Saturday, September 15, 2007

"There Oughtta be a Law"

In the papers, there are often public outcries about "more laws to prevent X crime from happening again". Never mind that numerous laws were broken in the occurrence of said crime, the enforcement of which would have prevented it. People somehow want more and more specialized laws to prevent every possible permutation of a crime.

If an uninsured octogenarian with poor eyesight had mowed down 5 schoolchildren at a school crossing while sipping a latte, there would be cries to create laws making it illegal for uninsured 80 year olds who fail the DMV eye test to drive near schools while holding coffee. Never mind that the eye test is supposed to ensure that drivers have adequate eyesight, and that it's already illegal to drive without insurance. You get my point.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), will fine businesses and require them to redo railing if they're an inch too short, or if there is flaking paint within 30 feet of food handlers. But the one thing they DON'T do is review a company's actual safety records and compare them against other companies in the same industry.

In the books "The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America", and "The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom, author Philip K. Howard writes a scathing indictment of excessive government bureaucracy.

From Amazon:
New York City laws forbidding Mother Theresa from opening a two-story homeless shelter unless she installs an elevator. A 33 page manual describing the qualifications and uses of a hammer. Contract bidding procedures that unintentionally but blatantly encourage corruption. To Howard, an attorney practicing in New York City, this is but one of many examples of the law's suffocating Americans by extensive decrees on what may and may not be done.

Philip Howard's insights help us understand why government appears arbitrary, almost never able to deal with real-life problems in a way which reflects an understanding of the situation. .. absurd regulatory inflexibility and the lack of the use of judgment, Howard's book reveals that we have concocted a system of regulation that "goes too far while it does too little."

Our old system of common law recognized the particular situation and invited the application of common sense. ... But in this century statutes have largely replaced common law, and in recent decades regulations have come to dominate the legal landscape. Howard observes that the Interstate Highway System (still the nation's largest public works program) was authorized in 1956 with a 28-page statute. Now, we attempt to cover every situation explicitly; (witness the 200 page contracts for home sales)

Howard traces the growth of this regulatory "rationalism" from Max Weber - the German sociologist at the turn of the century who said that "Bureaucracy develops the more perfectly, the more it is `dehumanized'" - to Theodore Lowi - who in The End of Liberalism in 1979 saw greater regulatory specificity to be the antidote to special interest groups. But in truth, Howard shows us, the more precise we try to make the law, the more loopholes are created.

Centralized rules have caused us to cast away our common sense.

Furthermore, "Coercion by government, the main fear of our founding fathers, is now its common attribute. .. The idea of a rule detailing everything has had the effect of reversing the rule of law. We now have a government of laws against men."

The second section of Howard's book explains how the ritualization of bureaucratic process has brought us to the point where people argue, not about right and wrong, but about whether something was done the right way.

In this maze of centralized, detailed regulation - a system designed to discourage individual responsibility - many have lost sight of what government is supposed to be doing. .. He tells us that responsibility, not process, is the key ingredient to action. If responsibility is shared widely, then like the extreme where property is shared widely, it is like there being no responsibility at all.

and noting the damage predatory litigation has done to the communal fabric of the United States: "Social relations in America, far from steadied by law's sure hand, are a tangle of frayed legal nerves." He tells how seesaws have started to vanish from playgrounds, how teachers are banned from touching students, and how emergency-room staff are blocked from attending to patients off hospital grounds--even if they can see them bleeding to death just 30 feet away.

Some points from above:
  • centralized rules make us cast away our commone sense
  • bureaucracy is dehumanizing
  • it discourages personal responsibility
  • coercion by goverment the main fear of the Founding Fathers, is its main attribute

I think this is part of the dumbing down of the populace that I posted about earlier. And excessive government regulation, wrote Caroll Quigley, Bill Clinton's mentor, in his book "Tragedy and Hope", is one of the ways to "squeeze the middle class", which he loathed. I posted about this.

I like what my friend Scott M said, that every law on the books, that hasn't needed to be enforced in a long time, adds inefficiency to the system; its very presence is counter-productive.

Recently in the local newspaper, there was an article with "experts" on both sides of an argument, arguing whether or not it was legal to turn right without stopping, at certain types of intersections. The experts, a columnist specializing in roads and traffic, and a traffic cop, disagreed on the interpretation of the laws. The traffic cop said that he and his buddies had written hundreds of tickets for "violators" who did not stop.

It was surreal, because if something as insignificant as coming to a full stop or not, could get the "experts" to disagree, then it's obviously useless to have to come to a complete stop. Clearly one should err to the side of common sense - that the motorist in question would have the experience to decide whether he could see enough in all direction to warrant stopping or not. The purpose of traffic laws is to improve safety and keep traffic flowing. Neither "expert" brought it up. The discussion was all about what the law meant. The absurdity of coming to a stop was never questioned. Coming to a full stop when turning right, would be unnecessary if a motorist slows down and can adequately check that there are no pedestrians, and can see that he can merge in without disrupting flow. The cops were simply enforcing laws for the sake of enforcing them, as opposed to using common sense and actually improving safety and traffic flow. But then of course, there is also much incentive for traffic cops to write tickets, as they are told to do so, and the revenue stream is attractive for cities, PD's, and courts.

Ayn Rand once stated that the hallmark of authoritarian systems is the creation of innumerable, indecipherable laws.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You ever tried to argue with cops or bureaucracy? It does not help....just pay your fine or penalty and go away that is all that they want.

There is a parasitical group which creates laws to keep itself in power and money. This parasite says crime is increasing we need more police, more prisons etc. more lawyers, more courts...more taxes...just a endless way of keeping people policed.