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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How To Market One's Own Society

Not too long ago, law professor and contributor to the website The Imaginative Conservative, Bruce Frohnen, wrote a blogpost for that website called What Is An Opportunity Society?  In that blogpost Frohnen made strong efforts at fairly comparing what he called the 'Security Society' of Iceland where people are taken care of by government with America's former 'Opportunity Society.'

Frohnen defines an Opportunity Society by what it is not. And what it is not is a society like Iceland's. Nor is it a society where the government passes regulations requiring what many would regard as the fair treatment of employees with benefits such as overtime and health insurance--Frohnen mentions high wages too, but some corporations use government assistance programs to subsidize their payroll by paying some employees poverty wages. 

Frohnen continues to define what an Opportunity Society is not. It isn't a society where small business owners fear the legal repercussions from refusing to provide goods and services for same-sex weddings. An Opportunity Society is not one where businesses are hassled by the government for not appearing to be racially fair by falling short of some bureaucrat's expectations.

An Opportunity society does not help with healthcare when it isn't provided at work especially when the healthcare policy punishes the middle class and rewards the rich. So when one sums up all of the ways by which a society is not an Opportunity Society, we must agree with Frohnen's conclusion that America is no longer an Opportunity Society. 

Now, the point here is not to examine Frohnen's comparison between Iceland and America. Nor is it to test the claims that Frohnen makes about what Opportunity Societies are or whether what he sees as the obstacles of such societies act as real obstacles to such societies. Rather, the purpose of this post is to examine Frohnen's methodology.  For not only does Frohnen uses a single word to describe all of American society, he comes to such a description by considering only one group, his favorite American child, business.

The problem with Frohnen's methodology is that it employs oversimplifications. To describe all of American society by focusing on only one group suggests that that group is the most important group in America. It suggests that that group is the most privileged group and it might suggest that it is the group we must depend on the most. So it matters not how regular citizens fare in America or how healthy and safe our children are. It doesn't matter to Frohnen how people of different races are getting along or how people who need healthcare are coping. To Frohnen, the only group that can be used to define American society is business. 

But we need to proceed from there. Regardless of the complexity of our economic system and how some businesses are performing. For regardless of how some businesses are offshoring jobs or how some businesses might be harming the environment or how some businesses are finding ways not to pay their fair share of taxes, our society would be called an Opportunity Society if government would just get out of business' way.

Because Frohnen's analysis of what America was depends solely on the life experiences of one group and because he can sum up the ideal arrangement for that group using a single word,  Frohnen is flirting with using dichotomous thinking. With dichotomous thinking, the state of any person, group, or venture is looked at in black-and-white terms. Things are going either good or bad, there is no continuum that provides in between measurements. Thus, the interpretation of one's status depends on a self-limiting set of inputs. 

With Frohnen's methodology, our infrastructure could be crumbling, racism could still be thriving, our incarceration rate could be the highest in the world, and there could be more empty houses than homeless families. But as long as the business restrictions Frohnen was complaining about were absent, he could classify our society as an Opportunity Society.

The oversimplification employed by Frohnen moves us to deliberately work and make decisions with an inadequate amount of information. To be an Opportunity Society, we only need to worry about our businesses and what restrictions or responsibilities they have to face.

If we as Americans are going to either work our way out of the current hole we have dug for ourselves or advance as a nation, we can't afford to make decisions based on inadequate information. We can't afford to make decisions based only on how one group is affected or whether we meet the criteria imposed by one label. For example, in 2016, we can't afford to cast our votes for candidates solely because of political party affiliation or only because they will favor our pet group. And the same applies for deciding to favor trade agreements that will cost jobs here or weaken our sovereignty.

We have to be concerned with all groups in America and we must resist the temptation to use single labels to describe the status of our complex society, economic system, our healthcare system, our education system, or whatever systems remain. The more we we oversimplify issues or statuses, the more we choose to make ignorant decisions. And that is simply the result of considering only one group or using single labels to describe how our society works.




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