Archive » August 24, 2007
IT'S JUST MY OPINION
By Harris Sherline
Are greedy corporations or “the rich” the cause of our society’s ills, real or perceived, or is it politicians who think they can solve every problem simply by passing more laws? Newspaper columns are filled with in-depth analysis about causes, pundits pontificate, experts and editors opine at length, but few real solutions are ever forthcoming.
In his “Monday Morning Memorandum” of Oct., 28, 2002, California State Assemblyman Ray Haynes said, “I used to think I was a genius. I admit it was a flash of ego, but I thought I had hit upon the most unique insight during my time in the legislature. After about six years there, I began to notice something about the way we did business. No one else seemed to notice it, so I thought it was a brilliant insight. The insight was simple. It seemed that most of what we did in the Legislature was to fix the very problems we created. We would pass some law or regulation. That law or regulation would create another problem, usually unanticipated at the time we passed the first law. We would then pass another law or regulation to fix that problem. The fix would cause more problems, and so on and so on.”
“The problems in California today are easy to chronicle. Our houses and apartments cost too much, our freeways are overcrowded, our budget is seriously out of balance, and we are running out of water, electricity, and gasoline. All these problems are caused by too much government. Each of the solutions proposed by the Sacramento politicians to fix the problems leads to more government.”
How Many Bills Are Passed By The State Legislature?
To illustrate Assemblyman Haynes point, consider the number of pieces of legislation that are on the agenda of California’s Legislature every year. The 2001-2002 legislative calendar provides a clue. There were a total of 5,813 legislative matters considered; On the Assembly side, 3,061 Assembly Bills, 26 Constitutional Amendments, 251 Concurrent Resolutions, 64 Assembly Joint Resolutions and 97 House Resolutions (total 3,499). The Senate’s agenda included 2,101 Senate Bills, 18 Constitutional Amendments, 107 Concurrent Resolutions, 53 Senate Joint Resolutions, and 35 Senate Resolutions (total 2,314). The combined total of the agendas for both houses was 5,816 legislative matters.
Compare that to the number of legislators in Sacramento, 40 Senators and 80 Assemblymembers. That equates to a total of about 58 bills, constitutional amendments, etc., per legislator in a single legislative year. On the other side, Assembly members had 3,499 matters on their agenda or an average of about 44 each. If you factor that for, say, the last 10 years, that’s almost 58,000 legislative actions during the period. Think about that! Over 58,000 legislative actions over a 10-year period.
How many of those bills solved the problems they were intended to fix? How many were nothing more than pork-barrel gifts to constituents or lobbyists? And, how many of them did our representatives have time to actually read and understand? I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I could read and understand as many as 40 or 50 bills a day, no matter how competent my staff might be.
According to then Assemblyman Haynes, a lot of the bills are enacted just to fix something else the legislature fouled up with prior legislation.
“It seemed that most of what we did in the Legislature was to fix the very problems we created,” he said.
The Law of Unintended Consequences
And so the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head again, and again, and again, as more and more legislation is piled up by an endless cycle of people being elected to office at all levels of government, local, state and Federal, who think they have the answers to or can solve our problems.
Consider just one example; the shortage of affordable housing in Santa Barbara County, which in reality is more than our Board of Supervisors can actually resolve. Can it be that they are not smart enough or do not have sufficient insight into the causes? Or is it that they simply do not understand the impacts that many of their actions have on development, such as the cumulative effects of the fees that are imposed on new construction for parks, schools, roads, etc? Not too long ago, the total fees for development of new subdivisions in Santa Barbara County amounted to around $40,000 per home. That’s $40,000 buyers must absorb before a single piece of dirt is moved or the first nail is pounded into a form or frame. The money certainly doesn’t come from the pockets of the developers. It simply becomes part of the cost of development and construction and is not only included in the price but is marked-up in the process.
What’s The Answer?
The answer always seems to be more government requirements or actions—subsidized housing, development fees, increased density allowances, federal grants, rent control laws, state mandates to cities and counties to increase the “affordable” housing in their land use zoning, etc. None of these solve anything, and every time legislative action is taken, all that happens is that the problem continues to get worse and taxes and or fees are increased to pay for the very solutions that aggravate the situation.
Applying this process to the total number of governmental entities that collect and spend our tax dollars, it’s not difficult to understand that thousands upon thousands of laws are continuously being put on the books, adding new layers of complexity and contradiction to the multitude of issues that we face in our daily lives. Commenting on this phenomenon, Milton Friedman noted, "Most of the energy of political work is devoted to correcting the effects of mismanagement of government."
As Tony Snow said, "When politicians rush to fix things, it's a sure sign that either the intended patient is dead or fully healed."
But, that’s just my opinion.
© 2007 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved