Raising the dialogue | Ott Observations

Not quite two years ago, I began writing letters to the editor, which eventually led to this column. I had an objective. I was frustrated by the level of almost any conversation about any topic of the day, with wild assumptions, unfounded opinions and name-calling being the standard.  

I began to pick a topic, take a position, and explain the reasoning and/or facts that supported my position.

I’ve received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. That’s fine, because that is what conversation about current topics is supposed to provoke. 

But the conversation has no real value if it is not grounded in an objective root cause understanding of the problems our nation faces or isn’t based on facts. How could anyone gain a different perspective on an issue unless they hear facts they weren’t aware of or a line of reasoning that challenges them to think differently?

One common failure is a lack of effort to understand cause and effect relationships. To illustrate this, I’ll share a criticism I received from a reader.  They asked why I never write about “Bidenflation,” high gas prices, the shortage of cars and the shortage of baby formula.  Their assumption/accusation is the election of President Joe Biden caused all these things.

Anyone attending college takes an “Introduction to Economics” class.  I came to two conclusions from my class. First, that economies are very complicated and even the leading economists can’t always agree on how to manage them. Second, supply and demand need to be in balance for an economy to thrive. When demand exceeds supply, prices go up until demand comes down.  When supply exceeds demand, prices go down to stimulate more demand.  This rebalancing always takes time and brings pain either to customers in terms of high prices or suppliers in terms of low sales and profits.

Any economist worth their degree would tell you the “cause” of inflation is that the demand for goods is exceeding the supply.  So why is that right now?  COVID brought economies throughout the world to a screeching halt. Getting suppliers back up to speed has proved difficult. Hiring people back hasn’t been easy.

Meanwhile, Russia – one of the world’s biggest suppliers of oil and natural gas – invaded Ukraine.  The Free World has responded by trying to boycott any Russian goods. The production of many goods, and the transportation of all goods, requires energy and fuel.  Boycotting Russia means the supply of fuel now is significantly less than the current demand.

Automobiles and most equipment now run on semiconductor chips. Almost all of them are made in the Far East, including China. Geopolitical instability like the tensions with China disrupts the supply of such components.

The leading U.S. producer of baby formula had a bacterial infection at its largest plant. Rather than spend the money to improve the plant, they decided to shut the plant down.  That significantly reduced the supply of baby formula.  Even the CEO of this company has admitted it is the “cause” of the baby formula shortage.

Pandemics, hot and cold wars, and self-focused profit decisions by corporations all dramatically impact economies and the delicate balance of supply and demand. Rather than making the effort to understand the causes of our economic troubles, too many people just assume the problems exist because we elected Biden. 

Coincidence that links separate events isn’t the same as a cause/effect relationship. It’s like kicking your beater car when it won’t start and then it magically starts. Good luck to you if you think kicking cars is the way to fix them.

Another failure of many issue discussions is ignoring facts, promoting falsehoods or not tying facts into a logical argument/conclusion. Another reader criticism will illustrate this. The reader challenged me to name just one thing Biden has done. Well, OK, let’s do that.  

Despite an obstructionist Republican party that has opposed almost all legislation, the Biden Administration has passed the following bills: 

• A COVID Recovery Act, which brought the economy back faster than anyone expected, and maybe too fast. 

• An infrastructure bill to build back America greater and provide better paying jobs.  

• A bill to subsidize the semiconductor industry in the U.S., to reduce dependence on China for computer chips we use in everything.  

• A bill to provide health benefits to veterans of our Middle East wars. 

• Most recently, a bill to allow government negotiation to reduce prescription drug prices, incentives to address climate damage, and selective taxation to begin to reduce our national deficit.  

Neutral government observers are calling Biden one of the most legislatively successful presidents of the modern era – after less than two years in office.

Maybe you still think the bluster of Donald Trump meant he was an aggressive and effective leader.  He started in office with a strong majority in both the House and the Senate. Did Trump repeal Obamacare and replace it with a better system, like he promised? No.  

Did Trump pass an infrastructure bill to make America better by employing Americans to build roads and bridges? No.

When I write my columns, I try to look at the cause of problems and use that to suggest solutions. I try to look at what is factual and connect what we know to arrive at a logical conclusion. I know I’m not perfect, but I try. 

If you read my column and disagree, I’d encourage you to make an equal effort to create a logical argument that supports your different view. We’re all better served by a dialogue that meets this higher standard.  

If our Congress could work at that standard, we would blow the doors off the world.

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Bill Ott

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