Click Map for Details

Flag Counter

Sunday, October 9, 2011

No Lock on Compassion

In my recent blog “Viewing American Politics in Three-Dimension” I contrast two major emphases in American Politics—individual responsibility and communal responsibility.  Let me state flat-out that neither approach has a lock on compassion.

Those who emphasize individual responsibility typically hold three views.  One view is that government is most compassionate that creates an environment for free markets to work.  There are basically two markets—an economic market and a compassion market.  We are all familiar with the economic market where supply and demand resolve needs for goods and services based on a striking price.  The compassion market is the supply and demand apparatus developed to overcome the limitations of the economic market.  The compassion market includes individual acts of kindness as well as actions by non-profits to meet those needs unmet by the economic market. Here, demand always seems to be greater than supply.  Supply is determined not by demand but by conscience and choice. This market so based seeks to appeal to individual responsibility.  The second view held is that government though the legitimate regulator (referee) in society, government should be minimalist in character.  This means most importantly that it should not seek to replace the compassion marketplace which replacement appears to directly undermine individual responsibility.  It also means that the regulative nature of government should be proportional.  Obviously a large complex society will require a bigger government than a government for a small remote island.  Nevertheless, to use the referee analogy, never should marketplaces be confounded by too many referees.  While for the sake of the game no one wants to see weak referees, no one wants to see a football game where the referees outnumber the players.  Thirdly, those who emphasize individual responsibility rile at the suggestion that they lack in compassion.  They consider such a charge unfair and a cheap shot.

Those who emphasize communal responsibility typically hold three views.  While appreciative of the economic market and the compassion market, they hold that free markets alone cannot sufficiently meet the needs of the community.  The economic market must be regulated to maintain a market unfettered by monopolies and trusts and not driven to reduce cost at the expense of the health and welfare of society.  In other words, they maintain that public goods are inevitably affected by the consumption of private goods.  They view the compassion market as highly unpredictable in providing goods and services since it always depends upon the willingness of individuals to give based upon conscience and intangible benefits.  Second, they hold that compassion recipients should share with others a level of dignity and independence like that provided by Social Security and Medicare.  They hold the independence thus provided beneficial to the elderly, for example, as well as their families and communities.  Thirdly, they rile at the suggestion that because of their emphasis on communal responsibility that they are socialist or communist.  These evil systems maintain that government should usurp the creative role of the private sector.  Those with a communal responsibility bias deny seeking government ownership of production.

Since reality is ambiguous and political theory in the end remains political theory, there will always be an element of defensiveness in political discussions.  Each side knows only too well that they cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt the rectitude of their particular perspective.  The right mix of individual responsibility and communal responsibility can only be met in public debate, discussion, and negotiation.
Print Page