Monday, August 01, 2011

Open-minded (as long as you agree...)

There's an interesting - and telling - comment inside this Slate piece. (H/T Instapundit)

Inside Match.com:
As a result, Match began "weighting" variables differently, according to how users behaved. For example, if conservative users were actually looking at profiles of liberals, the algorithm would learn from that and recommend more liberal users to them. Indeed, says Thombre, "the politics one is quite interesting. Conservatives are far more open to reaching out to someone with a different point of view than a liberal is." That is, when it comes to looking for love, conservatives are more open-minded than liberals.
I find this not surprising in the least. And it's based on something that I noticed years ago, and it seems to play out in almost all political discussions. In short form, it's this:
Conservatives think Liberals are wrong. Liberals think Conservatives are evil.
Is that a generalization? An overstatement? Sure.

But there's a lot of truth there, too. Look at any of the "hot-button" issues over which there's a partisan divide, and you'll see a tendency for Liberals to disparage the Conservatives as "greedy" or "sexist" or "racist" or "fascist" or "homophobic." Are there legitimate arguments to be made against the minimum wage or higher tax rates or AFDC or WIC or universal health care? No, opponents are greedy, selfish, "they've got theirs and don't want to help anyone else." Are there legitimate arguments to be made against affirmative action? "Sexists! Racists!" Are there legitimate arguments to be made against government recognition of gay marriages? "Homophobes!" Are there legitimate police powers that the Federal government should exercise in combating terrorists? "Fascists!"

Am I saying that Conservatives do not engage in name-calling? Not at all. But the labels are qualitatively different. There's a difference between the labels "knee-jerk bleeding heart tree-hugger" and "sexist racist fascist." The former might describe someone who, as cliche might put it, "cares too much."1 The latter just describes a bad person.

Again, this doesn't describe everyone. It's a generalization. But it's a generalization that describes a lot of political interactions...





1 - And none of this is surprising when you look at the actual policy discussions. The Liberal point-of-view is always aimed at specific happy outcomes. Unfortunately, the prescriptions tend to assume that intending the specific happy outcomes is good enough. "Everyone should get a first-rate education" means "spend more money on education" and "government loans for college." "It's hard financially to be a teenage mother" translates into "give money to teenage girls who get pregnant." "It's not fair that some people have more than others," so we institute graduated tax rates. Whether the proposed solutions actually address the problems, never mind actually fix them without making anything worse, is rarely addressed.

Let's look, for a shining recent example, at the banking/housing/mortgage industry. If we start with the position that "everyone should be able to afford a home of their own," then it makes all kinds of sense to start pushing banks to give mortgages to pretty much anyone who wants one, regardless of qualifications. So we did. What results from that? Well, more people buy houses, that's true. And, as we increase the number of people that can afford a mortgage to buy a house, we increase the "quantity demanded" of housing. Which pushes up the price. But the government, in the form of Fannie and Freddie, step in and continue to push money into the housing market, and you end up with a) an enormous bubble of b) overpriced housing held by c) people who really shouldn't have qualified for the mortgages. And what happens when the bubble bursts, and the people who couldn't afford the mortgages can't make the payments? Why, the quantity demanded drops, the price drops, and now even people who legitimately qualified for the mortgages they got are underwater.

Sometimes, the short-term "compassionate" thing to do is not in the long-term best interest of the one on the receiving end. And many times, there are negative externalities, so that not only are the intended beneficiaries harmed, but many others who had nothing directly to do with the transaction. As we've all witnessed over the last few years.

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