One of the themes that has been coming up a lot in podcasts, articles and in my mind is how the general disregard for the implications of our decisions is dangerous. It was most visible in the mortgage industry during this current economic crisis. From the lenders on the front lines to the bankers dividing and selling derivatives, very few people stopped to consider the individual decisions and overall impact of their actions. It’s not just the financial industry either. This has sparked many questions about politics, economics and even law.
First and foremost, I am interested in the relationship between theory and reality. As people question our healthcare system, tax system and even capitalism, I realized that these are arbitrary systems we’ve chosen and organized to best solve our country’s problems. While many protestors or extremists try to convince the rest of us that one economic system (say, capitalism) is more moral or “right” than another (say, socialism), in reality, both are just practical systems implemented to try to balance individual prosperity and societal interests. Granted, many of us have preferences between political and economic theories as well as believing one theory to be the correct and the other to be the incorrect solution. We’ve forgotten there’s a distinction between correct and right. It feels like since WWII or perhaps, the Cold War, we’ve transitioned into a political culture, which has replaced correct/incorrect with morally right/wrong.
Simultaneously, we’ve become less interested in a personal view of politics and economics. By analyzing if a theory is correct or incorrect at a national level, we’ve lost sight of whether it’s right or wrong at a personal level. This is starting to sound like I’m preparing to make a case for socialism or something else crazy and dramatic. Instead, the point is that when we lose sight of people (and people’s real lives), we lose perspective and make choices just for money.
What banks do, what real estate developers do and most importantly what politicians do affect people’s lives. I don’t think the phrase “it’s not personal, it’s business” applies anymore. We’ve come too far and built too much to be squandering opportunities to improve lives. At this point, I find it hard to believe Congress is still concerned about which theoretical system of governing is superior. More to the point, a decision will improve or threaten someone’s life versus adhere to a certain theoretical system. We’ve become so divided in today’s political culture that we’ve lost personal perspective in favor of defending theoretical political systems.
Over the past few years, this dichotomy has continued to challenge me becoming more apparent in law school. If we’re making choices that are theoretically proper but harm each other either economically or practically, we’re missing the point. Too often, I think many on the right are willing to risk harm in favor of a theoretically correct system. On the other hand, I think many on the left sacrifice rules and rationality to force practical good. As with most things, the solution is probably somewhere in between.
While I’m still not prepared to offer concrete policy solutions, I think we should all spend a little more time considering both our own decisions and the impact of those in power. It seems that one of the greatest challenges of a politician is the balance between the macro and the micro. For example, Obama needed to relegate lower class, practical needs by focusing economic relief on banks and financiers yet trumpets the practical needs of the same individuals when prompting much-needed healthcare reform. He used a theoretical approach on the economic crisis and a much more practical approach on healthcare. I’m not sure which is better and whether or not he’ll ultimately be judged successful. I am sure that if we lose sight of the practical – food, shelter, education, healthcare – we’ll have nothing left to argue about theoretically.
So, if abiding by our theoretical choices in capitalism risks regular people’s practical lives, the choice better be worth it and clearly explained to those asked to make a sacrifice. Ultimately, I’ve found myself becoming much more pragmatic and interest in how political decisions affect real lives. I still have ideas about what works and doesn’t work theoretically but am much more interested in results.