Dear Politicians: Resolve To Make 2015 The Year Of Repealing Bad Laws
Look folks, I know that when you say you want to do what’s in the public interest, you mostly mean doing whatever helps you stay in office and calling it “the public interest.” Some of you, however, might actually want to do things that benefit the great mass of the people. This missive is directed to you.
For more than a century, political debate in the country has revolved around enacting new laws: the federal income tax, Social Security, Medicare, the Community Reinvestment Act, Sarbanes-Oxley, the Affordable Care Act, and countless others. The momentum has been with government expansion and it has been almost incessant. Proponents promised great results from new laws, with opponents mostly putting up a weak defense before compromising or being steamrolled.
That is what needs to change. We’ve got to throw the ratchet of government expansion into reverse.
Instead of talking about new laws to enact and regulations to impose, it’s time to start talking about old ones that should be repealed. Your predecessors in office – and quite possibly you – have done grave damage to America with swarms of laws and regulations that take liberty and property away from the people, waste resources, enrich and empower special interest groups, and undermine the rule of law.
The very best, most public-spirited thing you could do would be to repeal them.
Here is a starter list.
The Davis-Bacon Act. This law is a relic of the Depression, intended to “protect” the wages of white construction workers against competition from black workers who would accept lower wages. The concept is simple: on federal construction projects, the cost of labor is not open to competition because the Department of Labor fixes the rates at the union scale.
Thus, it boils down to a governmentally-enforced price-fixing scheme that benefits a few construction workers at the expense of the taxpayers. I wrote about a recent flap over Davis-Bacon in this article.
The Higher Education Act. The federal government has no constitutional authority to do anything with regard to higher education (or any level, for that matter). But in 1965, Congress was swarming with “progressives” who were sure that because college seemed to be a good thing for the rather small percentage of Americans who went, the nation would benefit if almost everyone went.
So the federal policy began to make higher education more “accessible” for students, most significantly through grants and easily available loans. The result was that college education was transformed.
It had been a good that some Americans thought worthwhile, so they strove to qualify for admittance and saved for the modest cost. That’s why higher education used to work very well.
Federal intervention turned it into a virtual entitlement that delivers less education at more and more expense. It has also helped create the problem of credential inflation, shutting people who don’t have college degrees out from good jobs they could easily learn. As long as we have this law and the constant federal meddling it provokes, we will have a fantastically wasteful higher education system.
The National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935, was and remains a blatantly authoritarian piece of special interest legislation. It gives unions powers and privileges that no other private association or group has – or ever should have. The NLRA is, as I argued in this piece written after the UAW’s defeat at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, a lousy law.
Congress should repeal the NLRA and then save money by abolishing the National Labor Relations Board, which would then have no function. Repealing this law would devolve labor relations to the states, where it properly belongs under our concept of federalism. My advice to state legislators would be to have no special rules for unions, treating them no differently from other voluntary groups with regard to common law rules of contract, agency, property, and tort.
Civil asset forfeiture. State and federal officials have gone head over heels for civil asset forfeiture, which confiscates property from people just because of suspicion they might be involved in crime, no matter how remotely. Once the property has been seized, then the concept of due process of law is stood on its head, requiring the individual to prove his innocence. Many hapless victims of asset forfeiture are not capable of handling the legal travails and give up. Too bad for them, but very nice for law enforcement budgets, since that’s where the spoils go.
For some examples of innocent Americans who’ve been victimized by civil asset forfeiture, read my piece “Time for Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws to Go the Way of Jim Crow.” Politicians who are concerned about justice and the rule of law will want to repeal these laws as quickly as possible.
Occupational licensure. States and localities had imposed licensing regulations on a great number of occupations, almost always requiring people who want to work to go through expensive, often unnecessary educational programs and/or obtain approval from a licensing board that isn’t interested in allowing more competition. I wrote about such an instance in this article about the teeth whitening case the Supreme Court heard in October.
Licensing is always defended as a necessary means of protecting consumers against incompetence, but there are better ways of doing that; besides, licensing can be the excuse for harassment of unpopular people, as happened to these Florida barbers.
Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA is another New Deal relic that leads to federal meddling in employment. It authorizes the federal minimum wage, which politicians employ over and over again to make themselves appear “compassionate” when all they do by making labor arbitrarily more costly is to reduce jobs for workers with low skills and little experience.
Another nasty feature of this law is that it puts federal bureaucrats into the business of determining overtime compensation, which ought to be a matter of contract between the company and its employees, not diktats from Washington. One truly ridiculous case arising out of the FLSA that I wrote about last spring pitted officious bureaucratic enforcers against Oregon berry farmers.
There are many, many more laws that should be repealed so that Americans can enjoy more freedom and prosperity.
In examining our mountain of laws and deciding which to keep and which to jettison, I suggest that you bear in mind these words of Thomas Jefferson, from his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801. “Still one more thing, fellow citizens – a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government….”
Article originally published on Forbes.com.