Thursday, November 29, 2012

Editorial: Economy doesn't need more red tape

Today the unnamed editor reacts to the idea of a federal Secretary of Business, under which the government would consolidate related functions.

From the vague official trial balloon the editor imagines a nightmare of new bureaucracy and more problems for business. Having built this straw man, he dances with his torch and sets his helpless adversary alight.

In point of fact neither I nor the editor nor anyone else knows how this proposal might shake out in real life, because the plan is not yet written. The editor is writing against his own imagination, nothing more, failing at the starting gate.

The core of his argument, that "red tape" would increase, is clearly contrary to the intent of the proposal. Having never set up and run a business himself, perhaps he doesn't realize how much red tape is generated because related government divisions don't talk to one another or coordinate their responsibilities, forcing business owners to negotiate complex minefields of overlapping and often conflicting regulations. At least in theory, an overseeing authority could improve on that. So let's wait for the details before we fire our torches.

In context, it's interesting that when the idea arose to consolidate authority over intelligence, border security, travel security, customs and the Coast Guard under the Orwellian title of Homeland Security, the Courier was all for it, once again reacting to parochial imaginings rather than reality on the ground. We can only get above this reflex by reserving judgment till we've done the research.

Williams: Photo speeding tickets should be outlawed

Perhaps former cop Buz Williams will grow into his new role as a regular columnist. So far his stuff's been not much better on content or style than the right-wing rants in the comments. But like in ninth-grade English, a regular writing assignment can lead to better writing, so we'll see. Look what it's done for Mike Reagan.

In today's column on our hated electric traffic cops, Buz buries his best idea. Well down in the piece he writes, "(During my years as a police officer, it didn't occur often, but there were a few occasions when I didn't write a ticket after speaking with the driver)." (pic) To a certain degree this runs against the usual "it's-the-law" position of the right wing, and interesting in that Buz uses it as the linchpin in his argument that the mechanical enforcement of law is inherently unjust.

Buz is saying that the discretion of the enforcement officer is an essential component in a just system. To at least a certain extent, he trusts cops to understand the context of an action and choose or decline to apply the law according to whether it poses a real threat to others.

If lawnforcement cheerleaders like Buz were to think this through (beyond their own fuming at getting a ticket themselves, as this column seems to be), we might be able to put together a social consensus on raising our standards for police officers to make them less about hardline enforcement (particularly for the sorts of people they personally don't like) and more about real threats to society. We might see more sensible traffic rules that are less about mindless adherence to standards and more about what makes sense in the specific situation. We might actually begin to expect our legal system to think.

Imagine that.

Cantlon: Fiscal cliff fix requires a grain of salt

Tom runs down the Keynesian basics for the many Courier readers who should have learned all this in high school, and does it in a way that avoids both ideology and academic complexity. Good work!

The sidebar of references is a great tool for readers, and a good example of how an online newspaper can be fundamentally better.

The headline is cute at the expense of information, but I'm sure Tom's not responsible for that.

Related: I covered some of this a little while ago.