February 28, 2014

Am I a liberal?

Today, I visited a corner that has two used bookstores. I walked into one, dropped off my bag under one of the tables of books and asked how much they'd buy my Grisham book for. They said no thanks, and that they already have too many.

I walked next door and asked the same question, "I'd like to sell this John Grisham book, what can you offer me?" The owner of the store looked at the book and said apologetically that he can only give me $1. I thought for a second and said, sure sounds good. I recently donated two books to the same shop because they didn't want them. Readers need used bookstores more than the owners of the stores need our books. They are in the business of selling books, not buying them.

I buy my Grisham books for $3 and sell them back for $1. When my friend found out how little I sold my book for, she was horrified. I thought to myself, "Oh my God, am I a liberal?"

My answer is a resounding NO. I see the used bookstore owner as providing a service to me and I am excited to support him. I don't mind paying for his books and getting little back when I return them after two days. I recognize that this is how his business works. He essentially has a book rental system with optional returns. I want him to succeed.

Not long ago, I saw people as no different from corporations whose value rises and falls. A person's happiness is somewhat like a corporation's environmental programs created to decrease carbon the business expels or events for good causes that businesses put on to improve their public image. These are nice-to-haves.

The bookstore is owned and run by a solo-preneur. If I negotiate and fight for every $.50 from him, over time, the number of used bookstores in the world will decrease because the same will be happening all over the world. The bookstore owner is not my nemesis and does not use coercion to force me to sell my books to him, he is essentially my customer when I sell him books. This is quite different from my friend's version of the story in which I should be able to simply swap one Grisham for another of equal quality. Just as I want good prices for his products, I should give him a good price. If I don't, then his prices will go up, and I'll lose in the end.

John Grisham used to be a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives before he became one of the bestselling authors in the English language. Despite no longer being a politician, he has more power to make me liberal than does any politician in office. For conservatives who wish to become more liberal, I recommend reading Grisham's Street Lawyer about a lawyer who "switches sides" from working for big business to working for the homeless after a traumatic experience. My bookstore owner friend recommends Grisham's An Innocent Man which changed his view of capital punishment and made him a liberal at least for that issue.

One night, I met a twenty-year-old kid who grew up in a rich neighborhood just outside of Chicago. His background however, is not typical of the area. My friend Micah grew up in a commune. His parents chose to join this religious group in which they sign away their paychecks to the commune and in return, have use of a car, apartment space, meals, and clothing.

Everything is owned by the commune and everything is shared. The commune has special tax status, self-insures, and though the people may interact with non-commune dwellers on the street, in school, or at work, they own nothing and have a community to help them at a moment's notice. I had a hundred questions for Micah about the commune and learned that the difference between the commune and a cult is that you can leave the commune whenever you please. The commune sounds like a fascinating way to live. Micah thought it was a great way to grow up and now that he is old enough to choose his own living situation, he will remain in the commune way of life, but in a commune that is MORE liberal. He wants a more "sustainable" way of life, specifically, he wants a farm-share situation that doesn't rely on supermarkets and cars.

I love the free hugs movement and always give a hug to the crazy hippies who devote their lives to spreading hugs. I believe deeply in physical human contact whether it manifests through dance, sex or hugs as long as both parties consent. I think more is better and that we are not going to reach a tipping point where there is too much. Anyway, I saw a "free hug" guy, gave him a hug and listened to him share his frustration with modern society. Originally from Italy, he spent 17 years in India and feels that TV is destroying human relationships. He felt that it was causing people to "close their doors." He mentioned that he saw this in Italy, in India, and everywhere.

I also met a Japanese guy who lived for ten years in Thailand. Like my attitude with selling books, the twenty year old commune kid, and the Italian free hug guy, the Japanese man is someone who I'd classify as super liberal. Minutes after we met, he started railing against Americans abroad, though he lived in New York for 25 years. After he'd exhausted his complaints about Americans, he then proceeded to all things he hated about Bangkok, and finally, about his frustration with his own laziness.

Both the Italian and the Japanese guy who I met today were super liberal, but also outwardly very angry and unhappy. I am uncertain where I will be regarding my political stance on economic issues in the future, but I know I don't want to be like the Italian or the Japanese men. There's no way that I can be a liberal.

The two parties in the U.S. are very similar. They are both big government parties who wish to take tax money and subsidize large businesses with the intent of recycling money back to campaigns and political action committees. The liberals want to limit economic freedom (ie: higher taxes, deciding how money is distributed in society), while the conservatives want to limit individual freedom (anti-abortion, putting drug users in jail, keeping foreigners from gaining citizenship). I believe in freedom. No one should be able to make decisions for me (ie: force me to buy healthcare). No government should steal my money (ie: force me to pay taxes or threaten imprisonment). No one should slow my freedom to travel (ie: require visas limiting days in a country).

With these views, I don't think I fit into either of the two political parties in the U.S. I think I'd anger both the conservatives and the liberals if I claimed either one to be my own. Economically free countries to move to include Singapore, Hong Kong, Chile and Georgia, but I'm still trying to figure out where citizens are given both individual freedom AND economic freedom to the extent that I require. Maybe I'll just find an island to create my own anarchic utopia. Hey readers, do you have any suggestions for my new home?


  1. I think there's a large idealogical difference between the two parties in America on the very issue of freedom. The Democratic concept of freedom is freedom from the constraints of the marketplace: in other words, government guaranties a living wage, health care, retirement benefits. The Republican concept is freedom to compete in the marketplace by reducing regulation and taxation. The social issues are incidental. Mainstream Democrats and Republicans have no love for restriction of social liberty, but Republicans had an opportunity to draw in social conservatives, and Democrats never did. I think they align more easily with the Burkean ideal of the educated, virtuous citizen as the basis for the state, than with the Rousseauean idea of the noble savage as the basis for the state. The Burkean citizen has respect for life and self-control; the Rousseaean citizen does what feels good, and that's OK to Rousseau, because since savages are noble, whatever he does is noble, and government is to blame for repressing him. Both perspectives agree on the primacy of freedom of expression, as that is one of the most central principles of the American and British constitutions. As an American, I am often shocked to see how little they are respected in the rest of the world.

  2. In 20 years, US foreign policy will look very different. Those under age 35 don't believe in intervening in international affairs that don't affect the US. I think we will use military force less frequently. As today's under 35's become bigger campaign contributors, warmongering politicians will receive less support.