The Law of Unintended Consequences (of Laws)

We the People 2.0 is an interesting video to watch. I can sympathize with the communities forced to have oil wells placed on private land, by a private company, with full backing of the government. I agree that it is wrong to do so. I essentially agree that a city or other municipality should be able to decide that they are not interested in such arrangements, and be able to outlaw them.

What worries me is the video’s portrayal of the “box of permitted activism.” This box is a bad thing, and should be removed, they say. It worries me that they do not see what the laws making up that box have done in the past.

  1. “Commerce Clause”, US Constitution: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 saw an end to state-sponsored racial discrimination. Under the authority of Congress having the sole right to regulate interstate commerce. Racial discrimination hurt commerce, and thus congress could in fact intervene.
  2. Federal and State Preemption: Without this the Civil Rights Act would have been meaningless. The areas where discrimination was worst would have simply voted to ignore the federal law. Preemption makes it stick, even if the local voters and/or politicians do not agree with it.
  3. Dillon’s Rule (Rule of Statutory Construction): When a court evaluates if a government has a power, if there is a doubt that it does or does not, then it does not have that power. This is a great way in which we limit the invasion of government into areas to which they should have no say. It does not, as the video suggests, block a local community having rights. It does mean that with new laws, government power call be expanded OR contracted.
  4. Corporate Personhood: Perhaps the hardest to understand, this allows a company to exist, in the eyes of the law, as a person (corpus). This may seem strange, but this allows a group of people to pool money and assets, and create an entity distinct from themselves. This separates owners personal property from business property (unless there is clear abuse of the law). Again, this is not the bad thing the video makes it out to be, as it also allows a corporation to be sued, or held liable as any person could be when it violates the law.

I get it, local communities should have rights. It is the scope of them that we should be concerned with. If you want your community to have the right to refuse drilling, we need to change the law granting that right. Will it be easy? No. But removing the elements of “The Box” will not fix anything. I feel that it would only make things worse.

Holy cats, that for just half the required material! The reading was from Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jacobs. It seems to say to me that cities should seek to produce all the things they need, and seek to export. This replacing imports with exports looks good on the surface, but I don’t think works in the long run. Some areas are better suited than others for certain types of production, and the end state is that every city produces everything they need, and cannot export anything since every other city produce all they need. I do agree that small companies do tend to be more innovative though.

Closing thoughts: Finally! I see “scales of economy” in our reading. In a section I barely agree with. The video had the right though, but went about it the wrong way, blaming the wrong laws.

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One thought on “The Law of Unintended Consequences (of Laws)

  1. Excellent insight on the People 2.0 doc Sean. I think we can make the same argument with copyright law. Its not a matter of removing the laws, but determining how the results started becoming degenerative.

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