04/11/2013 05:53 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2013

A Metaphoric Solution for Too Much of Everything

Just about everyone in America agrees and feels that there is too much regulation everywhere -- local, state and federal. Just about everyone also feels that there must be regulations of some sort to keep today's complicated society in balance to protect them from the people and institutions that might infringe on their lives, needs, rights and freedoms.

Is that a dilemma, or what?

To a lot of people, that set of issues is at the core of today's malaise and concerns about how modern society works.

Recently Roger Porter, a distinguished Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, who has worked in several Republican presidents' White Houses made an extremely important and interesting argument that the main problem with regulation may not be the amount of regulation but its unnecessary complexity. He argued convincingly that aiming for more simplicity could help a lot. I agree but the tougher question is how. A lot of the regulations today embrace big, complicated and sometimes subtle matters in finance, health and safety, just to mention three. Complexity sadly cannot be dismissed with a magic wand.

Two things could help, however:

One would be to attack the problem the way banks have to make consumer loan documents readable and understandable. For years lawyers said it could not and should not be done. Well, it has been quite well done by a lot of lenders. More power there!

Second, periodically there should be an effort to scale back and down the simple bulk of materials that comprise the rules and regulations. There seems to be a rule of nature that requires more of everything in embroidering rules of human behavior and process.

This is where the metaphoric solution may have something interesting to offer.

Most people over the age of about 40 probably know what a telegraph key was/is. Many kids had one as a toy and some learned the Morse code for tapping out yesterday's equivalent of twitter messages.

Telegraph keys usually had/have a thumb screw that regulates the width of the gap of the key and thus controls the loudness of the clack sounds created by the key.

In the early part of the 20th century, business that communicated with many customers and clients around the world had rooms full of telegraph operators sitting side by side clacking away to do their business. It was the Internet of the day. But there was one big, continuous problem. Most telegraphers had trouble after a few hours at work hearing their key over their neighbor's key because all the telegraphers were constantly loosening their thumb screws to hear their key better.

Thus it became a regular practice in the telegraph rooms for the manager to loudly announce at lunch time: "Time to turn all your thumb screws DOWN NOW!"

And they would all start over where they had begun the day. It worked pretty well for a long time.

The lesson in this little sermon is -- we need to learn how to turn back a lot of the thumb screws which are squeezing us in the modern world.

All it takes is figuring out where and what those metaphoric thumb screws are in the maze of regulations we live in.

The first step in solving a problem is to decide what the problem really is and where it is. May be this is a first step?

Go figure!

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