Whenever you hear people arguing for one policy and condemning another popular option, chances are that both are necessary. Most of human life struggles to balance important competing values, strategies and theories. Standard issues of this type in personal life are courage versus caution, praise versus criticism, and thrift versus investment.

Political discussion these days pits socialism against capitalism. As in other cases, the only position I can support affirms both. Why do people argue so vehemently as if these are exclusive alternatives when they are really complementary? Here it’s a matter of balancing economic incentive versus care of the whole society.

In no country, including the most regulated and monitored, can one route of human life fit every human being. Some people have the resources to compete and the luck of good timing for their talents to succeed. Others get sick, suffer accidents, or miss out in the talent lottery. Different people and different stages of life need different provisions from government and public agencies. We need both the incentives of capitalism and the human care of socialism.

Maybe it’s a matter of rhetoric. If you think that one side of this issue is being promoted excessively the best effective response might be complete repudiation. Nudging in one direction, judiciously arguing for its expansion, and admitting its weaknesses probably gets little attention. It’s like speaking softly while others around you yell.

Negotiating both sides of an issue is difficult and necessary. It is never satisfying to everyone. If both sides are unhappy but OK, the balance may have been achieved, at least for the time being. Compromise and accommodation are sloppy but inevitable. We need competitive capitalism moderated and accompanied by elements of socialism. Arguments are necessary only to determine the proper and effective balance.

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