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The Solution is to Think In Terms of Tradeoffs

Here’s a letter to the Washington Times:

Ridiculing Charlie Crist’s ‘plan’ to keep Social Security solvent simply by eliminating “waste and fraud,” Samuel Burkeen properly complains that politicians too often insult us with such idiotic and empty promises (Letters, May 8).  But the appropriate response to the likes of Mr. Crist is not to demand that he and other politicians offer substantive “solutions.”  As Thomas Sowell points out, in economic matters there are seldom “solutions”; overwhelmingly, there are only tradeoffs.

For example, a private couple understands that if they extend their European vacation from one week to two weeks, they will have less money to spend remodeling their home or to save for retirement.  This couple faces an unavoidable tradeoff.  There’s no “solution” available that enables them to enjoy a longer vacation without making sacrifices elsewhere in their lives.

The same is true for taxpayer-funded goods and services.

Regrettably, though, politicians of all stripes regularly promise “solutions.”  The reason is plain.  Any politician who speaks honestly of tradeoffs would remind voters that he or she is a mere mortal, one with no more power than a dentist or a taxi driver to feed the multitudes with only five loaves and two fish.  And such a reminder puts that politician at a crushing disadvantage against opponents who portray themselves as secular saviors.

Donald J. Boudreaux