On Thursday night I loaded up and headed over to my local Kroger to pick up a couple of avocados, a 12-pack of domestic beer, and a box of condoms. Innocent enough.
As I strolled the aisles of the Kroger, I was initially unable to locate the display of condoms. After walking the store again I located the display on a shelf under some sort of Plexiglas contraption that required the otherwise helpless customer to locate an employee to unlock the Rube Goldberg contrivance.
Only after multiple announcements were made over the loudspeaker and the proper Kroger key-holding hierarchy was activated was I able to pick out my brand of condom and proceed to the checkout.
I don't think of myself as some sort of liberal radical or even all that political, but I found this lockdown to be utterly unacceptable. To calm your more conservative readers I will add that I am a happily married man who chooses to use condoms as part of a family birth control plan.
In the wake of the arrival of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and countless campaigns from all sorts of organizations to raise awareness about the importance of condom use I assumed there was a general level of commitment to making condoms available. It seems that the simple idea that as a society we were better off preventing disease and unwanted pregnancy has entered the mainstream and is fairly uncontroversial. For those that bemoan the need for smaller government, it strikes me that promoting condom use would achieve a huge reduction in services needed for caring for the sick and for children left in situations where the state has to step in.
Are the condoms at Kroger stolen more than other merchandise? Or has the management decided that they are a vice that needs to be locked away? The reason is immaterial. If condom theft is a problem, isn't it a good problem to have? Doesn't it mean that individuals are taking heed from years of public service announcements but may not have a means to purchase a box of Trojans?
What concerns and angers me is the change in behavior that I fear the Condom Lockbox promotes. As a 15- or 16-year-old guy I'm embarrassed to admit that I would have probably left Kroger without the condoms rather than face the embarrassment of tracking down an individual with a key and risking an announcement of my intended purchase over the loudspeaker. Economists at the University of Chicago have recently published a book, Nudge, that shows how all kinds of outcomes can be changed with subtle primes like the Condom Lockbox.
If the condoms are locked away for moral reasons, it is an absolute public health outrage. If they are locked away because of theft, is there not a nonprofit organization that will reimburse Kroger for lost condom sales? Or better yet place a large jar of free condoms at the door?
This year at the 21st Ig Nobel awards ceremony, one of the prizes was awarded to an Italian for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.
At first gasp that sounds like heresy, but on second thought it might just offer a way out of the insane political situation that our country finds itself in right now.
If we were to select our federal elective representatives by lottery rather than by elections, maybe we too would experience the improvement suggested by the Italian study. Goodness knows we couldn't do any worse than our dismal record so far.
To keep the public involved, we might require that candidates for office submit the signatures of 10,000 citizens (remember voters will no longer be required), to show some support and to eliminate the very obvious misfits. Then, on "Lottery Day", the winner will be selected just as we did with the old Selective Service lottery. At that time, the winner can be vetted to be sure that he is qualified to serve in the office that he has been selected for. Citizenship, no felony warrants outstanding, taxes paid, and other such matters can be determined at this time and if a winner is disqualified, another drawing will be held for the position.
Money and pressure groups should not play much of a role in who gets selected to serve, and since service is continued by the "luck of the draw" just maybe our servants would try to serve the needs of the nation and not pander so much to their campaign contributors. There would be no need for a campaign fund. We might want to ease the process of removing an obvious misfit from office, but that rule is long overdue even now.
Could we do any worse than we are doing now?
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