We must decide how we decide!

September 2020

Any time you have a group of people — whether it’s a family, a club, a sport, an association, a city, a state, a country, or even a planet — you have to answer this question:

How do we decide how we decide?

Making decisions is tough enough when we make them just for ourselves, but when others are involved, the difficulty rises exponentially.

We don’t notice any problem when we all agree. But what happens when we don’t?

The current pandemic is a good example.

My cousin works with animals. (She says horses and dogs are a lot easier to work with than humans.) She lives in Trump country Florida, and one day at work one of her co-workers was angrily proclaiming his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“They can’t make me wear a mask. It’s unconstitutional.”

She responded, “They make you wear pants, don’t they?”

He did not see the law requiring him to wear pants in public as coercion because he agreed with it. But he believed that any requirement he wear a mask was unconstitutionally coercive, because he didn’t agree with it.

We have set up an elaborate decision-making system in this country. It is, famously, a system of checks and balances. We have many different levels of government (city, state, county, country). Each level has some areas where they get to make their own decisions (local zoning laws for example) and areas where they have to secure the cooperation of other levels (e.g. environmental issues).

We elect representatives (mayors, governors, legislators, Senators, Presidents) to run each layer of government (within Constitutional limits) and give them the power to make decisions starting with the principle that the majority rules.

Our elected representatives create systems for studying issues and making decisions based on what they find. When a new area comes up, the system for making the decision has to be worked out before any decisions get worked out.

The coronavirus is a new area. And we aren’t even close to deciding how we decide. Donald Trump is trying to foist the decision-making process (and the responsibility for any failures) onto the governors.

The governors are trying to get the federal government to take the lead in calling “lock-downs” and to send more money to cover added virus-related expenses when tax revenue is dropping.

I suggest we move from debating the mechanics of handling the virus (Do masks help? Can businesses open?) and switch to a debate about which level(s) of government are best suited to making these decisions on the very limited data we have available.

I offer this idea to open the debate. Actions that affect only a local area should be made by the local government, perhaps using non-binding recommendations from the federal experts. Actions that are likely to affect the whole country should be made by the federal government. But states would always be free to be more restrictive than the federal mandates. And families would always be free to be more restrictive than the state.

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