Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Ick" and other nastys

A guest column from someone almost as smart as me. My older brother. Mike is a school teacher, a coach and a father of two of the most precious girls.


In the last six months I have heard otherwise reasonable adults argue that no one should make two hundred million dollars a year but then complain they are not given enough opportunity to expand their personal profit margins. I have been asked countless times to explain what a toxic mortgage is to be told the answer just can not be correct. I listen to people complain about two dollar ATM fees and five dollar bank fees who do not realize a third or more of their income goes to taxes. Do you know the capital gains tax rate? Who makes more money on tobacco and gas sales, the government or the private sector? Who owns Exxon, who owns Wall Mart and is there a difference?

In Principles of Business we call it “Ick.” Ick refers to a manifestation of socially evolved correctness. In psychology ick is called cognitive dissonance. It exists regardless of the terminology, and most people don’t like to acknowledge it. For example, how do you save the giant panda? You eat it. When was the last time we had a shortage of chickens, cows or pigs?

Cognition is an idea. Dissonance is a conflict between two ideas. Therefore, cognitive dissonance occurs when the reality of the truth or facts gets in the way of what we want or hope to be true. Humans are the ruling species of the plant. To sacrifice a human for a panda is absurd. All the preservationists and animal rights people can lament the facts, but given the death of a family member or a panda, they should choose the panda. If not, the rest of us are dealing with a person who is rationalizing and showing confirmation bias and plain denial.

We the people, to steal a phrase from one of my favorite bits of writing, hold certain truths about our representative democracy and free market economy cognitions. These lofty ideas recognize that equality exists before the race starts, not in the results. Equal results are equal misery. Need more proof? Ask an athlete or scholar if he would take a tie game or the same grade as the rest of the class before the competition starts.

That warm tingly feeling you have right now is ick. If you can not move past the ick to the reality and truth above, I encourage you to stay away from cults and politics. None the less, our free market economy is under assault. Our global economy discussions without the realization that main street is Wall Street is fraught with peril, and there are perilous days ahead.

Ahead of us lie days filled with ick. I have confidence in the market over government. I have confidence in market corrections, small or drastic, over redistributions small or drastic. I have confidence in the power of income staying home over not being distributed via taxes. I have confidence that capitalism breeds philanthropy and that a rising tide raises all boats. I have confidence that some will achieve excellence and some will not. I have confidence that the struggle of each is equally honorable.

Ahead of me lie days filled with ick. I have ick in the realization that my wife and girls are not football players and that dinner and a bath does not need a practice schedule and a walk through. Also, I now know I will not get a delay of game penalty if bedtime runs past 7:30 p.m. I have confidence that those who make it past the ick are the cornerstone of life, liberty and happiness but may still struggle with dinner, baths and bed times for five and two year olds.

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