Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Benefits of Social Pollution

Like water pollution, global climate change, and toxic waste, social pollution generates costs and benefits. Like pollution of the natural environment the costs and benefits are not spread evenly. The costs and benefits of social pollution aren't as clear as one might think, if one thought about the subject of social pollution.

Who benefits from social pollution you might ask? Well, almost all of us benefit from social pollution at one time or another. Some of us obviously benefit much more than others do. Men, women, government officials, social activists, entrpreneurs (including this blogger). nonprofit staff, the clergy, and writers all benefit from social pollution in some way, at some time.

Consider the belief that wealth equals happiness. Businesses make money by printing the tickets. Government workers get work regulating the conduct of state lotteries. You get to fantasize about lounging on a tropical beach. Conservative preachers and liberal social critics get plenty of ammunition for their speeches/sermons/polemics/rants. Social workers and counselors get work when the myth of lottery jackpot bliss screws up peoples' lives so severely that outside help is required.

Policies and programs can be based on good ideas or on bad ideas. It doesn't matter which policies and programs are based on what ideas; the equation stays the same. We benefit psychologically when one of our preferences is realized in the form of a government program. Government contractors, police, social workers, and nonprofit staff benefit regardless of whether a social program is working or not.

A sense that things are "going the right way" or that something is being done often trumps the need to create rational and reasonable ideas, programs, and policies. The chance tt make money or to exercise power over society (or some part of it) also plays a part.

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