“Is it working?” That’s an easy question most of the time. Problem is, when lawmakers and regulation writers fix something broken, they rarely ask. They stick to their fix whether it works or not.
Consider the predicament of Carnell Alexander.
In 1991, Alexander, who lives in Michigan, was pulled over for a traffic violation. When police “ran” his license, an arrest warrant popped up. Nonpayment of child support. Cuffed, taken to jail.
Talk about ruining your day.
It seems an ex-girlfriend had identified him as the father of her son who was born in 1978.
He didn’t think he could be the father, so when he posted bond he decided to find her. She wasn’t at the address in any of the public records. He knew her legal name may have changed and he couldn’t afford a private investigator.
He was on his own. Eventually, they met. “Well, no,” she said (or something like that) when he asked if he had a son. The mom confessed that she had become lean of funds and applied for public benefits. The paperwork required she name the father of her child. She didn’t mean any harm, but no name, no check. She felt she had no choice. And she was sorry, by the way. Paternity tests confirmed Alexander was not the father.
Same fate could await many, many men in Mississippi.
Now, there are a more twists and turns in the facts of the Michigan case, but we’ve got enough for now.
Let’s look at this from the viewpoint of those who decided a mom could not get a check unless the name of a dad was provided.
That’s a reasonable rule, isn’t it?
Why should taxpayers subsidize clothing, food and housing for a child when a biological parent, perhaps with a fat paycheck, has danced away?
Lots of dads do. Welfare rolls could be chopped if more men would be men and meet the obligations that come with parenthood.
It was a good fix. If it worked.
Back to Alexander. The state insists it tried to serve him with court papers, but the person paid to provide the summons lied about it. He wasn’t served. (Seems to be a lot of lying in Michigan.)
When Alexander did go before a judge, most recently in February, she refused to laugh it all off and send him on his way. Instead, she ruled that because so much time had passed he might have to pay the state $30,000 for aid to a child that is not his, that he didn’t know existed for more than 10 years and is now, what, 37 years old? There’s also some discrepancy in the paperwork; perhaps at one time in some way he did agree to support the child, but likely before the paternity test ruled him out.
Slippery slopes leading to nonsensical conclusions are not at all unusual in a bureaucracy, any bureaucracy. Explosive program growth is part of this, too.
Desires to help lead to programs, programs lead to rules and then the rules need rules. The premise that a child should not go hungry is valid. The premise that parents, if able, must support their own children is valid. Rarely, however, does the machinery of government take a step back to see (1) if desired goals are being met and (2) if not, why not.
Instead, more and more rules are created and less and less efficiency results. No one understands the IRS Code. The document containing the law, rules, regulations and interpretations of federal tax law is 70,000 pages. The average Bible is 900; the U.S. Constitution could easily fit on 12. Social Security kicked off as a required pension plan with contributions returned to retirees. It was never to cost a penny of public funds, but is running deficits of about $77 billion each year.
The takeaway, of course, is that in ways large and small good ideas don’t always pan out or, said another way, fail to perform as intended.
Some legal scholars now advocate every new law at every level of governance contain an automatic repeal — forcing a review.
Not a bad idea.
But Alexander has no time for abstractions. He’s still got that $30,000 debt hanging over him. “I feel like I’m standing in front of a brick wall with nowhere to go,” he said.
Regulators may propose mandatory paternity tests going forward, but that adds time, expense, confusion expense and more complications.
Another fix to fix the fix of the fix.