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Are there Too Many Laws?

In the realm of expanding regulations, a critical examination of law proliferation is vital. This article explores the question of excessive laws, considering factors like archaic statutes, complex frameworks, disproportionate criminalization, and the curtailment of individual rights. Adopting an utilitarian standpoint, it unravels the undeniable prevalence of unnecessary provisions and encroachments on liberties. Furthermore, the lamentable prevalence of intricate and unreviewed laws worsens the conundrum, resulting in overregulation and overcriminalization. Thus, it seeks to navigate the legal landscape to determine there are indeed "too many laws" in a world where complexity reigns.


Excessive and Complex Laws in the West

If one were to consider the notion that the law should be crafted by the people, for the people, it becomes apparent that an excessive and convoluted web of legislations undermines the very essence of its purpose. Instead of fostering public comprehension, this labyrinthine system of laws leads to inadvertent non-compliance and a lamentable absence of retributive justice. The sheer abundance of laws in contemporary times serves only to establish order, neglecting the vital aspect of fairness. This melancholic truth emerges as a bitter pill to swallow, particularly in the context of Western countries where such issues tend to flourish. Developed democracies, in their zealous pursuit of enhancing the quality of life, find themselves inundated with a steady surge of legislation.


In the pursuit of a fair and just society, the democratic West continues to witness an overwhelming proliferation of laws. Unfortunately, these well-intentioned efforts have led to unintended and often absurd consequences for unsuspecting citizens. Cases like the arrest of a 12-year-old for enjoying a French fry on the Washington metro, the apprehension of an elderly cancer patient over her unruly hedges, and the imprisonment of a 67-year-old due to orchid-related paperwork issues exemplify how comprehensible laws can be inadvertently neglected. The labyrinthine nature of legislation further compounds the problem, leaving individuals bewildered and prone to unintentional violations.


Tax laws, for instance, notorious for their complexity, place a burden on both individuals and businesses, who struggle to navigate their tax obligations and rights. The resulting confusion, unintentional non-compliance, and disputes between taxpayers and authorities reflect the lack of clarity within the tax code.


Picture Source - Creator: Andrewgenn Credit: Dreamstime Copyright: Andrewgenn


Moreover, the statistics on tax breaches fail to distinguish between intentional and accidental violations, leaving us unsure of the number of individuals unfairly held accountable for their actions. This poses a significant concern, particularly in a system that values rehabilitation over strict deterrence, as it contradicts the fundamental call for retributive justice in the democratic West.

The morally dubious nature of tax breach statistics serves as a stark reminder of the risks posed by excessive laws. Without simplified and consolidated legislation, the foundations of an equitable and just society are undermined, jeopardising the very principles we strive to uphold.


Unreviewed laws & their Obsolescence

In the fast-paced landscape of today's world, it is crucial that laws are subjected to regular review and amendment in order to maintain their relevance and effectiveness within society. The purpose of this ongoing process is to identify and eliminate any outdated or esoteric laws that no longer serve a meaningful purpose. However, the stark reality is that many of these obsolete laws continue to exist, lingering in legal systems without any practical utility or value.


A compelling illustration of this phenomenon can be found in a captivating video produced by author Oobah Butler, featured by the renowned media outlet "Vice." In this thought-provoking piece, Butler deliberately sets out to test the level of seriousness attributed to long-standing and peculiar laws in Britain, both by the general public and law enforcement agencies. As the title suggests, Butler brazenly breaks laws such as "knocking on a door and running away" or "handling a salmon in suspicious circumstances." The intriguing outcome is that he faces minimal accountability from the police for these transgressions.


This serves as a compelling substantiation of the argument that excessive legislation renders many laws not only obscure to the public but also to figures of authority, thereby compromising the very purpose of a legal system. Furthermore, let us imagine a scenario in which these esoteric laws depicted in the video were indeed taken seriously and enforced. The continued allocation of resources and efforts towards the enforcement of trivial or outdated laws would undoubtedly strain the limited capacity of law enforcement agencies and erode public trust in the system.


Wrapping the argument about overregulation...

In a tangible sense, burdening law enforcement agencies with an ever-growing array of laws creates significant challenges. As the volume of laws increases, law enforcement officers are forced to divert their attention from more critical tasks in order to familiarise themselves with an increasingly intricate legal framework. This diversion of resources and focus undermines the effectiveness of law enforcement efforts and hampers their ability to proactively prevent crime.


Excessive regulations burden the judiciary, constrain the economy, and limit consumer choice, obstructing the potential of a free-market system. Consider the varying regulations imposed on ride-sharing platforms like Uber and Airbnb. Some jurisdictions embrace innovation, while others drown it in a sea of rules and licences. These burdensome regulations impose costly compliance measures, suffocating business efficiency and stifling entrepreneurship.


Just look at the taxi industry, where onerous licensing requirements, expensive permits, inspections, and background checks hamper competition from disruptive ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The pharmaceutical industry faces a similar fate, with intricate approval processes and lengthy timelines impeding new drug development. Complex regulations and demanding clinical trials discourage smaller pharmaceutical startups, hindering innovation and limiting competition. These examples expose the detrimental effects of excessive regulations on business efficiency, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. Let us cut the red tape, liberate innovation, and foster a thriving market that benefits all.


Excessive Laws in The East:

To gain further insights into the question of whether there are too many laws, it is crucial to explore the intriguing dichotomy between the Eastern and Western legal contexts. While legal systems worldwide exhibit a proclivity towards an abundance of legislation, the root cause of this phenomenon in Asia lies not merely in the quantity of statutes but in the existence of morally questionable laws that fail to significantly contribute to the collective welfare. This section aims to shed light on overcriminalisation in the region and its implications, highlighting the dichotomy between cultural values and universally recognised human rights principles.


In Asian societies, where culturally homogeneous values prevail, an affinity for excessive legislation that micro-governs its citizens is observed. The influence of cultural relativism blurs the distinctions by which we assess whether there are indeed too many laws. Consider the prevalence of authoritarian ideals rooted in the significance of family as the primary institution in Asian societies. These societies rigorously instil virtues such as discipline and obedience, often resembling authoritarian norms. The infrequent proliferation of democracy in the East, interspersed with periods of military rule in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, or the presence of monarchies in the Middle East, and socialism in China and Vietnam, exemplify the absence of liberalisation. Consequently, laws that monitor, interfere, and criminalise individual rights abound, with instances like the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Asian and African spheres. Although these laws may be deemed subjectively moral within majoritarian religious contexts, they remain morally objectionable and blatant examples of overcriminalisation. These cases underscore the importance of striking a balance between cultural values and universally recognized human rights principles. In contexts where principled thought is lacking, the East is indeed plagued by an excess of laws.


Moreover, overcriminalisation often arises to appease cultural perspectives on individual freedom, resulting in laws that punish seemingly harmless acts with disproportionate severity. For instance, in the Philippines, becoming a widow and marrying someone else within 301 days after a husband's death is an offence, while theft in Saudi Arabia may lead to the amputation of the right arm. Even a Singaporean consuming drugs overseas can be punished as if they had abused drugs in Singapore. From a Western perspective, these laws appear retributive and over criminalised acts that are otherwise harmless or could be addressed through rehabilitation.


The unnecessary nature of such laws raises the question of whether there are too many laws, as even an objectively acceptable quantity of laws becomes excessive due to their seemingly unnecessary nature.

In the Asian context, an excess of laws has the potential to erode individual liberties and infringe upon personal autonomy. The institutional context of having an authority superior to people's power has shaped the Asian legal systems we observe today, characterised by pervasive monitoring and regulation that curtail personal freedoms, stifle innovation and creativity, and perpetuate unintended consequences such as inadvertent discrimination or the criminalization of harmless behaviours. Striking a balance between necessary regulation and individual liberties is thus crucial to ensure a society that upholds the rights and dignity of its citizens.


Counterargument: The abundance of Laws is not necessarily a bad thing.

Amidst the ongoing discourse surrounding the proliferation of legal frameworks, it is essential to challenge the prevailing notion that an abundance of laws carries an inherently negative connotation. Here I examine a case study: my home country, Singapore.


Contrary to popular belief, the existence of a myriad of laws may not be as dire as it appears. Rather than an oppressive burden, this surplus of legal statutes can be likened to a vibrant tapestry of guidance and protection. Just like a symphony of rules conducting the dance of society, these laws serve as a safeguard against chaos, ensuring that harmony and fairness prevail.


Singapore's controversial Rule of Law

During the forty-fifth year of the St Gallen Symposium, an engaging debate unfolded between Stephen Sackur, an English journalist embodying Western thought and liberalism, and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the former deputy prime minister of the Republic of Singapore, representing a judiciary known for enforcing extensive censorship, anti-protest, and anti-gum laws. Despite their contrasting perspectives on Singapore's ethical judiciary, both sides surprisingly found common ground, characterising the little island in the Straits of Malacca as a "City of Force."

This provocative term stems from the provisions of Singapore's constitution, which covertly prohibits any form of dissent, grants the state the power to detain individuals without trial, and effectively suppresses expressions of anarchist thought through sedition, newspapers, and printing press acts. The seemingly authority-fearing laws of Singapore enable the state to shape the intrinsic behaviour of its citizens, fostering a primarily depoliticized climate and influencing social ties. For example, the country's ethnic integration policy classifies its population into ethnically diverse conglomerations in residential estates. This policy has translated into a socially cohesive multicultural society where racial differences matter little to children who have been nurtured to look beyond skin colour at their neighbourhood school or playground. Paradoxically, Singapore's seemingly "suppressive" laws have worked in favour of its social betterment, boasting the lowest crime rates globally and maintaining religious harmony through well-defined censorship of hate speech.


While Singapore's exceptional success in establishing order is notable, caution is needed when considering it as a universal model. Excess laws don't always equate to harm; a carefully tailored legal system fosters security, fairness, and cohesion. As the legal landscape evolves, we must critically evaluate legislation's impact on liberties and well-being. Balancing necessary regulation and personal freedoms creates a guiding force for a just and harmonious society.


Conclusion

Singapore's exceptional circumstances caution against hasty conclusions on the abundance of laws. As a pint-sized outlier, we question if its orderly success is a mere fluke. However, the undeniable truth remains: an excess of intricate laws undermines fairness. Public confusion and inadvertent breaches plague developed democracies, hindering businesses and stifling entrepreneurship. Complex laws in the West breed unintended transgressions and legal ambiguity. Outdated statutes strain the overloaded judicial system. In the East, cultural relativism spawns excessive legislation encroaching on personal liberties. Balancing regulation and freedom is vital for dignity and rights. Scrutinising laws' impact on justice and fairness is paramount. Ultimately, a streamlined legal system nurtures a just society.


So, are there too many laws? Yes, there are.



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