Misery indexed

As COVID-19 restrictions ebb and flow, we should note that regardless of how much pain and suffering these rules may have prevented, they also cost survivors in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For more than a year, we moped about with a damp, smelly membrane obscuring our smiles.  We lost face time with aging parents, endured cold fast food at home, trudged back across parking lots to fetch our forgotten masks, then entered a public space with foggy eyeglasses.

No one warned us how unpleasant all this would be.

Under present law, before authorities issue laws and regulations, many are required to forecast environmental impact, paperwork time, and dollar cost to the regulated.

Why not also require rule-makers to estimate lost pleasure in life?

Currently, this is impossible to quantify, because there is no metric for the enjoyment of life.

It's time we had one of those — a unit of measurement inspired by someone I knew personally and was honored to serve professionally for years, the co-founder and longtime CEO of Southwest Airlines, the late Herbert D. Kelleher.

Herb, as everyone called him, not only made air travel affordable for millions (an immense life pleasure in itself), but conducted a sideshow of raucous entertainment for all those around him, simply by being fully himself at every moment.

It wasn't just his well known vices that defined him — Herb kept a bar in his office and chain-smoked most of his adult life — but his horse-laugh telegraphed his arrival.  He also memorized the names of every person he met and could recall a story about each one.  His larger-than-life presence drew a crowd everywhere he went.

Herb apparently enjoyed every minute of life.  So, with him as our model for life pleasure, we can derive a useful unit of measure.

Now, everyone knows smoking is bad, and smokers can't expect to live to...87.  But nicotine has a palpable soothing effect, or people wouldn't still be enjoying it despite the risks.

We may have to use an MRI to get a fix on that rush of well-being.  When we do, let's call it the Herb (Hb).

No human is likely to experience an entire Herb of gratification at one time — save, perhaps, for the pitcher of a no-hitter and the occasional first to set foot on another planet.

Herb burned through five packs a day at his peak, or 100 filtered smokes a day.  From that, we can deduce the everyday milliHerb (mHb), our new metric unit of life pleasure.

With one cigarette's worth of enjoyment equaling one tenth of one milliHerb, we can quantify the following examples:

  • 275 mHb: your baby's laughter
  • 33 mHb: honeysuckle, upwind
  • 8 mHb: those wire scalp massagers, per minute
  • 22 mHb: gravy
  • 16 mHb: a report card full of As
  • 47 mHb: hitting every green light en route to the airport

Likewise, for life's less than pleasant experiences:

  • -812 mHb: colonoscopy
  • -20 mHb: spotting a typo after you hit send
  • -60 mHb: gum on your shoe
  • -22 mHb: a sports bar where multiple TV monitors are tuned to the same game, each with different color saturation
  • -81 mHb: short one sandwich at the drive-thru
  • -230 mHb: TSA

Next, the various busybodies of the world — government, school administration, HOAs — must quantify the impact, in mHb, of every law/rule/annoyance they propose, and publish the estimate as a pre-hearing impact statement.

City drafts a bicycle helmet law?  That's -100 mHb per ride, multiplied by rider, per annum.  Add -0.5 mHb for each hair pulled on removal.

County outlawing cold beer in public parks?  Subtract 80 mHb per attendee per hour, subtracting three more mHb for every degree above 90 F.

The state wants to restrict attendance at comedy clubs during COVID?  Multiply the number of empty seats by two belly-laughs, or 62 mHb, per minute.  (Lower score for open mics.)

(Personally, I want high-end restaurants to state, on the front door, that they allow male diners in short pants.  That sight costs me 78 mHb per minute.)

Won't this raise the cost of rulemaking in general?  Yes.  Yes, it will.  To the tune of -16 mHb per word, by my estimation.

Let's add that to the job description of every elected official, appointee, and authority who wants to make up more rules.

As P.J. O'Rourke said, there is no CEO of comfort and convenience.

Except, perhaps...Herb Kelleher.

Michael Smith, a freelance book editor, served in the Executive Office of Southwest Airlines from 1995 to 2000.

Image: PxHere.

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