Feb 16 2014

The Decline of Western Civilization

Recently, there have been a number of things in the news that make me think that Western Civilization is in decline.  It doesn’t take much to look at parts of Europe that are bankrupt, both morally and economically, or at the United States where cities like Detroit are bankrupt and in ruins, or states like California where regulation is driving businesses out of the state and turning the Central Valley from a breadbasket to a desert to save a small fish that is truly endangered not by a lack of water but by the introduction of sport fish (bass) which eat the tiny delta smelt…

But there are two things that really get me going, and they are related.

The first is the inability of society to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time.  The reason isn’t that things are necessarily more difficult – we have technology that specifically makes a lot of things easier.  It’s because we have added layers of regulations and requirements and checklists and consultations and approvals on top of everything we do.   The used to be said that if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door.  The truth is that if you built a better mousetrap the world would now be asking if you have permission to devise that mousetrap, did you do the proper environmental impact assessment on killing mice, or the impact on cats who will have fewer mice to hunt?  Did you consult with the local people who might not want to kill the mice (or maybe they do, but you still have to consult with every single one of them).  My daily job causes me great frustration when I am presented with requirements written into a specification, regulation or other directive that are said to be necessary, but when questioned, those who are enforcing the “rules” don’t even know why they were written t

he way they were or what the other consequences might be.   I also get frustrated with how much time and effort is wasted on paperwork and processes that do not result in anything getting done better, faster, safer or more economically.   Often the paperwork and procedures are there to cover someone’s ass from being questioned – not really to improve anything.   To give you an example, I must give credit to Kate at SDA:



As you can see, during wartime 7 decades ago, a major infrastructure project got built in under a year.  Now, to do something arguably much easier it takes nearly a decade to get the paperwork ready to get approval to build something that will take another five years or so to complete.

This is a disaster for our society.  When you ask questions about why employment levels continue to be anemic following the Great Recession, recognize that we have created a society where it is far to hard to DO ANYTHING.  Wouldn’t it employ more people to actual build bridges and pipelines than to argue over them?

The second part of the my rant today is about one of the reasons for this, particularly in western societies.  That is the extension of individualism (which I generally like) to the bizarre extreme of believing that everyone has a valid opinion that should be considered and that every individual’s opinion should be given equal weight, and that the dislikes of individuals or a small group should trump the desires or needs of the many.  It’s like Star Trek III, only more unbelievable.

I came to this realization a few weeks ago when it was pronounced in the news that the town of Kitimat, BC was going to hold a referendum on whether or not the Northern Gateway Pipeline should be built to their port.   While I normally think that referenda are a good idea, the problem with applying them too liberally is that you get situations like this – a small group of people hold a vote on a subject that affects far more than their circle of control, even if it has negative effects on millions of other people.  Why should the voters of Kitimat, BC, have the power to kill a capital project that will have dramatic economic benefits for the people of the whole country?

This is happening all over the world, where people are fighting things they don’t understand, or refuse to understand, in the name their “rights”, but they are ignoring the rights of everyone else.  It is situations like this that create ridiculous consequences like regulations that require that industrial facilities store human waste (i.e. sewage) in double-hulled cisterns, while farmers are allowed to do so in simple single-walled septic tanks and then pump the “treated” waste into a field.   Because people don’t want to think – they want rules written to protect everyone and everything.  And people refuse to trust anyone else to do the right thing.  And especially they refuse to accept that other are acting in good faith and with generally good intentions.  We don’t want to built Keystone or Gateway to destroy the environment.  We want to supply the world with energy.  We don’t want to build bridges across rivers to destroy the environment – we do it to GET TO THE OTHER SIDE!.

Stop making everything so hard.  It doesn’t need to be.  Just let people act.

As I have stated before, Ayn Rand’s books, the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, were supposed to be warnings to society about the dangers of overarching government and regulation.  But we have gone and turned them into how-to manuals.  And look where it is leading us…




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  1. Robert Tripp

    True, and a disturbingly accurate citing for our times and our western societies. Red tape will strangle the efficiency of any “progress”, which should be otherwise so much easier to accomplish with modern technology. This is indeed a travesty, but an ironic tribute to the effectiveness of special interest groups’ lobbying and the unjustifiable degree with which North America, to its own demise, has yielded to them. It casts a shadow on our productivity and changes the complexion of our model free enterprise system.

  2. Cynical Bard

    And the “Minister in Charge” can’t tell why the regulations were made, or what is being accomplished. Take the issue of BPA in plastics.

    Health Canada said “there is no known risk from BPA”, but they banned it anyway. Why?

    I can accept that the Minister does not personally have the knowledge, but should be able to get the information form his/her staff on five minutes notice

    I wanted to add some refrigerant to a vehicle air conditioning system. A local service shop quoted me over $200. I bought the material and did it myself for about $20. Why so much difference? Because I did not follow the same rules, or do the paperwork they are required to do. But the system worked just as well with my repair.

  3. Scott M

    I work for the government and I was having this exact conversation with a co-worker with mine on Friday regarding problems within our dept. We are overburdened with managers and “consultants” complicating and dragging out processes that are easy fixes. You nailed it!

  4. Ira

    The issue in Kitkmat is an interesting question of how property rights should work. If I own the only port, and I invested my own money to construct that port, then I think I should be allowed to accept and refuse traffic through that port as I see fit.

    But if the government built the port, then the people who happen to live near it shouldn’t be granted a monopoly on deciding how it operates.

    1. Taliesyn

      This is additionally complicated, because the question of building a port versus using the waterway are two different things. The new LNG terminals and Gateway terminal are essentially building their OWN ports, but using the Douglas Channel as a common thoroughfare. The people of Kitimat shouldn’t have a veto on the use of the Channel. This is further complicated by the lack of treaties between aboriginals and the Crown in BC. The last 150 years would tell me that it is Canadian land, but of course many aboriginal people don’t see it that way.

    2. Cynical Bard

      In some cases the owner does not have the right to refuse certain traffic.
      For example if you are a railroad or a pipeline, you can be declared a “common carrier” and be required to accept shipments from all shippers on the same terms. For example, if Northern Gateway existed, a shipper in Edmonton, might sell a million barrels of oil to a company in China, and the pipeline and port would have to accept it as if from any other shipper. I don’t know hwy they would not accept it as long as it fits the specs of the pipeline quality.

      I testified in a hearing at one time where my employer owned the pipeline, and the gas going through it, and wanted to keep out competitors as they would take up space in the pipeline. My challenge was to keep them out without saying I was keeping them out.

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