Continuing the practice of replacing what works with what sounds good.
The fate of the disabled is a profoundly important moral issue. It speaks to the status of human rights and human dignity in a society. Will people – all people regardless of physical characteristics – be treated with respect and cared for with compassion and love, valued regardless of conditions which fate has imposed on them? Or will they be discarded and tossed out of the human family if they are insufficiently useful for our purposes?
And so Hillary Clinton, showing desperation to engage people in some moral issue, has chosen to take up the cause. The disabled are, “a group of Americans who are, too often, invisible, overlooked and undervalued — who have so much to offer, but are given far too few chances to prove it,” she said. “That’s been true for a long time,” she said, “and we have to change it.”
But wait just a minute. I vaguely recall that we’ve been here before. Oh yes, there was the gazillion-page law called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the one that continues to vex American business and every contractor for every building.
So Much for Disability Rights
The more I look at the history of government involvement, the clearer the picture became.Right out of college, economics degree in hand, I landed a contract to consult for the American Disability Foundation as a special assistant to the president of the organization. I was thrilled because it was a prestige appointment, and because the issue is important to me. There are private family issues I’ve dealt with. Also, one of my best friends growing up was severely disabled and fired from a job, because the minimum wage made it too expensive to employ him.
My job was to look through the draft of what later became the ADA. I was mortified. It was going to dramatically increase the cost of hiring the disabled. It would turn people’s love of disabled people into fear of getting anywhere near them in a commercial setting. The building codes would be enormously expensive and discriminate against small businesses. The public accommodations law (such as that mandating parking) would contribute to making the disabled community objects of resentment.
The more I look at the history of government involvement, the clearer the picture became. The more spending, the more regulations, the more mandates, the worse the condition of the disabled became. Government involvement ended not in inclusion but exclusion and isolation. This was incredibly obvious to me. It would be to anyone with even the slightest bit of economics education.
So Much for Telling the Truth
The big shots in the organization already had made their arrangements with big shot politicians.Naively, I thought my job was to tell the truth. So, living in Washington, DC, I went to one of the top sponsors of the bill in the US Senate and warned him not to back its passage. He was aghast and must have called the head of the organization I represented. The head of the organization called me in and demanded to know what the heck I was doing. I explained to him that the ADA was a disaster in the making. I laid out all the economics. I showed him the charts. I explained to him how the hiring of disabled people works.
How did he respond? He blew up at me.
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“People’s rights are being violated,” he yelled. “We must pass this bill!”
“But,” I explained, “this bill will lead to more rights being violated. It is going to cause mass unemployment and change public attitudes for the worse. I explain it all in this report.”
He didn’t read my report. I was very quickly dismissed from my post. You see, the whole organization had long ago decided that a Big Law was the way to go. No one could rethink, even when presented with evidence. The big shots in the organization already had made their arrangements with big shot politicians. They longed for the photoshoot day when the president would sign the bill and they would get the credit. They had already pillaged millions of good people with the promise that legislation would bring rights to the disabled. They were nowhere near ready to change their intellectual paradigm.
Effects of the ADA
The ADA remains today a great barrier to inclusion of disabled people in the workforce.And so the bill passed and went into effect in 1990. And what happened? Unemployment among the disabled not only failed to fall, it actually went up. An NBER study found, “no evidence that the ADA’s traditional employment protection rule, prohibiting firing and other employment decisions on the basis of disability, reduced disabled employment. … With respect to the ADA’s requirement of special accommodations for individuals with disabilities, the authors find a significant negative effect on disabled employment in the period just after the ADA’s enactment…”