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Short Termism

Short Termism May 28, 2021

Short Termism: The tendency to focus attention on short-term gains, often at the expense of long-term success or stability. 

I was reading yet another article about the infamous Marjorie Taylor Greene yesterday. Greene, a House Republican from Georgia, came under fire last week after making comments to Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody comparing the mask mandate that still exists on the House floor to Jewish people in Nazi Germany being forced to wear “gold” stars. (See Note) The false equivalence is outrageous in two ways. It not only demeans the horror of the Holocaust; it also exaggerates the minor nuisance of wearing a mask.

While some Republican leaders (McConnell and McCarthy) criticized her statements, there was no immediate push to censure her, or discipline her in any way. The reason is clear. Greene is an acolyte of Trump, and they do not want to alienate Trump or his millions of supporters. It’s all about votes. The rest of the Republicans in Congress were silent, with the exception of Liz Cheney who called Greene’s statements “an evil lunacy,” and Adam Kinzinger, who tweeted that Greene’s remarks amount to “absolute sickness.”

In the long run, condoning such outrageous behavior could erode support for the GOP, but McConnell, McCarthy and other congressional Republicans are not even thinking about the long run.  They are only concerned with the elections in 2022 and 2024, and they are counting on the short memory of American voters.

It occurred to me that the CEO’s of businesses have a similar strategy…but for different reasons. Instead of elections, they worry about the next quarterly earnings report. In many cases, their compensation is dependent on it. Or maybe even their job. Cutting back future plans for business expansion in order to prune current operating costs makes sense for them personally, even though the long-term success of the business might suffer from such short-sightedness. They are happy to leave that problem for their future successors.

Another area where short-sightedness threatens long-term prospects is the environment. The opposition of Republicans to any kind of environmental action always concentrates on the short-term negative economic effects of efforts to reduce environmental pollution. Sadly, a large part of the electorate seems to agree. They may see the long-term dangers, but don’t want to pay the economic price to address the problem. They are happy to kick it down the road and let future generations deal with it, even if that increases both the eventual cost and the risk to the habitability of the planet.

When you think about it, we all suffer from this malady. There is even a word for it…procrastination. It seems to be an unfortunate human trait. But while putting off painting the house might result in some extra expense to repair damage to unprotected surfaces, the cost of procrastination on environmental problems could be catastrophic.

It is unlikely that Republicans in Congress who ignore or condone Greene’s outrages will pay any price in the short term. We can only hope that future generations will judge Greene and her silent apologists, and vote accordingly.

Note: The stars that Jews were required to wear in Nazi Germany were actually yellow, not gold.

 


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