Monday, June 12, 2006

Luxury Issues

Sometimes political scientists will refer to issues unrelated to the economy or an ongoing crisis as "luxury issues". That means that no matter what public policy is set on these particular issues, they are unlikely to have much of an impact on most people's overall quality of life.

For example, posting the Ten Commandments in a public school is unlikely to convert any students to Christianity, nor is it likely to improve the behavior of the students. Likewise, forbidding the Ten Commandments from being posted is not going to create a hostile enviroment for Christian and Jewish students. Rather, it is an issue designed to get you all hot and bothered. The proponents of posting the Ten Commandments know that it will not pass constitutional muster. It is designed to get those who feel strongly about it to send in their contributions. Likewise, organizations that oppose the posting of religious documents in government buildings can have use it to get their own supporters alarmed enough to send money.

The same goes for issues like flag buring and gay marraige. One would think that a person opposed to gay marraige should be quite content with the status quo, since it is illegal on the federal level and in most states. Nevertheless, the Senate had to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment even though it had zero chance of passing.

Typically luxury issues are brought up during times of relative prosperity. Gay marraige was not discussed as much in the months immediatly following 9/11. Nor was flag burning discussed much during the recession that took place during the early 90's.

Politics is fueled by drama. Even when things are swell politicians need to find ways to pit voters against each other. Now, with public interest in the war waning, both Republicans and Democrats are trying to find new things for us to be upset about. We don't need issues to be upset about. We have politicians to be upset at.


  1. Jeff Pruitt10:13 PM


    I have a problem w/ your post in that it promotes the same journalistic-abdication seen in many (especially TV) political stories. The thesis of your post is that BOTH parties are trotting out these politically charged issues. However, you only actually site examples from a single party that is currently doing this. Both parties are not always equally at fault or equally responsible for successes. This need for the media to paint both parties as equals in nearly every story is incorrect and poor journalism...

  2. Good point. In the past, Hillary Clinton had said that she was in favor of a law against flag desecration but not a constitutional amendment. She may have calculated that the law would be quickly overturned if passed. Now she is saying that she is in favor of the constitutional amendment. I hope this costs her the Democratic nomination.

  3. Jeff Pruitt9:55 PM

    I too hope Hilary Clinton does not get the democratic nomination and she will most certainly not get my vote in the primary. We don't need a law to prevent flag burning - are there actually people burning flags somewhere? I have personally never witnessed this. Also, it's clearly protected by the 1st amendment and I think it's ridiculous to pass (or even contemplate passing) amendments to negate part of other amendments - especially the 1st amendment...

  4. I actually have seen some Girl Scouts burn a flag once. The flag had been soiled, and burning it is the proper way to dispose of it. The issue is not flag burning but flag desecration. Which raises the issue of what constitutes desecration. Would it be illegal to simply wash and reuse a soiled flag? Must someone always have two people present to fold the flag into a neat triangle every time it is lowered?

  5. I heard a good example of a luxury issue on the radio this morning. It seems the Kentucky board of education, in an attempt to be politically correct, would only approve textbooks in which dates were referred to as BCE (before common era) or CE (common era) rather than BC (before Christ) or AD (anno domini, Latin for in the year of our Lord). There was a big uproar among the Christian right, and the board of education was replaced with people who reversed the policy. Well now, it seem to me that they could do a better job of selecting the best textbooks for student if they ignored altogether the scheme for identifying dates and concentrate on whether the content was any good. Oops, my mistake, I assumed that they have the smarts to evaluate the content.