While listening to NPR today I heard a senator talking about many agreements we have made with the Iraqi government where the Iraqi’s failed to do what they promised. He attributed that failure to the fact that “the agreements [had] no teeth.” That got me thinking. We don’t have to look outside our country to see ineffective government posturing related to agreements without teeth. Just look at any non-binding resolution ever passed by a legislative body. For that matter we can look at any legislation that gets passed without funds to carry it out. In case anyone is wondering – legal teeth start like this “$” and end like this “.00” and each digit that comes between that beginning and that end constitutes a tooth. For private citizens three teeth is generally enough to encourage compliance, but once we start dealing with governments and corporations it takes a lot more teeth to be convincing.
I think that wherever government passes any measure to redistribute wealth there must be teeth to ensure compliance with the law, and great care that the law be written to discourage abuse of any such program. I believe that government should generally avoid such laws because bureaucratic programs tend to be magnets for abuse, especially where money can be gained, but when they do legislate those things they need to put teeth into the law.
That lead my train of though onto a new track – we have our share of non-binding resolutions at home with the kids. As I think about it there are times (at least times in the home) when laws without teeth are a good thing. The children should learn to obey because it is the right thing, or because they trust us, not merely because they will lose some privilege.
So my question is, when do you think teeth are necessary? When do you think that they are unnecessary? I ask this not just with regard to government, but also to home and community situations.