6/10/2002

 

Simplistic thinking costs in the long run

 

In the absolutes of hotly debated issues it is easy to forget that what is most, is not always what is best.

 

If one side wants to use tax dollars to provide free lunches to poor school kids, the other side will want to reduce taxes by that much, and point out that with lower taxes the economy will get a boost and fewer kids will need a lunch.

 

True. But that would still leave some kids without lunch. So our economy grows just a tad slower because we feed hungry kids. Thatís a tradeoff thatís worth doing. Just because something is best for the economy doesnít necessarily mean itís best in the big picture.

 

Actually it probably pays off economically too, by making more productive students who are more likely to become productive citizens.

 

Generally these tradeoffs have to do with the economy. The economy would do better ifÖ If we reduced environmental regulations, reduced OSHA (worker safety) laws, reduced consumer safety laws, etcetera.

 

But do you want to do without consumer safety laws? Sure, in the short term companies could make more money and hire more people by making cheaper, unsafe products. But before long we would be poorer from all the lost productivity of all the dead and injured consumers.

 

Sure, it's possible to do it wrong. There are ineffective ways to ensure environmental quality, and you can go overboard with worker safety. I donít like paying taxes any more than you do. Letís prod our bureaucracies to constantly review what theyíre doing and how they do it. But letís not throw the baby out with the bath water. Get rid of any truly absurd OSHA guidelines, but donít abandon worker safety in the process.

 

Likewise, it's possible to take tradeoffs too far to fit the resources to pay for them. The programs and guidelines it would be good to implement have no end, and many would pay off in the long run, but we canít afford to do everything at once.

 

Just the same, we have to be smart. Giving health insurance to poor people is a lot cheaper than waiting till theyíre deathly sick and treating them in the emergency room (not to mention more humane).

 

Tradeoffs donít always apply to money, though. Perhaps the quickest way to choke off white-supremacist groups would be to muzzle them. But that would require compromising our own freedom of speech. Itís a tradeoff, and it means we have to squelch their garbage patiently with a steady public outcry against it whenever it shows its ugly face. Itís a slower, less effective way (short term) to do it, but it is more surefire and complete in the long run, and it prevents us from becoming hypocrites in the process.

 

The ACLU understands this. That supposed bastion of liberalism has supported a white-supremacistís right to use a burning cross as an expression of free-speech (but not on a minority personís lawn) and just to make the point, they had a lawyer who is black handle the case.

 

Likewise pursuing terrorists within the framework of our Bill of Rights and due process may not seem to be the shortest way to do it, but itís the only right way to do it. In fact though, there is nothing to suggest so far that we couldnít do it just as well by using the methods we already have, but using them better.

 

When you hear simplistic thinking in public debates, donít buy it. Itís liable to cost you.