Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Understanding Liberal and Conservative Minds

Have you ever wondered why liberals and conservatives can never agree? Belief it or not, it’s because of the way they think.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people on this here planet of ours -- short term thinkers and long term thinkers. Short term thinkers tend to live for the now, i.e. they value instant gratification and discount the future. Long term thinkers are the reverse, they seek to maximize their gratification in the future and will sacrifice in the present to achieve that goal. Neither one is necessarily more correct than the other, they are simply different ways of thinking.

What does this have to do with liberals and conservatives? Everything. Liberals, by and large, are short term thinkers. You see this in their policies. They see a problem and they want it fixed now -- they show little interest in the long term effects of their solution so long as the problem is solved in the present.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be long term thinkers. When they see the same problem, they also want to fix it, but not at the price of causing a greater harm in the future -- they will look for a solution that fixes this problem long term, and prevents it from re-occurring, even if that does not lead to an immediate “fix”.

So what does this difference mean? It means that while liberals and conservatives both want to solve the same problem, each is looking at different criteria for what constitutes the best solution.

Let’s look at environmentalism to illustrate this difference. When I raised this issue before, I was asked: “liberals care about environmentalism and that requires long term thinking, so doesn’t that mean liberals are long term thinkers?” No. While it is certainly true that the implications of environmentalism are usually long term, the solutions proposed by liberals demonstrate short term thinking.

Take the idea of "alternative energies." Everybody agrees that alternative energies could be a good thing. But that’s where the agreement ends.

Liberals (short term thinkers) want to require that industry use alternative energies. Conservatives, on the other hand, want to give incentives for industry to adopt cleaner technologies. These two solutions show the classic divide between short term and long term thinking. Liberals need to “know” that the problem is “now” fixed, i.e. that the final solution is in place. They do not consider the long term costs or whether better solutions could be found. Conservatives, by comparison, believe that by giving the proper incentives, industry will fix the problem in a way that has greater benefit and fewer costs than imposing one solution now.

It’s the same story with an issue like over fishing. We know that fish stocks in the Atlantic are being over-fished. The conservative answer is to adopt the system that worked in Alaska, where the waters were turned into a quasi-private fishery and licenses were sold. Conservatives believe that in the long term, this will give an incentive to the fishermen to stop over fishing. Again, this shows long term thinking because the solution is not guaranteed in the present, but should result in a better solution in the future.

Liberals, however, do not like that solution because to their way of thinking (short term) it doesn't solve the problem because you have to trust that the fishermen will change their behavior. In other words, they can't look at the solution and see how it fixes the problem right now. So instead, liberals propose quotas -- even though the quota system already in place is actually making the problem worse.

So how does this help? It helps us understand the seemingly intractable differences between these two groups. It helps us understand where the other side is coming from. It also should help us craft solutions that satisfy the needs of both sides.

No comments:

Post a Comment