Looking for Microcosms in DC

Posted on August 28, 2013 by

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This is the first of what might be an ongoing series of posts based on our experience here in the District of Columbia (that’s Washington) this Fall.  Today’s post was stimulated by both some visits to public buildings and an article today by Lee Habeeb, in the National Review entitled “Risk Mismanagement.”  My own experience is with security–security everywhere, around (not just in) the Capitol, around the White House, in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, all federal offices, and on and on.  We even see Capitol police as far out as a block or so from our home.  And if you want to go into the Capitol building you have to pass through at least two levels of security, three if you are fortunate enough to make it to the spectator Gallery. 

The article I mentioned shows just how far we have taken our risk-aversion.  As the author says, we are afraid to fail, pretty much at anything, and so we don’t try very much to be innovative (which involves making some mistakes along the way and learning from them).  I really liked the way Habeeb summarized it:  rubberized playgrounds (unheard of in my day, and some scars to prove it), scoreless soccer (we kept score in every game of every kind, even pickup), social promotion in schools, prohibition of the use of red ink on papers and exams in some schools, fewer private airplanes because of regulations and lawsuits, no umbrellas at sporting events, no anything (nearly) on airplanes, appearance recently of bulletproof school supplies (I am not sure why it would matter whether the supplies survived, but perhaps the student just holds them up as a shield against any oncoming bullets), and on and on, and, one of my favorites here, crossing “guards” for adults at many intersections.  I was running in DC the other day and came to an intersection, dutifully stopped to look to see whether there was any careening traffic, then started to go.  A crossing guard shouted, “Stop!  Don’t go!”  Well, I did have my glasses on and I did not see any traffic–because there wasn’t any.  But, just in case I chose to be too bold, that crossing person was there to reduce my risk to nothing. 

The reader might respond that we need to be protected from ourselves, that is, our stupid decisions.  But how far do we go with this?  First, do we actually think we can reduce risk to zero probability?  And if we did, what would life look like?  Would it be a quality life?  Would we have any freedom to try and to fail and to try again?  Is is possible our civilization would simply grind to a halt, as everyone just sat around, knowing that this would be safest?  Of course, I am exaggerating–just a bit perhaps.  But it is something to think about as legislative bodies, courts, bureaucracies, school boards, and many others with good intentions (sometimes at least) stifle our spirit.

I will have more I hope from the land of hope and change, if I am not killed by a crossing guard clotheslining me as I try to cross the street running.  And yes, call me an iconoclast if you want.

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Posted in: Economic Liberty