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Too many laws

Posted by Richard on January 19, 2006

Last week, I noted in passing that the Colorado legislature is back in session. This is the time of year when most state legislatures reconvene, which makes it a sad and dangerous time for lovers of liberty. In some places it’s far worse — some state legislatures meet throughout the year. The evil consequences of that much legislating are obvious from the names of those states: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York… need I go on?

The trouble with legislators — even the decent, well-intentioned ones — is that they feel compelled to legislate. They believe that they must pass new laws in order to earn their keep, to be able to go back to their constituents and say, "Look what I’ve accomplished." On the first day of Colorado’s legislative session, over 100 bills were introduced. Do we really have such a shortage of laws? Are there that many things we still need to forbid, compel, or constrain?

In an article a few years ago, libertarian Charles Murray argued that the laws and regulations that govern us are now so numerous, complex, and impossible to understand that the average American cannot avoid being a lawbreaker. He cited this endless proliferation of laws as one of the reasons for the current public cynicism and distrust of government.

Ayn Rand predicted such a state of affairs in her 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, and suggested dark motives for it:

There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

Almost all of us can agree on our basic goals regarding crime: we want our families, persons, and property to be safer; we want the police and courts to prevent or punish those who try to harm us or take what doesn’t belong to them.

To the extent that governments divert their limited resources to other matters, such as controlling personal, private behavior and enforcing arcane regulatory and licensing requirements, they’re less able to fulfill their primary obligation to us, which is to stop and punish the predators among us. And they diminish our liberty, our respect for the law, and our sense of personal responsibility.

We have far too many laws and regulations in Colorado. The average person can’t begin to comprehend them (which is why we also have too many lawyers). I’d like to put a measure on the ballot to require that, for every word added to the Colorado Revised Statutes or to an agency’s regulations, three existing words have to be removed.

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3 Responses to “Too many laws”

  1. John said

    Where there are too many laws, there is no justice. German Proverb.

  2. Anonymous said

    Excellent, John! Thank you!

    I should say: Ausgezeichnet, Johann! Vielen Dank!

    (Hope I didn’t mess up the spelling too much. )

  3. Sashak said

    Oh, well. this makes a whole crapload of sense…

    lol JK.

    Very nice article, totally gives me some inside info. 🙂

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