Thursday, January 2, 2014

Right and Left Thinking

As I became convinced of the practical and theoretical defects of the social-democratic tendencies of my youth, it was but a short distance to a philosophy of restrained, free-market governance that gave more space and place to the individual and to the civil society that stands between citizen and state.

Charles Krauthammer, MD, Things That Matter, Crown Forum, New York, 2013

 Why do we lean right or left?   I’ve been thinking this ever since I  read Charles Krauthammer’s book Things That Matter, and as  I listened to Brian Lamb interview Yuval Levin,  a leading conservative commentator, founder and editor of the journal National Affairs, and author of The Great Debate, which is about the birth of Left and Right thinking.

Why do I think the way I do, which is to the right of center?   I suspect it’s because capitalism, with all its faults, works,  and collectivism, with all of  its assumed virtues,  doesn’t. Like Krauthammer,  I think pragmatically and empirically.   Krauthammer describes his evolution from being a card-carrying liberal, writing speeches for Walter Mondale,   to becoming a grudging admirer of Ronald Reagan,  and  now regular on Fox News.  

Krauthammer is widely considered to be the most influential conservative commentator, and his book Things That Matter, which consists of 87 columns and essays written over the last 30 years,  since he abandoned psychiatry for journalism. has been number one on the New York Times best seller list for the last 8 weeks.   

Perhaps because he is a doctor,  I  identify with Krauthammer. 
Not so with Levin.  He is a deep-minded conservative public intellectual who bases his book on the public discourse between Edmund Burke (1729-1797) and Thomas Payne (1737-1909), conducted 200 years ago. Burke is considered  the father of modern conservatism, and Payne was noted for being author of Common Sense and a pro-government true believer. 

Frankly, I  had trouble following  the nuances of their respective positions. I know Burke, an Irishman who became a leader in the Enlgish Parliment, was for civil liberties and individual rights while Payne advocated “a public pension system for the poor, free public education, public benefits for parents, and a progressive income tax.”

In his interview with Lamb, however, Levin noted that the Left deeply believes in government elites,  policy experts, making policy pronouncements from the top and running government,  while conservatives back society-driven and market-driven government.   

You can clearly see the liberal state of mind with ObamaCare with its various provisions emphasizing government-inspired accountable care organizations, compliance with 2000 pages of new health care regulations,   doctor pay based on performance  government criteria,   rewards for installing a massive electronic medical record system, value-based rather than volume-based reimbursement,  and health plans offering comprehensive benefits rather than what individuals choose or desire.  

Centralized government policies makers gasp at the thought of decentralized decision making -   patients choosing health plans  they think is best for them and fits their needs,  and  doctors making  unilateral decisions based on individual criteria rather than following government guidelines.   As I noted in my book, The Health Care Maze(Greenbranch Publishing, 2011)

Government may think it knoweth,
What is best for most of us.
But the market often bestoweth
What is good for the rest of us.

Tweet:   Whether you lean left or right depends on whether you regard government thinking or individual thinking as paramount.

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