Friday, December 26, 2014

Compromise, right and wrong

Compromise is held, by many, to be a value in and of itself. But is it a value, or is it a tool? What, exactly, is compromise? (Credit to Jonah Goldberg for giving me the premise)

Let's look at a city overlooking a gorge. Now, we have something valuable on the other side, so some city residents campaign to build a bridge across the chasm. Others, however, don't see the MacGuffin as valuable enough to justify a bridge, so they oppose the spending as wasteful. Here's what a “Compromise” solution is: build a bridge reaching only halfway across the chasm.

Now, if compromise is a value and not a tool, then this would be a good end. But this result is patently absurd. Each side gave up something (a complete bridge and savings, respectively) but gained nothing. This would clearly be a petty and self-destructive exercise, so compromise cannot, itself, be a value.

But let's take two cities on the same side of this chasm. On the opposite side is, again, some MacGuffin. Both cities want to build a bridge, but neither can afford it alone. So they pool their resources and can build one bridge. Each city wants the bridge at their location, so they have priority on the MacGuffin traffic coming back and forth. Both cities do not want the bridge at the other location for the same reason.

Now, if building the bridge is more important than having closer access, both sides will compromise in a solution that puts the bridge halfway between them. This way, each side gains something of great importance (a bridge) and each side gives up something of lesser importance (closer access). That's the way compromise should work – sacrificing smaller objectives to achieve a larger goal.

But let's go back to the first example to explore why that kind of “compromise” is a thing seen in our government. The pro-bridge group gets only half a bridge, but they push it as a compromise. Why? Because in a few years, perhaps even before completion, they can campaign to complete the bridge on the grounds that only building half a bridge is wasteful. On it's face, this is completely reasonable, except the people attacking the half-bridge are the same people who supported it in the first place.

But in the end, they get the whole bridge, and that's what mattered.

Drop the metaphor and look at Obamacare. There are ALREADY people saying that this system, the Affordable Care Act, is broken and useless *because it is not a single-payer system*. It took 40 years for the HMO model to break to the ACA model, and the people who thought they could get a state monopoly system then are getting impatient. But Obamacare itself was supposed to be a “compromise” solution between Socialism and Capitalism. Even without any Republican votes, it is that half-bridge, the false compromise in pursuit of a larger goal.

Understand this the next time any politician on either side talks about compromise – it must be in pursuit of larger, shared goals that are specific in nature, otherwise it is a half-bridge scam.

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