I saw this piece in the Times yesterday about kids foregoing college to work in oil extraction in some of the most beautiful country on Earth. (A subjective assessment; so sue me.) One young man (19) was quoted as saying: “I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could.” Therein lies the difficulty in changing policies.
Whether we’re talking about fiscal policy or energy policy or you name it, someone’s short-term interests are going to be put at risk. Sometimes it’s the real choice between earning $40,000 a year here and now (at the certain risk to the environment), and paying $40,000 a year for an education toward for the possibility of better future earnings; and sometimes the risks are more… imaginary, such as banning the sale of assault weapons to practically anyone who wants to amass an arsenal against Armageddon.
Our society is all about short-term interests. Do you have a long-term settlement? “It’s my money, and I want it NOW!” Natural gas exports? Let’s make hay while the sunshines! (Of course, hay is a renewable resource the responsible production of which doesn’t destroy the environment.) At what point do we ask whether or not acting against our long-term interests is justified by satisfying our short-term interests? Do we ever do that? Are we capable of doing that? I’m beginning to think not.