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Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Laws, or Better Enforcers?

The knee-jerk response to many crises, or embarassing situations, is for legislators (and commentators) to call for new laws, stronger laws and greater punishments.

There are several premises to these calls. One is that the existing laws are too weak, and that they are insufficient in deterring illegal conduct (that is, crime) or undesirable conduct, or acts which in hindsight might be argued to be negligent. Another premise is that the people charged with enforcing the law cannot adequately protect the public with existing laws and thus need new tools -- that is, new laws.

It is funny how the prospect of the enforcers either being incompetent, lazy or negligent almost never comes into the discussion.

Maybe we need fewer laws, and more enforcers and harder-working enforcers. However, that would take effort and cost money; it would inconvenience the bureaucratic/political class. It is simpler and more convenient for the lawmakers to pass more laws, regulations and protocols so that the burden of compliance and obedience falls more heavily on the people.

Whether it's the Gulf oil spill, the Arizona immigration bill, the Puerto Rico government's decision to invalidate all birth certificates it issued prior to July 1, 2010, or the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's decision to ban research-related oyster and shellfish gardening in New York Harbor because it cannot police the Harbor itself (see http://www.nynjbaykeeper.org/), we see a common thread of people's rights and freedoms being diminished for no other reason than the government's failure (or refusal) to do its job.

Once more, the people end up assuming the costs of the government's failures.

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