Sunday, May 07, 2017

Notes From My Knapsack 5-20-17

Notes From My Knapsack 5-20-17

Jeff Gill


What shall we do, then



Calvin Coolidge is not one of our more beloved presidents of the United States, in large part because he didn't care about being loved, and I love him for that.


He has had a number of great quotes attributed to him, ironically for such a taciturn man, and one of my favorite goes like this: "If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you."


As a chief executive, he was in favor of inaction. This isn't how you make a great name for yourself, historically speaking. Because folks tend to think there's stuff that has to be done, right now. Lots of stuff. Always.


Arguing that most problems are better solved by letting someone else deal with it isn't how you get re-elected, either. Coolidge famously didn't care much about that, and got his wish.


Sometimes, elected officials just plain have to do something. Either the budget has to be cut, or revenues increased, wars declared when invasion is imminent or after attacks happen, proclamations made.


Other times, it may be time for an elected official to say to their electorate "I know you want me to do something, but I'm not going to." I've been involved in historic preservation commissions and neighborhood associations and community groups, and one thing I have learned: everyone has something they want their neighbor to stop doing. Or start doing, now.


Homeowners associations wish they could get houses to improve their landscaping and put the kids' wheeled vehicles in the garage, along with the trash totes. Downtown businesses would like the village to guarantee fifteen parking spaces open within direct eyeshot of their front door for them, and no one else. School officials wish every child registered as a student in their district came every day to classes unless they were really, truly, honestly sick. Fire fighters wish citizens would just for pity's sake throw out all the stuff they're never going to use and not clutter up their homes with stuff they have to step over if a squad run comes to that address.


Do more rules, more restrictions, more consequences lead to a better community? Is there any evidence or examples that show this is the case? Yet we act as a commonweal as if this were a proven fact.


I confess that I am a firm believer in the law. But not in the Ohio Revised Code or ordinances of the Village of Granville, which by the by I've sworn not one but two separate oaths to protect and defend, not counting my oath of enlistment years ago committing me to do the same for our United States Constitution. The law I really believe in is called "The Law of Unintended Consequences."


It's a hard law to interpret, and I'm no lawyer (cue chuckling from all my legal friends out there). What it adds up to is that I'm very much a skeptic about any new law, regulation, or guideline (with penalties for violations) for which we're not fairly clear on how it will apply in practice.


Such as: how will people deal with the new expectations? Are there as many paths to evasion as there are for compliance? And what will that outcome look like?


We're looking at one version of that with the health care bill muddling through Congress. What happens if 10 million people drop coverage because they will no longer pay a penalty for no coverage? Because yes, people do stuff like that. You can't operate in an "ideal world" set of outcomes.


Likewise for school drug testing. Have we thought through all the possible responses? I'm not sure we have yet. Is doing nothing an option? Maybe not, but the question may really be about who it is that must act.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your adventures in unintended consequences at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.