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November 20, 2008

They

-- by Dave Johnson

See a revised (better) version of this post at Speak Out California

I want to caution about the use of the word "they" in current policy debates. How we understand a problem has huge implications for how we decide to solve those problems. This use of "they" leads to a kind of understanding in our brains that might just be short-circuiting our ability to make rational decisions.

Let me use the auto companies as an example. "They" did bad things. "They" opposed higher CAFE standards. "They" pushed SUVs because SUV sales led to higher profits in the short term. Therefore "they" deserve what they get.

But who is the "they" here? What happens to your thinking about policy solutions if you instead understand that SOME executives were able to get their hands on the resources of the company, and did things that increased their own personal fortunes, even as their actions harmed the long-term profitability of the companies? THOSE executives might have already fled with the loot they got for themselves.

See what I mean? The first use of "they," where you think of a company as a sentient being, a monolithic entity that makes decisions by itself, you are led toward one kind of solution. Let "them" fail. Let "them" deal with the consequences of "their" decisions.

But if you think about it the other way, that certain individual bad actors were allowed to make personal fortunes off of their access to company resources and their control of company decision-making (and lobbying), that leads to very, very different conclusions about how to fix the mess we and our economy are in.

Posted by Dave Johnson at November 20, 2008 10:36 AM


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