What Could Go Wrong?

In 1992, Rep. Barney Frank successfully shepherded an “affordable housing” program through Congress. This created the subprime mortgage market by requiring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac–both quasi-government organizations–to buy whatever loans HUD handed them.

What could go wrong?

For 100 years, British merchants and the quasi-government British East India Company grew and sold opium to China. When the Chinese emperor finally had enough of his subjects being drugged into trading his country’s treasure for addiction, he abolished the trade. In 1839, the British went to war to protect their drug dealers.

What could go wrong?

From the 17th century, Japan enforced economic and cultural isolation to preserve its racial purity and social harmony, the basis of Japanese society. Using gunboat diplomacy, in 1854, Admiral Perry forced Japan to sign the “Treaty of Peace and Amity,” opening the country to trade with the West. By 1932, Japan was fully integrated into the world economy, and suffering starvation and drought in the midst of the Great Depression.

In 1932, Japan had invaded Manchuria, government and industrial figures were being assassinated, including the prime minister, and in 1936, the military won effective control of the government. Their main concern was other countries (notably the U.S.) controlling trade in basic resources like oil. So America cut off oil to Japan.

What could go wrong?

There’s a whole litany of these historical faux pas I could cite, filling pages, even books. The point of the exercise is this: Government can’t control everything. For every action in the relationships of humans and nations, there are reactions, which cannot be predicted. We can’t know everyone’s motives, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

We know that the political left will move America to a more secular, post-modern, European socialism. Many of the ideas of the left (like “affordable housing”) ignored human nature, economic forces, and the power of despair, leading to what should have been predictable results. Middle-class people bought homes they could not afford, and when jobs disappeared, their equity went with it. They were trapped in bad neighborhoods, while more financially stable families left for better opportunities.

And the government created this poisonous bubble that took down companies, and made others (like Goldman Sachs) into boogeymen and evil villains.

We also know that Trumpism–raw nationalism mixed with tribalism–will lead to terrible consequences like gunboat diplomacy, and even war. Nobody can predict what other nations will do with complete accuracy.

The “right thing” is usually missed because it’s so obvious. In 1839, a British merchant ship, owned by Quakers, the Thomas Coutts, sailed to Canton Province. Its captain defied a British ban preventing merchants from signing a “no opium trade” bond with the Chinese, and that provoked a British blockade to prevent others from doing the right thing.

America’s got some pretty severe problems. But the right thing usually presents itself, if you strip away everyone’s self-interest, broad government policies, and political blame. It’s not Mexico’s fault that New Hampshire, Kentucky, and parts of Tennessee have a terrible heroin problem. It’s not BLM’s fault that over 70 percent of our prison population is minorities like African-American.

No political party can solve every ill of American society. But before we embark on grand schemes to fix things, political leaders should ask two questions. Is this doing the right thing? And just as important, what could go wrong? Just because something conflicts with our political theory doesn’t automatically mean it’s wrong, or the reverse: just because something agrees with our political theory doesn’t mean it’s right.

I’d rather oppose both presidential candidates, who seem to have no grasp of these simple truths, than to bow for the sake of one side winning. What makes anyone think that Trump, who has spent his whole life doing the right thing for Donald Trump alone, and the wrong thing for everyone else, would or could change? Why would anyone believe him?

Why would anyone believe that self-entitled elitist Clinton would recognize the right thing if it bit her on the nose?

I’d rather be the “simple man” from John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses.”

And there’s winners, and there’s losers
But they ain’t no big deal
‘Cause the simple man baby pays the thrills,
The bills and the pills that kill

Imagine what would happen if enough of us stopped putting our faith in government and simply started to do the right thing? What could go wrong?

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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