Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Politics of Personal Gain

I first noticed this during the 1972 presidential election, my first election to vote in. The McGovern campaign had a somewhat undefined policy they were promoting that all families in the USA should be guaranteed a certain income per year, I think it was $10,000. Teddy White described the finalization of this policy in his book The Making of the President, 1972, and did so with some criticism.

I was at the University of Rhode Island at the time, and I remember my fellow students talking about it. I was working at the Burger King in Wakefield RI, and I remember my fellow burger flippers and fry dippers taking about it. In general, everyone was in favor of it. A guaranteed income, less pressure to work hard to get ahead. College student, working high school grads, and young parents working the second job all seemed to think it was a good idea.

Fast forward to 2008/2009. Soon after Barack Obama's election, people were saying than goodness, now I won't have to pay my mortgage any more. Their vote had been for the candidate that they saw as being most likely to give them stuff, which one was most likely to make their life "better" as they defined better. This is more or less what I wrote about in The Candy Store Generation.

Over and over I have seen people making voting decisions based on "What's best for me", and I cringe at the thought. What would be best for me? That the government would give me a grant for $100,000 and I could take a couple of years off to whip out four or five novels, and have time and money to promote them? That they would forgive my son's college debt, making him more financially secure, which would help me in a certain way? That they would cover more costs for lower income families, which would help my daughter's family and indirectly help me?

Those would all make my financial life more enjoyable, but what would it do to the long-term health of my country?

We get this at work, too, on a more local level. We are an engineering company that depends on people getting ready to build things for our existence. So whenever a vote on taxes is on a ballot, we get bombarded first by our organizations then by upper management, "Vote for the tax increase; it will mean more work for us." That's the politics of personal gain, voting for something because it's "best" for us, not because it's best for our nation/state/community.

The politics of personal gain is a short-term approach at the expense long-term benefits, something else covered in The Candy Store Generation. It's better for me to have $1000 in my pocket tomorrow rather than to look to the future and have $20,000 in my pocket in three or four years. So we make short-term decisions to get beer money at the expense of our retirements. This attitude has, to some extent, been the downfall of many manufacturing unions, including the one my dad belonged to.

A long-term approach says put off that gratification in favor of something bigger than yourself. So I want to vote in national elections for what I perceive to be best for America, and in State elections for what I perceive to be best for Arkansas, and in local elections for what I perceive to be best for the City of Bella Vista and for Benton County. Because, when you think about it, the long-term view says that what's best for America is what's best for me. More long-term financial stability means a brighter future. More liberty means a happier future. At all levels of government.

In Arkansas this election we are voting on a statewide, 1/2 percent sales tax to allow the state to issue highway bonds for road and highway improvements. The bombardment from organizations and management has been going on. But I plan to vote against this tax increase. What's better for me? I suppose that not have to pay another 50 cents on a $100 purchase would be marginally better for me. Certainly better roads—and more of them—will be better for me. But I perceive that it will be better for the State of Arkansas not to increase their debt. Ultimately, what's best for the State is what's best for me. In a long-term sort of way.

The politics of personal gain. I reject that, except for how a more stable nation/state/community means a brighter future for everyone, including me.


Susan said...

Excellent analysis. Nobody today seems to be asking what's good for the country. They only are interested in what's in it for them. Must be difficult to campaign for austerity in such an environment ...

Frank Parker said...

I can't argue with the general point but, on the question of road imporvements, if the state doesn't borrow to finance it the only other options are 1, even higher taxes to pay in full for it now; 2. tolls so that only users pay and 3. broken roads. Which of these is best for the state?

David A. Todd said...


Absolutely true. Too many people expect the government to take care of them. That's why I think we are in decline as a nation.


David A. Todd said...


I can think of at least one more option: reduced expectation of service. The taxes proposed for Arkansas are to fund new roads, including some major ones in my neck of the state. But the populace outside of the major cities, and away from the east and west coasts, are spoiled. We want roads on which we can drive 70 mph without any slowdowns, and doggonit the government better provide them. Every time they do that the viability of mass transit is reduced, and we get a little more spoiled. Those in New York City would die for the traffic levels we have in NW Arkansas. It's time for us in fly-over country to quit being spoiled about our driving.

David A. Todd said...

Oops, didn't really finish my thought. Another option is to be more frugal with our tax dollars, and accumulate the funds we need for new roads over a period of years and put it in the bank in a sinking fund. That's what I do in my own life, and I don't see why the State doesn't do that as well.