At a recent political event I encountered a libertarian group who were passing out a test designed to determine one’s political ideology. Their model had two continua represented as sides of a checkered board with 100 squares. This square board was rotated 45 degrees, with one continuum (2 opposite sides) containing the degrees between the extremes of statist (big government) vs. libertarian. The 2nd continuum on the board contained the degrees between the extremes of social liberal and social conservative. They were measuring the political opinions of attendees with a 20 question test, 10 questions designed to measure one’s statist vs. libertarian leanings, and 10 questions designed to measure one’s social liberal vs. social conservative leanings.
As an attempt to quantify voter psychographics into terms of political ideologies, this model is helpful and probably has a great deal of practical value to politicians and their campaign organizations. The choice of two ideological continuums, a moral value system, and a fiscal value system, is an astute recognition that common political labels, left and right, liberal and conservative, are multidimensional. But for political paradigms that model and map the collective political psychology of voters to properly reflect political reality – the structure of government and governance – another dimension is required.
This third continuum would measure the degrees between the extremes where vested interests collectively command and control the economy and society, and an extreme where there is a continuous and nurtured upwelling of aspiring, emergent interests. Put another way, those who favor the status-quo vs. those who favor a competitive, pluralistic system that embraces creative destruction and bestows upward mobility and material success based on merit.
When this continuum is applied, one might observe an identity of interests between anything big and entrenched, whether it is big government, big business, or big labor. Through the lens of this continuum, it is easier to recognize examples of policies that have worthy goals but also lead to the thwarting of upwardly mobile companies and individuals, despite the merit of their ideas and innovations. There aren’t many examples of how big government, big business or big labor – if they are aligned towards the status-quo extreme of mutual collusion – have been friendly towards competitive threats, whether they are emerging companies or disruptive innovations. Entrepreneurs with revolutionary, breakthrough technology to automate and improve and better our lives are disruptive to the wealth and power wherever it is; they are not always welcome.
Observing this third political continuum, representing a preference for dominance by status quo vested interests at one extreme, vs. embracing disruptive, upwardly mobile forces at the other, sends a multitude of valuable messages regarding how and where the force of democracy can be properly applied, and how enlightened electorates can be empowered. For example, embracing disruptive technologies and encouraging entrepreneurship often requires the dismantling of powerful bureaucracies across the spectra of vested interests – corporations, agencies, and unions. Such an embrace of competition and merit is color-blind and gender-blind, and gives the small players the chance to become big players; it nurtures economic pluralism in a free market. It embodies a version of capitalism that challenges conventional stereotypes.
Using the status-quo vs. upwardly mobile continuum can inform studies examining the reality of worker compensation between those who are lucky enough to work for the government, or belong to powerful private sector unions, and the rest of the workforce, who exist within the meritocracy of the globalized private sector. If you make these comparisons for workforces, the crowing by public employee union spokespersons about “executive compensation” is revealed as a canard, because the privileged members of public sector unions, ultimately, share a preference for the status quo with those wealthy elites. It is not tens of thousands of allegedly overpaid executives, but tens of millions of ordinary private sector workers, blue collar and white collar, non-union and often even those who are unionized, who occupy the other extreme on this new continuum, they are the upwardly mobile who compete in the global economy without special privileges.
If the voter demographics in the United States today could be quantified along the status-quo vs. upwardly mobile continuum – and if the consequences of a status-quo coalition controlling our political economy were adequately explained – it is likely a majority of the electorate would not prefer the status quo. But it is not social conservative vs social liberal criteria, or statist vs. libertarian criteria, that depicts this version of a society’s drift to an extreme. The commendable centrist middle squares within the two-dimensional political model described earlier do not recognize the extreme of status quo power, the reality of big government, big corporations, and big labor working in concert to perpetuate privilege and suppress competition.
Only by visualizing and aspiring to the centrist space within a cube that represents these three very distinct value continua can policymakers and policy advocates who aspire to a healthy democracy properly diagnose and cure the extreme of collusion between corporations, government, and unions, and place the other more conventional versions of left and right into their proper perspective.