A Stick in the Spokes

The Hobbesian world is one in which there are no laws, and everyone is free to run about doing God knows what to one another. We long ago escaped that unsettling situation, but we may, after a time, have landed right in another one. If having no laws is undesirable, mightn’t it be the case that having too many laws is also undesirable? All things are to be enjoyed in moderation, or so I have heard.

If there is such a thing as having too many laws, then I think we long ago crossed that threshold. If we haven’t, then the entire idea of a threshold becomes rather empty of meaning. It’s commonly pointed out that each of us breaks a couple of laws every day, without realizing it. One question, from Yahoo Answers (which is, I know, a veritable fount of truthfulness and sagacity), amusingly asks “what laws do non-criminals commonly break?” I suspect the answer involves squaring circles.

The point, of course, is that we are adrift in an endless sea of rules, policies, laws, regulations, dictates, mandates, and codes. We have too many laws, and too many lawyers. The law should act as the oil in the engine, keeping society running along with nary a tick. Instead, the immense and convoluted system we have in place acts, more often than not, as the stick between the spokes. Yes, I realize I just switched metaphors on the fly. You will get no apology from me.

I am currently reading Richard Epstein’s Simple Rules for a Complex World, which concerns itself with this whole notion that we might have too many laws. It’s a rather dense book and the going is slow. I will, however, have more to say about it at another time. Right now, my eyelids are drooping and I can hear my bed suggestively catcalling me. But consider the idea that we have too many laws. The sentiment runs contrary to our national instinct, which tells us that “there ought to be a law” whenever we come across a situation we find inappropriate  And that, at least, partly explains why we have so many laws, although it doesn’t quite answer whether such laws are unnecessary.

But I digress.