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Principles for proper and moral legislation: in America, abandoned

I am a libertarian-constitutionalist.  By that I basically mean that the government should mind its business at almost every level but when it does become involved it should follow the letter of the law- and the highest law should provide for significant checks and balances to make sure that the government doesn’t overstep its bounds.

I’m pretty sure that the founders of this country had a similar view.  They wouldn’t recognize the bloated thing we have today.  One can guess what they’d say or do.  (I have some guesses).  Let us just assume that no one even tries anymore to have good, moral, proper, principled reasons for passing legislation any more.   That has been abandoned.  In its place are just two basic principles:  1.  Will the legislation make money for the government (or those donating to officials)?  2.  Will it extend the government’s reach?

I would suggest that in most cases today we can see that most legislation does just this.  Oh sure, it won’t come out and say that.  The government will tell you what you want to hear.  They are corrupt, not stupid.  Most likely, I am stating something true of all governments, even the absolute best ones.  Power corrupts.  So, perhaps the fault is ours for letting it happen.

This weekend I had a conversation about this.   We were talking about all the laws out there that spring up because of one, and only one, singular event.   For example, the attempt down in Missouri to create a new set of laws because one very stupid adult harassed one girl over the Internet- and the girl committed suicide.   These new set of laws might reflect moral sense (ie, it certainly is wrong for adults to behave that way) but the laws are not going to curb such behavior and it only opens up all of us to accusations from random people on the net claiming ‘harassment.’

We could think of other examples.

When I was a teacher, I sometimes had to make rules on the fly to address specific incidents.  The whole class suffered because one student was ridiculous.  This is fine as far as it goes.  It only affected 30 kids at a go. And they were, well, kids.  Adults among adults, when there are 250 million, that isn’t so good or wise, for by necessity such knee jerk rule making will be done by a fraction of a fraction of the adults.  500 at the Federal level, maybe 10,000 at the state level- ruling over 250,000,000 adults.  And you can’t tell me that our legislators can be trusted to know what is right, good, or decent.  If you disagree, there should be a law against YOU.  🙂

Some bad principles for legislation, for example.  Deterrence.  We often hear reasons for punishment framed in terms of deterrence, most notably the death penalty.  Friends, you don’t kill someone because it will deter others.  If you kill them, you kill them for one reason and one reason only:  they deserve it.  Deterrence is a happy effect, perhaps, but the real question is:  are they guilty and if so what is the appropriate and proportionate punishment for their crime.  If deterrence is your goal, they hardly need to be guilty of the crime.  Indeed, many governments have made examples of perfectly innocent individuals.

Another bad principle:  generates income for the state or government.   There are thousands of examples like this, all cloaked in well meaning language.  Consider this example urging to make it lawful for police officers to pull over people for not wearing their seatbelts.  The Headline says it all:  “Cash-strapped states mull seat belt law changes.”  In other words, the sole driving force- the rest is a lie- is to generate money for the government.  God forbid the government slim down and live within its means.  No, it has to pass ever more legislation to tap into every more sources of income, and there is only one ultimate source:  our pockets.

So what to do?  Lately I’ve been thinking we just need to see the trends to their ruddy end.  We take our freedoms for granted.   We’ve already lost so many freedoms but remain fairly comfortable so therefore we don’t act.  But trends are trends.  We won’t remain comfortable for long, not if history is any guide.


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