The Georgia Department of Public Health has suspended the Medical Center of Elberton in North Georgia from the statewide COVID vaccination program for a period of six months.
Since this is a rural area, the residents who might normally look to the Medical Center of Elberton for its COVID vaccinations, will now be required to obtain them elsewhere, if they can get them at all.
What did the Medical Center of Elberton – and let’s not forget the inconvenienced residents – do to deserve this punishment?
Well, technically the inconvenienced residents did nothing as they had no role whatever in the decision of the Medical Center of Elberton to … wait for it … vaccinate teachers, school bus drivers and cafeteria workers so that children could return to live classes.
This was in violation of a rule setting priorities as to whom to vaccinate.
Perhaps the Georgia Department of Public Health was following a rule created in Washington? Perhaps it had no choice? Perhaps the Georgia Department of Health was simply being adamant and demanding to be obeyed?
Either way, it had a powerful weapon to deploy against the Medical Center of Elberton for its temerity. There was a rule and it had not been followed.
No matter that the innocent residents would also be impacted, a rule is a rule.
No matter that the decision to vaccinate the educators might have actually been better for the Elberton community.
A rule existed. It had been violated. End of story.
Stories like this happen every day and most of them draw little notice. The frustrated citizen who is forced to interact with his government has no choice but to deal with it because, for most, making a stink is not worth it.
In aggregate, our rules-based culture takes a toll. People become frustrated with rule makers who seem to have little familiarity with their lives and, worse, perhaps not much concern.
There is nobody who feels more strongly about this than Philip K. Howard, a 70-something lawyer (and quite a capable bike rider and skier). He is a graduate of Yale and the University of Virginia Law School and the retired Vice Chair of Covington & Burling, a highly regarded Washington-based law firm.
I introduced him at a Zoom Meeting last August. Here is an excerpt:
I knew about Philip Howard before I actually got to know Philip Howard. In fact, I first wrote about him eight years ago.
I first became aware of him in the mid-1990s with his book “The Death of Common Sense.” He has written five more since — all on the same or similar themes: too many rules that stifle initiative both inside and outside of government.
His concern is not so much what government does as with how government does it. He describes himself as a radical centrist.
Asking a question of the audience is a reliable method of getting people engaged, but Zoom is not well-suited to that. We’ll have to rely on you to answer for yourselves.
Please think about any of your own endeavors and ask yourself “what percentage of the consumers of your services would you like to be “very” or at least “somewhat” satisfied with your efforts?
I think I would like 80% to 90% to be “very” satisfied and at most 10% to 20% to be only “somewhat” satisfied. I would prefer there be none at all saying they were “somewhat” or “very” dissatisfied.
For decades, Gallup has been asking the question: “how satisfied are you with the federal government and how it works.”
Over the past 20 years the percentage of those who are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the federal government has declined from 68% to 43%, while the “somewhat” or “very” dissatisfied categories have risen from 30% to 57%. Virtually everyone has an opinion, with only 1% or 2% saying they don’t.
Howard founded an organization called Common Good that tries to do something about changing people’s attitudes toward the sanctity of rules and our replacement of individual decision making with rote rule following.
One might hope there would be nothing more bi-partisan – better still non-partisan – than avoiding dumb decisions.
Philip Howard and Common Good are about just that — minimizing dumb decisions by re-empowering front-line decision-makers. It is a worthy effort.