Reality or ideology?
Why is it that laws, regulations, and governmental policies are rarely formed according to the reality of the situation? Rather, a person, interest group, or party creates political pressure and financial rewards for a particular action. Is that why each action creates another problem? Certainly, each new law, regulation or policy creates new interactions among the actors in a complex system—and that’s more complexity. (See Blog 3.) I’m not a Libertarian; I don’t advocate erasure of most laws solely as a matter of principle. However, I do advocate looking before leaping, assessing real causes before applying ideal solutions. Let’s consider three diverse examples.
1) Iraq. The neoconservative administration of George W. Bush (aka Bush II) used the attacks of 9/11 as an excuse for invading Iraq. The belief—the ideology—of the administration was that Iraqis would welcome the invaders, form an American-style democracy, and thereby initiate the downfall of other repressive regimes throughout the middle east. (See the essay on conservative and liberal.)
The administration overlooked why Iraqi society could function only under a tyrannical dictator, ignoring the facts that a) the region had never experienced citizen governance; b) loyalties were directed to family and religious identity, not to nation; and c) invaders are usually despised more than internal oppressors.
2) Banking. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 removed the requirement that deposit banks, securities firms, insurance companies, and investment banks perform separate services. Could it be that the de-regulators did not examine the reasons underlying the regulations adopted after the great depression of the 1930’s, a depression triggered by excesses in the money-and-investment markets? The deregulation of 1999 allowed creation of dominant financial institutions, entities regarded as “too big to fail,” organizations that were free to develop financial instruments and sub-prime mortgages, instruments that critics claim led to the housing bubble and financial collapse ten years later.
3) Guns and violence. In response to several spectacular killings, vociferous arguments now (2013) promote or oppose, various forms of “gun control,” including a ban on assault-style weapons. I don’t see a need for these weapons. Would such a ban help? Perhaps such a ban would not make much difference, except to the arms trade. You could still do a mass murder with a repeating shotgun. What’s NOT examined is the violence inherent in the American culture.
Many people, including leaders of the National Rifle Association,* fear that the government is inherently bad. Fear motivates action. To keep the government from oppressing them, the fearful promote weapons for armed resistance. Maybe there is something to fear. The Bush II administration authored the Patriot Act, allowing the government to legally search your home without telling you.
Unfortunately, the gun arguments ignore this real threat to privacy and liberty. Instead, our society acts as though we are still fighting King George and his redcoats. We rebel against government, enacting a myth of the self-sufficient, independent, gun-slinging cowboy riding on a frontier of justice. TV and video games imprint our children with violence rather than negotiation, with hatred rather than love, with power rather than literature or mathematics or social responsibility. In the gun debate, we disregard the social attitudes, customs, and stories underlying the violence.
Applying new rules to the causes.
Conclusion. Unless we look at the situations and causes underlying painful social symptoms, we will continue to apply sometimes fruitless, sometimes foolish, and often expensive fixes to serious problems. Unfortunately, the politician who openly addresses the real situations will not be elected. We’ll deal with why that’s true in another blog, but here’s a hint: fear stimulates public attention while reformers are to be feared, not embraced.
* I confess to being a life member of the NRA since 1958. However, I also confess to being among the minority of lifetime members who openly oppose its paranoid policies. Among that minority was former president George H.W. Bush, senior (Bush I), who publicly protested those policies by resigning his NRA membership in 1995.