I’ve given a lot of thought to what I should name this column since I began writing it a few months ago. Something cutesy like "Nate’s Nook?" Nah, that’s not my style. Maybe a title to impart some gravitas? No, Peggy Noonan’s "Declarations" column in the Wall Street Journal implies a frowning school marm.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what I should name this column since I began writing it a few months ago. Something cutesy like "Nate’s Nook?" Nah, that’s not my style. Maybe a title to impart some gravitas? No, Peggy Noonan’s "Declarations" column in the Wall Street Journal implies a frowning school marm.


I thought about going with something humorous, as I make a few flailing attempts at humor every week — maybe "The Unconscionable Conservative" or "Anarchists are people too," but I didn’t want to paint myself into too specific a philosophic corner.


In the end, I decided on a phrase that’s been tumbling around in my mind for a few weeks that sort of sums up my doctrine, which is this: decisions made without regard for economic principles are inevitably mistakes, and when those mistakes are made by governments, they’re nearly impossible to undo.


Or, to put a point on it, stop signs are forever.


Stop signs are a horribly inefficient way of directing traffic. They convey right-of-way, which is the same core job as a yield sign, but with added externalities like impeding traffic, adding to air pollution, and causing needless wear-and-tear on automobiles.


But when was the last time you saw one removed?


The benefits of a stop sign are political, not practical. They’re the de facto standard on street corners because slapping up a stop sign means Joe McCityCouncilman never has to hear about that intersection again, which is all he really cares about.


In contrast, the societal costs of a stop sign are entirely invisible. No politician ever ran on the platform, "Look how much time I saved people this year because I resisted the stop sign."


It’s the same problem of ignored opportunity costs that plagues governments big and small. Every year, state legislators pass thousands of unnecessary bills because they want to look like they’re earning their pay. And virtually all those bills add new rules while taking nothing off the books.


It’s why it’s still illegal to carry wire cutters in your pocket in Austin, illegal to flirt on the streets of Abilene, and illegal to sell a used car on Sunday in my home state of Colorado.


Once a law is enacted — or a stop sign erected — it is immediately placed in the cargo hold of the Good Ship Government, which is speeding ever forward in the direction of "progress."


If somebody looks to throw it overboard at some point in the future, civic inertia will inevitably make it difficult, and oftentimes, impossible.


Which is why it is incumbent upon political figures to examine the hidden costs of laws and street lights and everything in between before they take action.


Very few politicians are brave enough to repeal a law or tear down a stop sign. So we ought to be dang sure about it before we put one up in the first place.


NATE STRAUCH is a reporter with the Herald Democrat. Email him at nstrauch@ heralddemocrat.com.