Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ignoring the Fine Print Can Be Fatal

Most people who have had the opportunity to sign a mortgage contract have always been strongly advised to have a lawyer oversee the process, to make sure there is nothing in the fine print that could seriously hurt the people signing it.

Many of us have seen the car commercials where a really good suggested retail price is highlighted in large digits on the screen while a pile of fine print, accompanied by a fast-speaking voice, tells us in 5 seconds about the taxes, fees, etc. that are not included in the compelling price.

Even a single-page legal document is usually examined by a lawyer prior to signing to make sure ever period, comma and exclamation mark is in the right place.

Sometimes, fine print can be a source of fun, as shown in this sign:




In case you don’t have Superman’s super duper vision, the VERY bottom line says “Also, the bridge is out ahead”.

The devil is in the details, as they say.

So I wonder how it is that legislators on Capitol Hill (and on Parliament Hill in Canada to a similar extent) can sign 500 - 1500+ page documents without reading them or understanding them.

Even worse, our legislators sometimes tell us that when it comes to important bills, it is better to sign them first and worry about them later when one has time to reflect on them in a more quiet atmosphere.

Don’t believe me?  I’ll allow then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to describe this in her own words where she describes the Health Care Bill passed in 2010:


Nancy Pelosi suggests that understanding a binding contract before signing it is not important.


The Democrat and Republican parties both insist that they want to find a solution to the current issues with the debt ceiling, the deficit spending and revenue potential, all at the same time.

Anything they come up with will bend the minds of the world’s greatest mathematicians and economists.  Many conflicting opinions will result as people read this material and the disconcerting thing is that they will ALL be right using their respective rationale.

The impact of signing such a document will be almost impossible to predict, just as much of what we are experiencing now is the result of previous decisions that are producing our present-day outcomes - outcomes that were not anticipated when the decisions were made.

Meanwhile, our leaders assure us that everything is under control.

I wonder how they know, given that what they are dealing with is impossible for the greatest minds in the world to understand.

No offence to the wonderful people who serve the voters of Canada and the US with great sacrifice to themselves, but if matched up against the most brilliant minds in the world, not many of them would be on the same intellectual footing.

Try this for an experiment. 

The next time new, significant legislation is being tabled for a vote, call your local Congressman, Senator or Member of Parliament and ask them to tell you in specific, concrete terms and without political rah-rah rhetoric:

1. How we will benefit from the legislation.

2. What are the risks, if any?

3. How will we mitigate those risks?

And above all, with all of the answers provided, ask them:

4. How do you REALLY know?

After all, buying a house is a relatively safe, painless, fairly low-risk / low-impact  task and yet we still put this process under a microscope for our own protection.

And yet, with far-reaching, high-impact legislation, we hardly give it a second thought.

All of this being said, remember that the challenges of today come as a result of such legislation in the past.

And we never gave that any thought either.

An educated electorate is an informed and powerful one.

If we choose to not proactively participate in our democratic processes (which means more than just voting), what French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville once said is true:

In a democracy, we get the government we deserve.

And then when challenges like the ones we are currently facing threaten to derail our lives, we can’t really blame the people we put into office, can we?

We will have to hold someone else responsible and accountable for the mess.

We know exactly who the guilty parties will be, don’t we?

And that of all things is a most bitter pill to swallow indeed, unless we prefer the process of denial and blame government anyway.

But that’s as effective as applying a band aid to an amputation – and potentially just as fatal.

In service and servanthood,


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