Consider this page to be perpetually incomplete. Perhaps there is just an outline here waiting to be fleshed out. There’s always more to add, but it was lasted updated on: [8/11/2020]
How I Approach Politics
Before stating what my political views are, I think it’s more important to say how they impact my daily life.
I’m not a politician, and I don’t have large political influence. I work for causes and values that I prize, but I don’t obsess over politics or treat them like a sport. I don’t think there’s much point in following political news (or most news outside a few domains). I do like the political podcasts The Weeds and FiveThirtyEight, but that’s because I find the discussion and the hosts just so delightfully smart and discerning. They’re long, extended conversations between people who are numerate and appreciate the complexity of human society. And: those podcasts often give me other things to think about.
Here are some things about me and politics:
- The word “politics” means different things to different people.
- Politics as a sport: Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc. This is mostly useless to me, and if your interest in politics stops at this water’s edge, I consider you to be sports fan, not someone who takes politics seriously.
- Philosophic politics, or political philosophy: reading political philosophers and digesting what they say. Reading all kinds of them. Trying to figure out for yourself which social system is the best, and how politics relates to other branches of philosophy and other subjects altogether. This is serious politics. It is level 3.
- Tactical politics, or politics as practiced: this is for people in the government, people who would like to be in government, and people who work to influence the government. It is also serious politics, but its focus is: given the political principles that I have, what is the best way to implement them assuming the current political and social context? Tactical politics is best preceded by philosophic political work.
- With regard to people, the walk is more important than the talk (although the talk is important too). Anyone can profess any political values, but it’s how you are that largely determines whether I want anything to do with you.
- I have a lot of non-soundbite opinions about a lot of political issues. This is because I think about them often.
- It’s easy to get caught up in the abstract morass of national politics (politics as sport). I do ultimately care about federal policy, because it will affect me, but I mostly don’t care about it for my daily life. Even though federal policy affects me every day, there’s nothing to do about it usually. It’s too easy to let its impotent anger infect your soul and your ability to connect with other people.
- I am proud of my political views, and I think ideas have power. But if we differ, don’t think that I hate you. I don’t even know you. My heart runs wild and seeks virtue in any soul.
- The friendship between Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson is instructive.
- I am not a Communist, and I think that system is bad. But *TWIST* I’ve fallen in tragic love with an actual Communist. His name is Andrei Taganov (Google him).
What Are My Politics
Just like my philosophy page, I initially went into more detail about the specifics of my politics. But, since my goal here is to introduce you to my mode of thinking, not necessarily the most concrete content, I’ll say these things:
- I enjoy thinking about politics, and I enjoy talking with sincere, thoughtful people. Level 2 is nice, level 3 is best. Level 1 is no fun and no good. What I don’t enjoy, and what frustrates me, are people who approach politics (which social system we should have) as if it is easy or self-evident. Simplistic takes simply will not suffice.
- Politics, philosophically, rests upon ideas developed in hierarchically prior fields of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Put another way: politics is like calculus. To validate it, you can’t just start with calculus; you must first comprehend arithmetic, algebra, etc. You can jump straight to calculus if you want, but you’ll run into problems.
Here are some more things I think about social systems:
- How to define property can get very difficult, and I don’t think there is the One Way to do it. No one came down from the mount with the eternal laws of private property etched on tablets. The discussion about riparian versus prior-appropriation water rights is a good example of the difficulty in sussing out what “property” means in different contexts. Really, any introduction to property law will quickly dispel the thought that property is “easy.” (Law 101 is good.)
- As with property, there is no such thing as the platonic ideal of a market. Markets are systems of supply and demand driven by all kinds of incentives. In real life markets are as complicated and complex as human behavior itself, because they are sum totals of it.
- Every government shapes the kind of markets that emerge within its economy. The way they treat property, contracts, torts, and more all influence market structure. This does not mean, therefore, that because the government defines certain market conditions that it can properly define any market condition.
- Politics gets the most interesting (to me) at the local level. It’s where the rubber hits the road, literally. For example, if there’s a dense city, what do politics do about different modes of transport? There’s really not room for cars in a place like Manhattan, so what do you do, especially in our current context where parking is subsidized by the city government to a massive degree? What does public transport even mean? The Market Urbanism Report does a good job of thinking about these questions.
- Regarding the shape of markets, I like what Hayek has to say in his paper “The Use of Knowledge in Society“:
…the problem of what is the best way of utilizing knowledge initially dispersed among all the people is at least one of the main problems of economic policy—or of designing an efficient economic system.
The answer to this question is closely connected with that other question which arises here, that of who is to do the planning. It is about this question that all the dispute about “economic planning” centers. This is not a dispute about whether planning is to be done or not. It is a dispute as to whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals. Planning in the specific sense in which the term is used in contemporary controversy necessarily means central planning—direction of the whole economic system according to one unified plan. Competition, on the other hand, means decentralized planning by many separate persons. The halfway house between the two, about which many people talk but which few like when they see it, is the delegation of planning to organized industries, or, in other words, monopoly.
Which of these systems is likely to be more efficient depends mainly on the question under which of them we can expect that fuller use will be made of the existing knowledge. And this, in turn, depends on whether we are more likely to succeed in putting at the disposal of a single central authority all the knowledge which ought to be used but which is initially dispersed among many different individuals, or in conveying to the individuals such additional knowledge as they need in order to enable them to fit their plans with those of others.
And now for a lol:
[to add at some point: how the framework of the economic theory of the second best could be ported into policy making and law writing.]
[to add at some point: some comments on Richard Feynman’s proper politician from his “This Unscientific Age” lecture.]
[to add at some point: Elinor Ostrom and the need for a focus on what happens in real life, not on paper, with regard to economics. See this book.]