Higgins: The law of averagesWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Governor Kasich signed a statewide ban on texting in Ohio to much fanfare this week. Of course there’s already a texting ban on the books in the city of Toledo, as there are in many other cities around the state; but a state-wide one made if official and keeps someone from texting as soon as they get outside of or in between city limits with a ban.
The Columbus Dispatch quoted Kasich during the signing as saying, “For those people who might think this is somehow an invasion of your rights or nanny-state or whatever, come meet these families,” Kasich said, talking to the press after an emotional private meeting with the victims’ relatives. “Talk to them about the fact that somebody was not responsible.”
Yes it is an invasion, governor, and there’s little doubt that this is probably a “nanny-state or whatever” (nice communication skills, by the way); but worse than that, it was waste of time. With all due respect to the families, nowhere in the state’s consideration of this “issue du jour” or in the governor’s signing does he mention that there’s already a law against “driving while distracted.” Neither in this moment in the political spotlight does he address the issue of many similarly injured by those driving while distracted by eating, putting on makeup, or fiddling with the radio or GPS system in their vehicles. Those topics are not nearly so sexy at the moment and might better be saved for when they’re later needed to distract voters. As for those addicted to texting, especially younger abusers, history shows us that this new law is far more likely to have them holding those devices more out of sight and producing an even greater distraction. (Neither does it address police typing into computers while driving.)
After all, this is one of many different kinds of laws. There are those proposed as media stunts or shameless concessions to constituents; they’re not so much to get something done as they are to grab the spotlight, show caring or pay back a campaign promise. There are the laws proposed to make the opposition party look bad. These are designed to force some legislators take a position that some significant portion of their constituency won’t like. While pointless and stupid, they do create great sound bites for campaigns and embarrassing moments for one group politicians or another. Then there’s the one where politicians get to vote against their own party on a law already destined for passage or failure. The idea to show that the politician in question is not owned by their party can be ruined however, if it’s revealed that they got permission from party leadership before “voting their conscience.”
Then there are laws at the state and national level proposed by one house of the legislature, knowing that they will die in the other. These too provide cover for politicians since they can vote the way the polls tell them to, knowing that it will become both symbolic and meaningless once voted down (or not voted on at all) in the other house. Another variation on this is to have both houses pass the legislation, knowing the president will veto it; providing political cover for all. There’s even a variation on this that sees the law passed and signed, knowing that the courts will eventually strike it down. This one is trickier though, since standing to bring such legal challenge is sketchy at best, and you may get stuck with the results of the vote.
Then there are the laws that legislators really like, ones whose “laws of unintended consequences” kick in immediately. These allow them, instead of walking the offending legislation back, to make even more laws in an attempt to fix the consequences of their first efforts. With luck, these secondary efforts will lead to even more consequences that will likewise need to be addressed, and from there to more legislation. (This grants job security similar to what comes from setting off a mine or dropping a bomb in the hopes of secondary explosions.) Strangely, instead of being angry with legislators for their original handiwork, voters are often instead grateful to politicians for attempting to fix problems that they created.
Laws however, seldom change human behavior; they simply define punishment for people behaving in ways now found unacceptable. Perhaps then the faces the governor might better look into are those being harmed by the mostly useless, often contradictory, and certainly confusing laws piled one on another during his watch both in Congress and as governor. The law of averages tells us that it’s far more likely that “one life might be saved” by spending time in reducing rather adding to their numbers.