Keeping our asses out of ditches

The advice to not worry about how the mule got into the ditch, just get it out has always appeared pragmatic and straightforward advice, but if the mule continues to get in the ditch, over and over, you might want to find out why this is happening.

Many times in emergency situations, there’s no time to figure out the whys, you just act with the knowledge you have at the moment, then figure it out later, but this is only in emergencies. Government is making a virtue out of pragmatism when what’s needed is analysis and systemic thinking. We were told the bailouts and stimulus were pragmatic reactions to an emergency situation — and even if that’s true, we can now analyze and think systemically — was it necessary? Do adjustments need to be made? Could we have done something different? What needs to be done to avoid this happening again? What caused it?

Rather than look at fundamental problems and fundamental solutions, government continues to look at symptomatic problems and symptomatic solutions. Because banks made bad loans, politicians see only the banks and decide that more regulation is needed, rather than ask why banks made these bad loans to begin with. Others have looked at the fundamental problem which led to bad loans and it leads to government pressure to expand home ownership, and guarantees that Fannie and Freddie would buy these loans.

The reason government refuses to look at fundamental problems and fundamental solutions is because government actions are a large part of the problem and limiting government power is the solution. Systems thinking shows us that cause and effect are often far removed from one another by time, so it’s difficult to link a chain of events from the original cause to the effect. Peter Senge did a lot of great work on systems thinking and learning organizations years ago in his book The Fifth Discipline. This book should be required reading for all politicians. An ideal government would be one which understands its limitations and is a learning organization proficient in systems thinking.

Until we can drill down to fundamentals we’ll be stuck with symptomatic tinkering, stuck in a cycle creating the same poor results. As an example, how often have you talked with a friend who’s had serial relationship problems who comes to you for advice looking for a way to deal with the current problem, searching for some pragmatic way to make the current relationship better? After awhile you begin to see a pattern that suggests a fundamental problem with the way your friend approaches relationships in general — if you are brave, you reveal to your friend what you see, but this can be risky — no one wants to acknowledge that their way of thinking and acting is problematic and that deep fundamental changes are needed at the level of personality, value-judgements and mindset.

However, there can be no lasting fundamental change and improvement until the fundamental problem is discovered and acknowledged. With government the fundamental problem is the idea that technocrats can manage our complex economy, or that they should. As long as government is blind to the unintended consequences of its social engineering efforts and unable to see the chain of events leading from cause to effect over long periods of time, then our nation will continue to suffer from this tinkering with symptoms, giving aspirins for a fever which will return until the fundamental cause of the fever is discovered and a fundamental treatment is implemented. The fundamental treatment is to allow the free market to work.

The hubris of modern technocrats prevents the insight and humility necessary to understand economic principles which can’t be violated, or to fathom the moral questions involved when individual right are violated because some greater good is divined by a handful of manipulators. It’s not their right to make these decisions — much larger, over-arcing principles take precedence. Not only is it immoral to deny human beings free choice with their lives and property, as long as they are not violating the rights of others, it’s economic suicide to centrally plan when the variables of economic activity are unfathomable.

It’s also myopic, pretentious and cynically assumptive for a relative handful of patronizing social engineers to think that the welfare state is the only way to deal with poverty or to provide a safety net or to deliver healthcare. This fundamental idea that the public is self-centered and dispassionate, while the State is generous and compassionate, is the main cause of our most fundamental problems leading to de-humanizing effects — inner city dependents locked out of economic opportunity, and public schools failing to address the educational needs for the 21st century. These problems require innovation only the private sphere can offer within communities where the fundamental problems are understood and fundamental solutions can be found.

It’s time to find out why our asses keep getting in ditches.