Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Long term; short-term

Some days, I wonder how many of the people I meet are putting their long term interests or their short term interests first.

Being aware of both is another thing that many people don't do well, whether planning for a party or running a major corporation. Unfortunately, we put many people in positions where they are unlikely to look for long term interests - traders looking to make the new smarter quicker buck, a CEO hired to make immediate changes in the short term profit numbers, politicians looking to win this year's race.

And while it's foolish to neglect your short-term interests completely, it's possible to focus a little too much on the long view, but it's much easier to go for the immediate reward. And I can't help but think that when people looking only at the short term results get that immediate reward, they're being trained to keep doing that. Something about psychology and positive reinforcement.

Nixon's southern strategy won the Republican party the South for a generation - and alienated the non-white voter for at least as long. George III found the colonies a quick and easy source of additional revenue. It is usually a perfectly rational strategy that is the worst mistake of all. Just dump it in the river, and watch it catch on fire after decades of dumping; save a few million now by privatizing prisons, and watch prison populations climb at a faster rate; throw out the rules of war, and wonder why your opponents do likewise.

This is the real reason I don't trust in the invisible hand - and the reason, too, why I try to be so careful in my decisions these days. Everything has consequences stretching into the long term.

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