Having the right politics doesn't make you a better person

And having the wrong politics doesn't make you worse.

Of course, there may be some relationship in some people, but not a necessary one. What makes you a good or bad person (on various levels) is your personal actions, and your attitudes insofar as those attitudes affect your personal actions. Have you hurt anyone? Have you taken pleasure in humiliating anyone? Are you a kind person? Do you help your friends? Do you help strangers?

Things that you do determine whether you are a good or bad person. And while politicians do indeed act on their political views, the vast majority of us are, for the most part, not in a position to act on our political views. One exception is how we treat people with different political views who have not otherwise done anyone any harm. It is not a nice person who vandalizes the property of a person who has not done anyone any harm and who simply has sharply opposed political views. People with the wrong views who have not acted on their wrong views are innocent. A physical attack on people with the wrong views for having the wrong views is an attack on an innocent person and is wrong, even if you're a libertarian and your victim is a communist - or vice versa.

I think this goes without saying. But it goes against one of the principal reasons that people have for adhering to and espousing political opinions. Everyone wants to be a good person, and people espouse certain views in order to feel that they are good and to project to others an image of themselves as good people, and people are afraid of entertaining contrary views because they are afraid that they will be tainted by it, made bad. And indeed, in the view of many, they are made bad by it.

A thief is actually a bad person. A thief is morally corrupted. A vandal is morally corrupted. A con artist is morally corrupted. These are bad people. But someone with the wrong opinions about society, about the way the world works and about the way the world ought to work, is not a bad person except insofar as this makes him do bad things to other people - and for the most part, for most people, it does not.

Fear is the mind killer[*]. Fear of becoming bad, or of seeming to be bad (which, in the social part of our mind, amounts to pretty much the same thing) clouds our thought and freezes our opinion. People's political thinking is hampered by fear. They don't want to explore views which they have come to think of as "evil" because they don't want to become evil themselves, or to seem to be evil to their friends. Fear traps us intellectually.

[*](yes, I love science fiction, though I wish it were better than it actually is)

To be sure, our political views affect how we vote. But the effect of a vote is too dilute for the individual act of voting to be evil. That, in any case, is my view of it.

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Now now. You were the one

Now now. You were the one who convinced me Ron Paul was not a bad person, and now you say

What makes you a good or bad person (on various levels) is your personal actions, and your attitudes insofar as those attitudes affect your personal actions. Have you hurt anyone? Have you taken pleasure in humiliating anyone? Are you a kind person? Do you help your friends? Do you help strangers?

Things that you do determine whether you are a good or bad person. And while politicians do indeed act on their political views, the vast majority of us are, for the most part, not in a position to act on our political views.

If what makes us a good or bad persons are our actions, then will we be good or bad depending on our opportunities ? An armless would be stangler is a good person because his attitude cannot affect his personal actions ?

I agree with the general point that political supporters are mostly innocent... Mostly because

- many militant communist make threat, they threaten to support and take part in a revolution that would have me gutted, it's legitimate to defend myself from such a threat

- communists claim they do not recognize property rights. What gives someone's right is the reciprocal ability to recognize other people's right. Since the communist do not, I am not sure stealing from a communist is theft.

Virtue, vice & circumstance

An armless would-be strangler is a good person because his attitude cannot affect his personal actions ?

Never... think we have a due knowledge of ourselves till we have been exposed to various kinds of temptations, and tried on every side. Integrity on one side of our character is no voucher for integrity on another. We cannot tell how we should act if brought under temptations different from those we have hitherto experienced.

I love this line: "even if

I love this line: "even if you're a libertarian and your victim is a communist - or vice versa".

Nice moral equivalence there. Remind me, did libertarians rack up 100,000,000 corpses during the twentieth century? Or was that the communists?

Right On

I'm sure there are examples from all different political orientations, but the one that springs to mind immediately is Alec Baldwin, who can cuss his 11 year-old daughter out, but still is a frequent guest on The View (a show by women for women) because he backs the right policies.

Read from here You said

Read from here

You said then,

I do not condemn the ordinary man out of government. Therefore, I have a hard time condemning an ordinary man in government, even when he commits serious crimes through his position in the government, as mentioned.

You say now,

What makes you a good or bad person (on various levels) is your personal actions, and your attitudes insofar as those attitudes affect your personal actions. Have you hurt anyone? Have you taken pleasure in humiliating anyone? Are you a kind person? Do you help your friends? Do you help strangers?

I liked the "what would you do given the cirumstances" approach better. Deontology is good for judging acts, virtue ethics is better to judge people. This is why, as Brian Macker points out in the comment below, a person joining the Nazi party is probably a worse person than a fireman, although the latter is living at taxpayer's expense.

If we apply virtue ethics

I liked the "what would you do given the cirumstances" approach better.

An ordinary person's political views affect only what he would do given the unlikely circumstance that he gained near dictatorial power. If we are to judge an ordinary person on the basis of what that person would do given a variety of circumstances, then since he would do different things in different circumstances, we must somehow derive from this multiplicity a single average (because "degree of virtue" is one-dimensional). We must average over all possible circumstances, giving each circumstance an appropriate weight. The probability of a circumstance is a reasonable candidate for the appropriate weight. Since very few people achieve the position that enables them to realize their political ideals, then when judging a person it is reasonable to give a correspondingly low weight to what he would do in the circumstance that he achieved near-dictatorial power.

Because the probability of achieving near-dictatorial power is so small, then to a first approximation, we may reasonably ignore that possibility entirely.

So, to apply this to a specific hypothetical case, if an ordinary person stands in front of you, and he is a communist, then since the probability that he will become a Castro is remote, then in judging him a good or bad person you may reasonably ignore what he would do if he had dictatorial power.

Odd Reading of Virtue Ethics

If we are to judge an ordinary person on the basis of what that person would do given a variety of circumstances, then since he would do different things in different circumstances, we must somehow derive from this multiplicity a single average (because "degree of virtue" is one-dimensional). We must average over all possible circumstances, giving each circumstance an appropriate weight.

This is an interesting way to do virtue ethics. But, FTR, I'm pretty sure that I can hear Alasdair MacIntyre howling all the way from South Bend.

My understanding of virtue ethics is that it's much more holistic than your comment suggests. Most of the virtue ethicists I've read (which, admittedly, is far from all of them) would object to this sort of probabilistic calculation of virtue. Indeed, the very notion that degree of virtue is a one-dimensional value would, I think, strike most of them as an alien concept.

Indeed, as the grand poobah of virtue theory tells us, we know virtue simply by observing actions. Someone who tells the truth regularly just is an honest person. Your post (which I think is pretty much right on the mark) makes that point clearly. But your comment seems rather strangely to veer away into considering what that person might do in radically different sets of circumstances. That's fair enough. But I think that it's an approach that strays rather far from the virtue ethicist's general insight that ethics is about how I should be rather than about what I should do.

I think that there's an easier response to the Nazi problem. Tradition has to play some role in understanding what it means to live a virtuous life. And within our tradition, there's a pretty well-grounded understanding that discriminating on the basis of arbitrary racial/ethnic characteristics is not virtuous. And there's an even stronger understanding that voluntarily associating with people who attempted to exterminate people based on those same arbitrary racial/ethnic characteristics is not virtuous.

OTOH, there's far less consensus about our current political parties. Smart, thoughtful and well-meaning people can reasonably disagree about, say, the efficacy of Keynesianism. Not all of them can be right, and many of us might be pretty sure that we know the answer. But it's far from a settled question. And so, for a VT, it's not obviously not virtuous to voluntarily associate oneself with a particular set of standard American political positions.

For the record, I don't so much buy this line, but that's largely b/c I don't really buy virtue theory. But I think it's a pretty defensible VT response to the Nazi objection.

Virtue ethics

Actually, I was simply attempting to apply my own previous comments to the current case. Arthur is the one who identified it as virtue ethics, and I used that label to refer back to the arguments contained within my own previous comments. I'm not familiar with MacIntyre and feel no need to reconcile my comments with his philosophy.

I think that there's an easier response to the Nazi problem. Tradition has to play some role in understanding what it means to live a virtuous life. And within our tradition, there's a pretty well-grounded understanding that discriminating on the basis of arbitrary racial/ethnic characteristics is not virtuous. And there's an even stronger understanding that voluntarily associating with people who attempted to exterminate people based on those same arbitrary racial/ethnic characteristics is not virtuous.

I have long judged people separately from their politics. I have relatives and friends who are (or were) communist sympathizers, and I had a relative (now deceased) who was a Nazi sympathizer. I've been an anti-communist since the early eighties, and an anti-Nazi forever (that is, I have no recollection of ever not having been anti-Nazi), but I simply don't see these people as bad. Misguided in their politics. My Nazi-sympathizer relative never did anything to anyone as far as I know. He made a living grinding lenses.

I also have relatives who are actively participating in politics. When I talk about this, I am thinking about my friends and relatives.

kin

I have relatives and friends who are (or were) communist sympathizers

A very close relative of mine is socialist. I love her because she is close kin. I also hate her because she personally and individually did dreadful things to other close kin for personal financial gain.

I was a communist, and would not do what she did - but perhaps the reason I am no longer a communist is because I would not do, could not possibly do, what she did.

It is not my experience

It may be that there is some psychological link between one's personal character and one's politics. I have not observed that link in the people I know, though if you were to take a look at the people around me you might notice things I've missed.

I have pointed out that one's political opinions are as a matter of logic disconnected from one's actions, by which I mean that political opinions, in most cases, do not explicitly require personal actions. For example a belief that health care should be nationalized is a belief about what the government should do, and since the individual person is not himself a government, it is therefore not (or at least not necessarily) a belief about what he personally should do. Thus it will not (or will not necessarily) cause the believer in nationalized health care to behave any differently from an opponent of nationalized health care - aside from trivial differences such as voting behavior.

However, none of this rules out the possibility that there may nevertheless be an observable correlation between political views and personal behavior, and a common psychological element connecting the two

Since I have not seen it myself, I think that the connection must be at best a weak one.

This is why I believe it is

This is why I believe it is helpful to present people with a thought experience where they have to themselves enforce the laws they deem good.

Common psychological mechanisms in political and personal.

I have pointed out that one's political opinions are as a matter of logic disconnected from one's actions, by which I mean that political opinions, in most cases, do not explicitly require personal actions.

A common failure of socialists is poor reality testing on moral issues - that an action, such as confiscating food from the peasants, supposedly has good intentions is sufficient to make it good, and guarantee a good outcome. "Vision of the Anointed" is all about this failure. But when people personally and individually do bad deeds, we see the same failure mechanism happening individually and personally.

Reality testing

That makes sense. However, the personal environment teaches personal lessons a lot more quickly than the political environment teaches political lessons, and also a lot more frequently. We are much better adapted to assessing the personal environment than we are in assessing society-wide consequences. Our bodily senses give us reliable and detailed information about our personal environment, whereas what we know of the larger world comes through the keyhole of the news, which is not only untrustworthy but has less than the bandwidth of a teletype. Finally, when the lesson is personal the punishment for getting it wrong is felt largely our individual selves, whereas when the lesson is political we share the punishment with millions of others - and much of the punishment isn't even for anything we ourselves did wrong (since we are sharing the punishment of the misdeeds of others). Imagine trying to learn a simple lesson such as how to spell a word if everyone in our country is given the same grade on the basis of how many people in the country spelled it right, so if I spell it right I am still given an "F" if most people spell it wrong, and if I spell it wrong I am still given an "A+" if most people spell it right. Suppose furthermore that we have no cheat sheet - that this is how we find out the spelling of the word. Suppose, then, that you spell it a certain way, and then you're given an F. And you have no clue about the correct spelling other than that grade - which is a grading not of your attempt but of the average attempt. How could anyone learn anything that way?

In a highly capitalist, free market society everyone benefits from the freedom of the market regardless of their own political views. How does a communist living in a free society get an opportunity to test whether his communism is right? He never gets to enact it. He can, of course, learn history to see what happened to past communists, but we are much better at learning lessons when we personally experience the consequences, positive or negative. Imagine if, instead of anyone receiving a grade one year, the students instead were given a lecture at the end of the year about the grades that the students the previous year got. Among many other problems with this, all the students would imagine themselves as being like the students from the past year who got the best grades. Similarly, the leftists of today imagine themselves as superior to the leftists of yesterday, so they learn absolutely nothing from the fact that yesterday's leftists murdered a hundred million including each other, and then failed anyway.

Reality testing

Finally, when the lesson is personal the punishment for getting it wrong is felt largely our individual selves, whereas when the lesson is political we share the punishment with millions of others

For moral choices, reality is not what happens to you, but what happens to those close to you. Thus poor reality testing is easy and comforting, and a major cause of bad behavior.

Imagine if, instead of anyone receiving a grade one year, the students instead were given a lecture at the end of the year about the grades that the students the previous year got. Among many other problems with this, all the students would imagine themselves as being like the students from the past year who got the best grades.

Recollect Galbraith during the hungry ghosts famine, and George Bernard Shaw during the Ukraine famine. In their respective luxury hotels, hotels reserved for foreign friends of the regime, they wrote about the astonishing abundance, diversity, and excellent quality of food around them: "Famine, what famine? Did you ever see such an abundance of good food" - similarly the various people who reported that everything in Khmer Rouge Cambodia was coming up roses.

Aren't Nazis Bad People

I disagree with this article. I think someone who decides to be a Nazi at this point can be considered a bad person. I also think that if such a person is defaming an entire race that it is the worse than defaming a single person of that race.

I believe that any person, P, who is a member of a race, Y, that has been defamed with a universal, "All X are Y", should be able to sue as if the statement was "P is Y". Same with statements like "Kill all Y". In which case it should be treated as an assault on P and any other members of Y. The severity with which we should treat such assaults should depend on the credibility of the statement. If many Y's are getting killed, or have been killed by people of the political persuasion making such statements then we should deal severely with them.

We should also take into account peoples membership in political, religious, or other groups, and potentially hold them negligent for acts that other member take based on known ideological positions of the group. Thus if you are a member of a Mosque where the Imam is preaching crime right out of the Quran and someone else who is a member of the organization commits a crime based on such incitement then you should be held accountable also, as should the Mosque. This principle has been used against white supremacist groups.

Of course, the members level of participation should be taken into account.

Funny you'd mention it....

I believe that any person, P, who is a member of a race, Y, that has been defamed with a universal, "All X are Y", should be able to sue as if the statement was "P is Y".

Go to Illinois. In Beauharnais v. Illinois (1952), the US Supreme Court upheld a conviction under Illinois' anti-group-defamation statute. Writing for the majority, Justice Frankfurter likened the statute to the prohibition on criminal liable:

[Libelous] utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
* * *
[I]f an utterance directed at an individual may be the object of criminal sanctions, we cannot deny to a State power to punish the same utterance directed at a defined group....

Considering the statute in context of Illinois' history of race relations, the Frankfurter concluded that "we would deny experience to say that the Illinois legislature was without reason" to adopt the statute.

I maintain that it's okay to

I maintain that it's okay to steal from leftists. If they don't respect my property rights, why should I respect theirs? Besides, they owe me for all the money the government has stolen from me at their behest.

I'm still working on a plan with a good risk/reward ratio, though.

Deal me in!

Yeah, I reckon it's ok to steal from people who voted for Reagan and Bush II; why shouldn't they bear responsibility for all these unpaid debts that got charged to our credit card? If taxation is theft, deficit spending is theft engaged in by politicians too chicken to face the people they're robbing.

And while we're in the mood for pay-back, I think there are a bunch of Iraqis with guns who would like a private word with Bush supporters, too....

Congress Not the President

You are aware that the Congress (House and Senate) holds the purse strings, right? Both houses have been on very close to 50% Democrat even when the Republicans hold one or the other.

While Reagan was in office his party held the House 0% of the time and the Senate only 75% of the time.

What also matters a lot is who heads on the various committees within Congress. People like Barney Frank, and Rangel. You'll find that the blame for the housing mess falls most squarely on Democrats. Especially Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac.

So feel free to steal from Democrats also, if that's your gig.

Good questions, but I think

Good questions, but I think there are some important differences. I don't think it would be okay to steal from, say, the libertarians who reluctantly voted for Obama as the lesser of the two evils. While I consider this a questionable judgment call, I can't fault them morally for it, and I can't even say for sure that they made the wrong call. Nor would I say it's okay to steal from a moderate Democrat who voted that way because he doesn't like Republican social policy.

When I say "lefties" in this context, I'm talking about those who enthusiastically and unapologetically endorse the extortion of large sums of money from innocent taxpayers, especially those who propose raising taxes only on those who make more money than they do. Many of the people who voted for Bush, on the other hand, didn't endorse, and in fact feel betrayed by, the reckless spending he rubber-stamped. At worst this was a bad judgment call, and it's not even clear that Gore or Kerry would have been any better.

Military spending did increase somewhat under Reagan (from 4.9% of GDP in 1980 to a peak of 6.2% in 1986), but even then the bulk of Federal spending was on Democratic programs, so it's tough to pin the blame on Reagan.

I guess insofar as we're talking about the subset of Republicans who don't respect the property rights of others, they're fair game too.

Also, the "our credit card" thing kind of bugs me, because it obscures the reality of how the tax bill is distributed. Most people don't pay enough in taxes to cover the government services that they consume. These people will never have to pay back the debt racked up by prior generations, as they're not even pulling their own weight. At worst, greater government indebtedness reduces the subsidy they get from other taxpayers. It's only a small minority who actually have legitimate grounds on which to complain about being saddled with debt.

Granted, you may well be in the latter category and perfectly justified in using "our". But it can't be used here to refer generally to all people who didn't vote for Reagan or Bush.

On the topic of Iraqis, the issue is complicated by the fact that there were legitimate reasons at the time to believe that Hussein did have or would soon have weapons of mass destriction. A reasonable person could have concluded, as many did, that this was in fact the case. It was also not obvious, a priori, that stabilization would turn out to be such a mess. Wanting to take out a tyrant who appears to pose a real threat, even at the cost of killing innocent people, is not necessarily an untenable position. On the other hand, I'm not sure that the people who just wanted to kill some Arabs for the hell of it are any less culpabale than common murderers, so you may have a point as far as they're concerned.

That said, I do draw a distinction between that which is morally permissible and that which is good policy. While I personally believe that those who don't respect the rights of others in a political context forfeit their own in a personal context, I suspect that it would probably be a bad idea to start enshrining this sort of thing in law.

Whose deficit is it anyway?

You are aware that the Congress (House and Senate) holds the purse strings, right?

I am. And you are aware that the Administration proposes the budget and exercises a veto, right?

While Reagan was in office his party held the House 0% of the time and the Senate only 75% of the time.

And you’re aware that a veto cannot be overridden in the Senate without a 60-vote majority, right? (And you’re aware that the Republicans threatened a “nuclear option” to eliminate this 60-vote supermajority clause, right?) So how often was it that Reagan and Bush faced a Senate with a 60-vote Democratic majority?

Military spending did increase somewhat under Reagan (from 4.9% of GDP in 1980 to a peak of 6.2% in 1986), but even then the bulk of Federal spending was on Democratic programs, so it's tough to pin the blame on Reagan.

According to economist Ben Friedman, the huge deficits wracked up in the Reagan years were only 8% larger than the huge deficits PROPOSED in the Reagan budgets. See Day of Reckoning: The Consequences of American Policy Under Reagan and After, by Benjamin M. Friedman.

And what’s the story with Bush 43? You can see it here, in technicolor. It’s bad, and it’s only through 2006. Bottom line:

If none of these deliberate changes to taxes and spending had happened – in other words, if tax laws had remained the same as they were in Clinton’s last year in office, discretionary spending had simply grown at the rate of inflation, Iraq had not been invaded, and entitlement programs had remained unchanged by new legislation [that’s a reference to Bush’s Medicare Part D; you’ll recall the Administration put their own staff under orders to lie to Congress about how cheap this policy would be] – then the federal budget balance would have followed the top-most blue line instead of the bottom-most red line. Rather than a budget deficit of $494bn in 2005, the federal government would have run a surplus of $18bn. Rather than facing a future of massive and growing deficits as far as the eye can see, the US would be enjoying the prospect of being able pay down some of its national debt in preparation for the looming retirement costs of the baby boomers.

[W]e're talking about the subset of Republicans who don't respect the property rights of others....

Could we get a headcount? If “don’t respect the property rights of others” means a willingness to engage in deficit spending – garnering all the credit to themselves while passing the bill to our children – I suspect this “subset” is really a Committee of the Whole.

I just don’t get why thoughtful people would obsesses about tax RATES but ignore deficits. The only way a politician cuts the size of government is to CUT THE SIZE OF GOVERNMENT. Many people look at tax rates or government revenues as some measure of government, as if debts will never come due. That’s magical thinking, folks.

The Deficit is On Both Parties

"And you’re aware that a veto cannot be overridden in the Senate without a 60-vote majority, right? (And you’re aware that the Republicans threatened a “nuclear option” to eliminate this 60-vote supermajority clause, right?)"

... and you are aware of the fact that you can't pass a bill with a veto, only stop one, and you are aware that you can't increase spending without passing a bill.

... and you've heard of a filibuster.

"According to economist Ben Friedman, the huge deficits wracked up in the Reagan years were only 8% larger than the huge deficits PROPOSED in the Reagan budgets."

Because Reagan proposed tax cuts, which passed.

I've always found this stuff silly from an economic point of view. For example, the Greenspan boom was caused by monetary inflation that lead to the Clinton surplus. The economy really wasn't about Clinton.

That boom crashed just as Bush II was coming into office so of course he's going to run deficits compared to Clinton no matter what he did. He did choose to spend like a sailor but the Democrats were on board with that. Likewise Volcker was reining in high interest rates as Reagan came into office. The "Deficit" isn't just about spending.

Many of the programs that the Democrats put in place moving forward generated lots of costs for following Republican administrations.

If you think it's just the Democrats or the Republicans that ran up the deficit then you are foolish.

Recap

And you’re aware that a veto cannot be overridden in the Senate without a 60-vote majority, right? (And you’re aware that the Republicans threatened a “nuclear option” to eliminate this 60-vote supermajority clause, right?)

... and you are aware of the fact that you can't pass a bill with a veto, only stop one, and you are aware that you can't increase spending without passing a bill.

Uh ... yeah. That’s the point.

Brandon Berg felt aggrieved by naughty “leftists” causing government to spend money. I pointed out that, in practice, the difference between “leftists” and “rightists” is not their propensity to spend, but their willingness to raise taxes to cover the spending. When “leftists” spend money they tend let the public know (through contemporaneous taxes) the cost of those programs; “rightists” also spend money, but are too chicken to raise taxes contemporaneously; they leave their messes for others to clean up.

IF a President really wanted to reduce spending, he could demonstrate that intent by using two big tools at his disposal: the budget and the veto. Reagan and Bush manifestly didn't. The spending of the Reagan years tracked very closely to the level of spending Reagan requested; no leftists required. And Bush’s spending was even more notorious. He famously never saw a spending program he wouldn’t sign until the last two years of his administration, so any suggestion that his spending was the work of “leftists” seems especially far-fetched.

Sure enough, you can’t pass a bill with a veto. But we’re not discussing how a President would ENCOURAGE spending; we’re discussing how he could demonstrate his commitment to STOP spending. A budget and a veto would seem to be the tools for the job – tools that Reagan and Bush never seemed very inclined to use.

... and you've heard of a filibuster.

Yup. That’s why I mentioned the 60-vote majority in the Senate: that’s the number of votes a party needs for cloture, cutting off debate (and thereby ending a filibuster). If neither party has a 60-vote majority in the Senate, the President can successfully wield a veto. And neither party has had that 60-vote majority for a while now.

Moreover, because a party needs this 60-vote super-majority to get anything controversial done, this long-standing rule makes the Senate more conservative and serves as a drag on government action. Yet it was the Republicans that threatened the “nuclear option” of eliminating this rule. Again this belies any suggestion that Republicans are stalwarts against expanding governmental action.

Enough with the “leftist” boogeyman. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Real vs. imagined differences

I've always found this stuff silly from an economic point of view....

If you think it's just the Democrats or the Republicans that ran up the deficit then you are foolish.

Fair enough. Indeed, my point is that most efforts to distinguish between the economic policies of Democrats and Republicans strike me as over-stated.

But that is not to say that there are no differences. For example, evidence support the following propositions:

1. The national debt grows faster under Republican administrations than under Democratic ones. In the past quarter century, the debt grew at an average rate of 4.3% under democratic administrations but at 10.8% under Republican ones. (Note that the author uses the term "neocon" where I would use the term "supply-sider.")

2. The economy grows faster under Democratic administrations than under Republican ones. (Comments of Alan Blinder)

3. Income inequality increases under Republican administrations and decreases under Democratic ones. See also "Unequal Democracy" by Larry M. Bartels. And, for what it’s worth, David Frum argues that growing income inequality will ultimately spell the death of the Republican Party.

Bullshit statistics

This is bullshit statistics. It's bullshit (not the same as lies) because anyone can easily slice the world a different way and come to different conclusions. For example, you focus on Democrat versus Republican presidents, but what about congress? Clinton had a Republican congress, Reagan had a Democratic congress, and Bush, in the years immediately preceding the current recession, had a Democratic congress. Furthermore, the economic cycle of boom and bust means that some degree of blame on a bust needs to be placed on the boom preceding, so you can't just directly link a given economy to the people in charge when it's happening, there's plenty of reason to blame it on policies that were put in place many years previously, even when, especially when, those policies led to a boom in the short term.

In fact we can expect politicians to be motivated to sacrifice the long term for the short term. And we here today are the long term of politicians in power a long time ago, so we have good reason to suspect that politicians of many years ago deserve a large share of the blame for our current misfortunes.

I admire a healthy skepticism. That said....

This is bullshit statistics. It's bullshit (not the same as lies) because anyone can easily slice the world a different way and come to different conclusions. For example, you focus on Democrat versus Republican presidents, but what about congress? Clinton had a Republican congress, Reagan had a Democratic congress, and Bush, in the years immediately preceding the current recession, had a Democratic congress.

Uh ... dude?

Didja read the linked text about the deficit?

Like, Figure 5, which shows which party controlled which branches of government when the deficit was reduced? And, like, the text that precedes it? Maybe starting with the paragraph that begins, “It is interesting to note who controlled Congress versus what party was in the presidency during the seven years that the debt was reduced ...”? Just sayin.’

If you had, you’d know:

- The Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate from 2000-2006 (except for 2001, when Jeffords switched party affiliation and gave the Democrats a one-vote control of the Senate for a year), as well as the White House. The deficit exploded.

- The previous time Republicans controlled both houses was during the last six years of the Clinton Administration, which used the Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) budgeting system. Government ran a modest deficit each year, although the budget nearly balanced in the last year.

- The previous time the Republicans controlled both houses was 1953-54, under the Republican President Eisenhower. Again the gov’t ran a deficit.

- Is it even possible for Republicans to pay down some debt? Well, the last time a Republican president reduced the debt was in 1956-57 – and that was with a Democratic House and Senate. The last time the either a Republican House or Republican Senate contributed to reducing the national debt was 1947 – and that was while implementing the budget of Democratic President Truman.

- A Democratic House, Senate and President combined efforts to reduce our national debt as recently as 1961. A Republican House, Senate and President combined efforts to reduce our national debt as recently as .... well, I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

But, as you say, correlation is not causation. Probably all coincidence.

[T]he economic cycle of boom and bust means that some degree of blame on a bust needs to be placed on the boom preceding, so you can't just directly link a given economy to the people in charge when it's happening, there's plenty of reason to blame it on policies that were put in place many years previously, even when, especially when, those policies led to a boom in the short term.

For what it’s worth, Bartels does use a one-year lag for a president to implement a new economic policy. Thus, for purposes of his analysis, the 2001 recession was counted against Clinton, not Bush.

To be sure, you are not the only person to express incredulity with the data. Indeed, after generating a plot of Bartel’s data regarding the stark differences between the rates of growth, and the disparity of income distribution, Paul Krugman acknowledged –

I’ve known about this result for quite a while. But I’ve never written it up. Why? Because I can’t figure out a plausible mechanism. Even though I believe that politics has a big effect on income distribution, this is just too strong — and too immediate — for me to see how it can be done.

So you’re in good company. Or .... well, you’re in company, anyway.

Deficit

But, as you say, correlation is not causation. Probably all coincidence.

I did not say that correlation is not causation.

To be sure, you are not the only person to express incredulity with the data.

I did not express incredulity "with" the data. I pointed out that it was easy to construct any number of narratives out of the data that exists (which is much greater than the data you have selected to present). And I have enough experience with this sort of thing to recognize a laughably partisan account when I see one.

Good risk reward ratio to steal from leftists.

I maintain that it's okay to steal from leftists.

Launch a green investment fund.

Create the appearance of good connection with the government, and emphasize that you are investing in businesses likely to be the beneficiaries of government favor policies that encourage responsible corporate behavior. Operate as Ponzi scheme.

Ponzi operators tend to be self deluded. It is an essential requirement for a good Ponzi operator that one believes. In consequence, they tend to under invest in the getaway plan. Keep enough of your mind non believing to have the getaway ready. Construct a deep alternate identity with passports, debit cards, and bank accounts and absolutely no connection to your existing identity. When the time comes, discard the financier identity. Financier's yacht found abandoned at sea with note aboard yacht deeply regretting fund's failure.

Do the opposite, run the

Do the opposite, run the Ponzi scheme with the fake identity. Harder but much safer.

And you don't give up your life

Not just safer but less costly on a personal level. Relatives and long-time friends are attached to your real identity.

Sounds pretty risky, even

Sounds pretty risky, even with a fake ID. Maybe I should run it legitimately and just charge high fees.

I was thinking that maybe I could hang around Westlake Park all day and solicit donations for some dubious left-wing cause, but then I realized that it was inevitable that someone would use his iPhone (of course) to look my fake organization up on the web, and then where would I be? I guess I could use the name of a real organization, but it would be only a matter of time before an actual member of that organization wandered by and called me out.

A little context?

I question the point of judging in the absence of context. I actively try to resist forming judgments until the point where some actual decision needs to be made. And even then I strive to make judgments contingently, preparing myself for reaching a different judgment in the future. I have difficulty conceiving of a circumstance in which I would need to judge whether a person was “good” or “bad.”

So if I may ask, what inspired this discussion? Is there some specific incident or example that provoked it? I might understand this better if I had some context.

Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

[S]omeone with the wrong opinions about society ... is not a bad person except insofar as this makes him do bad things to other people - and for the most part, for most people, it does not.

Fear is the mind killer.... Fear of becoming bad, or of seeming to be bad (which, in the social part of our mind, amounts to pretty much the same thing) clouds our thought and freezes our opinion. People's political thinking is hampered by fear. They don't want to explore views which they have come to think of as "evil" because they don't want to become evil themselves, or to seem to be evil to their friends. Fear traps us intellectually.

I sense Constant is discussing the importance of freedom of thought, including freedom to explore ideas that other may find reprehensible. At the risk of hijacking this discussion, permit me to offer a context for consideration: Doe v. City of Lafayette.

Doe boldly has ideas, tastes, preferences and opinions that others disapprove of – as evidenced by his convictions for child molestation, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and window peeping. Ten years later while “on probation” – the case does not state the terms of his probation – Doe acknowledges that he gets his jollies by watching Little League games; no contact, just looking and fantasizing. Subsequently Doe gets a letter from the City of Lafayette saying that he’s no longer welcome in public parks. Doe sues.

In Doe v. City of Lafayette, 334 F.3d 606 (7th Cir. 2003), a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit strikes down the City’s ban, finding that there is no such thing as a criminal thought. Citing the maxim cogitationis poenam nemo patitur (no one is punishable solely for his thoughts), the court quotes all the great cases regarding freedom of thought: "No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion." W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). "Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds." Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1969). "This fear - that thoughts alone may encourage action - is not enough to curb protected thinking.... First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end." Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002).

We find the substance of Doe's sexual fantasies about children repugnant and deplorable. But, of course, the fact that this court or the City of Lafayette finds Doe's thoughts offensive does not limit the amount of First Amendment protection they are afforded.

Thus an ex-con bank robber is free to stand outside a bank and think about robbing it, so long as he does not do so. A drug addict is free to stand outside a dealer’s house, "craving a hit but successfully resist[ing] the urge to enter...." And generally, people are free to hang out in public areas near the objects of their desires and fantasize, so long as they don’t act on their fantasies. This applies to pedophiles, too.

But on re-hearing, the decision is reversed. Doe v. City of Lafayette, 377 F.3d 757 (7th Cir.2004). Upon reflection, the court decides, the right to equal access to public parks is not a fundamental right, and therefore the court was mistaken to subject the legislature’s judgment to such rigorous scrutiny. Regarded with a less skeptical eye, a city’s interest in protecting children seems "not merely legitimate, [but] compelling." Id. at 773. And the ban was rationally related to advancing that interest: Doe had been witnessed in the park looking at children; he was a convicted child molester; and it was possible that he was heading down a "slippery slope into abuse." Id. Doe declined to seek review in the US Supreme Court, so case closed.

Was Doe a “bad man” when he molested kids? Was Doe a bad man 10 yrs later for having sexual thoughts about kids? Is it more useful to discuss what Doe DOES rather than what Doe IS?

And was justice served?

(And Constant, if this post is gonna distract from your larger point, feel free to delete it.)

Not Just a Mind Crime

"Thus an ex-con bank robber is free to stand outside a bank and think about robbing it, so long as he does not do so."

Yes, but can he advocate robbing banks? Can he use his skills to case out banks for fellow "citizens" just so long as he doesn't know about any active plans to rob?

Likewise could this child molesting Doe advocate child molestation.

One thing I don't see considered here is the fear that the parents have. There really is no reason for a child molester to be hanging out and actively drooling over young kids at the park. The fact that the people know his history and see him there will cause them quite a bit of anxiety. It seems to me that it's a kind of harassment. He's more than just thinking thoughts, which he could do at home.

Likewise I think there's a difference between reading a book on genocide that occured, or a fictional book about some character who wishes to commit genocide, and actually selling a book with the intent of advocating genocide, or giving a pro-position speech based on such a book.

You should really consider

You should really consider writing an ode to hypocrites. They seem to be the backbone of ideas like this.

political views do indicate character:

People who are in favor of political measures that are apt to require horrifying means, are themselves apt to individually and personally employ horrifying means.

I'm not afraid of Hollywood actors

Hollywood actors are apt to glorify evil and spit on good. But I'm not afraid of them. They're self-admiring imbeciles, and they clothe themselves in the opinions - and other gestures - they've seen win admiration. I think their primary motivation is succeed socially.

That's true of a lot of people aside from Hollywood actors, especially young people, who are still hyper-social. Unrelenting merciless verbal abuse of the out group is a social plus, and this in turn gives people all the more reason to espouse the popular views. People come to believe that which they need outwardly to seem to believe (a different example of this is the tendency of kidnap victims to develop affection for their captors - Stockholm Syndrome).

It is not all peer pressure, but the effectiveness of peer pressure in producing conformity to a dominant view suggests that, for many of us, our political views are not strongly tied to the sort of people we are. Believing the right things about politics is an inexpensive way of gaining admission into a group, as contrasted with actually doing good or being virtuous, and it appears to be a route that many people take.

A separate point: bad politics are to some extent the product of delusion, of error. And it is not easy for a person to think about the world, about society, as a whole, without falling into error, because people are not well-equipped mentally to handle that subject. People tend to apply thinking that works on a small scale, to the large scale, where it fails. The very same habits of mind that support wise individual action - and therefore, that support goodness and virtue - when re-applied to the larger world, can support unwise and monstrous political action.

To give an example, it is important that people have a hair-trigger tendency to recognize agents (other people and animals), and to classify those agents as friendly or menacing. It is critical to survival. This same tendency seems to be at work in a lot of political thinking and in various disastrous ways, for instance in the tendency to see society as a whole as if it were a single agent (e.g. collectivism), to see subgroups in the society as if they were single agents (e.g. the treatment of classes and races as if they were, or ought to be, united in solidarity), and to see events as having been intentionally caused by malign agents (e.g. conspiracy theory) or benign agents (e.g. the tendency to give heads of state credit for improvements that they really had nothing to do with).

At the personal level, it is often easy to translate intentions into reality. If someone wants to buy milk, milk will be bought. If someone wants to pour that milk into a glass, that milk will be poured. At the personal level, it is reasonable to expect intention to reliably produce results, and to view results as having been intended (e.g. if milk is bought, it is a good bet that the buyer intended to buy milk).

But when this idea is applied to society as a whole, this idea that intentions are efficacious, then it gives rise to the unconstrained vision that is so characteristic of left wing thinking.

A willingness to entertain potentially deadly errors

bad politics are to some extent the product of delusion, of error. And it is not easy for a person to think about the world, about society, as a whole, without falling into error, because people are not well-equipped mentally to handle that subject. People tend to apply thinking that works on a small scale, to the large scale, where it fails. The very same habits of mind that support wise individual action - and therefore, that support goodness and virtue - when re-applied to the larger world, can support unwise and monstrous political action.

One can, and many people do, support socialism through simple error - most people interpret our present economy as a command economy, so surely we should have a command economy with the wise and good (people like my wise and good self) in charge instead of the greedy and selfish.

People who delusively equate virtue with being in favor of good things, are unlikely to actually do good things. People who delusively embrace political measures that involve doing very bad things on an enormous scale, are apt to delusively rationalize their own quite horrifying and grossly evil conduct.

Pol Pot's crew were a classic and extreme illustration of this. They were sincerely in favor of good things, were in a sense saints, saints in the sense of David Friedman's poem, also saints in the sense that those who met them were personally deeply impressed by their saintliness. It was easy for them to be saintly, because deluded. Their saintliness was compatible with dreadful conduct, because based on delusion. They made the classic socialist argument that in agriculture on a flood plain, what the upstream peasant does to the water strongly affects the downstream peasant, so obviously we need centralized management of water, and water was most of the economy of Cambodia. Any sound economists would sagely nod his head to that argument and say say yes, Cambodia was a good case for socialist economic policies.

Pol Pot's crew very sincerely set about doing good. Because their reality testing was extremely poor, they failed to notice that doing all the good that they were doing had a superficial similarity to stealing the peasant's food, using it to buy guns and Johnny Walker whiskey, and leaving the peasant nothing to eat. When they finally much belated noticed that things were extremely bad and rapidly getting much worse, they were horrified and deeply concerned. They showed how deeply horrified and concerned they were by their vigorous search for the evil traitors that had caused this terrible outcome, and proceeded to torture enormous numbers of people to death, including comrades and childhood friends.

Bingo.

Bingo.

Faith in the supremacy of reason?

Everyone wants to be a good person, and people espouse certain views in order to feel that they are good and to project to others an image of themselves as good people, and people are afraid of entertaining contrary views because they are afraid that they will be tainted by it, made bad. And indeed, in the view of many, they are made bad by it....

Fear is the mind killer.... Fear of becoming bad, or of seeming to be bad (which, in the social part of our mind, amounts to pretty much the same thing) clouds our thought and freezes our opinion. People's political thinking is hampered by fear. They don't want to explore views which they have come to think of as "evil" because they don't want to become evil themselves, or to seem to be evil to their friends. Fear traps us intellectually.

That community is already in the process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non-conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection; ...where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent; where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not enter our convictions in the open lists, to win or lose.... The mutual confidences on which all else depend can be maintained only by an open mind and a brave reliance upon free discussion.

Speech to the Board of Regents, University of the State of New York (October 24, 1952)