One of the things that takes some of the fun out of running a small business is knowing that, despite all your best efforts, you are probably violating the law somewhere and there is a bureaucrat (or in California, a tort lawyer) trying to make a name for themselves by nailing you for this technical violation. Now, I'm not talking about chaining employees to the assembly line or even paying below the minimum wage. I am talking about $45,000 fines for not splitting the two portions of a Davis-Bacon wage out correctly on a pay stub or getting sued for not properly posting one of your required labor department posters or having a counter 1/2" too high for ADA regulations.
Via Overlawyered comes this Independence Institute (pdf) report about the criminalization of everything, a practical primer on the philosophic musings on individual decision-making here.
There is a principle in jurisprudence that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." In other words, no one can justify his illegal conduct on the grounds that he was unaware of the law. But what happens when the sheer volume, complexity, and ambiguity of the law means that neither citizens, nor the government, can reasonably know
what is and is not against the law?
Colorado currently has some 30,000 laws filling more than 50 volumes of the Colorado Revised Statutes, both criminal and regulatory. Every session, the Colorado General Assembly passes hundreds of new laws for government to enforce and citizens to both understand and obey. Aside from the sheer number of laws, the definition of what constitutes a criminal act has changed; often the legislature actually creates new crimes, and thus, new criminals, where no inherent criminality exists.
We operate in 11 states. Think of it. 50 volumes times 11 states plus the federal code. Eeek.
In his book Drug War Addiction, Sheriff Bill Masters of San Miguel County Colorado describes his discovery of the Colorado Statutes of 1908. At the time, "all the laws of the state fit in one volume. Murder, rape, assault, stealing, and trespassing were all against the law in 1908.
So the other 49 volumes outlaw, what?
Update: Welcome Overlawyered readers. More thoughts on the dangers of the over-regulated state here.