I don’t mean this as political commentary, but my initial thought about the tax compromise reached yesterday is how easily temporary becomes permanent. President Bush was only able to pass his tax cuts because he promised they would be temporary, set to expire at the end of 2010. Now we’re here, and what once had to be temporary in order to fit within the budget now has to be permanent in order not to raise people’s taxes.
Here’s the lesson: temporary is a big first step toward permanent. Say that your controversial move is only temporary and you’re three quarters of the way there.
For example, if you want to broaden the doctrinal stance of your church or school, hire a pastor or professor who doesn’t quite line up with your doctrinal statement. Announce that this person is the exception—do you know how hard it is to find Baptists with doctorates in science?—and soon he will be the rule. He will be the reason you hire other exceptions, and eventually the reason why you’ll change your doctrinal statement to make them fit.
Need to lower your expenses? Tell your employees that this year, on a temporary basis, we need everyone to take a 10% pay cut. How many businesses ever make up that 10%? Don’t they tend to make your lower pay the new floor, so when they give you a cost of living increase the following year they congratulate you on your new raise?
We need more integrity. Don’t be fooled into accepting undesirable decisions on the grounds they are only temporary. Once the decision goes through, it might only be temporary, but it’s never going to change.
Update: Tom Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times includes the following paragraph:
Surely the cynical quote of the week — courtesy of The Daily Beast — goes to Dan Bartlett, the former George W. Bush administration spokesman who was speaking about the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that Bush “temporarily” put in place a decade ago: “We knew that, politically, once you get it into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it. That’s not a bad legacy. The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.”