Paul Jacob

"Common sense," goes the old saying, "is not so common." Is this just cynicism? If so, why does it describe our political culture so well?

In governments across the nation, common sense is in short supply. Rise above the level of a dogcatcher, and, voilá, folly blooms. And not just in Washington, D.C. In the other Washington, too. And in Colorado. And in most other states, I bet.

Of course I realize the problem of a lack of common sense is not limited to politics. Everybody does something foolish, sometime. But when we are most prone to fail, there's one thing we can often count on: advice. Warnings. Alarmed shouts of "What the . . . ?"

Though the free advice industry rarely gets much praise, there's something I've noticed about a great deal of the advice I've heard: Much of it makes a lot of sense. Common sense.

Consider's today's most common advice: Eat a bit less. Exercise more. Save for "the unexpected." Don't sink all your investments into one stock or one commodity; diversify. Often, most of us would be better off if we followed good advice from friends and family.

But here's where it gets tricky. Though common sense can be found in abundance in much of the advice we get, it does not follow that our advisers are really capable of running our lives.

It doesn't even follow that, after our advisors were placed in charge, their advice would remain sound.

For instance, I'm confident that, after running my neighbor's life for a few months, the pearls of wisdom I had dispensed before would shrink to raisins of folly. Common sense in the advice biz isn't a fixed reservoir; it varies with power.

Fortunately, my neighbor doesn't take orders from me, nor I from him. But the idea isn't irrelevant. Perhaps one reason advice is generally good, as opposed to always off-base, is that the perspective one needs to come to good judgments is voided when being put in charge. Only a few people make good bosses. There's probably a reason for this.

It's worth a test. I wonder which social psychologist would be willing to take on the experiment. . . .

But maybe we don't need to test this at all. Maybe we have something already equivalent: government, politics.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.