The healthcare bill is now up to almost 2000 pages.
Which reminds me of the epicycles.
Prior to the acceptance of the Copernican system (early 1600s) it was generally believed that the sun and other heavenly bodies revolved around the earth. Fitting this earth-centric theory (the Ptolemaic system) to astronomical obligations required a bit of intellectual fast footwork. Not only did the heavenly bodies revolve in circles around the earth, they also revolved in smaller circles called epicycles:
In the Ptolemaic system, each planet is moved by two or more spheres: one sphere is its deferent. The deferent was a circle centered around a point halfway between the equant and the earth. Another sphere is the epicycle which is embedded in the deferent. The planet is embedded in the epicycle sphere. The deferent rotates around the Earth while the epicycle rotates within the deferent, causing the planet to move closer to and farther from Earth at different points in its orbit, and even to slow down, stop, and move backward.
After the invention of the telescope, it became impossible to square the Ptolemaic system with actual observations, and the whole thing was eventually thrown out. Having the right conceptual model led to radical simplification.
In the philosophy of science, the phrase “adding epicycles” is sometimes used to refer to the defense of a bad theory by adding unnecessary complexity. (This article argues that epicycles were actually not added over time, as often believed, but that the original Ptolemaic model was used right up to the end. Which doesn’t change the fundamental point: lack of the right conceptual model leads to more complexity.)
So, why is the healthcare bill (which includes things like this provision for vending-machine labeling) almost 2000 pages long? I think there are four basic reasons.)
1)Inability to think in general principles. While the writers of the Constitution had the ability to think in terms of general principles, this ability seems rare among today’s members of Congress. Were Pelosi, Reid & Co transported back in time and asked to draft a Constitution, it would probably include excruciating detail about the relationship between masters and apprentices in the brewing industry, and specifications for carriage-wheel diameter and number of spokes.
2)Lack of humility. Failure to grasp the complexity of society and its economic relationships; unwillingness to admit the limitations of top-down control.
3)Political horse-trading among Congressmen.
4)Desire to maximize the power of the political class and the re-election chances–and the post-career incomes–of individual Congressmen. If you micromanage the vending machine industry, or threaten to, then the campaign contributions from that industry’s PACs are going to be much larger.
The clear trend is toward longer & longer bills, incomprehensible even by those who are voting on them–but binding on all Americans.