Recently, Jesse A. Myerson has defended five economic reforms that he thinks fellow members of his Millennial Generation should “start fighting for, pronto, if we want to grow old in a just, fair society, rather than the economic hellhole our parents have handed us.” Myerson’s proposal is ambitious, including “Guaranteed Work for Everybody” and “Social Security for All [aka universal basic income]”. As one might expect, conservatives and libertarians have been highly critical. One fellow Millennial accused Myerson of trying to convince their generation to have “their livelihoods funded and assigned by the state,” thus completely ignoring the lesson they all were taught by “Lois Lowry’s The Giver in middle school.”
I therefore found it very interesting to read Dylan Mathews’ suggestion that by framing the “policies a bit differently” Myerson’s reforms sound “almost like a conservative wish list.” Mathews provides a list of conservative arguments (and cites well known and respected conservative thinkers) defending the same policy proposals.
At a minimum, this is a wonderful demonstration of the power of framing. Although the policies listed in Myerson’s and Matthews’ pieces are identical, one seems left wing and the other seems moderately conservative.
But I think it might also suggest that there is more ideological common ground today than is often supposed. While the visceral social media response followed all-too-familiar tribalistic partisan divisions, Matthews demonstrates that Myerson’s proposals, which are as “left wing” as anything I’ve seen from Millenials, have been endorsed by such conservatives/libertarians as Kevin Hassett, Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, Veronique de Rugy, Henry George, Paul Ryan, John Sununu and Reihan Salam. Could it be that there is less of “a bitter political struggle to be waged” than Myerson assumes? Is he actually more “conservative” and his critics more “progressive” than they all seem to think?
UPDATE: Ezra Klein offers an insightful analysis of what the response to both Myerson’s and Mathews’ posts says about public opinion and the state of our politics. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but here’s a taste:
Two articles both advocating the exact same policies. But one of them thrilled liberals and infuriated conservatives. The other infuriated liberals and thrilled conservatives.
Oftentimes when we think we’re engaged in reasoned policy discussion we’re actually engaged in complex efforts to rationalize the direction in which our tribal affiliations are pushing us. Psychologists call this motivated reasoning. And they’ve shown its power in laboratory settings again and again and again.