–Talking past each other

The debt hawks are to economics as the creationists are to biology.

The proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage cannot and will not ever agree. They are talking past each other. The problem is that the issue is religious/moral for some and legal/moral for others.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage focus on what they believe to be religious/moral factors. They quote the Leviticus passage, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” Those who support same-sex marriage focus on what they believe to be legal/moral factors. Many laws grant special privileges to married couples, not offered to unmarrieds. This is felt to be a violation of the 14th Amendment’s, “equal protection clause.”

Although the above is something of an oversimplification, it is impossible for people to agree, when they’re arguing about two different things. More examples:

Israelis and Palestinians may disagree on some facts (“Who was here first? Who fired first?), but fundamentally, the Jews really are talking about the Holocaust and Jewish survival (“Never again”) and the Palestinians really are talking about choice and Palestinian survival (“We have nowhere else to go.”) They are talking past each other.

The pro-lifers are talking about morals (“Do not murder.”) and the pro-choicers are talking about science (“An embryo is not yet a sentient human”). They are talking past each other.

Democrats feel caring for people is good for the economy. Republicans feel caring for the economy is good for people. They are talking past each other, and when people talk past each other, they don’t hear each other.

Listen to any argument, and eventually you’ll hear the words, “Yes, but.” That’s shorthand for, “I don’t want to listen to, or even think about, what you said” (That’s the “Yes” part). “I only want you to think about what I’m about to say.” (That’s the “but” part.)

There lies deep within us, the fear that if we listen too closely, our own arguments will be demolished. So we resist listening, lest we are forced to admit we are wrong, and our world will come crashing down.

Being consciously aware of this, I make a special effort to try to listen to debt hawks’ facts. Unfortunately, their favorite word seems to be “idiot, ” often followed by “stupid,” and they never get around to offering facts I can evaluate. They focus on popular wisdom and I focus on data, so we simply talk past each other, something like the creationists and the scientists.

What’s the solution? Courage. Have the courage to see your treasured beliefs proved wrong. Have the courage to evaluate the other guy’s side. Have the courage to listen, and perhaps to come to an accommodation. Any fool can close his mind and shout louder. It takes real courage and intelligence to listen, truly listen, to the other guy’s side.

Of course, that depends on the other guy presenting a side, rather than limiting himself to telling you you’re an idiot.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity

5 thoughts on “–Talking past each other

  1. Perhaps if we remove the politics from the conversation that would help.

    In regard to same-sex marriage: What happens if we remove the incentives on marriage from the state and thus take the politics out of the conversation? If there was no economical advantage via the state, would we need the state to validate our marriage? Would it then matter about same-sex marriage?

    In regard to MMT: If we remove from the conversation any Keynesian theory that government must participate in correcting an economy, can we agree that chartalism does in fact explain our current monetary system? (Remove fiscal policy discussion from monetary policy discussion.)

    100% of communication is propaganda. “Pass the salt”, “Hot enough for ya?”, “Saints win the Super Bowl!” All of these statements and questions are spoken to influence the listener. What if the influence on communication removed the politics? The discussion would still include propaganda, but perhaps we’d remove the government’s role and the politics behind any of these messages. Perhaps then we could come to agreement on many more matters.

    Finally, you’re very correct on people not willing to say they were Wr…, Wr…, Wro… It’s as though we all have Arthur Fonzarelli disease.


  2. Re. same sex marriage, the “registered domestic partners” approach is a separate-but-equal attempt to do as you suggest. Of course, as with previous separate-but-equal ideas, there seems more emphasis on “separate,” and far less on “equal.”

    As for Chartalism, the fundamental concepts, namely that the federal government has the unlimited ability to create money, which makes borrowing and taxing unnecessary for federal spending, are not subject to debate. They simply are the facts. One can debate the economic effects of decisions based these facts, but not the basic facts.

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell


  3. “registered domestic partners”

    Why should gay or straight be forced by the state to declare their union? if there is no license given then how can anyone get special treatment? And if own a business shouldn’t I be able to decide if I only want gay couples to use my business? And if I do decide this can’t I also decide how to recognize the union?

    It would seem that if 1) taxes are removed, 2) social security is paid to anyone, that government should no longer need to worry if you are married. There is no “marriage benefit” in the tax code. There is no survivor benefit either.

    (Sorry, I know this wasn’t the original intent of your post.)


  4. “One can debate the economic effects of decisions based these facts, but not the basic facts.”

    Just to clarify, do you mean to say that chartalism by itself does not predispose some kind of economic implementation? For example if we embraced chartalism we would not necessarily by default be spending to pump up the economy, pay for social security, give everyone a job? These are just government policy, not chartalism by definition or monetary policy, but rather fiscal policy.

    I always think of it as Mosler’s idea that depending on your politics you either want more government spending or less taxes. Either way, we still live in a chartalist system.


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