Monday, September 05, 2011
Rachael Larimore of Slate epitomizes a serious problem among Americans, including many who are beginning to realize just how absurd many nanny-state laws (in force or proposed) really are: She fails to appreciate how dangerous such laws really are, when considered in the context of other, similar, laws and the enormous, intrusive, and often improper reach of our government.
State assemblyman Tom Ammiano (shockingly, a San Francisco Democrat) has introduced legislation that would require worker's comp and substitute caregivers to provide break time for all domestic workers, and by domestic workers, he is including the teenager you hire to come watch your kids so you can catch dinner once a month at a restaurant that doesn't offer crayons with its menus.Larimore sees the absurdity, and correctly realizes that something like this is basically impossible to enforce -- uniformly, anyway. But with only the conspiracy theory-like fears of social conservatives as a foil to her conventional, altruistic focus on the "little people" most obviously affected by the law, she remains oblivious to its actual danger.
I suspect that even teenagers are smart enough to know that if they go around demanding detailed pay stubs and worker's comp insurance that parents they work for will be only to happy to find someone else. So enforcement won't likely be high. But why pass legislation that is unlikely to be enforced? It could still have a chilling effect [on parents hiring babysitters and result in poor teenagers].
Laws like this -- and there are plenty -- serve as a means for people in government to arbitrarily hassle people, with the added benefit (but not for the people whose rights government is supposed to protect) that any example of enforcement will make others more timid in the face of a government with its hands in everything.
Speaking about arbitrary laws, Ayn Rand once had this to say:
The threat of sudden destruction, of unpredictable retaliation for unnamed offenses, is a much more potent means of enslavement than explicit dictatorial laws. It demands more than mere obedience; it leaves men no policy save one: to please the authorities; to please -- blindly, uncritically, without standards or principles; to please -- in any issue, matter or circumstance, for fear of an unknowable, unprovable vengeance.Granted, this law does spell out what it forbids, but with so many prescriptive laws already on the books that nobody can keep track of; and with so many things that are illegal that shouldn't be, and so aren't apparent to common sense; and so much capricious enforcement, this proposed law might as well be arbitrary. Consider how an average Joe might see this: If something so blatantly stupid as worker's comp for baby-sitters is on the books, God only knows what other mundane activities can get you in trouble!
If Rachael Larimore wants to know why some lawmakers make such asinine proposals, this is her answer.
An excellent and very accessible essay about the role of natural selection in evolution by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin recently came to my attention. I highly recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in understanding that subject.
I love my new smart phone, but find the atomization of much of the web into individual "apps" a little odd. Apparently, that's not the way things are done everywhere. One writer who visited Taiwan with a WebOS phone learned from his experience that, "As long as you have a good browser, your device won't become a brick."
An article in the Wall Street Journal defines several commonly-cited measures of our national debt and makes the following valuable point: "[T]he intra-governmental debt should be counted as though it were publicly held debt, as that's exactly what it will be in the fullness of time." (via HBL)