When there are two people competing for a finite set of resources, whatever one person secures is lost to the other. In a two-party political system, what one party wins, the other party loses. Game theorists call this concept a “zero-sum game.” The logical assumption is that the two parties represent the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.
A logical assumption, but – like most conventional wisdom – wrong. Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin. While those parties may be polarized, they do not represent a true alternative to each other. With rare and easily counted exceptions, both parties advocate the continual expansion of the Federal government into more and more varied parts of Americans lives. Both advocate spending priorities that exceed our ability to pay for them. Both believe the tax code is a tool for granting favors and encouraging or discouraging particular behaviors. Neither so opposes illegal immigration, pork-barrel spending, or the corrupting influence of special-interest campaign funding that it will pass any legislation to actually address those problems.
Americans aren’t used to zero-sum games. At the grocery store, they can choose among hundreds of breakfast cereals and, if they don’t find a cereal they like, they can choose oatmeal, yogurt, a muffin, or fruit. Dozens of brands of automobiles, hundreds of stereos, thousands of styles of carpet and tile and wood and laminate, tens of thousands of book titles – Americans enjoy an embarrassment of riches in virtually every aspect of their lives, except their political choices. Examining the positions of Republicans and Democrats proves there is virtually no difference among their policy positions.
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The dynamism of our culture and economy is based on circumventing the limits of a zero-sum game. Rather than worrying about how to take away someone else’s piece of pie, leaders and innovators figure out how to make the pie bigger, which benefits everyone. One of the last bastions of zero-sum thinking is the two-party system, in which Republicans and Democrats act as if they own the seats in Congress. Until voters break away from the zero-sum thinking of the two parties, they will fail to acknowledge the real owners of those seats: American citizens.
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