With the fall elections looming, I want to discuss something really important that I bet you haven’t considered: that we, as voters, have moral responsibilities—not only when we enter the voting booth, but also before and after we cast our votes. This blog is all about helping us to bring out the best in ourselves, so that we get the best results in what promises to be the most significant election cycle of our lifetime. So please stick around for this.
As you probably know by now, Moralnomics looks to bring universal morality and economic freedom together, so that we can create a new golden age of prosperity and happiness. Moralnomics is about encouraging us to grow our distinct talents and abilities, so that we can be of greater benefit to others. And it’s about growing our empathic capacities, so that we learn not only to care more for others emotionally, but also to be of greater value to them economically—and to help them grow to be of greater value to us, as well.
Building on this, Moralnomics also is about having the economic freedom to give greater rewards to those who please us better, so that we incentivize excellence throughout our society. This is the key to achieving real economic growth—the tide that lifts all boats afloat in its waters, leading to more and better businesses, more and better jobs, overall increases in our living standards, and a greater ability to generate the excess wealth we need to take care of those who cannot care for themselves.
In part VI of my book, dealing with political freedom, i show how bottom-up government protects our economic freedom and our right to reward excellence, so that the State becomes our ally in growing the economy. And i show how top-down government stifles economic freedom and prosperity, and promotes mediocrity, by diminishing incentives for excellence, making the State the biggest obstacle to economic growth.
I also show how our federal government has become ever more top-down, as it hogs our wealth, drives up our debt, and pummels our businesses: with the highest taxes in the free world, with reams of regulations that are multiplying at a breathtaking pace, and with ever-higher costs for hiring Americans. These government-imposed costs—for payroll taxes, minimum wage hikes, and much more—drive our companies to move away, or to outsource their labor needs to foreigners, or to automate as many tasks as possible. With an environment that punishes businesses for hiring Americans, it’s no wonder that real unemployment is dangerously high, that our economic growth is essentially nonexistent, and that the standard of living of America’s middle class—the true bellweather of any nation’s economic performance—has been declining for the past seven years.
We desperately need to bring the universal moral values of Moralnomics to our federal, state, and local governments, so that government officials at all levels are guided by these values in making laws and policies on taxation, spending, the money supply, judicial appointments, foreign relations, military readiness, and the policing of our neighborhoods. That’s a lot of ground to cover—which is why Moralnomics is a book, instead of a blog.
In part V of my book, in which i give you the news you need to know about economic freedom, I show how our commerce falls into two sides, supply and demand, with sellers on the supply side and buyers on the demand side. And I discuss the concept of morality in the market, and the moral responsibilities that we have, as sellers and as buyers, in our commercial dealings with one another. I liken our purchases to casting votes with our wallets, and I show how the economic votes we cast can greatly influence the nature and quality of the goods and services that are made available to us and our children. If we as buyers take moral responsibility to demand that sellers be honest and deliver us decent goods and services, then most sellers will change how they do business to accommodate us. That’s because pleasing us is the ticket for them to earn their own success. So if having moral sellers really matters to buyers, then it will matter to sellers, too. That’s how a morally-informed demand side helps to bring about a morally-informed supply side in commerce.
Political elections can be viewed in much the same way. Think of candidates for office as being on the supply side, and voters on the demand side. If we as voters take the moral responsibility to demand that candidates be honest with us, and demand that they use government to protect our freedom to succeed in pleasing one another in our commerce, then we can change how they view their own jobs as public officials.
Standing in our way as moral voters are some distinctly immoral ideas about the relationship between a government and its people that you really need to know about.
For instance, there is a theory that democracy works best by having each person vote purely on the basis of his or her own selfish interests. If voters really were to act this way, then the overall results of elections would reflect their various selfish interests. Whatever selfish interests happened to be shared by the majority would then carry the day and be forced on everyone.
This theory is an invitation to societal rule by a morally unaccountable majority, which easily could become a jealous majority, and then a tyrannical majority, its members having little or no concern for the general welfare. This is what the great economist Friedrich Hayek implicitly feared when he predicted that the modern democratic version of socialism would end up pretty much like the classic dictatorial version. For, once society’s takers become the majority, they will use the power of the State to transfer ever more wealth to themselves, undermining economic freedom, productive incentives, and rewards for excellence—a prescription for lowering living standards. For, the more we reward the takers for taking, the more we’ll encourage people—especially our young adults—to become takers instead of producers, creating a rapid downward spiral.
Moralnomics seeks to avoid this selfish approach to governance in democratic republics, America foremost among them. But the solution won’t be found in abandoning self-interest and going totally in the opposite direction.
A system that asks the people to adopt a faux-utopian other-directedness that ignores their own wants and needs is equally dangerous. That’s because it’s impossible to define how such a society would function for the betterment of the whole when it ignores the individuals who comprise that whole—as though people were cogs in a machine, or ants in a colony. This total focus on other-directeness begs the question of who should benefit and how, creating a vacuum that will be filled by political leaders who assert the authority to speak for the State in decreeing how to channel the people’s other-directedness. The State then wields the power to decide who benefits and who does not—that is, the power to choose the winners and losers, a power that free people, to remain free, must wield for themselves. And so the false utopia of an other-directed government becomes the coercive nightmare of a top-down regime, with incentives and rewards for excellence being obliterated, leading to the obliteration of middle-class prosperity and the obliteration of our dreams for a better tomorrow.
When you think about it, it’s remarkable how much these extremes—one with a majority of totally selfish voters, the other with a majority of totally selfless voters—both lead to the same sorry outcome. So whether candidates seek to bribe selfish voters with special benefits, or seek to lure selfless voters with visions of a socialist utopia, either way the message is immoral.
When it comes to exercising our political freedom as voters and public officials, what we need is a merger of enlightened self-interest and other-directness, just as we need that merger in the exercise of our economic freedom as buyers and sellers.
This is not a simple prescription, because we’re not simple beings. On the supply side of politics, our elected legislators should not ignore the concerns of the people as a whole by voting for measures that would give their own constituent voters special advantages. Nor should they cast their votes to favor the narrow special interests of big business or big labor advanced by lobbyists and campaign-fund contributors. Nor should they support continued public spending on entitlement programs at levels that we cannot afford, or support punishing our companies with unfairly onerous taxes and regulations. Any of these forms of pandering to some at the expense of others might help a legislator stay in office, but none would encourage us to excel and to make our best better so that we can please one another better.
The best solution is for us to become moral citizens who recognize when our economic and political freedoms are being compromised, so that we as voters support the best political candidates. How can we know who these candidates are? Our best measure will be their persistent emphasis on valuing everyone’s economic freedom and opportunity, and their persistent insistence that they will not allow themselves to be corrupted for selfish personal gain.
Of course, we have a long history of electing candidates who lied to gain office, never intending to deliver on their promises. And there’s little doubt that there have been many more candidates who meant to keep their promises, but then wavered in the face of resistance from special interests or opportunities for personal gain. Either way, their failure to be what they promised has undermined our political freedom as voters. And it’s a safe bet that they also proved unreliable in protecting our economic freedom, by upping entitlement costs or by lavishing “crony capitalist” favors on select big businesses.
This has got to stop. As voters, we have a moral responsibility to vet candidates as thoroughly as we can, so that we get as full a picture of their core moral values as possible, in the hope that we’ll vote for candidates who not only make the right sorts of promises, but are likely to keep them.
It’s difficult to do this kind of vetting when our mainstream press, being in bed with the top-down liberal-progressive candidates, refuses to do the vetting for us. But we still have a free Internet, at least for now, along with many other sources of information to learn about candidates. So let’s do our part by checking them out.
We also have a moral responsibility to support measures that make elected officials responsibile for keeping their promises. This includes supporting the enactment of recall mechanisms, so that we as voters can remove deceitful or feckless officials who fail to keep their word. Even if we can’t rid them from office during their elected terms, we have a responsibility to oppose their reelection the next time around.
But we can do much more than this. We can try to shape our politicians’ values and goals, to help them make their best better, by giving them the benefit of our own feedback on the ideas they express while they’re candidates for office, and on their proposed laws and policies once they’re elected. Whether you send them letters or email or telegrams, or you participate in polls or focus groups concerning them, please let your views be made known to them. As in ordinary life, it’s also true in politics and public service that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So please join me in squeaking for civilization, morality, and freedom.
As citizens armed with the right to cast votes, we have a moral responsibility to take control of government at every level, from the presidency and congress, to state governorships and legislatures, to county and local offices, to school boards. This is as important a job as any we’ll ever undertake. Let’s make our own best better as voters, and do our part to help bring out the best in our candidates. And who knows? If they win office and do right by us, we’ll have more than just them to thank: we can thank ourselves. Then one day, if we raise them right and deliver to them the kind of nation we can become, we’ll enjoy the thanks of our children and grandchildren.