America Desperately Needs to Let More People Fail
Letting the banks fail should just be a start.
In an increasingly soft, decadent, late-stage capitalist, microwave society like America, you don’t hear a lot of people talking about the benefits of failure and pain. On the contrary, as a society, we’re all about making everything easier, faster, and more convenient. What do you see when you watch our commercials? Mostly ludicrously happy people who are having peak life experiences, not because they worked long and hard, but because they bought a particular product. Think about what a classic clickbait ad looks like:
Of course, there is no “one weird trick” that works and you’re not going to lose an “inch of belly fat per week.” You don’t get cheap, fast, and good all in one package. Pick two.
Yes, you can cook food fast in the microwave, but it’s not going to be as good as if you whipped it up from scratch. If your side view mirror gets knocked off, you can fix it with duct tape (I can tell you that from personal experience back in the day, yes really), but it’s not going to look good or be a lasting fix. The easiest, fastest, simplest, and cheapest way to deal with a power bill is to throw it in the trash, but it will lead to your power getting cut off.
We want to live in climate-controlled environments with high-speed DSL, endless entertainment and distractions at our fingertips, and delivery services that will bring damn near anything right to our front doors. It’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s comfortable. In fact, it’s DANGEROUSLY comfortable. I have a sticker prominently displayed in my house that I see multiple times per day to remind me of that:
Like most people in American society, I could do a better job of deliberately embracing the pain that’s good for me, but I do lift weights. I have been punched in the face enough times in sparring that I no longer consider it a big deal. I deliberately take walks in the middle of 90-degree days here in Myrtle Beach to increase the stress on my body. Anything I feel a twinge of fear about doing, I do. I’m prepping for another Spartan race this year. During the last one, I cut my back on barbed wire, swallowed pig water, and got bruises on my arm the size of a basketball. At the end of the day, all of that is small potatoes. It’s an American trying to insert some tiny fraction of the sort of misery a big part of the world lives with on a daily basis into his life, so he won’t get completely soft.
Of course, as a society, we’re several orders of magnitude softer than that. We have become increasingly incapable of bearing any type of short-term pain to achieve a longer-term gain.
Examples of this are EVERYWHERE.
Look at the current bank failure scandal for one.
It would admittedly be painful to let Silicon Valley Bank (among others) fail and it would absolutely cause short-term pain in the economy. However, the longer-term results would be banks behaving more responsibly, consumers doing more due diligence about where to put their money, and a healthier banking system overall. When we let banks and other corporations have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down, we incentivize irresponsible behavior and then we’re shocked when we get it. That’s not going to be fixed with a new regulation or a new government policy, it’s going to be fixed by letting them fail.
Of course, this isn’t just all about big banks and corporations. Our society does this at the individual level in a myriad of different ways and there is very little appetite for telling people, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” That’s because of a society-wide choice we’ve made about how to respond to people in trouble that I’ve written about before:
In America, when it comes to a wide variety of self-defeating behavior that leads to bad outcomes, we tend to take one of two different approaches to deal with it. Either…
1) We focus on strongly discouraging people from engaging in problematic behavior.
2) We focus on trying to help people engaged in problematic behavior and reduce the harm it causes in their lives.
Debates about issues like homelessness, single mothers, trans issues, and divorce all tend to revolve, at least in part, around these two approaches to the problem.
Because we are a society that is almost obsessively dedicated to short-term thinking, not only do we take approach #2 over and over again, we often treat it as practically unthinkable to do anything else.
On the individual level, we at least seem to have an inkling of what happens when people become dedicated to avoiding short-term pain. People like that are not tough enough to handle hard times and are not resilient enough to bounce back when they get knocked down. They become soft, weak, and anxious long-term. They can’t ever get where they need to go because they can’t deal with the long hours, big sacrifices, and uncomfortable path it takes to get there.
On a societal level, a lot of times we are so dedicated to trying to prevent short-term pain that we don’t even see the long-term problems we create with our approach.
We don’t see that…
…We encourage homelessness by offering up everything from food, to a place to stay to free needles to the chronically homeless.
…We encourage illegal aliens to bring their children here when they break the law by treating young illegal aliens differently than their parents.
…We encouraged colleges to raise their tuition by allowing the government to take over the student loan industry.
…We encourage people not to pay their rent and discourage landlords from renting out their property by refusing to let them evict people.
…We encourage mentally ill people to transition which leads to them never getting well and being much more likely to kill themselves all while putting women in bathrooms, on sports teams, and in prisons in uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations.
…We encourage people to have children out of wedlock by offering up a raft of different types of government aid to people who do that.
…We encourage black Americans to fail when we pretend that racism is what’s holding them back as a group.
…We encourage people to break the law by refusing to prosecute them and giving them a pass for things like shoplifting.
…We encourage divorce and discourage marriage by favoring women in divorce court, giving out alimony, and often overly generous child support payments after a divorce that don’t have to be spent on the child.
…We encourage housing shortages by trying to make rent cheap and affordable via rent control laws.
If you oppose any of these things, you’re accused of being cruel, but what’s really cruel? Alleviating short-term pain for some people while paving the way for millions of people to follow in their footsteps or allowing a small group of people to suffer for their mistakes while discouraging millions more from following them down the same path? Before you answer, does the approach our nations takes work on the individual level? We know it doesn’t. Does it work at a societal level? Is our society getting better or worse? Are we going in the right direction or backward? We all know the answer to those questions.
So, how do we change directions? We stop trying to avoid short-term pain. We stop enabling bad behavior. We start allowing people and businesses to make mistakes, fail, and suffer the consequences of their own poor decisions. You’ll know when we get to that point because that will be when everything slowly, but surely starts to turn around and go back in the right direction.