Thursday, September 12, 2019

How to evaluate any political argument

Start with Who.

In any policy or political debate, when considering the point a candidate is making, ask • Who are the governed? and • Who is governing?

The governed are the free—those who do good. Those governing are the ones who punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. The essence of governing, then, is to identify evil and decide how to punish it, and to identify exceptional good and decide how to praise it. What punishments for the crime? What recognition for the good would be most appropriate? That is the essence of governing. Outside of those two things, government is not there to do anything. (Distinct from evaluating public policy is the evaluation of debate about public policy.)

With that understanding, ask yourself if the candidate is proposing something that governs or something by which government participates in doing good. Doing good is a good thing, but not with the government. If you want to do good, go do it. Why use coercive government to do it? This is dangerousGood policy debate is about how government reacts to the actions of others. Bad policy debate is about making the government a participant in whatever area the candidate is focused.

If those governing are promising to use government to do good or make government “a force for good,” then ask yourself, Who will be there to govern them while their government attempts to do those supposedly good things?

A government monitoring for good/evil vs. a government doing good: this difference can be subtle in words, and it is monumental not only in terms of potential consequences, but in the nature the policy debate itself. (For instance, both sides may talk about “freedom,” and one side is intent on government doing less, and the other is intent on government doing more.) This difference plays out in a variety of ways.

The broadest way in which this distinction can be seen also has the greatest tendency to blur the distinction: economics. Everything can be assigned a monetary value. When government activity generates economic activity, or at least when that activity can be assigned a monetary value, economics then portrays governing as just another of those governed. The specific power-and-authority relationship between the governed and the governing is not reflected in the numbers; it may affect the numbers, but the numbers do not directly show this relationship. According to the numbers, governing can appear as just another of those governed.

In a free market, competitors innovate products and customers choose among the products with the highest value and lowest costs for their purposes. If government comes along in the name of “best practices” and crowns a market winner, then what was once a winner by competition now has a monopoly. Prices no longer adjust according to customers (demand) and competitors (supply), but are set by policymakers. Government now has a role in the market, not just over a market.

Another way in which the governed and governing have gotten confused is with family. Some social justice-focused people argue that government should step in as a loving parent when parents are absent. This sounds compassionate. It is not. • First, families love; government does not. Love is voluntary; government creates duty. • Second, due to its inherent compulsory nature, even when it's doing good, government only does good insofar as it is compelled to do so. Yes, there are some hard working social workers out there, but no social worker or government structure will ever match the ability or the motivation of a family to care for others. Yes, some families are dysfunctional, but even many of those with difficulties still maintain loyalty. In family, dysfunction is the exception. In government, enduring beneficial care is the exception. Government should never displace the role of family, no matter how positively this is framed to be.

The same is true in health care. Even when attempting to accomplish the exact same purpose as an individual seeking care, what happens when government does this is inherently different.

If political debate is over how government participates in what it is responsible for governing, then the debate is over the wrong question. We should center political questions on principle keeping government separate and distinct from that which it governs.

This are not just questions of which policy is better, but which type of policy is better. If you've ever thought that the two sides in a debate are missing each other, this may be because the two sides are engaging in entirely different debates simultaneously, even if they are using similar words. One may be arguing for his policy while the other may be arguing for a different approach to—or form of—government.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you hear candidates make their arguments:

Who are the ones they are talking about taking action? To whom or what is the law directed? Is the argument being raised about what “the government” is or isn't doing, or is it about what people are doing?

• Is the policy proposal focused on the action or the result? If it's focused on the action, then it's likely focused on those governed. That's a good start. If it's focused on the result, then it's likely focused on the government participating to guarantee a particular outcome. That is not heading in a good direction.

• If government, is the proponent of government action acknowledging the mandatory nature of government policy? Government is inherently coercive, so the only thing government should coerce is not doing evil. (It's not government's job to “incentivize” anything good.)

• How could government's attempt at being “a force for good” create unintended consequences punishing otherwise valid forms of doing good?

• Does the policy proposal take into account natural law? That is, if the consequences of a person's action are already punishment enough for doing something evil or foolish, is further action by the government really necessary?

• Is poverty considered evil? If so, is the government attempting to “punish” that evil by negating it with redistribution? Redistribution functions as a punishment on those who do well who get redistributed under that scheme. This destruction of motivation turns into a race to the bottom.

Who governs the government if the government is a participant? Governments either remain distinct from the governed, or they become corrupt.

Note, this is not an argument for the independence of government from the governed. Government can be of, by, and for the people, and even those phrases themselves point to the government's distinctness from the people. The point is not to focus government on people, but on their actions. Governing must not be just another action in a society, but specifically authoritative actions to punish evil actions of others.

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