In my years of observing and participating in the legislative process both as a voter and as a legislative aide, I have noted a number of tendencies common to politicians of all political persuasions. High on this list are two items: first, politicians have a deep desire to be seen by their constituents as helpful problem-solvers. If that means bringing the full force of the federal or state government down on an issue that should be solved at the local level, well, so be it. Re-election beckons.
Unfortunately, another common trait of legislators is the fact that they are extremely busy individuals. Between legislative sessions, committee meetings, constituent calls, dealing with the press, district events, fundraising, campaigning, and traveling between all of the above, there simply isn’t much time to spend deeply pondering the probable outcomes of all of the various actions a legislature can take.
As a result, legislative “problem solving” often is relegated to the appropriations process. In other words, well-meaning politicians throw money at perceived problems and needs and hope that the problem goes away.
The end result of such activity is often the opposite of the legislative intent. And it’s not strictly an American problem. In an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Company, Dr. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute talks about the negative effects on local voluntary organizations when government tries to “help.” (4.3 mb mp3)