The (Non)sense of Lawmaking

After reading or hearing another news report of a politician, economist or special interest spokesperson advocate, the sheer ignorance and arrogance of such supposeCourthoused do-gooders never fails to bewilder me. Upon further investigation of this mindset I was able to distinguish a number of fallacies that lie at the heart of lawmaking. I am sure there are many more – which I might cover in a future blog post – but for now here are some of them.

First of all, it is assumed there is an easily and positively identifiable problem (X) resulting from an equally easily and positively identifiable cause (Y). Let’s say, for example, that the climate is changing (X) as a consequence of human beings pumping too much CO2 into the atmosphere (Y). Well just because Al Gore says so – and makes a killing in the process – does that make climate change a global catastrophe? At least 30,000 scientists think otherwise and new data released last year suggesting warming stopped in 1997 would support their claims.

The alleged cause of this climate change is just as hotly debated. After all, between AD 950 and 1250, a time known by scientists as the Medieval Warm Period, temperatures were high enough for the Vikings to grow crops in Greenland many centuries before the advent of factories and motorized transport that brought on the current spike in CO2 levels. Needless to say the climate change debate opens a whole new can of worms but the point here is that neither the problem nor its alleged cause are always easily and positively identifiable.

Another fallacy commonly displayed by lawmakers and their supporters is the idea that fixing X by changing Y will not have unintended consequences. As if in a controlled lab environment, the underlying assumption is that one can simply manipulate a single actor in a process to effect a different outcome. Let’s see how this works in practice. The other day the media reported on record high unemployment in Spain of 27.2 percent with youth employment at approximately 55 percent.

Thanks to the labor unions, Spanish labor laws are such that the cost of firing workers with permanent contracts is prohibitively high while collective agreements have the status of a law, making it difficult for small or medium-sized business to be flexible when hiring. Though this may sound like a worker’s paradise at first glance, the unintended consequence is lower job security for young, inexperienced people entering the labor force as businesses tend to offer temporary rather than permanent contracts. As such, the mighty Spanish labor unions, supposedly representing the voice of the worker, have made his predicament that much worse.

When making new laws the possibility of the perceived evil fixing itself is also often forgotten – or perhaps conveniently left out. When the price of a particular product was deemed too high, for instance, historically some governments implemented price controls, only to find its supply consequently dropping and its price rising more than it would have if the law had not been in place to begin with. Had the law never come into existence, supply would have risen over time as more manufacturers would have started producing the high-priced good in an attempt to get in on the action and increase profits.

Some might argue that if a law is passed by the elected representatives of the people, they must be in the voters’ best interest. Still, upon closer examination this argument does not hold water, for if it is in my best interest to do A, I will do A to the best of my ability even if I am not required by law to do so. So what good is a law that requires me to do A? Such laws do not need enforcing. .

Furthermore, it follows that the laws that do need enforcing, are by definition laws people obey against their will. Hence it cannot be argued that the latter laws serve the interests of the people. Some might claim that we need to have other people determine what is our best interest because we’re not always smart enough to figure that out for ourselves. But what is it that makes legislators so infinitely wise that they would know? Do they have superhuman powers that make them all-knowing? Moreover, if some people can’t even figure out what’s best for themselves how could they ever be allowed to vote?

Above all, though, there is a moral case to be made against lawmaking that trumps all other arguments in my view, yet very few people seem to consider this: why it is appropriate that some people should force others to behave in a certain way just because they wear a suit and tie and were voted into office? If you or I cannot put a gun to someone’s head to force him or her to do (or abstain from doing) something, where do so-called legislators get that power from? Can we delegate powers to others that we never had to begin with, simply by voting them into office? In other words, if I can’t stop you from buying a large soda, what gives Mayor Bloomberg of New York City the right to do so?

I realize that if you are a frequent visitor here, the above probably contains a lot more questions than you’re used to. Nonetheless I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought provoking. By all means feel free to comment below!

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