Being a socialist AND a libertarian

The same society can follow radically different principles at the macro and the micro level. Consider Paul Slovic’s research on empathy for victims of disasters. 1 person dying in an accident is a tragedy. 2 people? More of a tragedy than 1 person, but not twice as much. What about the distinction between 86 people and 87 people dying in a flood? Well, both those numbers affect us about the same. Therefore, the value of the 87th person who dies in a flood is negligible.

Although it is unfortunate, Slovic explains how this is a fundamental truth about how our brains work. As numbers grow larger, the crises grow more abstract and fail to trigger the softer human feelings of empathy and trust. A quote that is often (mis-) attributed to Joseph Stalin is “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics”. But it makes a compelling point.

Nassim Taleb quoted in his book, Skin in the Game, how he’s a socialist at the family and friends level, a Democrat at the local level, a Republican at the state level and a libertarian at the federal level. While I might not agree with those exact words, there is value in the  underlying sentiment – as levels go up, trust and empathy goes down.

Perhaps it makes sense to have different political systems operating at different societal levels rather than paint them all with the same brush.

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