Pragmatism, and the Controversial Positions That Shouldn’t Be Controversial

The reason I am not tethered rigidly to the policies of one political side or the other is because I’m far more concerned with consequences and outcomes. In general, my goal most relevant to politics/public policy and society is to create the most prosperity.

I define prosperity along the lines of the Legatum Institute’s approach, which takes nine broad categories into consideration: Economic quality, business environment, governance, education, health, safety & security, personal freedom, social capital, and the natural environment. Whatever most effectively serves to improve those nine categories the most amount for the most people for the greatest length of time is what I will support.

I also have a second goal that I hold as high as prosperity. The goal in question is truth, what is fact. I can sympathize with people whose mental well-being may be negatively affected by facts in the short term, but fact is ultimately more important than feelings to me.

This isn’t to be seen in the alt-Right way of explaining “fact.” The the alt-Right, “race realists,” abortion opponents, and others will use individual “facts” in isolation while ignoring all the other facts that significantly qualify the initial fact. Based on their carefully curated initial fact they will hastily draw conclusions that would clearly not be reasonable were more facts taken into account. This is not done by accident; it is done as a result of confirmation bias. It is motivated reasoning.

Facts and prosperity lead to positions that make the Left and Right knee-jerk

I oppose the pretentious desire to appear centrist even in situations where one side is objectively right and the other is wrong; that is a bad way to be a “moderate” or “centrist.” Centrists too often treat two imperfect politicians as if they are equally imperfect when they are not, leading the centrist to spin things the same way the Left and Right do in order to make things appear falsely equal.

Some things are true, and some politicians are worse than others. Above all, the facts should determine our assessments and positions.

Nuclear

Nuclear power is good. It is one of the absolute most efficient ways of creating electricity. It is better than wind and solar, and it is even more effective than coal. Nuclear is also among the most clean ways of generating electricity. Especially when one takes into account the amount of electricity generated per unit of waste. This is what the facts have lead me to on the issue.

Leftists, because of ignorance, often knee-jerk at hearing the word “nuclear.” But since they have to play to their shtick of valuing science, they resort to the same fact cherry-picking abortion opponents and racists do to confirm what they already believed before hand.

Nuclear waste storage makes it a bad idea!” Nuclear waste is a solved problem that is only waiting on policy-makers to allow it to be implemented. We know how to store it long term; deep disposal in a mined repository has been found to be and extremely effective solution.

Even with the on-site storage that is being done while waiting for politicians to get moving, there is little real threat to the people or the surrounding environment. Decades worth of waste can be stored in an area the size of a Dollar General parking lot. Compare that with coal plants pumping tons of pollutants directly into the air, or the mining necessary to build storage batteries for wind and solar methods, which also produces massive amounts of waste in creation and disposal.

It would be too expensive to build them anyway!” There are multiple things that add to the cost of a method of generating electricity. Nuclear has higher initial costs than many other methods, but it also has much lower fuel-related and operational costs than most others.

The levelized cost of energy is is the cost per unit of electricity based on things such as initial building cost, operation and maintenance, fuel, all over its expected lifetime. Based on levelized cost, nuclear is cheaper than energy production from solar thermal, solar PV, and offshore wind, and it is on par with land-based wind, coal, hydroelectric, and most others.

This is of course before even taking into account the cost of batteries or other methods of electric storage that would be entailed in solar and wind methods of generation. Cloud cover, night time, and low wind all drag down the feasibility of solar and wind relative to nuclear. Weißbach and colleagues take this into account and report that, when including this “buffering” of electricity, nuclear pulls well ahead of the pack.

France produces 75% of its electricity from nuclear, France isn’t a toxic waste dump, and it makes money by exporting this electricity to surrounding countries like England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. How much would exporting the US’s nuclear power to Mexico and Canada further skew the price of electricity in nuclear’s favor?

Left versus Right. The Leftists who oppose nuclear do so based on ignorance and emotion. The Right’s incidentally correct position on nuclear is also based on bad reasons; the Left opposes nuclear, therefore the Right must support it. This is just what I see as the trend, obviously not everyone on the Left and Right fit this.

Lastly, none of this means we shouldn’t invest in wind and solar or other alternatives; we should. I am simply stating the fact that nuclear has to be front and center in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Climate change

Anthropogenic climate change is an issue where it is the Right that is on the wrong side of the issue which. When you look at the data rather than reacting on partisan tribalism, the correct position is not hard to locate here. Admitting the facts about climate change, and addressing it based on those facts will lead to the most prosperity.

The scientific evidence has spoken; the scientists have spoken; average global temperature is rising, and the primary cause is carbon released by fossil-fuel burning. After decades of denial, many on the Right have retreated from outright denial to begrudging admission of it while claiming they have the better solutions.

Forgive me if I’m skeptical that the people who were so comically wrong for so long; the people who could care less about the evidence in their faces; that these people now have been able to put aside the partisanship-driven motivated reasoning on the issue to develop unbiased solutions for it. Or even that they are the people best suited to assess the likely future damage that will occur from this fact which they have only recently and with unreasonable apprehension admitted exists.

School vouchers and charter schools

I don’t have a firm position on school vouchers. But in order for school vouchers to be a good thing, there’s a few criteria that must be met.

  • Demand for charter schools must not be dishonestly increased by intentionally sabotaging the public school system. It is not uncommon for Libertarian and Republican politicians to take this route.
  • The charter schools must be regulated. None of this nonsense where unlicensed con-artists can start up a scam school where the children aren’t actually taught anything. School “choice” means people get to choose from a pool of schools meeting minimum standards, not choosing from a hit or miss pool where a parent can get duped and the child is the one that suffers the consequences.
  • Public funds cannot be used for religious schools. Thomas Jefferson’s reasoning could not have been more right when he said no person should “be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” That means no tax dollars should be funneled to religious institutions, including religious schools.

To me, the best situation would be a public option that most people opt into, combined with charters schools which serve to increase choice, and keep the public option from stagnating. They should be made to work together, not against each other, for the public good. Based on the evidence I’ve seen, prosperity would be achieve the best this way.

Interventionism

I’m generally a non-interventionist. But if interventionism would result in a better outcome based on the goal of prosperity (of ours and of those where the intervention is taking place), I’d support intervention. So I don’t rigidly adhere to either Libertarian non-interventionism nor Republican chicken-hawk warmongering. The most likely result of the intervention is what matters most, and usually we bungle things far more than we help.

This of course is coming from the perspective that the lives of foreigners matter as much as the lives of Americans. Many on the Right claim to be pro life, but consistently advocate policy as if they valued American lives significantly more than lives from “shit-hole” countries.

Immigration

For most of American history immigration has been a net positive. Most negative consequences are short-lived and small in magnitude. Most of the arguments from anti-immigration activists regarding murder, rape, drugs, and terrorism are based on myths that are not born out by the facts. The prosperity of everyone matters, not just Americans. Since immigration tends to increase the prosperity for both parties, the issue seems like a no-brainer.

It is possible to conceive of a level of immigration from a population whose values are fundamentally antithetical to American ones like free speech, women’s rights, and freedom of religion. In such a situation it would likely be necessary to limit such immigration because we would become less prosperous. But we have not seen such a thing occur in America to date, certainly not in recent history.

Big or small government?

This is a silly question to me because I have no fundamental preference. Again, I would only be concerned with which level is better suited to accomplish the given task for the situation; based on the facts of each individual case, which level will best serve to increase prosperity?

Miniarchists, Libertarians, and similar small government ideologies seem to assume the answer before even asking the question; they think it is always done better at the state level. This really is not the case considering that state governments have botched public policy as much as the federal government.

Some small government people see the Bill of Rights as an exception to this preference for state power because they believe those rights making up the first ten amendments are so fundamental that they are a legitimate function of the federal government.

Just as many, however, feel that the Bill of Rights was meant only to restrain the federal government and not state governments. Those type of people tend to be theocrats who want to exempt state and local governments from the Separation of Church and State. Paradoxically though, they still cite the Second Amendment to support guns.

Like anyone, I want the government to be as efficient at all levels as possible. Sometimes laws should be left to the state and local level. But there are a great many situations where the resources available to the federal government make it uniquely more capable of providing a service. Small-government people seem to understand this in the case of massive corporations that can more effectively manufacture products because of their capacity, yet forget about it when it comes to the federal government.

Once more, ideology doesn’t saddle me to a rigid small government or large government position on every issue; I’m free to evaluate each situation on a case by case basis.

Net freedom

I support what leads to the most net freedom; that includes positive and negative freedom. Most Libertarian-minded people pay attention only to negative liberty—the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints to a person. However, positive liberty—being enabled or given the capacity to achieve one’s ends and reach greater prosperity—is equally important, and should always be part of the calculus of considering freedom.

Democracy

I support democracy only as far as democracy leads to the greatest prosperity. If absolute monarchy created the greatest prosperity (long-term, not just occasionally in the short-term) I would support it. Historic evidence has shown us absolute monarchy is not the best way to secure the most prosperity for the most people for the most amount of time. However, democracy for democracy’s sake seems absurd to me.

The best systems to date have generally entailed a robust amount of democracy in them, but direct or complete democracy has been shown to be seriously flawed. Demagogues combined with a gullible, emotion-based, often ignorant voter-pool is a recipe for disaster. In my opinion, the United States has too much democracy today, and the most incompetent and ignorant among us have too much say in policy.

Disagreement with me

Sometimes when people disagree with me it is because they don’t share the same goals, and if that is the case, we cannot come to an agreement. Their goals may be to protect “traditional morality,” elevate their religious or metaphysical beliefs above all others, proclaim the superiority of their ethnicity, nationality, political party, or any number of things. Most of these goals are tribal anachronisms of our evolutionary roots, and I have very little tolerance for people who hold these goals as more important than prosperity in the one and only life we have (or have proof we have).

Others who disagree with me share roughly the same goals, but but believe that there are better ways of accomplishing the greatest prosperity. I can work with these people as long as they are willing to talk in good faith. Solid empirical evidence in conjunction with the logical conclusions based on it will almost always convince me.

I will not say that I cannot be stubborn; I can. However, as long as it is clear a person has the evidence on their side, that they are genuine, and that prosperity is also their primary goal, it will not take long for me to come around.

Then there are the people who ostensibly share the same goal as me, disagree with me on how to accomplish that goal, but are still tribally married to an ideological group. Such people claim prosperity as a goal, but in practice, commonly sacrifice prosperity because of a firm attachment to their political side. In practice, this is basically the Regressive Left, the people who are technically on the same side of the contemporary United States political spectrum, but end up spitting as much venom at me as the political Right.

Conclusion

The pragmatic perspective leaves me free to choose positions irrespective of whether they are considered conservative or liberal at any given time; I’m concerned with results rather than whether I’m sticking to party or political ideology.

People become more liberal with more education not because there is a liberal conspiracy in academia, but because the fundamental prejudices of the Right are not supported by evidence. This leads to a pattern of there being more scientists, educators, and other intelligent people on the Left than the Right. This most certainly does not mean that most people on the Left are reasonable and thoroughly educated people; most people on both political sides are fairly ignorant.

As a result, I typically align with the political Left more so than the Right, yet it isn’t unusual for Left-wingers to spit the same type of venom at me that they spit at the Right. The truth hurts, and the American political Left and Right have shown that they are both quite capable of mental gymnastics if the truth is too painful for their tribe or their ideology.

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