The Right Way to Turn Left

My drivers-ed teacher taught the standard Illinois Rules Of the Road protocol and instilled solid habits in we fledgling motorists.  She even gave each of us a one-time lesson in stick-shift driving.  Because the school’s cars were all automatics, she graciously – perhaps foolishly – volunteered her Ford Thunderbird.  If that car were around today, I’m sure the clutch would still bear the scars of my awkward footwork.

One of my teacher’s lessons concerned the right way to turn left.  She explained that the rules were set up to maximize the flow of traffic and benefit everyone.  She told us that waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, with your car remaining even with the stop light meant that only one car would be able to turn left when the light changed to yellow and oncoming traffic stopped.  Instead, she had us pull to the center of the intersection so that we could clear the area quickly on the yellow light and allow a couple more cars to turn left behind us before the light turned red.

Today, I see lots of people who don’t do what my drivers-ed teacher taught us to do.  Not surprisingly, that results in exactly what my teacher predicted – everyone else has to wait.

Another way to see that is that when people only look after their own needs, others suffer.  That sounds a lot like today’s politics.  I wrote about that last week in a slightly snarky piece called Hollering.

This time, though, it’s specifically about the effects on others of those people only looking out for themselves – and those effects are always negative.  An example is the crazy-easy way it is to circumvent our pathetic little protections against the wrong person getting their hands on an assault rifle and thousands of rounds of ammunition.  The consequences for others are often lethal.

Another example is the fundamentally fraudulent, proven false for over 35 years, supply side economics.  It is the practice of stacking the deck in favor of those who already have lots, with the phony promise that somehow benefits will “trickle down” to the little people.  That hasn’t work out well for most “little people”.

In contrast, when we all play together and play by rules designed to benefit everyone, we’re all better off.  Look at Medicare as an example.  The only people who don’t like Medicare are the providers who are prevented from over-charging – nobody who is on Medicare doesn’t like it.  The same goes for Social Security.  And public education.  And protecting the environment.  Sure, there are people who have to put some effort and some cash into doing the right things, but we’re all better off for that.  Indeed, since the EPA started its efforts in 1970, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland hasn’t caught fire – not even once.  Lake Michigan is clean and safe for swimming.  And the air no longer stings the eyes and throats of people in Los Angeles.

When we all play by rules that help us all, we are all better off.  Just like when we turn left the right way.


Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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2 Responses to The Right Way to Turn Left
  1. Dan Wallace Reply

    An ancient issue, Jack. It’s called “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The term comes from English villages that had, in the old days, a common pasture for sheep grazing. The “tragedy”: If each of us lets our sheep graze fully, the pasture will be destroyed and none of our sheep will be able to graze at all. But who is going to volunteer to pull half-satiated sheep from the pasture? Limited resources that must be shared.

    For what it’s worth, re the examples you gave above, I generally agree with you about Medicare (works well, and I believe we will end up at single-payer not because I like government doing things but because the free market has no mechanism for dealing with a service – healthcare – that’s not actually a market and because health insurance isn’t really insurance – it’s sharing of cost, not sharing of risk). That said, my doctor, who is very mindful of doctor office economics, tells me he loses money on every Medicare patient he takes. He’s an equal opportunity grump – hates having to argue his medical judgment (he’s very mindful of saving patients money and does not order unnecessary tests) with insurance companies.

    Social Security is a freakin’ disaster. Lots of reasons I don’t need to repeat here. I’ll just add to the usual pile that it’s not very helpful to the people who need it most. My mother, who worked most of her life, gets $600/month. That’s less than 1/8 the cost of her assisted living facility. What makes her viable economically is that she happened to buy two pieces of real estate that did well. Otherwise, she’d be a pauper, and Social Security would make no difference in that.

    Public education is a freakin’ disaster, especially for those who need it most (sound familiar?). Our collective failure to deliver a decent education to poor kids, mostly of color, is a national shame. My kids went to very highly regarded suburban public schools (consistently rated top 5-10 in Illinois.) I paid through the nose for it via property taxes. I would certainly describe the education they received as “good.” I would be hard-pressed to describe it as “great.”

    No argument whatever from me on protecting the environment. A true tragedy of the commons. One that has the ability to end the species if we don’t pay attention to it.

    Re gun ownership, a difficult box to get out of. IMHO, like it or not, the language of the 2nd Amendment (“shall not be infringed”) is excruciatingly clear. Absent a change to the Constitution (highly unlikely), what do we do? A British expat friend of mine comments that we spend all of our time talking about rights and little or none talking about the responsibilities attendant upon those rights.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Gotta comment on a couple of pieces of your insightful (as always) comments, Dan.

      First: Social Security. It was not and is not designed to be anyone’s sole means of support in old age. It was and is intended to be a forced savings plan, as most of us don’t do such a good job at saving for the future (thus, marking us less intelligent than squirrels). Prior to Social Security people simply wallowed in their poverty or in their declining quality of life until they died. That is to say, we tried it the ol’ tough, self-reliant American way and it didn’t work out too well for most of us. Perhaps there should be changes to Social Security, like no cap on contribution qualified income, some form of means testing and others. That doesn’t auger for trashing the system like the hair on fire types want. They simply have forgotten history and refuse reality as they thump their chests.

      Next, Education. We all believe in public education, even as most of us refuse bond measures and tax increases that would improve the education of our kids. And our various levels of government consistently work to de-fund our schools. Wanna guess why our kids are 37th in the world at math?

      Our school funding methods and our school calendar are both based on an agrarian society that has been largely gone for the better part of a century (today, only 7% of the population can remotely be described as “farmers”). Kids are no longer needed to work on the farm in summer. So, how come they’re out of school for 2.5 months a year while their competitors around the world go to school for more hours a day and all year long?

      Last, Gun Ownership: Read the first half of the Second Amendment, while keeping in mind a clarity about the perils to the new nation during the days when the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was written. You’ll understand that the Second Amendment was created so that, in the absence of a standing army, we could quickly call up a militia if the British attacked again. Our militias are now called the National Guard (a standing army) and the Brits just aren’t going to show up with muskets and bayonets, so the “shall not infringe” business was about a national defense that is not needed any longer. Myopic Second Amendment types like to imply that the right to own guns is about personal defense against an abusive U.S. government and they see Ruby Ridge as the prelude to their showdown against the Feds. They are deeply delusional, as the Second Amendment has nothing to do with their paranoia, nor will these people fare well against the U.S. Army and Marines.