The studious observer of news headlines can only conclude that many decision makers rarely think about the cascading effects of the actions they propose. Whether the topic matter is economics, foreign policy, or the environmental ecosystem, cascading effects two or three steps removed from a decision can make situations much worse.
We see this in the news every day. A presidential campaign promise to ban lobbyists from political appointments and to enforce higher vetting standards leaves an administration with many senior positions unfilled. This included the Secretary of the Treasury, who squeaked by a modest ethical controversy in the middle of a gigantic economic downturn. Having gained his office, he now has nary a single senior deputy to advise him as he tries to manage a financial problem of ungodly proportions.
Meanwhile, people are outraged about AIG bonuses being paid out while the company is being bailed out. But what about the single mother who’s an AIG executive assistant counting on her $50,000 annual bonus to make house payments? When she appears on the Today Show, crying, whose public relations problem is that? And while releasing the names of AIG persons who received bonuses might be within the letter of the law of transparent government, what if someone at AIG does get physically injured, as threats suggest – will Congressmen cry?
In the midst of all this, people are asking for the Secretary of the Treasury to resign from office. That may be a short term solution to a perceived problem, but who will take his place? Would it be better to have no one working on the country’s economic issues, at this moment?
People – decision makers, the media, and the average person – need to think 40 days ahead rather than four. They need to think 40 years ahead rather than four as well. There are always trade offs. Life is chess, not checkers.