Monday, February 4, 2008

Unlimited Limited Liability

Consider the growing list of human activities associated with the words "zero tolerance." We have zero tolerance for weapons in school, drunk driving, underage drinking, and pesticides in our food.

We have zero tolerance for medical mistakes, sexual harassment, drugs in school, hate speech and carbon dioxide emissions. We have zero tolerance for indoor smoke.

And of course, we have zero tolerance for product liability.

With all this "zero tolerance" running around, why don't we try a zero tolerance policy on public policy itself? As the situation currently stands, the governing class is free to exaggerate, obfuscate, and lie about the effects of its policies from behind a shield of almost unlimited limited liability. They can tinker with the lives and property of millions. They have the power to compel, coerce and destroy anyone who disagrees with them. They and their predecessors around the world have ruined, wounded and killed more people than shoddy products, tobacco, alcohol and privately owned firearms, combined.

If the governing class had a marketing motto, it would be "Millions and Millions Sacrificed."

The true believers in the power of governance will argue that we should not focus on the mistakes of governance, but on its successes, all the while working to repair and remove mistakes from the system. In other words, they are willing to live with a high tolerance for failure, harm and death when the government is involved. Everybody else gets zero.

In ancient Athens, a lawmaker was held responsible for the consequences of any legislation he proposed. He could be fined, imprisoned, or even executed for sponsoring a bad law. Today, bad laws and regulations flow out of Washington with impunity. It's a dream come true for every ambitious person who wants power without responsibility. It's a threat the rest of us have grudgingly learned to tolerate.

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