The older I get the more I realize that we have far too many laws on the books. There are laws that protect people from aggressors such as laws against assault, battery, theft, rape, etc. There are numerous traffic laws and thousands of local statutes prohibiting things like lawn parking, burning leaves, and poisoning the neighbor’s dog. There are occupational licensing laws that insulate certain occupations from competitors, thereby raising the wages of teachers, plumbers, physicians, electricians, and yes, even massage therapists at the expense of consumers.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be laws; particularly laws that protect people from personal harm, theft, and fraud, but I believe the following criteria might be useful with respect to laws.
1. Don’t pass a law unless the resources exist to enforce it. An unenforced law is an impotent law that might as well not have been written. Most important, such laws tend to be “selectively” enforced at the whim of politicians or those in society that have the most wealth or influence.
2. Don’t pass vague laws; laws should be understandable. If people that are affected by the law can’t determine if they are actually breaking the law, it’s time to get rid of the law or re-write it.
3. Don’t pass laws to accomplish social engineering. For example, when laws are written to take money from rich people and give it to poor people, or laws are written to allow certain classes of people advantages and privileges not accorded to other classes of people, tremendous resentment will be caused in the society, which often leads to social disorder. If you tell a street mechanic that he is operating without a license, when he is fixing the cars of his low income neighbors who can’t afford to take their cars to a garage, you’re making a criminal out of a guy who is contributing greatly to his fellow man. Is it any wonder cops don’t want to arrest street mechanics?
4. Don’t try to perfect every flaw in society by passing a law. Neighborhoods are full of characters who party too loudly, drink too much, flick their cigarette butts on the sidewalk, let their dogs poop on your grass without picking it up, and otherwise irritate the heck out of you! The answer to these annoying people is to confront them directly, kindly, and calmly when they do these things. A cop isn’t going to track this guy down and make him pick up the dog poop, but if you “man up” or “woman up” and tell the offender that you don’t appreciate his behavior; the person will eventually get the message, especially if he/she is confronted by several neighbors. The key here is to know your neighbors and act together to enforce community standards. When you tell the first guy that parks his car on his front lawn that this isn’t acceptable, you’ll avoid being a neighborhood where cars are parked on lawns. If you let it go until half of the neighbors are parking on their lawns, it’s too late. There goes the neighborhood!
5. During times of “crisis”, don’t rush into passing laws. While it may help their political careers in the short run, when politicians react to a “crisis” and rush to pass legislation, it is usually poorly done. Such laws increase the costs of doing business and may have little societal benefit. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was enacted as a response to accounting scandals (Enron, World Com, etc.) but ended up benefiting the “consulting” industry at the expense of thousands of businesses that were unnecessarily burned by high costs of compliance. The same could be said for most laws passed by the Bush and Obama administrations to solve the nations “financial crisis.”
To conclude, if there are too many laws, many of them will be considered “bad” laws, which are not enforced or respected by the public. Once people start to categorize laws as “bad” laws or “good” laws, public respect for the law in general starts to deteriorate. We then find ourselves in a situation where even previously law-abiding citizens develop a casual attitude about the law in general. One guy’s crosswalk parking violation is another guy’s petty theft habit, which is another guy’s decision to kill the guy next door. After all, breaking a law is just a matter of degree, isn’t it? Or is it?