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Thursday, May 25, 2017

'Simplicity is not a solution for complex challenges'

  GEORGE TEMPLETON  
         COMMENTARY        

By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist
 
Transactional Times
Friends
When the gas pump at the self-service filling station told me it wanted to be my friend, I remembered the way things were, when filling stations were not self-service, before markets had changed our lives. 
A filling station attendant taught me how to service my first car.  It had a stick shift, arm-strong steering, foot-strong brakes, and was air conditioned by rolling the windows down.  The radio used vacuum tubes and had a vibrator.  Things could be fixed instead of replaced.  It was a less complicated world.
I worked at a filling station while going through college.  We had no cash register.  All the transactions were done in our head using cash in our pockets.  There was no such thing as credit cards.  We kept a record of those who owed us for gas that they could not pay for, but we did not consider these connections as friendship.  That required sharing at a more intimate personal level.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
James Burke argued that we are what we know.  A few simple natural laws, having broad consequences, create a web of truth.  But we don’t see things as what they are.  We see them from what we are.
The Bible writers thought that the sun circled the earth.  When this silly thinking was pointed out to the philosopher Wittgensten, he replied, “I wonder what it would look like if the sun did circle the earth.”  Silly did not become until Galileo looked through his telescope.
But the world is not just out there.  It grows inside us by experience.  Our consciousness has a broad awareness.  We are separate, yet together, sharing the same reality.  We are all connected.  Fragmentation divides us, but our future depends on the patterns of nature and humanity.  We are our greatest threat and biggest hope.  How will we make the decisions needed to help people to connect?  Our investments are not just in stocks and bonds, they are in others.
America Growing Up 
A big tree grows from a tiny seed.  It contains only its unseen plan for the future.  It has none of the things needed to realize that.  It needs nourishment from the soil, water, sunshine, and appropriate temperatures.  To flourish, the seed needs to coexist within its environment.  So it is with us.
The American way did not come from a retreat to yesterday.  It came from ingenuity and the belief that we could help all humanity.  It is much easier to destroy than to create and to be capricious instead of mindful.  A single individual can throw a wrench into the clockwork.  It takes many people to create the clock.  Simplicity is not a solution for complex challenges.  Our problems are more with unquestioned answers than with unanswered questions.
The Field of the Future
The field of the future does not come from anger or getting even.  It cannot be commanded.  It is not a rerun of yesterday’s success or a copy of what others have done.  Diffuse and tenuous, it has an inexact value at every place and time, but it knows what we want before we do.  It has a purpose that is greater than self-interest.  All of us can feel it, though we often ignore it.  It can be tapped into by having an open mind.  It lacks security, but its authenticity is obvious.
The TV preacher explained that the Holy Spirit was a real supernatural person, who would protect you from heretical thinking.  The field of the future is human and creative.  It frees us from our prison of habitual thinking.  It comes not only from how things are, but why.  Reality is always growing, spreading like a wave, focusing to a particle, and never complete.  We can never fully comprehend it, but we know how to learn about it.  That comes from the scientific method and our experiences.   
Scientifically Speaking
Economics is a science.  Some people think that it is all that matters and that, one way or another, it can explain everything.  Science likes to take things apart, to get to the building blocks.  But particles and waves are mutually exclusive explanations for relationships.  Relationships are more fundamental than the things used to model them.
The waves we see and hear are disturbances in a medium, like a violin string or clap of thunder, but light requires no medium, no ether to propagate in.  The field of the future is like the light at the end of the tunnel.  It is the unexpected consequence of interacting relationships.  Its medium is reality.
I’ve engineered in places where there was no electricity at night, street lights, signs, home lamps, or paved roads.  Cows freely roamed midst clouds of dust thrown up by big trucks.  It was dark and hard to see.  The Bible writers told of Jesus as the light of the world.  They knew that it would create history.  They expected more than short-term goals.
The past changes the future.  That is why it never repeats.  The future depends on multi-disciplinary education, not just the math and science that is so essential for manufacturing.  We are never objective passive observers, seeing things from the outside.  We are always implicated in the process of becoming by our human subjectivity, but that should be tempered by a liberal education.
Free Markets
Economics is for everyone.  That makes it human, but it becomes difficult when it concerns life and death.  The market creates moral relativity.  When people make price the measure of value, they can be bought and sold.  Sometimes we make money just for the sake of making money.  The market seems to be changing us more than we influence it.
We lose value when everything has a price.  We should be concerned about the seeds that we are planting.  It is freedom and choice when we choose what we will buy and sell.  It makes jobs and grows the economy.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But free enterprise does not work in uniquely personal situations that are secret or too complicated to understand.
Consider the prostitute who sells her body.  The man who buys can afford it.  The woman makes a living and does not have to be on welfare.  It is a win – win proposition, free market determined, economically efficient, and behind closed doors.   But something seems wrong with this.
Their lives may not be so free depending on the situation they find themselves in.  It can include poverty, drug addiction, and violent coercion.  They create inequality in the power of the participants.  The market may not be so fair.  We know that selling sex dehumanizes, devalues, and demeans women.  Both parties in the deal incur guilt by corrupting life itself.
Is a person formed at the instant when the egg and sperm meet?  That makes a lawyer necessary for criminal defense of the woman who experiences a miscarriage.  Religion would have the state intervene in difficult, complex, personal situations that cannot be encompassed by any uninformed law.    They want everything to have a compact explanation that is palatable to a little child.
It is a fact that the crime rate dropped precipitately following the Roe vs. Wade abortion legalization.  Society benefited, yet this is not the whole story.  Birth control reduces abortion, but religious freedom would restrict its availability to you even though you would never be required to use it.
How do you feel about strangers gambling on your life expectancy?  You bought a life insurance policy because you were concerned about the welfare of loved ones that depended on you.  The TV advertised that you can sell your policy if you need cash now.  That market is betting that you will die sooner instead of later.  They will collect the proceeds of your policy.  It is profitable to both parties in the deal, but the security of those left behind suffers.  When you hear about hackers stealing personal information, you might have reason for concern about someone who has no interest in you profiting from your death.
Healthy Markets
How will the Republicans deal with mental illness, the demented, and long term care?  What if you discover that you have an incurable disease that renders you unable to work and perform the activities of daily living for fifty years?  Once that fact is known, you won’t be able to afford long-term care insurance.  There are people like that who are alone in the world.  What happens to them?      
We hear a lot about market oriented health insurance, but is it really customer driven?  The government does not provide custodial care, but isn’t its purpose to help the least and most needy of us?  What is the relationship between life, health, and the market?
High-risk insurance pools lower costs for the typical well person.  The elderly, sick, people with pre-existing conditions, and those who let their insurance lapse will pay more.  If you don’t need insurance, the market will make it easier to buy.  If you are sick, it could be your own fault, caused by diet, obesity, lack of exercise, drugs, and smoking.  Why should others pay for your irresponsibility?
The funding of the insurance pools will be a state’s right subject to miserliness.  It drags down a state’s competitiveness when it has to help those who are chronically ill.  Don’t you think that something as universal and important as health care legislation should describe what happens to Medicaid?  It doesn’t seem right for Congress to leave the dirty work to the states.  Insurance companies can waive requirements and regulations if it is beneficial to their market.  The market is more important than life!
Incentives
There are more than 70,000 medical codes that classify procedures and billing, but there is only you!  Between you, the insurance company, Medicare, and Medicaid the billing takes months, the charges are obscure, and the procedure is full of errors.  The desire for more efficient and effective health care motivates the idea of payment incentives for results.  But profit is higher when you don’t get well and where there are no concrete results.
The monetization of conscience has many subtle effects on motives, attitudes, and relationships.  Payment discourages turn-out.  The gift of obligation goes away.  Incentives work backwards from what is expected when they counter conscience.  They fail when they do not consider values that come from the heart instead of the wallet.  They fail to reconnect us. 
Deep inside, all of us know what we long for.  The philosopher, Thoreau, understood this and wrote about it in the 19th century.  Thoreau went to the woods to live modestly and deliberately, connected to nature and acting within it instead of upon it.  He did not want to die, discovering that he had not lived.  He could see that we are God’s gift to nature and that nature is not there for us to do with as we please.
The artist, Thomas Kinkade, tried to communicate this in his paintings.  He wrote, “Picture a place you’re yearning to be.  A place where work, home, and play are properly balanced, where people exist peaceably, where relationships flourish, where there’s time for what’s really important.  Picture life the way you’re hungry to live it, in your deepest heart of hearts.  There you will find happiness.”
 

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