The More Laws, the Less Justice

20 Feb

Yesterday I wrote about stupid signage, which I think speaks to a deeper trend in American society. There are those who believe that we just don’t have the right laws on the books and those just wish those laws would leave them alone. Where do you stand?

I think you can guess where I stand from the title of this post, but let me be charitable with those who don’t think like me. Take that water quality standards legislation I mentioned–why doesn’t every state have Oregon’s standards? You should be able to eat 6 ounces (175 g) of fish per day without getting sick. Completely agree–however, the moment you write that into law, there are consequences. After all, “there are no solutions, only trade-offs.”

Say you are a PRP (potentially responsible party) who dumps pollutants into the water. Although you could–in theory–be a local business or light industrial, usually the EPA only goes after big companies. So that factory has a choice. In order to comply with the new standards, the factory will have to start storing the waste in 55 gallon barrels, and then find a new hazardous waste dump to store it at. You can’t keep it on your own premises for more than 90 days. That costs money. Does the cost mean the price of our product has to go up to pay for it? Are the fines for pollution cheaper than price to pay to responsibly dump it? Does the cost of the pollution make the factory not profitable? If you’re not making money, then there’s no point keeping the factory open.

So Oregon may face a problem–if you lose a factory, you lose the taxes that factory paid, and the hundreds of jobs that factory created. And you get VERY angry voters. Guaranteed, Baja California don’t care about water quality. And if you’re trying to build a new chemical factory, Oregon is not going to be your first choice. So state legislators have to decide how to balance the environmental quality versus economic development.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about the “forgotten man” when trying to sell his New Deal to the American people:

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power, for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

FDR’s speech, April 7, 1932

But who pays for these grand plans? I hate to turn to a Yale sociology professor, but a hundred and fifty years ago, soc classes were a lot different:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or, in better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X… What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. he is the man who never is thought of…. I call him the forgotten man… He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays…

William Graham Sumner, The Forgotten Man, 1876

In the modern world, no one is truly independent. What happens in China affects Oregon. The entrepreneur living in Portland has the choice to set up his business across the river in Vancouver, Washington if the laws are more favorable to him. States and countries compete for businesses because they need the tax money. And if Citizen C can’t get a job in Oregon–or pays too much in taxes–he can move somewhere he can pay less and still work. So I don’t believe you can legislate yourself into a utopia, because the smart man will always find a way around them.

However, I only see this from my perspective. Like I said, I like clean water too, but there’s a reason why the national standards are so low–because they’re trying to not kill business while saving the environment. But do you think? What am I missing in this argument? Let me know in the comments below!

One Response to “The More Laws, the Less Justice”

  1. Silk Cords February 21, 2021 at 2:49 am #

    I think my comment in your last post covers this one nicely also. All we should need in an ideal world is The Golden Rule.

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