POITOU, FRANCE – You can divide the world’s people – all its bumblers, fumblers, fools, and saints – into two categories.
There are the decent people who go about their business trying to improve their lives by honest toil, invention, forbearance, and luck.
And there are the scoundrels.
All of us are one or the other… and often both.
Progress and improvement involve change. Most people try to avoid it. But by improving their own lives, they change themselves and the world around them. The scoundrels try to force somebody else to change.
Either can work, in the short run. Long-term, only one does.
Even in our private lives, we all blame others for our problems from time to time. The boss at work… the spouse at home – both can be tyrants, real or imagined.
Still, good people get along and go along, adjusting their own behavior as necessary.
They bake bread… and feed the hungry. They write computer software… and entertain the shiftless. They brew their own beer… and quench the thirst of millions.
They change themselves into doctors, builders, and accountants… and a miracle happens. The world is a better place!
One of the readings at last Saturday’s wedding was about the famous wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle. He turned water into wine.
In his sermon, the priest elaborated (here we embellish; we lost track of much of the sermon, as the sound system was poor):
The creation story… Adam and Eve… contains a miracle, too. And it’s the miracle we celebrate here today. It’s the miracle that brings two people together. Yesterday, these two people were separate individuals. After today, they will not be separate at all. They will be transformed – like the way nature transforms a caterpillar into a butterfly – into a different thing. And they will each be part of that new thing. And from this new and different thing another miracle may issue – a new life.
This miracle is only possible because you are willing to change yourselves… from what you were… to what you will be, what you can be. That is all God asks of you.
He didn’t mention it, but a marriage is the most ancient form of win-win deal.
Like all win-win deals… the parties enter into it freely, each expecting a miracle. Often, they get one. They add one plus one… and get three, four, or five.
A better life, more wealth, higher status, more love – whatever they are after, they hope the deal will bring it to them.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, a marriage results in miserable people and a drug problem… and a school shooting. But these results are rare.
Blame the Other Guy
Win-lose deals are completely different. The world improvers never take any personal blame or responsibility. And they never admit that they need to change.
Instead, it’s always the other guy. He has to stop worshipping false gods… stop exporting cheap steel… stop taking drugs… and stop giving jobs to illegal aliens. He has to do what the win-lose world improver says – or else.
Even when they perform pretend acts of kindness and charity, the scalawags do so with slave labor and stolen money.
Force the rich to support the poor! Use young people’s earnings to pay for old people’s medical care. Banks must give mortgages to deadbeats… Employers must provide access ramps for cripples.
Believers pay for abortions… Atheists use paper money emblazoned with “In God we trust.” Even climate change deniers can damned well pay for subsidizing our pals in the solar energy sector!
And what does anyone learn when the programs fail? “I won’t do that again,” has no meaning. If the victims had any real choice, they wouldn’t have done it in the first place.
And in the dense fog of campaign slogans and claptrap… reflected on the shimmering muck of fake news… who really knows what is going on anyway?
Attack on the Potomac
Last weekend, the problem du jour was America’s trade deficit of more than $550 billion. Is it really a problem? Donald Trump says it is.
Who’s to know? And who’s to blame?
It must be the other guy. Canada!
But wait. What’s the big deal? Under pressure from Wharton and other business schools, trade barriers have been coming down for more than 30 years.
And until Peter Navarro’s ascent to Washington power as Trump’s top man on trade, practically all economists and all policy wonks agreed: trade barriers should go. Donald Trump said so himself; free trade is better.
Canada has gone a long way already. Its average trade-weighted barrier with the U.S. is less than 1% – nothing, in other words.
But while trade barriers have gone down, spending and debt have gone up… and now threaten the solvency of the whole economy.
So why spend so much time and political capital squeezing the orange with so little juice left in it?
Why not attack the plump fruit south of the 49th parallel… on the banks of the Potomac?
Oh, Dear Reader… you already know the answer, don’t you?
More to come…