11/30/2005

The Uses of Law

When would-be reformers go through the law code looking for bad laws to attack, often they are simply paralyzed by the sheer volume of damaging laws. Priorities must be set; given scarce resources, one must decide to change this law before that one. Yet as far as I know, no one has tried to categorize laws by what they do, so that they could be compared to each other qualitatively or quantitatively.

Such a system, if it were clearly defined and accepted, could work wonders in getting people to agree on what needs changing now, and what later. While I have no idea how the quantitative aspect could work, I have some thoughts on how to categorize law.

Fundamentally, law can do three things:

1. Law can make a statement of morality, i.e. say that such-and-such is good or bad in itself. Example: laws against child abuse.

2. Law can regulate and promote civil order (or, less generously, create unintended consequences in society), without necessarily making a moral judgement on the things being regulated. Example: traffic laws.

3. Law can privilege one actor or group of actors over another. Example: agriculture subsidies.

Now, most laws have components of all three of these elements. For example, families with children get a tax writeoff for their children because our culture considers childraising to be a great good, and in order to keep the population growing fast enough to avoid a deflationary spiral. In the process, families with children are privileged over families without children.

But by taking a law, determining the totality of its effects, and classifying these effects using the above three components, one may more easily analyze its effects or identify the underlying assumptions of the law. One these are clarified, one may more easily ask whether the law is good or bad.

This is about the point where I should ideally demonstrate this method (say, on the Accredited Investor laws), but it's late and my brain is running on empty. I'll get around to a demo soon.

1 comment:

Asher Litwin said...

"One these are clarified..."

Typo, bro... Once