American Myths

There are a number of contemporary issues facing us. Most of the time, the proposed solutions to those problems involves evoking one or more myths. Consider the following:

  • Issue: Bureaucracies are commonplace. They sometimes slow down important transactions, frustrate us as we go about our business. Hence, we often complain about inadequate road repair. Myth: Markets increase efficiency by eliminating bureaucracies and reducing our dependence on government. However, modern markets require bureaucracies. Indeed, the closer to a ‘free market,’ the larger the bureaucracy. Handing over such things as road repair to the private sector requires the creation of another bureaucracy — one that provides quality specifications and specifies the tasks to be conducted, solicits bids for the service, and provides oversight of the job done by a private firm. And, in addition, it encourages firms to create a  lobby demanding more money for road repair. As I explain in my book, the stock market — perhaps the closest one ever comes to a perfect free market — requires enormous public and private bureaucracies to function correctly.
  • Issue: There are numerous poor quality schools in our nation. Myth: Competitions improve society. But competitions require large bureaucracies, lead us to work to the measure and create a handful of winners and large numbers of losers. Clearly, the standardized tests imposed on schools have created a competition among public schools over the last decade, But they have had numerous perverse effects including teaching to the test, encouraging failing students to be absent on test days, a narrowing of the curriculum to those subjects tested and in some cases the ‘correcting’ of test answers by teachers and administrators. They have also created a massive bureaucracy to create, administer  and score the tests. The funds for that bureaucracy might well have been used to improve school quality. In short, while there are many places where competitions are desirable, many competitions make matters worse.
  • Issue: Currently, most Americans receive health insurance through a plethora of private vendors. Obamacare extended that care to thousands who previously could not afford health insurance, by using the same model of providing lots of choice.  However, the one health care problem that you chose NOT to cover is the problem that you will have six months later.  Myth: A good society provides vast numbers of choices. With respect to health insurance, in each and every case, we are given the opportunity to choose among a wide variety of insurance plans. Each offers somewhat different benefits. These choices require us to understand the often complex, legalistic language within each plan as well as to predict what health problems we might face in the future. In short, too many choices put a great burden on each of us, taking time and money from more valuable personal and societal purposes. In addition, the current system is based on a second myth: Myth: that choice will drive down health care costs by making the insurance companies competitive.  But costs continue to rise, because the myriad plans demand more and more bureaucracy on the part of doctor’s offices and hospitals in order to assure that you are billed with the “correct code” that is covered by your insurance plan.  Recent studies have shown that the cost of the U.S. insurance/billing bureaucracy and administration alone would more than pay for everyone in the U.S. to receive health care, AT A REDUCED PRICE TO ALL! (Click here for details.)
  • Issue: There is a vast bureaucracy in Washington that regulates a wide range of our actions, from food ingredients to mortgages to national forests. Although critics disagree among themselves as to which regulations should be scrapped, there are many politicians and concerned citizens who believe that regulations are stifling our nation. Myth: Government needs to be made smaller by cutting the number of regulations. But, small government merely shifts governing to those who are less accountable. Before government regulated food safety, it was commonplace for people to buy cheese with sawdust added, contaminated foods of all kinds and mislabeled products. Similarly, before regulations for doctors were put into place, anyone could hang out a shingle claiming to be a doctor. While no one regulation can be perfect, scrapping regulation entirely simply means that some others who are unaccountable will do the governing in ways that benefit them and not benefit the public as a whole.
  • Issue: We live in a dangerous world and need to protect ourselves against both domestic and foreign enemies. Myth: Military, homeland security and police expenditures ensure national security. In pursuit of these myths we spend far more on the military than any other nation. This includes equipment and bases for which the military itself has no use. It includes engaging in wars against far away enemies so as to make the world safe for nominally American companies. We also have equipped our police departments with ever more military equipment, far surpassing their needs.  One small town received tanks to use on patrol. Such policies also create insecurity. They make it such that Americans are in danger when visiting many parts of the world, that peaceful protesters are intimidated when engaged in public activities. They produce unnecessary fear among far too many of our citizens. And, they reduce the funds that might be used to  address the underlying causes for such violence:  lack of education and jobs, alienation of new immigrants, and lack of mental health care.  Of course, banning assault rifles for use by the general populace, and in general, making it more difficult to obtain assault weapons that are NOT used for hunting would also help!

In my book I discuss these and other issues at length. I describe and analyze the myths involved, showing their limits. I also provide some specific actions that can be taken by individuals and groups to transform these myths so as to secure our common future.

There is no charge for this book. Please download it and read all or part of it by clicking here. Also, please leave comments on what you read, whether you agree or not. The book is a work in progress; therefore I will be updating it regularly and willingly take comments.

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