14 June 2010

Office of the Repealer

The Agitator | Radley Balko | A New Government Agency I Can Support

Kansas GOP gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback is proposing an “Office of the Repealer,” tasked with seeking out bad or repetitive laws, wasteful programs, and archaic state agencies for elimination. As a general rule, the media venerates politicians who propose new government programs as bold and visionary, while anyone daring to suggest perhaps there might be cause to eliminate an agency or two is depicted as some fringe draconian nut. Or just quaint and silly.

True to form, New York Times reporter Monica Davey makes little attempt to hide her bemusement at Brownback’s idea, dismissing its positive reception among Kansas voters as “one more sign, perhaps, of the wave of grumpiness” sweeping the country. Not prudence or good governance or fiscal responsibility. Grumpiness. [...]

God forbid we repeal laws regulating the operation of steam engines. Why, it would be like living in Somalia.
An Office of the Repealer is indeed a terrible idea. But only because all legislation should automatically expire, making efforts to repeal it unnecessary.

In software development, business, engineering, science, and a host of other disciplines there's a lifecycle to what you do.  Develop a system, validate it, implement it, deploy it, but then continue studying it, modifying it, redesigning it, refining it.  This doesn't seem to happen at all in legislation.  Law makers make some observations about a problem, design a system to address the problems, predict what the effect of their system will be, execute it and then ignore it.  There's no feedback.

I've heard that it's the habit in Sweeden to implement a new policy for six months, then roll back to the ex ante state, and only then make a decision about whether to make the new policy permanent having had a glimpse of the effects of each.  Obviously this isn't perfect, but compared to the way we just jump into the pool head first and pra we're right it seems the pinnacle of enlightenment.

There really ought to be a way to continue editing, refining, and if necessary, abandoning legislative interventions.

(Via TJIC, who makes a good ref to Frank Herbert's Bureau of Sabotage)

PS Yes, yes, I know laws are amended, but more often than not that's just nibbling around the edges. There's also no iterative refinement to it, it's just continuous stabbing-around-in-the-dark bogosearching.  And yes, I know laws are sometimes repealed, but that's very infrequently, especially considering (a) how close and contentious the original votes often are, (b) how poor humans are at prognostication generally, (c) how fallible lawmakers are specifically, and (d) how bad simple systems are at controlling complex ones.

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