The United States is a representative democracy with a Constitution that guarantees basic rights for all our citizens. Our country is truly a government by the people for the people. “We the people” develop our laws and public policy. But what happens when citizens disagree on what public policy should be? Whose attitudes and opinions should prevail?
A democracy is able to handle this issue better than any other form of government. This is accomplished by providing a forum for discussion and debate, resulting in a process of compromise in the formation of public policy. Compromise is essential in our democratic form of government. If compromise does not take place, our democracy begins to break down because certain sectors of our society end up not being represented. Civility and respect for the opinions of others is essential for compromise. In our political scene today, there is an apparent lack of respect between Republicans and Democrats, as evidenced by their unwillingness to compromise.
The political issues we face as a nation are very complex. Consequently, there is a great advantage in getting the perspective of many people in finding solutions. Usually, the more people involved in the resolution of a problem, the better. When dealing with complex problems, the collective wisdom is always better than the wisdom of the individual or the few. The process of discussion and debate and the resulting compromise in public policy also help to avoid extremes. It has always been extreme political ideology that has created most of the problems in the history of mankind. Any political philosophy, conservative or progressive, can be taken to the extreme and beyond the realm of practicality. Excessive idealism creates extremism.
Berkshire Hathaway is probably the world’s most successful investment firm and is a good example of how people with different opinions can create effective partnerships. This firm has been headed by Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger for many years. Buffett and Munger have different views on how to invest. However, their different viewpoints add strength to the partnership. The partnership is innovative and successful because it allows the two to consider more alternatives than what like-minded people would consider. It is also interesting to note that Buffett is a Democrat and Munger is a Republican, but their partnership is effective because of the mutual respect they have for each other.
Munger has strong views about the dangers of being too ideological. He has said, “If you get a lot of heavy ideology young and then you start expressing it, you are locking your brain into a very unfortunate pattern.” Munger goes on to explain that the problem with strict ideology is that you stop thinking when it comes to hard issues. Munger believes in regularly critiquing his ideas to improve his approach. This is hard to do if you are an ideologue. His criticism of ideology was given in the context of investing but has application in all areas of life, including politics.
Politicians positioned on the far right or far left cannot possibly reach across the aisle to work with the other party in a constructive way. The moderate politician is in a position to work with the other party because he is able to exercise civility and is willing to compromise. He is also innovative because he is able to think outside the box of rigid ideology. As voters, we should make an effort to elect more moderate representatives.
Duane Harding is a retired CPA with an MBA from the University of Utah and worked for Sinclair Oil Corporation in its finance department.