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Sunsetting Laws

There is a serious problem that all governments around the world face, outdated laws. It would seem like fixing these problems would be easy, right? Just get rid of them! Unfortunately this is only easy in political systems such as dictatorships and absolute monarchies, North Korea and the Holy See, respectively as examples. Just because it is easy doesn’t mean it’s done, but that isn’t really what I’m trying to get at here. The question is what can be done about this in places like the US or Canada or any other sort of republic (Canada isn’t a republic, but it’s close enough for my purposes, so leave me alone).

I want to use the example of the US tax code, which in the last 100 years has gone from the size of a short novel to something that requires a hand truck (or two) to move around.

  • The actual legislation comes to more than 3,300 pages.
  • The regulations created by the IRS from all that legislation comes to more than 13,000 pages.
  • The Standard tax reporter, which is an explanation of all the regulations, is well over 110,000 pages.

All together, source documents and explanation, there is a pile of paper over 126,000 pages in length. If printed out double sided, we have 630 pounds of paper, clearly we have a problem, and this is only a fraction of the laws, regulations and all else you need to understand them just from the US Federal Government, States, counties, municipal governments and international agreements and treaties all are extra. If you don’t see the sheer volume as an issue, than please just stop reading here and don’t bother to comment, you need a doctor, because something is wrong with the wiring in your upstairs.

The volume of laws and regulations is a problem by itself, you don’t even need to dig into the quality or need for the laws contained and if you did, the foolishness would just become even more apparent. So what can possibly be done?

The Romans had addressed this issue long ago, albeit for different reasons. After the overthrow of the Roman Monarchy, under the Republic, all laws, taxes and edicts would remain in force for a specified amount of time, really for the political term of the body or official that produced the law in question. Obviously this isn’t the solution for the problems we have now, but by tweaking this idea a bit, you can apply it to this problem.

Please feel free to add refinements in the comments, I’m aware my idea here is not perfect, it’s just a sort of mental exercise.

First, we need a Constitutional amendment creating three separate bodies of law.

  1. The Constitution itself
  2. Semi-perpetual criminal laws (murder and other such acts)
  3. Laws bound to a sunset date

For number 1, I shouldn’t need to say anything.

For number 2, I’m talking about unchanging things such as murder, theft, rape, stuff like that. Some of the stuff isn’t probably appropriate at the federal level, but just to establish the category I gave those examples. Seldom revised things that only really need changing once in a blue moon, and really have no regulations produced on their behalf.

Number 3 is where the problem is addressed. Laws establishing things like the EPA or NASA (government entities) should have a limit of lets say 10 years, as would regulatory authority granted by these acts. In this way the government is forced to update itself on a continuing basis, ensuring that unpopular or unnecessary things don’t become permanent blights on the system.

I’ve said before that the way to fix the tax code, even if we don’t change to a flat tax or the “fair tax”, is to toss it out and start over, decide what parts are still needed rather than argue over what is not needed. I’d also love to see an amendment limiting the length of laws. Often times laws are too detailed, especially at the federal level. The whole idea behind the creation of this country is local control is best for most things, by having bills that are hundreds of pages long coming out of Congress, the number of unforeseen problems that arise from certain legal provisions, like the 1099 provision in Obamacare, jump right through the roof.

It’s not a complete idea yet, but all the elements are there. I’ll keep rolling this around and refine it, at some point I may stumble on to a plan that will make a nice addition to my ideological beliefs on the structure and role of government. Ideas are welcome.

(Michael Hawkins, I got to thinking about this after you mentioned the whole no alcohol sales on Sunday before 9am. Because it is something so useless and any harm caused by it is so small and easily avoided, it will likely never be modified to reflect today’s reality. A mechanism requiring re-passage of shit like that might just solve this widespread problem.)

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  1. 2012/02/02 at 00:42

    From a pragmatic point of view, the main limitation is that it would clog up the legislature.

    If that could be worked around – unlikely; someone has to make the laws, and there’s only so much time to do so – a few other issues present themselves: It would mess with legal precedents; it would force legislators to think short-term instead of long-term; it might encourage radical populism or impractical, experimental laws – after all, they’d only be on the books a few years; laws would be drafted in isolation, being unable to take into account a constantly-changing body of legislation.

    It is a neat idea and might be workable at certain levels of government or with certain types of legislation,[1] but I’m not sure it would be practical to apply as a general rule.

    [1] What those types are I don’t know, though they could be determined in advance.

  2. 2012/02/02 at 04:59

    Those are pretty much the problems I was seeing. I have 1 other idea.

    Legislators may serve only one term. If they wish to serve a second term they may do so, but at the end of that term, they get launched into the sun.

  3. 2012/02/04 at 10:34

    Actually, now that I think about it, a one-term presidential limit might be more reasonable than a two-term one. Just never thought about it before.

    And I’m willing to forgive you calling Canada a republic. I’m not willing to forgive Canadians being servile enough to let our country remain a monarchy. I mean, a parliamentary system is fine, but our head of state is some foreign twerp who got the position by virtue of some ancient caste system. I really pity the British, having to suck up to their twerps on a regular basis.

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