We’re Really Not That Smart

I was looking at the newspaper the other day, shaking my head at some of the headlines – maybe that’s why they’re called headlines – and thinking about how dumb we are sometimes.  Maybe that’s the wrong word.  Intellectually lazy is maybe a better term to use, because I think we as individuals and as a nation have more intelligence than we use.

For example, the move by some airlines to charge people for checked luggage may have seemed smart.  The result (and who would have seen THIS coming?) is that people entering the packed planes now drag on as much as they possibly can, resulting in significant delays and ill will as the irate travelers and crew try to find places to jam luggage. Meanwhile, the delays must cost the airline thousands of dollars in lost time.

Another example of short-sightedness is all of the normally intelligent people who got home loans well beyond their ability to repay, given the adjustable rates, interest-only, and balloon payments.  They allowed themselves to be persuaded by the realtor, the mortgage broker, and perhaps their own wishful thinking to believe those loans were a good idea.  People assumed the best instead of planning for the worst.

Here’s one from our 50th state, taken directly from an article in the New York Post: “Hawaii just had a vivid lesson in health-care economics, learning that if you offer people insurance for free – surprise, surprise – they’ll quickly drop other coverage to enroll.  As a result, Hawaii is ending the only state universal child health-care program in the country after just seven months.”

Could we see a show of hands from anyone who is surprised by this outcome?  Why work for something when you can get it for free?  A lot of plans politicians make look really good on paper, but the law of unintended consequences is always lurking in the shadows.
This next example is one that we need to use our imaginations on, because we don’t know for sure what the consequences were.  The guy who ate the 15 pound hamburger – actually, the beef itself weighed 15 pounds; the whole thing was over 20 – must have had the most miserable 24 hours of his life afterwards.  And yet, the searing abdominal pain was fully predictable, don’t you think?

Of course, hindsight is 20/20.  Some of the oil speculators who fueled (pardon the pun) part of our current economic malaise lost millions of dollars as the world economy retreated.  Bankers who banked on housing prices continuing to rise look back with regret at their poor judgment.  Legislators who had the chance to fix things, but took the partisan path instead, point fingers at others, because admitting any amount of culpability is politically damaging.

We’re humans, and our country is made up of and governed by humans, and we’ll always make decisions based on what sounds good at the time, and we’ll frequently look back and wonder what we were thinking.  I’ve been voting since 1972, and some of the people I’ve voted for were exactly who and what they said they were.  Others were disappointments, to say the least.  And yet, despite what some people may say, we’re still a great and imperfect country made up of imperfect people filled with the potential to accomplish great things, if we can keep out of our own way.


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