That's Messed Up!

Ever catch yourself thinking, “that’s messed up!” Do you ever ask why?

When something is messed up there’s a good chance that something wrong with a feedback mechanism somewhere.  I’m looking for a simpler way to say that.  I haven’t found it yet.

What does that mean?  Consider the example of spoiled teenagers. They live in a bubble of entitlement and self-importance.  Why?  Because they haven’t received good feedback from their parents.  Their parents haven’t held them accountable for their actions.  Teachers haven’t held them accountable.   Ever since they were young authority figures haven’t provided appropriate consequences for their actions.

To see a clear example of this, watch SuperNanny or Nanny 911.  At the beginning of every show the kids are out of control.  SuperNanny then provides much needed feedback to the parents: THE PARENTS ARE THE PROBLEM.  The parents are the problem because they aren’t consistently holding their kids accountable for actions.  That is, giving negative consequences for misbehavior and positive consequences for good behavior. 

So, the next time you see something that you think is messed up, give some thought to what feedback mechanism is broke.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get to the heart of problem using this approach.  

Who's selfish?

From the book America Alone by Mark Steyn:

This is the paradox of “social democracy.” When you demand lower taxes and less government, you’re damned by the Left as “selfish.” And, to be honest, in my case that’s true. I’m glad to find a town road at the bottom of my driveway in the morning and I’m happy to pay for the Army and new fire truck for a volunteer fire department every now and then, but other than that, I’d like to keep everything I earn and spend it on my priorities.

The Left, for its part, offers an appeal of moral virtue: it’s better to pay more in taxes and to share the burdens as a community. It’s kindler, gentler, more compassionate, more equitable. Unfortunately, as recent European election results demonstrate, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: once a fellow’s enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn’t give a hoot about general societal interest; he’s got his, and if it’s going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he’s dead, it’s fine by him.  “Social democracy” is, it turns out, explicitly anti-social.

That last fellow sounds like a Social Security recipient at the mere mention of alteration to SS to ensure that future generations get theirs’.

Reagan on Capitalism

Ronald Reagan, April 16, 1979, Radio Address (from Reagan: In His Own Hand p. 228): 

It isn’t unfair to say that today the world is divided between those who believe in the free marketplace and those who believe in government control and ownership of the economy. 

Most of us aren’t really conscious of how recently the capitalist system came into being.

Maybe our trouble is caused by the term capitalist itself.  Actually all systems are capitalist.  It’s just a matter of who owns and controls the capital – ancient king, dictator or private individual (emphasis added). 

The insight in bold has stayed with me ever since I read these words several years ago.  Such clarifying statements are rare. 

I agree with President Reagan that the problem may be the word capitalist itself.  It’s shape doesn’t seem to match the hole that it’s supposed to fit through.  It has a sterile quality that shrouds its true meaning and lends itself to be hijacked by other meanings.

To most people, capitalist is interchangeable with greed, evil or robber baron.  But that’s equivocation*.  To strip it of its negative association and shine the light on the true evil, Reagan equivocates capitalist to its root word capital.

Capitalism is a system where individuals (you and I) owns and controls the capital rather than it being owned and controlled by the goverment or king.  But, capital is anything we can use to derive a benefit.  Capital is roads, machines, factories, tools, buildings, property and so forth.  To that extent, every economic system uses capital.  Even the most primitive tribes in the Amazon have homes, tools, weapons and livestock – all of which are capital. 

In his equivocation, Reagan punches you in the gut with the root difference between economic systems: who controls capital.  Greed and evil exists everywhere.  Capitalism doesn’t enable it any more than any other system.  In fact, it keeps greed and evil in check better than any other system (more on that in future posts).

Reagan’s two sentences left me with the sense that freedom and choice are better associated with capitalism, and I find it puzzling why anybody would be against that.

*Equivocation is another one of those sterile words that is often misunderstood.  To save you a trip to dictionary.com, equivocation is the use of two meanings of a word with the intent to mislead. 

Helping Others

I read the following passage in Paul Johnson’s column in Forbes magazine. 

Create happiness and satisfaction by creating jobs.  And not just paid occupations – all governments do that, often by  the million – but geniune jobs that justify themselves, have a real purpsose and longevity.  The great 12-century Jewish sage Maimonides wrote that charity is a blessing, and we must all exercise it if we can.  But the finest form of charity is to enable a poor man to support himself with honor and usefulness.

A businessman who can create useful, well-paid and secure jobs is doubly blessed, by the individual he makes self-supporting and by society he renders more secure.  He helps himself, too, for as Maimonides says, there is joy in lifting people out of want, not by alms but on a permanent basis.

This is from Johnson’s column titled, “Pursuing Success is Not Enough,” which was published in the Forbes 2008 Investment Guide

I remember two charities that helped me as a child.  The first was the reduced price school lunch program.  The second was Reading is Fundamental (R.I.F.).  For lunch I usually chose to brown bag PBJ sammies rather than pay the special price.  However, I so looked forward to the days when we got to choose a book to take home from the R.I.F. table.  Sort of how Stanley on The Office looks forward to pretzel day.

This passage from Mr. Johnson struck a chord with me.