Saturday, July 5, 2014

Communication Breakdown

I have been thinking lately about steps one can take to advance the cause of liberty. Early July is an appropriate time for this type of thinking, but there is never a wrong time. I'm thinking about small steps rather than a stairway to heaven, and it probably has to begin with how we converse with those we seek or should be seeking to win over.

With a nod to Arnold Kling's Three Languages of Politics, most of our efforts to communicate with our ideological adversaries float like a lead balloon. Libertarian arguments often strike conservatives and progressives as poison by reinforcing their respective fears of barbarism and oppression. Allow me to propose some antidotes. Please note that these are antidotes with limitations. The conservative so afflicted as to be a moral crusader and the progressive so burdened as to be against private property are beyond this proposal's reach.

For conservatives the narrative needs to focus on responsibility. We should show how people should be treated as responsible to make decisions for themselves regarding issues like drug use, gambling, and marriage. The responsibility angle already works for conservatives when considering issues like welfare--an able-bodied person should be ultimately responsible for his own well being and individuals should be responsible for charity. We can extend that framework to include other issues. An adult should have the responsibility to decide for himself what chemicals to put in his body, when to engage in games of chance, and who to partner with in marriage.

For progressives the narrative needs to focus on empowerment. We should show how people should be empowered to have more choice in where to send their kids to school, greater flexibility in the terms of their employment, and more options in how to save for retirement. Specifically, we need to show how our favored policy responses will help the most vulnerable.

While these techniques will not work on all issues (at least not in isolation), they may well advance the effort on many important issues.

cross posted at

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