First off, politics has very little to do with finance and investing. Markets, interest rates, and the economy go up and down generally agnostic to which political party is in office. Political acts like regulations, education credits, minimum wage, and many other tax issues that affect individuals certainly have an effect, but usually to only a small percentage of the population and will net out over time to a rounding error in one’s financial state of life. Huge, sweeping bills like Clinton’s Welfare Reform, Bush’s Tax Cuts, or Obama’s Affordable Care Act affect almost all of us. But once again, over the long haul, one’s financial situation is almost always determined by his or her own actions, some luck and tragedy, and maybe only slightly by those powers-that-be. I’m firmly in the camp that believes that the economy is simply too huge and too complicated, involving billions of people that are making thousands of decisions every day, to be largely influenced by one bureaucrat or party.
However, political attitudes can be very damaging. It may not be directly damaging to bank accounts, but certainly can damage relationships and other’s perceptions of yourself (which could indirectly affect you financially). So this post is more about avoiding that damage, and maybe helping you slightly change your mindset.
Politics is a funny subject. Few things exist where nearly everyone you meet is both an advocate and an expert. This past weekend the family and I were standing along 42nd Street in Manhattan during the UN March on “Climate Change” whereby some 400,000 people paraded by holding banners, trombones, signs, umbrellas, children, pop-up tents, a sense of anger, and on and on…
Who was marching and what they were marching for, though, were as varied as the items they held.
The causes started as largely climate-related (these are all actual signs)…
- “Save The Platypus”
- “Mother Earth is Not A MILF”
- “Leave the Oil in the Ground”
But then it all started getting a little all-over-the-place-ish.
- “No More Fake Wars”
- “Don’t Shoot, I’m Black”
- “Legalize It”
- “Respect Indigenous Rights”
- “We Are All Migrants”
- “One Child Per Family”
- “Take Back the City – Homes for All!”
- “Boycott Fresh Direct!”
It quickly turned from what I saw as a climate march into a peaceful political rally—mostly for causes that an objective person would consider “left-wing.” This is awesome, I’m proud to see democracy in action. I watch a lot of documentaries and I’m quite aware that the political freedom we have in this country is not replicated in other, repressive places.
During the heart of the parade, a man next to us, unprovoked, started yelling at a woman marcher. The marcher was just one among thousands of others holding a “Climate Justice” sign. Why he singled out this woman is beyond me, but I believe it goes to the core of the generally passionate and inflexible approach most people take toward political ideas. This man, probably disagreeing with much of what he saw and heard over the previous hour, finally had had enough. So he just lashed out a timid woman with whom there was little chance of a physical altercation.
This got me thinking about his motivations and tactics, so I decided to quickly write my “Two Rules” when it comes to politics.
Tolerance is Key: Or, I’m Not So Correct, and You’re Not So Wrong
I’ve had some heated political debates in my time. I have said some completely ridiculous, immoral and downright regrettable things about people and issues in my uninformed younger years. I’ve been known to speak out against good decisions a politician makes simply because they are of the opposite party. I’ve defended things that I would normally be against simply because they are my party. This is completely bogus and hypocritical behavior; I recognize that, now.
What’s there to learn from this? Well, first thing is that nobody was born with the recipe for a perfect government. The most likely scenario is that you’re right about some things, I’m right about some things, and that other guy is right about some things. When you remove the possibility that the other guy could actually be right, you prevent yourself from being self-aware and balanced. When we reinforce our own beliefs (like a conservative watching FoxNews or a liberal watching MSNBC or reading The New York Times editorial page) we don’t learn anything, we just become more narrow minded—where’s the personal growth in that?
Take the climate change march. I’m pretty well set in believing that climate change is occurring, but that it has very little to do with fracking, drilling in ANWR, water bottles, the Koch brothers, or the vibrancy of the delta smelt population. However, here I am, looking at a group of over 400,000 people (so basically like the state of Wyoming) who disagree with me. Am I so arrogant as to think I’m right and they’re ALL wrong? C’mon… I should at least be a little skeptical of my own opinion. As Henry David Thoreau said, “The universe is wider than our views of it.”
We’re all part of a species that in its history has burned witches, thought the earth was the center of the universe, continues (sadly) to ethnically cleanse in parts of Africa and the Middle East, and made Miley Cyrus a millionaire. We think and do stupid, wrong, and awful things. You should at least have a healthy skepticism about your own opinions—particularly if you so readily have that skepticism about another’s.
Can’t We All Just Get Along: Or, You and Me, We’re Not That Different
Before we started dating, my wife and I could be described as total opposites. I was a Caucasian (still am Caucasian, now that I think of it), Midwestern-born-and-bred republican. I was against gay marriage, food stamps, legalized marijuana, taxes, and every other party line that you’d expect. My wife was an African-American, east coast, passive democrat. Over the course of our marriage, we’ve both severed any sort of party label. I’ve done a full 180 on almost every social issue (I have a NORML tag on my keychain right in front of me and I’ve seen every episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race), and backed off a lot of fiscal issues.
Last week I went to an “On the Issues” page of a major political candidate in the upcoming midterm elections (Kansas Senate, I believe). I then went to the same “Issues” page of his competitor. What did I find? They agreed on almost everything. Simplify the tax code…reform immigration…we need an easier path to citizenship…remove bureaucracy and red tape from the business sector…make strategic investments in green energy…invest in our crumbling infrastructure…root out terrorism…deport Justin Bieber…support teachers… (One of those I think I made up).
The thing preventing many of us from having intelligent conversations about politics is that we have this preconceived notion that we disagree on most things. In reality, we’re probably much more alike than we are different. More importantly, consider that what you believe today may not necessarily be what you believe tomorrow—beliefs change all the time. When I was a lad, I somehow (it’s embarrassing to say this) thought that people chose to be homosexual. Years later, I found out that two of my very best friends I had growing up were homosexuals; I also got to know many others with that preference. Hearing about the shame and distress these people go through opening up about this lifestyle made it plainly obvious to me that I was incredibly wrong about my beliefs as a youngster.
But, I digress. In the end, we’re all just trying to make the best life we can for ourselves and our families during our brief moment in the sun while we float around through the void on this big blue ball. The “other guy” probably isn’t trying to ruin the country, kill the whales, feed your baby hard drugs, or destroy your retirement account.
And lastly, if you do have something you disagree on, a beer and a cigar go a long way.