- My beloved Alberta: New "distracted driving" legislation aims to make radio changing and cell phone texting illegal: even if you're at a red light or stuck in traffic.
- Idaho: Midwives must now be registered.
- San Fransisco: You can't smoke basically anywhere outside where another person might find themselves near you.
- Maryland: If you're a scallop fisherman with a licence to catch scallop, dear Lord don't try to catch any of them.
- Ontario: The government would like to control your water use and consumption.
In all of these stories and countless others, you see the same words over and over again: new regulations about x; tougher rules about y; more restrictions about z. Do you know what you never hear? That's right, the exact opposite: ending of regulations, looser rules, fewer restrictions. Legislatures across the democratic world, in an intense desire to show their "legacy" and/or prove how much they "care" pass mammoth behemoth after mammoth behemoth into law, burdening all of our lives with incremental and seemingly irreversible intrusion.
The thing that gets me is that I'm pretty sure that legislation to curb bad behaviour can only work if bad behaviour is defined narrowly enough that not many people do it. We have clearly gone far off the deep end of that particular pond, though as I've written in this space before, making more behaviour "bad" doesn't stop it, instead merely continues it plus previously bad behaviour gets worse:
The problem becomes one of equivalency. It's fairly well known that MAID actively wants to villify and criminalize all driving while intoxicated so that in society's eyes [ignore this notion of "society" having human physical characteristics -ed] drunk driving is morally equivalent to breaking and entering.So with this notion in my head that there should be some fixed quantity R of regulations (the exact point isn't yet known, though I'm sure we can figure it out given some time and energies -- any psychology grad students looking for a research project?), what can we do? Well, funny you should ask:
The problem as I see it is that it seems that everything goes the other way: murdering and raping a small girl is criminal, but then so is failing to properly maintain your company's MSDS datasheets. In our haste to make more and more things less and less acceptible, the opposite has occured. And that can't be good.
I propose a constitutional amendment that would require any legislative body -- be it national, provincial, or municipal -- remove either two related pieces or one unrelated piece of legislation or regulation for every item of legislation or regulation which is brought in.
You can see with a stroke what this could achieve: if you really think that, say, the regulation of midwives is so important than something else must go -- the regulation of the dairy industry, for example. Whenever a government wants to bring in some sweeping piece of legislation setting up a half dozen new government agencies, as what happened after 9/11, in return a half dozen old government agencies need to snuff it. The law is an evolving animal, and it seems silly to believe that evolution requires constant growth [ask a passing T. Rex about this if you question it! -ed], when instead legislation should be a shimmering reorganization, a metamorphosis from 24,364 rules and regulations into 24,364 different rules and regulations.
This isn't to say that laws can't be added with the passing of time: merely understood that this same passing of time must cause old laws no longer necessary to give way. It also means that new laws won't just be some silly legacy-pushing experiment by overly eager politicians with irrational views about their importance on history. Queerbec's proposed new law requiring that Muslims go without a niqab, for example, can only come through if like everybody else those self-same Muslims can write their businesses' signs in English-only. You want to ban money from election campaigns? Then let bars stay open past 2am. We'll see how interested a government is in enacting new legislation requiring dog breeders to comply with onerous new red tape if it means the rule banning sex stores next to elementary schools has to fall by the wayside.
Politicians will have to explain why Amazing New Regulation X is so important that the Amazing New Regulation Y that was only brought forward in 1986 is consigned to the dustbin of history. In time we can find our lives being reduced from the slow chokehold of government controls, and we may in fact learn that if there are only 4,000 things against the law instead of 75,000 that people will find it easier to follow them, and it will be easier to tell when somebody really has done something wrong and not merely run awfoul of something that was fashionable to regulation in 1957.