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Monday, April 29, 2013

why is "penny wise, pound foolish" such a hackneyed expression?

"Penny wise, pound foolish," was first written in a book in the 1600's by the British author Robert Burton. It's an idiom that means one chooses tiny gains over expensive losses, usually seen over time. For example, I could choose not to put money in my retirement account, so that I can go out to dine more often now, but I will miss out on, not only on dining out at all when I'm too old to work, but also, more likely, affording more important living expenses. A similar idiom, "cutting off your nose to spite your face," is related. It is an even older expression, meaning to overreact to a problem and create long term damage to a short term situation. If my allergies are really bad, although I may wish to cut off my nose, I know that doing so, to ease my immediate discomfort, would make my life even more miserable.

It seems to me, that many of my fellow citizens, are not aware of the wisdom in these idioms.

I know I am long-winded so I'm trying to keep this short.

Some citizens do not think that social programs benefit them directly, and only help lazy people who are gaming the system. So those politicians who advocate for these programs are accused of communism, socialism, collectivism and other words, whose definitions are not even understood by those who speak them. But those social programs will actually save them money over the decades. Those programs might even be of use in their own lives if circumstances beyond their control should arise. Here is a recent article about how the very expensive prison system has replaced the much more efficient mental health system.

It's difficult for politicians to advocate for economic positions that will not benefit their constituents before the next election cycle. It's even harder if the position assists the poor. I understand why politicians often resort to exaggeration, of not outright lying, to assuage a penny wise voting bloc.

It seems to me, that the voting bloc, in general, which tend to vote in the best interests of others, are often linked with godlessness. Yet their actions look more like the wisdom of the greatest religious teacher in history, who said, the 2nd greatest command of God is to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. That teacher claims that the way we treat the neediest in our society is the way we treat God himself. One of his original followers wrote, I'll show you my beliefs by what I do, even devils believe in God.

In answer to the question in the title of this post, it's an overused expression because we humans in general, have such a hard time thinking past today, so we keep choosing short term gains and long term losses. We are fools.

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