I like to keep track of my life over time. I’m an obsessive journaler (and, as this blog can attest, a fairly regular blogger). At the end of every day, I track my mood, my sleep, my productivity, my social life, and how well I did in spaced repetition exercises. Last May, I decided to track one more thing about myself and start a tradition of publishing my Political Compass results yearly.
I’m a bit late this year (I kept the title because I started the post in May) because there’s actual politics happening; I’ve been volunteering for my local MPP’s re-election campaign. Of explanations for being late with a politics related blog post, that might be the best one I ever give.
Last year, I scored -3.25 on the economic axis and -6.56 on the authority axis.
Canadian results come from The Political Compass’s take on the 2015 Canadian election. Blog commenter Thomas Sm suggests you should take the comparison with a grain of salt and I’m somewhat inclined to believe him.
This year I scored -2.0 on the economic axis and -6.46 on the authority axis, leaving me in the left libertarian camp, although continuing a seemingly inexorable trend towards economic centrism.
While my position on authority has remained virtually unchanged (I’m sure the difference was random fluctuation in how I might answer borderline questions), I do think I have meaningfully (although not largely) different views on economics than I did a year ago and I think there were two key object level updates that drove this change.
The first was the overview of rent-seeking in The Captured Economy (review forthcoming). I was already skeptical of regulation in 2017. The Captured Economy turned this up to 11 when it showed how a lot of regulation actually results in redistribution of wealth from people who are struggling to people who are affluent.
To take just one example, let’s talk about occupational licensing.
Many areas have occupational licensing. You have to complete training and apply to a licensing board in order to practice certain professions. In some cases, this makes sense. You want to know that the person building the bridge you drive across or removing your appendix really does know what they’re doing.
For other professions, the stakes are somewhat lower. There are certainly consequences if your barber doesn’t know what they’re doing. These consequences can even be quite severe if, say, improper sterilization techniques lead you to catch a blood borne disease. It would be reasonable to require all barbers to take a blood borne disease safety course every two years and have them post a proof of completion in their shops.
But that isn’t what we do. What we do is require, by law, barbers and interior decorators to go through more training than EMTs.
There is no conceivable world in which interior designers need to be held to higher regulatory standards than EMTs. None!
This isn’t a knock on barbers. I have seen just how much difference a good haircut can make. I could never in a million years do the job that interior decorators do. What I probably could do is pass a certification course on either subject. Aesthetics, the true marker of a master in either field can rarely be taught or properly judged in a classroom. But that is exactly what a lot of occupational licensing boils down to.
Really, it seems that all most occupational licensing does is raise barriers to many relatively well compensated and respected positions for people who are unlucky enough to have no education beyond a high school diploma or GED. I can see why people already in those professions would want this. Lower supply means that they can charge higher prices. They’re padding their margins at the cost of everyone who doesn’t have the free time or energy to take the necessary licensing classes (like people who work exhausting jobs or lack reliable work schedules).
If there was no occupational licensing, or if licensing was restricted to minimal courses on necessary safety for an occupation, many more people would have access to careers like hairdressing or interior decorating, careers that often pay better and afford more respect than minimum wage jobs; careers where you can be your own boss (if you’re into that sort of thing).
I know of at least one person who found out they were good at giving haircuts, but just couldn’t sit through all the schooling that was needed for a license. So now they’re giving illegal haircuts. They advertise with word of mouth, because they’re good illegal haircuts, but the whole situation, the whole idea that we can have illegal haircuts is ridiculous.
Long ago, I used to think that regulation was mostly about stopping manufacturers from dumping industrial waste in every nearby pristine forest. But now my sense is that the majority of regulation is like the rules making it illegal to give haircuts if you don’t first drop more than $3,500 on school.
The second object level update was learning just how important monetary policy was to the economy.
For a long time, I had accepted the liberal pseudo-Keynesian economical orthodoxy: we need to spend lots of money when times are rough in order to stimulate aggregate demand1. Over the past year, I’ve read some monetary policy blogs and have started to understand that things are rather more complicated than the simple concepts I used to parrot.
I still don’t have as rigorous a grounding in economics as I would like (that’s one of the things I’d like to work on this year), but as I begin to learn more, I do find myself shifting to the economic centre because that seems to be where the truth is to be found.
I remain committed to a society that ensures enough for everyone. But I think over the past year I’ve become more disillusioned with the general level of economic literacy on the left (even in relation to myself!)2 and more skeptical of the left’s ability to create the sort of plenty I still think we’re going to need to ensure human flourishing.
Last year, I made six predictions about how my political views would change over the coming year and all of them turned out to be correct3. They were:
- I will have an economic score > -2.25: 50%
- I will have an economic score > -4.25: 80%
- My top level economic identity will still be “capitalist”: 80%
- I will have an authority score > -7.56: 70%
- I will have an authority score < -5.56: 90%
- My top level social identity will still be “libertarian”: 90%
I like this as a concept, so I’m going to try it again. My predictions for this year are:
- I will still be on the left side of the graph: 80%
- I will move further to the right economically: 80%
- My position on the social axis will not change by more than 0.5 points: 90%
- My top level political identities will not change: 90%
- I will actually read an economics textbook before May 2019: 70%
I hope these predictions are more properly calibrated than my last ones!
The common liberal take on this is different from pure Keynesian economics, because they don’t restrict “times are tough” to recessions and depressions. For a lot of modern people who say they just “support Keynesian economics” (and I was one of them), it’s always tough times for someone. ↩
I basically never see monetary policy even mentioned on the left. My guess is this is because the left largely views this as simple bean counting that is nowhere near as interesting or important as making sure we have lots of spending on social programs. Reality seems to be different, especially when you get it wrong. ↩