What is a law? You may think you know what they are, but you’re probably off by at least a little bit.
When you strip away all of the flowery language and superfluous BS, a law (statute, regulation, ordinance, etc.) is a government-declared acceptable (or non-acceptable) behavior. And the order to comply ultimately comes at the point of a gun.
Let’s look at some examples:
1. The federal government tells you to annually file income tax forms and pay any taxes the government says you owe.
What happens if you don’t file the necessary and correctly filled out forms on time? Initially, the IRS sends letters to you about your lack of tax filings, or asking you to justify what you did file. If you continue on your path and don’t file and pay your taxes, ultimately, the IRS comes to your door to arrest you. If you decide to violently resist at this point, the guns are pulled out and pointed at you.
2. You’re pulled over for speeding.
Let’s say don’t sign the ticket, your first words to the officer are “Eff Off” and/or you drive off mid-conversation, something like that. The officer then demands you step out of the vehicle and again, you start violently resisting. Ultimately out comes the gun.
Every law, no matter what it may be called, failure to comply ends in monetary fines and/or time in prison. If you don’t like those options, telling the government to Eff Off results in Law Enforcement pointing guns at you.
And while the Founding Fathers intended for Congress to make the laws and the Executive branch to enforce them, with today’s bureaucratic state the enforcers also get to make laws.
And laws are not always good or proper. Remember, it used to be codified law (that means it was written down so everybody can see it) in some states, that one person could own another person. You might want to read about John Casor and Anthony Johnson. Johnson, who was Black, managed to get a court to rule that Casor (also Black) was Johnson’s property (also known by the term “chattel slave”) for the rest of his life instead of a period of time, which was known as “indentured servitude” back then.
Just in case you hadn’t heard about Civil Asset Forfeiture, this is where if you have a police encounter and they find large amounts of cash, the officer can confiscate the cash without suspicion or a warrant. Just carrying large amounts cash is suspicious enough for the officer to seize the money (sometimes the car it’s in) “without recourse.” Which means there is no process to recover your cash without paying more than what you lost for many billable hours to lawyers. You won’t be charged with a crime, but you will never get your property back. Oh, and the police department gets to keep it and sell the property and then spend all of “your” cash.
Do you think this is a good law?
There is a very simple solution, which adherence to the Conservative principle “minimal and clear laws.” It was a common sense point for the laws to be written so simply and clearly that they could be understood by a person “while running.” Not running on a treadmill by the way. The laws were also intended to be as few as possible. Check out what Milton Friedman said a few paragraphs down.
Then there is what is called the Pareto Principle, which states “80% of the consequences of an action/law/policy comes from 20% of the actions involved.” You probably know of it as the “80/20 rule.” The most common example is 20% of a salesman’s clients take up 80% of his time and effort. I bring that up because I want to discuss with you Pareto efficiency principle, which simply put is “a program must help one person without hurting another.” Laws that are good and fair for the community should always be the goal. If a law sort of helps a person, but also forces a drastic detrimental change in behavior by that person, or you have a law that helps person A but in the process hurts person B, these are not Pareto efficient.
And don’t forget the quantity of laws out there. If you read Three Felonies a Day by Harvey A. Silvergate, he documents that in the course of our daily lives we commit an average of three felonies every day. We get away with them only because we are not under the direct scrutiny of law enforcement or it does not advance the interests of government to prosecute us.
As Cicero so succinctly put it, “The more laws, the less justice.”
The more laws that are created, the more lawbreakers are created. The more laws broken, the more fines can be levied that enrich the government while making the people poorer. Not very Pareto Optimized is it?
In fact, the more laws there are, the less respect people have in general for the law overall. In his speech Is Capitalism Humane? Milton Friedman related an example of “more laws make more lawbreakers.” He talked about "Buttrunning" (as opposed to “Bootlegging”) where people would travel from New York, where the cigarette taxes were high, to North Carolina where the taxes were low. They purchased and brought the NC cigarettes back, forged a NY tax stamp for them and sold the cigarettes for an extra profit, pocketing the difference in taxes.
Friedman then stated:
“When the only laws are those which that everybody regards as right and valid, they have great moral force. When you make laws that people separately do not regard as right and valid, they lose their moral force.”
At the end of it all, a government that has the interests of the people as their first priority, keeps the number of laws to a minimum. A government that has its’ own interests as their first priority will make a multitude of laws to control the people.