The Behinder We Get

I don’t read the Washington Times a good deal but I liked this op-ed by Richard Rahn on public choice theory and why we never seem to solve any problems. Take poverty, for example:

The lack of “progress” is largely a result of endless redefinitions of what poverty is. The average U.S. “poor” family now has a large flat-screen color TV, air-conditioned living quarters and a dishwasher. Middle-class families did not have such luxuries 50 years ago.

or racial discrimination:

Racial discrimination is a case in point. By any objective measure, there was far more discrimination a half-century ago, but the amount of media time given to the discussion of racism appears to have grown substantially. Great progress has been made in reducing illiteracy, violence, infant mortality, etc. — yet many believe the world is getting worse, which leads to pessimism. The misinformation spread by the media indirectly causes the people and the political class to misallocate taxpayer dollars to “problems” that have been or are being solved when those resources should be more productively spent on real or more pressing problems.

Unlike Mr. Rahn I think that racial discrimination is a real and pressing problem but I agree with him that the success we’ve realized is being discounted while our failures are being exaggerated. It reminds me of an old description of golf: a game in which the player attempts to insert a ball into a hole with implements singularly unsuited to the task.

He cites just two reasons for the phenomenon he’s identified—the vested interests of those in the government given the tasks and moving the goalposts. But there are many others.

One of those other reasons is that success is poorly defined. Another is messianism, i.e. the objective is not solving problems but to look around continually for new problems to solve. Another is that virtue cannot be inculcated by remote control. Hiring a shabbos goy only makes you compliant with the law in a narrow, technical sense. You have not brought it into your heart.

Yet another is that not all problems can be solved—they are “wicked” problems, e.g. Israel and Palestine.

10 comments… add one
  • Guarneri Link

    A point I have made here numerous times. Moving the goal posts preserves outrage. And perpetual outrage is profitable, career building, facilitates power, and doggone it, makes people feel good about themselves.

  • bob sykes Link

    I agree that racial discrimination is real, but it cuts in all directions, not just white on black. Moreover, the Democrats, and most especially Obama, deliberately aggravate racial tensions for political power. Thanks to the Democrats and Progressives, racial tensions are far higher today than they were 50 years ago.

    Racial discrimination and hostility is a necessary component of any multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state. It is genetic. If the tensions run high enough, the state is held together by a dictatorship.

  • Steve Link

    Not surprisingly, he misses the most obvious. There are special interest groups and media who depend upon maintaining the outrage even when things are better to maintain their income and existence. I belong to the NRA. We have more guns than ever. Gun owners have been winning significant cases. Is the NRA still pushing “they are coming for our guns”? Yup. The GOP has figured out how to win national elections with a minority of the vote. They own the state governments. Yes socialism is right around the corner. This is just part of the political landscape now. Not going away unless we lose computers.


  • The GOP has figured out how to win national elections with a minority of the vote.

    It has always been possible to win the only national election we have, the presidential election, with a minority of the popular vote. Anyone with the slightest civic awareness has known that. Bill Clinton won with a minority of the popular vote. Either Hillary Clinton does not have the slightest civic awareness or she just didn’t give a damn.

    Treating that as though it were some sort of perversion of our system or something that has just dawned on you takes the pressure off where it belongs: the Democratic National Committee. They are arrogant, self-serving dolts.

  • steve Link

    It has always been possible, but it didn’t happen. The person winning the most votes, won the election. Also, as much as I don’t like Clinton, this isn’t all her fault. The GOP has mastered gerrymandering and very actively worked towards keeping people who would vote against them from voting.


  • The person winning the most votes

    That’s just not true. Rutherford B. Hayes became president despite having fewer votes than Tilden. Benjamin Harrison received fewer votes than Grover Cleveland but became president. And, of course, George W. Bush received fewer votes than Al Gore.

  • Ben Wolf Link

    Rahn doesn’t appear to understand progress in an historical context. Never was there a time when getting someone a 40-inch television was considered the goal of a society. Both in the founding of the United States and in the wake of the French Revolution, the goals were much more social and political. Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood. Reforming society to give its people more control over their own lives.

    The endless redefinition of progress has been shifting from those goals to an entirely new and exceedingly radical definition of progress as capacity to buy. Freedom and progress in what Madison called “the daring depravity of the times” is reduced to transactional relationships. The liberty of having a say in the things that affect our lives, the equality needed to exercise that liberty and the social solidarity that makes both those things possible are dismissed as antithetical to the market.

  • I realize that I’m out of step with the times. My desired outcome is more social equality rather than more economic equality. I’m in considerable agreement with this:

    Reforming society to give its people more control over their own lives.

    I think we’re maximizing the wrong things.

  • steve Link

    Twice in 200 years, then twice in 16 years.


  • Yes, twice towards the end of the 19th century within 20 years and twice at the beginning of the 21st within 20 years. I think you’re right that there’s a connection–certain conditions are required for it to occur. I think you’re not taking enough factors into account in attributing the present situation to Republican gerrymandering. For example, the most heavily gerrymandered district in the country is the Illinois 4th District and we haven’t had a Republican legislature here for more than a generation.

    I think that reality is that any political party that controls the legislature and the governor’s mansion will attempt to tilt the balance its way as it can. I don’t think that explains what happened in 2016.

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