Rulemaking Feels Good, But Accomplishes Little

Rulemaking feels good because the valued outcome is clear and desirable. There are three assumptions involved and unless all happen, the rule will not turn out as advertised:

  1. The rule will, in fact, deliver the promised benefit.
  2. The context of the problem will not change
  3. Everyone will do as expected.

The real world says “Nope”

Promised benefit

The promised benefit is probably clear, but the path that connects that benefit to the rule is often poorly defined. This is where  the unintended consequences appear. Even if the rule has a clear connection to the benefit and a way to get there, adverse aspects are likely ignored. And there are many more factors than were considered.

As one of many examples, think about whether welfare systems encourage single parent families and the cost of those.

The context is unchanging

Every context changes eventually. Technology causes much of it. At one time the speed limit in Connecticut was 12 mph in cities and 15 mph outside them. Better vehicles and better roads obsoleted those within a few years.

Everyone will go along

You would be a very naive person to believe that. Some people will never go along, and some will go along all the time. The rest are somewhere in the middle. Few if any rules assess how that will play out.

For example, every school has a no bullying rule. Are they enforced by the staff and administration? Nearly universally no. Why not? Because the rule denied the outcome, so the outcome must be reclassified.

Some people think gun control is an advantage. Would it work? If everyone does it, probably, but we can expect some will not. Are you safer with it or without it if 2% will never choose to be bound by it.

If someone breaks into your home and has a gun, would the 911 operator be right if they said, “That’s impossible. Guns have been outlawed.”

Why people make rules

Rules work as guidelines but you cannot rationally expect them to actually deliver the goods.

Rules are a way of making the rulemaker feel better. Like words of any kind, that part is easy. Enforcement is a comparatively very costly process, both in terms of money and psychological pain for the enforcer.

That’s why bullying is not dealt with and gun control will not work.

What to support

If the good of the rule is clear, support rules that are both enforceable and enforced.

Be sure the rules can change as other conditions come to exist.

Manage based on total outcomes, not the “goodness” of the rule itself.

Beware virtue signalling. Words are free because the supply is so great and the demand so small.

Reality will not conform

Rulemaking will not work in the future as it has in the past. Think about how that will work out. People are not following the “Normal Path” as they once did. If your worldview is rules should govern, you will not enjoy the coming decade.

The next decade will see an increasing number of subgroups, niches, political tribes, activists groups, religious movements, online communities, startup institutions, and communal living experiments.”

Paul Millerd

The assumption that all will conform to any given rule is certain to fail.

How will we replace rules as a method of governing? Spending time, money, and energy, to learn persuasion skills seems a useful alternative. Manage your local world better.

Be a leader not a rule maker.


I help people have more income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call or email don@moneyfyi.com in Canada 705-927-4770

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