They tell me I should keep these posts under 500 words because if it looks too long on the screen, people will skip over it. (I know I do that with fat e-mails.) That means I often don’t have the space to get into explanations of why I say what I do about some issues, so I thought it might be helpful to spend this post’s 500 words on how I approach major issues like governance and finance.
I am not an ideologue. I am a pragmatist. I am passionate about knowledge and facts, and my thinking about things like Wall Street or politics is informed by what I know about history, human nature and comparable situations in other countries or areas. I only care about what works.
For instance, why hasn’t Canada ever had a banking crisis? Why is Europe still an economic basket case? Why is the air in Beijing often unbreathable?
Well, Canada has, and always has had, strict banking regulations. European governments reacted to the Great Recession with austerity measures. China is making the transition from a state run economy to a freer economy.
We have relatively loose banking regulations. Is there is lesson here for us? Our government reacted to the Great Recession with massive fiscal intervention. Is there a lesson here for Europe? Our air is relatively clean, thanks to government regulations. Is there a lesson here for China?
Here’s what I know about human nature. We are tribal creatures. We tend to gather together with people who look and think like we do, physically in neighborhoods and now virtually through things like talk radio and the internet. It’s safe and comfortable to always be validated in your person and your thinking.
Here’s what else I know about human nature. We only react when it’s a crisis. Climate change will probably prove to be the most dramatic and costly example, 9/11 and the “War on Terror” is another, and every bubble-and-burst experience we’ve had in this country is also an example. When times are good, party on! When the music stops, panic and overreact. Come on. We’re smarter than that.
Of course, no solution to any problem can ever be perfect, so first we need to agree on certain basic principles. Here are mine:
1. We’re all in this together.
2. Through our representatives, we are the government. Don’t blame Washington!
3. We all have a responsibility to participate in civic life.
4. We all have a responsibility to seek out the knowledge we need to make informed decisions about that participation.
Number four is the most important. Technology means the amount of information available to us has exploded. Unfortunately much of it is partisan, supporting the ideology of one tribe or the other. If you have the slightest doubt that the information you’re getting comes from some person, group or institution that has an axe to grind or an ideology to support, check it out. Fortunately, technology has made that really easy to do.
We’re all members of the American tribe, and while that tribe is made up of clans that don’t always agree on everything, let’s not lose sight of our primary loyalty. We’re not the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Let’s stop panicking. Let’s roll up our sleeves, arm ourselves with the best information we can find, meet in a spirit of cooperation and yes, compromise, and fix what needs fixing. To me, that should be the American way.
(Ooops! 585 words. Thanks for sticking with me!)