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When the personal becomes political

Summary:
When I was young, the Democratic Party included African Americans, factory workers, nerdy intellectuals, and many other diverse groups. Democrats and Republicans were roughly equally likely to be pro-choice or pro-life. In many ways, that was a healthy state of affairs. Recently, however, we have increasingly sorted into blue and red tribes, in a number of dimensions. At some point, even seemingly non-political lifestyle issues became political. President Trump recently announced that he was taking the drug hydroxychloroquine as a precautionary step (and then later stopped doing so). A few days ago, he visited a Ford factory and did not wear a mask in the public part of the visit. (Later he did wear a mask when he was off camera.)  President Trump frequently

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When I was young, the Democratic Party included African Americans, factory workers, nerdy intellectuals, and many other diverse groups. Democrats and Republicans were roughly equally likely to be pro-choice or pro-life. In many ways, that was a healthy state of affairs. Recently, however, we have increasingly sorted into blue and red tribes, in a number of dimensions.

At some point, even seemingly non-political lifestyle issues became political. President Trump recently announced that he was taking the drug hydroxychloroquine as a precautionary step (and then later stopped doing so). A few days ago, he visited a Ford factory and did not wear a mask in the public part of the visit. (Later he did wear a mask when he was off camera.)  President Trump frequently describes himself as a germaphobe.  Thus I suspect that his reluctance to wear masks in public settings has a political dimension.

Inevitably, everything the president does is criticized by some and defended by others. But in this post I’m more interested in the way that lifestyle choices become increasingly seen through a political lens.

Consider the following two lifestyles: One person likes to eat lots of juicy steaks. They get high cholesterol and take a statin to control the problem. Another person likes to eat lots of sushi and kale salads, which they view as a healthy diet. Which person is more likely to vote for Trump?

In the 1950s, the question would have seemed absurd. What does diet preference have to do with political affiliation? Today I suspect that most people would see the steak eater who takes a statin as more likely to vote for Trump.

If I told you I had a somewhat “macho” friend who thought wearing a mask was effeminate, and who strongly believed in the effectiveness of taking hydroxychloroquine, who would you guess that he would vote for?   And is it a healthy state of affairs to be able to predict political affiliation based on lifestyle issues (or scientific judgments) with no obvious connection to politics?  Is it healthy for a country to increasingly sort into red and blue tribes?

I see libertarianism as the ideology that tries to make fewer things political.  Thus I’m not pleased to see us move toward an “everything’s political” world.  It’s not so much that there’s anything wrong with different points of view on wearing masks or taking particular drugs, it’s that I’d prefer those points of view not be linked to unrelated political ideologies.

PS.  I promoted mask wearing when it was considered anti-social to do so.  Now I promote them when it’s considered anti-social not to do so.  But this view has nothing to do with my politics.

When the personal becomes political

Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment". In May 2012, Chicago Fed President Charles L. Evans became the first sitting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to endorse the idea.

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