Saturday, 29 October 2011
Short term or long term?
This post is also posted at OoL.
Suppose I wish to predict when Prince William is most likely to ascend the throne. I might tackle the problem using lots of graphs and projections based on the longevity and gene pool of the Royal Family with some other stuff about lifestyles, medical care and so on. Let’s imagine that all my graphs and calculations give me a figure of 30 years. For various reasons I claim that King William V will ascend the throne in the year 2041 - so cue the fanfare.
To my mind, the main feature of such a prediction is the obvious one – who cares? Apart from Charles presumably. It’s too far in the future, so I’ll never be bunged in the Tower if my prediction is wrong and probably won’t be in a state to remember it by then anyway. It also skates over the question of whether or not we should have a monarchy in the first place.
So what’s the angle here? Another blindingly obvious one of course – long-term considerations are not always appropriate. Long-term too often used to undermine short-term ideas which would upset the status quo. The time is not yet right we are told. It never is right when there is a real risk of worthwhile change. Long-term considerations are a common way to shunt short-term gains into the sidings.
Long-term benefits are also used to sell short-term pain, but what if we don't want short-term pain? What if we'd rather ditch the short-term-pain and take the long-term risk because we think it's worth it? What if we'd rather take on these risks ourselves, devise our own contingencies instead of being coerced all the time? Because the short-term matters - it's what we have to live with while we wait for the long-term to arrive - assuming we ever get there.
It's instructive to note how often realists and reformers do short-term while charlatans do long-term. There are lots of exceptions of course, but it's a useful rule of thumb for many common situations.
Climate alarm is the obvious one – the catastrophe that is forever thirty years away, so plenty of time for a shroud-waving career in the meantime. Give us the money and reap the wholesome green benefits in thirty years time. No thanks - I'll assess the risks myself. And yes - I am thinking of future generations. I'm thinking of not lying to them about the uncertainties of climate science.
The EU is another – lots of claimed benefits somewhere beyond the far horizon when all we need is our democracy back now. Thanks, but I'd prefer to handle known risks of a nation state. I'm thinking of future generations here too - such as handing on a working democracy.
Taxation is another – tax could be simpler and more transparent now. We could reap the benefits tomorrow. Well - we might get things moving in a year or so.
Transparency is another – we could get rid of super-injunctions now and talk about privacy laws afterwards. But not in private of course.
Housing is another – we could build affordable houses tomorrow. Future generations should not be forced to live with their parents merely to preserve a few green spaces for current beneficiaries.