Monday, December 13, 2010

How Many Laws?

There was a fascinating article in yesterday's Washington Post that is worth spending a few minutes to read and ponder: One Nation, Under Too Many Laws.

Author Philip K. Howard takes a look at the proliferation of laws in the United States and concludes that there are too many, that justice is ill-served thereby, and that new laws ought to include a sunset clause that makes them expire unless they are specifically reenacted by Congress.

I think this is a grand idea, long overdue, and highly unlikely ever to be implemented.

Consider this: Almighty God provided Ten Commandments as a guide to behavior and ethics. That was "ten," with or without a capital "t." By contrast, no one - except, perhaps, God Almighty, knows how many laws are on the books at the Federal level, let alone at the state and local levels. Best guess: hundreds of thousands. took a stab at answering the question in this online article, but concluded that "...there are so many criminal laws, the odds of no one breaking one in a lifetime are so astronomical, it would make DNA odds look like simple math." The article goes on to note that from 2000 to 2007, Congress created at least 452 new crimes, bringing the total number of Federal crimes at the end of 2007 to more than 4,450. Ninety-one of the 452 were contained in new laws that created 279 new crimes, and the remaining were created by amending existing laws. The total of 452 new crimes breaks down by year as follows:
65 for 2000;
28 for 2001;
82 for 2002;
51 for 2003;
48 for 2004;
13 for 2005;
145 for 2006; and,
20 for 2007

Ten commandments seemed to work pretty well for over 2,000 years. Now, we have 452 secular commandments created in just eight years.

What does the proliferation of laws mean? First of all, it means that everyone can probably be found guilty of something if you search the law codes long enough. The US Code alone contains 50 "titles," each containing countless specific laws, amendments, legislative histories, etc.

The proliferation of laws - many of them enacted by Congress in payment of political debts to special interests - leads to confusion and a sense of overwhelming injustice on the part of Real People. When the laws are so overwhelmingly complex and there are so many of them, it cheapens the meaning of those individual laws that are necessary and worthwhile. It's a good bet that many, if not most, of the laws now on the books are unnecessary and could easily be rescinded...if Congress were required to reconsider them periodically.

We have far too many laws. If the Good Lord only needed ten, who are we to say that we need 452 ... in less than ten years ... in addition to the tens of thousands we already had?

And Congress is still at work. Or, given the current situation, whatever passes for work on Capitol Hill.

Have a good day. Obey the law, if you can figure out what it is.

More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...


Amanda said...

Hmmm.....I'd better be on my best behavior if I ever visit the US again then.

Raquel's World said...

What I love is that I hear judges/police officers say all the time "ignorance of the law is no defense". But I think it kinda is. I'll bet they do not know every single law. It would be grand if instead of sending us donation requests all the time they sent us law updates, for dummies, of course so that we have a shot of keeping up.

Mike said...

There should be a law against too many laws.

Bandit said...

I'm glad to see Congress hard at work, though. They just passed that landmark law that makes it illegal for commercials to be louder than the program you are watching.

Mike said...

From the article -
"It allows legislatures to pass measures of a general nature, setting goals and operating principles without trying to anticipate every regulatory situation."

Most laws start out simply enough. But as exceptions come up they get modified. That 2700 page health care bill will be 10,000 pages before you know it. And it will be because of companies and individuals trying to beat the system.

KathyA said...

It just seems way too complicated for anyone to understand -- and you're right: the whole system needs to be revamped and it'll never happen.