Friday, October 11, 2013

Thinking Clearly

In my opinion, there are three main problems driving our current political gridlock. All are based on poor thinking skills.

Americans should be willing to learn from other societies and other groups. For example, too many of us arrogantly assume Europe has nothing good to teach us.  They assume higher taxes for the rich and safety nets for the poor hinder economic progress.  But in fact, the European Union with a total of 500 million people has the world’s largest economy and the most Fortune 500 companies. They produce an economy almost as large as the United States and China combined.

When you look at the data, several European nations consistently do better than us in most socio-economic categories, including less infant mortality, less chronic disease, less poverty, less violent crime, less drug addiction and less suicide. They live longer and spend far less on healthcare.

In study after study to determine the best places to live, France or some other European nation usually tops the list, while the US rarely makes the top 10.  What is that saying about our Wall Street driven, trickle down version of capitalism?

We tend to base everything on economic growth – GNP. But we often fail to distinguish between economic growth that increases the overall well being of society, and economic growth that diminishes overall well being. As Americans, we need to ask whether a dollar spent on sending someone to prison is as beneficial to society as a dollar spent on education or healthcare, even though both add to our GNP in the short term.

We need to question the idea that government is always bad and tax cuts for businesses are always good – that the free market can solve all our problems. In economics, politics, social issues, healthcare and even religion – a thorough and objective look at our global neighbors might surprise us. That’s not being unpatriotic. It’s just using common sense.

Second is the na├»ve assumption that most modern politicians from either party have the best interests of our nation at heart. Most are mainly concerned about getting re-elected and keeping their party in power.  Opinion polls tend to drive policy rather than the well being of society. Fear and fiction are far more effective than facts - which again illustrate our poor thinking skills.

People need to seek out facts from credible sources. For example, as politicians debate the sustainability of Medicare and Social Security, how many know that Medicare, unlike all other private insurance companies, is prohibited from negotiating with drug companies over drug prices? Talk about corporate welfare!

Third is the false dichotomy between science and spirituality. Science is a way of thinking that considers all the facts and questions assumptions that contradict the facts. It remains open, logical and skeptical.

Spirituality, which usually accepts a broader way of knowing than traditional science, should also be open, logical and skeptical. Unhealthy religion limits itself at the beginning by forcing certain beliefs on people, even when those beliefs are unreasonable and contradictory. People are often forced to choose between the scientific and the spiritual - which is silly.

Not surprisingly, such foolish thinking allows us to be exploited by politicians and other self serving groups regarding issues from climate change to economics.

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