En­e­mies

Forbes - - Thought Leaders -

could be an­other 1968—mi­nus, we pray, the as­sas­si­na­tions. Now, as then, forces on the far left and right are tear­ing at the fab­ric of Amer­i­can life.

The aca­demic left is un­hinged and sui­ci­dal, un­able to de­fend what should be its ab­so­lute core: free speech. Melissa Click, who is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri, was seen on a video call­ing for “mus­cle” to re­move the stu­dent who was record­ing a cam­pus protest. It’s nau­se­at­ing to see a pro­fes­sor in­cit­ing violence against a stu­dent.

Voices on the right have be­come both harsh and stupid, an unattrac­tive com­bi­na­tion that’s oth­er­wise known as bul­ly­ing. Last month I was seated at a lunch next to a state se­na­tor from what I think of as a safe red state. He bel­lowed that the 2016 elec­tion would come down to makers ver­sus tak­ers. But to his mind the lo­cal farm­ers re­ceiv­ing lav­ish tax­payer sub­si­dies, cheap wa­ter and trade pro­tec­tion weren’t the tak­ers. The tak­ers, well, they’re the wel­fare re­cip­i­ents in the cities. (Cue the dog whis­tle.) But facts are stub­born things: Red states take in far more fed­eral money than they put out in fed­eral taxes.

As hap­pened in 1968, good-hearted peo­ple are get­ting sucked into toxic po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ments. Fights break out on Face­book. Friend­ships un­ravel. Sib­lings stop talk­ing to each other. Thanks­giv­ing din­ners are ru­ined.

If you search for com­mon ground th­ese days, you risk be­ing la­beled a sell­out (the left’s phrase) or a squish (the right’s). A long­time friend, who hails from the right, told me: “You’re not get­ting it, Rich. The other side is try­ing to de­stroy us. We can’t give an inch.” Was he talk­ing about ISIS, Rus­sia or China? No. He was talk­ing about Democrats. My friend ad­mits that he’s an­gry “all the time” and that his work pro­duc­tiv­ity has sufered.

Are you get­ting sick of this? I am. Co­in­ci­den­tally, a very lib­eral friend who lives in Sil­i­con Val­ley was feel­ing the same way. He asked me to join him for lunch to see if we could fnd com­mon ground. This friend is fa­mous in Sil­i­con Val­ley for be­ing a suc­cess­ful tech in­vestor. He put money into Face­book when Mark Zucker­berg was a pup and the so­cial me­dia gi­ant was val­ued at a mere bil­lion dol­lars. My friend once man­aged money for the Grate­ful Dead and, for fun, has his own tour­ing band.

Head­ing to lunch, we knew we’d never agree on some things. In the name of civil lib­erty he’d like to strictly limit phone and data sur­veil­lance; I think it’s one of to­day’s aw­ful ne­ces­si­ties. And we dis­agree on what con­sti­tutes tor­ture.

search for com­mon ground

We agreed on most of the big eco­nomic is­sues. Share­holder cap­i­tal­ism, a nec­es­sary cor­rec­tive to 1970s malaise, now lacks coun­ter­vail­ing forces and has be­come an end unto it­self. We agreed that a fat tax could be a pro­gres­sive, as well as a con­ser­va­tive, cause. A con­ser­va­tive might want the rate to be 15%, a pro­gres­sive 25%, but that’s close enough to have a healthy de­bate. Then ap­ply the fat rate to cap­i­tal gains, as well as in­come, and get rid of all cor­po­rate sub­si­dies. My lib­eral friend sur­pris­ingly takes a con­ser­va­tive po­si­tion on in­her­i­tance taxes; they shouldn’t break up fam­ily busi­nesses, he says.

We both agree that new-com­pany for­ma­tion in the U.S. has taken a dis­as­trous nose­dive. You really can’t ar­gue against the Kauf­man Foun­da­tion’s su­perb re­search on this point. I hap­pen to think that ex­ces­sive gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion and lack of cap­i­tal ac­cess— due to Dodd-frank—ex­plains much of the startup tor­por. To this my friend adds a 1998 change in U.S. bank­ruptcy law, which now ex­empts gov­ern­ment stu­dent-loan debt. Heav­ily in­debted col­lege grads are afraid to start busi­nesses, he says.

My friend thinks le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana would be a great source of tax rev­enue, as well as a way to boot il­le­gal grow­ers out of na­tional parks and de­pop­u­late our pris­ons of non­vi­o­lent ofend­ers. I’m still pon­der­ing that one.

We had our lunch on Fri­day be­fore that evening’s Paris ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Not sur­pris­ingly, my friend’s sub­se­quent Face­book post­ings echoed the left’s re­luc­tance to blame rad­i­cal Is­lam for the at­tacks. Poverty ex­plains it, or G.W. Bush’s in­ter­ven­tion­ism. On some is­sues he and I will never agree.

But it was worth meet­ing for lunch to fnd some com­mon agree­ment. And, mostly, to re­in­force our friend­ship and mu­tual hu­man­ity. He’s not my enemy, nor am I his.

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