Saturday, March 13, 2010

Laws and Consequences

I note in my list of blogs that I read Tam's View From the Porch because she has a way with words. She knocks it out of the park with this one.

It's government by sedimentation, each new election cycle depositing a fresh layer of laws to be upheld and bureaucratic fiefdoms to be protected atop the structure already existing. Unless someone brings a dredge through, this river's going to silt up completely.
One of the problems my wife and I talk about is that the ever-increasing number of laws makes it increasingly difficult to do anything in society: from starting a business to simply running your home.

30 to 35 years ago, when I was much stupider, and much, much less libertarian than I am now, I realized a fundamental problem we have is that every session of legislation adds new laws, and that even if it was just one law per session, any math geek will tell you, the number of laws, N, tends to infinity.

It doesn't matter that they may have good intentions, they always bring consequences and when you look up "Law of Unintended Consequences" on Wikipedia, you should get a picture of the US Code of Federal Regulations.

In 2008, the last year of W, they passed a Consumer Product Safety Improvement act, in the wake of the toys from China contaminated with lead. This sort of bill is guaranteed to pass - no one would oppose a bill to make kids' toys safer- except anyone with enough sense to read what was proposed. To sell toys, the seller must get expensive chemical tests done on them. There is a cottage industry of crafters who sell their products at flea markets and small shops, and there is a pretty large group of (typically older) guys who make some toys with their woodworking tools and sell them to help offset the cost of wood and help buy more tools. Then there's the small consignment shops who sell the baby hand-me-downs and old toys that people who don't plan on having more children need to get rid of. All of these activities would shut down because small business people can't afford these tests. Besides, the problem was toys from the major manufacturers in China - not one single hazard was traced to these small businesses. Our "Protectors" in said they would never go after second hand stores, consignment stores and church sales. In fact, they have. Anyone with any sense told them the problem wasn't grandpa selling a wooden truck he built, or grandma selling some dolls made of yarn, or you selling your kids' old toys; the problem was China, Inc's mass-manufactured toys. They won't listen. They know better than us.

So in the wake of this useless POS law, second hand stores and small businesses are shutting down while China.Com is shipping toys filled with cadmium instead of lead. As a "bonus" they've made it much more expensive for you to start a business if you want to sell toys or any product for kids.

What the doesn't seem to grasp is there are always unintended consequences to the laws they pass. They've just guaranteed the export of many more jobs overseas since they've just dramatically increased the difficulty of starting a small business in the US. As it is, vast numbers of jobs have left the country because of other laws passed over the years: environmental laws, tax laws, labor laws, you name it. If you're trying to be "pro-worker" or "pro-jobs" you have to at least give a little consideration to not being so anti-business.

Lastly, laws like this just stay on the books. The next time there's a toy safety issue from, say, China making toys out of depleted uranium, instead of looking at this law to see if it should be scrapped for being useless, they'll just add another law. The river will continue to silt. One of these days, the river is going to spill over its banks and run all around the silt dam.

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