Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ten Reasons I Hate Politics and One Reason I Don’t - Part 3

3.  Your Plans Are Crap, Mine Will Save The World

Plans are a good thing. They help you focus on how to direct your future so you don’t end up floundering about making irrational spur-of-the-moment decisions. But as Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse says, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” But how can that be? How can we investigate the details, consult the experts, and look at history and not always lay out a plan that will accomplish our goals?
Simple Answer: “Because we don’t know everything! All our plans have to be made with limited knowledge.”

This is especially true when our plans depend on how other people will behave. Sure, you can have some general rules of thumb that work in many situations. But different people behave and respond in different ways. So, you can never be certain. For example, suppose you are mugged by a person hiding in the shadows as you are walking down the street. Should you comply with his demands and hope he departs, leaving you unharmed, or should you take a chance on retaliating and hope you can overpower him lest he leave you dead? Well, the truth is you can’t really know for sure because you don’t have sufficient knowledge about that person. Perhaps he is just a desperate person trying to feed his children and doesn’t really want to harm anyone. Or, perhaps he is a degenerate low-life scum-sucking scumbag with a long criminal record and doesn’t really give a damn about your life or anyone else’s. If ever presented with this situation, you just have to read the person as best you can and hope you make the right decision.

I learned a lesson along these lines back in 1996. As many of you may remember, the Unabomber had been reigning terror down on our country for almost 20 years. He had made the demand to have his manifesto published in a major media outlet and promised to halt his bombings if that happened. The standard policy of our country was “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” The idea behind this was that if you concede to one terrorist’s demands, others will be encouraged to make demands also. But with the long string of bombings and no viable leads on who this guy was, the decision was made to allow the publication. It was printed in both The New York Times and The Washington Post. When I heard about the publications, my thoughts were, “Boy, they’ve really messed up this time.” But as it turned out, David Kaczynski, who was already suspecting his brother Ted might be the Unabomber, read the manifesto. He saw that it had similar phrasings as past letters that Ted had written to various newspapers. A few months later, with David’s help, the Unabomber was finally arrested. Who knows how many more bombings would have occurred had we stuck with the plan to not negotiate.

I say all this to make this point: when you hear a politician say that his opponent’s plans are crap and have no possibility of success, but that his plans are a sure thing and will bring glory to our world of messianic proportions, step back and really think about what he is claiming. He’s saying he knows the future and how people will respond to his plan. And obviously he can’t know that with certainty.

I am reminded of when Congress passed a law laying a new tax on luxury vehicles. The promise was that this would be a good way to get those evil, nasty rich people to pay more tax into the federal coffers. What actually happened was that producers of these vehicles saw a cut in sales that resulted in the laying off of their workers. So, working people lost their jobs, US businesses floundered, and the rich just held onto their existing luxury vehicles a bit longer. Ultimately, the government saw a net loss of money rather than a gain, all due to the tax. Congress had simply assumed that the rich would not change their buying habits due to the increased cost. WRONG!

The moral of the story is that no one can predict the future, especially as it concerns the actions of others. Thus, if you make plans that depends on certain behaviors of others for their success, you will oftentimes find yourself disappointed. So, when those braggadocian politicians start making all those lofty promises about how their plans are going to bring about the salvation of humankind, think long and hard about what could go wrong. Most likely, there will be a lot of things. And mark my words, when those things go wrong and their plans fail, they’ll keep holding on to their plans, claiming they are successful, until the bitter end. That’s because Rule Number 27 of the Rules of Politicians is “Never admit you were wrong or made a mistake. Lie, divert, obfuscate, deceive, or babble. Do whatever it takes to deflect the blame for your plan’s failure.”

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