The Story of the U.S. Debt

Since the end of WWII the debt decreased relative to the size of the economy until President Reagan was elected because of economic growth and inflation.  Before President Reagan there was less divide in the parties on spending and taxes. The failure of conservative hands-off economics in the 1920s led to the great depression.  Successes were had in many federal spending initiatives like the new deal, labor regulations like the 40-hour week, social security, the successes of Medicare and Medicaid, progressive taxation, and the debt continued to decline after the war.  Even president Nixon raised taxes and the Nixon/Ford administrations presided over the heyday of the EPA with the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ocean dumping prevention, lead removed from gasoline, and wastewater permitting.

But in time past lessons are forgotten.  President Reagan’s message and political identity was the government was too big, it wasted money, and taxes were too high and he was going to do something about the debt.  Since then this message has been conservative dogma.  It’s a message of achieving moral high ground and simultaneously giving citizens more money and relieving us of authority and change anxiety.  It’s also unappreciative of the countless good deeds the government has done, high in cynicism, low in vulnerability, and short on details/intellectual work.

The predictable result is all 3 republican takeovers since then (Reagan 1981, Bush (43) 2001, Trump 2017) have led to deficit exploding tax cuts and democratic presidents trying to reign them in when things switch back.  When conservatives are in control fiscal responsibility is ignored and spines are cast aside.  When democrats come back the republicans shift to moral high ground, extortion, ride or die, cut the baby in half etc.

The important measure of federal debt is its size in relation to our economy, which is why we get away with ever increasing debt as the economy is increasing with growth and inflation as well.  Here is how our debt has changed since the 1920s.  Notice the inflection points.  That is where something changed.

Because the government borrows money at about the rate of economic growth the debt just kind of sits there once borrowed like a 0% interest loan.  So if the government borrows $100 and then the economy doubles and also the interest doubles that debt to $200 we can now say the action that led to borrowing $100 at year X is responsible for $200 in debt at year Y.

We can attribute our debt to past activity by multiplying the percent of the debt relative to the economy by today’s economic size (GDP).  This is important in telling the story of our debt and not letting convenience dictate fact.

Presidents Ronald Reagan (R) (40) and George H.W. Bush (R) (41) – Conservative Revolution

Official White House Photos

President Reagan inherited a stable debt at 31%.  The Reagan administration cut taxes in 1981 and 1986 which were in place until 1993.  The debt climbed to 64% (a 33% increase). The tax policy was in place for 21T GDP x 33% = $7.1 Trillion of today’s debt.

  • Inherited a flat debt/GDP trend
  • Left debt increasing 3% per year compared to GDP

“We don’t have a trillion dollar debt because we haven’t taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much”

Ronald Reagan

(Spending would go up during his administration, the debt would go to $4 trillion by the time the democrats took over the white house again)

“Government isn’t the solution to our problem, government is the problem”

Ronald Reagan

“It just isn’t going to work, and it’s very interesting that the man who invested this type of what I call a voodoo economic policy” (about Reagan’s tax policies)

George H.W. Bush

-George H.W. Bush (later said he was kidding after becoming Reagan’s running mate)

President Bill Clinton (D) (42)

Official White House Photo

President Clinton was able to enact his tax policy in 1993.  He left office with a budget surplus and debt at 55% of the economy and the debt in decline.  The 2000 election debate between Bush and Gore was what to do with all the money.  His tax policy was in place for a 9% reduction in the debt.  21T GDP x -9% is -1.9 Trillion.

  • Inherited debt increasing 3% per year compared to GDP
  • Left with debt decreasing 3% per year compared to GDP

President George W. Bush (R) (43)

Official White House Photo

President George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus.  He cut taxes in the beginning of his term before entering the War on Terror and Iraq War.  The housing bubble occurred at the end of his term and he left the office with the country in recession.  The Bush tax cuts were in place until 2013 where debt stabilized at 99% of GDP.  The tax policy was in place during a 44% debt increase, 21T x 44% is 9.2 Trillion.

  • Inherited debt decreasing 3% per year compared to GDP
  • Left with debt increasing 6% per year compared to GDP

President Barrack Obama (D) (44)

Official White House Photo

President Obama inherited the recession.  His early years were spent on the recession and healthcare.  The economy wasn’t stabilized until republicans took over the house in part by blaming him for the debt.  He was able to pull back the Bush tax cuts in 2013 for wealthy Americans.  The debt stabilized at that point at 99%.  At the end of 2017, before the Trump Tax cuts, the deficit was 103%.  An increase of 4% or $0.8 Trillion.

  • Inherited debt increasing 6% per year compared to GDP
  • Left with debt decreasing 1% per year compared to GDP

President Donald Trump (R) (45)

Official White House Photo

President Trump inherited a stable debt picture that actually decreased in 2017 before he could implement the corporate tax cuts.  The debt to GDP ratio is estimated to increase another 66% by 2050 according to the Congressional Budget Office after the corporate tax cuts are in affect (as of 2019).

  • Inherited debt decreasing at 1% per year compared to GDP
  • 2018 debt increased 2% per year

Temptation Narrative – it doesn’t really matter what the facts are, the temptation narrative for the powerful is the same.  Giving the top tax cuts helps everyone because they are in charge and responsible for jobs.  Be as cynical as possible toward the poor and the government, and do little or no work to show for it.  It gives rich circles a common enemy to unite around, shows no vulnerability, giving themselves tax cuts is the moral high ground.  It uses the cynicism tool (you are fool if you think the answer is hard work and buying in) effectively.

Was there an economic boom in the 1980s? – conservatives will often talk about the Reagan recovery and try to justify how great cutting taxes is.  What’s the truth?

Average Real GDP Growth [1]3.3%3.1%3.4%2.6%

The heart of the economy (producing goods and services) doesn’t care what the taxes are.


  1. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Gross Domestic Product. Supplemental Information and Additional Information Tab. Current-Dollar and “real” GDP. Accessed June 7, 2020.
  2. Treasury Direct. Historical Debt Outstanding – Annual. Accessed June 20, 2020. (Indicated as 6 on the debt graph)

Taxes, Assets, Winners and Losers

Taxes have little to do with economic growth or unemployment but what they do have a large impact on is who wins and who loses.  The right wing will say the government should not pick winners or losers but there is no choice, for a flat tax with no tax breaks means all the money goes to the top, labor loses, the environment loses, elderly lose, education loses, safety concerns lose. 

Over time we have set up systems so that the elderly win, education wins, family wins, the poor win, labor wins etc.  We have set up tax breaks and subsidies for desirable economic outcomes and it’s been effective.  Social security, Medicare, health care for all, public education are all core components of government spending.  Getting rid of these institutions does not mean our obligation to the elderly, the young, the sick and the poor go away.  It just means it gets shifted to private means which would be much less organized, likely lesser in degree of help, with greater instability and uneasiness.

Our national budget does not operate like my or your budget, a business budget, a city budget or a state budget.  On a national scale we can tax who and how we want without much competition, we borrow from ourselves to pay ourselves, we can print money and provide money at will.  That is the power of national and global scale politics and our ability to use our voices as citizens to persuade.

No government input means the winners are the rich.   As evidenced by corporate earnings, the stock market, and executive pay, even as the economy grows 2-3% the top of the income ladder grows much quicker because very little growth is shared with labor and large corporations continue to take share from small business. 

Two problems with capitalism are:

  1. Companies don’t share growth with labor even with labor playing a big part in increased productivity and technological advancement.
  2. Capitalism doesn’t inherently have any values and society desires to have values.

The government is the obvious counter to these issues. A progressive tax system is needed with rules for labor such as a 40-hour workweek and safety rules in order to obtain a nice quality of life for labor.  Unions are another counter. 

The government wants to focus on excessive wealth (to the right of the dashed line below) that is labor owed to the wealthy but not limit money to the left of the line (business investment). It is also generally desirable to allow mainstreet a decent return on investment.

Making the wealthy pay their fair share allows for less burden on mainstreet which can manifest itself in lower taxes for workers, higher pay, lower prices, government help on things they would pay for, or investment in values such as education, environment, seniors, goodwill etc.

Let us look at the financial picture of an average Joe at the start of his working career, in the middle, and at the end.  We will also look at the financial picture of a typical wealthy executive (Dan) and one of someone who would inherit a fortune (Eric) and what happens when the government does something.  Similar to meeting a financial advisor we look at how much you will make during the rest of your life, how much you have saved, and how much you will spend.

An important note is you are either making money from your labor (individual tax rates) or your savings make money for you which is affected by corporate tax rates and capital gains tax (tax on gains from an investment).  Most people put savings into a business equity which can be dangerous because its skewed heavily to the top and gives the impression that we need to do anything possible to increase asset values.  We need to put our security in hard work.

Financial Life Pictures, Winners and Losers

Progressive Tax vs Flat Tax – Labor wins and high salaries lose with the progressive tax, investments and retirees unaffected. This helps Joe and hurts Dan.

Corporate Tax – The higher the corporate tax, the less the share of the individual tax.  This greatly benefits Joe starting out as he has a lot of labor to do in his life but actually lessons as he goes through his working career and ends up hurting him during retirement. The rich and their heirs take the biggest hit (Dan and Eric).

Capital Gains Tax – Same winners and losers as the corporate tax.   The difference is a change in the corporate tax will immediately increase or decrease your assets and then not affect your future returns.  A capital gains tax increase decreases the rate of return on investments.

Wealth Tax, Inheritance Tax – Joe wins, Dan and Eric lose.  The less capital from big players in the market means labor has a bigger share and will get a bigger return, plus lower individual taxes.

Limiting Executive Pay – Investors benefit, Dan loses his pay but gains in his money making money. Joe benefits as he acquires savings, Eric benefits.  But if you limit executive pay and tax the would be gains on investments then that money goes to Joe.

Inflation – Savers lose, debtors win.

General Tax Cuts – Taking money from our collective account to increase individual accounts doesn’t actually make us more or less rich.  It just creates bubbles.

Stock market or Real Estate market goes up – Everyone loves when asset prices go up right? No, young Joe loses big as a future investor.  Prices going up also means the return on investment is smaller.  Only hard work and innovation increase economic output. If the average house now costs 5 years of average labor to pay for instead of 4 is that good for everybody? No, future buyers lose and its bubble inducing.

Socialism – if the objective is to help Joe then just get rid of the money going to investments, executives and trust funds?  Going to the extreme will hurt economic growth and the spirit of competing.  We should be careful in dealing with absolutes especially morality ones that create conflict. 

In truth, does working the least for the most really make you a winner?

United States GDP and Unemployment History

The growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) minus inflation or Real GDP is a good indicator of the growth of the economy.  Asset prices are not the economy.  Debt is not the economy. The hard work of producing goods and services is.  The combined efforts of everyone’s physical labor and brains improve the quality of life year after year.  Does that mean it is always desirable to grow the economy at any cost? No, we may desire less work or different work for quality of life or refrain from some production due to environmental impact.

As safety net programs have been implemented, presidents have changed, environmental and safety regulations implemented, and healthcare improved, the economy has not changed drastically.  As long as the incentive to work hard the next day is still there the government has a lot of leverage and say on what our values are.

There is little evidence to say people work harder or less when taxes go up or down.  Tax laws pick winners and losers or we can add leverage to the national debt in exchange for higher individual net worth.

The other big statistic is jobs.  People don’t like threats to their jobs, but that threat is far greater from a dynamic capitalistic system than from government activity.  Most job losses are gained elsewhere as humanity developed better transportation, the electricity grid, more tourism, the computer, the internet and so on.  Unemployment has fluctuated very little with regulations, taxes, and safety net programs.

The .com, housing, and now the coronavirus have all spiked unemployment.  In the cases of .com and housing the economy was positioned around a certain asset and then that asset wasn’t what we thought it was.  In time the economy adapts.

The federal reserve has a lot of power over unemployment based on how it sets interest rates.  Though there is a lag as businesses have access to more money and then decide to hire.  The reason for higher interest rates is to control inflation.  Exceptions are usually asset bubbles like in 2000 and 2008.  The economy repositions naturally in time.

People will continue to want to trade each other for food, health care, housing, things etc…there is nothing to fear on the economy falling off some cliff as long as the government is empowered to save the day if needed.  The economy has transformed itself through many technological innovations, wars, infrastructure initiatives with maintaining consistent growth.  Economic growth mostly comes from productivity growth, improving processes, developing technology etc. Once a new technology is developed or a manufacturing process is improved, we don’t lose that ability, we work on the next one.  This is not to say asset bubbles can’t happen, but asset prices aren’t the economy.  When an asset isn’t worth what we thought it was (.com and housing bubbles) that industry loses jobs but in time the slack is picked up.

The economy is our ability to produce goods and services tomorrow to satisfy our needs.  Assets are things that can be traded in for goods and services.  In truth, if everyone owns a lot of assets, it puts a strain on labor that needs to work to support those trading in assets for labor.  They also have to do more work to buy anything.  There is always the temptation for us to create asset bubbles but it wouldn’t hinder our ability to take care of each other.  The government can always create demand, deficit spend or print money. 

Remembering the Great Depression

“With impressive proof on all sides of magnificent progress, no one can rightly deny the fundamental correctness of our economic system.”

Herbert Hoover

(Republican President during the Great Depression)

“No party ever accepted a more difficult task of reconstruction than did the republican party in 1921.  The record of these 7 ½ years constitutes a period of rare courage in leadership and constructive action.  Never has a political party been able to look back upon a similar period with more satisfaction.”

Herbert Hoover

Republicans continued to emphasize balanced budgets and protecting the rich after the economic collapse.  Unemployment continued to rise through the remainder of their time in power from 1929 to 1933.  The new deal programs helped recover employment but were argued by many not to be enough.  Ultimately the depression ended with world war II which included massive government spending, high taxes, wealth of the rich wiped out, and government dictating where production goes.

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt


  1. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Gross Domestic Product. Supplemental Information and Additional Information Tab. Current-Dollar and “real” GDP. Accessed June 7, 2020.
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment 1929-39: Estimating Methods. Table 1 Total Labor Force Classified by Employment Status, 1929-1947. Accessed April 7, 2020.
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject. (SEAS) Unemployment Rate. More Formatting Options. All years, All time periods. Accessed June 20, 2020.
  4. Federal Funds Rate – 62 Year Historical Chart. Accessed April 7, 2020.

Globalism / Protectionism / Diplomacy / Peace

Peace is hard work.  It is great to say you want peace but what does it take?  There are naturally discussions among countries and disputes over resources, territory, religion, economic systems that make it hard to have peace.

The Internal Struggle

It is often not the external part of diplomacy that is the hardest but the internal struggle.  The ability of each country to sell caring about the world, vulnerability and effort, to its own people and against those that would try to usurp them internally using “us first” and “winning” type language.  The art of diplomacy, having frank discussions and maintaining respect is an art that is somewhat well understood, but can fall apart from internal pressure.

Value Diplomacy or Tribal (Us vs Them)?

Value diplomacy is creating a culture of agreed upon values upon which the players or tribes agree to.  Combating aggression, helping those that need help, global sustainability are some of the values countries come together on. 

Tribal diplomacy is about the pride of the tribe.  You want to protect the pride of your tribe from any insecurity or shame and you want to win for your tribe by imperialism, winning every deal, and creating a need for spite around every disagreement.  In any resource disagreement the other side is on its own.

There is a temptation to use nationalism, racism, religion, economic system etc. to divide and make another tribe the enemy.  To ascend the hierarchy in your tribe by putting your identity in vilifying the different and unfamiliar.  You unite your tribe around the enemy.

Value diplomacy is central to peace but it requires brainwork and courage.  Other countries might call you a hypocrite and point out wrongs in your history.  You might get trolled from the insecure.

Globalism / Protectionism

We are all part of groups or tribes from your family, to your work, to your community, to sports teams you cheer for.  In politics we can visualize our political reality as groups within groups.

#1 >>> Family >>> Community >>> Region >>> Country (where armies are) >>> Earth / Humanity

Protectionism – doing whatever is self-serving for your group and ignoring the at large collective.  A culture of self-serving doesn’t stop at the smaller group, it stops at everyone looking out for #1.

Globalism / Collectivismeach smaller group is a supporter of the larger group.  The larger group is expected to both help the smaller groups when they are in need as well as ask of the smaller group when the larger group or others are in need.

What kind of world does each mentality lead to?  Do we want to create a culture of coming together in the face of fear or splintering?  What kind of unity is it really to bond with another group over a common enemy but if there is any resource dispute with that group you go for each other’s heads?

Some use the term globalist as slander, but in truth most of those willing to give for earth / humanity are of the same mind as those willing to give for country or community. 

In moral conflicts globalists are the aggressor.  Standing up to aggression, environmental causes, human rights, refugees.  In pride, tribal, or resource conflicts protectionists are the aggressor such as wars over religious/economic beliefs, oil, or revenge.  The American protectionists during WWII were strictly isolationists (no desire to save the world from aggression) until the United States was attacked at pearl harbor.

In a true hour of need we should not look to the allies we have made that push up our pride and play to our fears with us.  It is those countries telling us to behave ourselves and that stand for hard values that may be there.

Globalism begets globalism, protectionism begets protectionism.

This is not to say a country shouldn’t stand for its own interests, just like in your family you stand for yourself of course, but it is a culture of mental engagement and goodwill.

Countries with transparency into their decision making with active debates and elections will be trusted more than those with a concentration of power, a one-party system, a dictatorship that doesn’t expose itself to the vulnerability of public discourse.

Image Reference

Shutterstock: ChristianChan

Giving Hope to What We Can’t See

We all interact and see interactions of people willing to act in goodwill with people they can see.  If you know somebody’s story, see their face, you are more apt to help them.  If they look familiar to you, worship the same religion, abide by the culture you will be more giving.  A service industry worker will do better receiving tips than a flat pay.  If someone in your life is struggling you may help them based on their needs and abilities.

But in society we also need to give hope to those we can’t see.  Humanity is generally good at helping those within its own village but when natural economic conditions segregate society, dealing with forced goodwill (taxes), or dealing with goodwill outside the circle of the army (other countries) goodwill is not as easy to come by but it is still important.

Every year the United States government spends more than charities do on goodwill including Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment, housing etc.  It also subsidizes charitable giving.  This doesn’t include Social Security or Medicare because those are just more dignified ways of taking for our seniors than everyone doing it privately and everyone may benefit from these programs. 

It is impossible to tell everyone’s story and it can be easy to create cynicism about forced goodwill but what kind of culture and society does hope to the bottom create or cynicism to the bottom?  How meaningful is cherry-picking or otherwise creating cynical stories about government goodwill?  Is it realistic that voluntary goodwill can plug all the needed holes alone?

The government does a lot of heavy lifting on goodwill and charities fill in the cracks, together this goodwill is an important part of who we are, our soul, and what we wish the country to stand for.

For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we’re all connected as one people.

If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.

For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we’re all connected as one people.

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

President Barack Obama (2004 Convention Speech)

Image Reference

Adobe Stock / Ipopba

Pulling Society Toward Goodwill

Getting people to use their brains to associate positive aspects of society with doing the right thing.

Humility – looking past the initial dagger to one’s pride and seeing the bigger picture.

Caring / Love – don’t exist without accepting others and ourselves own faults.  A judgeless relationship.

Hope – taking the vulnerable or hard work position when faced with unknowns such as doing something new, relationships, dreaming, safety net.

Joy – a group putting in work or giving into hope and having it come to fruition.  Accepting one another.

Engaging – doing brainwork to understand where each other is coming from and acting in goodwill.

Sportsmanship – we like to compete for earned pride but we also protect the opponent’s pride.  Games of pride make us feel alive but they should all exist under some moral fabric.

Working Pride – pride that comes from hard work, accomplishing something over time.

Education – putting in brainwork to accept the right answer over the temptation.

Respect / Manners – putting in work to raise society up and away from crudeness, grumpiness, boys club etc.

Courage / Honor / Integrity – facing fear for the collective, overcome convenience and toward doing the right thing.  Honor doesn’t exist in a society that refuses to accept shame.

General Work – putting ourselves to work (viewed as attractive) to avoid making hell at the expense of others, unattractive laziness, gossip, judging.  Even in biblical times there are warnings of undesirable outcomes from idleness and gossiping.  With communication now at hyper speed, news everywhere and social media everywhere it doesn’t lead us to putting our best foot forward always.

Energy – The end of slavery, the environmental movement, civil rights, women’s right to vote, 40 hour work weeks, worker safety, a progressive tax system, food stamps etc. do not happen by themselves.  They are made to happen.  It takes both energy in the form of activism, free speech, political movements and a good clear message and educating others on what you want to change.

“Things don’t happen, they are made to happen”

John F. Kennedy

The key to a successful society is to not let our emotions control us.  In many cases we have to use our own moral compass to overwrite an initial fear, convenient answer, or desire to avoid a problem.  Like a defiant child maturing and realizing some of the joys that can be had in buying into the work needed to be a contributing member of the family or team, there is no reason we can’t move past this phase into something more hopeful, more joyful.  A group united in its enemies of compassion and foreignness is not a group worth existing in.

Image Reference

Shutterstock: STILLFX

Pulling Society Away from Goodwill

Some of the ways we as a society are divided and pulled away from goodwill, purpose, harmony and joy:

Note that in politics the reason and the strategy are different.  For example, slander is a strategy not a motive.  Using crowds and creating energy can be viewed as a strategy for any reason. Suppressing dissenting voices can be a strategy of any regime in power whether it believes its end goals are good or bad.  Pride, convenience, and fear are both strategies and motives.  For example, if you are mostly motivated by convenience (tax cuts) but you need votes, you might play up an immigration fear as a strategy or insecurity in foreign affairs.  Voter suppression, gerrymandering congressional districts and playing games with court seats are all strategies.

Greed – Seeking pride and convenience through monetary means at the expense of the ecosystem, seeking security (fear avoidance).

Convince others society isn’t selfless / compassionate – if society isn’t viewed as selfless it will convince us to not be a fool and look out for ourselves as well.

Distrust – playing up distrust to the collective and playing up individualism – guns, money, hording, conspiracy theories.

Immigration Fears – creating fear around something complex to get votes.

Strong on crime – creating fear around something complex to get votes.

Economic fears – using the economy or jobs as a fear creator without supplying proper brainwork.

Bringing others down to your level – if you feel you and your group are engaging in something you are not supposed to, you want everyone involved to make you feel more secure.

Exploiting – vote for me and I’ll exploit this country / entity.  I was good at exploiting the system for my company so I can do the same for country.  Making up reasons on why environmental, fiscal or other ecosystems need to be exploited.

Limited Resources – Given goodwill will try to provide for all, you convincing the voting majority that there is a limited resource and if we try to provide for all it will burden the majority.  Examples include healthcare, oil, food stamps, general taxes, water out west etc.

Avoiding accountability – never putting yourself in the brainwork, vulnerability position.  Always having a fall person.

Pride over principles – Turning your political reality away from principles and into “winning” for your tribe. Being a country of principles should be an inspiring reality.  The human heart drives peace but the brain is the peacemaker.  If you chose the self-serving non vulnerable solution for every disagreement and forsake the brain, never-ending war is inevitable.

To owe or to be owed? – it can feel insecure to feel like we owe someone a debt.  That we owe something for the society we are given.  Some will use terms like “taxpayer” to sell an idea of being owed.  The idea of me and my boys are wronged anytime the government does something of goodwill is attractive to some.  A military draft is a great ask of a country upon a family.  Using the tax system to plug a hole so someone can put food on the table isn’t. Those actually in need rarely use an entitled tone.

“A full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Associating wealth absolutely with work – We view work in a positive light and laziness in a negative light.  That doesn’t mean all wealth is worked equally hard for or that we should give up on all of those that need a hand up, or those that need help aren’t willing to work hard in the right environment.  This mindset is oversimplifying and attempts to remove our obligations to those in need.  For example, an Ayn Rand novel.

Stubbornness / Avoiding necessary change – change requires overcoming the fear of the unknown, the inconvenience of brainwork, and overcoming pride that an existing behavior needs changed.

Strongmen/Insecurity – Our insecurity in foreign affairs leads us to be attracted to those promising wins and strength in the face of any foreign disagreement, trade negotiation, disputed territory etc.  We want to see scowls, tough talk, and simple answers in our diplomacy over respect, understanding problems and a will for all countries to be successful.  Giving in to this leads to cold wars, trade wars, actual wars, etc.  Diplomacy is an imperfect art but its greatest adversary is the internal struggle from each country to empower it.  Any decision to have your group put in some effort for those outside the group requires vulnerability which the temptation is to avoid.

Electing the strongman doesn’t lead to freedom…quite the opposite.

  1. Elect strongman selling pride, fear, and protection from insecurity
  2. Be afraid of strongman and avoid brainwork/vulnerability, do whatever he says
  3. No morality around to save anyone by way of compassion
  4. His excuses are the law, the actual law doesn’t matter
  5. Dictatorship

Under taxing – it is very hard to have a quality discussion on the federal budget or taxes.  How can you be knowledgeable about the entire budget?  It is also quite foreign in that much of it is misunderstood by the public and controlled by people foreign to us.  Likewise, its effect on the economy is not well understood.  This leads to many picking the most cynical and convenient outcome and using words like common sense, stick within its means, intuitive etc. 

Group supremacy – It can be attractive to be told you are special and you can be part of a group not burdened by morality or homework and win against groups you choose to dehumanize.  Nationalism, gangs, Enron cultures in business are ways you might achieve pride for yourself at the expense of the greater good.

Racism / Ostracizing minorities – being uncomfortable with foreign behaviors and beliefs, a desire for supremacy to another group, a common enemy to unite your group around.

Cynicism – The message in cynicism is you are a fool if you believe the answer is effort, work, hope, understanding, mental engagement.  The fiscal conservative message is largely based on this notion of being cynical around either the safety net, federal institution efficiency, or resources going outside the group without putting much, if any work into understanding the situation.

Spinning words and literature – taking a word or literature that has a positive or negative view from society and giving it another definition without giving the definition.  Family, support the troops, Christianity, patriotism.  In normal discussions these mean giving but not in always in politics.  Family can mean acting selfishly. Support the troops can mean don’t question the war.  You can remove the values from religion and turn it into winning and believe a story. Freedom and liberty can mean freedom from hierarchical oppression or freedom from moral obligations.  Being told what to do in either case creates the same feeling right? America itself can just mean things that make you feel good and are familiar or it can mean something of substance, with values.  Some will emphasize Islamic terrorism or communism to create a simplistic us vs them culture even though the moral wrongs of the groups they reference have little to do with religion or the communist ideology.

Personal Takedowns – it can be much easier to take down the individual making the inconvenient argument than to go after the argument itself.  Political questions by nature involve uncertainty such as healthcare, foreign policy, safety net effectiveness.  Once you demonize the people of the day standing for idealism you then use their names as slander, as something to defeat.  Focusing on gaffes or perceived gaffes instead of ideas.

“I understood the infamous spiritual terror which this movement exerts, particular on the bourgeoisie, which is neither morally nor mentally equal to such attacks; at a given sign it unleashes a veritable barrage of lies and slanders against whatever adversary seems most dangerous, until the nerves of the attacked persons break down….This is a tactic based on precise calculation of all human weaknesses, and its result will lead to success with almost mathematical certainty.”

Adolf Hitler

Other Methods – These were used in Hitler’s 1939 speech in response to FDR asking if 31 surrounding countries are under threat prior to the start of WWII or general techniques the Nazis used in annexing territory prior to armed conflict. He is certainly not the only bad actor to use these techniques.

  • Calling goodwill a hypocrite (US revolution, Indians, Civil War)
  • Doesn’t goodwill have better things to do?
  • My group has been wronged. (Treaty of Versailles after WWI)
  • Intimidate the groups you want to bully and ask them if they feel threatened. (Hitler writes all the countries under threat and “asks” them if they feel threatened.)
  • Make agreements you have no intent to keep and blame the other side when you want to break them.
  • Taking over territory is “liberating” it.
  • Germany is coming in to protect the Germans in the area from getting bullied in stories you make up.

Prejudice – definition: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Another definition: Pick the emotionally attractive solution without engaging the brain, usually to avoid problems, avoid fear, avoid change, rebellion against authority, to give into the strongman, or pick the self-serving solution.

Prejudice exists in some form around many tribal belief systems but some of the belief systems themselves were created with prejudice and some were not.  Some morality systems are based on giving and some are not.

Tribalism multiplies temptation or goodwill

  • If it is hard to act in goodwill and not with pride it is harder to ask your tribe to do the same.
  • Once you are in a group that justifies immorality in favor for pride it is hard to stop that snowball.
  • Work or courage for the group is contagious and can bring joy.
  • Honor systems can be effective and warm one’s heart.

Image Reference

Shutterstock: Lightspring

How We Are Divided

We have to come to grips with what the world is.  The world is not divided over differing philosophies or different views. The only way to properly frame and simplify our political reality is through the human conscience.

The Right Thing

  • Values/Brainwork before Pride/Convenience/Fear
  • Defined by caring
  • Sustainability
  • Pull each other up
  • Economy for all
  • Protect the vulnerable
  • World Perspective
  • No enemies, Mend Fences
  • Peace
  • Hope
  • Share in Joy
  • Forgive
  • Stand up to International Aggression
  • Courage

Political Temptation

  • Prisoners of Pride/Convenience/Fear
  • Unquestioned loyalty to chief pride seller/protector
  • Defined by enemies
  • Fear of Foreign
  • Fear of Change
  • Defiance to Moral Authority
  • Do Gooder Hate
  • Avoid Vulnerability
  • Avoid Problems
  • Kiss up, kick down
  • Cynicism
  • Under-taxing
  • Joy/utopia is undesirable (requires vulnerability and brainwork), focus on us > them
  • Exploit weaker groups
  • Against standing up to other aggressor groups

It may not feel good to have an authority tell you to behave and contribute, and it may be tempting to go with those that offer easy answers, convince you of your native importance, and protection from the unfamiliar, but this is a dark road.

If we can convince the world to be value driven, we will be able to live in peace, to make sure the basic needs of all are met and avoid desperation/violence.  If we do not have the strength and courage to stand up for these values then those attracted by easy answers will steer us toward unsustainable futures, asset bubbles, cold wars, ignoring problems that shouldn’t be ignored, and dehumanizing those who shouldn’t be dehumanized.

Our subconscious, our gut, our intuition is really a bunch of shortcuts we have developed over our evolution to circumvent hard brainwork.  Many of these shortcuts serve pride, convenience and fear.  Some serve compassion, pattern following and logic.  Just because you feel good or bad about something doesn’t mean you have to obey that feeling. Sometimes we have to use our brains to overwrite that emotion. In our politics we have to do the hard brainwork.  If you wish to persuade others or create art look to understand the subconscious.

It is better to refer to our political system as empowering values or temptation as opposed to trying to create any us vs them.  It isn’t so much one group vs another group but a fight going on in everyone’s mind.  It can be more persuasive to create a picture of the world and a picture of possible futures than to tell others to behave themselves.

3rd parties are ever trying to enter into the two-party system but that is a bastardized situation.  You want this temptation over here but morality over here.  When you empower temptation, you empower all the temptations in a two party system. 

Not the Enemy

  • Different Nations
  • Different Races
  • Different Religions
  • Different Lifestyles

Also Not the Enemy

  • Cares about the Environment
  • Cares about other Countries
  • Cares about the Vulnerable
  • Cares about Pay Fors (Taxes)
  • Your mom telling you to clean your room

Stand up to

  • Those abusing you or others to their own benefit

While some may think the solution to our partisan divide is to get together and hash it out, this belies the fundamental nature of what is.  Tribalism combined with temptation will seldom subject itself to the vulnerability needed in a compromise.  Many in that mindset would rather spite goodwill and the entire group than compromise.

In order to bring down partisanship we have to be assertive with the aggressor and our values.  That requires being disagreeable at times, making others feel insecure because you have to, and taking on the resulting spite. Silencing those standing for what is right will not end conflict.  When it is apparent society wishes for “the right thing” partisanship will fall.

How to end arguments / partisanship

  • Tell the 2 parties to stop and work it out
  • Think about why the confrontation occurred
  • Be assertive with the aggressor and your values

The principle argument of this work is

  1. Our politics is split along the human sense of right and wrong
  2. The right thing is desirable

It may be more attractive to align with those seeking pride for you, or sit in the middle and have both sides cater to you, but the right thing to do is align with the people trying to do the right thing and ask yourself how you can help.

Image Reference

Shutterstock – Nerthuz

Standing for What’s Right

There are many ways to give back to society, from working a job, to raising a family to helping the community, to donating time and money to various causes.  You can risk your life as a police officer, firefighter, or in the military. One very important way for us to give back is to stand up for our values when temptation tries to bring them down.  This can be a tough discussion with a family member over an addiction or behavior, it can be asking your group to put in some effort for some just cause, and it manifests in the partisan divide we live in, fighting for what is right against those that will seek to put out your light the moment you turn it on.

Being a moral authority can be anything from encouraging others to eat healthy, be active, to sustainability, to needed tax increases, to preventing forest fires, to not littering, saving the rainforest, prevent poaching, to treating others with respect.  Partaking in any of these risks backlash.  Human beings protect their pride with anger, cynicism, and put downs.

When society lacks strong figures standing for what’s right it falls for dictators, pride, protectionism, and a politics controlled by pride and fear and not by collective goodwill.  Positive forces in politics are about brainwork, respect, values, and standing for values in the face of spite.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Image Reference

United States National Park Service

Political Temptation – Pride, Convenience, and Fear

Things that prevent society from achieving harmony are temptations to that objective.  Temptations are reasons to go against the greater good of the group, self-serving over the greater good, convenience over what is right, giving into fear over doing the right thing.

The written law is actually a code to ensure we don’t give into many temptations at the expense of the group.  Whether that is theft, assault, murder or business practices like building codes, environmental regulations, labor regulations and safety regulations.  The law encourages all of us to be a better form of ourselves by identifying temptations, ensuring they are not taken, and enforced if needed.  Yes, some self-destructive habits such as drugs are included because we are a society that cares for each other.  Watching one self-destruct at the mercy of a drug hurts the collective.

Not all temptations are in the law, however.  In politics, there are temptations such as under-taxing, giving into the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable, seeking pride by forsaking morality, and forgoing diplomacy.  If cops and judges are the enforcer of the written law then goodwill politicians are those who fight against these temptations. In truth, the law only matters if human beings say it matters.  Otherwise it can be the excuse given by the strongman that dictates law.

Framing some political temptations:

Themes around pride, convenience, and fear can be created when thinking about temptation and things that pull us away from harmony.

Fear of the Foreign/Unknown – We grow fond of what is familiar and fear what we don’t understand.  Some of our greatest fears are ill founded based on what could be. Some leaders play off these fears using different races, nations, religions, immigration, lifestyles to divide us to their own ends. We would rather give into the strongmen we are familiar with than deal with the unknown.  When there is needed change in society fear stands in the way, but it is being stagnant that has brought the downfall of many more countries and companies than proactive change.  Even in hostage situations the hostages will eventually look to the hostage taker for security.

Fear of pride vulnerability – Avoiding the doctor, avoiding asking for help, avoiding confrontation, taking the fearful/non vulnerable position in things that are uncertain like federal spending, diplomatic relations, or the safety net.  Giving up on hope.

Protecting Pride / Insecurity / Defiance to Moral Authority / Spite – The greatest driver of partisanship. Supporting left wing policies can be similar to creating a marketing campaign for a child to clean his room. It’s not necessarily a logical problem but an emotional problem, especially when many are willing to support our rebellious tendencies.  Those telling us to care for each other, the environment, the poor, sustainability, don’t litter, eat healthy, prevent forest fires are not the enemy.  Distaste toward Hollywood activists, do good cars, do good diets, elites etc. falls in this category.  Short of actual fear, the need for humans to protect their pride and their insecurities is a high priority.

Right wing rally support for oil drilling and coal mining isn’t an altruistic support for those laborers.  They are protecting their own pride.  Conservative media are those willing and able to act with confidence to put down the name idealists and goodwill thinkers of the day, thus protecting the pride of the listener.  The more confident and angrier they are, the more popular and better they are able to carry out this purpose. 

How anger is created in politics:

Causes >>>  Goodwill/Thought/Conscience >>> Change/Resources >>> Insecurity/Fear >>> Anger/Spite >>> Counter Anger/Frustration from Goodwill

Going after counter anger will not solve anything.  That is the last step.  The insecurity and fear leading to anger must be addressed.  A society with meaning, purpose, and joy doesn’t exist without the capability to have shame.

Cheap Group Pride – Becoming part of a group that dehumanizes others.  You are special because you were born this way or are part of this group that is better than others.  A way to achieve pride without doing creative work or facing fear.  Bringing down the pride of those around you to increase yours…bullying, imperialism, gangs, Enron culture in business.

Seeking Pride – Seeking authority and power for yourself or your group at the expense of greater civilization and its values, power tripping.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Convenience – Stress and Problem Avoidance – when we have a problem or an insecurity, we want it to go away.  Words like family or jobs or economy can be used as excuses and fear creators to avoid problems of the day.  Freedom, liberty and the constitution (by extension) can be used as excuses to avoid moral obligations.

Convenience – Individual or smaller group before the collective – protectionism, acting in a lazy manner, dehumanizing others that may place a burden on you.  Putting instant gratification over the long term such as tax cuts and asset bubbles.

Convenience / Protecting Pride – Simplifying and Dividing Around Absolutes – simplifying your political identity into an all-in position on a moral gray area the human conscience doesn’t understand.  Moving away from hard truths on things that are important to an absolute on something that doesn’t require work or courage.

Convenience – Common Enemy – Many times in groups we are highly sensitive to not talking bad about anyone within the group but talk smack of others to create a common enemy to bring the group together around.  Gossip and our inability to keep secrets are also related to trying to form bonds. 

Line of logic: By taking this stance I belong to this tribe as defined by our enemy (this tribe) and I create my place in my tribe by spiting the enemy.

Image References