The other day I was trying to solve America’s problems. It’s pretty hard work, and frustrating as well. I spent hours, yet even my best solutions didn’t make everyone happy. My economist friends hated my global warming and terrorism policies; my doctor and my dentist hated my energy policy; all but one of my teacher friends hated my education policy; my wife and a few terrorist friends hated my healthcare policy; my global warming friends hated all of them. With the exception of my politician friends, who liked all of my ideas, I was unable to build any kind of consensus.
This can be attributed to the annoying differences among the rest of them. Some of my friends were rich; some were poor. Some were old; some were young. They had different backgrounds, abilities, educations, attitudes, etc. They were from different parts of the country with different geographies, climates, population densities, local resources, etc. They came from different ethnic groups, religions and political parties. It is inescapable that different people need different things. Indeed, the more of them you have, the harder it is to reach agreement on anything.
And their narrow perspectives, which prevent them from seeing the big picture, make it more difficult. For example, a friend from Idaho, which annually spends $6,648/student in education taxes, complained that New Jersey spends over $20,000/student. He evidently fails to understand that in order to have a high quality national public education system we must spend more money in states such as New Jersey, New York and Connecticut where the kids aren’t very smart. It is fitting, therefore, that Washington D.C, the home of our federal government, spends almost $25,000/student.
Healthcare is no different. While my young friends understand that my old friends are the principal cause of rising healthcare costs, they fail to see why they should pay higher insurance premiums, not to mention paying into a system (Social Security and Medicare) that will likely be insolvent by the time they are old. It’s a fact of life that the older people get, the higher the cost. As measured by longevity, the healthiest people are the most expensive. Now my young friends not only hate my healthcare solutions, they hate my old friends too.
Younger people may be getting screwed, but they should have empathy for the elderly. Besides, when they are old enough to need their retirement and medical benefits, I’m confident that our political leaders will have solved these problems too. Why else would they give us Universal Healthcare if we can’t even pay for Social Security and Medicare?
My Black friends (especially the men), my homosexual friends, my sedentary friends, my friends with hereditary or congenital illnesses, and my friends that smoke or drink or overeat or abuse drugs hate my healthy old friends. They clamored for a huge tax cut, equal to the extra benefits my old healthy friends will receive – the amount they won’t receive, since they die at much younger ages. At one point, my 280-pound friend Bob, slammed his beer can on the table, lit a cigarette and proclaimed that all healthy people should pay higher taxes. I was only able to calm him by pointing out that most healthy people eventually outlive their retirement savings, ending up broke and alone, friendless wards of the state living in nursing homes run by incompetent, apathetic caregivers earning minimum-wage.
As could be expected, my taxpaying friends, who have only begrudgingly understood why they already have to pay for my non-taxpaying friends, now don’t understand why they should additionally have to bail out failing businesses, unions and people who default on their mortgages. In these modern economic times, we must have policies that elevate the nation (e.g., businesses that are too big to fail, must not be allowed to fail). Thus, with the exception of people who worked for companies that weren’t bailed or auto dealers who were closed down with no explanation or bondholders who will get pennies on the dollar for the money they loaned, etc. we should have empathy for our political leaders who must make decisions that benefit the country as a whole.
A retired friend from Minnesota appreciates this idea of putting the needs of the country first, but balks at doing so for the planet. She doesn’t understand why she should have to pay 25 – 50% more to heat her home to help people from countries that use less energy.
America has become the most advanced nation in the world. We have progressed faster than other countries, but in doing so we consume more energy. Maintaining our lifestyle, let alone improving it, requires more energy than that consumed by most developed countries and all of the less developed countries (LDC’s). That is, our lifestyle is the problem. This has been verified by the U.N., Al Gore, and numerous green scientists. The debate is over. Our standard of living generates too much of the greenhouse gases that cause the global temperature to rise (soaring 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in 30 years). Surely you have noticed the scorching 0.0467-degree average annual increase.
So we must show the world that we care. We must take the lead and lower our standard of living. This is done by heavily taxing energy so that we have much less money to buy other things – things that would probably use a lot of energy anyhow. It has the added advantage of boosting LDC economies, which due to their much lower energy costs, will flourish since U.S. companies will no longer be competitive. What if you lose your job as these companies fold? No problem. You may be able to get one of the new government “green” jobs.
Since the earth's temperature has leveled off since 2001, we must act now, before it begins to drop, as it has after every cyclical increase in solar activity since our planet was formed, 4.57 billion years ago. Our swift and costly actions won’t put a dent in global warming, but our political leaders believe that they will vastly improve our image in the world.
This is just a smattering of the arguments I had to concoct in convincing my friends to put aside their differences and accept my solutions. However, I had to inform them that their objections didn’t matter. Encouraged by my politician friends, I planned to give my solutions to the government, which would see their value to the common good and force everyone to adopt them, whether they liked them or not. Government exists to govern us – to force us to do what is best for our country and the global village. Otherwise, we would have anarchy.
Their objections became vehement. Many of them questioned the cost, admittedly quite high. Some were skeptical of the enormous size the government would have to take on in order to implement my policies. It was also felt that the huge number of additional bureaucrats, regulators and career civil servants needed would be unable to operate as efficiently and productively as the ones we already have. Several believed that the increased level of intrusion into people’s lives would become intolerable. Surprisingly, most expressed considerable concern about how people would have to be treated like ignorant cattle for my solutions to succeed.
I persisted, firm in the belief that America would be a much better place if my solutions were enacted into law. But I began to see the inherent futility in having to coerce people into accepting “one-size-fits-all” solutions, even when those solutions are invented by smart people like me. For example, I’m pretty sure Congressional energy experts would like my solar energy plan. But many of my friends hate it because solar is the most expensive form of energy (costing $0.38/KWH vs $0.02/KWH for coal) and I’m still not sure my friends from coal producing states were won over by my friends from the Southwest.
Similarly, it will certainly be an arduous task convincing people from New Jersey and Washington D.C. (actually, the entire Northeast) to use public schools, especially when their kids may be ridiculed by kids educated in states such as Idaho, Utah or Alabama that learn much more for a fraction of the cost.
And significant coercion will likely be the only option for universal health care. Already costing enough that health benefits will have to be taxed, except for unions, coercion will definitely be needed for acceptance by non-union people. And while government can be counted on to control costs, keeping them from rising, how else but through coercion will we be able to get people to exercise, lose weight, reduce alcohol consumption, stop smoking, and get regular check-ups (for cholesterol, colon cancer, prostrate cancer, sexual diseases, etc.) to make universal healthcare affordable? Thankfully, all of these medical records will be protected by HIPAA, ensuring that no one can use information pertaining to our medical problems against us or to further control our behavior.
But my solutions are optimal only when people who dislike them or are hurt by them act as responsible citizens and accept them in the interest of the greater good. My retired friend from Minnesota was able to put aside her differences with my friends from Gulf Coast states when she realized that U.S. oil rigs in the Gulf could extract huge quantities of U.S. oil within a year or so – just as the Chinese are doing now a few miles from the same area. She was thrilled that this would drive down the price of oil and gas, create more American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But once she learned my energy policy bans such drilling, she became quite distraught. Okay, that’s a bad example. And, yes, my nuclear energy ban is worse. The point is that sometimes we have to make sacrifices.
The trouble with peddling quixotic government programs seems to stem from our constitution. Written hundreds of years ago, it places the individual over the state. The Bill of Rights was added to protect individual rights and limit the powers of government. Back in those days, people expected to be treated as individuals and it was important for individuals to solve their own problems in their own ways. They fought a brutal revolution to make the world’s most powerful government leave them alone. They sacrificed everything against incredible odds to be independent and free from oppression. Clearly, our constitution, which harbors such antiquated principles and fosters such delusional expectations, is an obstacle today. Having outlived its usefulness, it should be revised to indulge my grand vision of a trouble-free nation.
They became even more vehement, pointing out that I wasn’t as smart as I thought and that if I had a worthy solution to a real problem, I should apply it myself instead of trying to force others to adopt it. With my ego somewhat wounded, I was similarly struck with the prospect of profiting from my own ideas. But just as I began to think about starting my own business, they went on to say that there were millions of people smarter than me, particularly small businessmen who create and profitably run companies that produce goods and services people want. They are coerced, not by government, but by what people want – that and the profit-motive. Small enough to fail, small businesses must be smarter than big businesses, and certainly government, which only provides what political leaders want. They told me that if I was really smart, I should try to get a job at a company run by a successful small businessman or at least shake his hand and thank him for his role in our economy.
Becoming a little vehement myself, I reminded them of our outdated constitution and how it, and individualism, were no longer effective in dealing with today’s problems. Big government, with the cooperation of big businesses, must be swiftly brought to bear on today’s constant stream of big problems. And, as good citizens, we must be trusting and compliant with grandiose, one-size-fits-all government solutions. We must be extra trusting and compliant with grandiose, tail-wagging-the-dog, one-size-fits-all government solutions.
Although they are not experts in the areas associated with the problems they seek to solve, our political leaders are highly educated (usually, lawyers) and they rely heavily on consultants (usually, lobbyists). This, and the fact that politicians intimately understand the problems of common people, serves to minimize the risk of failure. Furthermore, as we all know, large government programs have failed mainly due to lack of funding (e.g., financial system regulation, public education, energy, the postal system, AMTRAK, Superfund (and the entire EPA), drug approval and regulation (and the entire FDA), Social Security, Medicare, the war on poverty, the war on crime, the war on drugs, the war on cancer, etc.). As with these debacles, when failure does rear its ugly head, rest assured Congress will quickly throw more money at it. There’s no downside risk.
Luckily, more and more people are seeing it this way. With each passing day, I am encouraged by their mounting willingness to believe our political leaders, to embrace the authority of the state and its benevolence, to accept with alacrity (and without reading) its most Byzantine legislation and, above all, to compliantly subordinate their own solutions for the common good.
We are finally headed down the right path to solving America’s problems. The dwindling number of individualists, relics of days long gone, and like our constitution, stand infirmly as an increasingly decrepit barrier to what America could be. To them I say, have faith, trouble-free is sort of free.