Walter E. Williams

Recent elections pointed to deepening divisions among American people, but has anyone given serious thought to just why? I have part of the answer, which starts off with a simple example.
 
Different Americans have different and intensive preferences for cars, food, clothing and entertainment. For example, some Americans love opera and hate rock and roll. Others have opposite preferences, loving rock and roll and hating opera. When's the last time you heard of rock-and-roll lovers in conflict with opera lovers? It seldom, if ever, happens. Why? Those who love operas get what they want, and those who love rock and roll get what they want, and both can live in peace with one another.

 Suppose that instead of freedom in the music market, decisions on what kind of music people could listen to were made in the political arena. It would be either opera or rock and roll. Rock and rollers would be lined up against opera lovers. Why? It's simple. If the opera lovers win, rock and rollers would lose, and the reverse would happen if rock and rollers won. Conflict would emerge solely because the decision was made in the political arena.

 The prime feature of political decision-making is that it's a zero-sum game. One person or group's gain is of necessity another person or group's loss. As such, political allocation of resources is conflict enhancing while market allocation is conflict reducing. The greater the number of decisions made in the political arena, the greater is the potential for conflict.

 There are other implications of political decision-making. Throughout most of our history, we've lived in relative harmony. That's remarkable because just about every religion, racial and ethnic group in the world is represented in our country. These are the very racial/ethnic/religious groups that have for centuries been trying to slaughter one another in their home countries, among them: Turks and Armenians, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Jew, Croats and Serbs. While we haven't been a perfect nation, there have been no cases of the mass genocide and religious wars that have plagued the globe elsewhere. The closest we've come was the American Indian/European conflict, which pales by comparison.

 The reason we've been able to live in relative harmony is that for most of our history government was small. There wasn't much pie to distribute politically.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Walter Williams' column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.