Respect for the System

By Brad Thomason, CPA


I hope that you will indulge a non-financial, all-opinion blog today…

I hear a lot of talk about how things are not going as they should; that America is going to hell in a handbasket.  I agree that things could be better, but I think that’s not a function of the system itself (as it was originally conceived to function), but the way that various factions are now acting with regard to the system.

Think about this.  It’s OK for the Yankees to hate the Red Sox.  But it’s not OK for the Yankees to decree that the Red Sox only get 2 strikes instead of 3.  Here’s something else that’s not OK:  The Yankees don’t get to hold the stadium hostage and demand a 10th inning just because the Red Sox made it to the end of the game in the lead.  No matter how much they hate losing.  If the Yankees want to win, they need to come back tomorrow and try again.  In other words, though it may be OK for the Yankees to hate the Red Sox, it’s not OK for them to hate baseball.  Hatred for the opponent does not make it OK to disrespect the game itself.

All around we see people who are dismayed at the way things are going in our country.  Yet time and time again we see them concluding that the dismay is a tacit justification for them to do something against the way the system is supposed to work.  If the other guy isn’t going to play by the rules, they seem to ask, why should I?.

But no matter the justification (imagined justification…), we cannot lose sight of the fact that every time there is an instance of disregarding the way the system is supposed to work, it is harmful.  Far from being a thing which is OK, it is a thing which moves us further away from reality ever matching up to the way things are supposed to be.

When a state legislature passes a law that deals with something that is 100% in the federal wheelhouse (e.g. immigration), it’s not OK.

When the administrative branch refuses to enforce a law which was duly put into place through the legislative process (e.g. illegality of marijuana), it’s not OK

When the losing side in a Congressional matter resorts to coercion in which our economy and credibility are damaged, just because they are upset that they didn’t have enough votes to get their way in a straight-up fight, it’s not OK.

Today JP Morgan reported a loss.  The loss was due to a huge jump in legal spending.  One of the reasons that legal costs are what they are is because it has become common practice for attorneys to accuse the other side of every imaginable offense under the sun, whether they have any proof of wrongdoing or not.  In order to protect the rights of victims there is broad latitude within the system to allow plaintiffs to come to court before their file  is complete and finalized.  But modern attorneys routinely abuse this feature of the system by knowingly asserting false accusations, because the practical effect of that broad latitude is that they are unlikely to get sanctioned for lying.  That’s not OK, and it has the effect of making court battles far more complicated, time-consuming, and expensive than they would be if there was respect for the notion that the truth still matters.

When I look around I don’t see a system that doesn’t work.  Quite the contrary, I think it is the system that got us to where we are; and that if you say you value what America stands for, what you are really saying is that you value the way the system is supposed to work.  No, what I see is a slew of people not operating the system as designed.  And a growing sense that disregarding the system is an OK thing to do.

But I say it’s not.  I say that if you are concerned for the future of the country, you need to make the distinction between the machinery and the people operating it.  I say that if you want the system to work properly again, you have to come to regard it as not OK when someone – even someone you like or agree with in principle – resorts to taking an action that goes against what the system stands for just because they don’t like something about the present moment.

The solution to making the country stronger is not to fabricate imaginary rules or knife the ball when things don’t go your way.  The way to make the country stronger is to respect the way it is supposed to work, both via your own actions, and by telling those who don’t demonstrate a similar respect that what they are doing is not OK.

We tell our kids that 2 wrongs don’t make a right.  And they don’t.  But we seem to have more trouble seeing it when it occurs in the adult world.  Responding to someone else’s abuse of the system by abusing it yourself is not a means for supporting and strengthening our country.  It’s a means to accelerating its decline.  Which is an act that no one who really cares about our country and the American Ideal should condone, much less contribute to.

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