What Could Go Wrong?

Recently the President signed into law a Federal prohibition on animal abuse. Sounds nice. But I noted that it was not so nice. It is a federal law prohibiting something that every state already prohibits. It is an unnecessary federal law. As Jefferson said (I paraphrase) laws should be local as possible. The only thing that should be legislated at the federal level are things that cannot  be legislated locally (military issues, interstate commerce issues, etc).

But... many responded when I noted this... what is the problem? Do you hate animals? Do you want them abused and mistreated? While I have expressed concerns about the idea of animal rights in the past, I certainly love animals and think that the unnecessary mistreatment of animals is a horrible horrible thing. 

So what is my problem? If we have an extra law preventing the mistreatment and abuse of animals, how is that a bad thing? What about passing federal laws on no-brainer sorts of things? Pass a law against animal abuse. Pass a law against child abuse. Pass a law against murder. Pass a law against stealing. Pass a law against punching old ladies in the head in the hopes of getting a viral Youtube video. Why oppose any of these things? If they are good things that all decent people agree should be enforced.... what could go wrong?

Well... my first response is that if the law is so non-controversial that everyone agrees, why do you need it to be federal? Shouldn't each state be perfectly capable of saying murder is wrong and you go to prison for doing it?

My second response has to do with the danger of a large number of laws at the federal level. The constitution is incredibly short. The first copy fit on four pieces of parchment. Compare that to other constitutions that are thousands of pages long. Why is the US constitution so short? The answer is that the founding fathers did not think that the federal government should be doing much. For any issue that could be handled at the state level, they thought, should be handled at the state level. Why?

The answer is that human beings can be idiots. Warren Buffet once said that he only buys stocks in companies that could be run by idiots because sooner or later it will be run by an idiot. The same is true for government. Sooner or later the person overseeing law enforcement will be either an idiot or a monster. Recognize that every law that is passed, will be, at some point in time, administrated by an idiot or a monster.

So... let's think about animal abuse laws? What counts as abuse? Smashing a spider on a tree? Killing a mouse in your garage? Reasonable people would limit this law to what it was probably intended to be (the torturing of a household pet or something like that) but get an idiot or a monster in charge and suddenly you are getting hard time for stepping on a ant hill.

So... assume a psycho starts throwing people in jail for stepping on ant hills and that person is the president of the United States. Who suffers? 327 million people.  When federal laws are poorly applied, everyone in the entire nation suffers. Now... assume that we push the animal abuse law out to the states. Same law but applied across 50 governments. Who suffers if one of those governors starts going after ant-smashers? The answer is a lot less people. On average (depending on state size) 6 million people or so. Still sucks but most people will not be affected by one psycho. And even those 6 can move to a more reasonable state.  It gets even better if you can move that law out to the individual municipalities (thousands). The more local the law, the fewer are those that suffer from an idiot or a monster executing the law.

Now... maybe you are skeptical that an idiot or a monster would ever take control of the United States. My answer to this is that you need to study history more. When people get a lot of power the chances of them becoming an idiot or psycho is the rule not the exception. We should be like Warren Buffet with stocks. Let's build a country that can survive an idiot or a psycho getting power. The way to do that is with decentralization. Give every idiot and every psycho a limited scope. Centralizing laws - no matter how nice they sound - is a bad idea. Only do that when absolutely necessary.

Decentralize. Limit scope. Give every ruler the smallest possible area of responsibility.

What could go wrong? Only what a future idiot has control over.


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