"I must create a system, or be enslav'd by another man's."
- William Blake
Today at lunch with Bill (who, unlike Bernard, is a real person) we briefly talked politics. Bill is utterly disgusted with the Republicans. Like me, he feels that one of the worst indictments against the current crop of Republican presidential candidates is the fact that they have not spoke out against Bush, have not bothered to repudiate the Bush policies.
But Bill isn't particularly trusting of the Democrats either. He dislikes their seeming disregard for individual responsibility. "They seem to me like a party that encourages victimization," he said.
I think he's right, really. And I'm not sure how one reconciles this problem between the parties.
(And I know that some of you are saying, "Look at Ron Paul. He's about individual responsibility and is unafraid to repudiate Bush's policies." True, but Ron Paul (says this Ron Paul Davison), is a nut job if he believes that we'll make progress by getting rid of things like public education. People like Ron Paul could not explain the difference in incomes in Mexico (per capita GDP of $7,300 and tax rates of 18.5%) and Sweden (per capita GDP of $32,000 and tax rates of 51%) and somehow thinks that taking government back to the stage it is in third world countries would be a step forward - an oddly naive concept that rightfully engages only a small fraction of the electorate.)
It seems to me that the Republican Party's belief in individual responsibility is what one must accept for one's life. The system is what the system is and we're left to make the best of it. We have to make something of our lives in whatever situation we find ourselves. In that sense, the Republicans seem to have it just right.
Yet as a student of Deming, I know that the system determines 90+% of outcomes. I live close to the border and I know that Mexicans are not people who are only one-fourth as talented as Americans. The fact that they make one-fourth as much as us has nothing to do with individual effort or potential. It is their systems - the economic, political, financial, and educational systems - that determines this outcome. It is ridiculous to tell an individual Mexican that if only they worked as hard as the average American they would make as much. They put in as much effort but have less to show for it. In that sense, an emphasis on individual responsibility shows an almost willful ignorance. Systems are hugely determinant of outcomes - from crimes rates to unemployment levels to average incomes. In this sense, the Democrats have got it right.
When making policy, one has to look at systems. When making a life, one has to look at one's self.
How does one strike this balance? How does one stress individual accountability even while acknowledging that individual efforts are inevitably paltry and ineffectual things against something as big as a system?
If a candidate can strike that balance, he just might win Bill's vote. And I suspect that Bill would bring along a few like-minded Americans.