Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 6 – Every problem has a good solution.

Alternate Assumption:  Some problems have no good solution.  We need to find the least bad solution.

I have an acquaintance who shall remain nameless.  In a recent election one candidate agreed with 90% of his views the other candidate agreed with 10%.  He refused to vote for the 90% candidate because of their differences.  I told him that if there was an election between Lincoln and Hitler he would say that Lincoln suspended Habeus Corpus so he wouldn’t vote at all or he would vote for Hitler.

We all like to think that every problem has a solution.  We strive for that perfect solution.  Unfortunately some problems are not soluble.  We seek to eliminate poverty, but there has always been poverty and there always will be.  There may never be peace in the Middle East.  The irony is that too often we reject solutions that might make things better because they aren’t perfect.  To quote Voltaire, “Perfect is the enemy of better!”

The perfect solution assumption hinders both the left and the right.  On the left, environmentalists predict that global warming due to carbon emissions will devastate the climate.  Lets assume for the moment that this is correct.  Cheaper natural gas produced from fracking has caused many power plants to convert away from high carbon emitting coal to clean natural gas.  So far, fracking has shown itself to be the only practical method for substantially reducing carbon emissions.  Environmentalists, however, oppose fracking because of environmental concerns about contamination.  Let’s assume now that these concerns are also valid.

The environmentalists predictions of the devastation caused by global warming far exceeds their predictions of damage caused by fracking.  To environmentalists, fracking should be the least bad of two bad alternatives.  Environmentalists though strongly oppose fracking.  Perfect is the enemy of better.

On the right, conservatives oppose Obamacare and want it repealed.  They wanted Congress to defund Obamacare which would of course result in an Obama veto and shutdown of the government.  Historical evidence shows that this would be very unpopular and it would reduce the chance of electing a Republican in the next election who might actually repeal it.  Perfect is the enemy of better.

The current Iran situation is a vivid example of this problem.  If economic sanctions don’t deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and there is no indication that they will deter Iran, then the world may have to choose between two horrible choices:

  • We can do nothing and let Iran, who supports terrorists, and has vowed to to annihilate Israel develop a nuclear bomb.
  • We can use military force to attack Iran to try to forcibly stop them.   This would throw the world into turmoil and might not even  be successful.

Both of these choices are terrible.  Which is worse?  If we do nothing, we have made a choice.

The search for the perfect solution often sounds very noble.  In real life, it can have devastating consequences.

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