If you’ve read my writings you’ve probably noticed one thing, I challenge the notion of there being only two sides to any given issue. The terms left and right, liberal and conservative, even republican and democrat are ultimately meaningless, and yet, political junkies and political science professors alike seem to think that the entire gambit of political philosophy can fit squarely on a two dimensional line, and that politics is all about “balancing” the two sides. However, this is a woefully dangerous position to take as it cannot measure the amount of government that exists in any given political system as well as how economic theory plays with that government intervention. The consequences that result from thinking two dimensionally about the political spectrum is that we can’t see our march towards maximum government, and so the political spectrum needs to be explained.
Libertarians are known for trying to blow away this fallacy, but I think it’s still not accurate. You may have taken the World’s Smallest Political Quiz or the Political Compass which try to map your place on a quadrant. This is an improvement certainly, but often we look at it wondering, again, where the increase in government is especially when you have terms like “left” and “right” libertarian. The Heritage foundation also seemed to be on to something when they showed the two dimensional spectrum as a measure of the percentage of government, but it doesn’t account for the many nuanced political theories out there, and we were still left believing that moving “right” was the answer.
The Political Spectrum Explained
After wracking my brain over this, wondering how best to visualize the spectrum, I realized that both the quadrant and wedge were correct, but needed to be joined together in order to be understood with clarity. What I ended up doing was taking the wedge created by the Heritage Foundation and extending it outward with the quadrant. It helps to see how you can have a left and right that are both authoritarian in nature (and yet still different), and how a corporatist society is not only not capitalist, but is on par with communism, just with a focus on corporate-run industry rather than government-run industry – the point being that you still have elitist rulers pulling the strings.
This visualization also explains how left and right libertarianism can both advocate for smaller government while viewing the economy differently. It’s important to note here that libertarianism tolerates both communitarian ideas (like communism and socialism) and the variety of free market systems equally, when they are both based on voluntarism. (When they’re not based on voluntarism, they are based on force, legal force, which means more government which results in communism). With the decrease in government intervention, comes an increase in the requirement of voluntary action and mutual respect, whereas the increase in government intervention brings about tension between government and corporations, both of which leave the individual left hanging high and dry.
I’ve arbitrarily placed a red line as to where I think “we are at.” This is completely subjective of course, but is probably close to the truth. We can see that both major parties on the left and right of the quadrant are on a march towards their respective authoritarian ideologies (communism on the left and fundamentalism on the far right), neither of which are good. In fact, it also explains why some have drawn similarities between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims. This also shows why libertarians seem all across the board on ideas sometimes; not only are we nowhere near the status quo, but there is very clearly a spectrum of libertarianism that stretches between the extremes of economic theory – anarcho-capitalism – a free market free from government intervention, and anarcho-communism – a voluntarist form of communism, again free from government intervention.
Now, there is plenty of room for debate about the merits and demerits of each political theory mentioned, AND the labels don’t necessarily match up with some of our terms, like “neo-conservative” which is absent from the chart. Certainly improvements could be made to this, but I think this four dimensional model provides a much clearer understanding of the relationship between government intervention and economic theory. It also takes away this notion of, or temptation to say that we just need to move further to the left or right in order to solve our problems. In fact, viewing the spectrum this way allows us to figure out where the millennial generation sits and why we seem to be “confused” according to some pundits. But if we understand the political spectrum, we can see that Millennials aren’t confused.
Where do Millennials fall on the spectrum?
In my Rio Rancho Observer column, I candidly took on a charge from a Baby Boomer who suggests that our political and economic plight is the fault of the Millennials (or will be) if we “don’t stop it.” (Apparently the “it” are the boomers themselves and their unsustainable policies of warfare and welfare that may be as addictive as heroin). The argument was interesting because it echoes what the media says about the millennial generation (of which I am one of the first in that generation having been born in 1981). Again, I read of millennials being self-absorbed and either uninterested or hoodwinked by politicians promising to give us our heart’s desires.
The media seems to be confused about us just as much as they say we’re confused about politics, but I’m increasingly convinced that we aren’t as screwed up politically as everyone seems to think. So let’s look at some stats: The Millennial generation is larger than the Baby Boomers by about 1 million people. We’re the most diverse generation with many “new” Americans, and we can of age at a huge turning point in world history namely at the time of 9/11, ballooning government spending, two unpopular wars, and the great recession. We’re also one of the most “schooled” generation in history, but those of us who know anything educated ourselves using the Internet.
Millennials are three times more likely than gen-Xers and boomers to be independent. By and large we despise the two party system, and refuse to be party loyalists even if we’re registered to vote with a party. In spite of our moderate view on economics and favorable view towards the free market (no really, we prefer the free market to socialism once we figure out that socialism means taking our money), we loathe the GOP’s positions of social issues like abortion, gay marriage, and immigration as well as their positions on foreign policy and warfare. This is likely due to the demographic makeup of our generation, and the fact the Internet makes it possible for us to reach out to and learn from people all across the world to provide us with new perspectives that American media doesn’t show us.
We have friends who were born outside the US, whether Muslim or Mexican (or whatever else, I don’t think we really even keep track of races of our friends), we have friends who are gay (and no, they’re not pedophiles), and we have friends who’ve had abortions for a plethora of reasons, ranging from fear of their conservative parents and churches to being financially unfit to care for a baby. (And no, adoption isn’t really an option when it costs thousands of dollars for prospective parents to adopt compared to the hundreds it costs to have an abortion).
We increasingly distrust government to manage spending, strive for international peace, or even take care of our own. Yes, we like social welfare programs where the poor are cared for, but we hate the taxes needed to pay for it, and we believe that private enterprise is better equipped to handle it. So where does all this put the millennial generation on the political spectrum?
Again, this red line is an arbitrary placement and as such is probably a broader range. But these polls seem to indicate that millennial lean towards smaller government spanning the depth of the spectrum between communitarian economics (voluntary socialism/communism) and free market economics (voluntary capitalism without corporate intervention in government). What does this mean? Millennials still need to figure out economics and so there will still be tension between a “left” and a “right” so to speak, but when we understand that bigger government means taking away our hard earned money, hands down we favor smaller government.
What does this mean for the two party system? Adapt or get off the boat. Unless the GOP let’s go of its social values as being something that government has authority over, it is going to die. The Democrats will stay afloat only until our generation fully understands that there is nothing voluntary about their platform. So they will have to adapt or get off the boat. And in many ways this is already happening as one study found that millennials are increasingly looking, “outside of government, forging individual pathways as entrepreneurs rather than invest collectively as citizens.” But more likely will be a move towards independent and third party politics, with a de-emphasis on party loyalties.
The Left/Right Paradigm does not exist in any meaningful way
Suffice it to say, I think the left/right political paradigm has been thoroughly debunked. And though I’ve still used terms “left” and “right” to explain various places on the spectrum, those terms are meaningless without the context of government intervention in our lives. There is already a mass exodus of voters from the two parties to registered independent status. There are now more independents in America than there are registered voters in either party – in fact, neither party can win without independents. And we’re still told the same old lie … that you have to work within the party and the system in order to make changes. Bullocks!