No. 43 (July 2000)
Left or Right? Or Something Else?
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
It's hard to miss, especially in an election year, how every politician becomes publicly dedicated to the resolution of some public issue or issues. And those who win, go into office with some sort of public mandate to indeed resolve those issues. And yet here we are, an election cycle later, with most of those same issues unresolved.
Not all politicians are corrupt, venal and/or cynically insincere. Truly though it may be getting harder and harder for them not to be. To really understand what's going on, please examine the Win/Win-Finder (in the "CPS Techniques" section of this website), and use that procedure on an issue or so. I truly think most of you will be amazed, in an area where you had gotten comfortable with some old assumptions.
If you'd really like to see some of these issues usefully resolved and some genuine public needs genuinely taken care of, please consider obtaining a copy of the (perhaps mercifully) brief book, Incentives as a Preferred Instrument of Corporate and Public Policy (under "Book Reviews" in this website).
Frankly, the book Incentives contains the bases for effective solution of easily two-thirds of all the issues at local, neighborhood, community, state, regional, national, international and world levels which ever come to public attention, and the vast majority of public needs, whether or not they ever "make it" into public attention!
Ever since the original architect of laissez-faire, Adam Smith, conservatives have felt disincentived or even dysincentived to like or even consider the approach suggested in this Incentives book because, as did Smith in 1776, it does give attention to and acknowledge some genuine public needs which must be addressed. And it includes some specified major areas Smith identified where his "invisible guiding hand" of the pricing mechanism does not constrain all private parties and interests toward the general public good.
Liberals have likewise felt disincentived regarding this same approach, because it would render unneeded much or most of the machinery and cost of government! (Which many still identify as the arena for heroically serving the public good.)
After the past few decades, is there anyone out there who still thinks government is an efficient, effective way to get things done or to get public needs met?
The conservative wants to pare down government, but shrugs off the public needs government was called into play to try to address.What results is the oscillating equilibrium between these rather uncreative fixed points of view, and the situation we now see around us.
In all fairness I must acknowledge one huge issue and public need actually resolved for the time being: public budgetary deficits and if we don't mess up soon public debt. This step was accomplished despite rather than because of our political system.
The factors which brought it about and which will bring us much more and better if we let them, you will read about next year in a new book I will be publishing then. That book's working title: Endless Abundance! Our hold on the future is still fragile and easily broken, but we do have some powerful factors working in our favor.
Acknowledging and intending to do something constructive about genuine public needs does not necessarily make one a "liberal," any more than understanding clearly how to render unneeded most of the costs and apparatus of government necessarily makes one a conservative or even a libertarian.
A third, more creative and constructive alternative awaits notice which accomplishes both these aims simultaneously. Elements of this third way are already half-understood in various corners; people have occasionally posted or legislated an incentive because it seemed somehow maybe to be a good idea, but few if any people have really thought matters through as yet. Apparently no one has yet appreciated or perceived either the scale, or the limits on, or the consequences of such an approach generalized as a way of dealing with matters public.
We levy taxes (but without regard to how we thereby are changing the incidence of various behaviors as people squirm around to avoid some of the tax burden), then we spend the public monies on needs not met by the private sector's "invisible guiding hand" market mechanisms. These needs are not met because, for chronic structural reasons, it's not worth people's private while to do the things which would meet those needs. Anyone see a slight incongruity here?
If you read through Incentives as a Preferred Instrument of Corporate and Public Policy, you likely will understand how to accomplish both these sets of aims together now and for the long haul how personal freedoms can be enjoyed on a yet greater scale as well and how to solve most of the public issues and problems which come to your attention. (Wouldn't you like to be free of those old recurrent annoyances and of some other people's bitter realities at long last?)
Or maybe not. Of those few who have read or at least acquired this book, Incentives, none have as of yet gone on a glorious crusade on behalf of its perspectives. Maybe they knew better. Maybe you will know better, too. Perhaps there is justification for the fixity of views in this area which seemingly everyone has. But is everyone right? Or everyone wrong? Or maybe indeed there is something here worthy of your attention and examination. Salud!
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