From ideas by Ari Armstrong
Bad as the US Congress and the House of Commons in London, Ottawa, and Canberra are, many State and provincial legislatures are just as bad. We can argue that some (California and Ontario come to mind) are even worse.
Many people, with the best of intentions, run for state and provincial legislative seats. And win and go to Denver, or Regina, or Pierre, eager to make a difference.
And fail. They get sucked into the system – the “good ole boy” network. The politics-as-usual. The idea of compromising to get things done, of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” But the major problem is the same reason that they run – idealistically and eager to “serve.” The belief that government is the best (if not only) way to solve problems.
And the related idea that if government causes problems and fails to solve problems, the answer is to “reform” government.
Ari’s ideas seem to be based on these premises. Don’t get me wrong. Barry is a good thinker, a good analyst. But it is easy to fall into the trap that government is essential. And I fear he has done that.
Even so, his questions, that he wishes legislators would consistently ask themselves before sponsoring a bill are definitely worth thinking about. I’ve expanded on some of these from the original question, and added some comments.
* Is this action – this bill – the proper role of government? Lots of good ideas become bad ideas when implemented by State agents: that is, the government. Why? In the final analysis, governments impose their will by brute physical force or threat thereof.
* Does existing legislation -laws and past spending and projects – already adequately address the matter at hand? If so, the new bill is basically a publicity stunt. (An example is the current action in Congress to make lynching a “federal hate crime.” “Executing” someone even if done by a mob or a kangaroo court is already a crime, and multiple crimes are committed by those who kill like that. Padding the charge sheet does NOTHING effective to reduce such or punish such things. It is strictly for show.)
* Does the problem at hand rise to the level of a priority for government? Not only does government have limited resources, but it also has limited powers – usually conveniently ignored in the rush to “do something.”
* Does a bill inappropriately impose costs on some private parties in an effort to solve a “public” problem? If so, the bill is unfair. (But then, life is unfair, we are reminded.) But more to the point, are those private parties the cause of the public problem, or just a convenient way for government to try to solve the problem. We also have to address a major fallacy of “lawmaker” thinking: that throwing more money at a problem is going to solve the problem.
* Does the bill seek the least-intrusive (and controlling) and least-costly way to address a problem, or does it overreach and reward special interests? This is really two questions. And triggers another, more important, question: does this actually solve the problem or it an excuse for more intrusion, more spending and costs, more overreach, and MORE kowtowing to special interests. AND the friends of legislators, the companies that are already the beneficiaries of what amounts to corporate welfare, and the like.
* Does a proposed legislative solution account for so-called unintended consequences, or does it blindly manipulate people, pass out incentives, and punish actions, all without thought to outcomes? Perhaps this is another way of asking “does this action really improve our community, our State, our nation or are we just thinking we are solving one problem while creating or making other problems worse?
As good as these questions are, virtually EVERY PIECE OF LEGISATION is going to answer these questions with a resounding NO.
Because the real root of the problems these questions address is a much more simple question. A question that honest people can answer, time and again, with that some resounding NO.
Should government have the power to DO these things at all?
Not just, but especially the State governments and above all, the United States Congress.
The fact that we need to ask all these questions shows that the legislation introduced takes for granted that government does and should have the power that it does.