Updated on 03.01.11

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Politics Edition

Trent Hamm

Because some aspects of personal finance overlap with politics, I’m often asked what my political views are, particularly on specific issues. I usually don’t feel comfortable doing that, for several reasons.

First, I usually see benefits on both sides of the issue. Often, my feelings on a specific issue have more to do with me than it has to do with the merits of an issue. I can see how someone who grew up in a different environment or lives in a different environment might see an issue completely differently, and I respect that.

At the same time, I don’t like the absolutism that both sides of the political spectrum seem to fall into. There seems to be a sense that the other side can’t possibly be right on anything and that negotiating with the other side is a sign of weakness. My dislike for that perspective is far stronger than my feelings on any one specific issue.

In other words, I don’t like to discuss my views on specific issues because the political climate right now is in opposition to rationally discussing issues. For many people, there is no discussion – there is either right (what I believe) or wrong (what everyone else believes), and if you can’t argue the issues, you attack the other person’s religion or character or something else about them. There is no healthy conversation to be had there, so I don’t really feel the need to participate in it. I save such discussions for friends and family that I know are willing to actually listen to and consider a lot of viewpoints and won’t attack me for not wholly agreeing with them.

Our nation can only solve its problems and move forward if both sides recognize that there is far more to gain by compromising a bit and looking for solutions that we can all be reasonably happy with than by simply calling the other side names and refusing to even be involved in discussions and negotiation and compromise.

The funny part is, as I re-read what I just wrote, I can see people believing that I’m a big liberal and others believing that I’m a big conservative. I wouldn’t call myself either one.

The simple two-step process “Step one: Open all doors. Learn a little about a lot. Consider as many options as possible, then add more. Step two: Relentlessly dismiss, prune and eliminate. Choose. Ship.” This pretty much sums up my perspective on personal finance, on careers, and on life. (@ seth godin)

From the Rich to the Poor (or, What I Learned in Africa) If you found this article worthwhile, note that my sister-in-law is heavily involved with Jump for Joel, a charity that’s all about solving this very problem. (@ get rich slowly)

the worthlessness of net worth Net worth is a thumbnail sketch, nothing more, nothing less. No one number can completely describe your financial state. (@ brip blap)

Craft the Life You Want: Setting Up Shop or The Importance of Where You Live This is a very thorough article on living near people with similar ambitions and skill sets as yourself as a method of improving your own situation. (@ art of manliness)

How Misplaced Financial Priorities Lead to Lame Excuses Excuses never work. An excuse is a flimsy patch over a problem you need to be solving. (@ len penzo)

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  1. Rebecca says:

    the political climate RIGHT NOW is not interested in other views. Trent, no mater who has they majority, NO ONE is ever interested in the other sides views.

  2. Johanna says:

    Political issues aren’t just about beliefs and opinions – there are facts involved, too. And sometimes, one side actually is right, and the other side actually is wrong.

    I don’t think what you wrote here makes you sound like a liberal or a conservative (of any size). It makes you sound like the sort of “political junkie” who gets his political news from Jon Stewart.

  3. Michelle says:

    What’s funny is that most people will think you believe the exact opposite of them.

  4. Johanna says:

    Also, “both sides are just as bad, and they each need to compromise and stop standing for the things they believe in” is just as much of a political view as any of the views you’re supposedly criticizing. You think you’re placing yourself above (or at least outside) the debate, but really, you’re not.

    Also also, “listen and negotiate and compromise” is only a productive strategy when both sides have some shared sense of what a desirable outcome would be (but disagree about the best way to get there, for example). On many issues these days, not only do the two sides have completely different goals, but each side thinks the other side’s goals are morally abhorrent. In cases like that, people can listen to each other all day long, but it won’t bring them any closer to agreeing.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    Actually, this time I agree more with Trent than with Johanna.

    The political stance of any given person is totally about that person’s beliefs & opinions about the facts of an issue.

    Trent is just stating the obvious here, that political debate has deteriorated into uncivil discourse with no option to compromise to move forward. Politicians & mass media are digging in & either loudly arguing or refusing to even consider talking to someone with a different idea.

  6. Johanna says:

    @valleycat: But sometime’s a person’s political stance is based on misinformation (if not a dishonest interpretation of the actual facts). The discussion the other day about Wisconsin is a great example of this. The people who say “The unions just need to give a little bit and agree to some salary and benefit cuts” are either ignoring or unaware of the fact that the unions have *already* agreed to salary and benefit cuts.

    And “loudly arguing”? If your biggest problem with someone’s argument is that it’s too loud, maybe you don’t have such a problem with it after all.

  7. Dan M says:

    Even though you can see the benefits of both the conservative and progressive philosophies, surely you are more inclined towards one side?

    Don’t weasel out on this topic. I doubt people would care if you gravitate towards either left or right.

    ..Or maybe you’re a tea bagger and too ashamed to admit it publicly on your blog. If so, probably a good idea.

  8. Kerry D. says:

    While there are FACTS, they can get twisted, isolated from their context, used to create fear or distract, and used by both sides to document that their side is right. Or what should be done, given that fact.

    Trent, thank you for your discussion… it is so true. And I am very frustrated. The oppositional climate is really not good for our country in the long run.

  9. valleycat1 says:

    Johanna – in today’s political climate if you can’t even agree on what the actual facts are, and dismiss anyone who disagrees with you about the facts of the issue, what hope is there of a rational discourse to reach a useful solution?

    And, ok, drop the *loudly* from my other comment. I still stand behind it. Civil discourse can’t begin until you drop the ‘loud.’ The louder you shout, the harder it is for me to hear what you’re saying.

  10. Gretchen says:

    As Homer Simpson will tell you, you can use facts to prove anything.

    I thought you wanted to stay out of politics, Trent.

  11. Johanna says:

    @valleycat: The thing about facts is that they can be emperically verified. When two sides “can’t even agree on what the actual facts are,” one of them must be mistaken (or lying). And in that case, the solution is not “talk a little more quietly and work out a compromise that makes you both happy, then light a campfire and sing kum-ba-yah.” It’s “the people who are mistaken (or lying) need to stop being mistaken (or lying).”

    I agree with you that there’s very little chance of this actually happening. But we can still call people out on their mistakes (or lies). Loudly, if necessary.

  12. Chuck says:

    hi Trent,

    Thank you for your remarks. IMHO, I believe the press is the source of much of the turmoil on our political stage. The press only gives a forum, microphone and coverage to those voices that will say the most outrageous thing b/c that drives viewer-ship, readership, listener-ship, etc.

    For example, I believe that if both sides in Wisconsin sat down in a closed-door room and LISTENED to each other with a complete press blackout, they could reach a reasonable agreement.

    The press is getting a pass on this. It’s too bad no one holds them accountable…

  13. Chris Jones says:

    I agree with you fully about the current state of our political system. There is way too much blame by both sides and not enough honest open debate. I think the part system needs to be re-worked into a system with many diverse people with original ideas and no party agenda. I hope that our leaders can see past their own agendas and come to agreements based on factual “untwisted” information.

  14. valleycat1 says:

    @10 – You say “we can still call people out on their mistakes (or lies).” I’m not saying I lay back & accept faulty premises, but I have found that those I am convinced are most mistaken are those least likely to be swayed by any argument I can make.

    And then you continue: “Loudly, if necessary.” And now we circle right back to Trent’s position, which I happen to agree with: “In other words, I don’t like to discuss my views on specific issues because the political climate right now is in opposition to rationally discussing issues.” Sometimes it seems a total waste of breath, if no one’s willing to change their mind.

  15. JM says:

    I don’t think a blog about personal finance can or should avoid talking about the effects that certain policy decisions may or may not have on personal finances. Do the changes to medicare proposed by Paul Ryan’s roadmap for government spending matter to my financial situation during retirement? You better believe it. Do changes to the SS system matter? of course. What about changes to the tax code that take away the mortgage interest deduction, or favor a particular kind of investment over another? Yes, they do. If the next budget makes major cuts to the Pell Grant program, will I be able to afford to acquire the additional skills/knowledge to earn more money? Of course.

    “Politics” is the messy side of public policy, but those public policy decisions made by politicians have fundamental and significant effects on our personal finances. You could do a great service by initiating a de-politicized discussion of the public policy decisions that our elected officials will be making, and helping your readers understand how those decisions might change how they plan for their financial futures.

  16. I think it’s just your style, Trent, to never really stand in solidarity or opposition to anything. Doing so would jeopardize your readership…so you say things without actually saying anything. Reminds me of the article you wrote a while back that basically said you’ll let someone else solve the problems our society faces (in the context of environmental issues, if I remember correctly.) For someone who has local political ambitions, you don’t seem to have much interest in being an active participant in the process.

  17. Kerry D. says:

    Still, the facts aren’t so obvious as we’d like… look at the way statistics can be used to support various points of view on a given subject; the way climatic data is used to discuss atmospheric change (“global warming”) and when someone doesn’t like the facts that were presented, they can usually find some other scientist to give an alternate point of view. It’s probably worth checking the education and experience of the scientist on your side to decide which view to support, but few do.

  18. Hannah says:

    It makes me terribly sad that the current trend of irrational discourse and lack of civil debate is serving to silence us. We all have a voice, but giving up our right to use it because some refuse to listen or cannot hear, really means giving up a lot of our power. I feel like we’re all being bullied into silence.

  19. Heidi says:

    The political climate reminds me of the snooks and the zooks and the great butter side battle, which I think was never resolved.

    Trent, I think you’re very smart not to reveal your political persuasion, as if you were in the opposing corner, I most certainly stomp off in a huff, and you might lose half your readers!

    On a serious note, when you can find someone who opposes you, and can carry on a debate in a constructive manner, you can learn quite a lot. I think this is just not possible on a blog.

  20. Nicole says:

    I do not think that compromise is always the virtue it’s cracked up to be. There are some issues that are just too big, too important, and too much at the heart of who we are. In particular, we have a track record of compromising on slavery and racism that has gotten completely embarrassed by history. Hindsight may be 20/20, but I know which side I would have liked to shake out on and I don’t think we have to keep repeating the same mistakes.

    Why you needed to bring up politics is kind of a mystery to me, too…even if you take no position, you’re still starting your readers down the path.

  21. marta says:

    As some of the above, I am baffled at your insistence in bringing politics up despite you saying all the time that you don’t want to discuss them here. Personally, I believe that there are some issues where you *cannot* compromise at all. That aside, for some one who describes himself as a political junkie, your “opinions” seem to be pretty hollow, as you always say the same thing about *any* issue: “both sides only argue loudly, neither is right/wrong, can’t compromise, the end”. Or about some election: “so-and-so won, good luck to them”.


  22. AnnJo says:

    From many past posts, I know that Johanna and I come from opposing political camps, but I find myself agreeing with virtually everything she has said in her comments on this posts.

    People disagree on politics for one or more of four reasons:

    1) Disagreement about or ignorance of factual matters. If this is the ONLY difference, it can be overcome by a thorough examination of the facts. It rarely is the only problem, though. Regardless, facts are facts and disagreement about them basically must mean one side or the other is wrong.

    2) A failure of logic. One or both sides are engaging in unsound reasoning. Very common, but logic being a difficult skill to master, not an easy problem to overcome.

    3) A difference in basic principles or values. Even assuming total agreement on the facts and sound reasoning by both sides, their basic understandings of what is “good” or what is “most important” collide. My guess is that this is where Johanna and I, for instance, would end up finding the basis of our political differences.

    4) Pure self-interest – putting some other of one’s interests (financial, safety/security, or others) above one’s principles. People do this all the time, but usually lie to others and themselves about what is going on.

    If Johanna believes that “the good” is located 10 miles West, and I believe it is located 10 miles East, we can go through Problems one and two above, and willingly agree to abandon Problem four, but we will never overcome our Problem three differences. If we are forced to “compromise” one or the other will in fact “win” or we’ll end up going due North or due South, neither of us gettin any closer to “the good.” That, however, is what democracy demands.

    As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst political system, except for all the others.”

  23. Stacey says:

    Amen Trent!

  24. Jon says:

    I would have to agree with Steven. Trent seems spineless in any controversial issue he discusses. I would have alot more respect for him if he would commit. He seems to have a hard time holding a firm position on anything. Look at his so called fitness routine, either get in or get out. There seems to be a weakness of character in Trent.

  25. Wendy Sue says:

    I don’t feel that Trent is being “spineless” at all! He is just stating the fact that our form of Democracy is broken because it has given up educated debate as it’s basis.

    The problems facing our country are not going to be solved by both parties shouting loudly over the other. Think about it, if someone shouts in your face that you are wrong, does that make you calmly assess the facts or does it make you more determined in your own opinion (correct factually or not)?

    I am sure our first representatives of the United States had disagreements, but if they had not settled the matter by educated debate we would not be who we are as a nation.

    The three ring circus of television, greed/power and lobbying cause tremendous distraction to our political system. They cause our elected officials to forget that they were elected to vote according to the wishes of the people they represent and to debate matters in an intellectual manner, not according to who dangles the biggest carrot or who shouts the loudest.

  26. Bill says:

    Several people above commented on that the current political climate has gotten so bad.

    If you ever get the chance to visit the new Lincoln presidential library in Springfield IL. It is fantastic. The thing that really struck me was that they had a media room. They mocked up a TV 24 hour news channel like CNN and were playing political adds made from news papers articles. They were far more vicious than anything we see today.

    There was even a cartoon drawing of Lincoln as a vampire sucking blood from a union soldiers neck.

    So none of this disagreement or hostility is new development.

  27. Interested Reader says:

    I realize now I shouldn’t have made a comment about the politics. I should have waited and gone with my first impulse of “wait? didn’t you say you don’t like to talk politics?” and left it at that.

    Whether it’s your intention or not, it comes off as slightly passive aggressive to say “I don’t talk about politics” and then vaguely talk about politics.

    If you don’t want to then don’t.

    I’m starting to think you may need a FAQ (personally I love blogs and websites that have FAQs) it doesn’t have to be elaborate but it could hit on some specific things. Something like “Why don’t you ever mention politics” and then put your answer and just not answer any mail bag questions about politics or direct them to the FAQ.

    You could do the same with the question “What board games do you recommend for someone who is new to board gaming ” and then you could put Ticket to Ride and the others. And then direct people to the FAQ when those questions pop up.

    Same thing with “wait, are you a vegan? why are you a vegan?” Stuff like that.

  28. VickiB says:

    Hannah’s post sums up my feelings. Everything has become “ugly” and “uncivilized” (kind of like flying these days !).

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