Making easy things hard

Marketing guru Dan Kennedy coined the phrase “complexity creep” to describe what can happen to a business that doesn’t keep things simple. As he wrote in the early 1990s, “Complexity just creeps on you when you’re not looking. And unnecessary complexity creates a whole host of problems. It wastes time, drains your energy and enthusiasm, it often confuses the customer — and confused customers do not buy!”

For the first couple of centuries of the industrial revolution, the goal of modernization was to make life simpler for the common man. The steam engine made transportation simpler, safer and faster than the stagecoach, whether it was a family or a package that was moving cross country. At the dawn of the 20th century, the automobile brought the same revolution for short term distances. It was also more hygienic than the horses it replaced.

Similarly, local government offered a basic social contract with its citizens. For a small amount of taxes and fees, it would offer water and other utilities, and services such as garbage collection. And garbage collection was a simple as it could get: once a week you put out your trash, it was collected and disposed of. Repeat each week.

Whether it was private enterprise inventing a new labor saving device, or local government offering a new service, the goal of all of this was to make the base elements of life simple, so that the average person could concentrate on getting ahead and bettering himself.

Around the 1970s and ’80s that began to change. Penn & Teller did a brilliant segment of their Bullsh*t series for Showtime a few years ago on the unnecessary hassles of recycling, which brought the first layer of complexity creep into the home, thanks to increasingly environmentally correct government busybodies:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Now Mayor Bloomberg proposes the next level of complexity creep for Manhattan residents. And because it has the blessings of both Nanny Bloomberg and Nanny New York Times, the cast of the Today Show are here to tell you it’s just a swell notion, no matter how idiotic they know it truly is. Or as Kyle Drennen paraphrases in his Newsbusters headline, “NBC Praises Bloomberg’s ‘Great Idea’ of Forcing New Yorkers to Store Rotting Trash in Apartments:”

The hosts on Monday’s NBC Today were all in agreement that New City Mayor Michael Bloomberg forcing all residents to sort out rotten food scraps from their garbage for composting – and to hold on to the refuse for days – was a “great idea” that would be “good for the environment.” [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Co-host Matt Lauer briefly explained the program: “[Bloomberg] wants you to take your food scraps, put them in a container about the size of a picnic basket in your home, hold them for a few days and then later put them in some larger…containers out on the sidewalk….This is going to be part of a voluntary program at first, which will then become a mandatory program.” He added that “they’ve tried it with a few pilot programs here in New York and the participation was very high.”

Fellow co-host Savannah Guthrie briefly worried: “The first thought I have is won’t it smell?” News reader Natalie Morales wondered: “Does it seal out the rodents? Because you know, the rodents in New York City, they’re like, they can open anything.” Guthrie joked: “They love this policy.”

Lauer assured them: “Yes, but you’re sealing it….Apparently it’s like one of these Tupperware – not to give a name brand – but Tupperware-type containers that does seal with a click, so it won’t stink in your apartment.”

Putting aside all skepticism of a local government forcing citizens by law to sort through their garbage, weatherman Al Roker proclaimed: “I think it’s a great idea.” Morales agreed: “No, it’s good for the environment and composting is – I’ve done it in the past. It’s really – it’s good.” Lauer touted: “And by the way, other cities have tried this with great success.”

It helps of course, when everyone on that panel was making high six figure and seven figure salaries and had maids, nannies and housekeepers who will be doing the real dirty work. Especially in Mayor Bloomberg’s own residences.  “We don’t cook at home, but, yes, we have separate trash for composting stuff,” Bloomberg sniffs when asked by the New York Post to defend his latest hectoring program. In other words, let them compost cake, Nanny Bloomberg tells the peasants.

But this is just the latest example of the leftwing nanny state attempting to gum up the works of day to day life. In an article last year titled, “How Government Wrecked the Gas Can,” Jeffrey Tucker of the Laissez Faire Club explored how nanny state tinkering around the edges of life starts to add up:

The gas gauge broke. There was no smartphone app to tell me how much was left, so I ran out. I had to call the local gas station to give me enough to get on my way. The gruff but lovable attendant arrived in his truck and started to pour gas in my car’s tank. And pour. And pour.

“Hmmm, I just hate how slow these gas cans are these days,” he grumbled. “There’s no vent on them.”

That sound of frustration in this guy’s voice was strangely familiar, the grumble that comes when something that used to work but doesn’t work anymore, for some odd reason we can’t identify.

I’m pretty alert to such problems these days. Soap doesn’t work. Toilets don’t flush. Clothes washers don’t clean. Light bulbs don’t illuminate. Refrigerators break too soon. Paint discolors. Lawnmowers have to be hacked. It’s all caused by idiotic government regulations that are wrecking our lives one consumer product at a time, all in ways we hardly notice.

It’s like the barbarian invasions that wrecked Rome, taking away the gains we’ve made in bettering our lives. It’s the bureaucrats’ way of reminding market producers and consumers who is in charge.

Surely, the gas can is protected. It’s just a can, for goodness sake. Yet he was right. This one doesn’t have a vent. Who would make a can without a vent unless it was done under duress? After all, everyone knows to vent anything that pours. Otherwise, it doesn’t pour right and is likely to spill.

It took one quick search. The whole trend began in (wait for it) California. Regulations began in 2000, with the idea of preventing spillage. The notion spread and was picked up by the EPA, which is always looking for new and innovative ways to spread as much human misery as possible.

An ominous regulatory announcement from the EPA came in 2007: “Starting with containers manufactured in 2009… it is expected that the new cans will be built with a simple and inexpensive permeation barrier and new spouts that close automatically.”

The government never said “no vents.” It abolished them de facto with new standards that every state had to adopt by 2009. So for the last three years, you have not been able to buy gas cans that work properly. They are not permitted to have a separate vent. The top has to close automatically. There are other silly things now, too, but the biggest problem is that they do not do well what cans are supposed to do.

It’s not the only thing that no longer does as well as it was originally conceived thanks to the nanny state; we’ll explore a few more after the page break.

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