Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Depends on how you look at it

In politics, a lot has to do with the perspective you take. Look at the HCR law. Some love it, some hate it, but mostly because of the exact same provisions. Everyone has their own opinion about what's best, and that's how we get debate, discussion, and hopefully balance in Washington.

So, here is one perspective that was taken by Forbes columnist Rick Ungar about Obama spending. In the article, Ungar makes the argument that Obama has increased spending at the slowest rate in decades. This does not mean he has spent less, merely that spending has gone up slowest. The comments on this article are good reading as well. Rick, unlike some other Internet columnists, actually responds to comments personally, which makes for very good conversation.

Ungar also makes a point of linking to a rebuttal of his findings by the Heritage Foundation, giving an alternative perspective on the data. This analysis concludes that, along with the stimulus spending, Obama has increased our deficit by huge amounts. It also concludes that Obama is calling for further spending increases and will continue to drive up our debt with frivolous expenditures.

I don't need to tell you which article I agree with more. However, it is worth noting that these two groups are looking at very similar data and coming to completely different conclusions. It's like the debate over taxes. Conservatives tend to say that the wealthy pay more in actual dollar amount, while liberals tend to argue that they pay less in percentage of total income. Which is a more accurate way to look at it? That is the essence of the argument, both over taxes, and over government spending.

On a different topic, the same back-and-forth can be seen. In the world of finance and fiscal policy, the Left and Right are shoring up their sides with rhetoric that is equally, if not more so, divisive.

In his most recent op-ed, Paul Krugman paints a picture of what self-described "fiscal conservatives" are doing in the name of keeping taxes low. In particular, this article focuses on Chris Christie, whose state is facing huge budget shortfalls. Krugman notes that Christie's plan, rather than raising taxes to cover some of the deficit, is to take money from infrastructure and energy programs instead. In traditional GOP fashion, the governor is proposing cuts to programs already in place and operating to avoid raising taxes on the wealthy.

On the other side of the coin, you have an op-ed from Fox News contributor Karen Poczter. While it deals with a different situation, it still sheds light on the views of conservatives on things like investment and spending. The article describes the position of Ms. Poczter on how Americans view financial institutions in times of prosperity vs. times of hardship. She points out that people tend to have a strongly negative view of Wall Street during recessions and recoveries, but that they are largely silent during years of prosperity. The article suggests that we should endeavour to engage in "pro-business" policies (lower corporate taxes, less regulation). The article comes off as a emotional defense of business practices that make people money, and condemning the American people for complaining about that during a recession and not during a time of growth.

So, on the one hand, we have people who are making a case for more reasonable, balanced approaches to spending and business reform, while on the other hand we have people advocating for less infringement and more personal accountability. What I noticed most in the Fox News article was that, near the end, the author expressed that she wished everyone would come together, lay their differences aside, and adopt the policies she supports in her piece. In other words, she expects everyone to agree with her, or she will continue arguing with them.

It's all a matter of perspective and opinion. It would be helpful for everyone if there could be a discussion, but that doesn't seem to be happening when everyone is convinced of their own absolute correctness. No one is willing to bend on their principles and face losing support. We need to promote an environment where our politicians learn to look at things from the perspective of the opposing side, and understand that everyone has something valuable to add to the conversation.

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