Political Decisions

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Political decisions must, by definition in a diverse society, alienate some in that society. This truism is dictated by the concept of opportunity cost. For those without business school backgrounds, opportunity cost is the cost of not having selected the other choices. Every decision anyone ever makes, carries an opportunity cost. Example: The wife takes the shortest route to work. In doing so, she avoids alternative longer routes which may make her drive more interesting, less hazardous as the lesser traveled routes, or less fortuitous in passing up the opportunity to give Bill Gates a ride after his HumV broke down, which he appreciates with a sizable thank you check of a million dollars.

In taking the shortest route, the opportunity cost was a more interesting drive, greater risk, and missing B. Gate's thank you check. Note however, that there are two kinds of opportunity costs, here. Those one can foresee, and those which one cannot. The less interesting drive and greater risk costs of the wife taking the shortest route, are foreseeable. She considers these costs and in deciding to take the shortest route, consents to bear those costs attending her decision. Bill Gates breaking down on the lesser traveled route, however, could not be foreseen. She may regret reading in the paper the $Million dollar thank you check another person received for helping Bill Gates on that day and road she chose not to travel, but, it was not foreseeable, and therefore, blame or responsibility for missing the reward by taking her usual shortest route, does not logically attend her decision.

An enormous amount of media and political coverage is spent on assessing opportunity costs which could not be foreseen, and which come to light only after the political decision was implemented. Politicians love to use such unforeseen opportunity costs as a bludgeon on the heads of political adversaries, but, the public should know better than to buy into such false critiques and rhetoric. Regretfully, the public by and large, is incapable of even detecting when this is taking place.

All political decisions should be viewed in these terms to more accurately understand how they are made, and more accurately critique those decisions based on the weighing of the costs attending each of the decision options, and whether or not, they were foreseeable costs. If this sounds a little more complex than most voters wish to engage in, I would have to agree. However, our founding fathers understood that as many voters as possible be capable of such assessment if this democracy was going to work, at all. And with that understanding, they chose to grant the vote to classes of citizens most likely to be able to assess political decisions in these terms; white, male, landowners. In their day, males were better educated than females, whites were better educated than African Americans and slaves, and landowners had motive to take an interest in what the government was doing, eminent domain and taxation being what it was under King George.

The point however, which the founding fathers understood keenly, was that democracy cannot work if ignorance chooses the deciders. This is, in fact, the primary cause of the rise of political parties after George Washington's first term as president. The parties formed to inform the voters, and select educated and informed candidates for office, who would make sounder decisions by calculating the opportunity costs and avoiding those choices in which the costs attending them outweigh the benefits of that decision.

Adam Smith refers to this kind of decision making as acting with "enlightened self-interest" and he presumed such interest would be the foundation for the "invisible hand" that moves the market place. When the invisible hand is guided by ignorance instead of enlightened self interest, that hand becomes enormously destructive as we just witnessed with the collapse of the housing, financial, and job markets over the last 24 months.

In the book taking the country by political storm, "Game Change," written by political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, cite sources within the McCain campaign at the time of choosing and prepping Sarah Palin, claiming that Sarah Palin had to be given basic high school history and geography lessons in World Wars I and II, the Korean War, what it was about, where it is, and why there is a North and South Korea, and how these wars connected to each other and the Cold War, and Viet Nam, in preparation for her debate with Joe O'Biden, whose last name she just couldn't nail down, precipitating her asking Sen. Joe upon entering the stage, if she could just call him Joe. He agreed. But, even that failed to keep Ms. Palin from referring to O'Biden on that stage. (See 60 Minutes' excerpts regarding the books coverage of Sarah Palin by clicking here.)

When ignorance guides the candidate selection process, when the greed for power so dominates a Party's or candidate's views as to blind them to the opportunity costs of bad decisions, when voters vote for a party that demonstrates year after year, violations of its own platform and principles, and remain loyal to that party, the nightmare of the founding fathers granting universal suffrage is realized beyond all dread. If even half of what is reported in "Game Change" is true, we have been given our wake-up call as to the tenuous nature of our nation's future.

American politics are mired in ignorance, incompetence, avarice, and the Peter Principle. And this ignorance that begets more at the highest levels of government, begins with voters, who vote as if for an NFL championship contender, instead of voting as if their life and future depended upon their vote, which, by the way, it does. There is only one way to correct this debilitating condition of modern American society, and that is with dramatic education reform.

Unfortunately, the reform Pres. Obama and Congress are contemplating entirely misses the mark. Pres. Obama clearly states his view of education is to prepare children for the work place. That's it. No more. While it is vital to our national interests to insure as many of our young people as possible are optimally prepared to enter the work force, this myopic view fails to consider that the majority of our lives are NOT spend in the work place, but, in traffic jams, consuming products, raising families, paying taxes, and making political decisions which impact all these other activities.

I am frankly, wholly disheartened by Pres. Obama's focus, which demonstrates an acute lack of understanding of a broader education than just Constitutional Law, which he appears to have acquired and uses in his personal life. Yet he fails entirely to grasp the significance of that broader education for use by the rest of American citizens of the future. I make this point, because our schools are more and more vocationally oriented, as if preparing little machines for repetitive tasks on an assembly line, rather than embellishing all the potential of every child to conduct their lives with confidence, with adequate information, and most important, with an understanding of human knowledge in its broadest strokes, to insure their own offspring have the broadest base of knowledge upon which to draw from in their earliest formative years when values, discipline, and principles are first forged.

This last sentence above goes to the heart of the education dilemma in America. Education begins at home. Schools don't receive children until their first 5 formative years have already passed. Therefore, it is often not even possible for our public and private schools to shape the values, discipline, and principles in a positive way when hostility, combativeness, and defensiveness have already shaped the temperament of the child. Nor, would we want schools to engage in that early formative training of our young. But, really bad parenting is correlated with really limited education.

To break the cycle of ignorance, apathy, and uncivil behavior in our society, we must educate all of America's future parents as far as their abilities and our resources can take them. Our schools must being to teach students the basic principles of good parenting, the basic principles of good citizenship, and the basic principles of money and time, and their good management. Our schools must teach an unbiased American and World history, so that we can produce future leaders in America who are not limited by such biases in recognizing reality for what it is and dealing with forthrightly. And our schools must begin to teach the basic principles of government, in a non-partisan way, such that our future voters will be capable of assessing their representative's record in office objectively, and in terms of their own enlightened self-interest, which is what our founding father's vision of democracy in choosing our leaders was predicated upon.

The most important political decision to be made today for our nation's future is how we are going to reform our educational system in America. There is a general consensus that reform is needed, but the urgency and import of that reform has not even begun to be discussed in political circles. We pay an enormous amount of taxes for an incredibly insufficient and ineffective educational system in America. To have a future for our nation, we must address this issue today.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on January 13, 2010 3:31 PM.

Obama's Afghanistan Decision was the previous entry in this blog.

Mass. Election. Independents and Anti-Incumbents! is the next entry in this blog.

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