Rules of the road, as FA Hayek called them, that is, straightforward, easy-to-understand rules for society have a place. Everyone (in the USA) knows to stay on the right side of the road, what a “stop” sign means, that a green light means go, etc. These simple rules are simple to understand and can be learned in an afternoon. One does not need a lawyer to decipher one’s commute route.
Laws in other parts of life should also be simple. The tax code should be uncomplicated and flat (such that it is needed at all). People shouldn’t have to spend hours and hours working through a return. Time is money after all and the government gets enough of your money.
Simple laws are good. Complex laws which need “navigators,” such as Obamacare are bad. Why? One important reason is because the average person has no idea if they are in compliance or not.
Also complex laws are often manipulated for friends of the powerful. Again Obamacare provides a great example. Thousands of connected companies and unions with lobbyists on Capitol Hill got exemptions to the new health care law, while the great majority of businesses did not. This creates a competitive advantage for the companies with the exception.
The more complicated the law, the greater opportunity to manipulate.
Regulations are always sold as “protecting the public.” But this is a naive way of looking at regs. They are more often than not simply transfers of power from the free part of the economy to the coercive part of the economy. Or in some cases a means by which power is transferred to friends of the government in the “private” sector.
The new light bulb mandate, which in the name fuel efficiency has more or less outlawed the incandescent bulb and has also introduced significant amounts of toxic mercury into people’s homes was lobbied for strongly by General Electric. Recent laws requiring the licensing of tax preparers were lobbied for by the accounting industry. Rules requiring ethanol be blended into gasoline were lobbied for by Big Agriculture.
Should there be no rules of the road? No. But again they should be few and they should be simple. They should be written so that a 4th grader can understand them. This will greatly increase the probability that a rule will make sense, and that if it outlives its usefulness it can be abolished. Now the list of rules only grows, and that is a very dangerous thing for a free society.