Rule Based Societies

Why do we have laws that limit or prescribe behavior?  For example: Why gun control?  Why a building code?  Why regulate financial services?  Why regulate worker safety?

As recently as 400 BC, Plato had it pretty well scoped out.  “Good people do not need laws to tell them how to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”  His unasked question, is or should be, “So why have this kind of rule at all?”

In general, laws are for the benefit of the lawmakers, not for the citizens.  Governments  can use them to reward their friends or to punish their enemies.  I do not find that to be responsible law making or governing.  More like politics, currently one of my subjects of contempt.

At a somewhat deeper level, many think there should be laws to govern the behavior of others, but the proposed change don’t apply to them.  Essentially, many of us do not trust others to behave responsibly. Maybe because we don’t know people around us very well.  It is not the small local society that once was.

Others among us like the order implied by a rule based society.  The way teachers like order and discipline in the classroom.

We know with some certainty that rule based societies do not work as well as principle based societies.  People subject to a rule based environment, are at a loss as to what to do when the rules don’t cover what is happening.  Consider the organizational problems faced by a person released from prison. (A very rule based situation.)

We are in the victims of a rule making, power hungry, ruling class moving to regulate everything.  There are two obvious downsides to that:

  1. Regulation is expensive and produces almost nothing of value.  We are poorer for it.
  2. With too many rules, people forget, or never learn, how to be self-governing.

As long as people are fearful or mistrusting of their fellows and as long as some people like to be bossy, there will be a problem with onerous and expanding rules.  As a society we cannot afford to divert productive resources to rules that have nearly no effect.

Most of the things the rules cover are already disallowed in principle, but easy prosecution is a benefit to the government, at least when they pay attention to their own rules.  In reality though, it is like mandating life jackets while sailing on the Great Lakes.  In the event of a catastrophe they likely won’t save anyone, but it does make it easier to find the bodies.

Time to refine your moral standards and teach them to your children.  High personal standards with fewer rules, evenhandedly applied, would be better.


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Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact:  

3 Comments on “Rule Based Societies

    • You got it right Don. Also people who just follow rules allows the to avoid taking any responsibility for their actions.

  1. Pingback: Principles Matter But Rules And Regulations Are Useless – moneyFYI

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