Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and cohost of the Perspectives with Bryan and Kate on Fox News 1450 AM. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
It’s been said that a society’s character is typically in inverse proportion to the number of laws that it has on the books. The better the character of the society, the fewer laws they need to govern them.
If this premise rings true, it’s worth questioning whether our thousands upon thousands of pages of law have actually created a better society or not.
Ayn Rand explored this notion in her novel “Atlas Shrugged” where one of her characters famously states:
“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers.”
When our laws tend to primarily serve the interests of the state, rather than those of the citizenry, they serve to expand the state’s power over the people. This is especially true when the law becomes a mechanism for municipalities to create revenue.
One needn’t look further than the headlines to see this in action.
In Las Vegas, 51-year-old Delinda Epstein was slapped with a $3800 fine and the impoundment of her car after posting an ad on Craigslist offering to do errands and chores for a negotiated fee. After picking up a client who had hired her to provide a ride from the airport, Delinda was arrested and charged with the crime of “providing unlicensed transportation” in her duly registered and licensed vehicle.
Her arrest was far less traumatic than the ones experienced by unemployed construction workers in Broward County, Florida who got the full guns-in-the-face, thrown-to-the-ground, hut-hut-hut treatment served up by Broward County deputies during their arrests.
What did these law-breakers do to merit the full tactical response? They had responded to ads seeking workers for minor construction or repair jobs but had failed to secure the state’s permission first by paying the appropriate tribute via licensing fees.
Statists tend to excuse such behavior on the part of the state by claiming that the measures are to protect people from being harmed by predatory, unlicensed workers. But please note that in each of the above examples, the law was used to punish pre-emptively; where no actual harm had occurred.
Such stories are glaring examples of how preventive laws are finding favor in our society and they further illustrate how many of our laws, ordinances and statutes are being crafted and applied to further the interests of government rather than to protect the rights of the citizenry.
When cities send out swarms of code enforcement officers to ensure that our landscaping is within code, that our lawns are the right color, that any parked vehicles (inside or outside) are licensed and running and that we don’t have asphalt shingles or other dangerous items stored on our property, are they seeking to secure the interests of the property owner or the city?
When authorities prefer to threaten fines, confiscation, or the filing of liens against property owners rather than seeking to negotiate variances, conditional use permits or other civil means of remedy it appears that they are cashing in on Rand’s point that it’s impossible to “rule innocent men.”
Creating new crimes is providing states, cities and counties with a ready mechanism of collectivist control along with a means of generating revenue at the expense of the citizens they claim to be protecting.
This flies in the face of our traditions that the state exists to serve the citizens by ensuring justice and fairness through protection of individual rights.
By contrast, protective laws are those that come into play civilly or legally only after an actual injury to person or property has occurred. Real freedom hinges upon our ability to distinguish between preventative and protective laws.