My Top 4 Best/Worst Ideas Ever
Some ideas are like the old joke about a moped: fun to ride, but you’d never want your friends to know. It isn’t that certain ideas are technically forbidden. It’s just that, in lieu of any repressive Big Brother-style thought police, American society just defaults to thought-policing itself. As a result, some ideas, even seemingly good, logical ideas, are immediately denounced– no argument, no debate– because they just don’t fit the popular (i.e. superficially emotional) narrative.
And that’s a shame, because while these ideas might be wrong, I, for one, don’t immediately see how.
So, in an effort to get the potentially ugly, misshapen and socially reprehensible ball rolling (because that’s just the kinda guy I am), here are my top four totally great, best/worst ideas ever:
4) Voting should be difficult
We have a saying in the Lippert household: Everything in life is practice for everything else. It’s a pretty basic concept: if Zane learns discipline by practicing his violin everyday, it will be easier for him to exercise discipline in any other endeavor. This makes sense because– get ready to write this down!– truth is fractal. If something is true in the tiny details of life, it is true in the huge details as well. This is why conservatives get apoplectic when politicians suggest the solution to massive national debt is to spend more. The logical fractals just don’t work. We know that when we only have twenty bucks left in our wallet it’s time to stop spending, not go out and blow that twenty on a double platter of hot wings and a brewski. When the money runs low, it’s time to stop spending. It’s a fractal truth– true for my wallet, true for the national treasury.
Everybody has to do their fair share.
Here’s another fractal truth:
The harder something is, the more you’ll care and invest in it.
Example: I am, nominally, a writer. As such, I have tried repeatedly to get myself a reputable literary agent and, eventually, a publisher. And I have discovered something rather frustrating about that endeavor: reputable literary agents and publishers have made it purposefully, deliberately, unnecessarily extremely difficult to do. They have erected endless roadblocks, requirements, and pointless protocols on the road to writing success. If you get one detail wrong– if you so much as misspell a word on the envelope, or email an agent that prefers snail mail (and many do, because it’s more difficult than email)– your query, manuscript or synopsis will go directly into the trash, unopened, unread, and instantly forgotten, no matter how much effort you may have put into it.
In short, agents and publishers make the act of becoming a “for real” writer extremely, infuriatingly difficult.
And I don’t blame them.
Why? Because everybody likes to think they are a writer. How hard is it? Words are like bricks– stack enough of ’em up, you’ve got a book. Any monkey can do it. It’s easy. As a result, literary agents are inundated with hundreds and thousands of manuscripts, nearly all of which are utterly worthless.
“…vampires… vampires… werewolves… vampires… wizards… werewolves… vampires…”
So, as a literary agent, how do you sift the amateur tripe from the potential gold? You make the process really, really hard. Because if it’s hard, only the truly committed will endure it. What do you, as a literary agent, want to look at? The lazy emailed ramblings of some guy whose work buddies all told him, “You’re hilarious! You oughtta write a book!”, or the carefully honed, razor-sharp novel written by somebody willing to endure the flaming hoops you’ve erected and not complain about it on the other end? You make the process difficult, because:
Difficulty is a filter, weeding out the uncommitted, the lazy, the easily discouraged, the clueless.
And that’s why voting should be difficult.
Nobody is willing to say this. In fact, any politician who suggests anything that might accidentally make voting anything less than easy-peasy is lambasted as pure evil. Conversely, it is the most saintly thing in the world to suggest that voting should be not only easy, but utterly effortless.
But they’re wrong. Voting should not be easy. It should be difficult.
I’m not talking waiting-in-line-for-three-hours difficult, but I am talking show-ID-and-prove-you-know-what-you’re-doing difficult. As a matter of fact, you know what I would do if I was in charge?
I’d institute a polling place entrance exam. Sound shocking? It shouldn’t. We all agree that voting is extremely important. What other important job doesn’t require some basic qualifications? None, that’s what. So imagine an old lady in horn-rimmed glasses sitting outside the polling place with a clipboard of one hundred random questions, written by a bipartisan committee– “Who is the vice president?” “In the simplest form, define ‘debt ceiling’.”, “Name two of the three branches of the United States government.”, “Where does the government get its money?”– stuff like that. The little old lady asks one random question per person. If they don’t know the answer, they don’t get in.
“I’ve been pinched by more presidents than you know the names of.”
They can, however, get back in line and try again. At the very least, people will learn some stuff, and that’s value in and of itself.
Of course this will never happen, but tell me: how does the idea strike you? If it seems outrageous to you, then I really want to hear your answer to the following question:
What is the value of an ignorant and/or uninformed voter?
If you think this is somehow racist (and be honest, some of you do) then tell me how believing that someone is unable to learn and study issues because of their skin color is not, in and of itself, extremely racist?
Voting should be hard so that the only people who vote are the ones who can meaningfully contribute to the process– who know why they believe what they believe, who are committed to their viewpoint, who have invested enough to do more than show up. If this offends you, truly ask yourself: how confident can you be in your philosophy if it rests on the vote of people who don’t care enough to study it? How can you be proud of a political victory gained via the general ignorance of the people who voted for it?
It’ll never happen. But it should. Unlike another great “worst” idea ever…
3) Judging Other People
Judge not lest ye be judged, right? Even people who don’t know any other Bible verses know that one. If there is one thing modern society agrees on, it is the essential tenet that judging others is ba-a-a-ad. After all, who are we to judge anyone?
And yet, obliviously, freely– and necessarily– we all do it, twenty-four seven, every day.
Ladies, why are you not dating that sweaty, liver-lipped guy who keeps ogling you in the elevator? Who cares if he spends all day secretly surfing porn in his cubicle and stealing the chips out of the fridge lunches? Who are you to judge?
Why do any of us vote for one candidate over another? Or choose who to include on some important committee, team, or partnership? Or not simply invite that shiftless brother-in-law and his drinking buddies to come live with us and our impressionable kids?
Because we judge.
Despite the old adage, there’s a reason why books have covers, and it’s because they tell us a lot about what’s in them. Judging books by covers– and people by their actions, choices and presentation to the world– is a necessary and logical practice. Judging other people is the only way any of us survives, finds success, and achieves even a shred of contentment in life. Judging is an absolutely essential life skill, and we all do it all day, every day, without even thinking about it. People who are bad at it end up miserable and victimized. Science says that people who excel at judgment– even stereotyping— end up happier and more successful.
So why don’t we embrace the act of judging?
I’ll hazard a guess (get out your notebook again): we don’t embrace the act of judging because we’ve confused it with condemnation.
“I hereby declare you guilty of believing I might have dated you. Twenty to life.”
Culture has equated disapproving of someone with hating them, and even wanting to outlaw the judged behavior. But is this truly the case? None of us are suggesting outlawing being sweaty, obsessive or creepy just because we don’t want to date such a person. When we vote for one candidate over the other we aren’t suggesting the other candidate should be imprisoned (unless you are a hardcore liberal, or course, in which case that’s exactly what you are suggesting, verbatim).
None of us wants to think of ourselves as judgmental, and yet we have no problem whatsoever avoiding people we find repellent, gross, or dangerous. We value the personal trait of tolerance, and yet we wouldn’t for a moment tolerate walking into a dark alley with someone that looks dangerous, desperate or mentally unstable. We cherish being open-minded, and yet most of us have no qualm whatsoever with rejecting ideologies we have determined are wrong or counter-productive.
And good for us! We totally should!
I say we embrace judgment while remembering the difference between judgment and condemnation. Words have meanings, after all, and those meanings can be extremely comforting, even freeing. Even the classic verse itself– judge not lest ye be judged– is not so much a warning against judging as it is a reminder that judgments should be fair, and applied to ourselves as much as others. Do you judge others for cutting you off in traffic? Be sure not to do it yourself. Hate it when people talk too loud on the phone in public? Remember that next time you get a call at the post office. Judge not lest ye be judged– not because judging is bad, but because we all do it, and it only works if we’re fair and honest with ourselves and each other.
And speaking of fair and honest, that brings us to another even less popular best worst idea…
2) Lowering the Minimum Wage
Let’s back up a bit.
People have always gotten their information from the media. Back in caveman days, Grok probably depended on the word around the campfire to decide his vote for president of the cave, rather than going around and interviewing the candidates himself. Later, books, newspapers and pamphlets influenced popular opinion more so than personal critical thinking. And nowadays, we have seamless and constant media messages filling our eyes and ears with opinion.
The difference between now and then is that now it’s all so fast. Reading took time, and time allowed the expression of deeper, more complex ideas. Modern media can’t waste a moment on the construction of an idea. Now, the currency of opinion is the emotional stab, the sound byte, the gut-wrenching image.
And that’s why so many opinions seem so great– and are, on the slightest inspection, so stupid.
Except for this one. We can all agree on this.
Take raising the minimum wage. At a glance, it makes perfect sense. The poor are poor because they don’t get paid enough. How can anyone survive on such a piddly little wage? Kids are starving because mean businesses just aren’t paying people a “living wage”! Solution: make businesses pay their employees more.
And if you stop there– if your internal critical thinker is dead or too fat and lazy to make any effort– then the idea seems as brilliant as it is simple.
But the idea isn’t just simple. It’s simple-minded.
Try this thought experiment. Pretend you own a muffin bakery. You charge $1 per muffin. Business is OK, but not great, and the bills are piling up. Solution? Simple! Instead of charging a buck per muffin, you charge three! Your profits have tripled overnight! Wow, that was easy.
But annoyingly, the customers don’t play along. At three bucks, your sales dwindle almost to nothing. Nobody is willing to buy a 3 buck muffin.
Solution? Ten bucks a muffin. Hell, twenty-five!
Soon enough, your bakery is as dead as the rats behind the oven and your doors are boarded up.
“Time to start playing saxophone on the street and charging people ten bucks for accidentally listening.”
You understand the analogy, right? Force businesses to pay more for their employees and they will simply not hire as many employees. It’s another fractal truth. If artificially raising the price on muffins means people buy fewer muffins, artificially raising the cost of employees means less employees.
And if this is true, then is the opposite true as well? If businesses are allowed to hire people for a lower wage, would that mean more jobs overall?
Sounds draconian, but yes. It does.
Ask yourself what’s better: a $20 wage that no one earns? Or a $10 wage that actually makes it into an employee’s pocket? Is it better to sell ten dozen muffins at a buck apiece, or zero muffins at 50?
I don’t know about you, but if my choice is having a $10/hour job or NOT having a $20/hour job… well, that’s some pretty basic math, isn’t it?
Sure, a 50 dollar muffin makes us feel like the best and most awesomest bakers in the world. Similarly, a high minimum wage makes us, as a society, feel all warm and fuzzy. But nobody will buy a $50 muffin, and fewer people will actually have jobs with higher minimum wages. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but if we really want to help the poor who need jobs, shouldn’t we slightly lower the minimum wage, providing a climate where more people will actually be hired, and more total wages will be earned?
“But no one can live on minimum wage as it is!” (I can hear some of you shouting, probably while drinking some sort of soy-based beverage and wearing a “99%” bumper sticker on your two-hundred-dollar backpack) “We have to make businesses pay people more to allow them to survive!”
To which I ask: is there no room for little jobs anymore? A part-time gig slinging burgers for some extra grocery money? A temporary step along the ladder of success? Remember when you were a teenager and you shoveled snow or mowed lawns around the neighborhood for date money (or, like me, drew caricatures of people’s pets for going-to-the-movies-alone money?) What if some activist had stormed your neighborhood demanding that people pay you enough to raise a family of four, effectively suffocating your income because no one was willing to drop seventy bucks for you to rake their leaves (or draw their parakeet playing croquet, as the case may be)? Would you have been grateful to your new activist pal? Or kicked their scrawny do-gooder butts for drying up your one meager source of teenage moolah?
Some jobs were never meant to be lifetime gigs. Some jobs weren’t meant to provide for an entire family. That’s not mean or evil. It’s just basic economic reality.
And speaking of reality:
1) Paying pro athletes more than teachers
A teacher friend of mine posted the following comic on her Facebook page:
Remember what I said about the modern tendency toward ultra-feelgood, ultimately dumb opinions? Sure, it feels really good to crusade about the salary inequity between guys who play games and the people who teach our precious, impressionable youngsters (who are OUR FUTURE, you know). And if we stop there– at what feels good– then the argument is over.
Sometimes, though, every now and then, we have to use (gasp!) our brains.
Let’s just look at the numbers:
There are somewhere around 360-450 pro basketball players.
There are 3.2 million public school teachers.
If we paid public school teachers the equivalent of pro hoops players, the nation’s education budget, salaries alone, would be in the neighborhood of $15,000,000,000,000. That’s fifteen with twelve zeroes after it, according to my calculator. I don’t even know what the name for that number is. Fifteen quadrillion? Sure, what the heck.
For scale, this is that number’s decimal point.
Let’s be practical. Pro sports players make the money they make because what they do earns a tremendous amount of money for a tremendous amount of people, from the team owners down to the guys hocking beer in the cheap seats, not to mention merchandise. They get paid what they do because it’s a competitive business and there’s ginormous dumptrucks of moolah to be made.
It isn’t that pro athletes are worth more than teachers as people. But as machines for making money, let’s be frank– they totally are. Sure, teachers are performing the invaluable task of instructing our kids, but that’s “invaluable” in the same way that memories of your grandma’s sugar cookies are invaluable– super nice, and ultimately priceless, but not the sort of thing you can pay the mortgage with.
Again, this isn’t meanness, it’s just reality. You can hate it, but you can’t change it.
But forget the comparison between pro athletes and teachers. Let’s just examine the idea that teachers make less money than they should for the herculean effort they make.
Now, I love teachers. I used to be one. I’ve taught at the grade school, high school and college levels. Teaching is in my blood, people! Respect!
Obviously we should pay teachers enough that they are able to do their jobs without financial distraction, assuming that it is feasible from a budgetary perspective. But beyond that, is it really a sign of massive disrespect or misplaced priorities that we don’t pay teachers immensely more?
Let’s be totally frank: over and over, the evidence shows that paying teachers more simply does not equate to better grades. In fact, the strongest proponents of higher teacher salaries are, ironically, the most vocal opponents of teacher merit pay– that is, salary benefits for higher performing teachers. Why? Because “each individual student learns differently and has different access to educational resources”, meaning no teacher can be held responsible for the myriad influences that dictate any student’s academic performance. Thus, ironically, everyone seems to be in agreement that paying teachers more does not positively influence grades.
It just feels better to pay teachers more. And truthfully, I am not opposed to it. Who would be? If the budget can afford it, teachers should be paid as well as possible. Unfortunately, that initial qualification– the budget– is the sticky point.
“Of course money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows underground, like a potato. Right?”
And that’s kind of a unifying factor in a lot of this, isn’t it? This childlike– even childish– refusal to acknowledge that there are real life limitations to the good we all want to do?
We can debate about whether it’s better to spend more money on teachers or roads, because that money is, in fact, limited by what the taxpayers in any given locale can afford.
We can argue about what the minimum wage should be, but it’s foolish not to count the all-too-real factor that it’s a lot of small business owners who pay those wages, not us, and their budgets are usually extremely finite.
We can all agree that judging harshly and superficially is (sorta) bad, while acknowledging the reality that judging others is an essential life skill, one that we all use every day, constantly.
And we can likely all agree on the basic tenet that voting, while an inalienable right, is best done when people have taken the time to learn about the issues and make informed (if occasionally misguided) decisions.
And we all could agree to debate these issues, if not for the black-and-white/good-and-evil nature of modern American politics. Floating a superficially unpopular idea– even an ultimately logical and potentially healthy one– does not generate debate and discussion. After all, debate and discussion take work. They take concerted thought and patience and a willingness to consider opposing perspectives. And really, with so many cheap, easy, knee-jerk alternatives, who wants to make the effort?
In short, I may be wrong about everything I just said. The question is, can you tell me why?