Warning! Moral Hazard Ahead

I often note that there is some real moral hazard to centrism. People will argue that by focusing on building coalitions, we might engage with bad ideas or let in some unfortunate characters. And they’re right. This is a legitimate risk that we must monitor with care.

I don’t actually know of anyone who encounters zero moral hazard in their political views. But even if we put that aside, there are a number of important points here.

First, if you don’t engage with the partisan outer-flanks, you’re giving up a lot of opportunities to bring conflicted people back into the fold. That’s liable to give the fringe more influence, not less.

Second, while centrists will sometimes come to the wrong conclusion about borderline partisans, usually it’s pretty easy to tell who is or isn’t acting in good faith. There’s a big difference between Richard Spencer and John McCain. And even if this were a bigger problem, I’m not sure partisans are any better at it than centrists. Both right and left allow for some pretty terrible people at the margins.

Third, no coalition is ever going to be made entirely of “purist” centrists like me. Ideally, there would be a blend of partisan moderates in the mix, who would have their own opinions about who is or isn’t an acceptable ally. I’d rather rely on their judgement than try to police all the boundaries myself.

Finally, we’re already swamped by moral hazard in our daily lives. While we all try to be our best selves, there are always edge cases that we are forced to neglect. I have not vetted the global supply chain of the jeans I’m wearing. I don’t do the necessary research to ensure that my tuna was not fished by slave labor.

Like those before us, we would probably be surprised to learn what future generations will find to criticize about us. Eating meat? Driving cars? College football? These are all things I enjoy routinely, but are definitely open to criticism. I’m sure there are other examples that I’m not even aware of.

I never deny the moral hazards of centrism. It must be respected and frequently subjected to scrutiny. But avoiding all moral hazard is impractical, maybe even impossible, and to dismiss centrism entirely on that basis would be foolish.

Worse, it might even be immoral.

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