Why do intelligent, well-meaning people disagree?

I have changed the tag line of my site with this question.  I have also added it as a permanent page to the blog.  The text below is now on this new page.

I am blessed to have wonderful friends and family.  They are good people.  They wish for peace and prosperity for themselves, the people they care about, their country, and the world.  They are very intelligent, thoughtful people who take an interest in the world and are reasonably well informed.  I also think that I am a reasonably good, reasonably intelligent person.  So why is it that when it comes to politics, most of my friends, my family, and I profoundly disagree?

Why do intelligent, well-meaning people disagree?   I have never seen anybody else seriously address this issue. This subject fascinates me.  My blog can go in many directions, from memorable movies to global warming, but the majority of my blog focuses on this key question.

I am a computer programmer.  In computers, we think in terms of input, process, and output.  If we share common goals, basically peace and prosperity, we desire the same output.  If we are intelligent, we have reasonably good process.  I believe the disagreement is primarily due to the input, the assumptions we make and how we frame the issue.

Early in life we form assumptions about how the world works.  We make these assumptions based upon our observations and what we believe to be common sense.  Once we make an assumption, this becomes the starting point for our thoughts on everything else.  We seldom re-examine our assumptions and we tend to hold our assumptions with a religious fervor, rejecting outright any argument that violates our assumptions.

To a certain amount this makes sense.  If a person starts with the assumption that 2+2=5, that person may be able to brilliantly argue that 4+4=10, but that argument is worthless as it is built on a faulty assumption.  You and I have better things to do with our time than to listen to this argument.

People can only have a reasonable discussion when the discussion begins with common assumptions.  Two Christians can have a fascinating debate using the text of the new testament as the basis for their arguments, but if you are a Jew, a Buddhist, or an Atheist, for example, their arguments mean absolutely nothing to you as you don’t accept their underlying assumptions.

In this blog, I try to examine our underlying assumptions, both good and bad.  It is only at this level that people of differing political philosophies can have any kind of meaningful discussion.  I, of course, tend to think my assumptions are good and try to justify them.  I welcome others to point out any flaws in my arguments.  If my assumptions are wrong, I want to re-examine them.  For example, a book I read recently by Malcolm Gladwell caused me to modify an assumption I had held for over forty years.

Bad assumptions aren’t the only type of input that causes well-meaning, intelligent people to disagree.  I think another problem is that we frequently don’t frame the issue properly.   For example, someone might say that he or she supports government program XYZ because it is a good program that helps people. I would ask is XYZ such a good program that it is worth borrowing money from China that our children and grandchildren will have to repay. Because of this debt they will not be able to afford many other good programs.  If this is true, do you still support XYZ?

I care about what causes intelligent, well-meaning people to disagree.  I don’t care about analyzing the opinions of people who don’t fit this category.  I don’t care about the haters, who are on both the left and the right politically.  I don’t care about the opinions of clueless, people who can’t identify China on a world map and give no thought to these opinions.

I hope through this blog to find others who find this topic fascinating.  While I will venture off into other areas that interest me, this is the predominant theme of the blog.  I hope you find it fascinating too.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 9 – People making more cause other people to make less.

Alternate Assumption: People making more cause other people to also make more.

Income inequality is one of the hottest political issues in America today.  People don’t think it is fair that some people make substantially more money than other people.  Proposed solutions include increasing taxes on the wealthy, raising the minimum wage, and limiting the pay of CEO’s.  The key assumption in this whole debate is that the total amount of wealth is a fixed pie.  People who take a bigger slice of pie force others to take a smaller slice.

It is a basic principle of economics that wealth is not a fixed pie.  It grows and contracts. The key to growing wealth is voluntary transactions.  For example, you buy a cup of coffee.  You are buying the coffee because to you the coffee is worth more than the money that you are paying for it.  The coffee shop owner sells you the coffee because to him or her, the money you pay is worth more than the coffee.  You both feel you are better off by making this transaction.  If not, you wouldn’t make the transaction.  This transaction has made both you and the coffee shop owner better off than if you hadn’t made the transaction.  In essence, you are both a little bit wealthier.

The key here is that the transaction is voluntary.  If the transaction is not voluntary, wealth is not increased.  If someone steals your money, wealth is not created.  When government taxes you, wealth is not created.  It is only when the transaction is voluntary, when both parties to the transaction think they are better off, that we create wealth.

Steve Jobs was exceptionally good at creating wealth.  When he returned to Apple as CEO, Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Now Apple has the highest market value of any company in America according to the latest rankings by Fortune magazine.  Steve Jobs earned billions as a result.  He was not the only one who benefited, however.  Millions more benefited from his success.  pPeople who invested in Apple, work for Apple, work for companies who sell to Apple, work for companies who develop software for Apple, or who simply enjoy using iPhones and iPads are all better off.   Would all of these people have better lives if we stopped Steve Jobs from creating wealth because he made too much money?

In the feudal societies of the middle ages, most transactions were not voluntary.  Nobles forced serfs to work for them and taxed from them just about everything they had.  Kingdoms grew wealthy not from innovating and creating but from plundering weaker kingdoms.  In these feudal societies, the assumption that one person growing wealthier causes others to become poorer was valid.  It is also why society did not progress for over a thousand years.  This assumption is also true in a modern autocratic society where dictators plunder from the rest of the population.

It is not true, however, in societies where most transactions are voluntary, where there is economic freedom.  The Heritage foundation ranks each country by economic freedom. Look at their rankings:  2015 Index of Economic Freedom.  Note that the most economically free countries are also the wealthiest countries.  The least free countries are the poorest countries.

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who is currently running for president, is calling for a top tax rate of 90%?  Why should an investor put money into a risky new company that might become the next Apple if when the company fails, the investor loses everything, but if the company succeeds, the investor only gets to keep 10% of the gain.  The investor doesn’t make this investment and just puts the money in the bank for a safe low interest. As a result, society loses the next Apple.

The belief that people making more cause other people to make less is a very popular, very dangerous, very bad assumption.