Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Root causes

The notion of "root causes" has always intrigued me - specifically when and where we are supposed to look for root causes.

Starting even before 9/11, we've been lectured that the existence of terrorism is a symptom and that we must seek out the root cause of their hatred for the West. Of course we are not permitted to even entertain the notion that the root cause could lie in the heart of terrorists and terrorist organizations themselves.

The only possible place that such a root cause could exist (so we were told) is in our own policies. Whatever policy changes were trotted out (most notably our support for Israel, the gist was the same - if they hate us, the problem MUST lie in ourselves.

Contrast that with the lack of any sort of intellectual curiosity regarding root causes when it comes to our nations current economic woes. While the lions share of the blame for the financial woes of individuals, lenders, and auto manufacturers lies within themselves, there is little if any discussion in the mainstream about what sort of policies brought us to this point.

The fact that Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac have been continualy pressured by their government sponsor for decades to back riskier mortgages with the intention of providing homes for low income families or that the auto industry has been forced since the 70's to sell large quantities of vehicles at a loss to meet mandated fuel efficiency standards barely gets any play.

Instead, we hear our president speak of the need to "save capitalism" and the NYT declaring that capitalism has failed without even so much as a glance in the direction of domestic policy.

One of the reasons for this disparity is the control issue: Our government has no authority or control over Islamic terrorists - human beings can't stand not being in control. This causes many to fantasize that this somehow must be about us and if we only make the right changes, they would grow to love us. Placing the root cause within the US permits the government to save the day by enacting the correct policies.

On the flip side, our own economic issues are well within the purview of our government. This allows pro-government exercise their control via more policies.

Another (an probably the biggest player in this question) is that looking for root causes in domestic policies would cast an unfavorable light on policies that had noble goals. Getting low income families into homes and reducing pollution are laudable causes, and it would highlighting the side effects of noble policies would cause people to look more critically at the noble policies of today - and there are plenty.

Foreign policy has for some time been fairly absent of nobility (as viewed by the elite), so there is little danger in prodding that ground when it comes to foreign policies proposed by the intelligentsia.

In the end, those questing for root causes have it all backwards. When it comes to foreign policy, regardless of any potential "root causes" we cannot afford to let terrorists dictate what our policies should be. Seeking to satisfy an enemy that not only has no qualms with the destruction of innocents, but actually takes delight in it would have the same effect as paying kidnappers or pirates. If peace is sought, we must reward peaceful behavior.

When it comes to domestic policy, studying "root causes" is essential for formulating future policy (or disbanding failed policy). Otherwise, we are continuously running around chasing lumps in the carpet.

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