Friday, August 29, 2014

Roundup of Behavior

Here are a few short stories to emphasize the need for strong behavior in the five key dimensions.

More on Moderation:  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how perspective leads to moderation in our wants vs. needs, in our spending, and in what causes we promote and how strongly we back them.  You don’t have to be a philosopher to understand how moderation leads to a happier life.  Now we read about a solar energy operation in California killing birds by scorching them.  They are under investigation by Federal wildlife officials.  It closes with a statement from a renewable energy expert reinforcing this whole idea of moderation.  “When it comes to powering the country's grids, ‘diversity of technology ... is critical … "Nobody should be arguing let's be all coal, all solar, all wind, or all nuclear.  And every one of those technologies has a long list of pros and cons." 

Perspective and critical thinking also make us less susceptible to hype, the kinds of sales pitches we run across every day on TV, on line, in print and from our friends and family.  One crazy example comes in this short article about a Jimmy Kimmel prank where he pasted an Apple logo over a $20 Casio wristwatch and asked people their opinions.  As they say, “You’d be surprised at how many people loved the new “Apple” product.”  This may seem like a silly example, but how different is it from shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and paying extra for what are hyped as more nutritious and safer products, then finding out that your peanut butter and almond butter has been recalled “because the products may be contaminated with salmonella and may pose a health risk”?

 We never have to look far to find discipline failures.  The obesity epidemic, which makes it sound like people are catching it from others and have no personal control, is just one example.  Here is a recent headline with another example:  “36% of adults lack retirement savings, including many 65 or older.”

A little more perspective helps in many areas.  Here is a story about a mom in Houston who developed (and sells) an app for parents whose children ignore their cell phone calls.  When the call from mom is not answered, the phone is locked except to dial 911 or call mom back.  Parents think it’s wonderful; kids think the opposite.  Many of us remember a time when no one had a cell phone.  If we wanted to contact a child who was away from home, we must have other solutions.  We also remember a time when expecting certain (respectful and responsible) behavior from our children did not call for a technological solution.  Does such an app strengthen a relationship or build resentment.  (And how long before some kid markets an app to override this one?)

Critical thinking and healthcare go together.  Many politicians and pundits use the term healthcare when they really are talking about health insurance.  They seem to think that making something easier to pay for will reduce the price.  In reality, it is more likely to increase usage, and the laws of supply and demand tell us that, everything else being equal, the price will increase.  It may be cheaper for the individual patient, but the cost to the overall system will go up.  Economic understanding tells us that when the cost to the system goes up, that increase finds its way back to our wallets, either in higher premiums paid by us, higher premiums paid by employers which limits the amount of pay increase, or higher premiums paid by the government which comes back to us as higher taxes or the negative effects of a larger government debt.  We can’t escape the higher costs.  Fiddling with insurance does not reduce costs or improve care as so many of the simplistic arguments want us to believe.  Yet these arguments slide by unchallenged.

As I said last time, many of our problems are self-inflicted and can only be solved by looking at behavior in light of the five dimensions and adjusting as needed.  It seems too simple, but next month I will give one reason why this is so difficult.

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