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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Meaningless good intentions

<y fall, millions of wideeyed college freshmen flood into their respective campuses, full of a complex mixture of fear, anxiety, and optimism. New students at elite institutions such as our own will be expected to cultivate their thinking in ways that most of them have never done before. This means taking rigorous classes on previously obscure subjects, engaging in conversations with peers and professors of different political and ideological tendencies, and pushing the boundaries of our minds wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. Such a course of action is indeed daunting and often-times overwhelming, but it inevitably rewards us with the ability to attain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the world, and arms us with the tools necessary to enact meaningful change in the communities we so deeply love. Well, that’s the idea, anyways.

In reality, it appears as if our seemingly enriched and comprehensive education platforms serve to further insulate us in an academic and idealistic bubble, a bubble that fails to encompass practical solutions to many of the most pressing issues that other segments
of society are tasked with facing. Unfortunately, when proposals and solutions are brought forward, they are frequently borne more out of raw sentiment and passion than empiricism and rationality. A common example that comes to mind is support for a so-called national “living wage” of $15 per hour, an idea made more popular by former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. I can guarantee that if anyone were to carry out a campus-wide survey concerning that proposal, it would be found that the majority of this school would be willing to support it. I would also wager that everyone who supports such a measure does so with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions are meaningless. We must look at the consequences brought about by such measures, regardless of how uncomfortable they make us feel. The reality is that most of the economic literature regarding such a drastic mandated wage increase shows that the overall negative impacts far outweigh any benefits,particularly for the same low-skilled workers most of us wish to help. The majority of us will never have to depend upon a minimum-wage paying job in our adult lives, yet we feel compelled to interfere with the beneficial and efficient conditions created by the free market because, on the surface, those outcomes don’t fit in with our constructed notions of fairness and justice. Yet by acting on our notions, we make it more difficult for those already on the bottom to find the employment necessary to develop their skills and one day be able to command a higher and more comfortable wage. By ignoring the realities of scarcity and economics and focusing on what we think ought to be instead of what is, we unleash more destructive forces upon those who are already among the most vulnerable. Such well-intentioned but naive thinking is commonplace in other hot-button issues, particularly in discussions dealing with globalization and free trade. For many of us in this elite environment, the fact that millions of people around the world work 16 hour days in harsh conditions, while earning a wage one-tenth the size of an American worker, is a poison that must be remedied. I frequently hear friends and peers highlight this supposed injustice as evidence that our capitalist global economy is inherently exploitative and violent, and they balk at the idea that such a system can be legitimized. Yet if one looks atthe empirical evidence, one realizes that globalization and trade have served as the catalysts for the greatest explosion in wealth and living standards in recent history. Over a billion people have been lifted from extreme poverty in the last two decades, all while millions of women in China and India enjoy more economic empowerment and independence than ever before. This phenomenal progress is not the result of the indignant angles of schools like ours, but rather is an expected outcome in a vibrant and dynamic (relatively) free enterprise system. The sad truth is that even after being confronted with evidence and data that effectively challenge our deepest-held sensibilities, we irrationally refuse to change our beliefs. What purpose is there in clinging to disproved theories, simply because they allow us to maintain our image of self-righteousness? Acknowledging the truth, regardless of how cold or impersonal it may seem, is the only way in which we can hope to establish effective change. I also long for the day when vague discussions about oppression and systemic injustice are replaced by detailed conversations related to concrete policy proposals, when the frequent and empty buzzwords are replaced by workable solutions. It would be a relief to see my peers worry less about policing “microaggressions” and instead worry more about how the War on Drugs has destroyed the lives of millions of black and brown families across this country. I’m not arguing that all of us on this campus should strive to be wonks obsessed with the nitty-gritty details of real-world policy, but rather that we should use more of our potential in ways that will actually shape tangible change, instead of merely saying the right words that sound pretty and then patting ourselves on the back for supposedly doing our part.

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