I was recently reminded that sometimes I state the obvious, and that’s true. But there’s a reason why I do, and that’s because even intelligent people who are wrapped up in busy lives often tend to forget the obvious, particularly when that particular obvious isn’t part of those lives in a meaningful way.
Nonetheless, dismissing or disregarding the apparently irrelevant obvious can have great peril, particularly in government. Government is the tool that human societies use to regulate human behavior. In the United States, government laws and regulations and modified economic capitalism set the boundaries because even the Founding Fathers recognized that without order there is no liberty. Setting boundaries always involves trade-offs. Like it or not, there are no perfect absolutes.
As an example, since I do have a background in environmental matters, I’ll state an obvious point. There is no clean perfectly environmentally sound way of generating electrical power. Every single method of generating power has significant environmental downsides. People cite solar power, but while the power itself is clean – at least here on Earth – every system built to use it effectively requires extensive industrial processes involving toxic chemicals on a huge scale. Hydro-power requires dams, and dams have adverse impacts on water flow and wide-spread eco-systems, not to mention the underlying geology, or the pollution involved in building the dams, turbines, and even the electrical distribution network. Nuclear power plants produce virtually no emissions, but leave a significant long-term radioactive disposal problem. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, but drilling for it releases far more methane than has been recognized until recently and burning it raises atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which, along with the methane, increases global warming. There are similar drawbacks to various other “clean” power sources as well. Burning coal is the cheapest way to generate electrical power, but coal is the most environmentally damaging source of electrical power.
So… if government allows the unrestricted use of coal-fired power plants, electric power is cheaper, but the health and environmental costs are the highest. Thus, our government has attempted to strike a balance between health and cost. People can and do argue about where that balance should be struck, but no matter where it’s struck, there will be costs and health effects.
Free trade agreements result in lower prices for consumer goods, but they also drive higher cost U.S. industries off-shore and reduce U.S jobs in those industries. Raising tariffs against foreign imports in those industries might preserve some of those jobs, but at the cost of raising prices to U.S. consumers, and only for a while, until, as has already happened, those industries replace workers with higher tech machines that lower production costs. All of that is obvious, but U.S. workers who lost jobs don’t care. They’re angry, and they’re going to vote against “the establishment” that “let it happen,” even though the establishment had little choice if those companies wanted to stay in business because, overall, Americans voted with their dollars for lower prices from automated factories or off-shored labor over higher-priced goods produced by more U.S. workers.
Voting against the “obvious” in this case has two possibilities – either restrictive trade barriers that will trigger retaliation, resulting in higher prices and economic deterioration, as happened in the 1930s, which made the Great Depression worse, or lots of rhetoric changing nothing.
Obvious, but not so obvious, trade-offs also occur in non-economic areas. Police “profiling” does reduce crime, but the down-side is that it results in harassment of the poor and of minorities and creates political and civil unrest. Yet not having a more intensive police presence in higher-crime areas actually results in higher death rates from violence in those areas, but that presence results in more arrests and arrests for minor offenses, offenses that often do not result in arrests in more affluent areas, and those arrests have long-standing and negative economic impacts, especially in black communities. There isn’t a good, simple, or easy solution, and any solution here will have costs to some group or another.
In the end, there’s always a reason for the “obvious,” and that reason is seldom a given politician, businessman, or government bureaucrat. But the all too human response, and one that’s coming to the fore in the current election, is to focus anger on the candidate who doesn’t seem to think the way you do.
Politicians, business executives, and bureaucrats are all trying to strike the balance they think is most favorable, and while that balance may not be what you think is the best one, they’re really not out to destroy a “way of life,” unless, of course, your way of life involves crime, discrimination, environmental degradation, or shameless exploitation of the vulnerable.
But then, it’s so much easier to insist that the problem is obvious, that there’s a simple and equally obvious answer, and that all it takes is one person in charge who has THE ANSWER, rather than support leaders who are willing to acknowledge that problems in the highest technology and most complicated society in history require thought and compromise, especially since, in all history, there never been a single simple and workable answer to a complex problem, no matter what the current demagogue insists.