Friday, April 10, 2015

The Politics of Good and Evil

One of the most unfortunate things about modern day politics is that there is no shortage of cheap moralizing, which often has the tendency to allow people to fall into the us vs. them” mentality.

For example, when people say that they want to push for free lunches for all school children, or greater welfare programs for the poor, what they are doing is essentially positioning themselves into different camps. However, it is not as simple as merely declaring one's position. That is because this us vs. them” mentality also allows people to place themselves on the side of caring and compassionate people, while (consciously or unconsciously) castigating those who disagree with them as uncaring monsters.

The fact is that cheap moralizing allows people to make a moral claim without having to go into too many details. And what a wonderful political tool it is! It allows people to feel good about themselves when they, for example, claim to support greater welfare without having to show much in the way of evidence in regards to its moral shortcomings or success (or the lack thereof) ratios.

Once people have convinced themselves of the “goodness” of a particular cause, it is very hard to get them to see reason. For instance, when South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Jun-pyo announced that free lunches would no longer be provided for all students, but only for those from poor families that qualified for the program, Governor Hong's opponents predictably went on the offensive. While they heralded themselves as angels who were trying to achieve the utopian dream of economic justice for all, they castigated Governor Hong and his supporters as monsters who abandoned the people.

It is no wonder that so many politicians love to engage in cheap moralizing. It is the easiest way to whip up support and votes.

However, there is another reason why this is so dangerous. As Milton Friedman once said:

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

To explain, once something has been whipped up to be good, and once enough people have bought into that idea, it becomes nearly impossible to reverse it. It's the main reason why so many people oppose Governor Hong's plan to scale back the free lunch program.

After all, if people agree to reverse “good” policies, it would mean that those who once supported those “good” policies would, by definition, have to admit that they are now “evil.”

Perhaps it is time that people put away their religiously guarded morals, and reflect on that thought just a bit, and wonder just how reasonable it is to claim that the opposition is simply evil.

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