It’s too convenient, too easy, too simple, and too self-righteous to point the proverbial finger. We cry out, They haven’t fixed the problems! Congress hasn’t passed gun laws, states haven’t fixed Medicaid, the National Guard hasn’t secured the border . . . What is never mentioned is this: we cause the problems they are trying to fix.
Public policy is meant to create solutions for problems that the public has caused. That’s what governments and laws are for: to manage the chaos, selfishness, and downright foolishness that abounds among the general public.
The public— that’s us.
For example, to have viable routes to move goods, to seek medical care, and just to visit each other, ordinary people need roads. But it isn’t feasible for every person to build his own roads that lead everywhere he needs to go. So, roads are public works that we all use, and we want them to be passable, safe, and preferably comfortable. (If you’d like to see some examples of what roads used to be like, look at historian Marty Oliff’s book Getting Out of the Mud.) Having roads that aren’t rutted or washed-out takes work, which takes time, and if we want a person to give up to his own time to do work that benefits all of us, then we have to give that person something that benefits him. Money. And where will that money come from? Taxes. And who pays taxes? Us, the people who want public services and works, like good roads. So, we enter into a Rousseauian social contract and have government, laws, and public policy that administrate our money into services and works that make our collective existence better.
This is why we get so furious at ineffective governance. The government’s sole purpose is creating and administrating viable public policy (that should work for all people). Because we have differing folkways, ideals, and beliefs, we all need viable and effectively implemented public policy— those of us with resources and those of us without. Yet, to return to that original assertion, ineffective government isn’t the only problem. We cause the problems they are trying to solve!
So, here’s a radical idea: rather than running amok then griping about the failures of a top-down approach to problem-solving, let’s alter our behavior and create a bottom-up approach with everyday living. Perhaps if more of us take more responsibility for our own actions, perhaps if more of us consider other people’s rights instead of only own own, perhaps if more of us prioritize the general welfare over personal enrichment, perhaps if more of us remember that Biblical admonition that it is better “not to be served but to serve,” maybe— just maybe— the government won’t have as many problems to solve. Perhaps if more employers paid a living wage, one that allowed people to pay their bills and still have savings, we wouldn’t have to have discussions about the minimum wage, Social Security, homelessness, and bankruptcies. Perhaps if more people got personally involved in their local schools and in children’s lives, we wouldn’t have to have discussions about education reform and school shootings. Perhaps if we built relationships in our neighborhoods instead of privacy fences, we might not need or want social media. Perhaps if we left the house to enjoy nature and our neighbors, we wouldn’t use so much gasoline and electricity. Perhaps if we honor our word and live up to our obligations, we would have fewer lawsuits.
I believe that, if we tried it that way, we could find a great deal of truth in that old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.