elections pointed to deepening divisions among American people but has anyone
given serious thought to just why? I have part of the answer that starts off
with a simple example.
Different Americans have
different and intensive preferences for cars, food, clothing and entertainment.
For example, some Americans love opera and hate rock and roll. Others have
opposite preferences, loving rock and roll and hating opera. When's the last
time you heard of rock and roll lovers in conflict with opera lovers? It seldom
if ever happens. Why? Those who love operas get what they want and those who
love rock and roll get what they want and both can live in peace with one
Suppose that instead of freedom
in the music market, decisions on what kind of music people could listen to were
made in the political arena. It would be either opera or rock and roll. Rock and
rollers would be lined up against opera lovers. Why? It's simple. If the opera
lovers win, rock and rollers would lose and the reverse if rock and rollers won.
Conflict would emerge solely because the decision was made in the political
The prime feature of political
decision-making is that it's a zero-sum game. One person or group's gain is of
necessity another person or group's loss. As such political allocation of
resources is conflict enhancing while market allocation is conflict reducing.
The greater the number of decisions made in the political arena the greater is
the potential for conflict.
There are other implications of
political decision-making. Throughout most of our history we've lived in
relative harmony. That's remarkable because just about every religion, racial
and ethnic group in the world is represented in our country. These are the very
racial/ethnic/religious groups that have for centuries been trying to slaughter
one another in their home countries, among them: Turks and Armenians, Protestant
and Catholic, Muslim and Jew, Croats and Serbs. While we haven't been a perfect
nation, there have been no cases of mass genocide and religious wars that have
plagued the globe elsewhere. The closest we've come was the American
Indian/European conflict that pales by comparison.
The reason we've been able to
live in relative harmony is that for most of our history government was small.
There wasn't much pie to distribute politically.
When it's the political arena
that determines who gets what goodies, the most effective coalitions are those
with a proven record of being the most divisive - those based on race,
ethnicity, religion and region. As a matter of fact our most costly conflict
involved a coalition based upon region - namely the War of 1861.
Many of the issues that divide
us, aside from the Iraq war, are those best described as a zero-sum game where
one group's gain is of necessity another's loss. Examples are: racial
preferences, social security, tax policy, trade restrictions, welfare and a host
of other government policies that benefit one American at the expense of another
You might be tempted to think
that the brutal domestic conflict seen in other countries at other times can't
happen here. That's nonsense. Americans are not super-humans; we possess the
same frailties of other people in other places. If there were a severe economic
calamity, I can imagine a political hustler exploiting those frailties, just as
Hitler did in Germany, blaming it on the Jews, the blacks, the East Coast,
Catholics or free trade.
The best thing the President
and Congress can do to heal our country is to reduce the impact of government on
our lives. Doing so will not only produce a less divided country, greater
economic efficiency but bear greater faith and allegiance to the vision of
America held by our Founders - a country of limited government.