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I write in a hurry. I get an idea, bang it out, and post it. I try to re-read it later, and perhaps edit it a bit, but it’s hard for me, because I don’t like most of what I write. I enjoy writing. Largely because it forces me to focus on something other than my immediate concerns, so it relaxes me. But it never comes out as good as what I had in my head. So I get frustrated, post whatever I’ve got, and move on with my life.
Every once in awhile, though, I’ll write something that I think is pretty good. And sometimes I’ll think, “You know, I should do this for a living! I enjoy it, and I’m pretty good at it! It’ll be fun!” Then I read something from Victor Davis Hansen. Or Kevin Williamson. Or, God help me, Thomas Sowell. And I decide to keep my day job. Which is good for me, because I’d go broke trying to write for a living. It’s good for society in general, too, because I’m a much better doctor than I am a writer. I’m more use to more people doing what I’m good at. Whether I select myself out by understanding my weaknesses, or whether I starve as a writer and am forced into another occupation, everyone wins when I lose. This became very clear to me at this weekend’s volleyball tournament.
Two of my three daughters are freakazoid athletes. They always moved differently from other kids – they looked unusually graceful, fast, and agile, even when just running around the playground with the other 6-year olds. They’re just different. The older one is now captain of one of the best basketball teams in the country (they hope to make the Sweet Sixteen this year), and the younger one (“Linda”) is still in high school but has already signed to play volleyball at another major Division I university.
“Linda” grew up playing basketball like her older sister, but switched to volleyball a couple of years ago. She was already being recruited by Div I basketball programs as a freshman in high school, and I asked her, “Are you really sure about this volleyball thing?” But she wanted to switch. She figured she could always get a basketball scholarship, even if she didn’t play much (…she’s not arrogant, but she’s just accustomed to being really, unusually good at athletics…), so she thought, what the heck.
There is a girl on her volleyball team this year (“Kelci”) who has been playing volleyball her whole life. She’s a good athlete, and she’s really good at volleyball. But she’s slower, shorter, less agile, and not as athletic as Linda, so the college coaches ignore her, and drool over Linda. This is upsetting to Kelci, and understandably so. She’s a great volleyball player, and she wants to play college volleyball. But Linda, who’s still learning how to play the sport, is the one getting the scholarship offers. That would upset me, too.
But if Kelci left these travel team leagues to go play major Div I volleyball, she’d get blown off the court by all the freakazoid athletes. They’re all like that, at that level. She’d have no chance. It wouldn’t be fair.
But that won’t happen. Just like me and my writing, she’ll end up doing something she’s better at than volleyball. It’s not that she’s bad at volleyball. She’s really very good at it. But there are others better, so perhaps she should apply herself to other endeavors. Thus, she’s more likely to find her way into something she could be truly great at. It’s a painful process, but it generally works.
Those who believe in a robust “safety net” for those who struggle in society see themselves as saving people from the pain I describe above, like in Kelci’s athletic setbacks, or my intellectual ones. You can see their point. Wouldn’t it be nice to protect people from the pain of failure?
Well, yes it would, but again, that pain can be instructive, and very helpful. You remove that pain at the risk of dooming somebody to a life of stasis and removing any hope they have of improving their situation. You can’t succeed if you’re not allowed to fail.
I don’t think anyone would suggest that a society as wealthy as ours should have no safety net, and I’m certainly endorsing no such thing.
But I think that we should use government-funded entitlements with great caution. They can benefit certain people at certain times, but it comes at a great cost. That cost may not be immediately obvious, but it’s enormous, and it’s unavoidable. You can’t get the benefits without paying the price.
But the benefits are obvious, and the price is subtle.
How many stupid decisions do people make, in how many different realms, because of that basic problem? The benefits are obvious, and the price is subtle. So why not? Right?
Thus, progressives tend to win elections, and the government tends to grow.
After all, the benefits are obvious.
I should probably try to smooth this up a bit, and clarify my thinking. Maybe add a humorous anecdote. Or a clever quote from a famous philosopher.
Eh. Whatever. I’ll just post it.
Time to hit the sack.Published in