Neil Tambe

Husband, Father, Citizen, Professional.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

What if it’s not “the system” that’s broken?

In 2018 America, it’s not uncommon to hear that our politics are broken. Our political system, the logic goes, is what causes our national ailments, such as: income inequality, climate, diminishing productivity growth, the opioid crisis, depression, mass shootings, and the like. 

Only, if only, we fixed our political system our problems would go away. What makes me skeptical is that people say this about systems all the time, and it doesn’t prove out.

People in corporations say their computer is broken, but it’s often user error. People often say, “if we had a better database or better software we could operate better”, but the real issue is often bad processes or management. People often try different diets (which are in effect systems) and blame the diet if it doesn’t work.

Sometimes the issue really is the system, I’m definitely not denying that. I’m just suggesting that being skeptical of the “its the system” argument is reasonable because humans are notorious for blaming systems when the problem is really their own behavior.

So what if the only reason for all our national ailments isn’t the broken system? What if part of it is us? It seems to me that it could be.

What if we weren’t so greedy - would we have an opioid crisis? What if we weren’t so self-centered, might we see that paying a wage could be about more than market rates? If we spent more time getting to know our neighbors might we be able to make a future trigger puller less isolated and lonely? If we were better managers at work, might everyone be less stressed and able to take more vacation? If we chose to carpool and consume only what we needed, might we have a greener planet? If managers treated their employees more humanely might they create more impact and  bring less stress home to their families?

Systems matter, but no system I’ve ever seen works well if people aren’t at least somewhat civil and decent toward each other. On the bright side, how we treat others is largely in our own control - we don’t need anyone else to fix it for us.

Maybe, to heal our national ailments it’s not the system that needs to change. Maybe, just maybe, at least in part, it’s us.