Do Problem Solvers Lack Vision?

Lynne Kiesling

Rich Karlgaard has an interesting column in Forbes riffing off of Virginia Postrel’s book The Future and Its Enemies. He recasts her dynamists and stasists as “opportunity seekers” and “problem-solvers”, and then goes looking for examples of these iconic types among politicians.

Postrel’s dynamists, or, as I call them, “opportunity seekers,” love charging into the unknown future. They trust that things will work out if people are free to work and create, using capital that is free to seek a return. Opportunity seekers, in fact, are bored by static problem solving. This does not mean they are shirkers. It’s just that they’d rather invent word processors than fix typewriters.

Problem solvers, on the other hand, see failure everywhere. They will grind away at a problem, even subsidizing past efforts that have never worked well and probably never will. Problem solvers tend to resist forward motion until all present-day problems are gone. Problem solvers get irritated–a stern bunch they are–when they see others frivolously seeking opportunity. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were opportunity seekers by nature. Al Gore and Hillary Clinton are problem solvers. George W. Bush is an opportunity seeker who has surrounded himself with problem solvers.

Starting with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Republicans have presented themselves as opportunity seekers. Theirs has been the party that favors lower taxes and less regulation, school choice and business without speed bumps. Even in the social arena, a sphere in which Democrats are supposed to be the innovators and Republicans the blockers, a more careful look shows the opposite to be true. Republican-tinged evangelical churches saw the opportunity to save souls. As a by-product of soul-saving, they have fed and clothed more of the world’s poor than have most government-backed aid agencies. …

Republicans will continue to win elections if they appeal to opportunity seekers. They’ll get trounced if they overreact to today’s polls and decide they must trade their opportunity-seeking philosophy for problem solving. America wants its political leaders to be optimistic about the future. We want to be shown the possibilities and opportunities–bold races to the moon, shining cities on a hill and bridges to the future. Politicians lose when they focus on problems.

I thought this was a particularly insightful observation. He then goes on to discuss immigration and those currently trying to “solve the problem”. You can add high gasoline prices to the list of problems that politicians think they need to solve.

Don’t solve problems; seek opportunities.

Hat tip: Stephen Karlson at Cold Spring Shops


2 thoughts on “Do Problem Solvers Lack Vision?

  1. Thanks for the shout-out. For the moment I’m using the dichotomy on a smaller level: do you put in sidewalks and then fence off the emergent paths, or do you let the emergent paths become the sidewalks? Northern Illinois does the former, Wisconsin the latter. What’s the practice at Northwestern?

  2. Perhaps the biggest issues with the “problem solvers” are: the percentage of the problems they are attempting to solve which they caused or contributed to originally; and, the new problems they create in the process of solving the old problems.

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