Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Around and Around

I once had a customer say to me when her unemployment benefits ran out, “Oh, well, my vacation is over and now I must go find a job."

Because there are people who milk our safety net, does that mean I think the system shouldn’t exist?

No, I don’t.

Of course, we should always seek ways to make the bureaucracy more effective and cost efficient. And we should never lose sight of helping people stand on their own feet whenever possible. But in far more cases than not, the safety net meets real needs--needs that often exist because capitalism has some pretty sharp edges. It’s nice to think that only the people who take the risks with their capital are the ones who will suffer if they miscalculate. But they aren’t.

I once went in to my job at a computer software company an hour late because I had a doctor’s appointment and discovered that my boss and my entire staff of six had been laid off while I was gone.

Because there are companies that fail to plan perfectly and use layoffs as a management tool to make their short-term bottom lines look better to shareholders, do I think we should prevent them from ever laying anyone off?

No, I don’t.

Companies need flexibility to cut their operating costs in order to stay in the game. 

I once saw a company that had been in my family for two generations permanently shut down during a recession due in part to union demands that were entrenched and inflexible.

Because unions sometimes fight for a level of worker benefits and protections that ultimately compromise an entire enterprise, do I think we should abolish them?

No, I don’t.

Can you imagine a society in which the right to organize and stand up to tyranny--whether public or private--didn’t exist? It’s not hard. There are plenty of examples.

I once got called into my new boss’s office the day after my old boss and my entire staff had been laid off. She was looking for assurance that I would still be able to meet all of the deadlines the following month. My job was on the line. At first I gave it a shot, but I recognized very quickly that it would break me. I was blessed to have resources that enabled me to walk away. Many people don’t have that luxury. Many people end up broken.

What do I make of all this?

The public sector has strengths and flaws. The private sector has strengths and flaws. Any organization that exists for any reason has strengths and flaws. Every single individual has strengths and flaws.

What we need to do when we problem solve is to find that balancing point at which strengths are relatively maximized and flaws are relatively minimized. But that requires real discourse in which everyone acknowledges not just the strengths but also the weaknesses of their proposed solutions, their ideologies, and the people and organizations they represent.

We could kick some serious problems in the butt if we did that.

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