One size fits all

One size fits all is a category that was commonly assigned to garments issued as uniforms.  It has migrated from uniforms to an effort at a blanket of uniformity.  It is perhaps a natural state of the human condition to seek one universal solution to our problems. If there is one simple solution to an issue that will work for everyone in every circumstance then it of course makes sense to employ it. Wherever such a panacea may exist it has surely been placed into common use. I may be trying too hard and thus not able to come up with a good example. I suppose we could apply this to something so elementary as say avoiding burns.  If one wants to prevent suffering burns to one’s flesh there is a universal measure of protection against this. Do not stick your hands or other parts of your body into open flames, upon griddles or in the path of blowtorches. Avoid physical contact with sources of thermal energy. Simple enough. There is, however, the unfortunate fact that many of our concerns are not so simple as this. In those instances the universal approach is practically speaking unattainable. Given that fact one must accept that the quest is futile.  And yet we persevere….

If you suffer from some ailment that is the result of your own behavior or life choices do not despair. There is no need to change your habits. There is now a pill or other form of medication to fix the problem.  If schools seem to be failing to deliver a sufficient level of education fear not! A universal testing standard for all will insure that no child is left behind. If there is a scourge of drug abuse in your society then surely the enactment of universal and mandatory sentencing of offenders will stem that tide. And should you fall prey to some catastrophic attack as a result of a lack of security procedures in commercial air travel well rest easy, friend.  A system, administered by your wise and benign federal government, will be implemented whereby each and every individual boarding an aircraft will be subjected to the most stringent scrutiny of their belongings and persons. There! Problem solved!

All of these examples are pretty complex and serious, life impacting issues for most if not all of us. The one size fits all strategy plainly does not fully or effectively address the concerns. Not all problems are simple thus nor are the answers to said problems.  For some reason this seems to elude our understanding, or at least the understanding of those empowered or entrusted to find and apply the solutions. To be fair a good deal of the responsibility for this may rest upon our own shoulders.  Many of us seem to gravitate to those who will promise us the one size fits all solution.  It absolves us of the need to give these issues any further thought. What’s the point of a serious and careful review of these proposals to determine their real efficacy? If it sounds good and can be explained in a 10 second sound byte then that’s good enough. We all have more important matters with which to concern ourselves.

If one relies upon the major media outlets another burning issue these days is income inequality. There could be a lengthy debate as to the degree and the reasons for this, but examining some statistics it can be concluded that there are many more Americans in poverty these days. There are record numbers of people receiving some form of public assistance. Median income and net worth per capita has been in a downward trajectory for nearly a decade.  The workforce participation rate has dipped to it’s lowest point in our nation’s history. These are not issues of income inequality: there will always be income inequality.  They are disturbing statistics nonetheless. The underlying tenet of the income inequality argument assumes that a dynamic economy is a zero sum game. That is to say that it assumes that there are only finite pieces to the economic pie. If there are those who have less it can only be because others have taken more than their rightful share of that pie. I’m not accepting the premise, merely explaining the argument. It is yet another example of the divisive politics of envy, or class warfare as it is often tagged.

This leads me to an example where we find two tactics employed in one proposal.  In an uncharacteristic concern for fiscal controls there are provisions either proposed or already enacted in various jurisdictions to compel welfare recipients to be subject to drug testing. There is the concern, valid in many instances to be sure, that there may be those on the public dole who are engaging in drug abuse at the taxpayer’s expense. The mandatory submission to drug testing for all recipients is the one size fits all solution to the problem, while it is also a further effort to fan the flames of class warfare. I have a friend who responded to this idea in a manner that illustrates the latter. “I have to be tested where I work. Why shouldn’t they?” That is a predictable reaction, no doubt taken into account as a political calculation by those behind such legislation. Not to argue the point, mind you.  It is surely a legitimate question, but I believe the wrong question.  The question should be “ Why should you have to submit to drug testing at your job?”

There is a definite distinction between drug use and drug abuse, one that is often missed.  In the attempt to craft a one size fits all solution this is certainly true.  Drug abuse in the workplace is a valid concern. It increases the risk to safety in the workplace, for employees and patrons alike. It also further exposes the employer to liability.  Private companies can make the valid legal argument that as private companies they are within their rights to make such conditions. Most of us can readily agree, however, that legality does not necessarily equate to that which is wise or right. One of those bothersome grey areas that does not lend itself to the universal answer, I’m afraid. The same problem exists in this approach for both workplace testing and for the welfare recipient.

The concern in the workplace test is to insure that an employee is not impaired and creating a safety hazard while they are at work. What that person does on their own time is their own business. The testing metric for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, only identifies whether or not the subject has the chemical in their system.  It can not be an accurate measure of whether or not the subject is impaired while at work. In weighing this each case needs to be judged upon it’s own unique merits. This is no less true for the welfare recipient.

What these one size fits all proposals suggest is that if a welfare recipient tests positive for marijuana use their benefits be suspended. Now if you are on public assistance you really shouldn’t be spending your limited resources on dope. There is no one paying for or subsidizing my habits. I don’t want my pockets picked to fund yours. The problem here is that the policy assumes too much based upon too little.  Someone on welfare might have friends who do work for a living and who have decided to share some of their stash. If the welfare recipient smokes up a little with some friends one evening it does not instantly qualify them as a drug abuser. Now if you want to examine the habits of welfare recipients individually, using some metric other than a urine or blood test I have no issue with that. If upon a fair and careful examination it can be learned that the beneficiary of public dollars has a serious drug addiction and is abusing both drugs and the public welfare system then sure! We all should not be paying for this. Let the individual suffer from the laws of natural consequences. What will happen with them is what happens with any drug abuser ultimately, whether on assistance or not. They will get treatment and beat the addiction or they will end up homeless and/or dead.

Instead of concerning ourselves with the recreational choices of welfare recipients we should really be asking why are these people in these circumstances to begin with. In some cases it may well be because of a drug problem, but one lab test alone does not assure that is the case.  I can craft my own arguments, but the realm of the arts is so rich with illustrations  I’m always pleased to include them in any debate.  I have for the past decade or so been a fan of the indie music scene.  One act that I have come to enjoy is a band who call themselves The Andrew Jackson Jihad and I will close by quoting a verse from one of their songs.

If I had a cigarette for every time a perfect stranger asked me for a cigarette

Then I’d have enough cigarettes to get me through the day

And if I had some spare change for every time a perfect stranger asked me for some spare change

Then I’d have enough spare change to take care of these bills I need to pay

And dude I know that times are tough

But that does not mean that you can have my stuff……

….. ‘cause I think you deserve much more than a smoke and fifty cents

You deserve to be self sufficient and buy your own cigarettes




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