The rule of law

I caught a clip of some righteous politician intoning about The Rule of Law yesterday. The phrase always sets my teeth on edge. He was talking about immigration laws, but I’ll bet he, or someone in his employ, had already broken the law that day, perhaps repeatedly. Everyone who doesn’t regularly violate the posted speed limit, raise your hand. Don’t own a car? You’re tied up? The speed limit on my street, for example, is 25 mph. No one goes that speed. Typical is 40; 50+ is not unusual. The chance of these lawbreakers being caught and punished for violating the duly constituted laws of the Commonwealth, are practically zip. What part of “speed limit” don’t these people understand? They know they won’t be caught—the linchpin of the Rule of Law—so they do as they please. Laws are only obeyed when enforced. That’s what’s wrong with them. They separate people from their decisions. Good behavior becomes defined as not getting caught—like a little kid. More sophisticated moral principles like “Do Unto Others,” for example, simply atrophy.

What’s the harm in breaking a speed limit, you might say. They’re too low anyway. It’s a busy world. Your time is important, you’re careful, and you won’t get caught. Let me give you a little additional information. A study was done on car-pedestrian accidents and the relationship between the likelihood of the pedestrian’s death and how fast the driver was going. At 20 mph, the pedestrian made out pretty well, with an 80% chance of surviving. (The study didn’t say how many of the 80% were in a wheelchair thereafter). If the driver, in a bit more of a hurry, his time being no doubt more valuable, was going 30 mph, the odds of killing the pedestrian were roughly 50%. A slight nudge on the gas to 40 mph, and anyone the driver hits with his car has a 90% chance of dying. So, while laws are demonstrably useless in slowing people down, here’s hoping more information might help, since with knowledge comes responsibility. Now you know. If by chance you’re speeding along in a hurry, unlikely to get caught, and some poor schmuck steps out from behind a parked van and you kill him, you’ll know if you’d been going slower, he might still be alive.

As for the immigration debate, a little less rant about the rule of law, and a little more knowledge of the people and economics involved might produce more humane results.

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