What Is The Value of Law?
I think we believe laws have some value, but when you actually examine it, most of them are not required.
- For good people laws are not required because they do what is right by their nature.
- For bad people, laws are not required because they don’t follow them in any case.
Fewer laws seems reasonable.
So what’s the point?
Several reasons we have laws:
- Laws are a way to explain to those in the middle between good and bad, what society expects from them.
- Laws provide a template for prosecution of those who choose not to live up to society’s expectations.
- Laws can allocate resources that aren’t part of the good-bad spectrum. Maybe Healthcare, or support for people with disabilities. A way to do something instead of what to do.
- Laws can deal with situations that are communal. Like air pollution.
- Before passage, they can provide an opportunity for debate. We could acquire a more complete understanding of both sides. With that recognition of what is not being chosen and reasons for the preferred option.
- Laws are supposed to provide an expectation of outcome. It works in physics, chemistry and other simple situations. Society is far too complicated for that. No law guarantees an outcome.
The trick is to not over-value the idea of laws.
If laws are not for ease of prosecution, or guidance, or allocation of resources to problems that are beyond the individual, they clutter up the courts and mislead people’s thinking. Predictability of outcome suffers. People make weaker decisions. Society suffers
- Laws add nothing to morals, ethics, or justice. They are just a way to keep politicians from having nothing to do.
- Because something is legal, or in some cases not illegal, does not make it right. Too many laws confuse that point.
- Laws don’t create justice. You do not go to court for justice, you go to court to have the rules applied.
- Laws have been around a long time. The problem of too many has existed for centuries.
“The more laws, the less justice” Cicero
“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” – Tacitus
- Laws are society’s choices. People seem not to understand that simple point. Probably because politicians obfuscate that to the greatest extent possible. Not everyone wants the same choice and that is confusing. Laws without explanation of their reasoning is the basis for confrontations. Laws that no one wants or needs are destructive.
“To govern is to choose” – Nigel Lawson
Laws must be evaluated after passage lest they become a costly, useless burden on society.
“How can this be, when the whole purpose of rent control is to keep rents down? First of all, the purpose of any policy tells you absolutely nothing about what will actually happen under that policy. Too many disastrous laws get passed because those who pass them win political points for their good intentions and nobody bothers to check up later to see what actually happened.” – Thomas Sowell
- Don’t expect too much from laws. They will not make your life easier.
- Laws are how governments execute power. It would be foolish to expect they will do anything to reduce that ability.
- Use behaviour to promote the ideas of morality, ethical behaviour, and if not justice, at least fair play.
How’s this for an idea. The late Walter Williams.
You say, “Williams, you’re just old-fashioned and out of touch with modern society.” Maybe so, but I think that a society’s first line of defense is not the law but customs, traditions and moral values. These behavioral norms — transmitted by example, word of mouth, religious teachings, rules of etiquette and manners — represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important legal thou-shalt-nots — such as shalt not murder, steal, lie or cheat — but they also include all those civilities one might call ladylike or gentlemanly behavior. Police officers and courts can never replace these social restraints on personal conduct. At best, laws, police and the criminal justice system are a society’s last desperate line of defense.
Is there any reason to not protect, and indeed to promote customs, traditions, and moral values. Worth a think.
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