Mind your Business; Doing What you Can

“Progressives” complain the President gets no credit for doing what he did and indignantly say to conservatives, “What is YOUR plan.” The unspoken premise is that we SHOULD have a big government solution; that premise is wrong. Politics cannot fix the economy nor can it directly create sustainable prosperity. Progressives ask us to come up with a plan for something that we know cannot be done. Furthermore, most of the plans thought up to help the economy in the short term actually end up hindering long term success, as happened with the Obama Stimulus.

Let me make a simple analogy. Progressives are driving the train backwards and they are running out of fuel (i.e. other people's money) to do even that. Conservatives complain about the direction. Progressives counter that conservatives have no plans to speed up the train or get more fuel. They don't understand that the problem is not speed; it is direction. Going the wrong way faster just gets you to the wrong place quicker.

Government can and has the duty to create conditions for the people to create long-term prosperity. This means mostly fostering predictable change, protecting the rule of law, ensuring domestic tranquility, protecting us from foreign enemies and building & maintaining infrastructure too big for individuals in voluntary association to accomplish.

Government often fails to do these basics because it loses tracks of priorities. Politicians promise too much, some even believe their own promises. Their failed attempts to deliver perfect results as well as their political incentives prevent them from doing the good and needful things.

It is very exciting and politically profitable for a leader to promise to end poverty or bring equality, things he cannot accomplish. It is much less useful for a politician to rebuild an obsolete water system. Which will an ambitious leader choose?

I love government. I say w/o irony that the American Federal government is one of the greatest and best inventions of mankind. But government must do its basic tasks and do them well. As with any individual, any firm or any organization at all, when they try to do too much, they end up doing nothing well. Worse, the emphasis of political leaders will almost always be short term.

My modest goal is to restore virtue to our Republic and the sense of restraint. We should do less than we think we can do and recognize that many wonderful goals just are not our business and/or the tools at our disposal are not appropriate to the job.

I make the choices based on those principals with the resources I control and advocate it with others. I find that as a leader and a manager that often when I do less, WE (the team) accomplish, more as others are empowered to use talents I don't understand or about which I may be even unaware. I find this applies in my family, in firms and I am reasonably sure in government.

No leader can understand the workings of even a simple small system. Leadership does not mean controlling and directing all the people and resources. It means creating conditions for others to prosper and maybe setting general directions. This is very hard work. The good leader is by no means passive, but he/she understands the system, where to apply resources and - perhaps hardest of all - when NOT to do things.

As individuals, we should seek excellence, help others to the same and try to persuade that to improve, but we should not apply the coercive power of the state to accomplish our worthy goals unless it is absolutely necessary. The tool is wrong.

IMO - Obama - as president - has no business criticizing the legal activities of private firms or individuals. Obama - as president - has the duty to keep track of government run operations. In typical craven political fashion, he has chosen to be "active" where he has no responsibility, sparse experience and little practical discretion to act. But he chosen to ignore the instances (as in the Fannie and Freddie debacle mentioned in the previous post) where he HAS a duty to act and where his actions could have fairly immediate practical effects.

There are a few aspects of leadership that I think politicians usually neglect. First is that the leader has to be careful voicing "personal" opinions. Personal opinions have ways of becoming public policy when expressed by powerful people. That is what annoys me about Obama's loose speech about private sector business. Second, leaders should practice restraint. They should not do all they think they can do nor take as much as they think they can get. Always leave something on the table. Third, they should limit their priorities and act only in places where they can really affect outcomes. They have to make the hard choices of not acting where "the need is greatest" but where effectiveness is greatest AND where their activities are most appropriate. Leaders must also recognize that they - personally - cannot be generous since they are using the resources of others. There is no "generous" decision, only one that is good or bad policy. And leaders must recognize that they don't know and cannot know the jobs, challenges, aspirations, innovations or talents of all the people they lead. The best leaders let people do what they do well and does not direct in detail.

What goes for all leaders goes even more for leaders in government, who possess the coercive power of the state. Power corrupts everybody who exercises. The only protection for a free people is to prevent concentrations of power. The only protection for leaders is to use power sparingly as you would a useful but dangerous medicine. A little may be good and necessary, but a lot will kill you.

And you have to know when things are messed up not in spite of but because of your best efforts.

Posted by Christine & John at November 2, 2011 12:05 PM
Comment #331422

It seems to me C&J that since the turn of the century we,as a country, have been going in the wrong direction. Look at the bankruptcy law the banking industry re-wrote for the repubs back in ‘03. Based upon conservative myths for the most part it is now law. All those myths started in the ‘80’s have come home to roost. We are seeing the effects of it more and more. The Conservative answer to Hillarycare is now known as Obamacare and is the law. The myth of the fiscally responsible conservative has been shattered as has the deregulation myth of business governing itself.

The way conservatives have proved “the problem is government”, another famous myth of the ‘80’s,has been by their control and mismanagement of the government. We have found that putting power into the hands of a few private sector dictators we call CEO’s only works for the CEO’s. We have found that just cause you run a business doesn’t mean you can govern a country.

I linked to this in an earlier post but it seems to be pertinent to this article as well.


Perhaps it is time to stop governing by myth and do what you can.

Posted by: j2t2 at November 3, 2011 11:52 AM
Comment #332844

Seems to me we are still living the results of eight years of a president getting out of the way and offering unfettered legislation to so called people who are good at doing their jobs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could actually expect those experienced and properly trained people to do what should be done. To work in good conscience. Sadly that is not the reality. Many millions are paying dearly for the efforts of a government and financial institutions that thought they could do better without someone looking over their shoulder. Without someone telling them no. When does the price for all that free reign become to big to ignore?

Posted by: RickIl at December 8, 2011 5:46 PM
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