Law of Diminishing Returns

Since I started this blog five months ago, I’ve talked a lot about personal experiences in hopes of providing a source of inspiration to others. I’ve also talked of religious topics and how those principles have been applied in my own life. Now I’d like to talk of one that’s been on my mind for some time, an economic topic by definition, but one that I think we all experience in our daily lives. In doing so, I’ll try to give some real-life examples so you get a sense of what I’m speaking of.

Wikipedia defines “Diminishing Returns” this way: “In economics, diminishing returns (also called diminishing marginal returns) refers to how the marginal production of a factor of production starts to progressively decrease as the factor is increased, in contrast to the increase that would otherwise be normally expected.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how much more gas we throw on a fire, it won’t make any difference in the output of the heat. Another way of looking at it is strictly from an economic standpoint. Take our current economic crisis America is experiencing; massive unemployment, unprecedented spending to boost the economy, bailouts right and left. You get the point, right? We’ve thrown money at problems for nearly two years now and yet still, we’re no better off today than we were then.

Now for some personal examples. I was talking with my 85-year old Aunt recently here in Southern California. She’s a retired public school teacher, having taught English and writing for over three decades. Recently, she decided she wanted something to do with her idle time so she approached a local school district to volunteer as a writing instructor for advanced placement English for high school students. However, because of the way our culture has evolved, she had to submit to the “application process” like anyone else would. This meant a background check, drug screens, you name it, and she had to go through it. When she went to get tested for drugs, the people there laughed like, “Are you kidding me? You? An 85-year old widow with over three decades of an unblemished teaching career?” Yep, she had to do it. On top of that, she had to submit to fingerprints. All TEN of them. But, because of her age, her skin has deteriorated to the point that the technician couldn’t obtain a decent impression of FOUR of her fingers! The technician said, “Hmm…that’s strange. That’s never happened before.” The result? My aunt’s job as a volunteer teacher is on hold because the “system” says so. Why? Whatever happened to common sense? Judgment of character?

So, from a “diminishing returns” perspective, what GOOD does it provide for her, or anyone else similar to her, to have to play by the same rules as everyone else? The system says so and frankly, if you think about it, here’s why. Imagine, if you will, they did use their own judgment and hired her based on her credentials, only to find out later that she did drugs. Bam. Lawsuit from parents right and left. And therein is where the problem is with our culture. Everyone is so afraid of being sued for the slightest grievance and, because of one rotten egg in years past, everyone, including 85-year old ladies with spotless records and unparalleled credentials, get thrown in the same pot.

Here’s my own example. When I got out of the “Holliday Inn” in Elkhart, KS. in November 2008, I started doing research on jobs as a substitute math teacher. I had hopes, (though very brief as it turns out for several reasons) of returning to my hometown of Tribune to be with my children and was thinking of teaching. But, because Kansas views DUI’s differently than other states, and being such a conservative lot by nature, the legislature in their infinite wisdom mandated that people such as myself who were guilty of multiple DUI’s were thrown in with the same people who have committed rape, murder, incest, assault, battery, and any other number of “personal” felonies in terms of what professions they could not engage in. And guess what one of those was? You got it. I was deemed such a danger to children that I couldn’t even substitute teach 5th grade math in the town where I grew up, total population 1500, and a grand TOTAL of 200 students in grades K-12.

It comes down to this. We’ve gotten to the point as a society and as a culture that we’ve reached maximum output when it comes to legislation. And no matter what further bills are passed, there’s really no productive value to them. Common sense has gone out the window. For example, when I was researching Kansas statutes in February 2009 as a result of what I found out about my own record, I discovered the Kansas legislative agenda one day online. What I saw stunned me. We had STATE legislators, not national congressmen mind you, having to vote whether a certain height of fence was necessary in Rooks County, Kansas to keep horses properly penned in on public property. Does anyone honestly think a legislator is going to look at that proposed bill? Or even care? No. He/she is simply going to have a bunch of aides say vote yes or no, and not even bother looking at them. That’s pathetic.

In summary, our culture has evolved to the point where individual rights, common sense, and a sense of judgment have been lost all because we’ve made the system so cumbersome. 85-year old ladies with impeccable records and credentials that have to subject themselves to “background checks”, drug tests, and fingerprints to be a volunteer teacher. Middle-aged men such as myself who, in spite of breaking the law by drinking and driving, had absolutely NO record, not even a parking ticket, for 25 years prior to 2007 and who, because of a barrage of legislation, couldn’t get a job substitute teaching elementary math in the smallest populated county in Kansas and his hometown.

When I was in banking, I was taught the 4 C’s of credit; Character, Cash Flow, Capital, and Collateral. In that order. I was taught to use my analytical skills on the last three but had to use my judgment on the most important one; Character. I used to say this; “On a scale of 1-10, with a 10 being excellent, if I scored Cash Flow, Capital (Net worth), and Collateral as all 10’s ON PAPER, and judged the potential borrower’s Character as a 1 (the worst), I wouldn’t loan that guy a dime if he put 9 cents as down payment.”

In other words, Character is what matters. Same goes with our legal system.


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