Friday, May 13, 2011

Not Solving Problems

People, especially Op-Ed writers, are always saying that this or that problem "has to be solved." To which the obvious retort is, why? One thing the study of medieval history has taught me is that societies can go on for hundreds of years without addressing their fundamental problems. They can even do things like put up wonderful cathedrals, write great literature, launch crusades, and invent the university while in the midst of not solving their biggest problems.

"This can't go on," people say. Presumably some medieval person said this about weak government, pervasive disorder, and rampant poverty in 600 AD, near the beginning of a whole millennium of weak government, pervasive disorder, and rampant poverty. Oh, yes, they can go on. And when they really CAN'T go on, they will presumably stop.

Lately everyone seems to be saying that the US must do something about our budget problems. Of course, they have been saying this for the past 30 years, if not longer -- 30 years is as far back as my memory of politics goes. Somehow we soldier on. I agree completely with this from Matt Yglesias:
In general, the capacity of large wealthy societies to allow festering problems to go un-addressed seems perennially underrated.
Amen. And, on the subject of our "broken, dysfunctional" Congress:
People often seem to me to have an unwarranted faith that these problems can be overcome.
The political obstacles to a reasonable budget deal are, I believe, insurmountable -- even if either side really wanted one, which I doubt. And yet somehow we will get by. Our standard of living and our nation's standing in the world may suffer for our political incapacity, but since all other countries have similar problems I doubt we will suffer much.

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