I’m going to try and dump some positions on politics I have here in no particular order and see if some kind of coherent identity is apparent by the end. Even better a cohesive message that someone else may identify with. This is just a personal exercise after being inundated with histrionics and naked partisanship in these early days of Trump.

vitra-eames-lounge-chair-and-ottoman
A contemporary Eames chair which sells for $5000, betraying the original mission statement. There’s a moral in there that is germane here.

I think if I had to boil my position on the role of government in society and policy into one sentence, I would plagiarize borrow the Eames design slogan: government should do the best for the most for the least.

It’s just one sentence but there’s a lot to unpack. First of all is the action verb “do”. I think government should do things. Is it asinine to back up to that level? Maybe. Being embedded in the political atmosphere I’m in (Southeast Texas), I feel like that needs to be said. Many people here myopically want government to shrivel away completely, asphyxiated by dwindling budgets. I acknowledge the need and role of administrative (as opposed to punitive) government.

I think the government plays a role in guiding society toward a consensus state of progress. Consensus to me means broad goals of equality, justice, and health. That separates me from libertarians who think only a punitive government should exist. I say punitive vs administrative to separate the military and safety (police, fire) roles of government from administrative roles- basically everything else: regulations, trade, safety nets, etc.

I say that the government should guide society, that verb guide is intentional. To me that means the government should have a soft hand wherever possible. I believe in a smartly regulated market, and the value of competition and enterprise. At the intersection of both is smart policy that is sustainable and guides us to long term goals that could not be met with profit-driven enterprise alone, or government run programs alone. The government is basically an incubator for things that don’t derive profit but have value.

There is a deeper philosophical perspective I have here: value and profit are overlapping but not identical. Energy is both valuable and profitable. We need energy for everything, which includes noble endeavors that have value. On the other hand, some medicines have great value but little profit, or vice versa. A powerful vaccine may be incredibly valuable but the eradication of its target ailment puts itself out of market. These are just two illustrations but across every sector there are areas where value and profit diverge. I see the role of government as a regulating force to ensure that unprofitable endeavors of great value are addressed.

viagraa1
~$1.8b revenue yearly, zero lives saved. 

Combining the “soft hand” with the “value-profit angle”- where the angle is the divergence between profit and value- and I start to see the kind of policy I think would work. Namely, using incentives and disincentives to guide business mostly, or to incubate business/nonprofits to support value without profit. To me this point of view allows me to marry two seemingly opposing views: that government should work through private enterprise, but that government should regulate businesses to maximize value.

An example of the former is the government contracting to or purchasing services from private business to have profit from value where there would otherwise be no profit. The simplest example of this is commissioning infrastructure. A more controversial example would be leveraging private enterprise to do things traditionally administered by civil servants, like education and qualified healthcare. I’m not diametrically against private education or healthcare- I want the best for the most for the least.

An example of the latter would be dis/incentives for business to guide their behavior away from negative value. Negative value is generally harm and costs to society that would otherwise be externalized without protections. Pollution is the most visible negative-value that is externalized when companies shirk their responsibility to clean up their mess. I would tax this behavior, use the revenue to contract direct cleanup or offsetting activities. This may or may not explicitly include carbon emissions, political will depending.

So the unholy alliance of the soft hand and value-profit angle puts me in a position to upset everyone. Your classic liberal would not like privatization of government-run education or healthcare. Your classic conservative would not like environmental regulations, particularly in the form of taxes. This is how contrarians know they’re on the right path.

Stay tuned, I think the next stream-of-consciousness will focus more on domestic punitive policy, institutional racism, right-to-life, and other lighthearted topics.

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