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If it doesn’t say you can’t, you can

Growing up I competed a team competition called Academic Triathlon. One of the events, called Mind Sprints, consisted of the team acting as a whole to try to score points in a limited amount of time. Challenges included things like word games, dominos, and trying to walk with an egg on a spoon.

The key to success was often how creative you could be with the rules themself. For example, the instructions might read, “For every word your team says starting with the letter A, you get 1 point.” Of course, most teams might start going around the circle saying every word they could think of as fast as they could, where as, our team would start by asking the judge if we would get points for saying the same word over and over again. If the judge said no, we would often remind them, “If it doesn’t say you can’t, you can”.

It was my experience, that there were 3 reactions to this. Some judges were simply impressed by creativity to solve the problem and let us do what we desired. Others were dead set against it, sure that the puzzle was not meant to be *that* easy. But it was the last group of people… the judges who stopped to think about it, that I always respected most.

See, there were 2 rulebooks.

There were the rules in their hand. They were often overly vague. Key points had to be made up by the judges on the fly almost every week. Because these rules changed every week (as did the judges), there was no “spirit” to them, simply interpretation. The second rulebook, was where the “If it doesn’t say you can’t, you can” came from… It contained the rules for every meet (structure, timings, team sizes, ages, etc.) You could say the “spirit” of the meet was often derived from that rulebook.

It was how these judges who though interpreted the over-arching rulebook that often determined their stance on the yes or no, and for the most part, they all agreed one way.

So where am I going with this?

Rules are a funny thing. They rarely cover all situations. Trying to create a law that fits everyone is extremely difficult. Creating the spirt of that law though, is not as difficult.

In my eyes, that’s what our founding fathers did with the declaration of independence. Was it a perfect law to cover everything? No way. Did it lay down the spirit of the nation? Definitely.

Somewhere we’ve lost that though. This isn’t an issue debate. This isn’t a right or wrong debate. It’s a debate over simplicity. Lately (and perhaps longer than that), the bills congress has been trying to pass are 1000+ pages long. They are filled with details to try to cover every possible abuse (or to provide loopholes or exceptions to allow for other types of abuse). They are beyond comprehension of the average citizen. They are beyond the comprehension of those who are probably voting on them. So how can they I guess? Well, I’m guessing they try to get the spirit of the bill, and vote on that. That would be great, if it wasn’t for the aforementioned abuses.

So here comes my solution. Force the national government to only be able to pass bills that are 1 sentence long. The state government can have a paragraph. And local government can get as nit-picky as it wants within the parent rules. Then let the juries deal with the rest on a case-by-case basis. Let me give you an example using a controversial topic going on right now: Universal Health Care.

Starts with Federal goverment passing a bill that says: “All US Citizens are guaranteed Health Care.”… Seems like a simple, easy to understand, bill.

State Government decides it can’t really further expound on that, nor can it really do much to better administrate it.

Local Government finds a way to make it happen locally… Perhaps a hospital, based on the population, gets created, and a tax is levi’d for the region that averages the cost of health care in that region.

Now before you go all “That will never work” on me. Or before you shout out, “But you can average it better by combining it at the state level, or federal level.” I will say, I agree… In an ideal world, where things don’t need to be managed, you can reduce resources by averaging it over more people… However, management and personalization is where it all falls apart in that model. Look at the school systems. The Federal government has somewhat guaranteed education (although the states have further defined it), but things like NCLB at the federal level barely make any sense when applied universally. It really needs to be handled at a local level. For example, some poorly performing schools are due to lack of funding (so only cutting more funding would make little sense), but this would be hard to determine without actually interacting with the school itself.

Ok, so I should get back to what I was working on… I just felt like ranting for a bit… Hope you enjoyed it.

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