Fewer, Nicer Laws

The Fewer, Nicer Things meme applies in particular to government.  Minimizing regulatory compliance expense is mainly a matter of simplifying complex, capricious, self-contradicting rules.

Do the endless, ever-shifting sands of TSA flight regulations actually make you safer?  Unlikely, because planes are too complex to survive a determined terrorist.  Instead, millions of people are inconvenienced, and billions of dollars in time and money wasted, for essentially political reasons:  so politicians can look like they’re helping.  Much of the inconvenience is in spending valuable time and mental effort to figure out what the rules are.  Even the enforcement officers can’t seem to figure it all out.  Not their fault — it’s just too complicated.

A well-designed, extremely simple regulatory regime would solve this.  For example, “Your carry-on must contain no metal, and must fit in a cigar box.”  This is an extreme pain, and still does nothing to make you safer, but is extremely easy to understand, comply with, and enforce.  Baby steps back toward sanity.

Thomas Jefferson argued that the entire body of federal laws should be thrown away and rewritten every 30 years, to keep them simple, current and reflective of the public will.  That’s extreme (hey, Jefferson was kind of an extremist), but a related idea in the Jeffersonian mold would be this simple Constitutional amendment:

“Every year for the next half-century, the US legal code shall contain 1% fewer words than the year before, and no congressman shall vote on a law he has not personally read in its entirety.”

This is a very simple way to limit complexity.  You could refine this rule, of course, but that would make it complicated.  The goal is simplicity.  Is this realistic?  Very.  Much of the legal code is obsolete, redundant, or consists of narrow exceptions to and refinements of existing law.  (As programmers would say, they have been applying patches and bug fixes, when they should be refactoring the code.)  Moreover, in the past 30 years, much law was written with almost no regard for complexity.  For example, the securities regulations of 1933-40 were relatively simple, but have been vastly expanded since 1970 by exceptions and refinements — apparently without effect on our financial safety.

Simple laws — as long as they are designed for measurability — require less time and effort to write, read, interpret and enforce, and thus make the entire system more efficient.

Comments are closed.