Seductive Simplicity

I’ve always been suspicious of a solution to a problem that seems too easy. Problems are seldom simple — if they were, they wouldn’t be problems. But for some time I’ve wrestled with two such elegantly simple proposed solutions, and I can’t find the flaws in them. So I figured I’d toss them out to the readers, and let you point out where I’m being clueless.

1) In Robert Heinlein’s Expanded Universe, he includes a short story where a new president “solves” a bunch of nettling issues. The one that always stuck with me was the issue of nuclear waste.

Heinlein cites the example of petroleum — one of the most valuable and versatile substances in the world. In ancient Roman times, they used it as a minor medicine, but mostly just wasted it. Today, we’d kill for what they disposed of, and even today most of it we simply burn it, turning it into toxic pollution.

Similarly, who knows what use future generations would find for what we call nuclear waste? Heinlein suggests mixing it into some form of concrete, making bricks out of it, and stacking it in the middle of the desert. And try as I might, I can’t see any insurmountable problems with this solution.

The other is the current fight over social security. Howie Carr is a talk-show host, columnist, and general gadfly around Boston. He’s in his early 50’s, and whenever the subject of Social Security comes up, he confidently says he’ll never see a dime of it. He puts forth the following offer: he will waive any and all future Social Security benefits in exchange for an end to withholding. In other words, the Social Security Administration can keep every penny they’ve taken from him in over 30 years if they’ll only stop taking any more of his money.

And I’m just libertarian enough to wonder why he can’t do that. I’m sure he’s paid plenty into the system, and quite possibly more than he’ll ever recoup, so why not?

OK, now I’ll just sit back and wait to see how fast these two get shot down.


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