Monday, December 6, 2010

Government-level Dumb

There is "dumb" (stupid), there is "really dumb", and then there is "Government-level dumb". In International Services work, we regularly encounter the latter.

"Government-level dumb" is that epic form of thoughtlessness where the response to a perceived problem is not only inappropriate, but indeed so counterproductive that it makes the problem worse... and because it is enshrined in legislation or regulation, there is not a damn thing any reasonable person can do to reverse it without a massive political undertaking, if then.

Economic and Tax policy are also areas where "Government-level dumb" commonly can be found. (cf. tariffing Brazilian Ethanol out of the North American market, then subsidizing a vast overproduction of food-source Ethanol within the market.)

But where "Government-level dumb" really comes into its mindless own is when the most central and powerful elements of national government are directed to act on some minor or entirely local matter. The combination of overreaction and misappropriation of effort, with a healthy dose of central government infallibility doctrine, almost always leads to a screw-up.

With that all in mind, and I'm sure you all have examples in your own countries of just such incompetence-as-governance, let me just give one example of why government officers with only a single (if any) area of competence should *never* be allowed to make policy in a vacuum... that somebody with a wide-not-deep understanding needs to vet *everything* against some standard of stupidity-to-be-avoided:

On November 26th, as part of a tax and revenue policy review, the policy arm of minshutou (the Democratic Party of Japan; DPJ) came out with their recommendations for addressing several problems reported by national ministries and prefectural governments. In the list was the problem that the rather large increase in pet ownership in Japan over the last decade has had at the same time led to a large increase in pet abandonment... estimated at over 300,000 dogs, cats and other small pets lost or set loose... a number that vastly overwhelms the animal control capabilities of many regions. The proposed solution is to be a "pet tax" annually upon owned pets.

This got a lot more airplay on the morning news around the 1st of December as the idea has apparently made it out of committee and is actually being considered.

Sounds kind of like a dog-license fee, right?

the thing is...

...the intention of the use of the revenue raised is to fund animal destruction efforts. Animal Control catches a lost or loose pet, and kills it. Humanely, of course. Smothering by inert gas.

((pause for effect))

Which may very well imply that smothering by inert gas would be better reserved for politicians who come up with such ideas.

Let's leave behind the moral argument... that being that humans have an obligation to treat well those animals that we bring into a situation... and the empathy argument... that it is not only senseless but heartless to destroy pets...

Let's focus on the "Government-level dumb" of this entire idea.

The problem here is: too many pets are abandoned; private rescue/humane operations are few and far between; traditional beliefs still hold that releasing an unwanted animal is a morally correct choice; Animal Welfare spay/neuter programs are non-existent, vets charge full price to every one; Government-run Animal Control is intended to catch and destroy the rather rare dangerous cases like a rabid animal, not to catch strays or manage feral colonies.

Right now, every purchased small-mammal pet in Japan was taxed at 5% of sales price. Given that store-bought animals vastly outnumber rescue/adoption/gifted animals, that's a chunk of change. *And* every bag of pet chow, veterinary visit, vet medication and little squeaky toy bought all also generate the 5% sales tax. That's all a plus to the government, and of the best kind they think as the revenue goes straight into the general fund... like all the rest of sales tax.

So faced with that set of problems, and utterly mindless of any repercussions, they now propose a "pet tax". If implemented what happens?

Oh come on, this isn't hard. What happens?

In the short run, some large fraction of existing pet owners refuse to register their pets. Folks will try not to pay the new tax.

There is no pet owner on the planet who thinks it is a good idea to kill lost/stray/abandoned pets. It might be necessary in some circumstances, but it is antithetical to the entire idea of having a pet. People will be unhappy, if not outraged.

The authorities then mandate a compliance scheme... probably requiring participation by vets and pet breeders/shops to register all animals on pain of loss of their business license. Once compliance is required, expect most of that large fraction mentioned above to abandon their pets. Same for any pet owner in financial difficulties. The number of abandonments balloons.

In the long run, expect a significant cut in the number of pets sold. Life is expensive enough already, here. Not many folks will sign up for even a fairly small additional boat anchor tied to their economic legs. The sales of pets, pet products and pet services plummet, and so does the collected sales tax.

This is solving the problem? No.

This is exacerbating the problem.

This is "Government-level dumb".


I strongly encourage all my Japanese-national readers to contact their representatives at the City, Prefecture and National levels and tell them to act to stop the "Pet Tax" as currently planned. Thank you.

fair disclosure: The author is active in animal rescue in Japan.

1 comment:

Susan said...

another well written article, amigo.

I need to pay u a visit-- it is crazy out here!