Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Zoning Code Sprawl

An post by Matthew Yglesias caught my eyes a few weeks ago about Zoning Code Sprawl, and how simple documents can quickly become large and complex over time.

It made me think about governing documents of organizations, like by-laws (my company has a set).

It reminds me of a few things:
  • The (in my opinion) terribly written European Constitution, which was over 300 pages, as compared with the trim US Constitution. Why the difference? Because the American Constitution was written as a mechanism for handling disputes rather than as a solution for those disputes. Governance documents tend to fail when they become the latter rather than the former.
  • It reminded me of the hell that is the Tax Code, and other documents that drift from usefulness into complexity; and the California State Constitution's slow slide into dysfunction. How helpful would it be to have a mandated return/rewrite to governance documents after a given period of time? Depending on the life cycle of the organization, it could be anywhere between five years and twenty five. But it would be useful to mandate a review.
(bonus fun fact: did you know Patrick Henry was vehemently against slavery?
Patrick Henry, the great Virginian patriot, refused to attend the Convention because he "smelt a rat," was outspoken on the issue, despite his citizenship in a slave state. In 1773, he wrote, "I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence of slavery."
Give me liberty or give me death indeed.)

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