Instant Change?

The term “instant change” is in fact, so far as societies are concerned, an oxymoron, because meaningful change in any society is anything but instant, and is almost always agonizingly painful for significant segments, if not for all, of that society. Yet here in the United States, we’ve just witnessed five months of political primary election contests where all the candidates have promised “change,” and where the apparent winner of the Democratic presidential primary is the one who promised the most radical, and yet, the most painless change.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical. Not about the need for change, but about all the rhetoric and implications that suggest radical changes will be comparatively easy and painless. Now… let’s consider that John Adams and others among the Founding Fathers insisted [and failed] on radical change in abolishing slavery in 1776. Some eighty-four years later, the United States was ripped apart by Civil War, at least in part, if not in large part, over the issue of slavery. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments that ensued, full legal civil rights were effectively denied to blacks until the Supreme Court outlawed the worst of discriminatory measures in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. That proved insufficient, and in 1964 a more far-reaching Civil Rights Act was passed, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And more riots followed. Admittedly, we have changed radically in respect to legal rights for blacks since the United States was founded — but such radical change was anything but swift or painless.

Some change in any society is good, but the lessons of history suggested to the founding fathers that most change, especially popularly-based change whipped up by demagogues and political opportunists, was not. They felt that order was more conducive to liberty than the ability to change societal structures quickly. So our government was designed with all fashion of checks and balances, primarily to ensure that no change could be instantly railroaded through. Some of those checks and balances have been changed, and while some people would claim “eroded” is a better term, the fact remains that radical change cannot be implemented legally and quickly.

Some would also claim, not without reason, that the current Administration has made radical changes in personal liberties, but the legality of many of those changes remains untested, and some have been curtailed. That said, would a new Administration really wish to employ similar methods to force change? If so, such an Administration would not be changing anything, but merely using the same structure for differing ends, and maintaining a loss of liberty to obtain its goals. If not, then radical change will be time-consuming and expensive, as it always has been.

In the meantime, what of all those voters who endorsed quick and painless change? Will they be so enthusiastic as time passes, as endless votes and amendments pile up, as the costs for implementing those changes further increase their taxes or decrease services in other areas?

Of course, the quick and simple [and wrong] answer to those questions is that all we have to do is decrease government waste. The problem is: One person’s “waste” is another person’s livelihood. For example, we pay what I believe are excessive farm subsidies, but cutting those subsidies will be painful to those who receive them, and they will protest and harass their representatives and present all manner of arguments to prove that the subsidies are good programs. Bridges and roads to small communities are expensive, and many are certainly not “cost-effective,” but those communities often cannot pay for such improvements, and a bridge described as “one to nowhere” in Washington is certainly one to somewhere out in the state that wants it built. Requiring national health care is a goal that’s been cited repeatedly, but exactly who will pay for the services to the 47 million uninsured Americans? Even a rock-bottom [and unrealistically low] premium of $200 a month and health care expenditures averaging a mere $1,000 a year for each of those uninsured Americans would require either taxpayers or employers or some combination of each to come up with an additional $160 billion annually. If we’re talking about a government program, that works out to over $1,000 more in income or payroll taxes per taxpaying family per year. That’s unless we cut some other government programs by the same amount. If the program is supposed to be funded by employers, how many more jobs will vanish, the way they have in the auto industry, over just that issue? And if the program is funded by increasing taxes on the “rich,” that won’t work unless the “rich” are defined as any couple that makes over $150,000 — and that number takes in millions of people who definitely believe they’re anything but rich.

As I indicated earlier, I’m not against change, but I am against rhetoric and hype that suggests change is automatically wonderful, painless, and free. Change is always more expensive than anyone realizes, especially to those who fail to understand that point. Just look at the changes in the USA today as a result of quick and easy promises to fight terror… and the fact that we’ve spent over a trillion dollars, lost civil liberties and thousands of lives, and still haven’t succeeded.

Change — do you really think it’s ever quick, easy, cheap, and painless? Or do you assume that someone else will end up paying for it?