Monday, September 17, 2007

Paralysis in the US

Bank robbers usually wear sunglasses and hats. Banks are asking the federal government to create a dress code for banks that prohibits them. Why is federal action required? Why don't banks just have their dress codes. Eric at ClassicalValues discusses the problem:
Unfortunately, I can see why. Banks (like most businesses) are not free to do things like enact their own dress codes for customers. Think about it. Customer walks in wearing a hat and sunglasses. The guard or the clerk tells him it's against the bank's dress code. Angry scene erupts, in which the authority of the employee is challenged, and he is subjected to insults. The bank manager then has to step in and explain that it is the bank's policy, etc. If they're lucky, the ill-attired customer will merely leave (and maybe take his account to a competing bank which does not have the dress code). If they're not lucky, the customer will go straight to the ACLU and file some sort of civil rights lawsuit. So, there's no question that implementing such a dress code would tend to create many unpleasant scenarios.

But with a federal law, the banks could point to signs reciting the law, and it would be a situation of "Our hands are tied!"

I'm not blaming the banks for wanting a legal solution. My complaint is with a society that has become so paralyzed that individuals and businesses are increasingly unable take any individual initiative.

A federal dress-code regulation is a perverse bureaucratic solution to a problem that formerly would have been solved by individual business owners.

Separately, on August 18, two NY firemen died in a building, the old Deutsche Bank Building near ground zero, that should have been demolished years ago. John Fund provides the background:

For years, black mesh fabric hung down its 40 stories. The top 14 stories seem to have gone away by magic, so small are the signs of human movement around the building.

The building, however, is not inert. The former Deutsche Bank building, now officially 130 Liberty Street, is, almost literally, a beehive of activity. Operating under a deconstruction implementation plan mandated in 2005 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 130 Liberty's interior has been transformed into arguably the most elaborate "abatement and deconstruction" project in the history of demolition. Once it was decided that the building had been irretrievably poisoned by dust from the collapse across the street of the World Trade Center towers in 2001, it entered a netherworld of fear defined by some familiar words: asbestos, dioxin, PCBs.

The deconstruction is mostly an afterthought to neutralizing public anxieties, and probably class-action lawsuits. Indeed, the detail and meticulousness of the clean-up is the primary reason that since 2005, the workers inside, wearing spaceman suits, have dismantled only 14 floors, with the projected cost rising to an estimated $177 million, up from $75 million.

What both these examples, sunglasses in banks and the 130 Liberty clean-up, have in common is the unwillingness of individuals or organizations involved to make decisions. This is understandable because, in the current culture, anyone or anything that takes responsiblity becomes a target, both a political target and a legal target. Being a political target is not that serious: most of the time politicians justs through mud. Being a legal target can be extremely costly. Anyone who took responsibility for any sensible demolition plan for 130 Liberty would be a target for any contingency-fee lawyer who had a client who claimed dust from the demolition caused him to cough. So, 9/11 reconstruction costs escalate and firemen continue to die just so that no one has to take responsibility.

As long as the US legal system resembles a game of roulette, we can expect the paralysis only to grow.

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