January 11, 2008

Lead Saddle

Over the past week I’ve been reading about the increasing standard of living in other countries, and wonder why so many people like to insist that America is the best without checking to see if there is any way to do things better.

Wouldn’t it be smarter, and better for our citizens, to see how things are better elsewhere and try to adopt economic and social policies that improve the quality of our lives? An America that does that truly is striving to be the best.

“No” comes the answer from many conservative quarters. Learning from others and changing economic and social policies is a progressive idea. When social changes are called for, we are often met with religious opposition. When economic changes are called for, there are other canards.

Have the people who adhere to these stiff arguments about American economics been drinking their own Kool Aid so long that the world has moved on without them?

Take the outdated arguments that are launched off the back of anti-European sentiment. From Krugman’s NYT Op-Ed today:

What European countries definitely haven’t done is dismantle their strong social safety nets. Universal health care is a given. So are a variety of programs that support families in trouble, helping protect Europeans from the extreme poverty all too common in this country. […] According to the anti-government ideology that dominates much U.S. political discussion, low taxes and a weak social safety net are essential to prosperity. Try to make the lives of Americans even slightly more secure, we’re told, and the economy will shrivel up — the same way it supposedly has in Europe.

Read the Op-Ed, it’s short and to the point. His example of broadband competition is meaningful to those of us struggling with so many stupid issues as telcom customers in America, and we can barely get our legislators to understand what an MP3 or an “intertube” is.

We’re saddled with a lead weight of outdated ideology. We need to cut it loose, and we need to look at good examples as a guide. It’s not going to happen if people would rather pretend that America is the best country rather than looking around to see if we can make it a better country.

Posted by James at January 11, 2008 9:06 AM
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Good observation. I also notice that complacent attitude more and more in our society. I don't understand why conservative has come to mean the opposite of progressive. It should refer to being cautious about progress but wanting to improve just the same.

Posted by: Mike at January 11, 2008 10:46 AM

Mike I think you are referring to the difference between Conservative and conservative. Most Conservatives are not conservative.

Posted by: Chuck S. at January 11, 2008 11:49 AM

A good read related to increasing standard of living is "Collapse" by Jared Diamond. Part of the book says, basically, that the planet does not hold enough resources for any large percentage of the planet to have a "Western" lifestyle. We're screwed!

Posted by: Bob McCown at January 11, 2008 11:50 AM

I don't know how much the labels really represent reality, but I can say it really concerns me when I see people closing their eyes.

Maybe it's related to what you mentioned -- a complacent attitude. Or an apathetic attitude. It's even more worrisome when apathy is married with a sort of adamant stance, or arrogance. You see it in students from time to time in a different context; students sometimes self-assess their skills at a much higher level than reality reflects. It becomes a real obstacle to improvement, because there is no motivation to improve if you believe you're already great. Until you either make it out of the system with crappy skills or hit rock bottom and are delivered a wake-up call.

Posted by: James at January 11, 2008 11:59 AM

Well said. I was thinking about this after I watched the movie Sicko the other day. Are other countries' health care practices better than ours? We don't know, because TPTB refuse to take a real, honest look. Even Hilary backed down on health care when she had a chance to take a stand for it, which was too bad.

Posted by: leslie at January 11, 2008 12:18 PM

I think that reflects what she learned about the mindset of her constituency, and political realities. This is why it takes a true leader to change things. At some point, the leader says "OK - you people are great, but here's where you've been wrong."

This is where charisma is important; you have to convince people to reconsider their ideas and you spend political capital to do it. And you may not be around to collect the winnings if the bet pays off, but good leadership isn't about personal political gain.

I think many people who supported Bush hoped that his policies and his stubbornness were part of that kind of leadership; but Bush has mistaken divisiveness and negativity for leadership qualities. And his policies are blatantly serve a cynical class of people who are not concerned with a wider improvement in quality of life.

Posted by: James at January 11, 2008 1:27 PM

I thought about this the other night as Clinton and Obama made their speeches in NH after the election. Clinton's speech gave me a surprisingly warm and fuzzy feeling, but Obama's speech also made me feel optimistic and motivated. What a big difference. It's comforting to feel coddled, but it's much better to feel as though something is actually going to happen.

Posted by: Julie at January 11, 2008 2:41 PM

Sorry, I meant primary, not election. You knew what I meant. :)

Posted by: Julie at January 11, 2008 2:43 PM

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