Marketing guru Dan Kennedy coined the phrase “complexity creep” to describe what can happen to a business that doesn’t keep things simple. As he wrote in the early 1990s, “Complexity just creeps on you when you’re not looking. And unnecessary complexity creates a whole host of problems. It wastes time, drains your energy and enthusiasm, it often confuses the customer — and confused customers do not buy!”
For the first couple of centuries of the industrial revolution, the goal of modernization was to make life simpler for the common man. The steam engine made transportation simpler, safer and faster than the stagecoach, whether it was a family or a package that was moving cross country. At the dawn of the 20th century, the automobile brought the same revolution for short term distances. It was also more hygienic than the horses it replaced.
Similarly, local government offered a basic social contract with its citizens. For a small amount of taxes and fees, it would offer water and other utilities, and services such as garbage collection. And garbage collection was a simple as it could get: once a week you put out your trash, it was collected and disposed of. Repeat each week.
Whether it was private enterprise inventing a new labor saving device, or local government offering a new service, the goal of all of this was to make the base elements of life simple, so that the average person could concentrate on getting ahead and bettering himself.
Around the 1970s and ’80s that began to change. Penn & Teller did a brilliant segment of their Bullsh*t series for Showtime a few years ago on the unnecessary hassles of recycling, which brought the first layer of complexity creep into the home, thanks to increasingly environmentally correct government busybodies:
Now Mayor Bloomberg proposes the next level of complexity creep for Manhattan residents. And because it has the blessings of both Nanny Bloomberg and Nanny New York Times, the cast of the Today Show are here to tell you it’s just a swell notion, no matter how idiotic they know it truly is. Or as Kyle Drennen paraphrases in his Newsbusters headline, “NBC Praises Bloomberg’s ‘Great Idea’ of Forcing New Yorkers to Store Rotting Trash in Apartments:”
The hosts on Monday’s NBC Today were all in agreement that New City Mayor Michael Bloomberg forcing all residents to sort out rotten food scraps from their garbage for composting – and to hold on to the refuse for days – was a “great idea” that would be “good for the environment.” [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Co-host Matt Lauer briefly explained the program: “[Bloomberg] wants you to take your food scraps, put them in a container about the size of a picnic basket in your home, hold them for a few days and then later put them in some larger…containers out on the sidewalk….This is going to be part of a voluntary program at first, which will then become a mandatory program.” He added that “they’ve tried it with a few pilot programs here in New York and the participation was very high.”
Fellow co-host Savannah Guthrie briefly worried: “The first thought I have is won’t it smell?” News reader Natalie Morales wondered: “Does it seal out the rodents? Because you know, the rodents in New York City, they’re like, they can open anything.” Guthrie joked: “They love this policy.”
Lauer assured them: “Yes, but you’re sealing it….Apparently it’s like one of these Tupperware – not to give a name brand – but Tupperware-type containers that does seal with a click, so it won’t stink in your apartment.”
Putting aside all skepticism of a local government forcing citizens by law to sort through their garbage, weatherman Al Roker proclaimed: “I think it’s a great idea.” Morales agreed: “No, it’s good for the environment and composting is – I’ve done it in the past. It’s really – it’s good.” Lauer touted: “And by the way, other cities have tried this with great success.”
It helps of course, when everyone on that panel was making high six figure and seven figure salaries and had maids, nannies and housekeepers who will be doing the real dirty work. Especially in Mayor Bloomberg’s own residences. “We don’t cook at home, but, yes, we have separate trash for composting stuff,” Bloomberg sniffs when asked by the New York Post to defend his latest hectoring program. In other words, let them compost cake, Nanny Bloomberg tells the peasants.
But this is just the latest example of the leftwing nanny state attempting to gum up the works of day to day life. In an article last year titled, “How Government Wrecked the Gas Can,” Jeffrey Tucker of the Laissez Faire Club explored how nanny state tinkering around the edges of life starts to add up:
The gas gauge broke. There was no smartphone app to tell me how much was left, so I ran out. I had to call the local gas station to give me enough to get on my way. The gruff but lovable attendant arrived in his truck and started to pour gas in my car’s tank. And pour. And pour.
“Hmmm, I just hate how slow these gas cans are these days,” he grumbled. “There’s no vent on them.”
That sound of frustration in this guy’s voice was strangely familiar, the grumble that comes when something that used to work but doesn’t work anymore, for some odd reason we can’t identify.
I’m pretty alert to such problems these days. Soap doesn’t work. Toilets don’t flush. Clothes washers don’t clean. Light bulbs don’t illuminate. Refrigerators break too soon. Paint discolors. Lawnmowers have to be hacked. It’s all caused by idiotic government regulations that are wrecking our lives one consumer product at a time, all in ways we hardly notice.
It’s like the barbarian invasions that wrecked Rome, taking away the gains we’ve made in bettering our lives. It’s the bureaucrats’ way of reminding market producers and consumers who is in charge.
Surely, the gas can is protected. It’s just a can, for goodness sake. Yet he was right. This one doesn’t have a vent. Who would make a can without a vent unless it was done under duress? After all, everyone knows to vent anything that pours. Otherwise, it doesn’t pour right and is likely to spill.
It took one quick search. The whole trend began in (wait for it) California. Regulations began in 2000, with the idea of preventing spillage. The notion spread and was picked up by the EPA, which is always looking for new and innovative ways to spread as much human misery as possible.
An ominous regulatory announcement from the EPA came in 2007: “Starting with containers manufactured in 2009… it is expected that the new cans will be built with a simple and inexpensive permeation barrier and new spouts that close automatically.”
The government never said “no vents.” It abolished them de facto with new standards that every state had to adopt by 2009. So for the last three years, you have not been able to buy gas cans that work properly. They are not permitted to have a separate vent. The top has to close automatically. There are other silly things now, too, but the biggest problem is that they do not do well what cans are supposed to do.
It’s not the only thing that no longer does as well as it was originally conceived thanks to the nanny state; we’ll explore a few more after the page break.
Beyond a gas can that doesn’t work, there’s the car itself, originally conceived as a simple mass-produced device that any man could own — and possibly even fix himself, if he were so inclined. Having completely rendered that idea anathema, “The Electric Car Is an Abomination,” Robert Tracinski concluded back in February at Real Clear Politics, in an essay written at the height of the blue on blue dust-up between ultra high-end (and Obama-approved) electric car manufacturer Tesla and the New York Times,
As to the Times reporter, John Broder issued a point-by-point reply to Elon Musk, which basically boils to blaming his problems on bad advice he got from the technicians at Tesla, whom he repeatedly contacted by phone during his trip.
But this misses the biggest point: since when is driving a car supposed to be so complicated? The whole point of technology is to use the machine’s energy and yes, to burn up natural resources, in order to save human effort. The machines are supposed to work for us; we don’t work for them. This is especially true of the automobile, which is all about freedom, independence, going out on the open road and deciding on the spur of the moment where you want to go—not about filing a flight plan and having technicians talk you through your trip.
I understand that the first round of a new technology doesn’t always work well and early adopters may have to make tradeoffs and accept limitations. But the Tesla is supposed to be the electric car without tradeoffs. This is supposed to be a mass-market car, the first wave of electric vehicles that can be manufactured and sold in truly industrial-scale quantities. It’s not supposed to be for hobbyists who don’t mind tinkering around with an experimental vehicle for the sake of technology curiosity.
But the folks at Tesla have gotten swept up in the quasi-religious hype of environmentalism. They’re not just manufacturing a curiosity for hobbyists. They’re saving the planet, one preening and sanctimonious upper-middle-class driver at a time.
In service to this environmentalist posturing, they’ve turned the whole purpose of technology on its head. We have to use more of our, human resources—more of our precious time and effort—in order to save natural resources. The machines can’t serve us, because we have to serve nature. Instead of making labor-saving devices, they’re making labor-sucking devices. And if we complain that the new green technology isn’t good enough, we’re told that it is we who are not good enough for the technology.
That’s why the electric car, in its current incarnation, is a technological abomination.
And just to make owning an electric car even more complex, it’s worth noting for those who bought them because of government incentives, as Mary Katharine Ham wrote earlier this month, that states are considering “taxing green cars to recover lost gas tax revenue.” In Soviet America, liberal sucker punch punches liberals!
But back to Mayor Bloomberg’s latest moronic initiative, which is yet another example of what Victor Davis Hanson once called “the Bloomberg Effect:”
It is a human trait to focus on cheap and lofty rhetoric rather than costly, earthy reality. It is a bureaucratic characteristic to rail against the trifling misdemeanor rather than address the often-dangerous felony. And it is political habit to mask one’s own failures by lecturing others on their supposed shortcomings. Ambitious elected officials often manage to do all three.
The result in these hard times is that our elected sheriffs, mayors, and governors are loudly weighing in on national and global challenges that are quite often out of their own jurisdiction, while ignoring or failing to solve the very problems that they were elected to address.
Quite simply, the next time your elected local or state official holds a press conference about global warming, the Middle East, or the national political climate, expect to experience poor county law enforcement, bad municipal services, or regional insolvency.
The headlong rush by all forms of government, local, state and federal, into the Nanny State also coincides with government’s headlong rush into the Orwellian surveillance state. Combined, they explain why, as Glenn Reynolds writes USA Today in response to the Obama administration’s multiple layers of spying on the American public (or “U.S. persons” as Obama Owellianly stated today), “Government compromises our trust:”
As for trusting the government not to abuse its powers, well, there are those lies just mentioned. And then there’s the whole business of sending the IRS out to target President Obama’s political opponents. As Peggy Noonan observes: “It is a great irony, and history will marvel at it, that the president most committed to expanding the centrality, power, prerogatives and controls of the federal government is also the president who, through lack of care, arrogance and an absence of any sense of prudential political boundaries, has done the most in our time to damage trust in government.”
Well, maybe it’s ironic. Or maybe there’s less of a contradiction between wanting to expand government power and being willing to abuse it than Noonan thinks. If it’s ironic, it’s because one argument we heard from Democrats during the Bush era was that Republicans — because they distrust big government — are inherently unsuited to run a big government, prone to incompetence because they don’t respect the institutions they control.
But it’s the Obama administration that has demonstrated a disrespect for institutions. When Obama had been in office for just a few months, he “joked” about auditing his enemies and I warned: “Mr. Obama has been accused of not appreciating the importance of financial capital to the proper functioning of the economy. But ill-chosen remarks like his ASU audit threat suggest that he also doesn’t appreciate the role of moral capital.”
Obviously, he didn’t listen. To function properly, our government depends on moral capital, capital that has been seriously squandered. In their second terms, presidents tend to worry about their legacies. Will Obama’s legacy be a historic destruction of trust in government?
One can only hope so. There’s only so much more complexity creep we humble citizens of Oceania can take.
By the way, will Bloomberg’s composting receptacles have electronic sensors built in to spy on whether or not you’re using them, or will he rely on the low tech solution of hiring a new corp of duly-deputized Trash Inspectors?
The latter example is already San Francisco-approved, after all.
Related: “Do not ask me to enter the minds of the totalitarians running the government of this city.” Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal on another “innovation” by Nanny Bloomberg leading to “Death by Bicycle.” Dorothy’s angry. You’ll like her when she’s angry — a lot. (Via Tim Blair):
More: At the American Enterprise Institute, James Pethokoukis asks, “Why did we get 140 characters rather than flying cars? Maybe it was $40 trillion in regulations.”