I contacted some of the people involved with the more right-leaning debate societies within the Yale Political Union and have gotten pretty strong interest in response. Unfortunately, most of these students have left town for the summer. Luckily, some people are still around and one young man who just completed his freshman year and is still in the area because of his summer job kindly agreed to meet me after he got off work. He is a 4th generation Jewish New Jerseyan and says he plans to move back after school, joking that he hopes to carry on the tradition by marrying a Jersey girl with roots as deep as his family’s. He was gracious and modest and thanked me for the opportunity to talk about political ideas, as if it were a food group that he was missing on his summer diet. He described his family’s political position as being “hugely”to the left, and both vocal and articulate. Since he as started to think along more conservative political lines he has taken to arguing with them all at once when he goes home for holidays. He says he usually looses the debates – because they are smart and older than him – but enjoys the challenge.
In high school he started reading about economics and he thinks that this was probably what started shifting his political beliefs to the right. He is now majoring in economics and mathematics and hopes to do tax policy for his life’s work.
His grandparents gave him stock in Johnson & Johnson as a present when he was born, and then continued the gifts as an ongoing birthday tradition. Throughout his upbringing they brought him to the annual stock-holders meetings, which gave him a sense of how possible it is for the shareholders of a company to affect how the company operates. He told me about having nun at the meetings pressing each year for the company to give more to charities and seeing the influence these women’s voices actually had. This for him showed that everyday individuals, and not just the rich and powerful, can affect the way companies do business and he saw this as evidence that corporations are more responsive to people than government agencies.
I asked him “why do we keep dividing as a society along the same left/right fault lines, between a vision of society based on the individual and a vision based on the collective?” He began saying that he thought the differences between the right and the left are fundamental, but then admitted he isn’t totally sure about that. He said sometimes he wakes up in the morning and thinks the left and the right are different kinds of people with different values. But this morning – and he admits most mornings – he wakes up and thinks that the left and the right share the same values, they just make different calculations about how to best approach those values. The values he stated as mattering to everyone regardless of politics were: the ability of individuals to control a substantial portion of their life, and the desire to avoid poverty, discrimination and oppression. He considers the basic calculation tools we use to achieve these fundamental values to be different according to your political allegiance, with optimism being held up by people on the left, and by the people on right, caution. he thinks the Right is right about the premise that free markets work better than governments in almost all cases in terms of efficiency, although he came right out and admitted they don’t necessarily work the best in term of fairness of results. He thinks the left is overly optimistic about the government’s ability to act as efficiently, equitably and non-corruptly as they hope. Another premise of the right that he thinks is important is that good results should not be arrived at by force, which is why wealth redistribution ends up being a bad idea, even if you want to help people in poverty because it means the governments role is to forcibly take from one group of people to benefit another.
We went back and forth discussing the pros and cons of privatizing social security. He advocated for the premise that people should be able to choose to invest with companies instead of the government, since companies are more accountable than government agencies, which have a complete monopoly and therefor are neither responsive or efficient. I tried my best to advocate for public social safety nets based on the idea that they make sure companies do not attempt to make a profit off of the basic needs of people, and that an entity that is accountable to the interests of all citizens is the very definition of the common good. We didn’t resolve this subject and I felt like I need to learn more out how social security actually works.
In the upcoming election there is only one issue that matters to him, which is the long term financial solvency of the United States. He says that this issue shouldn’t be a something that belongs only to the political right because it is not a question of values it is a question of math: we need to take in more money then we spend and the social security and medicare are flawed mathematically in the long term. I questioned him on the way that from the left’s perspective it often seems that cries for balanced budgets are public opinion ruses used by the right to eliminate social services and cultural support: an insincere means to achieve other political goals. He responded by saying that if Obama were to propose a budget that included raising taxes and balancing the budget he would vote for him. He cares about having a long term balanced budget, whether that comes from raising taxes, cutting spending or a combination of both matters deeply to him, but is irrelevant in comparison to just getting it done. He thinks the best way to achieve this would be by coming up with an economic plan that would move us toward balancing the budget over the next twenty years, but he recognizes the way that government changes every couple of years means that future congresses could undo even the best laid economic policies.