Friday, November 16, 2007

Thigh Bone's Connected to the Hip Bone, etc.

Most of you (well, those of you who are Americans) probably recognize that line from the old children's song about how all the bones are connected to build your body. Most parents have probably sung it to or with their small children a few hundred times.

It occurs to me that this song is a useful metaphor for what's wrong with our election process and our government in general - we focus on the thigh bones instead of the skeletons, about the particular rather than the general. We don't look at our government, our economy, and our nation as a complex, interconnected system, rather than as a collection of individual parts in which we may have a vested interest.

If you have a broken leg, you can't walk properly...but the damage to the leg affects not just how you walk. It also manifests itself also as back pain (from holding your body differently to try to walk), shoulder and arm pain (from the effort of walking on crutches), and other physical ailments. In the same way, actions taken in one political or economic area don't have an isolated effect - their impact cascades through the interconnected systems that surround us.

* If a legislator votes to cut taxes, she's a hero to her constituents...until all of a sudden there's no money to pay for the services those constituents have come to expect, and the howls of outrage arise.

* If you want to pay for a war without putting a burden on today's taxpayers, you borrow the money to fund it and shift the burden of repayment to voters who won't come of age until you are long out of office.

* If you give a legislative tax break to one special interest, you have that much less income to pay for the operation of the government, and have to either cut spending, transfer the tax burden to someone else, or borrow the money and kick the fiscal can down the road. If spending is cut, you can bet it won't be spending supported by those who can afford special representation that protects their interests.

* If you object to birth control or abortions, what's your plan for taking care of all the children who will be born to parents who don't want them? - a terrible thought to those of us who love our children, but a sad question that nevertheless must be faced.

* If you support huge jury awards in often-frivolous lawsuits, you need to recognize that you'll end up paying for them in terms of higher prices or taxes down the road.

The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone.

George Bernard Shaw was once quoted as saying that "The government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul." Paul, in this case, is the special interests who can muster the legislative support to ensure that their concerns are addressed, generally at the expense of all of us Peters out there. The worst part is that there's no real outrage about it. Because we are conditioned to look at our own narrow special interests, and not as our government and economy as a system...or more properly, a system of systems...we don't see the bigger picture of how focus on a single issue has an effect that cascades across many other areas.

No matter what your elected leaders would have you believe, we can't have it both ways: we can't have low taxes and big services. There ain't no free lunch. We may be able to put off paying the piper, but sooner or later that piper is going to show up for payment and he'll be mad and won't go away. We have to start looking at the real impacts of the decisions we make today, particularly those which affect only a particular industry, voting bloc, or single-interest group.

The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone, but also - indirectly - to the brain and the heart.

As we approach this critically important election season, we need to start asking the hard questions, and we need to look at the interconnected Big Picture. We need to engage the brain, and not just the heart.

Have a good day. Ask those hard questions. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

There are brains in our gov't! Wow! Where?

Amanda said...

I've never heard that song but its certainly true. You really are a concerned citizen!

KellytheCulinarian said...

Great thinking points. This will be a long, probably nasty, election cycle.

Bilbo said...

Mistress - yes, there are brains in our government. Sometimes, though, you just need to hire a mining engineer to be able to dig deep enough to find them!

Amanda - Aaron would like the's a cute ditty for small children. And yes, I'm a concerned citizen...with good reason!

Kelly - thanks for your comment! Hope you keep visiting the blog!