Tuesday, December 14, 2010

They Aren't Superheroes... Hell, They Aren't Even Above Average

It has long been a staple of conservative thought that Governmental organizations mess up everything that they touch, and so are better off touching as little as possible. Many of us do not understand why this is other than to assume that the people in government are stupid or dull or misled or… or… or…

Sometimes, we are right. Sometimes, we are wrong.

Sometimes, the motive is evil, unadulterated thirst for power. Sometimes, the result is merely an unfortunate result of unitended consequences (a necessary result of any governmental action, explained quite eloquently here by the esteemed and brilliant Francis Porretto. Go. Read.)

The law of unintended consequences is unswervable and all-encompassing for government-related ukases and determinations. I think we all can see this happening daily – pass healthcare that costs more, and stocks go down after the companies effected take the write-down as they are required by law; pass a law in California banning the sale of large-screen TVs, and a new business plan is hatched in Nevada where huge electronics stores are erected on the border between the two states selling – yup, you guessed it – large screen TVs; or, take a more recent example, which hit me much more closely to home here recently.

In the spirit of protecting our environment and our river from pollutants, our county representatives banned the sale of phosphate-containing dish soaps and detergents in our county. Not wanting to start jailing people for the possession of phosphate-containing soaps, they didn’t write the law to ban possession, importation, or even USE of these soaps – no, you just can’t sell them in our county.

My first reaction was “so what?” How important can phosphates really be in cleaning dishes, and if it helps the river to be more healthy, that is great! Apparently, to answer my first question, they are very important. My dishes were coming out of the dishwasher with a sickening film of yuck all over them due to the new, phosphate free soap (of which there was only one option for the first year of the law).

So, what does every citizen who cares about clean dishes in Spokane County now do? Drive 10 minutes across the border into Idaho and Kootenai County to buy stocks of dish soap and “smuggle” it back across the border. The government rule has accomplished nothing but the unintended consequence of driving the tax revenue for dish soap sales not only into an adjacent county, but into a completely different state! The rule, itself, would likely have accomplished very little, as the river in question flows through several counties in Montana, Idaho, and Washington, all of which still allow phosphate soaps to be used. Taking one county out of the equation was never going to accomplish much, anyway.

Now, we have a black market in phosphate soaps in Spokane County - black markets being the biggest unintended consequence of all. I think it was Winston Churchill who opined that a black market is the inevitable result of a governmental decision to ban a wanted or needed product.

So, I guess my point, along with the point of Churchill and Mr. Porretto is this: governmental employees, electees, and designees are not any brighter than your typical, average, everyday American. Do not give them any more control over you, your decisions, and your life than you would willingly give to your beer-swilling, engine-revving-at-all-hours-of-the-night neighbor.

(Post-script – The technology, quality, and results of the phosphate free soap has greatly improved since retailers here have started importing European brands for use here after three or so years of using the only locally-produced brand available (that sucked serious kiester). Europe has been phosphate-free for a decade or more, so their soap people have had more time to get it right, and so we can now buy soaps that clean dishes acceptably well, although they still fog a clear glass after a couple of months from etching, and are not quite as good at cleaning as the old soaps are. As a result, my household has started buying phosphate free soap again and we are using it despite the disadvantages, since it really does help the river to get rid of all of those phosphates.)

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