Fighting the wrong fight

· Budget, Government policy, Politics
Author

I had an experience a few months back that got me thinking. Imagine this. American doctor. Plastic surgeon from down south. Strongly believes in God but not in man made climate change. Says we are being arrogant if we believe we can change God’s will regarding the climate. It seems climate change can not exist because man does not have the power to alter God’s will, and God decides the climate.

He went on to say that trees absorb CO2 so all the CO2 we produce will be absorbed by the plants. He also pointed out the volcanoes cause massive emissions and we cannot control them.

I counted that maybe there was a balance decades back, but as the Industrial Revolution has seen a massive increase in emissions, and the world’s forests were being significantly reduced over the last few centuries, maybe the balance was changing.

He was not convinced, but could not counter my argument. He was still a climate change denier and nothing I could say would change that.

Now what got me thinking. I was following a linear argument. Start with man made climate change until he agrees it is real, then talk about what we can do to reduce it.

It dawned on me that it is irrelevant if he believes in man-made climate change. It is only important to have him supportive of whatever we can to reduce emissions. He would probably agree to restricting smog producing factories without agreeing to man made climate change.

“The climate is changing. More heat records broken. More cyclones doing more damage. Forget what might be causing it. Accept it might be man-made or it might be a natural phenomenon. The question is what can we do in our own small way to reduce these changes?”

This argument is more likely to gain a positive action than a fight over whether climate change is man-made. So are there other situations where we are fighting the wrong fight?

Try tax cuts for business. It has happened in Australia and the US. Tax cuts will improve profitability, employ more people and reduce prices. Put two economists together and you have an argument that evades the common man. Should we be trying to get our heads around the tax cuts so we can form an opinion? Do we instinctively agree or disagree with the proposals, and will we argue for or against?

Maybe the fight is not whether we have tax cuts. Perhaps it should be about the ability and confidence the economists and politicians promoting these arguments.

We are unlikely to be able to take on the informed opinion of a trained economist or elected politician. We can however question the credentials of the person. The fight is not about the economic proposal. The fight is about which expert is the most credible. Who is most invested in the advice?

“If you are so sure that tax cuts for business will improve wages by x%, I would find you more convincing if you vow to resign your political post if the wage growth is not achieved?”

Or another approach:

“At what level of wage growth or decline would you declare the tax cut a failure, and reverse the cut? What penalty should you pay for convincing the public to accept a policy that failed?”

There are many discussions about political change that could be redirected to the credibility of those promoting the cause. Do they actually expect it to happen and deliver what they are telling us. The fight is about credibility, not the actual proposal.

Finally another example. The council or government that won’t do what we want them to do. Take an example. The council that will not repair a road. Is the problem that they will not accept our priority to repair the road?

Last time I looked, governments and councils were not profit making concerns. They redistribute money. Collect taxes, and spend it on a range of services. They allocate that money to a range of competing priorities. That requires decisions about priorities. They cannot do everything so they have to make some judgments about which get done, and which get postponed.

The fight could be about priorities but it means competing with other tax payers who want their priority addressed. The real fight is about how do we fund this particular road repair. Would a levy on houses serviced by the road work?

Maybe the solution is to impose a temporary toll on users of the road. Even if it is a suburban street, maybe a small toll could be imposed. Perhaps a dollar for every car until the repairs can be paid for. Surely the technology to collect tolls on motorways can be packaged into a temporary structure to record vehicles and deduct a payment. Once paid off, the structure can be moved to another location.

The initial complaint will be that residents will end up paying a disproportionate share. Maybe that is true, and maybe they should. They are the main beneficiaries of the repair. Alternatively there can be a cap on how much per week/month/year they pay.

If you make enough noise, you may, or may not influence council. If you go to them with a financing plan, you have a much better chance.

There is a technique in risk management called root/cause analysis. When you have a problem, keep asking why until you get to the root of the problem.

If you ask why the council will not fix your road, the reason is they don’t have enough money. The reason they don’t have enough money is that there is a finite amount they can collect from taxes. Why? Because we will not let them increase taxes. We vote them out of government. If you can find a way for them to collect more money, you might solve the initial problem.

The point of all this is that too often we expend time and effort fighting the wrong battle. The outcome is what is important. It is not convincing someone to change their point of view. It is getting them to take an action. If you can get an outcome by travelling another path, then do it.

Remember, it is not how hard you fight. It is whether you achieved the outcome you wanted.

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