By Ira Seidman
When is the last time political candidates were forced to stress test their ethics in a campaign? Was it ever a thing? What is the process for analyzing the ethical considerations of a candidate and their ideas, or have campaigns always just been a hodgepodge of charisma with promises we know they can’t keep? Whatever politics have been in the past, it’s time to give ethics a chance. To me ethics is putting value on principles that serve everyone equally. In government that looks like passing and enforcing laws equitably which create a strong floor for everyone while not restricting rights and access to any one group more than another (to say nothing of the quid-pro-quo politics that riddle the powers that be today).
I like conservatives, generally. They think smaller government makes sense because there is less power to corrupt and they respect the power of markets to align incentives and decentralize command of our economy. The issue becomes apparent when you test what happens with relatively low tax rates and small if any social safety nets — wealth inequality gets worse over time and the mentally-ill, orphans, disabled, and planet are largely forgotten. The right will argue this is why we have churches and charities, but I’ll argue this is why we have government. As many problems as the free market and small government can solve, building a just society is not so simple as cut taxes and err on the side of freedom. There is no greater reason why the conservative ideology is so unviable than for its ethical lapses. The real disappointment however, comes with the Democrats.
Democrats paint themselves the party of justice, progress, love, and fairness. How then is this the party that can’t propose a carbon tax or get behind nuclear energy? How is it that President Clinton locked up so many black people while President Obama was too busy with handouts for insurance companies to get them out? Of course this is an unflattering picture to draw of men who had impossible jobs and made progress during their tenure — most notably balancing the budget and supporting gay rights respectively. No matter how gifted the gab may be however, Democrats are not the party of justice that they claim to be, at least not yet. Certainly not until we decentralize power.
So what about ethics? We hear about it here and there with shutting down Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib or how we’ll make healthcare a right and promote law and order. However, how often do we actually look at the consequences of passing laws or ideas that politicians propose and really inspect the implications on ethics? Could we have ended mass incarceration before it started in the 80s if we just looked at the ethical ramifications of crack cocaine laws and the Crime Bill? Could we have predicted the economic crash of 2008 if we took the time to understand how government incentives for home ownership might play out? Yes. The answer is yes, and there are no doubts. Anyone who tells you that these outcomes were just a product of the slow wheels of government is wrong.
Ethics almost seems like a dead discipline; when’s the last time you met an ethics major, let alone an ethics professor? It’s rarely discussed in campaigns much less a debate stage, but it really is time to give ethics a chance. Look at all the other candidates and ask yourself, are their ideas ethical or do they have effects, intended or otherwise, that are ethically unacceptable? I invite you to investigate, analyze, and decide for yourself, but I think it’s two-faced to promise the public results that we all know a corrupt government cannot deliver. I think it’s inherently wrong to run for office thinking that only one person should wield all of that power, especially when we know how corrupt the government is. It’s hubris, it’s unethical, and it’s not what New York needs right now. I have absolutely no ethical quandaries about decentralizing power in 2021, in a society where corruption has run as wild as it has with gerrymandering, lobbying, revolving doors, and unlimited corporate PAC donations. That’s why I’m running for mayor of New York to implement direct democracy — it’s justice, progress, love, and fairness all rolled up into one elegant solution; but what’s more, it’s ethical.