On continental-scale problems, sloganeering from the halls of Congress, and the virtues of thinking strategically
When big problems are afoot, it's a mistake to allocate our attention and support to those partisans who simply manage to scream the loudest. Volume is neither an indicator of correctness nor one of importance. And contemporary means of exchanging ideas are actually designed to add fuel to the fire by rewarding things like "attention" and "engagement", rather than thoughtfulness or reasonability.
■ It doesn't mean that people can't reduce important ideas to simple language. Democracy has a long and celebrated history of making complex ideas plain to the ordinary reader; the very idea of America as an independent country owes its success in part to plain-language persuasion in essays and pamphlets. But some people use simple language because their ideas are shallow.
■ Any problem that grows large enough to merit attention on a national scale probably emerges from at least a few causes. There isn't much room for pure mono-causality in a continental nation of 333 million people. And the more complicated and deeply ingrained the problem, the more likely it is that the origins of that problem are themselves deeply embedded in choices that have already been made.
■ Take, for example, the issue of homelessness. An estimated 580,000 Americans are homeless, while home prices have been soaring and median rents in New York City have reached $2,750 a month -- a level considered "affordable" only with a household income of $110,000 or more.
■ Ultimately, any such problem comes down to a matter of supply and demand, and demand is pretty inflexible: Everyone needs someplace to live. But supply is pinched by lots of different causes, from the impact of the mortgage-interest deduction from Federal income taxes to perverse local zoning laws. America irrationally favors site-built housing over manufactured alternatives and single-family construction over higher-density dwellings.
■ Thus, fixing one big problem requires addressing lots of different causes, deliberately and patiently. A member of Congress might resort to sloganeering like "Housing is a human right", but a pithy declaration doesn't overcome the complexity of the issue.
■ What we should support with our financial means, our votes, and our other resources of personal advocacy, are solutions that are strategic in nature. Strategic responses to big problems tend not to be as satisfying as slogans that can fit inside a Facebook post or a Snapchat video. But deliberate plans to strategically overcome complex, multi-level problems are the only ones that ought to be taken seriously.