Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Law is the requirements specification for the system of being a resident

Our (US) government uses taxation and tax relief as a way of enacting all sorts of public policy legislation. For example, we have a way of paying medical bills through the use of a tax relieved account. Sounds great doesn't it. I put so much aside every month into an account (a Flexible Spending Account or some such TLA). Then when I have to pay for some procedure (like new glasses, eye exams, dental stuff, etc.) that is somehow not covered by my healthcare payment system (aka "Insurance" which it patently isn't), I use money from this tax relieved account. Sounds great - I'll have some of that think the politicians who prepared the bill and sold it to banks, lobbyists, lawyers and eventually the people.

However it doesn't quite work! On every occasion that I have used the account this year I get a letter from the account sdministrators that essentially says, "I don't believe that you have used this for a legitimate purpose, so please provide suitable documentation".
I bought eyeglasses and lenses, I had my teeth cleaned. The credit card receipts showed where I spent the money, but not on what. So, I now have to go through find the receipts with the actual things I paid for on them, submit them to the processing company - who have presumably got a bunch of employees doing low value work verifying that I haven't somehow spent the money on something not covered (toothpaste for $185  at the dentist?, Glasses cleaner for $350 at the optomerist?)

When our lawmakers specify the "system", they don't seem to take the possibility of fraud into consideration. The initial assumption is all unicorns and rainbows. It is assumed that people won't cheat the system, that the happy path is the only path....

That thinking, however, fails to take into account the inventiveness of part of the population. That part of the population that will attempt to use the system in a way it was not designed to be used, for personal gain. So the cycle seems to be.

  1. Create legislation that makes things look really rosy for the populace, vested interests, lawyers, etc.
  2. Roll the "system" that embodies that legislation out
  3. Be shocked that there is abuse
  4. Place layer upon layer of administrative/bureaucratic overhead to prevent the potential abuse
  5. Ignore fraudsters
  6. Proclaim that jobs have been created
  7. Rinse and repeat.
If we can't be sure that a relatively small system will behave properly - even with iterative development methods, what hope is there for the waterfall approach in the legislative process?