In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, he introduced his readers to the concept of “doublethink” — the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
Orwell concisely illustrated the concept with his fictional government’s contradictory slogan for the people: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
The absurdity of doublethink makes it seem only something for the realm of fiction. But plenty of doublethink is exercised on a daily basis by loudmouth media pundits, politicians and political “experts” right here in the real world.
Look no further than some of the key public policies advanced by the intellectual leaders on both the left and the right.
Modern progressives readily admit that “sin taxes” — taxes on things such as cigarettes, sugary drinks or alcohol — are specifically designed to alter people’s behavior. The theory goes that when the prices for these “sins” are increased, consumers will steer away from them in an attempt to save money.
On at least the basic economic level, this has proven to be true. When New York City hiked taxes on cigarettes, fewer people bought their tobacco within city limits. Of course, a massive black market was created. But that’s another matter.
The bottom line is: modern progressives had it at least partially correct on sin taxes: If you increase cost, you get fewer individuals willing to engage in that taxed economic activity — at least through normal, legal, channels.
And yet, these very same progressives engage in willful doublethink when they then argue that higher minimum wages couldn’t possibly result in a negative impact on the job market.
In short, leftists believe that higher sin taxes will modify people’s purchasing habits — but higher mandated wages will (magically) fail to influence the hiring habits of employers.
It’s an interesting cognitive dissonance. But the left isn’t alone in this kind of doublethink.
While those on the right correctly draw a correlation between higher business taxes and higher prices for consumers, many seem inexplicably ready to cheerlead for “America First” tariffs — which are basically taxes on imported goods.
Why the doublethink?
Well, part of it might be blamed on political tribalism: the unthinking reflex that when my guy proposes a policy, it has to be somehow different.
It’s a hypocrisy with which Americans seem to be growing increasingly tired.
Democrats who bemoaned the increasing deficits under Bush were stunningly quite when “their guy” Barrack Obama accelerated spending. And now that Donald Trump and the GOP are on track to rack up a $1 trillion-plus deficit next year, many GOP deficit “hawks” are taking their turn at being sheepishly quite on the issue.
Ask the average guys on the street, and you’re likely to hear that both parties spend too much.
Doublethink is rarely missing among political leaders. In part, it boils down to an unwillingness for partisans to engage in the difficult exercise of critically examining their own ideological positions.
After all, it’s much easier for progressive activists to fear the coercive power of quasi-monopolies such as Amazon or Walmart, than to examine their own love for government monopolies such as public education or socialized medicine.
Likewise, it’s much easier for conservative pundits to shrug off “income inequality,” than discuss the nuanced truth that protectionism, corruption and cronyism have resulted in an income gap that is not driven by market forces.
This reluctance to challenge their own ideological inclinations breeds a willingness among pundits, lawmakers and partisans to tolerate blatant untruths, inconsistencies and intellectual blind-spots.
It should remind us of something else George Orwell once said: “There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them.”
On both sides of the ideological aisle, we apparently have some very “intelligent” folks running things — so intelligent, as it turns out, that doublethink is apparently quite easy for them.
Much of the rest of the country, however, seems to be getting tired of such blatant hypocrisy. A feeling seems to be growing in the public that “everyone is wrong” — no doubt because, too frequently, everyone is.
If either side truly desires to win back the trust of the American people, the answer is simple — even if the path is hard: Leave the doublethink in Orwell’s novel.
Michael Schaus is communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.