Forget the candidates. Let’s talk core beliefs.

The personalities are fleeting but the principles are permanent. Hopefully not semi-permanent.

I’m talking about how we organize as a group of 305 million individuals, the grand experiment in self-government that was launched 232 years ago and will hopefully extend through future generations (feels quite shaky now, though, doesn’t it?).

So let’s take a break from the campaign crud and think beyond the relative temporariness of all the faces we’ve grown to love and/or hate.

(I loved when SNL Weekend Update announced the winner of the VP debate: the person you already liked. So true! I watched the Twitter stream during the debate and noted that it was more an exercise in entrenchment than enlightenment.)

Is the polarization on the candidates due to our being easily swayed by smears, minutiae, and manipulation? Or is it because we have fundamental disagreements on what our political and economic systems should look like? I’d like to explore the latter.

I hope many of you will engage in this discussion. It’s harder to examine your core beliefs than to “go with your gut” on a candidate, and I hope you’ll indulge me. Just four questions.

Leave comments here or do a post on your own blog. I’d like to reach beyond my own readers to see others’ ideas of utopia. You can even add a question if you want — make the question(s) your own. And I don’t even need to say that we should stay respectful, right?

Whether you are in or outside of the US, I am interested in hearing from you.

============================

1. Overall,* do you believe people are basically bad (1) or good (100)? Try to put a number on it.

2. Overall, do you think the best economic system would reward people based on what they need (1) or on what they deserve (100)? Again, put a number on it.

3. What do you think are the main functions (say, 5-10 of them) of government? You could even divide your list into (a) Federal and (b) State/Local.

4. In an ideal society, what percentage of the wealth created by citizens should go to fund government**? In other words, what is a fair price to pay for the functions of government you list in #3?

* Yes, in all these rating questions there will be “it depends” and “in some cases” and innumerable qualifiers. I am asking you to think overall.

** As a benchmark, all three levels of government currently consumed 38.8% in 2006 (data from Economic Report of the President, February, 2008.

12 thoughts on “Forget the candidates. Let’s talk core beliefs.”

  1. Lori, I don’t think I was disrespectful just opnionated. If you think it is too much, I don’t mind if you delete my comment.

    1.) A few years ago, I may have had a different answer but I truly believe that a persons morality (being good) is created on how they are raised and in this current society, I really believe that answer can only be a 50. Some people are much better, some are much worse but as a nation I would have to give us a 50.

    2.) I believe that this answer is directly tied into question 1. Too many people have such a strong sense of entitlement. It is all about what we are ‘owed’ based on the given situation; i.e.:

    I am from a poor family. My family has grown up using ‘the system. I get pregnant and immediately file for state aid because they need to help me out financially. It is their responsibility to help me since I come from a poor family. Because I am poor, I cannot afford to better myself. I not only refuse to take the free college education that is offered to single parents; I don’t work more than 10 hours a weeks because I would lose my food stamps, free house with all the utilities and amenities that come with it. I also deserve that $2000 in EIC I get back every year even though I don’t pay taxes.

    We deserve what we work for, earn, and achieve on our own. I am not entitled to get money for nothing. I should work for what I get. So I guess I would say I am a 75 for this question. There are extenuating circumstances, I realize that but they are not as prevalent as people would like to believe.

    3.) Well, I am very much opposed to big government so this list will be short, lol

    1. Congress – to represent the desires and needs of their constituency, not to push their own personal agenda. They are there to uphold the constitution and make sure we are not straying from the basics of what it ensures.

    2. Supreme Court – they are there to keep the laws not to make laws. They to are there for the good of the people not a personal agenda. They are to make sure that our rights are secure and not trampled by zealots with a mission.
    3. President – to do what is best for the country as a whole, while ensuring that Congress is listening to the needs of the citizens of the US. He is also there to keep the Congress in check. If there are too many personal ‘pet projects’ by our representatives and senators, it is his job to call them on the floor and use the power of the line item veto.

    4. Government – should not run Social Security, the Healthcare system (insurance), Medicare/Medicaid, financial institutions, etc. Leave to just enforcing the quality control and keeping the mandates of that particular sector. I do not trust them with money. If they were a small business, the front of the buildings in Washington, DC would be littered with For Sale signs. I mean really, have they done well in the last 20 years? Privatization is a key part to Capitalism.

    5. The “System” – needs to overhaul its practices and set limits to time, amount and availability. In five years, most people can finish college and start a job. In those five years, another child should not be created. In those five years, community service should be mandatory since it is a five-year free ride. This should be a lifetime limit. If you can get a degree in 2 years, you will only have the free ride until you find a job or 6 months has passed. If, in your lifetime you hit a snag and must get assistance, you only have at the most 3 years to pull it together. During the whole process, a drug test must be administered before a check is distributed.

    4.) I really believe in the “Fair Tax.” Lose the income tax and tax items that are purchased. This will increase cash flow and allow the economy to mend itself. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FairTax . It is quite enlightening.

    Since the wealthy 1% of the country already pay 90%+ of the US tax, I am not so sure they should be made to pay even more. Now if the Fair Tax was enacted that would allow equality in taxes paid. No one will pay more that anyone else. Redistribution of wealth is the heart of socialism and communism. IT will kill the free market.

  2. 1. Overall,* do you believe people are basically bad (1) or good (100)? Try to put a number on it.

    70% good, 30% bad. With some caveats. If social norms are maintained, most people will follow them. In a chaotic situation like a disaster or war, that will shrink. Folks in general will look out for their family or their tribe (religious or cultural group) first. Outsiders beware.

    2. Overall, do you think the best economic system would reward people based on what they need (1) or on what they deserve (100)? Again, put a number on it.

    I don’t really know. Maslow’s Hierarchy shows basic physical and emotional needs must be met first in order to reach self-actualization. We are responsible to each other to meet basic needs: food, clean water, shelter, medical care, safety, good sanitation, basic education or skills training. I have no problem having some of my life efforts going towards those for everyone. Beyond that, you must do for yourself. Society doesn’t owe you a mansion, caviar meals, or a Cadillac, though you don’t deserve to die in the street from exposure or untreated cancer or starvation. I used to work with addicts, and though I wouldn’t begrudge basic food and shelter and education, giving a monthly check to an addict is ridiculous. If they fail a drug test, they eat at the soup kitchen 3 times a day until they start passing, IMHO.

    3. What do you think are the main functions (say, 5-10 of them) of government? You could even divide your list into (a) Federal and (b) State/Local.

    Federal: We can’t have a successful union of states without some kind of oversight to decided disputes between states, and to show a cohesive front when dealing with other countries. Truthfully, I wish we had a parliamentary system in place, and then we would likely have more parties and less polarization because of it.

    As someone who is not religious in the traditional sense, I firmly believe in separating church and state. It isn’t the government’s job to tell someone what religious beliefs to have or not have. When you see politicians leading a prayer or talking like they are in a pulpit, it is no different than if they are acting like they are a minister and we are their congregation. This is not a theocracy.

    I think it’s fair for the government, nationally and locally, to provide oversight over business practices that affect our towns locally or the way we are viewed abroad. I don’t think business in general can be trusted to do what’s right “just because”. Just ask a fellow nurse that is forced to care for 8 patients.

    I think government should be held accountable to a budget as well. I don’t run my finances based on massive amounts of debt- I would be a fool to live on money I don’t have. What happened to the Balanced Budget Amendment?

    4. In an ideal society, what percentage of the wealth created by citizens should go to fund government**? In other words, what is a fair price to pay for the functions of government you list in #3?

    I don’t mind paying what I already pay- as long as priorities are rearranged. And a budget is maintained.

  3. Lori, this is why I love you. It is so encouraging to see, near the end of a presidential election cycle, someone who is willing to take the discussion to an intelligent level instead of the same old bash n’ blow.

    1. 50. Overall people will do what it takes to get by. We might grab a pack of pens from the supply closet at work to take home but for the most part the majority of us are going to make things easy on ourselves by engaging socially and being nice to one another.

    …all bets are off however, when there is a threat (real or perceived). Then it seems that people tend to circle the wagons and demonize outsiders in order to justify selfish and self-preservatory actions.

    2. 80. I am a big believer in the laissez faire philosophy and think that the last fifty years worth of social programs have proven that the gains of government intervention are minimal at best.

    I base this on my own experience: a good chunk of my family and the people I grew up with are the beneficiaries of social welfare programs that have accomplished little more than training them to be dependent on the government. I really do wish that the hardcore proponents of such programs could spend some time in a neighborhood with these folks and see what government dependence does to a person’s mind and spirit. The helplessness cultivated in such situations is heartbreaking – especially when you consider that many of these people had/have potential far beyond what their situation belies but have become conditioned to be helpless by years of do-gooder programs that accomplish nothing but the creation of another generation of government-dependent drones.

    That being said, in a nation as wealthy as ours it would inconceivable that we would allow the most vulnerable among us to starve penniless in the streets. I am supportive of relief agencies that are designed to cope with individuals who are mentally ill, have experienced a catastrophic life event or are basically ill-equipped to care for themselves.

    3. Federal, (a) provide for national defense, (b) secure our borders, (c) regulate interstate commerce, (d) ensure that the states comply with constitutional law and procedures and (e) get the hell out of the way.

    State/Local, (a) establish a body of law that is consistent with the Constitution, (b) provide a judicial infrastructure to enforce that body of law, (c) furnish the manpower to keep the peace and enforce laws on a local level, (d) levy taxes in order to keep the whole shebang running and (e) get the hell out of the way.

    4. I’m with Forbes on this one, the graduated tax system is cumbersome and implicitly “cheatable”. I really do believe that a flat-tax system would work far better, and to that end it doesn’t seem that folks should pay more tha 10% of their income to the government on any given year.

  4. Tammy: totally respectful. I see what you mean about entitlement. It seems we have all been lulled into thinking that we should be able to live risk-free lives, free of the link between actions and consequences. And I do like the idea of the Fair Tax. However, some say that taxing LABOR is unconstitutional, and never the intent of the Founders.

    M de P: I have commented on your post. Great answers!

    MrsSpock: you are so right about goodness being more concentrated at the center of one’s tribe. And I agree that neither government nor business can be trusted to do what’s right all the time. I like the “trust, but verify” sentiment. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I guess you could say absolute power puts our inherent goodness at risk.

    The trick to rearranging priorities is balancing the differing views and needs of so many individuals.

    Steph: you’re right. The goodness level in people might change depending on threat levels. Sometimes for good and sometimes not. I’m in agreement with you on the other questions. And, I like the Flat Tax, except that I’m not convinced that LABOR should be taxed.

    MSSC54: “Deserve” means that people will pay you for your skills/talents/expertise according to its value to them. Blogging is very much like this — people tend to get the readers they deserve (people read the blogs they like voluntarily), and not necessarily the readers they need (such as if we mandated that all blogs would have the same # of readers, with a central authority to assign readers to blogs). And you’re spot on about government spending. There seems to be no bottom line for them.

    What fascinating, clarifying thoughts, people!

  5. 1. Overall, people are good until money gets involved… oh, yeh or unless they are politicians then it’s just degrees of selfishness.

    2. Overall, do you think the best economic system would reward people based on what they need (1) or on what they deserve (100)? Again, put a number on it.

    Is this a trick question?! The best economic system to “reward” people based on need? In other words reward people for not working or contributing to their well being?

    OMG, WHAT THEY DESERVE?! Who determins what they deserve? If they are mentally and physically healthy and sit around watching TV all day and complaining about how sad their life is then they already have what they deserve.

    I think the BEST economic plan would be to help the mentally and physically impared.

    Then stay out of every one else’s way and let them sink or swim.

    3. What do you think are the main functions (say, 5-10 of them) of government? You could even divide your list into (a) Federal and (b) State/Local.

    Secure our borders. Provide a well equiped and trained military. Provide law enforcment agencies. Stay out of our way and let us live our lives. Period.

    4. In an ideal society, what percentage of the wealth created by citizens should go to fund government**? In other words, what is a fair price to pay for the functions of government you list in #3?

    I think question #4 would better phrased: The government needs to learn to live off of a ten percent national sales tax. Period.

    However, if you make less than 40k a year you get some sort of tax credit (check in the mail).

    That way no one pays tax unless they buy something.

    You CAN NOT tell the government you have “X” dollars to use because they will use “X Y & Z” dollars.

  6. Tammy: I see what you mean about entitlement. It seems we have all been lulled into thinking that we should be able to live risk-free lives, free of the link between actions and consequences. And I do like the idea of the Fair Tax. However, some say that taxing LABOR is unconstitutional, and never the intent of the Founders.

    M de P: I have commented on your post. Great answers!

    MrsSpock: you are so right about goodness being more concentrated at the center of one’s tribe. And I agree that neither government nor business can be trusted to do what’s right all the time. I like the “trust, but verify” sentiment. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I guess you could say absolute power puts our inherent goodness at risk.

    The trick to rearranging priorities is balancing the differing views and needs of so many individuals.

    Steph: you’re right. The goodness level in people might change depending on threat levels. Sometimes for good and sometimes not. I’m in agreement with you on the other questions. And, I like the Flat Tax, except that I’m not convinced that LABOR should be taxed.

    MSSC54: “Deserve” means that people will pay you for your skills/talents/expertise according to its value to them. Blogging is very much like this — people tend to get the readers they deserve (people read the blogs they like voluntarily), and not necessarily the readers they need (such as if we mandated that all blogs would have the same # of readers, with a central authority to assign readers to blogs). And you’re spot on about government spending. There seems to be no bottom line for them.

    What fascinating, clarifying thoughts, people!

  7. Lori,

    I was deep into question #2 when I stopped myself. I am a bit confused by what was coming out as strongly elitist, semi-social darwinian liberalism. Contradictions? Yeah. I need to think about this a little more. Thanks for the prompt.

  8. Oh Lori, asking people to go beyond entrenched beliefs and actually think? You seem to have missed the point of elections. ;)

    I asked my husband your questions, so I’ll give my own answers first and then his. As you can see, opinions can range widely even in the same house, and even among people who mostly agree on things.
    1. Point of view: looking at others = 55
    Point of view: each person looking at himself = 95 (I believe this so deeply, that from each person’s own perspective, he is doing the right things almost all of the time — even if others would disagree)

    2. 40

    3. federal and state: Protect the individual’s rights to his own property (not having his body killed or attacked by others, things he owns remain his property, and presumably his decisions as to what to do with his body remain his own)

    When property is threatened by others or by internal threats such as illness, help the individual to maintain integrity — catch thieves, provide health care, etc.

    Maintain basic law and order

    Maintain positive relationships with other countries; if that fails, try harder; if that fails too, enact defense strategies

    Protect the rights of all humans, within the country and elsewhere (including military intervention in the case of egregious dangers such as genocides)

    I would normally add that other species’ rights should be protected, but currently we can’t even manage human rights so I’ll hold off on that one.

    Through a combination of socialization and leadership, unite citizens into national cohesion

    Educate youth (schools, yes, but hopefully more)

    Protect us from ourselves

    state: Maintain checks on the power of the federal government

    4. 40%

    Mr. Baby Smiling’s answers (or is that Mr. Back Seat?):
    1. 60
    2. 55
    3. Stay the hell out of our way
    4. 10%

    The libertarian vs. socialist divide comes up often in our house, but we are both sympathetic to the other’s point of view. If we were to move to another country, which is entirely possible, it would almost certainly be one that is more socialist than the U.S., because libertarian nations don’t seem to be very nice places to live.

    Thanks for provoking thoughts and discussion!!

  9. I have had this post up for two days so until I had time to read the comments. Very good post!

    I don’t have time right now to leave a complete response, but the short version:

    People think they are good – and they probably are from their version of right and wrong. I think 75% to 85% do the right thing 80% of the time (from my version of right and wrong)

    People should be provided what they need if they can’t provide for themselves. We are developing a class system in the US where poor people are encouraged to stay poor not only by “the system” but by their peers. If you ever wondered how you could become a millionaire, you know how a poor person feels about your life. We also would be safer if people had the minimums and didn’t feel inclined to take it from others or feel so disenfranchised that they didn’t care.

    That said, it shouldn’t be provided for free. Instead of handing out food, why not hand out jobs? If someone gets a better job, don’t make it a choice between losing assistance entirely or working. Encourage independence, but offer a safety net.

    Main functions? Protection, providing the above safety net, enforcing laws to not only protect individuals, but long term sustainability of the environment, funding research that is not profitable to companies, but profitable to society (such as better antibiotics), believing the science when enacting laws not bending the science to meet politics.

    I don’t believe in a flat tax. If I make $50,000 a year and pay $5,000; I am living ok. If I make 500,000 per year and pay $50,000 then I am still living with $450,000 per year. People who earn more should be taxed more. Get rid of the loop holes and most importantly – get rid of the corruption. The social security system is under funded because the principal kept getting tapped into.

    I don’t trust government or business with my money at this point. Not sure how to change human nature either.

    Ok, that was kind of long. :)

  10. Furrow — thanks for saying so, and for being honest. Knowing that it made you think and clarify makes me glad I put up this post.

    Cassandra — agreed on how we each think we are doing the right thing most of the time. Time is relative? — GOODness is relative!

    “Through a combination of socialization and leadership, unite citizens into national cohesion.”

    I would like to know more your thoughts on this. What would that look like, and what degree of individualism would you want to maintain?

    and

    “Protect us from ourselves.”

    This is another of those degree question. Most would probably agree to some sort of safety net for unfortunate circumstances (like bad luck), but I’m not sure that net should catch everything. That would encourage people to be dumb, IMO.

    I am curious what you consider libertarian nations.

    It would be great to have dinner with you two!

    Kami — “People should be provided what they need if they can’t provide for themselves.”

    It’s funny. We just had a conversation with Tessa and Reed about Needs vs Wants. The problem could arise about defining what “need” is. Is a cell phone a need? A TV? With cable?

    I think this is wise: “I don’t trust government or business with my money at this point. Not sure how to change human nature either.”

    Perhaps individuals behave better than do groups of people. Big Anything (government, business, labor, oil) begin to crush the little.

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