Worldview: Random thoughts from a wandering mind: You’re so angry, you probably think this post is about you…

(With apologies to Carly Simon…)

So, here it goes: everybody is offended these days and it’s likely nobody who doesn’t already agree with you cares.

I’m guilty of it. So are you. So is almost everyone, especially if you are any kind of user of social media. We’re all angry and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Except, yes we are.

There’s a curious thing about offendedness in the current era. For the most part, people are angry and they’re doing things because of their anger. The problem is that most of the things they’re doing don’t end up doing anything about the things they’re angry about.

Instead, their efforts come down to various measures of passive-aggressive uses of force to compel others into doing things their way without making much attempt at all to convince those who may disagree of their point of view. These are, at best, hollow and Pyrrhic victories that sow the seeds of future discord and backlash.

And so we’ve entered an era of hurling insults, casting stones, passing laws, and generally brutalizing one another without any real effect.

Well, any real effect except one: the perception things are getting worse is a direct result of this nonsensical process.

This is not to say there are not real reasons to be concerned about the state of the world or to even be angry about that state. Rather, it is to call into question the way we are dealing with it. The preponderance of evidence is that the problems are real but that our responses to them are ineffective.

History shows us many things, and one of the things it shows us most is that anger and force rarely accomplish the things they set out to in the long run. What most effectively changes the course of events is dialog and compromise. What makes things better is the active attempt to make things better.

Until we set aside our angry offendedness and start looking at how we’re going to actually fix the things we find wrong with society and the world, all we are going to end up with is more angry offendedness.

The irony is that your choice of action will be defined by how you respond to this post, even if I never know what it is. Is this post about you?

DLH

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Worldview: The cost of reality

I’ve been watching the progress of the collective bargaining revocation bills in Wisconsin and Ohio with great curiosity and not a small amount of amusement. What I see on all sides of this debate is a failure to deal with reality.

Teacher’s unions fail to understand that there is no more money. Wisconsin is in the hole $2.2 billion. Ohio is in the hole $7 billion. Those deficits are only the ones for 2011. Sure, they are just trying to protect their own, but at what cost? What else has to get cut to protect them? Who else has to pay?

On the other hand, you have the conservative law makers and those who elected them. They claim union busting–because that’s what revoking state collective bargaining agreements really is–will save the tax payers millions. That’s true, but so would cutting state programs, especially the costly social welfare programs even conservatives are addicted to.

The problem, as I see it, is that nobody wants to admit the truth: we’re not going to get out of these problems with selective, politically motivated cuts. Instead, we’re going to have to make far-reaching, across the board cuts at all levels of government that will last decades, and those cuts will only serve to allow us to tread water.

Unfortunately, no one is listening. Liberals and progressives want to tax more and spend more. Conservatives want to attack their political opponents’ pet programs without doing anything real to face the problems. Libertarians are too wild-eyed and disorganized to do anything other than make incoherent noises.

In the midst of all of this, our nation is failing. Our currency is devaluing. Our economy is not creating jobs. More than half our citizens effectively do not pay taxes, and the other half are paying so much they can’t make anything happen. Our tax system penalizes success. Our laws make starting and maintaining businesses unnecessarily complex. This year, local, state, and federal governments will spend between $2.5 and $3 trillion more dollars than they collect in taxes. The total US debt burden carried by all levels of governments could exceed $25 trillion–or twice the entire GDP of the US in 2011.

If we really want to fix the problems that got us here, we have to end–no, destroy–the disincentive to perform, succeed, and innovate on the strengths of our own merits. We have to wipe out the notion that we can somehow treat every individual and situation as some kind of an average and deal with reality in all its uniqueness and complexity. For the first time in decades, we have to think, act, and react in accordance with the situation we have, not the one we are convinced we should have. We have to return the bulk of control to the individual and stop expecting governments to take care of us.

And all of these solutions are going to happen whether we want them to or not. We cannot continue what we are doing because what we are doing is failing. The question that remains is whether we participate in the process by which the next thing comes into being or whether we stand and watch as the terms are dictated to us.

I suspect most will do the latter, which is why I’m pretty sure you should be getting ready for some really tough times ahead.

DLH

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Worldview: I sense a revolution coming, and a lot of you aren’t going to like it

As some of you may have gathered, I do a lot of reading, especially about history, politics, and current events. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a new theme starting to grow, first in comments, then in mainstream articles wherein the writers have begun to question the salaries earned by public sector employees at the taxpayers expense.

I am not commenting on whether or not public sector employees make too much, not enough, or whether what they do is of benefit to the people paying for it. Instead, I am considering what may be the first casualty of the coming taxpayer revolution against bloated government: public sector pay.

Let’s face it. Most taxpayers have no idea what most public sector employees do for a living outside vague notions of the jobs people like teachers, police officers, or firefighters have. Even with jobs the taxpayers think they understand, I suspect most taxpayers think people doing those jobs get paid too much, take advantage of the system, and (perhaps worst of all) could not get jobs elsewhere.

Having been a public sector employee at one time, I can see how the taxpayers might get that impression, which is why I think it is so easy for the taxpayers, angry at the situation we find our nation in but yet unwilling to realize the solution means they will have to make sacrifices, to think that part of the solution is to pay public sector employees less.

Unfortunately, if history is any indication of future trends, the employees who will be targeted by this anger will be the ones who least deserve it. The taxpayers will target local public sector employees–teachers, police officers, fire fighters, etc–who they depend on the most while ignoring the excesses carried out by the actual guilty parties–elected officials and career bureaucrats.

I think if history does repeat itself, the problem this time will be that many public sector employees will just quit. It will be impossible for the taxpayers to demand that, say, teachers begin their careers at 22 with master’s degrees, engage in constant professional development, put up with the taxpayers undisciplined and incapable children, and deal with the never-ending onslaught of government regulations for laborers wages. Take your pick of public sector employees, and you will find similar ridiculous notions.

I am not saying that there are not public sector employees–even teachers, police officers, and fire fighters–who do not get paid more than they should, take advantage of the system, and could not get jobs elsewhere. I am saying that the tendency is for the taxpayers to pick on the public sector employees they rely on the most because they are the most visible and the most accessible.

If we look at the history of such reactions, what we discover is that the governments enduring them and the people making them often fare badly. In the worst cases, the governments collapsed or the nations thrust themselves into civil war. In the best cases, nations endured long periods of malaise.

As a nation, we need to tackle the problems before us, and I understand that even public sector pay needs to be reformed if we are going to find our way out of the mess we’re in. I also understand that making irrational decisions based on anger rarely produces positive outcomes. Consider your demands carefully, because they will have consequences if they become reality.

DLH

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