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Monday, September 28, 2009

$top $moking: Why More Laws, or Stronger Laws, Just Won't Help

New York's would-be Maximum Leader Mayor-for-Life Mike Bloomberg now proposes that smoking be prohibited in all public places like parks and beaches.  A quick recap:  Smoking was banned in all restaurants and bars several years ago and one is hard-pressed to think of a public venue (e.g. train station, sports venue) where smoking is currently allowed.

The ostensible goal here is to change behavior, to get people to stop this nasty addiction  habit.  One wonders, given the tidal wave of anecdotal evidence about ticket blitzes, whether the real reason is revenue generation.  The City can fine someone for each violation.  At $100 per violation, a ticket taker will pay for his/her salary in probably a couple of minutes.

This brings me to a larger issue of politicians' temptation to enact new laws and regulations to change behavior -- which they of course can take credit for -- in contrast to the much harder and inglorious task of enforcing existing laws.   There is some behavior that cannot be stopped.   That is why we have prison.  If some of the critics of the Securities and Exchange Commission are to be believed (and I for one do not give the SEC a pass at all, see my earlier post on the "fools" at the SEC), the Bernard Madoff fraud only happened because the existing laws weren't strong enough.  

(This is the time to imagine the deeply-intoned voice of Don Pardo saying, "But if our laws had been on the books, this would never have happened.")

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