Arbitrary Privileges

Charles Kesler understands the health-care reform legislation:
Can you have a bill, a single law, that is almost 3,000 pages long? In the old days, that would have constituted a whole code of laws. When our founders thought about law, they often thought along the lines of John Locke, who described law as a community's "settled standing rules, indifferent, and the same to all parties," emphasizing that to be legitimate a statute must be "received and allowed by common consent to be the standard of right and wrong, and the common measure to decide all controversies" between citizens.

This phonebook-sized law that would control a sixth of the U.S. economy cannot be a law by that definition. If you rummage through the text of, say, the House of Representatives' version of the bill, you find scores of places where power is delegated to administrative agencies and special boards, which are charged to fill the gaps in the written legislation by promulgating thousands, if not tens of thousands, of new pages of regulations that will then be applied to individual cases. Voters sometimes complain that legislators don't read the laws they enact. Why would they, in this case? You could read this leviathan until your eyeballs popped out and still not find any "settled, standing rules" or a meaning that is "indifferent, and the same to all parties."

In fact, that's the point of such promiscuous laws. They operate not by setting up fences to protect each man's liberty. They start not from equal rights but from equal (and often unequal) privileges, the favors or benefits that government may bestow on or withhold from its clients. The whole point is to empower government officials, usually unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, to bless or curse your petitions as they see fit, guided, of course, by their expertness in a law so vast, so intricate, and so capricious that it could justify a hundred different outcomes in the same case. Faster than one might think, a government of equal laws turns into a regime of arbitrary privileges.


Catherine! said...

Speaking of the founders, think about how long the Constitution (a document that created the framework of an entire nation) is. Certainly not 3,000 pages!

Zach said...

The more words it requires you to say what you mean to say, the less wisdom there is in what you mean to say.