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The Rule of Law vs. Law of Rules

Profile photo of Chris Collins 46 By centered
June 24th, 2012

Launch Blog, Category 2: Role of Government

 

The Rule of Law vs. Law of Rules

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker.

Sometimes, a person’s job title explains exactly what you can expect from them.

In business, bookkeepers keep the books.  In construction, bricklayers lay bricks.  In restaurants, the bar is tended by – you guessed it – a bartender.

In government, we call our elected officials “lawmakers.”  And as the name implies, they make laws… lots of them.

According to a study by retired Louisiana State University law professor John Baker, The U.S. Constitution mentions just three federal crimes by citizens: treason, piracy and counterfeiting. By the turn of the 20th century, the number of criminal statutes grew to dozens of laws.  But since then, American lawmakers have been churning out new laws at a pace unheard of in human history:

  • Today, Baker estimates, there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal criminal statutes; the Wall Street Journal investigation concluded that the federal code now exceeds 27,000 pages.
  • But criminal code is dwarfed by 75,000 pages of regulations (called the Federal Register) the federal government imposes under the auspices of the IRS, SEC, OSHA, EEOC, EPA, and dozens of other Government agencies… many of whom have the authority to levy fines, close businesses, and seize property.
  • When the U.S. implemented the income tax in 1913, the entire federal tax code was 400 pages long.  Today, the federal tax code is some 3.8 million words long, fills 17,000 pages, and according to Fox News, consists of more than 700 different forms.

On the surface, more laws seem like a good thing; they make us safer, and improve our lives, right?  Well, there are a couple of problems with this cornucopia of code, namely the manpower and costs enforcement requires.  Consider that for every law that get added to the books:

  • You immediately create a resource constraint:a) Government frequently needs to hire people to enforce a new law, and in many cases, managerial personnel who oversee the administrative operations beneath it.  The more training and skills required for enforcement – i.e., Government lawyers, doctors, CPAs, engineers, and scientists required for investigative and enforcement functions – the higher salary these individuals command (characters like Jack McCoy, Fox Mulder, D.B. Russell, and Quincy M.E. don’t work for free, you know.)b) At minimum, you stretch already-overextended law enforcement personnel, by generating a bunch of new laws that they to watch for and enforce.  Not only do police officers on foot patrol already have a thousand legal violations they have to be on the lookout for, every year we add more: MSNBC recently reported that more than 40,000 new laws went into effect nationwide in 2012.
  • Compliance is costly. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that complying with Federal Register regulations costs Americans up to $600 billion per year.  Economist Art Laffer estimates American spend a staggering $431 billion annually filing their taxes; elsewhere, it has been reported that modern-day tax filing consumes some 7.6 billion hours of Americans’ time.
  • You create a massive opportunity for corruption, shakedowns, and black-marketeering.   A Google search on the words “Bribe” and “Inspector” produces nearly 1.5 million hits; “Shakedown” produces 4.5 million hits.  Together, they lead to thousands of news stories about building inspectors, restaurant inspectors, health inspectors, and others either ignoring violations in exchange for bribes… or worse, threatening innocent citizens with punitive action, unless some form of illegal inducement is provided.
  • You invariably end up harassing ordinary citizens who aren’t “criminal kingpins.”  Every fair-minded citizen bristles when they hear stories of kids’ lemonade stands being shut down for operating without a $400 license from the local Board of Health or a $1 million insurance certificate.But even more troubling cases include:a) The 88 year-old man imprisoned for growing and selling orchids, because the importer from whom he purchased them completed the proper governmental paperwork incorrectly;b) The Lawrence County (Penn.) Children & Youth Services, without investigation or explanation, removed a three day-old newborn from her parents’ home and held her for five days.  The reason?  The mother had eaten a poppy seed bagel prior to the delivery, which altered the results of a drug test administered by the hospital.c) The Idaho couple threatened with fines of $75,000 by the EPA for building — after receiving all necessary permits, in developed area – on land the EPA falsely claimed was wetlands, and worse, that the couple had no rights to legal recourse.  (The EPA claimed that it was exempt from judicial review, for which the EPA was slammed by Supreme Court, 9-0.)

There is no question that every American wants to live in a clean, safe country… but that does not mean that they should live in fear of their government or the constant risk of breaking a law they didn’t even know existed (especially when “ignorance of the law is no excuse” in Court, remember?)

Though we don’t all agree on what our national priorities ought to be, every reasonable citizen should agree want the government to live within its means… and no one wants to pay more of their hard-earned money in taxes than is absolutely necessary for laws that  1) aren’t truly necessary to protect the public good, and 2) only further surrender our rights to a distant government bureaucracy.

Lawmakers’ showboating with the creation of arcane new laws runs contrary to the American spirit of independence and self-sufficiency.  Rather than measuring politicians on the number of new laws they sponsor, maybe it’s time that we rewarded them for cutting back the jungle of regulations in which United States appears to have gotten lost.

5 Comments to “The Rule of Law vs. Law of Rules”

  • Profile photo of Jim Pease Jim Pease says:

    Sadly regulation is often a response to abuse or installed by the abusers to keep new competition from arising. there is probable a million laws and as our system declines they will be enforce not by wisdom and logic but to keep power in the hands of the powerful. it has been that way through history we are not immune to humanity’s flaws.

    Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
    Thomas Jefferson

  • Profile photo of Roarke S. Roarke S. says:

    Indeed, the ridiculous amount of government regulations being placed on American markets and private life by unelected bureaucracies does nothing but make prosperity more difficult to achieve. This is one of the main reasons companies are shipping jobs overseas instead of keeping them here – the environmental and labor regulations are so costly and difficult to comply with companies are forced to go overseas in order to stay successful, or even in business. I’m not saying we should let companies do whatever they want with their products and their environment, but if we want to create more jobs here, in the Good Ol’ US of A, we must make it easier for them.

    • Profile photo of Jim Pease Jim Pease says:

      Jester..how we do that is the question today the fight is will we let them exploit the American economy but export the jobs with impunity.
      As well as pay no taxes in the USA but still lobby our government. how much suicide will Americans accept as big business fights for their rights against he rights of small business and workers. Small business has far more in common with workers ( success for both groups) than does big business. Small business does not offshore, small business pays taxes…big business does not…GE the largest and most powerful business ever paid -20% taxes in 2010 on $10 billion profits they paid 00. but got 2 billion back from IRS by spending 87 million in congress lobbying.

      • Profile photo of Jim Pease Jim Pease says:

        Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
        Thomas Jefferson

        • Profile photo of Jim Pease Jim Pease says:

          Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.
          Thomas Jefferson