So much is ethically wrong and even economically nonsensical. I fight every day to keep my thinking out of the weeds, hoping to see the bigger picture and very occasionally I succeed. There are so many battles in this seemingly disappearing experiment in democracy and so many people are suffering with little relief in sight, even for the lofty ideals to which we say we aspire. Here are some examples of that.
Nicholas Kristof has a compelling piece in the New York Times about health and health care and the decisions we make. Economically, it makes little sense to pay over a half a million dollars to treat disease instead of just the few dollars that are required for routine screenings. Ethically, it makes no sense to let our citizens suffer and die because of economically driven poor choices (no medical insurance) or because of a profound lack of resources that prohibits routine health care. The system that makes that necessary is entirely about the greed of those whose hands are on the rudder
The second half of the 1960’s was an era of radical change and it was played out in part in drug experimentation. That flamboyant display of anti-establishment nose-thumbing resulted in draconian laws and mandatory sentencing like the “three strikes” rule that sent our young to prison for having a joint. The establishment surely showed its muscle by trashing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans for their youthful dalliances. It also cost billions of dollars to prosecute and incarcerate the offenders, forcing our legal establishment to divert limited resources away from nabbing the really bad guys. What do you think about the ethics and economics of that?
On November 6 voters in Washington, Colorado and Oregon will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. That is far less odd, given the historical record, than that today’s establishment folks are in favor of legalization. And even that is less odd than that the illegal suppliers of pot are against legalization because it will slash their profits. Timothy Egan’s piece details this, and at root it’s all about simple human greed.
It is said that money is the root of all evil, but I don’t think that’s quite right. It is simply the tool we use for our human instincts to focus first and foremost on ourselves, to do what we see as in our own best interests. Frequently, human interpretations of that self-interest are quite short-sighted. No, it’s actually nearly always short-sighted, and it leads us down a path of self-destruction. Even the super-educated, self-protected wealthy 1% aren’t immune and they and we are sowing the seeds of our own demise because of our shortsightedness. Chrystia Freeland has written a compelling article about this and Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail gives even greater clarity.
Self-destruction is ethically absurd and economically nonsensical, yet our leaders – at least the people we so often promote and elect – seem welded to taking us down that path. They lie to us by telling us that a voucher system isn’t a voucher system, that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that (baby boomers will get this) we have to stop the scourge of Communism right there in Viet Nam so that we don’t have to fight them in Kansas, that we were winning that war, that Romney will cut taxes 20% but that his scheme won’t be a $5 trillion deficit, that the rich people are the job creators and the list goes on and on. To understand why they say such things, obey Deep Throat’s dictum: “Follow the money.” Yet so many of us believe the lies (or, at least, we don’t challenge them), largely because we are focused on our own concerns, just trying to make life work. But that is short-sighted and ultimately does ethical and economic damage to ourselves.
We’re not going to change human nature; each of us will continue to do what we perceive to be in our own best interests. What we can do is to look up now and then, get out of the weeds and recognized that tomorrow will come. And when it does, we will live in the consequences of today’s decisions.
What are the ethics and economics you want? Look up. See that tomorrow is on its way and that we do not have to continue on a path of craziness. Then speak up. If you don’t make your voice heard, people who want a very different America from the America you want will be heard, because they will be the only ones talking.
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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