There Are No Solutions, Only Tradeoffs?

Looking at the return of corporal punishment

4 min readSep 8, 2022


Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

Economists always say: There are no solutions, only tradeoffs. What does that mean? Problem A has temporary fix B or C, but B creates new problem Y and C creates long-term effect Z.

In the long run, the choice between B or C ends up a tradeoff between problem A and new problem Y or long-term effect Z.

When decision makers are too busy debating the merits of B over C, and the tradeoffs aren’t factored into the equation, the merits of B or C are mistakenly referred to as solutions.

In 1977 the Supreme Court decided corporal punishment was constitutional but left its application or abolishment up to the states, and the states left the matter up to each school district.

At the turn of the century, the United Nations began an in-depth international study on violence against children, and an organization called “Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment Of Children” was formed to end the practice world-wide. There were 19 states in America that allowed corporal punishment, and these states followed the global trend and studied whether the practice should be abolished. Their studies concluded paddling was a “swift punishment”, but it didn’t get to the root of the problem. Plus, the threat of lawsuits made school administrators seek alternative measures.

Cassville School District in Missouri decided to banned corporal punishment in 2001. Let’s examine that decision through tradeoffs.

Problem A: The fear of lawsuits. Choice B: Eliminate the threat by banning corporal punishment. This created new problem Y: Working parents did not want their children suspended because they didn’t want to leave a suspended child unsupervised at home. Apparently, the absence of the school district’s “swift punishment” led to long-term effect Z: The gradual increase in behavioral problems throughout the school district.

In the long run, Cassville School District traded off their fear of lawsuits for more disciplinary problems.

Last year an anonymous survey revealed that parents, students, and school staff were concerned about the breakdown in school discipline and Cassville School District reinstated…




J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.