Occasionally, it’s easy to feel that the four years spent at Penn — where a great deal of our focus is spent reading and thinking rather than making money — is not the best use of time. But it’s when I see the theories I’ve read about play out in the real world that the value of these four years becomes most apparent.
I recently read Virginia Postrel’s 1998 book The Future and Its Enemies, in which she discusses the future as being a conflict between dynamism and stasis.
Dynamists are those who embrace change brought on by individual innovation and encourage it through minimal government regulation. Stasists are those discouraged by the uncertainty that change presents and instead think that the risks posed by dynamic individuals must be regulated via command-and-control regulation and government decrees.
It soon became apparent that this conflict is playing out right before our very eyes at Penn.
Responding to the desire of students and to President Amy Gutmann’s call to make Penn more sustainable, Bon Appetit Management Company expanded composting in the dining halls last year. These composting practices eventually expanded to the new Wharton School dining establishment Joe’s Cafe.
Through these budding initiatives, this dynamic culture of sustainability is spreading across campus.
But on closer examination, it is not surprising to see what has gotten in the way of their dynamic vision. It’s the stasis of local government.
Neither the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection nor the Department of Public Health has developed policies or procedures around composting. “One has expected the other one to do so,” general manager for Conference Services Pamela Lampitt said.
So last month a government inspector ended composting at dining halls. “When the Department of Health comes in and decides to look at our operations and say, ‘What’s your action plan?’ and ask ‘Where’s the licensing?’ that was a little shocker,” Lampitt said.
And what is more concerning is that while the composting practices in the dining halls were unacceptable for a particular inspector, the practices in Joe’s Cafe — which are basically identical — were deemed fine by a different inspector.
Different health inspectors vary in the things they focus on. “It’s the nature of the health inspections,” Lampitt said.
The bottom line is that the bureaucracy of local government sometimes runs in circles with little uniformity or purpose.
Although Lampitt noted the challenges inspectors face, this is the very conflict Postrel discussed. The dynamism of Penn’s dining program has come in conflict with the stasis of local government.
How do we move forward in this conflict of world views?
The answer is for us to recognize the power of ideas and side with the dynamists to set a path to move government forward in a positive way.
Tonight, we have a chance to converse with a dynamist.
Newt Gingrich, who is coming to campus, has long been part of the forefront of thinkers in the Republican Party who want to move government in the direction of creating an atmosphere that encourages individual innovation. In fact, he created a think tank called American Solutions around the power of innovative ideas.
At the end of my conversation with Lampitt, I learned that she is also an assemblywoman in New Jersey. We come from different sides of the political aisle, but she understands the changes necessary in government.
The Department of Health “is going through a reorganization, and they’re inspecting from a different set of lenses,” Lampitt said. “They’re going through a transition.”
But that’s part of the problem — whenever changes occur in government, they take too long. The culture of dynamism found in College Hall too rarely permeates City Hall. Hopefully, in Penn’s long dialogue with the Department of Health, we can come to an agreement that allows the University to move forward with composting.
Charles Gray is a Wharton and College junior from Casper, Wyo. His e-mail address is gray@theDP.com. The Gray Area appears every Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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