Thursday, November 13, 2008

Voluntary Guidelines: Code for Doing Nothing At All

This week, a federal commission looking into whether there is a need for a passenger's bill of rights reported their recommendations. The commission came about as a result of the inhumane and unacceptable conditions that many stranded passengers had to endure during the Valentine's Day snow storm two years ago. If you recall, during that incident, passengers were stuck without food, water, or access to the bathrooms as their aircraft sat delayed on the tarmac for hours.

The commission, shockingly dominated by the airline industry, not so shockingly recommended that airlines adopt voluntary guidelines.

Now, I'm no pundit, I know nothing about politics. But, aren't voluntary guidelines what got us into trouble on Wall Street? Voluntary guidelines are the political equivalent of punting - they come after failure to do anything meaningful and you're out of ideas.

What happens when you give a child a "voluntary guideline" such as: "Timmy, it would be nice if you could mow the lawn. I would really like that, but you don't have to if you don't really want to. Only do it if you want to, it's not a big deal. But it would be nice if you would mow the lawn, you know, since I have robotic arms and work five jobs and I can't really do it. But if you don't want to mow the lawn, don't worry about it. It's O.K. Really. Only if you really want to."

Let me tell you a little story: Timmy ain't mowin' the lawn.

My mother never used voluntary guidelines. She always used her favorite grammatical form: the imperative, which goes something like this: "Mow the lawn now if you expect to eat dinner tonight - and look like you're enjoying it, too."

And I mowed and I enjoyed it.

So, basically, the commission is saying go with option 1 and the airline industry promises they will magically do the right thing. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this idea.

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