Friday, July 14, 2017

Unpredictable Consequences

The premise that behavior has consequences and that the nature of those consequences usually follows from the wisdom of the behavior is accepted by almost everyone (and is common to most religions).  Most consequences are predictable in this way, but some people need to learn the lesson the hard way and many do.

A recent example was the man who had to be rescued two days in a row from Wildcat Creek in Indiana.  On a Thursday he and three others were rescued when their boat capsized on the flooded creek.  The next night he returned to the same spot to try to retrieve belongings that had been left behind, and he drowned.  The consequences of his Thursday misjudgment were not enough to deter him from repeating the risky behavior.  Consequences can be cruel.

More troublesome are those consequences that are harder to predict because the decisions are based on faulty information or grounded in fear.

I read a book a few weeks ago by Gene Stone called The Trump Survival Guide.  In it he criticized the idea of private Social Security saying the stock market might yield a higher return (most of the time) but the Trust Fund was invested in government-backed securities, so although the return was lower, the investment was safer.  Fine, but individual Social Security returns are not based on the investment vehicle of the Trust Fund.  They are based on a set formula that rewards at a higher rate those who contributed less. (See the graph here.)  This assumption also perpetuates the myth that the money you paid as F.I.C.A. taxes are invested in a “lock box” or trust fund and are waiting for you to collect them.  This is absolutely incorrect.

One week earlier I read a book by David M. Smick called The Great Equalizer.  At one point he tells of the difficulty of raising the Social Security cap to get the rich to pay more, thus extending the time before the Trust Fund is depleted (an estimated 15 years from now).  He gives the example of a husband and wife who together earn more than the current cap of about $120,000.  (I couldn't believe an author with his credentials could be so mistaken.)  The Social Security cap applies to individuals.  You can’t file jointly to try to reach the cap sooner.  That’s not how it works.  That couple would not have been affected by such a change unless they were each expecting a huge raise!  Yet such misinformation could easily get them writing anxious letters to Congress.

These may be fine details, but how can voters make intelligent decisions when well-educated people from both sides of the political spectrum (not to mention AARP) don’t seem to understand a system that affects so many?  Faulty information leads to poor decisions, which in turn may lead to poor outcomes we all must live with.

Decisions grounded in fear are also problematic.  I also read in the Trump Survival Guide how the prospect of a Trump presidency was characterized as horrific.  This is simply a kind of fortunetelling, anticipating and worrying about a destructive future that may or may not play out.

As a demonstration of how unpredictable that kind of future can be, consider this scenario.  In 2012 Mitt Romney wins the election.  In 2016 instead of having a 16-way debate among Republican candidates, Romney is running for re-election against Hillary Clinton.  Donald Trump would have no way to throw his hat into the ring.  There is no working class backlash against the establishment and Mrs. Clinton has Romney's 4-year record to run against.  Whatever the result of the election, there is no Trump presidency and no potentially horrific outcomes.

Now if Romney had run on a platform:  If you don’t vote for me, Donald Trump will become President of the United States, people would have called him crazy.  No one would have believed it, no one!  So today we are in a situation no one could have predicted a couple of years ago, yet so many people are stressing about and making decisions often based on wild predictions of future disasters.

Decisions based on inaccurate information or motivated by fear also have consequences.  Inaccurate information may lead you in the wrong direction.  Decisions based on fear of possibilities leads to highly unpredictable consequences and can have a detrimental effect on your health.  Is it really worth panicking about the pessimistic speculation of people with their own agendas who bank on such an emotional reaction from their followers and contributors?  (We know had the election come out the other way,  the same dynamic would be happening on the other side).

For the record:  I supported neither of the major party candidates as was clear from an entry on this page last November.  I still contend that America deserves better.

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