22 July 2009

The Essential Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives?

I wonder if one of the biggest differences between conservatives and liberals is how they view systems. Conservatives seem to believe that systems - whether economic or ecological - are self correcting, whereas liberals seem to believe that systems sometimes require intervention.

I'm talking politics with my buddy Daryl - who is essentially a libertarian. He is intrigued as to why I'm a liberal and decides that we ought to argue climate change to explore why we reach different conclusions.

Daryl is skeptical about the fact of climate change but allows that even if it is happening it's threat to life is much less than even malaria. His argument is essentially that of Bjorn Lomborg's, who says that scientists and politicians warning of climate change are overly emotional about the issue and would divert their resources elsewhere if they were conducting rational analysis of different threats.

I can cede this point, but think that it misses a larger point. The habitat is not really a marginal cost kind of issue. We need it in roughly its current condition in order to survive. If the price of gold goes up and we run out, oh well. If the price of habitat goes up and we run out, oh hell.

Even this Daryl counters to say that no marginal analysis of a habitat is ever going to accept a future value of zero. No calculation would allow that such a price was worth it. Instead, Daryl says, the environment might change and so would behavior. If coastal cities get flooded, people move. All this takes time and the analysis of the cost assumes that human behavior does not change in response.

This conversation took place as I was already puzzling over what cluster of beliefs make conservatives' world view different from liberals. And in this case, I mean conservatives as people who believe in minimal government action because they trust in individual response, as opposed to liberal beliefs' that individuals don't always do what is best for the larger system.

Let's look at the economy, for instance. A conservative says that if unemployment jumps up, wages will drop and eventually people will be hired again. There may be pain for time as people re-train or accept lower wages, but prices will drop and the sooner people accept this new reality the better.

A liberal, by contrast, will argue for intervention. When people lose their jobs, they buy fewer products. As companies sell fewer products, they layoff more workers. As more people lose their jobs, they buy fewer products. Liberals argue that economies do not always self correct and can actually fall into a spiral of worsening conditions. At this point, government intervention to raise spending, lower taxes, or lower interest rates can reverse the downward spiral and get the economy going again.

Listening to Daryl, I realized why it is that so many conservatives are against measures to combat climate change. Such measures are expensive. (Conservatives are more honest about this than liberals, as one would expect from a group arguing that intervention is not worth doing.) And they don't really believe that these systems need intervention. As the climate changes, there will be winners and losers and people will adjust; farmers in Canada and Norway will benefit while farmers in Bengal and Guatemala do worse. Life never was fair. Intervention is likely to be too expensive, the problem is likely to change, and any intervention is bound to have unexpected consequences.

I guess I might agree if it were not for the fact that climate change already seems like an intervention on a process that has evolved over billions of years. And I don't doubt that the planet and even some people will do well on a globe that potentially has more storms and runs 3 to 7 degrees warmer. But I do doubt that the cost for this adjustment will be less than the "intervention" that would lessen the current intervention into the ecosystem that is the product of carbon emissions.

To the extent that conservatives argue for letting systems naturally adjust, theirs will more often be the policy we use. Liberals who want to intervene in systems have more obstacles to enacting their policy: from gaining agreement that intervention is needed to assessing and gaining agreement over exactly what kind of intervention is needed. In order to get their way, conservatives merely have to wait for the rest of the population to reach a stalemate on what to do.

I think that it's true that our knowledge of systems is in its infancy. The language of systems dynamics is not even a century old and still gets little attention. Because ultimately, the battle between conservatives who argue doing nothing and liberals who want to implement policy is a battle between people with simulation models and people with faith in the self-correcting nature of systems. History suggests that systems do not always correct, as studies of the Great Depression and select ecosystems suggest (see, for instance, Jared Diamond's Collapse).

The option is not to cling to faith. Given the importance of systems to life and civilization, our only option seems to radically improve our ability to model, understand, and predict systems' behaviors.

I sympathize with the conservatives' contention that many interventions actually worsen systems or - at best - simply squander resources to change what cannot be changed. And I know that politicians and governments with the power to intervene in economies and financial markets can become the instruments of abuse. But I don't have conservatives' calm faith in systems' ability to self correct before things get worse. I guess that makes me a reluctant liberal.

And it suggests one other thing. We should aggressively invest in the study of systems' dynamics - systems as varied as ecosystems, economies, financial markets, the Internet, international labor markets, the spread of terrorist ideologies, and social progress. We can't afford to be dependant on systems we so poorly understand.


Big Al said...

I would say we need to aggressively invest in the study of systems' dynamics *IF* we also come to the table prepared to take action based on the outcomes of studies. Studying is necessary but not sufficient. It's the 1st step. We also need corrective action for closure of the process.

Lifehiker said...

I've become very sceptical about conservatives.

I don't believe they are against intervention. I do believe they are against intervention that they perceive as not in their personal best interests. They don't view the world as "us"; they view it from a singular perspective.

I just came back from a trip to Kentucky, where I met rock-ribbed conservatives who were feasting on government programs that kept crop prices high. And one guy made over $2 million by selling his tobacco "allotments" back to the government. No free market there, Bubba!

We're seeing the same selfishness with respect to health care reform. "I got my check-up's, pal; you can go to the emergency room when your heart stops, and, by the way, I'll pray for you!"

Regarding conservatives, I'm not as kind and analytic as you are, Mr. RWorld. I'd like to see civilization actually progress beyond the code of the cave man.

David said...

Up to your old tricks huh Ron-O?

Mislabling conservatives and LH jumping on the bandwagon using KY farmers as examples. Kentucky? Five million people and 15 last names? Hey LH, I know lots of liberal farmers in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska and they also love allotments. That isn't about conservatism or liberalism; it's about greed.

We're not against intervention and making corrections. It's the extent and direction of intervention and correction that bother us and the absence of other actions that have proven just as or more successful.

It's also the rotten record of that group that is making intervention job-one these days: government. The same government that wants to take money away from "rich" people but not farmers in KY or elsewhere.

As for climate change, well for me it's being against the cost of intervention that by our own president' admission won't meaningfully impact the not very well identified percentage of climate change that is the product of MAN-MADE carbon emissions, if any.

Conservatives tend to look for evidence also. I look at MA to see if the proposed health care will work and I see a train wreck. If that makes me a cave man, well, ARGGH.

When this current intervention all starts working be sure to let me know. I'll check back in a few months.

Anonymous said...

Amen to David. Could it just be summarized as:

Conservatives are logical
Liberals are just plain nuts!!

Regarding health care....the system needs to be fixed but how can it ever be fixed if they don't address the real cost structure of the system? Tort reform? I have seen no evidence of that in the bill other than "elminating waste." In my opinion, it is just another grab for control of us morons by the government through deceit and flat out lies by our President (an incompetent dork) in order to get his agenda passed.

Oh, but Bush, but Bush, but Bush spent so much money and left us with a deficit blah, blah......his reaction, lets just spend more than all Presidents combined from Washington to Bush. An illogical argument.....

It is all about class warfare and race. Look at the press conference last night....the only time he was energized was in the last question when somebody asked about the cops and race. So he spews forth without having the facts.......way to go Prez....

Must run, I have to get my kid to the Dr. to treat his sore throat. The Pediatrician will probably yank out his tonsils since she/he will get paid more. Somebody should tell the Prez that a Surgeon removes the tonsils, not the peidatrician.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. Conservatives are cavemen and liberals are socially evolved?
Hmmm, sounds like elitism to me.

I believe it boils down to this: "Here sir, the people govern." -- Alexander Hamilton

Liberals believe that the people tend to be too stupid to handle their own business and need beuarocracy to manage their lives for them.

I don't see climate change as a right vs. left issue. I see it as a scientific issue. And sadly, academia is plagued with eletists who find it acceptable to black ball anyone who doesn't march in lock-step with the dominant paradigm. So much for being tolerant and open-minded, huh?

Anonymous said...

Climate Change? How about investing in a bicycle?

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked at blatant disrepect being demonstrated here for our commander-in-chief and his plan to save us from the worst health care system in the world. It all came together for me when he uncovered the blue pill /red pill scandal. Here we've been using the red pill the whole time while the blue pill "works just as well". I also think he didn't go far enough in comdemning the greedy doctors for removing the tonsils of kids with allergies.I'm sure they've got to be selling those tonsils on the black market.
Thankfully, Gibbs came out yesterday and clarified Obamas comment regarding the worst racial incident in our lifetime: when he said thet "the cops acted stupidly" he didn't mean that the COP acted stupidly he meant...

oh never mind...

Anonymous said...

You think we have the "worst health care system in the world?" Unbelieveable....completely laughable. Are there facts to back up that claim or are you acting like Obama and trying to generate a crisis by making completely unfounded statements. Why don't you go to another country to receive your medical services?

Frankly, I think the posts on this blog are kind to this President. He may be a good campaigner and speaker but now we are seeing the real individual......someone who is incompetent and has accomplished nothing in life.....a few months ago he was a jr. senator prior to being a community agitator and inflaming race relations at every opportunity. If you want to dispute the claim, please type a listing of his accomplishments. Let me guess, your list will not only try to list his accomplishments but will have some reference to the incompetence of Bush and the old administration, which was lacking in most all attributes.

Big Al said...

All that I continue to read makes me ask the following question: why on EARTH would anyone REALLY want to be President? Power trip? Title? Cushy rides on Air Force One? (Some) People fawning at your feet?

A guy (still an all male club for now) gets to crawl through muck and slime, including throwing ample quantities of same at his/her opponents, then gets to be all smiles and rhetoric in accepting victory to be the next President. The reward? Having to attempt to please everybody, including your own Party in Congress, even if you're lucky enough to have a clear majority of your peer Party members on Capitol Hill. As President you attempt to make a difference. You attempt to be a Leader. Yet millions if not BILLIONS of people are waiting in line to tell you what a lousy job you're doing.

I'm wondering at what point in their Presidency does each of our previous Presidents throw up their hands and say "WHAT was I thinking? There's no flaming way I can ever be successful in this role!"

I think being a Supreme Court judge would be much, much better. You go through a grilling confirmation process but if you're approved, you're pretty much untouchable, get to say when YOU want to retire, even if that means you choose to be a judge at age 85 or older, have 3+ months a year when you're not actively sitting in session, and get 4 incredibly bright law clerks to do the nitty-gritty research work.

Anonymous said...

uhh hey 4th "anonymous"dude re-read my (3rd anonymous dude)post and imagine a sarcasm on button at the start...you'll like it a lot better

and I agree with big al:it was a lot better when BO wasn't being critsized "for no reason" (what with the press treating him so viciously and all)...

oops *sarcasm on*

Anonymous said...

Last anonymous post......guess I didn't get the "sarcasm" feeling in your post but now it makes sense. You could double as a lib.

I try not to think too much about the government grab for power and attempted takeover of the private sector and in turn, our lives, or it can make my head explode!!

There is a place for government monitoring of the overall systems in our economy yet, in my opinion, this isn't about health care reform, it is about government expansion and control. We have the best health care system in the world but it has imperfections....but I wonder how many of those imperfections are because of the government. They can't even effectively monitor and manage the Medicare system and now they want to expand it.

Anybody know of anything that the government has managed effectively? Probably because they never need to make a profit...they can just print money.

Enough for now.....

Big Al said...

5th 'Anonymous' poster: where in my previous 2 postings did I say "it was a lot better when BO wasn't being critsized "for no reason""?

BO and every other President prior to him has been criticized. And there are definitely at least 2 different groups of people: those who believe the criticism is warranted and those who do not. And there's probably at least yet another group that thinks not only is the criticism warranted but that it's terribly tame.

Ron Davison said...

I feel as though R World has become a refuge for commentators anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Some people are just a lot bolder when they can hide behind a name!! :-) But it is enjoyable reading! I wonder if the BO administration and his Czars or brown coats have a way of finding out who we are.....he may call us out at his next press conference, tell us that we are "acting stupidly," look at our tax returns to determine if our net income is too high, and if so, increase the taxes on our specific return. Would be standard protocol for this President......isolate and demolish the critics.....just kind of like a Marxist!!

nunya said...

The ocean's acidity is not a concern to most people, but it sure should be.

"Rising ocean acidity cutting shell weights - study
Sun Mar 8, 2009 2:00pm EDT

By David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia

SINGAPORE, March 9 (Reuters) - Acidifying oceans caused by rising carbon dioxide levels are cutting the shell weights of tiny marine animals in a process that could accelerate global warming, a scientist said on Monday..."

Liberals go look for the truth on their own, conservatives believe whatever 'daddy figure' they've chosen to run their life, even if it's some corporate PR newswire.

So sorry if that is not centrist, or PC, nobody ever accused me of sugar coating things.

Anonymous said...

Whether a person is a liberal or conservative, they will argue their own agenda. To say that conservatives have a "daddy figure" would make me believe that you listen to the mainstream media way too much because that is the tune they whistle. I always value the political parties that can back up their positions with facts. As an independent, I give the overwhelming edge to the conservative mind.

Lifehiker said...

Wow! Got to agree with Ron - his blog has become a hangout for nasty but anonymous commenters.

At least Jen aka Pinky has her own blog; the rest are totally in the bushes.

So, come on out, fellas. How much military service you got, and what did you do? How much education you got, and where? What's the most cash you ever made in a year? Did anyone ever think enough of you to give you a good job, like being in charge of many others? How well are your kids doing? I need a reason to pay attention to what you're saying. Where's the credentials?

Is it possible your animosity stems from being unable to accomplish much in this world? "Show me" I'm wrong.

Just looking for a few facts here, friends and neighbors.

Anonymous said...

No need to come out of the bushes. I don't need to spew forth any credentials for anyone. It is a sad world if a person's net worth, education or accomplishments in life are your established criteria on whether you listen to their opinion(s).

Time to go back into my bush. After all, I don't need to get a job because Obama is going to take care of me. The homeless shelter will feed and cloth me and Obama care will make sure I am healthy and have my teeth.....and just think, all you successful people will have your taxes increased to take care of me. When I'm lucky enough to get back to a computer again, I'll be able to post another comment on R World. I like this blog.

Así que largo para ahora, un cartel menos anónimo para el luego mientras.

Lifehiker said...

OK. We've heard that "It is a sad world if a person's net worth, education or accomplishments in life are your established criteria on whether you listen to their opinion(s)."

So, what criteria should we use? Perhaps poor persons with no education or accomplishments should be our valued consultants, but I don't think conservatives would agree with that idea. After all, they believe in survival of the fittest (e.g., those with money, education, and accomplishments). The rest can only dream of having routine health care, and they may not survive. Too bad, so sad.

I once thought of myself as a staunch conservative. That is, until I learned from experience that the main goal of conservatives is to keep what they've got and add to it. If a little happens to trickle down, that's OK with them.

My conscience pulled me to another place, a place where people all have a responsibility to look out for each other. I guess that means I'm a liberal now.

K-Kix said...


It was my first time ever to post something anonymously (I am the minimalist anonymous poster who said "Climate Change? How about investing in a bicycle?").

I live in a 3rd world country where majority of the population is poor.

In all honesty,I purposely did not touch on the topic of liberals and conservatives, (and for that matter democrats and republicans) because for me it is just groups of people with different points of view...expressing themselves going blah blah blah and then what??

At any rate, I can confidently say, I am doing my part in my own little way, in my own little part of the world to appease climate change issues like reduction of carbon footprints by being an advocate of the bicycle for clean air. check out: http://tourofthefireflies.multiply.com

My family and I ride our bikes to school, to church, to work, to the grocery as often as we possibly can despite the traffic that can be found in the streets of Manila.

Oh and yes, my 3 kids are all doing very well. I could not ask for better children. They've got good heads on their shoulders and their values are intact. They are loving, smart, polite and respectful. They try to live by the saying "Be a man for others". My husband and I are able to send them to the best school in the country because we are both deemed worthy of holding jobs...

enough said.
All I really wanted to say was BIKE FOR CLEAN AIR!


Anonymous said...

Wow. So, LifeHiker, are you saying that a person is only worth listening to if they have credentials (education, accomplishments, etc.)?
Surely that's not what you're saying. That's so....unaccepting and intolerant of you.

And another thing. Why the need to generalize so much? I don't know if I'm a conservative to you or not, but I prefer capitalism over socialism. At the SAME TIME, I donate to charity and love my friends who are radically liberal, make less money than me, make more money than me, etc.

Does your need to villify all liberals stem from a bad life-experience of yours? Is it logical to apply your personal experience to millions of people?

Just wondering.

There's a blogger who comments on my blog regularly. He's a marxist and proud of it. I also have bloggers who are extremely conservative in their views. Take politics out, and we're so much more alike than we ever dare believe. I value both of their opinions and listen with kindness. I have no idea what their "credentials" are.

How many college sophomores and juniors voted for Obama? How many accomplishments do they have to show? Does that negate their votes?

(I'm not angry...just picking your brain.)

Sometimes it seems to me that we are guilty of the very thing that we accuse others of doing. You know...the whole point at someone and you've got three pointing back.

I'm just a little tired of the whole 'evil conservatives' bit.

Life Hiker said...

Hi, Jen.

Sorry if I got on your nerves.

Just to quickly clarify...I do believe accomplishments are important, and that's a big reason I voted for Obama even though I'm a republican.

And even a student can have accomplishments. I might be more willing to respect the opinion of a kid who went to class and did his homework more than I'd respect the opinion of one who cut class and flunked out, for example. Wouldn't you?

I don't believe many conservatives mean to be "evil". I just know way too many who are overtly selfish and extremely isolated. As long as they are doing fine, to hell with everyone else!

Are there liberals who are crazy as loons and just as selfish for their own benefit? Sure...just look at some of our unions and PETA for good examples of outrageousness.

I'd just like to see more commitment on the part of everyone to realize that the world has gotten really small - we really do need to deal with the big issues in a thoughtful way, to minimize costs and maximize benefits for all. But those who call themselves "conservatives" nowadays seem to be the ones who are standing in the way.

Anonymous said...

heyyy 3rd anon here..sorry biGAL I don't take too many laps thru this sad little cul-de-sac of a blog so I wasn't ignoring you. what I took away from you first wordy little lament was that BO's problems are just "business-as-usual-part-of being-the-prez" garden variety criticism. If so go back and watch that SPECTACULAR press conference last week..dude's doin it to himself.
Mark this week on your calander my little left wing friends..it's the begining of change (and not the hope'n changey kind of change you were hopin for) I cant believe how quickly this clown blew his poularity..gonna be fun to watch

Anonymous said...

Life Hiker,

do you think that Obama has more accomplishments than John McCain?

Anonymous said...

I do believe in a sense of community. I just don't think our government should force it on us. It doesn't work.

Communism looks good on paper, but in reality, not so much.

More loony liberal groups:
Earth First
Earth Liberation Front
Code Pink

Yep, there are loonies on both sides.

I think it's when we lose sight of the other guy's humanity that we become unreasonable.