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Why worry about political labels?

July 29, 2012

Governing systems are an important element of the infrastructure for human progress. Your short-term personal well-being turns out to heavily depend on which side of imaginary political boundary lines you live on. Invisible lines also seem to matter significantly for long-term technological innovation.

So designing better governing systems is a passion of mine, and designing better ecosystems for the growth and experimentation with governing systems is even more important.

That’s why I worry about political labels and even made up a new one, “Structuralism”. Labels, despite their bad reputation, are useful. They can be used to frame political debates and determine which issues are treated with urgency and  importance.

For example, one of the most heated American political debates in the last decade is the question of whether the top marginal income tax rate should be  35% or 39%. From the way partisans talk about it, you would think a 4% tax rise an event of importance on par with the barbarian sack of Rome, with the roles of axe-wielding barbarian and last guardian of civilization switched between 35-percenters and 39-percenters depending on which area of the country you live in. I have no doubt that other countries have their own urgent trivia.

The use of traditional political labels like “liberal”, “conservative”, or “libertarian” keep political energy focused on bloody partisan trench warfare and online reputation management over tiny policy differences. No energy is left for the far more important task of improving the political infrastructure. New labels can change that.

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  7. August 3, 2012 8:59 pm

    Did you intend to write about political labels, or was that just an excuse to trivialize the impact of increased taxation? Looks a lot like the latter to me, considering you’ve already written about Structuralism (as you link to yourself).

  8. Jonathan permalink
    August 1, 2012 12:09 am

    Totally agree, but Structuralism is technically not a new political label, but I’m all for popularizing it.

  9. Abelard Lindsey permalink
    July 31, 2012 2:32 am

    Robert Heinlein said it best, when he said political labels such as liberal, conservative, traditionalist, etc. were not primary categories. In reality, people divide politically into two groups. The first group believes people should be controlled and the second has no such desire.

  10. July 29, 2012 9:24 pm

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    Check out my political blog if you have the time!

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