A good way to start a productive discussion

Well respected Harvard econ professor and sometimes political economic adviser, Greg Mankiw, was surprised with the attention his latest New York column attracted.  On his blog he wrote:

I did not expect such as reaction, as the point of the column–an explanation of Republican economic philosophy–did not strike me as particularly novel or controversial.

I’m not surprised.  But I am glad that Professor Mankiw wrote his column.  We need more plain language explanations of what all sides fundamentally believe.  We need to dispel with the straw men (e.g. “tax cuts for the rich”) and ad hominems (e.g. “they’re soulless creeps, so of course they’re wrong) and get to why we think our way is better so more people can make reasoned judgments rather than be confused by sound bites designed to tug on emotion.

I urge anyone who scratches their head about conservative or Republican economic philosophy to read Mankiw’s column.  And here’s some great advice from Mankiw’s column (second emphasis added):

DON’T MAKE THE OPPOSITION YOUR ENEMY Last month, when you struck your tax deal with Republican leaders, you said you were negotiating with “hostage takers.” In the future, please choose your metaphors more carefully.

Republicans are not terrorists. They are not the enemy. Like you, they love their country, and they want what is best for the American people. They just have a different judgment about what that is.

One of the great disappointments of my adult life has been our nation’s childlike inability to have productive discussions.  It reminds me of my brother and I when we were kids.  “Yes you did!”  “No I didn’t!”

Both sides are guilty.  We’re busy and have little time to think about everything deeply.  But, Mankiw’s advice is a good place to start.  Don’t assume your opposition has bad intentions.  Assume they have good intentions.

Better yet, assume that you both have nearly the same end goal in mind.  Then ask your opposition to explain why they think their way is better to achieve that goal.

Don’t expect they’ll be able to articulate why very well.  It’s likely nobody has asked them to explain it before, so they haven’t had much practice.  They may even be surprised, just like Professor Mankiw about the interest his column generated. They are use to be called names.  When they stumble, resist going in for the kill.  Instead, ask questions and give feedback about whether you understand or not.

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