Should We “Radically Simplify Law”?

At the Cato Institute, attorney Philip K. Howard proposes that we “radically simplify law.” He states:

America’s can-do culture has a few necessary conditions, including the rule of law. Economic energy dissipates in a state of anarchy or corruption. A vigorous economy requires a legal platform which enforces contracts, protects against crime and allows people to go through the day focusing forward, not looking over their shoulders.

Too much law, however, can have similar effects as too little law. People slow down, they become defensive, they don’t initiate projects because they are surrounded by legal risks and bureaucratic hurdles. They tiptoe through the day looking over their shoulders rather than driving forward on the power of their instincts. Instead of trial and error, they focus on avoiding error.

Modern America is the land of too much law. Like sediment in a harbor, law has steadily accumulated, mainly since the 1960s, until most productive activity requires slogging through a legal swamp. It’s degenerative. Law is denser now than it was 10 years ago, and will be denser still in the next decade.

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The mutant root that has produced this impenetrable bureaucratic kudzu is the idea that law can supplant human judgment. We have tried to create a hands-free legal code, without any risk of human frailty. Most legal detail is aimed not at important legal goals or principles, but at dictating daily implementation. That’s why the Volcker rule is 950 pages. The Constitution, by contrast, is ten pages.

American law has become central planning. Actually, it’s worse, because the planners are dead. Detailed laws and regulations are still dictating behavior decades after they are written, when circumstances have long since changed.

The solution, broadly, is to restore human responsibility as the activating force of law and regulation. Law should be radically simplified into goals and governing principles, like the Constitution, and leave to accountable humans the responsibility to achieve those goals fairly and sensibly.

The full article is available here.