Bad Reasons for Laws: Have to do Something

22 Jan

For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Sir Isaac Newton was referring to physics when he created his three laws of motion [1]. However, the idea of his third law is seen in many different areas outside of the bounds of physics. Politicians have used this basic concept when they start saying, “we have to do something” to create new legislation in response to an event.

The action of the politicians clamoring to creating new legislation is in direct response to an action from an outside source. The greater the action, the louder the cry to do something. It is an emotional plea to a logical situation. The obvious and most recent example is hearing politicians reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook demanding more gun regulations.

There are other examples though of politicians using the “we have to do something” reasoning for creating and getting laws passed. At the same time America was learning about Sandy Hook it was also learning about the “fiscal cliff”[2]. This was the hyped up financial disaster looming over the country due to previous “have to do something” legislation. Ironic isn’t it? In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union, Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma said the following:

“You have to do something, and doing something requires the cooperation of the Senate, which the Democrats run, and the signature of the president,”

And there it is, “have to do something”. But just by doing something lawmakers, politicians and pundits all fail to remember another law most people know all to well by experience. The “law” of unintended consequences[4], or when talked about in a humorous manner Murphy’s law. No matter who well intended some new piece of legislation my seem, there are always caveats which are not addressed and cause problems later down the road. There are a vast number of laws which are examples of this. One such law was actually an amendment to the United States Constitution, it was the 18th Amendment[5] which created the prohibition of alcohol in the United States.

While the idea behind prohibition was well intended by those of the temperance movement [6], the unintended consequences of creating and passing the 18th Amendment proved detrimental to the nation. The article in Wikipedia notes:

“The police, courts and prisons were overwhelmed with new cases; organized crime increased in power, and corruption extended among law enforcement officials.”

In fact the results of the amendment were so bad it was repealed by the 21st Amendment. It was the only time in US history a Constitutional amendment was repealed. While the thought of some people was “having to do something”, the result in that course of action usually result in having to do something again later to fix the emotionally charged legislation. There is a reason the framers made the process of passing laws a time consuming process instead of streamlined one. Calmer and more rational heads will hopefully prevail against the emotionally charged feelings of “having to do something”.

 

References:

  1. Newton’s Laws of Motion – Wikipedia
  2. United States fiscal cliff – Wikipedia
  3. Obama, Boehner try to talk their way down from fiscal cliff – CNN
  4. Unintended Consequences – Wikipedia
  5. Eighteenth Amendment – Wikipedia
  6. Temperance Movement – Wikipedia
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: