In Alaska it’s illegal to give a moose alcohol. Ladies in Owensboro, Kentucky are prohibited from buying a hat without their husband’s permission. In Texas, criminals must give their victims 24-hour notice of the crime they’re planning to commit (it’s not specified whether it should be written or oral notice).
These are just a few examples of the more ridiculous laws on the books, leftover from another time. And as Philip K. Howard writes in the Atlantic this month, it’s time to clean house. “America is mired in a tarpit of accumulated laws,” says Howard, “…at this point, Democracy is basically run by dead people…by policy ideas and political deals from decades ago.”
Our legislative process makes it much easier to create a law than to get rid of it, with the result that many once-critical regulations don’t match current priorities. One example? Farm subsidies, enacted by Congress to help struggling farmers during the depression. These days, with most farms run by wealthy corporations, the policy is hardly necessary; in fact, thanks to cotton subsidies, the U.S government now pays $150 million a year to Brazil because it was found to be in violation of the World Trade Organization. These outdated, unnecessary and often downright ridiculous laws and regulations, buried beneath layers of subsequent laws and regulations, have created a legal tangle that stymies progress, misallocates resources and chokes our courthouses with litigation.
What can be done about it? Should Congress enact a law against making more laws?
Philip K. Howard, lawyer; chair, Common Good; author, "Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America"
Stan Collender, budget expert, partner, Qorvis Communications