The levers of politics : Fear and Greed

Many of us are shocked by the degree of polarization that prevails in contemporary politics.

We are excoriated from the right about our moral turpitude and our profligate spending.  We are harangued from the left about our insensitivity to the plight of the disadvantaged and the inordinate benefits that accrue to the wealthy.

But while those on the extreme right and extreme left make the most noise, these are not the groups that will ultimately determine our political future.  Rather, our political future will be actualized by those who reside in the middle, the fat part of the bell curve. We are speaking, of course, about the vast undecided majority that occupies the middle of our political spectrum.

And which way will this middle of the spectrum decide?

We have suffered and continue to suffer from a faltering economy.  Business seems to course through the veins of our economy as does blood through the veins of a patient suffering from chronic low blood pressure.  There is economic activity, but with little or no conviction.

Given this environment, the health and strength of the economy will surely influence the election.  And as with all things economic, our political leaders turn to those reliable levers of control — fear and greed.

Those on top of the economic heap strive to convince the vast middle that they aspire to be wealthier.  That we are all alike in this regard.  Stick with us and you will be wealthy too.  This group, in effect, appeals to the greed in each of us.

Then there are those who claim to represent our fellow citizens on the bottom of the economic heap.  These leaders send out a different message altogether.  They caution that the real danger in our economic future lies in the failure of the economy to sustain the old, the sick and the less well-educated.  We are all alike in this regard, they admonish.  Our neighbor has become the victim of economic indifference.  The next victim will be one of us. The appeal of  this group is directed to the intrinsic fear in each of us.

From a distance, it appears that we are engaged in  a gigantic game of tug-of-war, with 350 million participants.  Which of our fundamental impulses will hold sway.

Do we associate   with the upper class, driven by Greed to better our lot.

Or do we associate with the underclass, governed by fear that the wheels will fall off our listless  economy and we all wind up in the underclass.

In politics, like economics,  fear and greed are the master controls.

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About Howard Zien
Howard P. Zien is the president of Business Logic Incorporated. He has been in the consulting and software development field since the early 1970s. A graduate of Princeton University, Howard earned an MBA in accounting and finance from New York University's Stern School of Business.

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