Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Why I equate Paul Ryan and Bernie Sanders (get the flames ready!)

I posted something earlier about the media and the politics of false equivalencies.  But some equivalencies are, well, equivalent!

I don't see much of a difference between Paul Ryan and Bernie Sanders, as my earlier piece suggested.  To understand why, we need a political science digression.  If you don't want that, why are you reading my blog?

Time for some jargon.  One of the giants of political science, Donald Stokes, made a critical observation about the types of issues there are in politics.  He distinguished between "positional" issues and "valence" issues.  The former is something like abortion, where the different sides disagree about the outcomes we want to achieve.  Legal abortion:  good or bad?  Then, there are "valence" issues, which are issues about which we all agree on the goal, but disagree on how to get there.  For example, we all want a strong economy, but have different ideas about how to get there.

Now, here's where I see no difference between Paul Ryan and Bernie Sanders.  They each have "positional" preferences about economic redistribution.  Paul Ryan is against it, Bernie Sanders is for it.  And that's not because either believes that their policies intrinsically lead to a better economy.  Paul Ryan subscribes to Ayn Rand's view of the world, in which wealth comes from individual achievement, and we shouldn't punish achievement in order to subsidize failure.  Sanders takes the opposite approach.  Not quite "each according to his needs," but close.  He thinks it is intrinsically wrong for someone to be wealthy when there is poverty in the country, and the government's job is to play Robin Hood to equalize wealth because inequality is intrinsically wrong.

Yes, I am being blunt and painting in broad strokes.  It's close enough, and I don't feel like writing a 50,000 word treatise on the subject.  At least not right now.

The basic point, though, is that neither of these positions has anything to do with a strong economy.  Paul Ryan would oppose redistribution regardless of whether or not it helped increase GDP because he equates taxation with theft.  Sanders would support it even if it reduced GDP because he thinks that equalizing wealth is the point.  These are positional preferences, not valence preferences.

However, most people aren't like Ryan or Sanders.  Most people actually care about the strength of the economy, and aren't willing to sacrifice economic growth for abstract principle.  How should Ryan or Sanders communicate their "positional" preferences to a public that thinks in "valence" terms?

Basically, by claiming that their positional platforms will produce valence outcomes.  Of course, Bernie's plan will produce 5.3% growth!  No, Ryan is right!  Dynamic scoring means his tax plan will eliminate the deficit by leading to unprecedented economic growth!

Neither Ryan nor Sanders cares as much about GDP growth as about the principle of redistribution, but they don't want to admit that either.  So, each must claim that their policies are magic.  So, Ryan and Sanders?  Not very different, as far as I'm concerned.

OK, let the hate mail fly!

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