Sunday, April 15, 2012

What is the optimal role of liberals in America?

Conservatives and liberals each like to say that the other is "destroying America." I think that is a little too simplistic and rather misleading. I think both true conservatism and true liberalism have essential roles to play in American politics and economics and social affairs.
As even most liberals will insist, conservatives primarily seek to "protect business interests." That essential fact is true, but somehow liberals see that as a bad thing, by definition, rather than a good thing, by definition.
Ignoring the extremists of both parties, and focusing on moderates of both sides, here is what I view as the optimal role of liberals, true liberals, not far-left wing extremists.
We are primarily, first, and foremost a capitalist system where the vast bulk of economic activity is in the private sector, not government. Yes, the government does play a significant role in the economy, but it is the private sector that plays the dominant role. Unfortunately, liberals take that private sector role for granted, leaving only the conservatives to defend it.
The crux of the matter is that real people need social services independent of their absolute ability to financially afford such services at any given moment of time. The private sector does attempt to fill that gap with products and services such as insurance policies and credit of various sorts, as well as encouraging households to "save for rainy days." And for many people that works out fine, for most situations, most of the time.
But, as even most conservatives will admit, the private sector cannot service all social needs for all households all of the time. This is where liberals and government-provided services come into the picture, to fill the gap.
Sure, some left-wing liberals still insist that government should be responsible for 100% of social services, but the majority and moderate liberals seem comfortable with a social safety net that is mostly the private sector with the government filling the gaps.
There is also the lingering issue that there are still plenty of little and not so little gaps in services that are still unfilled or at least not filled in a consistent manner. It is here that liberals have a legitimate role, but only to the extent that they exercise due diligence in ferreting out what the proper and sustainable respective roles of government and the private sector are on filling those gaps. Unlike what the extremists will insist, it is not an all or nothing question.
In short, there are two roles here: 1) defending the private sector – the conservatives do that, and 2) assuring that the private sector or government fill in any gaps in social services – the liberals drive that side of the equation.
My main problem with a lot of liberals and their policies is that they do a lousy job of due diligence and assuring sustainability and focus too much on the visceral, partisan, "class warfare" thrill of "sticking it to the rich and business interests." Rarely do they attempt to "work with business" to come up with sustainable, hybrid solutions.
I think if liberals were to focus even a little more attention on the sustainability of both the private and public sectors, everyone would be a lot better off – except for the elitists who really are only it it for the visceral thrill of "class warfare" and "sticking it to the rich."
In short, the optimal role of liberals in America is to provide moral support the private sector and then to do the heavy lifting to help fill the gaps where there is a shortfall on the part of the private sector. The private sector has a role there, but neither has an exclusive role.
For example, the issue should not be whether government should be involved in health care, but working with the private sector to assure that they pursue a sustainable role in health care, and then to continue to work with the private sector to achieve a non-partisan call for government to sustainably fill the gap for any shortfall of coverage.
The odd thing currently is that while conservatives call for government to stay out of the private sector, liberals do a lousy job of clearly pointing out how if the private sector can't fill a gap in services then liberals should be reaching out to clearly show how the private sector can support a sustainable role by government in filling that gap. Again, the emphasis needs to be on "sustainable."
It is truly sad that here in a capitalist economy liberals feel more at comforting fighting "business interests" than reaching out and working with them.


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