“The Law” Is Just A Bunch Of Words On A Page

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Most people don’t directly interact with the letter (as opposed to the spirit) of government laws. Sure, people will come face to face with the law – as in, deal with law enforcement officers. But very few people actually read the text of the laws that they are required to abide by.

This is completely understandable, and even more so after reading through the bureaucratic legalese that I need to understand for my job. I truly have a new appreciation for the absurdity of forcing people to comply with all the of the diktats of the US government. I strongly suggest, as a simple exercise, to go pick a random section in the Federal Register and read just 20-30 pages. You will immediately see that it would be nearly impossible for these laws to be enforced in any non-arbitrary manner.

It’s all the more ridiculous when you realize that there are over 80,000 pages in the Federal Register, as of 2013. Luckily, I only need to read about 400 pages of it, or a mere half a percent. But there are so many little rules and regulations in those 400 pages that it would be nearly impossible to actually comply with them, or even for the bureaucrats to adequately ensure that their rules are being followed.

There are a lot of things I could say about regulations, including their crippling effects on the economy, how they lead to monopoly privilege and hurt the poor, how they don’t make us any safer, and so on. These are all important topics, and I intend to cover them in the future.

But for right now, I just want to point out the odd realization I had as I was reading through this document from hell: what we call “the law” is just a set of commands made by one arbitrary group directed at another. People tend to have a superhuman view of the law, and give it an almost mythological significance.

But there is nothing special about the law (legislation, more accurately). The only difference between what is in the Federal Register and my writing on this blog is that there are a set of people who, for some odd reason, are willing to commit acts of violence on behalf of the former and not for the latter (but just in case I’m wrong: “Everyone must pay the owner of Government Denies Knowledge 30% of their salary.”).

The government isn’t a mythical beast. It’s just a group of people. How come one group of people gets to make demands on the rest of the population? What gave them that right? And please don’t tell me that “we ARE the government” or any of that clap trap. This is just me ranting, so I won’t go into detail about why the “social contract” is bogus, we aren’t obligated to obey the government out of gratitude, or why perhaps a liberal democracy isn’t what people would choose from the “original position”. Those are subjects for yet another time. For right now, it suffices to say that there is no possible moral justification for some people to rule over others besides might makes right.

But this group does have the “might” part, at least. And with that might, they’ve created all these laws. Laws that the rest of us are obliged to follow. But these laws aren’t like physical laws, which are immutable and don’t require any type of enforcement. You can’t just “disobey” gravity. In contrast, there is a human element to the creation, enforcement, and obeying of government decree.

And many of us, even the most radical libertarians, will often forget that the government’s decrees are just a bunch of words on a page, arbitrarily put together by some other group of people. And people make mistakes, and these mistakes make it into the law. For instance:

With respect to when the quality measures data must be publicly reported, we propose that the QCDR must have the quality measures data by April 31 of the year following the applicable reporting period (that is, April 31, 2016, for reporting periods occurring in 2015). The proposed deadline of April 31 will provide QCDRs with one month to post quality measures data and information following the March 31 deadline for the QCDRs to transmit quality measures data for purposes of the PQRS payment adjustments. We also propose that this data be available on a continuous basis and be continuously updated as the measures undergo changes in measure title and description, as well as when new performance results are calculated.

Even if you had a complete understanding of everything in that paragraph, I suspect you’d have to struggle very hard to make a deadline of “April 31”. In all fairness, this was merely the proposed rule, and someone caught the error for them before making it into the official final rule. But even in the final rule, I’ve caught multiple typos. And this is the law.

We’re all just humans. Every day, each of us engages in dozens or hundreds of consensual, nonviolent actions with those around us. I was in an office for most of the day, and not once did my office mate or myself murder each other, steal from each other, etc. Not once! And you know what? We didn’t do that because the law told us not to. We did it because most people just aren’t assholes.

Yes, there are bad apples, but there are ways of dealing with them that don’t require a state apparatus. Anything a government has ever done has been done through the efforts of private individuals, and has been done better. Civilization existed long before the state. How can it be called the “rule of law” when one group arbitrarily wields power over another, and “chaos and disorder” when the world is based on a framework of purely voluntary interaction?

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  1. It really should be called the rule of Lawyers.

  2. It’s the difference between laws against “MALA IN SE” (true evil in itself, such as murder, rape, robbery etc.) and the laws against “MALA PROHIBITA” (rules made up to control others where there is no actual victim). Rule of Law vs. Law of Rules.

    • Yes, that is a key difference. But I have in mind something more akin to the “discovery” of law vs. the “creation” of it. Even though the government bans, say, theft, it rings hollow to me when legislated by the government.

      • ” Even though the government bans, say, theft, it rings hollow to me when legislated by the government.”
        That is because government intentionally blurs the definition between the two, “in se” and “prohibita”. They in fact violate mala in se (the higher law) to enforce mala prohibita (rules of the clergy or rules of the government). ALL mala prohibita laws should be stricken from the books for a free society.

        “But I have in mind something more akin to the “discovery” of law vs. the “creation” of it.”

        I take that to mean the “discovery” of laws that (almost) all humans agree with such as murder of individuals, rape, robbery of individuals and all crimes against individuals, as contrasted to the “creation” of laws by the state where there is no individual victim or some nebulously defined victim such as society or the state itself. Then of course, you are correct to find the state a hypocrite by violating an individuals right under mala in se, in order to enforce their prohibita.

        It is confusing, only because we (society as a whole) do not understand the difference between the two and raise piddling prohibita laws to the same standard and punishments as in se. “We must respect, enforce, obey, THE LAW”.

        We really need to rename the two as there is such a striking difference between them.
        Something like “The Universal Laws Of Mankind” for mala in se and “The Rules of Clergy and Bureaucrats” for mala prohibita.

        • I like those terms, but would replace “Rules of Clergy and Bureaucrats” with “Arbitrary Commands of Clergy and Bureaucrats”. Has a nice ring to it 🙂

  3. I used to believe in the “rule of law.”
    It seemed like a good way to ensure fairness and justice.
    But then I learned that the “rule of law” was in fact “rule by those who make the laws, interpret the laws, and enforce the laws.”
    That’s when I decided that the “rule of law” might not be such a good thing after all.

  4. PS:

    “A petty thief is put in jail. A great brigand becomes a ruler of a Nation.” – Zhuangzi

    As a Chinese anarcho-capitalist, I must say I love the quote from the great Daost master Zhuangzi.

    • I know, isn’t it great? Personally, I think Taoism has very strong anarchist sympathies if not outright advocacy for our philosophy.

      • Re: the Daoists

        Chinese civilization is hardly without its accomplishments. But just think how much more it could have contributed to global civilization had its private sector not been hobbled by the state throughout the millennia?

        The Daoist philosophers give me hope that one day anarcho-capitalism will be the Conventional Wisdom in China.

        • It has to contend with the dominant Confucianism first, though.

          • Yes indeed. As well as the even more authoritarian-minded Legalist school of thought. Fortunately those who subscribe to Legalism outright are few and far between.

            The biggest threat to freedom in a future China comes from “liberal democracy. ”

            Champions of democracy made the world safe for democracy. Champions of freedom must make it safe from democracy.
            — Quotations from Chairman Zhu

          • Yet another good one!


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