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How Many Laws Are Necessary?

Comment 15th July 2010

Instead of eliminating just one obsolete regulation for each new one proposed, why not eliminate 5 or 10 to bring the entire number under control?

E.g. Any given law might result in 5 or 500 new, minute regulations.  All of these could be tossed out in bunches if the basic idea behind the legislation no longer applies.

How many laws are enough?  It's time to return to common sense, identify those basic laws that are necessary for the regulation of society, and let the courts and government decide cases appropriately within that framework.

If one asked his MP, "How many laws are necessary?"  what could he answer?  But, to get a handle on the problem, think about how many words are in the English dictionary vs how many are in one's vocabulary.  [Perhaps several million vs several thousand.]  How many laws and regulations should one person be expected to know?  Or, how many is reasonable for the regulation of a particular trade, and could reasonably be known by a practitioner of that trade?

There must be a way to put a reasonable upper bound on this, even if the number chosen is arbitrary.  If you took the common man and said, "here are 10,000 laws we expect you to live by," he must be overwhelmed; because his vocabulary is likely less than 10,000 words – and who has time to read all those laws, unless they're only one or two sentences each?  If the laws and regulations pertaining to a particular trade cannot be printed in a 200-page book, perhaps there are too many?  Here are suggestions to carry out the process of paring down the total number of laws:

Step 1: List the founding constitutional documents of the nation which have given the people their freedoms.  Note that some make reference to freedoms that are "self-evident."

Step 2: List the statutes which are a direct outgrowth of the foundational documents that have also secured these freedoms to the people.  At his point, one should also be able to list those freedoms that were "self-evident" to his ancestors.

Step 3: Identify ordinary, common laws and statutes that speak to offences which the average person's conscience would see as demanding correction: murder, theft, mayhem, embezzlement, etc.  It would be very interesting to see how long this list becomes.  Are there 200 commonly recognized offences that demand sanctions, or 10,000?

Step 4: Identify the best laws on the books that address these offences and leave them be.  Eliminate duplicate laws passed over the centuries.  All other laws are open to repeal if not urgently important to protection of life, liberty, and property.

Step 4: Identify antique or modern laws and regulations that contradict the founding documents in respect of allowing persons their self-evident and documented freedoms.  Repeal them.

Step 5: Use sunset provisions on all new legislation and consider it for all but the most basic laws.  Most laws are now passed to address temporary situations whipped up into a "crisis" by media, or to give a handout to some favored group.  If the law can't re-justify itself in 5 or 10 years and be passed anew, why shouldn't it just fall off the books. 

If it's true that the nation could live with a finite number of laws and regulations, it would really help to keep the MP's busy re-enacting needed laws every 10 years, instead of proposing unneeded, expensive and oppressive new ones.

Freedom is the way to prosperity.  But it is not proposed that laws against moral or social evils should be abandoned without thought, to satisfy the greed and gratuitous urges of the age.  The government can help by exercising responsible leadership when filtering through the suggestions for repeal.  Good ethics and good morality are good public policy.

 

 

 

Why does this matter?

Eliminating unnecessary and oppressive statutes and regulations is the idea of the century, and the government must be greatly congratulated for this!  Cecil B. DeMille noted in the 1950's that, in the United States alone, there were over 3,000,000 laws on the books; whereas, God had only given Ten Commandments.  Much worse now: in 2010 there must be 50-100,000,000 or more laws and regulations in the USA.  One for every person, perhaps!

It is not sufficient to eliminate only one old law for each new one.  The problem is the already existing multitude of laws and regulations that are strangling initiative.  Where these are enforced with the most heavy hand, the situation is worst.  Western democracies are living off the inherited moral capital of freedoms our ancestors fought for.  In order to remain competitive in the world, freedom of thought and security of private property must be allowed, not choked off by the sheer number of obstructions to personal and economic progress.  Otherwise, we wind up like the USSR, Venezuela,  or Cuba.

To really accomplish anything – for the government initiative to succeed – it must significantly reduce the number of regulations that actually impact people's wellbeing.   If one eliminates a thousand year old law that currently affects no one because it is not enforced or the situation to which it pertains no longer exists, it will not accomplish the government's purpose of enhancing prosperity and quality of life.  The meaningful and helpful reform is to eliminate regulations that prevent people from doing reasonable things because they are enforced, or intimidate by threat of enforcement.

Thus, the process opens itself to possibly well-meaning, but unwise or self-serving objections from those who might cite a specific circumstance to jerk a tear or incite outrage over a trifle, whilst ignoring the vast number who benefit, a little or a lot.  The writer is not a Roman Catholic, but In this light finds helpful the Vatican II doctrine of sinful structures in society, which oppress the common man by his personal inability to deal with their totality.  These institutional impediments to personal progress may be founded, or pretend to be founded, with the best of intentions and for the greatest good for the many.  However, they take on a life of their own; and the individual loses his force and identity.  This is analogous to the problem of too many laws and regulations.  It is a fallacy of composition.

The process of reform must engage fully with the problem, persistently and thoroughgoing.  Fortunately, there are quantifiable aspects about repeal that the government can point to in terms of 1) money saved, 2) personal freedom, 3) number or percentages of old laws eliminated, 4) new, forward-thinking trend in society and government, producing optimism about the future, 5) personal initiative revived, 6) personal responsibility recognized, leading to a just and well-ordered society without oppressive controls.

There is another wonderful aspect to this initiative of the current government.  Instead of thinking government has all the answers to impose from top down, and, instead of funding another hoard of bureaucrats to study the problem, when they are the problem, the persons on the ground are invited to produce suitable initiatives.

So, in terms of demanding excision of 5 or 10 old laws, should the MP proposing a new one say, "Oh, worry me!  Where can I find enough unnecessary old laws to eliminate?"  Let the children in school be given copies of old statute books to study and let them formulate proposals for laws and regulations to eliminate, with reasons stated.  Properly done, this would provide lessons in history, law, philosophy, ethics and morals, and inculcate a sense of the national tradition respecting free men, responsibility, and public participation in civic affairs.  No MP will be lacking for laws to repeal.

The writer, running for public office in 1998 in the United States, could only propose the idea of an "anti-legislature" for his state that would eliminate the multitude of unneeded laws.  How gratifying to see a responsible national government begin to adopt a similar idea!  The government that accomplishes such a vast legal reform will shine in history like Justianian or Moses.

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