I was emphatically wrong about my political beliefs

My first election that I could vote in was the 2008 Presidential election. I voted for Obama. And a bunch of Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians. In fact, in 2008 I voted for just as many Republicans as I did Democrats at all levels of government.

In 2010 I voted for several Democrats, several Republicans, and a few Libertarians. In all, I voted for fewer Democrats than I did Republicans and Libertarians combined. And now I’m starting to think differently about all politicians.

My life circumstances and general lifestyle haven’t changed since 2008. I still live in the same place, I still do the same kind of work, I still get up out of the same bed. The only difference is that I’m a little older and a little wiser, as they say.

When it comes to any problem I face, I always take the easiest and most sensible route. That is, at least, on problems with no clearly defined ending. There’s a difference in solving a website problem “easily and quickly” and “correctly with a little more work”. For problems of national scale with no clear “now this works” solution, I take to that “the simpler, the better”.

But I think that was misguided. The world is a messy place. When I worked at my first job, my boss once passingly said, “The older I get, the more I’ve realized very few things are black and white.” He was about 70 at the time.

When it came to government, it seemed fair and obvious to me that smaller was better, more manageable, and easier to work with. It seemed obvious that the more money I had in my pocket, the more purchasing power I had to do the things I need and want to do. Any efforts to take that money was, in my mind, immoral and wrong. In some ways, I still believe that given the amount of money we spend on defense and the monstrosity that is Homeland Security (which has an awful name, like some sort of Soviet defense mechanism). Don’t get me wrong, I still hate spending money. I probably always will. If I could figure out how to live without any money at all and maintain a comfortable standard of living, I’d totally do it.

Indiana was on the cutting edge of this mentality. Mitch Daniels, who I supported and voted for (and I think still would), was the poster child for this idea that the best government was the government that got out of the way. A lean government that did just the minimum and nothing more for the most essential of services like police and child protection services. Supporting the idea that the market could and would fill in the gaps was a good idea to me, and I’d save money all at the same time. Except, the market clearly has no interest in doing most things that need doing. No one wants a school sponsored by Coca Cola, and no private business is ever going to offer a truly robust transit infrastructure like we have now. The Internet would be a lot different today if it were initially started and maintained by, say, Microsoft.

About a year ago I realized that people don’t want more or less taxation, they want smart taxation. They want to know their money is going to all the best possible places, even if they’ll never use the services they fund or roads they’ll never drive on.

I still believe that, which is why I think debt issues really are important to governments and their people, even if it feels like the debt doesn’t really do much to us specifically. Having debt gobbles up payments of taxes to interest and not to useful things. That’s just not smart. The math doesn’t work.

I say this in part because of what I saw out of the Republican National Convention, Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, and this post by The Midwesterner looking at the hard numbers behind Mitch Daniels’ tenure as Governor.

It’s not entirely fair to blame Mitch Daniels for everything that ever went wrong here in Indiana, obviously, as the national economy tanked hard during his administration and he didn’t exactly have much control over that. But the other residual side effects are clear, that Indiana’s in a race to the bottom, something I casually wondered about years ago. It struck me that if businesses really wanted someplace cheap, they’d just go to Mississippi or Alabama or Arkansas. And look what that’s done for them. We already had cheap, just like the market has cheap phones and cars, and no one likes those, either.

It’s clear to me now that my notion of ridiculously low taxes and only absolutely necessary government services and programs was categorically and emphatically wrong.

It seems more likely to me at this point that America’s problems are caused by a death spiral of employers withholding exorbitant profits from employees in favor of dubious managers and executives who don’t drive that much value in most places, which reduces consumer spending power around and around. (The notion that “everything has to be done for the shareholders” is ridiculous to me, but that’s another post.)

The decline in spending by governments on its people has clearly proven to make people worse-off in their quality of life. It’s obvious that most businesses don’t give two wooden nickels about relocating to someplace cheap or else Illinois would be nothing but six people at a rickety card table now as the entire state fled east to Indiana. Illinois did almost everything completely opposite Indiana and they’ve turned out to still be a better place given their wages and income compared to us. It’s another case where I can say, too, “Indianapolis would be a much better place if it weren’t in all this Indiana.”

Aaron Renn writing from the Urbanophile is right when he says that businesses don’t really care about saving a few thousand here or there on taxes. Or at least, “good businesses” don’t, the ones that can pay a living wage at or above a state’s average income. They care about really smart people and the culture making it work. When Daniels was claiming we needed I-69, he billed it as a job creator, which may be true if your dream job is to work at Cracker Barrel. Maybe we do need I-69, but it’s not so IBM or Apple can relocate to Evansville.

The really good employers will never look at someplace like Indiana because of all the things that no one pays attention tot: fostering a really diverse workforce, ensuring people are welcome to the state (i.e., no amendments or laws barring gays and lesbians), no disdain for great city infrastructure like transit and rail, and not pandering to petty social issues that, ahem, smart people just don’t think about because we know better. At least, “smart” as how Rick Santorum describes it.

Great cities and states come from heavy investment in the things that really improve people’s quality of lives. Enforcing views on marriage, religion, and social issues does the opposite by not improving anyone’s life and actually decreasing the quality of many other’s. Great places worth caring about and being come from making sure people are secure, taken care of, have access to healthcare and have options for how to get around and do their work and educate themselves, as can be seen from countries like Sweden and Denmark. If people really wanted to live the American dream, they’d move to Denmark, where inequality is low and that subsequently translates to more trust and better living.

This doesn’t mean I’m some hippie liberal or staunch conservative. For the Democrats, our stimulus was a grab bag of political favors that also kept some teachers and police officers employed, but was necessary because Republicans spent 8 years spending like drunk sailors with reckless abandon. Both parties suck, but my views on how to treat people have evolved and it’s clear to me now that given the obvious reference points we have of spectacular places to live with growth, economic stability, and social mobility like the Netherlands and even Canada and, here in America along the coasts, the trick to making life better is to make your people better and treat them as assets and not operating costs. You race to the top, not the bottom. The bottom is for commodity markets, and I don’t want to be a commodity.

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