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In a country where the average professional commits "Three Felonies a Day" (http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/...), you're damned right, "We have a lot of anxiety around people finding out our secrets" Basically, our normal lives exist at the sufferance of these "public servants".

Selective enforcement has got to go. It's an infringement on all of our rights as human beings. Get rid of selective enforcement, and you get rid of ridiculous laws?

But how do you get rid of selective enforcement? If for no other reasons than limited resources, prosecutors have to decide who they'll pursue and how hard.

Disbarring a prosecutor from ever holding elective office is about the only thing I have been able to think of, and it's not hardly enough.

Get rid of the ridiculous laws is more like it. Perhaps our Founders had a point when they were trying to create a limited government? Gerry Ford's best ever quote puts it in the modern context, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have." (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Gerald_Ford#Address_to_Congress...)

Getting rid of the laws is the obvious move. If smoking pot is a felony, and 30% of the population has done it, then the law that makes smoking pot a felony is obviously a bad law.

A simple way to decide if a law is bad or not is to look at how many people break it each year. Any law that's broken by more than 1% of the population each year should be removed from the books.

I really like that idea.

Quick question about how it would play out in practice: how would it apply to things like financial regulation? For example, if more than 1% of banks ignore the rules about capital reserves, does that make the law about maintaining capital reserves void?

Or would this type of law only apply to laws enforced against individuals?

So how far does this go? For example, I would expect most of us litter from time to time, if only by accident (a piece of garbage flew from my car, for example). I would also say most of us speed (once again, if only by accident) and most of us have cut a corner on a noise ordinance. Does that mean we ought not to be able to fine anyone for littering, speeding or being too noisy?

The biggest issue I can see here is the "slippery slope" problem. At first parties are a bit louder, but enough people are doing it that we need to set the noise bar a bit higher. Then everyone gets a bit louder, and so on until it's untenable. It's like trying to walk across a street that never has speeding enforcement. People have long ago realized that and now drive much faster as a result. It didn't start like that, it just sort of got that way naturally.

A simple way to decide if a law is bad or not is to look at how many people break it each year.

That's one way. I'd go further and say that if the "crime" doesn't have a victim, and involves strictly voluntary / consensual actions & behavior among adults (children may be a bit of a special case) then it is no crime.

I generally agree with Bastiat's[1] sentiments on this:

What Is Law?

What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.

Each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties? If every person has the right to defend even by force — his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right — its reason for existing, its lawfulness — is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force — for the same reason — cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.

Such a perversion of force would be, in both cases, contrary to our premise. Force has been given to us to defend our own individual rights. Who will dare to say that force has been given to us to destroy the equal rights of our brothers? Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination of the individual forces?

If this is true, then nothing can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.

Where I disagree is the whole "from God" bit, considering that I'm an atheist. I consider the rights he is speaking of, as being a fundamental aspect of being a sovereign individual possessed of self-ownership and agency.

[1]: http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html

So where do your rights originate from then? Ultimately it comes down to authority. You can say you have the right but so can every other schmoe. I can even argue that you are wrong about your rights and you have no greater authority to say I am not correct.

Made up beings are not a greater authority either; rights are given by the consent of the society you live in. That is truly the only place they originate. You can debate endlessly about natural rights and natural law and God this or that, but the simple fact is you can do only what others allow you to get away with.

Not all rights are given by consent of society.

A right that you have is one that cannot be taken away. Traditionally this is limited to things that society has agreed not to take away. However we are slowing entering into an age where a new type of right emerges: a right that you seized and society is powerless to take away.

We don't normally think of "PGP'd email can't be read" as a "right", but that is essentially what it is. A right that has been seized, not granted.

These rights are of course vulnerable, just like rights granted by society. Instead of keeping society convinced that the right must remain granted, you instead have to be careful that you remain in a position where society is powerless. In practice, this is quite difficult.

Society is never powerless to outlaw something, even if they can't enforce it. It's not a right if it's illegal even if said law is unenforceable.

Outlawing is a meaningless gesture if the possibility of enforcement does not exist. They can outlaw seized rights but if they cannot (or do not) enforce their laws then you will remain in possession of your seized rights.

For that matter, this applies even to granted rights. There are plenty of rights that people have that are outlawed by unenforced (and unenforceable laws). Consider for example laws in less enlightened states that specify what sorts of sex two consenting adults are allowed to have. These laws are not enforced, making them little more than monuments to the ignorance of the past.

The possibility of enforcement for the example of PGP encrypted email is pretty obviously real: just throw anyone who is found to use PGP in jail for 10 days.

> Outlawing is a meaningless gesture if the possibility of enforcement does not exist

Irrelevant; it isn't a right if you can't defend yourself in court if you're caught doing it and detecting someone using encryption is not at all difficult. We're talking about rights here, not "what I can get away with". You position isn't defensible.

Right. At the end of all the debate, when the smoke clears and the dust settles, you have the rights you're willing to claim, and able to defend.

In this context, the issue though, is what rights should "society" in the large recognize and hold as sacrosanct. I argue that the basic essence of being a conscious, self-aware individual, with agency and self-ownership of your body, entails what Bastiat refers to as the "inherent right to self defense". Others are, obviously, free to disagree.


A much better idea (US centric) would be, except for the Constitution, all laws sunset after X years (say, 10 to 20).

The laws that are important will be passed again; otherwise, they'll fade away into history as society changes.

When something is against the law, how do you go about getting an accurate estimate of those who break it?

It's not like people will voluntarily admit to crimes on the off chance that it may get the law repealed.

This is one of the most sensible things I've read on HN, hands down.

>If smoking pot is a felony

In what western country is it a felony?

Also if more than one percent commits fraud you could have a problem.

> Also if more than one percent commits fraud you could have a problem.

Yes, it means that the definition of "fraud" is too broad.

Most UK citizens have probably laundered money this year [1]. That does not mean all money laundering should be legalised.


Ah, your link doesn't support that rather wild claim in the least. You're saying a majority of UK citizens are involved in some sort of crime for pecuniary gain? Absurd.

I don't buy Silverglate's thesis at all. Every long-form article of his I've ever read is awash in BS (for example http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732382670457835...). There are daft laws that people sometimes break and get punished for, which could not have been foreseen and for which no moral culpability can inure. Those cases are exceptional. But the idea that people are typically committing three felonies a day and effectively living in a state of perpetual blackmail is just not true.

He spends much of his book complaining (with some justification) that people such as securities traders have so much bureaucracy to deal with that they face a heightened risk of criminality through non-compliance. I think that both our regulatory and litigation systems are extremely unwieldy and that what we need is a bit less mechanistic proceduralism and a bit more bureaucratic autonomy and accountability but that's a far cry from the notion that pretty much everyone is a criminal.

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