Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The engine of the innovation: making it possible for people to take risks

Matthew Yglesias makes the point that something the right generally does understand is that
one of the main sources of American dynamism is the willingness of people to shoulder risk.

Something that the right doesn't understand well at all is the difference [between] policies that let people take more risks and policies that simply make life riskier.

To take a good example, one leading cause of America's relatively entrepreneurial business environment is that we have bankruptcy laws that are relatively un-punitive compared to what you have in many other countries. This empowers people to take risks by making it less risky to start a new business by taking out a loan.

One of the things Social Security does is by guaranteeing everyone a viable, yet modest, retirement income is to allow people to make relatively risky choices with their personal savings, secure in the knowledge that if the worst happens Social Security will be there to tide them over. What's needed are plans that spread this risk-taking capacity further down the income chain, not plans that simply force people into risky situations.
In other words, social insurance and the social safety net promote risk taking and entrepreneurial innovation rather than stifling it.

This could be understood as another fundamental difference between left and right. The right thinks that the best way to strengthen the country is to force people to take risks in order to survive. The left thinks that the best way to strengthen the country is to build a society in which people will be secure enough so that they are comfortable taking risks. This is another version of Lakoff's distinction between the stern disciplinarian and the nurturing community.

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