Do We Need More Laws? Part 1: Unintended Consequences

From time to time things change in the world. New laws are needed to meet the challenges of the ever expanding capabilities of technology.

From automobiles came traffic laws, vehicle safety regulations, emissions standards, and so on. An ardent libertarian may argue that no such laws are needed. In fact a strong argument for doing away with traffic laws exists.

Even if we can’t agree on how much regulation is needed, most of us agree that some regulations are necessary. The big question is, when does it all get a little redundant.Take fraud for example:

18 U.S. Code Chapter 47 – FRAUD AND FALSE STATEMENTS

18 U.S. Code Chapter 63 – MAIL FRAUD AND OTHER FRAUD OFFENSES

Title 18 contains forty-nine sections across two chapters pertaining to fraud. That includes the repealed section §1008. Why not simply establish a simpler definition of criminal fraud that can be more broadly applied. I mean we all know what is and isn’t fraud right? Or do we?

Condensing these laws to something  much smaller may cause more harm than good. While fraud may seem simple to explain, “wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.” The reality is, that it is not enough. Should children be charged with fraud when they lie about doing their homework. Seems absurd, but where do we draw the line. Can every prosecutor, judge, and policeman be trusted to exercise adequate discretion when up holding the law.

Just these two sexual assault cases help demonstrate the problem with absolute trust in the way laws get carried out. Justice may be blind, but that does not justify blind faith in those who seek to enforce them.

After the collapse of the USSR new governments rose up to take its place. Among them was the Russian Federation where they decided, at the birth of their new nation, to outlaw pornography. But, what is pornography? In the legal sense I mean. It doesn’t specify in Russian law. And so, the fight rages on in Russia. The government contends that pornography is illegal, porn distributors contend that images of naked people having sex is not pornography. Both are right, and both are obviously wrong.

It is a common, and well known, problem that new laws and regulations can have unintended consequences. An example is the time when Rode Island accidentally legalized prostitution. But there can be even deeper and stranger consequences. Let’s return to automobiles for a moment. The odds of surviving an accident increase while wearing a seat belt. However, the odds of being in an accident increase proportionally, leaving mortality rates mostly unchanged. In fact, we seem to have only increased the amount of property damage and traffic delays. Why you might ask? People, wearing seat belts are more confident drivers. Arrogant you might even say. The more secure a driver feels the worse he performs it seems.

Organizations such as the Government Accountability Office and even lobbyists dedicate much of their time to tracking down the unintended consequences of proposed legislation.

We’ll discuss more in part two.

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