Monday, April 4, 2011

Simple but Not Easy Solutions

There are some simple solutions—and non-governmental solutions at that—for some of the world’s bigger problems. However, simple does not necessarily mean easy. Here are a few:

AIDs in Africa: Regardless of medical breakthroughs, this disease can be eradicated in Africa if every person refuses to have sex outside of marriage and refuses to marry anyone who has had sex outside of marriage. Within a single generation the disease would be gone. Impossible? Not impossible, but improbable until the people change their culture so that adultery is no longer condoned and expected, but shamed. I read a book a couple of years ago called Influencer, The Power to Change Anything, by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, and McMillan (, which illustrated a couple of very difficult problems in Africa (as well as elsewhere) that were solved, or at least greatly reduced, by using cultural change. It was not an obvious approach, but it worked. (Worth reading.) I don’t think AIDs was mentioned in the book, but I believe the approach could work.

AIDS in the US could be eradicated the same way, with the addition that illegal drug use (and needle sharing) is an additional cause, so if everyone also refused to use illegal drugs, the problem could be solved here in a generation as well. Not to mention the drug war would be over, because with no market the illegal dealers would leave. Simple cultural solution, but not easy.

How about poverty? There is a formula for getting out of and/or avoiding poverty in the US:
  1. Don’t have sex before age 20.
  2. Have sex only within marriage.
  3. Stay married.
  4. Obtain at least a high school diploma.
(I did not make up this formula. I know the family expert I got it from, but at the moment I’m not able to lay my hands on the documentation, so I’ll have to keep looking.) Following that formula works more than 90% of the time, maybe 98%. Failure to follow this formula does not guarantee a lifetime of poverty, but it does greatly increase the probability. For those who already live in poverty who fail to follow the formula, their odds of getting out of poverty are discouraging at best. The answer, then, is not more government aid; the answer is passing along the cultural capital of morality, along with at least minimal education in basic math and reading. Again, the answer to poverty is simple, but not easy.

Speaking of education, at a time when high school graduation rates hover around a mere 50%, and among those graduates are a shockingly high number of functional illiterates (young people cheated out of the education they were guaranteed), I have a simple but not easy solution. Let every parent personally direct the education of their own children. Thank heavens this was the pattern when our nation was founded, when it was difficult to find a non-reading adult, or a person who couldn’t figure basic math well enough to carry out his trade, and when a surprising number of learned men valued liberty and God-given rights. The pattern was to be homeschooled through the first reading and math levels, then possibly share costs with other parents at a local private school. Then a young person chose a profession and apprenticed to learn in more depth in his field from a master. The professionals and leadership class were trained by private tutors. (For more, consider reading A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver DeMille, ( I was at a homeschool conference once, in the market area at a booth where this book was being sold, and the educator there told me that it was the “most subversive book in the room.” That might be an exaggeration, but I did find the book useful as a parent/teacher.)

What about parents who can’t or won’t educate their own children? How about we trust the combination of free market and philanthropy to handle the problem? Businesses, and the population in general, have an interest in an educated populous. If we could provide scholarships to the hard-working indigent, we might identify the very individuals that should have greater opportunities. And we might be able to at least pass along basics to those who, because of their own will combined with their background, are destined to remain in the lower classes, to give them the skills for making an honest if meager living. This is a step up from what we’re offering now by way of government institutions.

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