In The Long Run We Are All Dead

This week’s Courier Herald Column:

 

In the long run we are all dead. – John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes has become the whipping post for many who have studied just enough economics to not understand the subject but convince others who have not studied it at all that they are experts.  That, fortunately for those of you still reading, is a column topic for another day.  Instead we will take his quote about the importance of not focusing too much on the “long run” when trying to solve near term economic problems and extrapolate his lesson to politics.

Politics, civics, and governance itself must have long term goals.  But we all live in and through a series of short term decisions, actions, and consequences.  It is the sum of these short term actions – and more specifically to the point, inactions – that create our long term political outlook.  The fact of the matter is too many participating in today’s political system are playing only a long run game.  In doing so, life and an increasing number of those who eschew political participation are passing us by.

We have entered a seemingly unending battle where both major parties and those who support them battle more for gridlock than they do for governance.  We live in a politically charged atmosphere where keeping a problem as an issue for the next election is preferred over solving problems.

Fundamental to this issue, at least on the Republican side, is the preference to reject incrementalism in favor of an all or nothing approach.  Instead of taking or even planning for a series of smaller victories, Republicans are content to merely play defense until a magical unspecified time in the future when they envision having the power to enact sweeping legislation to correct all that they see wrong with the world.

Instead of planning a strategy to win a series of smaller battles on a path to a smaller and more limited version of government, Republicans have instead turned their focus inward and are arguing over who is the most pure, and who will sit at the right hand of those in power when this unplanned day eventually comes where all problems are solved on their terms.

Meanwhile, more and more are leaving the political process and getting on with their lives.  And these short run events that those trying to govern are not insignificant.  A child born upon the election of President Obama is now in elementary school.  A college graduate of that year has had six annual performance reviews presuming he or she found and kept a job.

While the political class continues to fight the same scripted battle for an approving but diminishing number who demand nothing less than purity, those who have checked out of the political process have started solving problems on their own.  It is an irony that should not escape those who spread the prophecy of limited government but refuse to accept smaller or short term deals to begin to reign in the mess of which we have brought upon ourselves but don’t seem to have the stomach to control.

But Keynes, often misquoted and misunderstood, somewhat saw this coming too, saying “The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied by our real problems – the problems of life and human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.”

Those stuck in the middle between feuding hyper-partisans are checking out of the process for good measure.  There is little in the political process for them, and they have learned the economic reality that they will get a higher return on their efforts if they focus on what they can control within their own lives.  They’ve moved on to their own real problems that are more within their realm of control.

And thus, those that are fighting only a long run political battle have sealed their eventual defeat by ignoring the fact that those who understand markets – those who want to see a return for their time and effort – are using these very principles to avoid involvement in a political process that demands conformity and purity.

Politics must have a long run vision based on clearly articulated principles.  Victory, however, must be measured as to whether a group is getting closer to or farther away from this vision.

Those seeking purity over progress will seal the fate of their party if allowed to succeed.  For in the long run, their party will be dead.

47 comments

  1. Patrick T. Malone says:

    Charlie, thanks for reminding us once again that “purity over progress” is a losing hand. Liberals are so vulnerable right now based on their results of the last 6 years but conservatives insist on “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”.

    • Scott65 says:

      I would say republicans have been handing them quite the winning hand…vast overreach in almost anything…just look at NC. Voter suppression, income redistribution UPWARD, eliminating unemployment benefits with the 5th worst unemployment of the 50 states? Is that a way to win elections…no. Thats the way to energize your opponent.

  2. Scott65 says:

    Problem is that there is no “long term” vision in the republican party. Saying you are for smaller limited government is all nice sounding until you have to delve into the particulars. When you do that, the vast majority of Americans do not support you. Examples…medicare (get your government hands off my medicare comes to mind), progams to aid the poor (snap, head start, school lunch programs), and many others that people want to preserve.
    People dont care about the long term debt because as recent events show…nobody really knows what the debt will be 20 years from now, nor do they really care. We have to live now…not worry about 20 years from now

    • Baker says:

      Wow – “We have to live now…not worry about 20 years from now”

      Bingo. What a perfect illustration of our problems. I agree with Charlie whole-heartedly (is that not how you spell that?) on this column. Conservatives are acting like idiots and can’t seem to win over voter when liberals think we shouldn’t think about the future at all. I don’t know how old you are Scott65, perhaps 65?, but I plan on being around in 20 years and would like to live in America. I care what we do now because it will have dividends in the year 2033. Be they nasty and brutish or rosy and rainbow-filled.

      And the American voter will start paying attention in June/July of 2016 and it won’t matter what the parties are doing but whichever candidate sounds the coolest. Oh brother.

  3. Joshua Morris says:

    This article assumes that those who get elected have pure motives. The fact is that we live in a world of favors and reciprocity. Money rules. Purity of principle is a smokescreen.

    True statesmen would never have put the People of this Nation under the control of bureaucrats as we are now.

    • Charlie says:

      The article doesn’t assume anything. It’s an article.

      The writer doesn’t assume that either. The point remains. If you want to change the system, you can sit back and dream of a day when there are no bureaucrats and you have your nirvana, or you can actually start working on a realistic strategy where you take what you can get as you can get it, and continue working until you’re long run dead.

      • Joshua Morris says:

        Everyone knows there will never be any nirvana, even those who yell the loudest. Most of them are out for personal gain. Do you really believe we’ll ever slowly begin to dismantle this people machine we have built? I don’t see anyone in power willing to do that.

        Our ‘economic problem’ has been slowly intermingled with our ‘real problems,’ and unlike Keynes, I don’t believe the economic problem can take a back seat in our day. Look at Greece and Spain, for example. The tragedy is that too many of us are too busy just trying to make a decent living to be able to focus on all that’s happening in our government. Meanwhile, our Nation is cruising to bankruptcy at breakneck speed while we toil. The long run may run out on this economy before we’re dead.

        I believe our Founders were interested in a few great victories for the long run, and yep, they’re all dead. Theirs were not victories made up of small deals; they were monumental victories of coalition-building. What they did was worthwhile, and although we’ve managed to muck it up pretty handily, I appreciate how my life is affected by their foresight. This, to me, illustrates the difference between a progressive liberal and an honest conservative–the conservative relies on what history has taught him to solve long-term problems, and the progressive tries new and random feel-good ideas to address only what’s in front of his nose. How do you bridge that divide?

        In my limited exposure to the political process, I’m learning more each day that my efforts to change the system are far outweighed by those with cash. Nevertheless, I can stand on the principles I know are right and just hope somebody with the power and ability to change policy will eventually make a drastic move to solidify this economy before it falls in on itself.

        • Jackster says:

          “progressive liberal and an honest conservative” the conservative relies on what history has taught him to solve long-term problems, and the progressive tries new and random feel-good ideas to address only what’s in front of his nose. How do you bridge that divide?

          Really?
          I would stop the odious demagoguery and attempt to understand where they are coming from. Initiating discussion with those “principles” will only get you labeled as a partisan, and then you will have an uphill battle toward credibility.

          You have to figure out what’s important and practical in the short term – that will be easy to define, defend, and flexible enough to convey in an intellectually honest way. It’s important to have perspective.

        • You can start by studying your history – for a long time the USA has sustainably brought in about 18% of GDP in revenue and spent about 21%, financing the rest at low rates and seeing the difference eaten away by inflation and growth in the economy. That should be our goal now, sustainable structural long term deficits, which have worked well for 100 years.

          Instead, many conservatives seem to want to yell Spain! or Greece! even though it isn’t even close to our situation and they yell this because they want to throw out “random feel-good ideas to address only what’s in front of their nose” – in other words they want to drastically remake this country by overhauling the way government works despite the fact that it has worked pretty well and should continue to.

          Isn’t it funny that conservatives want to try to radically alter the fabric of this nation, while “progressives” mostly just want to get back to the business as usual which provided for massive growth and wealth creation over the past 100 years?

          • George Chidi says:

            The mad thing is that if conservatives merely adopted the very reasonable argument you’ve made here as their own — as a conservative argument — they would win many of the right-leaning moderates they’ve lost over the last six years. The 18-21 split concedes less than it demands, since spending had been around 25 percent of GDP while revenue had been running around 16 percent. Bake in numbers a bit closer than average for a few years to make up for the last few years, and you have a reasonable argument.

            I still don’t understand how taking this position on fiscal matters somehow defines me as a progressive lefty, suitable for being called a socialist. It’s proportionately the budget of 1995. It speaks to how radical the conservative base is. Radical. As in, fundamentally at odds with the common practices in their lifetime.

            Are they truly in charge of their party, or just the loudest? That’s the question.

        • Scott65 says:

          First…the United States is a sovereign currency nation. It is impossible…I M P O S S I B L E..to go broke. Congress can refuse to pay our debts but we will ALWAYS have currency. If you have money, by definition you cant go broke.

          “the conservative relies on what history has taught him to solve long-term problems, and the progressive tries new and random feel-good ideas to address only what’s in front of his nose.”

          If the conservative relied on history, he would know that tax cuts when at war dont stimulate growth. It just increases debt. That trickle down economics is a myth. That debt is totally unimportant when you are in a liquidity trap…in other words, that line is garbage. Also, I would argue that many in the republican party are not conservatives at all. My experience tells me that liberals are not “feel-good” types either. Nice try to conjure up the image of hippies, but thats not what liberals are about. Conservatives are all about ME and for ME solutions. Liberals think more about WE and WE based solutions. Whats good for ME isnt usually very good for WE…thats why the rich in this country continue to prosper at ever increasing levels, and everyone else…not so much

          • George Chidi says:

            Scott … we can go broke. It’ll just look different.

            Broke, for America, means a fundamental loss of confidence in our currency. That means borrowing at dramatically higher interest rates, an inability to import goods at a reasonable cost from foreign countries — like oil — and the loss of extra financial value imparted to the dollar because of its universal reserve currency status.

            Broke means our corn and wheat will start to look cheap on the world market, assuming we can buy or produce enough fertilizer to keep growing it the way we do. Probably not. Our farmers will export much more of our crop for hard currency, causing domestic prices to rise to parity or worse with the rest of the world.

            Broke means mothballing most of the Navy and Air Force and drawing down most of the Army — call it an extra percentage point of unemployment, minimum. Broke means the equivalent of $10 a gallon gas in today currency.

            Textiles and heavy manufacturing may return because production costs may fall relative to the rest of the world — some of that is already happening, thanks to growth in high-production countries like Mexico and China. And, ironically, land will probably hold value or increase in relative value to the average buying power of an American … but not of our rivals, who might be expected to purchase more American property with their stronger currency.

            Mostly, broke locks in wealth. Broke means economic stagnation, an end to mobility and the death of the American Dream. If you’re rich or internationally mobile, broke doesn’t matter. The rest of us will suffer something that looks like England in the 70s or Japan in the late 90s.

          • Charlie says:

            It’s been a while, but I see you’re back with your “we can’t go broke” crap.

            Tell me again why we have to collect taxes at all if we can’t go broke? Because if your theory is correct, we don’t need them at all.

            Your “understanding” of economics is dangerous and based on political wishes and not anyone’s actual economic theories.

          • seenbetrdayz says:

            Your posts make me wish the GOP would just quit trying and hand over the reigns so when the horse cart crashes there’ll be no doubt as to who was driving.

            But of course that would be extremely painful.

            • Baker says:

              +1

              That’s exactly what I wish they’d do with healthcare. I know it’s easy for me to say as a “healthy”, albeit rotunder-than-I-want, 30-yr-old, but I wish they’d just say okay Dems, you want this? Let’s implement it as fast as we can. No delays. No exemptions…particularly for Congress. Don’t actively support, but put up your hands, say a big Dick Cheney to Patrick Leahy, and let them own it.

              • seenbetrdayz says:

                No doubt. All these cries about the ‘defund it’ anti-Obamacare movement. That’s exactly the opposite of what the GOP should be doing.

                It makes more sense to let the American people feel first-hand what it is going to take to fund it. Then you rest your case.

        • Rick Day says:

          This, to me, illustrates the difference between a progressive liberal and an honest conservative–the conservative relies on what history has taught him to solve long-term problems, and the progressive tries new and random feel-good ideas to address only what’s in front of his nose. How do you bridge that divide?

          By using bridgers aka moderates. A competitor took the conservative route and followed historical protocols. I took the liberal one [as labeled above] and tried new and feel-good ideas . Today I have the successful business. The conservative now works for me. I’ve taken over his business.

          Mentally picture a horseshoe. or a bell curve.

          Once, during my tenure with Leadership Dallas, the first thing we did was make a horseshoe out of the class. At the extreme ends were the types you describe above. Of course, I was the most ‘liberal’ of the class. What we found was between the two gaps are people called ‘bridgers’ who have the skills to take the two extremes, flesh out the ideas and sooth the cautions of the extremes. Turns out that 80% of the class were considered bridgers.

          In politics, bridgers are called moderates or centrists, while the extreme L/R ends of the horseshoe are called ‘extremists’. Most of them have left in frustration because the extremes hold the power in Congress and the state legislators.

          tl;dr This horse (government) won’t move without functional horseshoes (moderates), brah. We must focus on a ‘new’ political animal: electing moderates as the majority.

  4. Jackster says:

    In practice, I agree with the idea you should look at the opportunities and decisions currently in front of you as a way to start building a record, system, and argument for a long term goal.

    However, I also view the current maze of conflicting data requirements for federal funding, state and local programs requiring varying and disjointed information for eligibility, and above all, a system that lends itself to complexity simply because there are no “long term” measures and goals to simplify its use and efficacy for the people. (Example: Can someone tell me (easily) what the average class size and spending are for a student / classroom in their county? Not easily – it will take you a few hours.)

    I think many politicians and policy makers have been thinking short term to try to build on other battles previously fought, but without regard for participation by those who are not of the political class.

  5. Robin Wheeler says:

    This is very much along the same lines of my FB argument on my personal page last week. When we can get back to governing rather than judging, we – our political party and our country as a whole – will once again be successful. If the pendulum could ever swing closer to the middle and stop the in-figthing, we would be unstoppable. But that will not happen. Fortunately, we have up and coming enthusiastic activists like Jessica Liberty Drum Smith Savannah and Tori Wester who inject excitement with their platforms. Sadly, we also have people, myself included, who feel dissatisfied and frustrated. And please, don’t tell me that I am part of the problem if I am not part of the solution. I have been down that road year after year after year, paid my toll fees every time and have YET to see any real change or progress from my party. So if we all die in the end, I choose to spend more time now with my family and less time being a political activist. I do hope, that there are more Jessica and Tori’s rising up than there are Robin’s taking a rest.

    • Rick Day says:

      Frankly, I blame the media. Reporting on the drama is self-serving because it leads to more political $pending for ads, and provides ad revenue fodder for pundit ‘news programs’.

      No one loves a circus more than those who profit from its existence.

      Follow the money.

  6. Robin Wheeler says:

    Yes, Exactly!

    Further, this quote is from “The Hill” article on Saxby’s seat:

    Eric Tanenblatt, a Georgia strategist who advised and was national finance co-chair for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, says he’s worried the candidates haven’t acknowledged the state’s shifting demographics. Georgia has fast-growing African-American and Hispanic populations and a large number of younger voters moving in from across the country.
    “Georgia is changing, and the further you go to the right in the primary, the more difficult that becomes in the general,” he says. “If we’re not careful, we could create an unfortunate situation for ourselves.”

    I rest my case.

    • Harry says:

      Don’t rest your case too quickly. Turns out the “youths” are the most alienated and distrusting of government. That’s a good thing to know as we attempt to shut down the DC business as usual.

      • Rick Day says:

        Harry, motivated with potential real world solution candidates (Obama comes to mind) even the kids will come out to vote.

        Also, you are dismissing that youth force behind Occupy. You don’t think they have forgotten the people who infest this blog with their sneers, name calling and dismissive attitudes, do you?

        Unfortunately, they can read too. And the old Klingon proverb goes “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

  7. saltycracker says:

    Our politicians thrive in the short term, continually micro-managing and tweaking the countless provisions they vote in without reading or understanding in attempts to serve those who influence them. Genius is in simplicity, politics is the opposite.

    Americans will do the right thing only after everything else has failed (WC) then repeat the process.

    “Why can’t we all get along?” Two catalysts and that doesn’t mean they are bad.

    1. Diversity: race, culture, religion, economics
    2. Migration: local, regional, state, global, electronic transiency.

    The positive side of reason is that all men were created equal to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

    The dark side of human nature is to have our particular positions trump others.

    Our leaders must be ones that balance individual rights with our needs to live as a community.

    Looks more like we are polarizing.

  8. Scott65 says:

    The biggest problem is the absence of facts. Hearing republican go on about the debt, and thus we need to make medicare a voucher system, eliminate SNAP, and somehow that lowering corporate tax rates will bring in more income (because all that money offshore in Bermuda they are paying ZERO tax on will magically come back)…well after a while it becomes obvious that its a smoke and mirror game. Ask a politician which SPECIFIC program they want to cut and what do you get…a failed farm bill, a failed transportation bill, and a failed congress…because they know that this is bad policy… and when the specifics are known, it will defeat them in the next election, thus in the end they have to vote no against these cuts

      • saltycracker says:

        Elective abortions, electric wheelchairs, tax dollar classifications of people beyond individuals, payouts exceeding taxes paid, tax deductions for incurring debt, stuff like that ?

  9. notsplost says:

    “Fundamental to this issue, at least on the Republican side, is the preference to reject incrementalism in favor of an all or nothing approach. Instead of taking or even planning for a series of smaller victories, Republicans are content to merely play defense until a magical unspecified time in the future when they envision having the power to enact sweeping legislation to correct all that they see wrong with the world.”

    Remind me, what was the last small victory the limited government wing of the GOP was able to achieve, within the past decade?

    I can think of just one, that being the sequester. However it remains to be seen if that will even matter in the long run, as the bureaucracies in the DoD and other agencies are very adept at the long game. They’d rather furlough their own personnel than cut expensive weapons systems and programs, knowing that they may get the money restored in future budgets and cutting a program would mean a permanently lower “baseline.”

    Most of the GOP politicians are firmly in the chamber of commerce’s pocket anyways. All they care about are getting highly visible “jobs” for their lobbyists.

    I’ve long maintained that the only way the limited government wing of the GOP (what’s left of it) can make headway is to make strategic alliances with the far left. I could easily see a Rand Paul / Ron Wyden alliance making headway in reining in the worst abuses of the Patriot Act.

    • Baker says:

      Pretty much agree completely.

      “I’ve long maintained that the only way the limited government wing of the GOP (what’s left of it) can make headway is to make strategic alliances with the far left. I could easily see a Rand Paul / Ron Wyden alliance making headway in reining in the worst abuses of the Patriot Act.”

      If the Occupy movement hadn’t raped itself out of relevance, they could’ve partnered with the Tea Party on things like that.

      Particularly in my mind, a focus should be on preventing/ ending too big to fail, which still has never been addressed, and other “Big _____(insert industry here)” that’s only been made possible because of collusion with the government in a, conscious or not, back-handed effort to secure their market-share and keep out smaller competitors.

  10. seekingtounderstand says:

    This is why I love Peach Pundit……………….political discussion!

    Would like to throw out a topic for future discussion……….are Georgians ready for the changes in energy policy (increasing costs) and taxation/politicization of our healthcare system?
    People work so hard to take care of their businesses, just wish families could find a way to be informed.

  11. seenbetrdayz says:

    The GOP has plenty of incrementalism. They’ve been slowly moving towards the democrats on issues for the past 50 years or so. And the democrats have been allowed to control the narrative so much so that even the slightest, miniscule suggestion of cuts is met with cries of bloody murder. When $800 billion wall street bailouts are the norm and people give themselves aneurisms because there aren’t going to be any more Air Force flyovers due to sequester—like it’s the end of the world—it’s pretty obvious that the big spenders control the narrative, through and through.

    For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction, and the rubber band’s tension is fully loaded.

    As much as I’d love to see some incrementalism back towards shrinking the size of government, between democrats who scream bloody murder and GOP folks like Charlie who keep saying we need to take baby steps, we’re gonna be in for a real dose of ‘too little, too late’ in the coming years.

    • saltycracker says:

      Good baby step, term limits at all levels -can’t argue the bureaucrats will then take over – too late -as Obama already claims he doesn’t run/know any part of government or enforcement, particularly the IRS.

      See NBC’s Chris Matthews rant on Obama/irs on you tube !

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