Friday, June 1, 2012

The Farmer-Congressman

A plea for legislative action ... and restraint.

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I consider myself an 80 percenter:  if I find a solution that solves 80 percent of the problem, I get on with it to see what happens. There's an old expression in management: "Don't let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of good enough."  As for the other 20 percent?  I learn from what didn't work as planned, ask for a do-over, and fix it.

Does this mindset fit all situations? No – you wouldn't launch a satellite with only 80 percent chance of reaching orbit or build a weapon that fires only 80 percent of the time. But it is a reasonable approach to other government programs such as healthcare and financial regulation that act on human endeavors, endeavors that are continually changing due to a shifting population and dynamic economy.

Good legislation – while not perfect – is concise, finite, and agile. By contrast, legislation that is convoluted, voluminous, and lumbering is doomed to fail by its own weight. Worse yet, the bad parts and unintended consequences need to be undone; fixing the complex becomes more difficult than doing the simple right the first time. The Constitution is over 200 years old with few substantive changes. Why? Because it is a simple, elegant document that is broad enough to cover most of the courses of human events.

A voter I met this Spring expressed his longing for the days of the farmer-legislator: git 'er done and git home to take care of chores. Today's Members of Congress seem to want a legislative career, making a name for themselves and limiting ballot-box competition to ensure their own future. Is this an argument for term limits? No. I think voters need as many choices as possible.  They should then go to the polls and – if necessary – throw the bums out.

So don't merely demand action from your Member of Congress. Instead, demand that they find the 80 percent solution, leave it alone to see what happens, and get home in time for supper.