Carrots and sticks, honey and vinegar

Posted on 02. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, Politics

We are a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation built on incentives. The problem is that our elected representatives do not seem to understand basic human nature.

That may explain why they mostly focus on the sticks (law-making) and don’t consider the carrots (incentives) as a way to influence American  behavior.  Both political parties are guilty of excessive and bone-headed law-making from time to time, but both parties are not always equal in their distrust of their fellow citizens which has led to the passage of hundreds of unwieldy laws and thousands of onerous regulations.

Yes, there is a distinction between laws and regulations. Laws beget regulations. Regulations are the bureaucratic flotsam and jetsam that ultimately wash up on the shores of the unwitting average citizen, and which demand their full and immediate attention. When we realize that a law has spawned a multitude of regulations we’re surprised, confused and angry. We feel betrayed and don’t understand how very different the regulations are from the original law.

At this point, my father would have said, “Son, the devil is in the details,” and he would have been right. That’s where the devil always resides, and he’s not picky about his roommates, either. Here I speak of the thousands of bureaucrats who view themselves as shadow law-makers – ideologically-driven green eye shade types who see regulation-writing as their way of interpreting and influencing the law.

Before I do a number on bureaucrats (which they so richly deserve), let me call out the House and Senate Committees and staffers AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC for either not thoroughly reading the proposed laws and the resultant regulations or for not objecting to them during the review/comment process. Fortunately, (yes I said fortunately), we have lobbyists and non-government organizations (NGOs) that religiously take on that task.

Because their mission is to protect their special interest constituents, they pour over regulations to make sure that the regulators are not pulling a fast one that would disadvantage their bosses. The public should want the same involvement BEFORE the laws were passed as well as during the comment period, but that’s another story. It would seem that many Americans are blasé about the impact that legislation and the ensuing regulations have on their lives.

Case in point is the three-year old 3,256-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka. Obamacare). If law professors and political science/civics teachers needed a textbook case for earlier citizen involvement in the political process, this is it. Many credible critics have spoken eloquently on this subject, but Dr. Barbara Bellar (a licensed physician and lawyer in Illinois) stated the bureaucratics and ham-handedness of it succinctly in one (albeit long) sentence:

“We’re going to be gifted with a healthcare plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don’t which purportedly covers at least ten million more people without adding a single new doctor but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that didn’t read it, but exempted themselves from it and signed by a President who smokes with funding administered by a Treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect by a government which has already bankrupted social security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese and financed by a country that is broke.”

The act created 159 new bureaucracies and boards and thousands of new regulations, and to add insult to injury, the government is now contemplating shortening the public comment time on its proposed regulations from the normal 60 days to 15!

President Theodore Roosevelt (the original Progressive) said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” It’s probably time for the Progressives to channel some really big brains like Bugs Bunny, or at the very least, Elmer Fudd. Maybe they can locate some of the carrots they will need to make their makeover plan for America more palatable to the average citizen. Otherwise, they’ll wind up with a very unfunny cartoon parody of a once-great country.

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