there is no incentive whatsoever for the free market to have any concern about the environment, because it does not maximize profits.

So I ask again, what is the role of government, if not to establish laws in the best interests of the majority of the people, and ensure our saftey? Or do you think our political philosophy should be 100% capitalist?

Devrim said...

Supply & Demand, is there a demand for clean air ? Where there is demand there is a capitalist pig to fill that demand. Demand is the incentive of the capitalist

The Law said...

I love sim city. I feel that game is pretty accurate in terms of how people react to government decisions.

When you start yoru city, you can build a coal firing plant which costs $60/mo to run at 6000MW. Or you can build wind power at $10/mo at 200MW. You need 15 wind turbines to deliver the same amount of power as the coal plant, but it will cost $150/mon to maintain.

Everyone starts with coal.

There comes a time when the clouds are brown and the water is murky. And citizens demand clean air. Only problem is the cost to set up the turbines is expensive, and it costs more the twice the amount to maintain than the coal plant, which will run you into the red.

As the mayor you can acquiesce to the demands of the people, OR you can continue your profit making operation. And when you choose the latter (as most people inevitably do), your city still grows! But who leaves? the upper class sims. And the low wealth sims take their place.

That is pretty much what will happen without regulation. Businesses will always find a way to do business better, faster, and cheaper. No matter how high the demand for clean air is, if the business doesn't have to change its profitable operation, it won't. That is how capitalism works in application.

Again, you have to separate theory from application. In a perfect world, if enough people thirsted for clean air, then business would supply it. When we consider how unregulated our system has become over the past few decades, it isn't hard to find examples of big business taking advantage of the system (Enron, Fannie & Freddie, Big 3 Auto).

Don't get me wrong though... I'm a captialist guy. I think captialism is why our country is so great... entrepreneurs are rewarded for their innovation in America more than any other place in the world. It is however, not a silver bullet solotuion, and it is a system that can become corrupt VERY easily.

conservative generation said...


I don't think there was much for me talk about from your comment to me.

I love the Sim City analogy, but for a different reason. Have you ever sold bonds to raise money? If the bonds came due and you didn't have enough money to pay, you'd take out another bond? You'd keep doing it until the people kicked you out of office, because of horrible fiscal responsibility? Hey, Moody's downgraded municipal bonds for the first time! Seems kind of similar.

conservative generation said...


I found this article in the NY Times today that actually supports Devrim's position.

Just thought I'd share.

Devrim said...

Citizens demand energy... Mayor builds coal fired plant. Why, lack of capital, if he builds wind, there is no money left to build schools.

Citizens demand clean air... Mayor builds wind power. Maintenance costs go up, gets passed on to consumers, heavy industry leaves town.

Problem ? The Mayor did it using taxpayer money. You said it yourself "Businesses will always find a way to do business better, faster, and cheaper". Maybe we need a version of Simcity "Anarchy" where the mayor just sits on his ass and watches the city bloom where private investment takes care of everything.

BTW, did you see that study out of England that says if you are fat, you are contributing to global warming ? Time to hit the gym bro or the guv'ment is gonna tax yo ass !!!

Mark Meloy said...

"Demand is the incentive of the capitalist" is a very true statement. Business 101 is to find a need, or create one, and exploit it. It is the role of the government to rule and protect citizens, not business. In order to protect citizens. Government needs to regulate business closely, including in environmental issues, which calls for larger governing bodies. A society can be measured by how it treats the lowest among them, not on how large and powerful business can become, which is often not in the interest of the general public. When additional funding is necessary, common sense dictates the governmental need to go where the money is, which is with those that have most benefited from the capitalist system provided guessed it, the government.

The Law said...

Touche CGen =) selling bonds always kills my city... so in desparation, my new tactic was to (*sad face*) print money (via cheatcode lol). Luckily, the game doesn't recognize inflation...

It is the role of the government to rule and protect citizensMark hits it on the head right here... if you use a truly free capitalist system, the needs of the many will not be met.

BTW... cause I love the game too damn much... when your city it large enough in sim city 4 at least, private enterprise can, and does provide much of the revenue, allowing one to cut taxes on the whole, or sculpt a tax bracket to attract a certain kind of people. What I find is if you alienate the low wealth citizens, and something happens that make the high wealth move away, the city is near impossible to fix, because you'll quickly be in debt. Thus, Mark's statement "A society can be measured by how it treats the lowest among them" holds true even in the virtual world.

Mark Meloy said...

Excuse me, but what is Sim City?

The Law said...

=O It is only the best strategy/simulation game ever. Basically you are the mayor of a city, and you manage everything from the economy to special interests groups, dealing with crime and natural disasters. A friend of mine who is a city planner mastered the game using the techniques he learned in school!

Grog said...

Jefforson was for small government, Madison was for strong Federal power. Jefferson had too much faith in mankind, Madison had too little.

Somewhere in between, the Constitution was written.

In politics, the middle way is none at all.
-John Adams

Devrim said...

A bit of a cross post but here it goes... a Simcity experiment ? I managed to turn in mad profits building coal plants and thrash incinerators, accepting trash from other cities and selling electricity to my neighbors. Air pollution graph over my city was a solid red. I laughed my ass off as I watched my "green" neighbors trying to balance their budgets while I built plant after plant raping Mother Gaia. Why bother to have a city of 1 mil tree hugers, bleeding money, while you can have a city of 100 working as fast as the fed printing presses (can anyone say China) ?

While I am typing this I am watching a news report about a woolly mammoth found in ice, and the possibility to clone it. What can go wrong right ? Yup, a woolly mammoth emits 1000 X greenhouse gases than me when he farts.

The Law said...

There comes a time when the clouds are brown and the water is murky. And citizens demand clean air. Only problem is the cost to set up the turbines is expensive, and it costs more the twice the amount to maintain than the coal plant, which will run you into the red.

As the mayor you can acquiesce to the demands of the people, OR you can continue your profit making operation. And when you choose the latter (as most people inevitably do), your city still grows! But who leaves? the upper class sims. And the low wealth sims take their place.
...told ya so ;-) And if your taxes are low enough, you'll have a dirty city with 1 mil people too lol

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