A phenomenon of our time is that public events are often reduced – or reduced – to phrases, and the one that followed the massacre in Uvalde, Texas is: “Do something.” Here it means that because of the repetition of mass shootings, something should be done to control the availability of guns in the United States.
A related phenomenon is the belief that “doing something” will produce the desired result. But what if we’ve gotten to the point where almost the opposite is true? Take a step back and it’s hard not to notice: the American political system has accumulated so many solutions and partial solutions to so many problems that we have created a system that is bogging down.
The political left is forever in the streets screaming that the system is “not working” for many people. Who could disagree? But they should take a closer look at what has actually become of the “system” — whether it’s public schools, healthcare, the criminal justice system, mental health, the climate, or the Pentagon.
It’s a morass of laws, bylaws, rules, administrative procedures, court decisions, and revisions of revisions that have produced both unresponsive mud and increasing disasters. A sad political truth is that doing something often yields less of the intended benefit over time. The social cost of this non-compliance is significant: a widespread loss of confidence in the system of government.
The big story in the news before Uvalde was the infant formula shortage, due in large part to the Food and Drug Administration’s risk aversion. People wondered why the FDA was so overcompensating for the risk. The explanation lies in a long-ago impulse to “do something”.
In the early 1960s, a drug for morning sickness called thalidomide was causing the birth of deformed babies, and legislation was passed to tighten drug approvals. An overly cautious mindset has been embedded in the FDA’s culture. The agency quickly instituted a very complex and costly approval process that often delayed the development of life-saving treatments. High regulatory costs, now estimated at $2.6 billion per drug, also mean that little research attention is paid to rarer diseases.
In 1969, under pressure to do something about air quality, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act. Today, there is little serious disagreement that NEPA — a case study in rule accumulation that produces political sludge — is undermining its own goals.
Two weeks ago, in the wake of the Buffalo mass shooting, we wrote here how the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in the 1970s, presumably for their own good, led to homelessness. The system proved unable to meet the do-something goal of community-based care.
After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, pressure was building to do something about police accountability. Last week, President Biden issued an executive order containing 19 measures of accountability for the federal police (his authority does not extend to state and local levels). Fifty-one people were shot dead in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend and nine died. One reason for the rise in gun violence in Chicago and elsewhere is that the police — under pressure from new regulations or lawsuits — have retired or simply resigned. The result is that neither police nor criminals are held accountable.
House Democrats move on to voting on the Safeguard Our Children Act, which combines eight separate gun control laws. As a soundbite, it appears simple, obvious, and straightforward. In practice, our system, which is too complex, degrades almost every public responsibility to non-compliance. Why should gun control be any different?
Democrats and media rage at Republicans for refusing to “do anything about guns.” I saw Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Senate last week and was struck by the intensity of his hostility towards the political opposition “MAGA”. A top official like Sen. Schumer is supposed to be a source of stability, but he doesn’t even try anymore.
This recurring slide into political anger from left and right has the makings of a systemic crisis — if we’re not already there. As public trust wanes, the allure of demagoguery spreads over the edge.
This column will not end with an appeal for soothing bipartisanship. That’s gone. Years ago, a democratic movement called “Reinventing Government” formed around then-Vice President Al Gore in an attempt to streamline bureaucracies. But the Democrats of the big forever government — led today by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Progressive Caucus — defeated that self-reform movement.
This refusal to condone reform of public sector performance led to founding schools. It prompted companies like Tesla to leave California for Texas. It created Donald Trump.
What an irony that is. While the post-2016 opposition went mad over something called “Trump,” the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget under Mick Mulvaney methodically undertook a reduction and streamlining of many federal regulations. My bigger point here is that something like this – basically a flushing out of the mud of the system before more of the well-fed public takes to the streets – is the only real answer.
When he took office, Joe Biden reversed many of the reforms of what he calls the “previous president”. So we’re back to “do something”. That only guarantees one thing: more frustration.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-do-something-wont-work-uvalde-texas-shooting-gun-control-policy-politics-11654115980 Why ‘Do Something’ on Gun Control Won’t Work