Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Inherent Dangers of Oversimplification

I rarely devote an entire piece to another writer's op-ed, but after reading a post on The Matt Walsh Blog, I just couldn't resist. The piece is titled, unbelievably, "Problem solved: let private businesses refuse service to anyone, anytime for any reason."

It begins with the words, "Alright, let’s make this simple." If there's one thing I've learned in my fifty plus years on this planet it is that very few things in life are as simple as we think they are. And Walsh's "simple" take on this very complicated issue is a case in point.

Basically, Walsh, who supported Arizona SB 1062, which would've allowed businesses to deny services to gay people based on "deeply-held religious beliefs," has a very "simple" solution to the problem.  Forget religious freedom and gay rights, just broaden to scope to include everyone in the same large pot.

"Business owners should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason."

A white restaurant owner wants to prevent a black family from sitting down to eat, that's his call. A Catholic wants to deny a Jew his services, go for it. An employer decides not to hire women because he feels they aren't as qualified as men, oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Of course, Walsh justifies his "simple" and convoluted logic by insisting that businesses which choose to operate in this manner will be "punished" by the marketplace. It's not the government's job to regulate their conduct.

We've heard this tripe before. It's the new wave of libertarianism that appears to be sweeping the country.  To sum up the libertarian view, the Civil Rights Act was an overreach by the federal government. It needlessly put onerous regulations on otherwise law-abiding business owners. What the government should've been doing, if anything, was prohibiting "government mandated discrimination and segregation." Walsh cites the Jim Crow laws in the South that were institutionalized as an example.

Walsh, however, forgets to mention that the Jim Crow laws only came to an end AFTER the Civil Rights Act was passed. Much of the transformation that took place in the South over the last four decades would never have happened were it not for those "onerous" regulations being imposed. The idea that the marketplace would sort it all out without government intervention is the stuff of fairy tales. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there was absolutely no desire on the part of white business owners to integrate their establishments. There were separate areas for the races and they hardly ever mixed. Blacks who forgot this were severely dealt with; some even lost their lives. That any supposedly sane individual would want to revisit those dreadful times is not only naive; it's stupendously stupid.

Walsh isn't the only simpleton spouting this kind of make-believe history. The recent assault on environmental regulations is another form of naiveté that seems to be running rampant through certain ideological circles. Once more we hear how businesses are unfairly burdened by excessive regulation. We are told that the private sector has come a long way since the days when the Cuyahoga River burned. Just a couple of months ago, the people of West Virginia learned the hard way just how dangerous such thinking can be. As we speak the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people is still tainted by a chemical spill. It may well take several more months before the toxins are completely removed from the water supply. Imagine if something like that had happened to the water supply of New York City.

If history has taught us nothing, it is that people are completely incapable of self regulation. Left to their own devices, more often than not, they will do what is in their own narrow self interests, sometimes to the detriment of others. Christians, above all, should know this. One reading of the letter from Paul to the Romans should dispense with the foolish notion of man's ability to discern right from wrong.

"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."

Look, nobody likes regulations. No one enjoys being told what to do, whether to drive at the speed limit, pay taxes, refrain from polluting the air and ground water, admitting blacks to restaurants or serving gays. And since we are clearly incapable of regulating ourselves, it is therefore left to the only agency capable of carrying out such tasks: the government.

Over the last few years the government - particularly the federal - has taken a lot of criticism, some of it deserved. It is bloated and mired in corruption. As Mark Twain so adroitly put it many years ago, "We have the best government money can buy." Sadly, things are even worse now than they were back then.

And yet, even with all its glaring problems, it remains the best arbiter of justice - social and political - for its citizens. If you think an "overreaching" government too much to bare, try the alternative, which, as far as I can tell, would reduce most of the U.S. to a notch above an anarchist convention on steroids. One hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong. The solutions for what ails the government can be found without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

But finding those solutions requires out of the box thinking and, above all, an abandonment of the obtuse idea that simplicity alone can cure all our ills.

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