Tuesday, April 03, 2012

There Ought to be a Law, But Not So Many

The fact that the last time I published anything on my blog was July 16, 2011 make it seem that I am missing the whole point of having one, but I have been finishing up a Master of Arts degree from American Public University in Political Science and writing for the courses there has drained my energy for writing. I have now finished the requirements for the degree (with honors); conferral date is May 15. It will be my fourth degree, which makes me nearly as much of an education junkie as my wife Sandy, who has six. Now that I am done writing about things because I have to, I can write about things because I want to. Sandy also has ambition to do more writing, both on her own and in collaboration with others and me. A couple of topics that interest me are (1) the rule of law (2) Article V of the United States Constitution, the one about how the Constitution is amended. I intend to write more about both topics in later posts, but let me get started scratching the surface of one of those two topics, the rule of law. Plato sparked my interest in the rule of law when I read about an observation of his in my course on the history of political philosophy. Plato observed that lawlessness does not mean the absence of laws. It can also mean the habitual disregard of laws by the government, especially those laws that are meant to restrain it. A government that can change laws merely because it finds current laws to be inconvenient is lawless. He made that observation more than 2000 years ago. It occurred to me that we are currently developing a type of lawlessness caused laws that are too numerous, too complicated, and even laws that contradict other laws. It is becoming more difficult to be a law-abiding citizen because to obey the law, one must be able to know what the law is (or at least be able to find out what it is with reasonable effort), be able to understand it, and not be forced into a situation in which to obey one law one must disobey another. In most cases it is easier to obey laws that are harsh and unreasonable than laws that cannot be understood, are too numerous to follow, are contradictory, or can be interpreted in unpredictable ways by an adjudicator. Since I am writing this in early April and haven’t filed my income tax returns, the example that springs first to mind of a set of laws that is way too complicated is the Internal Revenue Code, or what it would be named if names of acts of Congress were more accurate – the Attorneys and Accountants Full Employment Act. If the only goal of the federal income tax were to raise revenue, the Internal Revenue Code would be simple and complying with it would be uncomplicated. However, the Internal Revenue Code has developed multiple goals that are designed to engineer behavior – to encourage behavior that the federal government approves of and to discourage behavior that it does not approve of. More recent examples of laws that are not only large and complicated by themselves (over 2000 pages each) but invite countless regulations to be written to further complicate the lives of people in regulated industries trying to obey the law are the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. I have much more to say about the rule of law, but that will have to wait until later. Meanwhile, I would appreciate comments from readers about personal experiences regarding difficulty following laws because of their volume or complexity or situations in which following one law required disobeying another. Comments reflecting a different viewpoint are also welcome.

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