It has become more difficult to find intelligent things to post on this blog. I spend too much of my time reading articles in which intelligent people have been put in the position of responding to disinformation. I sometimes feel like a movie critic that has the job of reviewing B rated films. The latest B rated material under review in this post comes from a prolific producer of B rated opinion articles in the Washington Post. Robert Samuelson tells us why politics in the US has become so dysfunctional.
Samuelson argues that politics is driven by self interest and by ideology. We are accustomed to dealing with interest groups who lobby in the halls of government for policies from which they might benefit. There are also competing political and philosophical ideologies that must be resolved via the political process. Our current political problem is that we are being overwhelmed by ideological polarization. For example, the GOP is being damaged by its efforts to shut down the government, but it is unable to make a correction because they are driven by important principles which must be defended at all costs. Democrats suffer from a similar problem. For example, they support policies to reduce carbon emissions, and they passed healthcare reform legislation even though both of these actions are unpopular. They are also driven by ideology. In short, ideological polarization is responsible for our political dysfunction. Moreover, it is difficult to overcome the polarization because adherence to an ideology has its own reward. It enables the holders of an ideology to earn self-esteem by holding fast to moral principles. They are seekers of moral superiority.
There are lots of problems with Samuelson's cultural psychoanalysis but I will only mention two of them. In the first place, both parties are equally to blame for our current level of political dysfunction. They are both driven by strong ideologies that prevent them from resolving their differences. This is just another example of journalistic dysfunction that requires journalists to place equal blame on both parties for our political problems. There is a more serious problem, however, at a deeper level. We don't live in a world in which the politics of self interest and ideology are separate from each other. More frequently ideological covers are used to disguise naked self interest. For example, government efforts to deal with a host of market failures are described as attacks on individual liberty or on the operation of the utopian idea of free markets. If there has been an increase in ideological polarization in America it has been more frequently invoked to justify the escalation of market failures. Market prices do not accurately reflect the social cost of carbon emissions. Moreover, the rapid growth in inequality is better explained by inequality in political power than it is by the operation of neutral market forces.