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Reactive

So many groups of people, especially politicians, seem to be very reactive. I mean reactive in the sense opposed to proactive, that is they react to existing problems instead of trying to prevent them in the first place.

Of course it might be that there are good reasons for this. One possibility is that the voters – who generally don’t like political interference in their lives at the best of times – won’t tolerate new laws and regulations concerning an issue which hasn’t affected them yet. Another is that politicians have so many issues to be concerned with that they can only spare the time to deal with the ones which manifest themselves as obvious immediate problems.

Anyway, at this point I think I should give a few examples. And a strange and varied set of examples they are too, specifically: quad bikes, guns, earthquakes, and climate change.

There have been quite a few quad bike accidents here in New Zealand recently and various people have called for action. It’s possible that there is a genuine problem there but more likely the series of accidents has simply been a statistical anomaly. There will always be some accidents with any type of vehicle and if there was one fatal accident per month for a year no one would notice. But if there is a clump of accidents – say 3 in a few weeks, even if the average over a year is the same – people will want to take action where none might be necessary.

The most recent mass killing in the US has again focussed attention on the gun problem there. Many people are calling for action on greater gun control but is this really a sensible approach? There are already too many guns in the country and new controls won’t fix that problem. Plus there is the old argument – favoured by many gun supporters and having a certain amount of merit – that stopping the “good guys” acquiring guns just makes it easier for the “bad guys”. Gun control is a complex issue and I don’t think either side is entirely right. What I do think is that making reactive laws after a traumatic event such as this is unlikely to lead to good decisions being made.

Since the Christchurch earthquakes the New Zealand government has insisted on an incredibly expensive and disruptive program of building improvements to help protect people in the next earthquake. Why? Do they know the next big disaster will be an earthquake? Maybe it will be a tsunami, volcano, flood, drought, or zombie apocalypse! Aren’t those worth planning for as well? And yes, I know many of those (apart from the zombies) are being planned for, but earthquake protection has taken a prime role. Why? Simply as a reaction to an event as far as I can see. It’s another reactive policy.

Finally there’s climate change. Here we have a situation which we know will be potentially far worse than every quad bike accident, gun death, and earthquake combined, but because there’s been no disaster incontrovertibly linked to it very little is being done. In fact the New Zealand conservative government is going backwards on the issue.

Many people are beginning to link the more frequent and serious weather related disasters around the world with climate change – the huge storm in the US and the serious fires in Australia being just two examples – but even experts say the link is unclear and I suspect nothing much will really happen until a reaction to an event undeniably linked to climate change happens. But by then it will be too late.

I have talked about how politicians are reactive instead of proactive but that is probably a bit unfair to them. I suspect it is a common fault that all people have – I certainly recognise it in myself on occasions. But in my professional life I do try to prevent problems and errors rather than fix them and politicians are professionals (supposedly) who should be working the same way.

But they rarely do. I guess that’s why we have so many outdated, poorly considered, and ineffective laws and regulations. Professionals should be proactive.

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