Saturday, December 10, 2011

Drive Right, Pass Left, Use Signals

Life is a highway, and Congress needs to obey the rules of the road.

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I drove to Richmond this week in the rain on I-95. Lots of road spray, not much visibility. Yet many drivers were in the left lane without passing, changing lanes without signaling, and driving in the rain without their headlights on. Really?

Here are the basic rules of the road, everybody: start in the right travel lane (equality), pass on the left and return to the right after the pass (predictability), and use signals when changing lanes (transparency). And, please, turn on your headlights (visibility). Do you feel the metaphor for governing? Stick with me on this.

Equality – We are all endowed with certain unalienable rights, but that doesn't mean that we all arrive at the same destination at the same time. We're not all born with or develop the same talents, and that's OK. We just need to do the best we can with what we have and allow others to excel without envy or impedance.

Predictability – "I know what to expect from others and they know what to expect from me." Legislative activism is the bane of predictability: it creates ever-moving targets for success and results in inequitable outcomes. Predictable governing employs simple, straightforward rules that are understandable and finite; by contrast, complex and obscure rules are ruinous. Simplicity also helps with transparency.

Transparency – "I understand what's happening and why it's happening." Do you know your overall tax rate? Probably not, because we pay income taxes (with multiple rates and myriad deductions), employee taxes (Social Security and Medicare taxes), employer taxes (additional Social Security and Medicare taxes which, in turn, reduce what employers can afford to pay us), commodity taxes, excise taxes, and others. My proposal for tax reform makes tax rates and tax burdens transparent.

Visibility – "I see you and you see me." Visibility complements equality, predictability, and transparency and goes to the heart of the expression "knowing the lay of the land". By seeing what's around me at any instant, I can act rationally for my benefit as well as for the benefit of those around me. With visibility, everyone has a better chance at success – and a better chance to avoid disaster.

OK, OK, I know I'm pushing this driving metaphor a little far but you see what I mean. When Congress follows the rules of the road we all arrive safe, sound, and more quickly.

So drive right, pass left, use signals, turn on your headlights in the rain. And hey – let's be careful out there.