Over the last few days I've looked at the media, marketer’s and government's role in creating fear of things we shouldn't really be afraid of -- because these things pose little, if any, real risk. I’ve also looked at some different examples (bicycle helmets, childproof aspirin bottles, anti-depression medication) of unintended consequences of laws that are supposed to make us safer, but in reality, only waste resources and in many cases, actually put us at greater risk.
One of my favorite parts about the Jon Stossel clip I posted on Saturday, is the section where all the different people proclaim "there ought to be a law". That seems to be the answer for most everything in our society today. Let's make a new law.
How many times have we heard someone say "if it saves just one child's life...." Unfortunately, there are consequences to saving each person's life. Now, I don't want to go down as the blogger that doesn't care about human life - I don't want anyone in my family killed anymore than the next person. However, if something saves just one persons life it’s probably a bad law because it is targeting apparently a rare occurance.
The problem with laws is they're basically a zero-sum game. Every time a law is enacted, additional money and new resources need to be procured for enforcement. We also face certain realities in life that make creating laws for every single possible cause of death impractical. Every time we make a law, our over-worked police force has to make decisions on what laws to enforce. When we make a ‘simple’ ordinance prohibiting street performers from performing 20 feet from a business -- police have to enforce that. On some Friday night on the Plaza, it's likely that a police officer may have to respond to a pesky balloon-artist instead of dealing with drug and street crime in another part of town.
It's also not practical to staff police beyond a certain level. Money is needed in other parts of the city as well -- including improving our public transit system. Improved public transit could have huge affects improving access to jobs (which helps curb unemployment, and employment curbs crime), it improves air quality (70,000 people die each year due to air pollution) and is safer in general than driving your personal auto (45,000 people die each year in the US in their personal autos).
Animal control ordinances fall under this too. Sure, I'd love for us to have a better animal control department. The fact that the KCMO Animal Control responds to only 20% of its calls is embarrassing and not good for the city – people or pets. But putting in place any type of breed ban or mandatory spaying/neutering is just silly. First off, it pulls resources away from animal control's efforts to track down truly dangerous dogs (regardless of breed). Secondly, it takes resources away from handling abuse cases (which often leads to a dog becoming dangerous). So, in essence, we're taking resources away from dangerous owners/dogs that really cause problems, to deal with the reproductive status or breed of dog -- which in and of itself isn't a problem.
The reality is that the entire Kansas City Metro area has had 2 people die from dog attacks in the past 35 years - regardless of what KCTV 5 would lead you to believe.
It's all about perspective. In the grand scheme of things, many of the things that the media/marketers/politicians tell us we should fear, or make laws about, are really just topics to improve their ratings/sell their product/get them free press for an upcoming campaign. We should focus our laws, and resources on things that really matter to the greater good of the city -- and not trivial, money-wasting ordinances. But in order to demand that, we have to be aware...
I just hope this has helped a little.