Monday, June 23, 2014

"Pragmatic" NJ Politicians Institute, Partially Roll Back, Residency Law

Pragmatism, in popular usage, is usually taken to mean being practical.

But, philosophically, pragmatism means something entirely different. Pragmatism holds that certainty is impossible. There are no absolutes. Truth is malleable and ever-changing. Principles? They're useless as a guide, for the aforementioned reasons. Therefor, it is pointless to attempt to draw lessons from history, because "what was true yesterday may not be true today." Furthermore, since facts, principles, and truth are essentially useless, one can not project future consequences of considered actions with any degree of assurance in the accuracy of one's foresight. Therefore, pragmatism holds, the best way to approach life is to act, and see what happens; what "works." If something goes wrong, repeat the process; act again, and hope for the best.

Pragmatism is rampant in our politics. If you don't believe me, consider a three-year-old law currently causing problems in New Jersey. The New Jersey First Act (NJFA) became law on September 1, 2011. As of that date, essentially all new government employees must reside in NJ. But now, NJ lawmakers are considering changing the law:

   When Gov. Chris Christie signed a law three years ago that required new public employees to reside in the state, the logic was simple: If you are paid by New Jersey taxpayers, you should call New Jersey your home.  
    But there was a consequence Christie and the law’s sponsors didn’t see coming, according to lawmakers. It became a barrier for New Jersey school districts to attract young prospective teachers, administrators and even potential superintendents who live in nearby states.

And the consequences go beyond hurting NJ employers and out-of-state workers. As the NJ Star-Ledger points out, border state could retaliate with similar laws against NJ residents. Already, a bill "inspired by [NJ's] rule" just passed the New York Assembly would bar residents from states with discriminatory residency laws from public jobs in NY. One would think the consequences of the law would have been obvious from the beginning (which it was to many people). 

But not to our pragmatic lawmakers, who loved the idea that "If you are paid by New Jersey taxpayers, you should call New Jersey your home." Well, NJ taxpayers are now on the short end of the stick: Their tax dollars are not getting them the best qualified applicants in many instances, because the law legally bars a whole pool of potential applicants who live just over the state border in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

As I noted above, lawmakers are now considering changing the law; not repealing, only changing, the law. So, now we are at the stage of act again, and hope for the best. The bill currently advancing in the state senate would "partially undo" the NJFA:

The bill would create a pilot program to exempt school district employees in 10 counties that are near the New York or Pennsyvania (sic) borders: Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Essex, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon, Mercer, Burlington, and Camden.School districts would be required to report each year to the Department of Education on its impact. After three years, the Department of Education would recommend whether to keep or scrap the exemptions.

A pilot program! To see if a partial residency law will work any better! This means another round of state reports for local school districts to submit. At least one state senator sees the asininity of the whole charade: "I think you’re coming to the question of should we have residency rules,” [Sen. Sam] Thompson said. “If you have them, you have them. If you don’t, you don’t. Why should one person be treated differently than another?”

But actual human beings are seldom thought of by politicians working to further some grand vision that fits neatly into a campaign slogan.

According to the philosophy of pragmatism, University of Texas Philosophy Professor Tara Smith explains:

The world we live in is “malleable, waiting to receive its final touches at our hands.” [F]or the pragmatists, we find no ready-made reality. Instead, we create reality. Correlatively, there are no absolutes—no facts, no fixed laws of logic, no certainty. The meaning and the truth of any claim depend entirely on its practical effects.

In New Jersey, behold Pragmatism in action. We wait for the politicians to give reality their final touches.

Better yet, NJ should repeal the residency law in its entirety, and we should all abandon pragmatism as a way of thinking.

Related Reading:

When Pragmatism Meets Ideology


Mike Kevitt said...

If anybody actually believes pragmatism, why would he bother going to school and getting educated, except to learn how to fool others?

Michael A. LaFerrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael A. LaFerrara said...

I don't think anybody explicitly believes it. They accept it implicitly. I have friends who have said things like "there are no absolutes", "truth comes in shades", "everything is a matter of personal perspective", "it's all semantics", and brush me off as "Mr. principle." When I point out that their premise is that knowledge is impossible, facts are a myth, and so on, they deny it: "I don't mean that!"

I think pragmatism is all around us. That's what makes it so hard to turn the statist tide. You need philosophy to do that, and pragmatism is the anti-philosophical philosophy.