Cost? Not Our Problem!

Judges don't care about reality.

Being as human as the rest of us, bureaucrats try to insulate themselves from the problems faced by rest of society.  They don't have to provide a product or service of any value because citizens are required to deal with them.  The slower they work, the more staff they're given to do the job; the boss goes up in status because he has more people working for him.

If the economy goes down, the bureaucracy never suffers because politicians raise taxes "in order not to disrupt essential government services."  When the economy recovers, they spend the extra money and expand government so that they'll have to raise taxes again the next time the economy goes down.  Taxes ratchet up until it all falls down.

The danger of letting any government-related group be insulated from the rest of society is that the costs eventually overwhelm the economy and everything collapses.  When the bureaucracy doesn't care what their decisions cost the rest of us, when officials can say that the cost of complying with their policies is not a consideration, we get that much closer to the point of collapse.

We see this in a recent story "U.S. Must Modify Paper Money to Accommodate Blind" from Bloomberg:

U.S. paper money discriminates against the blind and must be redesigned to help sight-impaired people distinguish among dollar bills, tens, twenties and other amounts, a federal appeals court ruled.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 ruling today, rejected Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's contention that changing the bills to differentiate the denominations would be too expensive.

"A large majority of other currency systems have accommodated the visually impaired, and the secretary does not explain why U.S. currency should be any different,'' Judge Judith Rogers wrote for the majority. "The financial costs identified by the secretary are not out of line'' with the costs of other currency changes the secretary has made, she said.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson in Washington ruled in 2006 that the same-size paper currency violates the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. An inability to identify the value of paper money without help from others leaves blind and sight-impaired people at risk of being cheated, he said.

Of 180 countries that issue paper money, only the U.S. prints bills that are identical in size and, until recently, color for all denominations.

The judge may be correct in saying that the costs to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving might not be large compared to other changes they've made in the past, but what about the costs imposed on all of us who use money?  The cost to the treasury of printing different-sized bills would be trivial compared to the cost to the public of changing all our equipment to handle different-sized paper money.

The article notes that there are about 7 million food and vending machines in the US and that it might cost $3.5 Billion to convert them.  Changing vending machines would be only a drop in the bucket.

Assuming that they keep the $20 bill the same size, ATMs wouldn't have to change, but what about the cash drawers in all the banks, restaurants, and stores?  Think about the cost of every supermarket replacing all the drawers on all their cash registers.  Who do you think will pay for that?  We customers, of course; we pay for everything including the taxes stores pay.

The American Foundation for the Blind estimates that there are 10 million blind people in the US.  Is paying $3.5 Billion to convert all the vending machines plus whatever it costs to convert all the cash register drawers, wallets, billfolds, etc., a cost-effective way to address this problem?

Standard vending machines can identify the various denominations of paper money.  The electronics are already in production, there's no need for new engineering, only for new packaging.  It wouldn't cost much to package the bill identifier in a portable, battery-powered device.  If we spent $100 on a bill identifier for each of 10 million blind people, solving the problem would cost only $1 billion, 1/3 of the estimated cost of converting vending machines alone.  The cost would probably be a lot lower than that; costs come way down if you're making 10 million of something.

By the time all the other costs are thrown in, giving each blind person a small, talking bill reader would probably cost less than one-tenth the cost of converting our money and save the rest of us a great deal of fuss and bother.

But no, that's not good enough for the bureaucratic judges who're secure in their taxpayer-financed jobs.  You'll note that the judges cited what other countries do in making their decision.  This is part of a trend - instead of relying on our laws and our Constitution, judges are increasingly citing other nations' laws and customs in justifying their rulings.

Our courts are losing sight of cost and they're relying on other nations' doings in making their decisions.  It's just another step into the abyss of the Confucian Cycle.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
Should blind people be using vending machines anyway? I guess if you don't mind which type of soda comes out... I'd be worried that I'd get Diet Pepsi (curse the thought) instead of my beloved Dr. Pepper.
June 4, 2008 7:11 AM
That portable bill reader is a fantastic concept actually and I can think of several other applications just off the top of my head. Do you mind if I steal the idea and think on it a bit?
June 6, 2008 6:06 PM
If you can make something of it, by all means do so. Please do let us know what comes of it via the "Contact Us" link. It might make for an interesting follow-up article.
June 6, 2008 6:42 PM
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