3.02.2018

An Economic Perspective on Promoting Civil Discourse


There are many ways to define economics, but I'll offer one: economics is concerned with the best allocation of scarce resources for the greatest good.  Others may use different words but this isn't bad. 

But let's unpack this definition a little.  First, the notion of scarce resources.  We all realize that we don't have unlimited resources, whether the "we" is ourselves our our government.  And yet how often do we think that "X" is good and therefore anyone who isn't for "X" is either evil or stupid.  (Substitute whatever you want for "X," as this can go both ways partisan-wise.)  In a world of unlimited resources, we can give "X" to everyone, as if we were Oprah ("you get a car and you get a car and everybody gets a car!").  But in a world of scarce resources, which is to say the real world, we have to make trade-offs.  If we want "X," we have to pony up for it, or we have to give up "Y."  Seems obvious, but check yourself the next time you spout off about how obvious it is that "X" is good and how is it possible that people can oppose that unless they're evil or stupid.  Maybe, just maybe it has nothing to do with evil or stupid and rather they're opposing because while they are fine with "X," they are not fine with the trade-offs involved in obtaining it.

Second, notice that in my definition are words like "best" and "greatest good."  Again, this seems obvious to say, but I'll say it anyway: what's "best" and "greatest good" looks different for different people.  And in a nation as diverse as ours, there are almost infinite permutations of what is "best" and "greatest good."  So whenever we have to do anything involving multiple people (which is to say basically everything that is not doing something totally by ourselves, which is to say basically everything), we have to figure out how to work together given that we all don't necessarily see things the same or want the same things.  You might be thinking "duh," and yet again I ask you to check yourself when you spout off about how obvious it is that "X" is good and if others aren't getting behind you then they are either evil or stupid.  Maybe, just maybe it has nothing to do with evil or stupid and rather they're opposing because they prefer "Y" instead and have decided that given the choice between "X" and "Y," "X" is going to have to take a backseat.

We lament that our political discourse has gotten so rancorous, and yet we are all guilty of the things I've stated above.  As much as most people prefer harmony over discord, most people also prefer not to have their perspectives automatically dismissed as evil or stupid just because they are different from yours.  We should not be timid in stating our positions and fighting for them, even with harsh words and strong emotion, and I even acknowledge there are times when civil disobedience and even destruction/violence are warranted.  But while we may disagree vehemently with opposing positions, they are not necessarily evil or stupid, and it is a civil and productive thing to consider the logic and merit behind them.
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