Saturday, July 25, 2009

Miracles, Public and Private

Even as things get better, we find plenty to complain about. Our burden is a happiness that cannot last.

Chronic human discontent encourages a stream of extravagant promises, one miracle cure after another. Sometimes, these promises are small: know the future, find true love, lose weight, grow hair, or get rich quick.

Sometimes, these promises are big; end income inequality, manage climate change, provide quality health care for everyone, or put every child through college.

In principle, big miracle programs are no different than the little miracle products sold in infomercials. Both appeal to our chronic discontent. We are told "This way lies happiness."

The difference is in who pays and for how long. Private miracles are individual expenses and private disappointments. It's easy to deal with that kind of disappointment; just don't buy that promise again.

But everybody pays for the promise of public miracles, and there's no easy way to get out of the deal when it fails to deliver happiness or it costs more than you expected.

We are constantly reminded that we should be wary of miracle products, and rightly so. But we should be doubly wary of miracle programs. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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