Public demand is what motivates government to react. Public demand affects all levels of government — federal, state and local. It stretches across the three branches of government – judicial, legislative, and executive. Public demand occurs when government officials react to stimulus. The first step to understanding public demand, is to understand government. In America, we have a government founded on the principle “for the people, by the people.” In essence, government is us. Government is a reflection of what is important to us. Public demand is our collective needs and wants that can only be satisfied from the delivery of public goods and services.
Over the last 200-plus years of existence, our country has demanded from ourselves a cornucopia of public goods and services. Government provides for clean air, clean water, sanitary sewers, transportation systems, determines ownership of possessions, a financial system of banks and currency, protection from crime, military protection, an educated society and so on. We have one of the most advanced societies in the world in part because of influence of these services. However, we often take for granted many of our publicly provided goods and services, even becoming critical of the delivery of those goods and services.
There is an old saying that “many people want to go to heaven, but few are prepared to die.” In government terms, we all want public goods and services; we expect to receive them for little or no additional cost. In other words, government should take care of our needs and wants, without raising taxes.
It is has been my observation, having worked in the public sector for over 19 years, that we all have our own idea of how the resources, that we reluctantly give to our governments, should be utilized. Some people believe we spend too much of our taxes on the military, or public welfare, or not enough in the area of criminal enforcement. The decisions made by our elected and appointed officials define the priorities of our resources. Our involvement is to elect these officials who in principal represent our collective interest when they set public policy.
A classic example of public demand was the “Smoke Free” constitutional amendment passed by the majority of the voters in Ohio last November. We now have a constitutional right to a smoke free environment in all public places. The individuals who crafted the language did not fully comprehend an effective means of enforcement; leaving it to the Ohio Department of Health to establish rules for enforcement. If you are in a restaurant enjoying your meal and suddenly the person sitting at the table next to you violates the law and lights up a cigarette, who enforces your constitutional right to a smoke free environment? Do you call the police? No, you take out your cell phone, look for the sign posted to report violations, call the 1-888 number and report the situation. The actions taken by the inconsiderate person is not a criminal act; the police have no jurisdiction or responsibility to enforce your civil right to a smoke free environment.
Unfortunately, what we did not do, is allocate resources, taxes or fees, to properly enforce the new law. We often fall into the same trap of not fully understanding that to meet our wants takes money or other resources to execute. Health departments will need to find resources to have staff available in the evenings and weekends to properly enforce the new law. My guess is that as this situation evolves, the Legislature will probably react to the inefficiencies and enact a bill that will create a violation of this civil right as a criminal act. Then you will be able to call the police, thereby placing another responsibility on our law enforcement officials.
If I am correct, the action of the legislature would be another example of public demand. So the next time you say to yourself “there ought to be a law…” think about how much you are willing to support your government to address the situation.