Category Archives: Regulatory Agencies

Limitations of Science

[The below consists of a comment by the writer on The Volokh Conspiracy blog on a posting about today’s “March for Science”.]

While I have no essential difficulty with the concept of “evidence-based policy” — ignoring for the moment the intractable problem of capacity limits on apprehension of evidence, the accurate measurement thereof, and the interpretation of this data — it seems to me the real questions consist of:

One, what policies ought to be addressed, and,

Two, if it is decided that a particular policy ought to be addressed, how is it to be implemented; a subsidiary question to the latter is who is to implement it.

A wide swath of issues and problems are a constant feature of existence. However, does this mean that a uniform policy ought to be formulated to address any specific one? Ought not some be deferred or avoided simply because they are beyond the capacity of mortal minds, or as they involve such conflicting values or considerations that any policy is unfeasible?

Even if there is sufficient concord that a specific problem ought to be addressed by a particular community, there remains the question of which facet of the community ought to address it. Climate Change might be a good example. While I fully concur that excessive human activity necessarily has a deleterious effect, might not the best solution be individual, rather than concerted, behavior to restrict one’s unnecessary activities? A perception that the existence of a problem automatically necessitates the formulation of a policy to solve it is the threshold for oppressive centripetal interference in all areas of life.

Finally, there always remains the issue of the hubris of certain science advocates. It appears to me that many may be excellent technicians but are unaware of the very nature of science, perceiving it as some vehicle for identifying Reality or even Truth. (While announced in a different context, with a different meaning and for a different purpose, Pilates’ famous question of “What is Truth?” is a thought of continuing relevance.) Even Reality is a chimera subject to constant metamorphosis.

It seems that many of these proponents have forgotten that the scientific process is to constantly search for and identify new data and to formulate an hypothesis that comprehensively and accurately explains this data. It is a process, and for a purpose, that is much more humble and modest than to Discover Reality — unless one adopts a definition of Reality that is itself modest.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
22 April 2017

Bonuses to Government Officials? Revisited

Since posting of my earlier message, I had occasion to reflect further on the appropriateness of bonus awarding. This resulted in a reinforcement of the hypothesis that they generally are unjustified.

A person agrees to render services for a specified compensation. He then performs his obligation and a benefit, theoretically at least, is realized by the person with whom he contracted. If the benefit is greater than might have been anticipated, and if this might be due to the ingenuity and perspicacity of the service renderer, is not the result and is not the nature and extent of the services but the scope to which these parties earlier agreed? If so, why is the one due anything more than what he agreed to accept? (Though the dynamic and principle is different, one could look to Matthew 20:1-16 to see a parallel scenario.)

But, for argument, let us accept that a bonus might be able to be justified in an activity performed in the For Profit Arena. While it should be carefully structured because of the great possibility of abuse if loosely granted and administered it might be permissible under limited situations where a significantly greater-than-expected result is produced. But is this what is expected in the Governmental Arena?

Here, the dynamic and principle is to unilaterally provide benefit to the citizens, without a corresponding benefit to the government; a government exists only to do what the citizens cannot easily and efficiently do themselves, and thus it is to serve, not to itself benefit.

Further, because it is the agent of many, it has been delegated extraordinary power, that must be carefully controlled and exercised. Authorizing bonuses for its personnel, because a personal benefit would be received by them as a consequence of the performance of their duties, only encourages potential excessive and onerous exercise of this power, even though the dominant principle is to confine and restrict exercises of power, as being fatal to liberty.

Hence, for both these reasons also, allowance of bonuses to government officials is even more obviously wrong and impermissible.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
14 May 2014

Bonuses to Government Officials?

Only recently has it come to my attention that certain government agencies provide bonuses to certain of their employees. To say the least, I was astounded and shocked!

On what basis could a public agency justify providing bonuses? Now, the answer may be given that private enterprises not infrequently do provide such extra compensation. But those private enterprises (or most of them) are, by definition, profit-making ventures; their purpose, in addition to providing a valuable product or service, is to make money.

The only reason for the existence of a government agency is to perform functions that its citizens are unable to, or at least can only inadequately, perform for themselves. Thus, its purpose is but to minister in the interest of and upon behalf of its citizens. Consequently, private enterprises and government agencies have different characters and postures, and thus must need be organized on different principles.

Perhaps most saliently the private enterprise is paying bonuses from its own monies; and its shareholders have the capability to directly control awarding, or not awarding, such compensation. The government agency though would be paying these bonuses from someone else’s money, that is, from the pockets of its citizens. And who could possibly say the citizens have the de jure, much less de facto, power to countermand such awards?

Yet someone may say: But certain of our officials perform long, arduous service and thus are entitled to this extra compensation. If so, might not the answer be to appoint additional personnel and divide the work between them?  so that the volume of work is now more in proportion to the compensation? Not only would this seem to resolve the putative objection, but would have the further salutary benefit of allocation of authority between numerous officials and, thus, division of power.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
27 April 2014