Eisenhower and Opportunity Costs

I took the kids to Abilene this summer.

Because, you know, it’s where all the kids want to go.

Mainly, of course, it was for my oldest son.

Eisenhower isn’t Sam’s favorite, by far (he could give you the ordered list, if you’d like), but he is quite enamored of anything having to do with victory over the Nazis, plus, it’s a Presidential Library in Kansas, so you can’t miss it.

I had this quote, in Decisive, in my head when I was there:

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants each serving a town of 60,000 people. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people” (Eisenhower, 1953, on p. 45).

Set aside, for a moment, the obvious: Holy different Republican Party, no?

Because the point that Decisive was making, and that I am struck with, is that we must acknowledge opportunity costs in our advocacy.

We must account for them in weighing the policy options that we advocate, instead of (guilty as charged, here) pretending that our new policy innovations are all ‘upside’.

We must include them in our consideration about whether or not to even advocate in the first place, since there are obvious costs to directing our energy to these social change goals, sometimes including the expense of pulling us away from the provision of vital services.

We strengthen our case, I believe, when we demonstrate that we have accounted for the loss of these alternative activities, as valuable as they may be. And we can use opportunity costs to our advantage is pushing against proposed policies, too, sometimes by arguing that, as laudable as a particular objective may be, it may not be enough to be worth what we would have to give up in return.

When and where do you calculate opportunity costs in your organization? In your advocacy? What challenges do you face in this accounting? And, when you’re honest with yourself, what are the opportunity costs that haunt you the most?

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