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Good to be Wrong

If you make it your business to understand the world around you, as I do, it’s only fair to make a few predictions. Predicting what will happen and then going back and evaluating it later is the only real “reality check” that I have to see if I’m on the right path or going off on a long trip to nowhere. Naturally, I’m often wrong about things. Not just little things on a daily basis – that would be a tedious and long list. I’m talking about the big things that I think I understand but end up in one big “D’Oh!” moment.

The start of the summer campaign season seems like a good time to confess a few  predictions that were not only wrong but happily so. Here are three that I missed bigtime.

Faith Based Initiatives Back in the Gingrich years of the 1990s, there was a push to farm out a lot of what government does to nonprofits and other groups that were closer to the people that they served. That made sense to me. The part of this movement that seemed like a recipe for disaster was the inclusion and even emphasis on “Faith Based Initiatives,” a fancy way of saying churches, synagogues and mosques.

I predicted loudly to anyone that would listen that this would wind up blurring the lines between church and state, funneling money to people who did little more than push their own religion. That just hasn’t happened.

Why is that? The biggest mistake that I made is a classic middle-class one. A community of people on the fringes often has trouble getting organized. They pull together around what really matters to them and gives them strength, often nothing more than their faith. For example, Somali immigrants often rally around the local mosque as the center of daily life. Latinos might look to their Catholic church for things like day care and connections to health care. Why shouldn’t they?

What went especially right with faith based initiatives is that the Feds obviously found a way to allow the lines to blur without getting mired in details. I didn’t think this was even possible, but the clear lack of any serious problems shows that it must have happened. It’s all turned out good.

Concealed Carry In 2003, Minnesota changed the law that authorized local Sheriffs to issue concealed handgun permits from a standard where they could reject anyone for any reason to one that requires them to be issued to anyone who has a clean criminal record. I predicted disaster for what I thought were two very good reasons: It was a big change, and changes like this rarely go down smoothly, plus the new standard didn’t include any proof of competency like a license to drive a car.

What I predicted, specifically, was that there would be an event or two of horrible slaughter with a concealed handgun. That simply never happened. It’s also worth noting that crime hasn’t changed much, either, but if people feel they are safer with a gun it’s not worth taking away their rights without a good reason. There apparently isn’t one. I still bristle at the signs that say, “Our Business Prohibits Guns,” but I’ll get over it. This law hasn’t harmed anyone and made a few people feel safer. The gun owning community has clearly proven themselves very responsible with almost no supervision at all. Boy, was I wrong.

LGA One of the cornerstones of the mythical “Minnesota Miracle” is Local Government Aid (LGA). This is the money that is collected by the state and distributed to cities and towns in a way that is supposed to even out the burden of local revenues, generally property tax. It addresses inequities between cities and help those with the greatest needs for services stay afloat.

I’ve been challenged to write more about this by a commenter (I think it was you, Dan!) and I will do this next week. But first my confession.

Starting in 2003, this has been slashed as much as 40% in real terms. I predicted that the resulting decline in services and rise in property taxes would quickly slaughter cities and trigger flight to suburbs just when we could afford it the least. I am very happy to report that our cities have proven far more resilient than I thought and appear poised to be the first to rebound from the devastating burst of the housing bubble.

The increase in property taxes has been a terrible hardship that has caused terrible inequities that I think need to be addressed, I realize. But our cities have found amazing ways to economize. For example, Saint Paul’s Parks and Recreation just decided to focus more on static fields and ballparks rather than buildings and programs, the latter coming more from community partnerships and cooperation with the School District. This will probably create stronger communities where it works as well as saving some serious cash.

As we move ahead and fix the terrible mess that is our state budget, I think we should seriously consider clearer lines of responsibility than the old system of aid created and have the state focus on initiatives that address inequity between communities – like helping the vacant housing problem with renovation grants and tax deferment as per the “This Old House” program that expired in the 1990s. This, coupled with some new tools for local governments to raise money, might be a more effective and stable system for the next 40 years.

These three things are far from the only predictions I’ve blown. They’re probably not the biggest either. But they are three things I could think of where I’m glad that it didn’t go anywhere near as badly as I’ve feared – and I think I’ve learned something.

Sometimes, it’s just good to be wrong.

16 thoughts on “Good to be Wrong

  1. Be careful not to give the tea party types too much credit. Just because everything they do isn’t a complete disaster doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

  2. I think it’s way too early to proclaim that we do not need LGA. We may not have been devastated by the cuts but these things can take a lot of time to sink in. Things may be OK where you are but I worry about some parts of Minneapolis especially.

  3. Jim: My goal is to have the people who right now seem really disruptive and bullying be a part of a constructive debate that helps us all move forward. I’ve spent some time and bandwidth pointing out where they are dangerous, you can be sure. But we’re not going to move ahead without working together. I think it’s a sign of strength to admit when we’re wrong – and that’s easiest for me when I’m happy to be wrong.

    Janine: I don’t mean to imply that we don’t need LGA, but I’d like to get our political debate focused on clearly defined roles and what it is that we really need to do for a good life in Minnesota. The current situation is all about Pawlenty’s gimmicks and saying “No” to everything – and it’s no good for everyone. But the old way may not be one we can or should go back to, either, especially if we can come up with a better idea. I think it’s worth talking about. If I had all the answers I’d never be wrong, would I? 🙂

  4. “Just because everything they do isn’t a complete disaster doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.”

    Keep waiting there, bigfella.

    “the new standard didn’t include any proof of competency like a license to drive a car”

    Actually, the training course serves that purpose; you need to know the applicable law and show you can shoot competently. I shot a 149 out of 150. Just saying.

    As to LGA – Hmmm. I smell a debate!

  5. Great post. We can all learn from the things we’ve been wrong about. Maybe in the future we won’t be as quick to jump to a prediction/conclusion based on emotions associated with hot button topics like this.

    As for the concealed gun thing, I admittedly don’t know very many people who carry a gun around, or maybe I do and I just don’t know it–but the only person I know who does, is my cousin, who is a 30-something single guy who is extremely intelligent and nonviolent–his only problem, if you can call it one, is feeling like it is necessary for him to pack some heat with him wherever he goes, “just in case.” To my knowledge he has never used a gun for anything but target practice. He doesn’t even hunt. He has never been in a fistfight, to my knowledge. And hardly anyone knows he’s carrying.

    /rambling comments

  6. One of your better articles lately and I gotta admit I like your honesty and humility. I kinda got into an arguement with a friend over educational inequities and is education coming to be the lever that we would hope it to be . Or as I sometimes “feel” (whatever that means). That it is more of a stratifier. I always knew it was a gatekeeper. It is interesting as I have been an adult in a university neighborhood and talked to those with higher degrees as to how many had predecessors in their family be it a father or other relative. My brother went to one of Minnesota’s most select universities and it like he never had a chance emotionally, he couldn’t see down the road or what the point of all this competitive juice was. Anyways the first google search I did ended up with Chomsky on democracy and education. I am starting to read what I hope to be a great book “The evolution of childhood” 900 pages. Maybe I’ll share some tidbits later as right now it feels good in my gut. The landscaping and garage work can wait. May have to do a small mural another time. Best to you!!

  7. Molly,

    Maybe in the future we won’t be as quick to jump to a prediction/conclusion based on emotions associated with hot button topics like this.

    Or, ideally, make better predictions.

    Or in the case of “shall-issue”, just journey mentally back in time and remember what good ol’ Mitch was saying 15 years ago, as the muted “I Told You Sooooooo…” echoes through the ether… 🙂

    To my knowledge he has never used a gun for anything but target practice. He doesn’t even hunt. He has never been in a fistfight, to my knowledge. And hardly anyone knows he’s carrying.

    In other words – exactly the kind of guy we proponents said would be the vast majority of applicants.

  8. 2 things. 1. there is a great blog named bird chick about birding. 2. Please write someday on the infrastructure of consumption and /or production. Back in the paul samuelson economic textbook days one arguement was that the supply side favored real investment i.e. robotics, R&D etc. etc.. Now I’m not sure that arguement holds up. This infrastuctre of …&… could probably fill up two lengthy textbooks. And the arguement could make for 2 or 3 nifty pamphlets. Looking some day for your thoughts on this. Please keep it somewhat basic, not too techy. Smiles!!

  9. Dan, that’s sort of where I want to go next. I hope that next week I can tackle an assignment you gave me a while ago on the Minnesota Miracle – turns out it was a LOT harder to track down good information on the origins and goals than I thought. But I’ve been thinking about production, consumption, and the infrastrutucture that delivers stuff a lot lately. Interesting that we both were thinking of this. What’s your reason for bringing it up?

    Oh, and birdchick is an excellent blog, yes! 🙂

  10. Well i thought some of the other reader’s comments were kinda lame, sorry but I sometimes lack tact. Also I get sorta tired of the 2 1/2 camp politics. Honestly besides losing my job in 2008 and some wealth (which has kinda rebounded); One of the things that hurt me most was the charade of it all. Now I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I am well read and kinda original and I honestly hoped my minor skin in the form of an IRA mutual fund was actually doing something good i.e. productive. Instead of it being such a casino which I probably knew it was.
    Anyhow you may know that I am a BIG fan of “the structure of everday life” historical version. and I’ve seen a book where they empty out the house of an american family and photograph/ compare its contents to that of a 2nd or 3rd world family. But it hit me lately maybe that is only 1/2 of the picture. I mean like maybe I have 1/1000 of a grocery store backing me up, and 40 acres and 1/10,000 of an oil well. Then you can get into the infrastructure of production visa vi consumption and that can be another whole kind of ball game.
    Anyway i apologize a bit for this ramble. I also had a good work experience today. I drive disabled persons to their destinations and usually it is pretty routine. Today I had a group load and one of the riders was getting under my skin (she was retarded) instead of suppressing or stewing over this mild irritation when the next rider got on I knew him and I played the game of metro transit bus rider where I call out names of street corners and/ or pretend to be a tour guide and point out houses that were formerly corner groceries etc ( and the history of refrigeration) that’s my style and I had 2-3 guys whooping it up and really enjoying the moment.

  11. Plus foreign policy mag. electronic edition has had some truly heartbreaking pictures lately of Afghanistan in the 60’s (these are positive pictures)
    and staged pictures of NY mexican workers dressed up in super hero costumes doing their service work (also positive images)
    Also the latest Natl Geographic has some great pictures of Greenland. Life is pretty good.

  12. Dan, you had me until those last couple comments. They were pretty lame. Maybe you should lay off the vodka.

    PS it’s “vis a vis.”


  13. Molly I apologize if I hurt your feelings there was no alcohol involved. Just read a mennonite post today where he accused the academics of just writing for the academics and never getting to the lay level. I know my writing is slapdash but if I tidied it up to higher and higher levels it would probably not get written or shared (and perhaps that would be a good thing me being a poor SD kid with mostly state education). Anyways sometimes I drive for 11 hours a day at work, have 2 teenage kids and I’m in the same mess as pretty much 50% or more of the population is in. And to be honest with you I probably know where Mitch Berg is coming from and where he is going to he is predictable as a bull who smells heat.
    The author is Hauerwas Stanley. Are we there yet? Plus in retrospect I think it should have been Robert Samuelson not Paul.

  14. Now Erik back to this infrastructure of consumption and production. In a simple way after reading a “serious” book on the irish potato famine. The objective facts were something like the average irishman ate 8 lbs of potatoes /day and it was probably washed down with a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk / day with a few spring greens and whatever else was grown or foraged it was a pretty complete diet. That irishman could probably see everything that supported him and his family in their simple hut on marginal land. Once the famine came the best grain was still exported and cheap corn (which is incomplete unless fortified with other foodstuffs) came to be the staple. Really you can go across history and even to this present day and imagine/visualize to a brief extent the peasant lifestyle. Think young Abe Lincoln even.

  15. Pingback: Four Years On | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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