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B.J. Epstein

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Fail-Fail Solutions: Politics, Economics, and Equal Rights

Posted: 03/09/2012 00:00

With the presidential election coming up in the United States later this year, there are a lot of discussions about the two main parties and what they stand for. Or at least there should be - sometimes it seems as though elections are more like popularity contests than serious decisions made based on policies.

In discussing the choice of Obama versus Romney, I've been somewhat surprised by the number of people who have made a comment along the lines of, "Sure, Obama may be more politically liberal, and may have social policies and ideas that I agree with, but Romney's fiscal conservatism will save me money. And it doesn't matter if women, gays, or other groups have rights if you're being taxed too much, because saving money ultimately will help everyone."

Something about this strikes me as seriously skewed. Are we actually in a situation where people are more concerned about having a bit more money than about ensuring that all people are treated fairly and equally? And doesn't this suggest a lack of understanding of economics in any case?

The simple fact is that if people are accepted and respected by society and encouraged to be their best possible selves, then they will work harder, purchase more, contribute more to the economy in general, and will help make more money for everyone. Telling, say, women that their rights don't matter until the US has low tax rates and a strong economy isn't going to make women feel like going to work and being productive members of society; just the contrary.

Many people who rely on economics as a way of understanding the world seem to assume that all humans are logical, rational beings who always make decisions based on what makes the most economic sense. For better or for worse, this is simply not true. Life is not about making investments and making rational choices; people have feelings and lives beyond fiscal issues, but those feelings and lives certainly affect finance.

What this means is that someone who is not welcomed in his or her society - say, a lesbian who doesn't get equal rights, is mocked by her colleagues at work, can't marry her long-term partner, and can't receive health care through her partner's job, among other problems - is not going to think, "Well, too bad about all that. But no matter, I'll just keep working hard and doing what's best for the US because I'm very rational about it all!"

Furthermore, most economic models ignore or downgrade many of the contributions - often unpaid - that women, among others, make to a society. The average woman who cooks, cleans, looks after children, runs errands, and so on for her household is contributing in a major way to her family and to society as a whole but without recognition or payment, often while also holding down a paid job. So why are these people to be ignored by fiscal policies?

What would happen if all people were given equal access to education, health care, food, and other basics, along with the right to be fully themselves? Wouldn't this lead to happier, healthier, better educated people who would work hard and help keep the economy running smoothly?

Why vote against what in actual fact may improve society and may make more money for everyone in the long-term? I certainly wouldn't say who to vote for and I recognise that there are many out there who genuinely believe that, for example, LGBTQ folks shouldn't be treated equally and thus won't vote for a candidate who would attempt to make that happen. But for those people who do believe in equality, it makes no sense to be so short-sighted.

Perhaps prioritising financial gain over empathy and genuine human concern for others is a mistake, because the final result actual ends up being that we succeed in neither area. Why not look for win-win solutions, rather than fail-fail ones?

 

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