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Home Ruminations

Common Sense

Here below are some of my thoughts on some wide social issues. Similar pages present my thoughts on living on earth, regulating our societies, communities of human beings, and behavior toward other countries. (While these seem like just simple common sense to me, some of them may be startling to some readers.)

Price vs. Value

As consumers we want the best value. But as value is somewhat difficult to quantify, we tend to look for the lowest price instead because it's simpler. Suppose you take advantage of an advertisement of the lowest price on a particular item. Is the gasoline you expended driving to that store to purchase it worth it? Do you recognize the sales clerk as someone you've seen somewhere else? Would you consent to work there? Can your child get a summer job there? Do the taxes you pay there go back into your own community, perhaps to help pay for schools? Looking only at low price can blind us to other components of value.

Likewise we tend to look for lower taxes rather than value for our tax dollars. It's easy to support politicians who promise simply lower taxes rather than good value. Is the street in front of your house paved, and is it cleared of snow in the winter? Do you know someone whose unemployment benefits have run out? Are the schools in your community strapped? Do you enjoy hiking in wilderness areas or public forests or parks? Do you know someone who has a lot of trouble getting help with their disabled child? If so, there are good ways to expend your tax dollars. Looking only at low taxes can blind us to other components of value.

Maybe Not A Good Tradeoff?
Fewer Highway DeathsMore Binge Drinking Deaths

A couple decades ago we experienced lots of tragedies caused by drunk drivers. Our society needed to stop treating drunk driving deaths as excusable and inevitable, resulting in only very light penalties. Our society has indeed now made the needed significant change. But that campaign also changed our laws nationwide to allow alcohol only to those over 21. This is no longer necessary given the fundamental societal change, and has had dramatic negative effects.

Because 21 doesn't come until our kids are either in college or living on their own, parents have lost the chance to teach their own kids to use alcohol safely and responsibly. Our kids now learn to use alcohol from other kids ...not a particularly good source of common sense or of experience. By forbidding our young people to engage in anything alcohol-related in public, we've driven them to lock themselves in some private room and tank up before each activity and so created a new problem: widespread binge drinking. The effects of binge drinking -including death- have gone from being practically unknown to being a major issue.

One umbrella organization coordinating current efforts to change the way our youth approach alcohol is Choose Responsibility. And here's yet another view of college binge drinking.

Economy Serves People (Not Vice Versa)

Our economy serves us by giving us a way to live and organize our society. Hints that it's the other way around —for example suggesting our whole society needs to change to match the new global economy— have it backward. The economy serves the people; the people don't serve the economy. Our leaders should answer to us, not to the economy.

We should not let economic efficiency be used as the justification for everything, even things that don't make people's lives better. The economy should be the engine, not the driver. A hundred years ago the liberal champions of free trade strove not for mere economic efficiency but rather for the grand prize of peaceful cooperation among nations.

Likewise we should not let overall production levels be used as a primary justification, even for things that degrade the quality of life of most affected individuals. The "Green Revolution" for example brought higher overall food production, but was often implemented in a way that left most of the existing rural population landless and jobless. Even though there was more food, the net change in quality of life was down rather than up. Increasing the urban industrial labor force may be good for the economy, but destroying existing rural societies in order to do it isn't good for the people.

Consider for example slum populations. Viewed in the light of the people serving the economy, they're simply "extra bodies." But viewed in the light of the economy serving the people, they're evidence that something is dramatically wrong.

Society For All

Society should be constructed to provide a truly satisfactory life to the vast majority of the citizens, not just to keep them alive. After all, what would you think if you were kept in conditions where you didn't own much, had little control over either your daily schedule or your life, and relied on food and water that was provided by a relief agency. Would you be satisfied being treated like a farm animal ...even a well-treated farm animal?

People that are only "alive" but not "meaningfully alive" are ready to join radical or fundamentalist movements that promise them something more than just existence.

Richness of USA

It's easy to conclude that "rich" comes from being "right," that the USA is powerful because it has the correct system of government.

But until fairly recently both the rest of the world and the USA itself saw the USA as a bunch of "rubes" with a single-minded --boring-- focus on business. It was still necessary less than a century ago to go to Europe to get a good post-secondary education in the arts or the humanities. And even today one pragmatic recommendation to Arab intellectuals is to regard the US as a business enterprise that acts solely on the basis of its strategic and economic interests.

So why did the USA turn out so well? Just maybe "virtue" didn't have all that much to do with it. Just maybe it was a combination of almost limitless land for homesteading, wise decisions by a few founding fathers, the virtual annihilation of the natives by disease, having oceans for borders, and lots of good luck.

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