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Commentary: Steele: Ideology is guaranteed; patience is the answer

Updated: February 4, 2014 1:03PM



Very often, ideological convictions have a way of smoothing out the complexities of a significant policy proposal.

Issues are always simple to resolve when there’s are ideologically-related priniples involved. Debates can become unbalanced, with the supporting side arguing that the new policy would fulfill certain principles, the opposing side arguing that its practical complexities make it impractical and burdensome.

An obvious issue to which this would apply is federal health-care policy. Whatever the complexities and difficulties, the new policy creates a situation that everyone can be, and perhaps someday will be, covered by a good insurance policy. The difficulty with websites, the uncertainty about what insurance policies will be available and how much they’ll cost, how general health care costs will be impacted — those are details that need to be worked out but shouldn’t stand in the way of achieving the principle of universal coverage.

But if you don’t have that ideological conviction, those practical problems are insurmountable. There’s no principled end-point to help you over — or to obscure, depending on your side of the issue — the practical problems.

There is always a practical component to the ideological side, and vice versa. These days ideological proclivities are much more pronounced on the political right, so the practical criticisms of the health-care law are sometimes drowned out by the expressions of agony regarding lost freedom, etc. But ultimately, the argument is a practical one.

Healthcare on a federal level is the easiest example of this, but on a state level much policy in recent years has been implemented under similar circumstances.

Education is an obvious area: the belief that market princples — increased competition from charter and voucher-eligible schools and creation of test-based metrics to judge, reward and punish teachers and administrators — can smooth the practical difficulties largely associated with soci-economic cirumstances has brought significant changes to Indiana schools.

The opposition to these changes is in some ways ideological, but, again, is mainly practical — many people simply believe the solutions don’t address the problem.

The current proposal to phase out the business personal property tax is similar, though partisan allegiance has proved more difficult to maintain for Gov. Mike Pence.

A bipartisan group of mayors met with him last week, urging him not to pursue a policy that would hit local budgets. Pence complied, promising in a letter to all mayors the phase-out will not “unduly burden local governments’ ability to provide for the needs of their citizens.

“Second, I have advocated for local control and decision-making for adoption of any permanent phase out of the business personal property tax. Third, I have said that we cannot phase out this tax in a way that shifts the tax burden to hard-working Hoosiers.”

It’s not clear that businesses avoid Indiana, or choose not to grow, because of the tax. Despite the fact neighboring states don’t have it, or are phasing it out, as Pence declares in his letter, Indiana’s “economic and tax climate is better than most.”

It’s an ideological truism that such a tax is bad, so the particulars of its impact aren’t important — it needs to be eliminated. Going from there to a promise that no one gets hurt is a natural leap that everyone takes.

Obviously, one’s position on these issues, or any other, depends on one’s ideological inclinations, but that’s the point — it’s important to recognize that policy-makers are always going to discount practical difficulties in pursuit of ideologically inspired policy.

But it’s also important to remember that our policy-making system is so biased toward the status quo that no change is as dramatic as it sometimes seems. There’s always time to reevaluate, and the practical issues will always break through at some point.

The business property tax seems to be headed in that direction, but the all-gain, no-pain promises aren’t helpful.

On the other side, it’s when opposition turns to panic that things get bogged down. That’s happened with healthcare, and it’s been an occasional feature of opposition to education reform.

Generally it’s best to give the other side — whichever side that is — its ideological victories, with the knowledge that there are natural brakes in the system, and the knowledge that there’s always time for practical fixes.



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