THE BLOG
10/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bad Laws Pass Fast

I know I'm supposed to be commenting on the details of the new economic bailout/recovery plan here, but in fact, I know my own limitations. And one of those limitations is admitting that economics on a national or international scale is beyond me. My actual belief is that it's beyond anybody -- that the "science" of economics is nothing short of voodoo.

Consider: on any given day, you can find an economist who will tell you the future looks great, and another one who is predicting doom and gloom. Looking back later, you can find economists who accurately predicted what was going to happen, and other economists who were wildly wrong. The problem is they're not consistent. One economist who gets things right in one crisis will likely be wrong in the next one.

That's not science, that's throwing a dart at a wall. If it truly were "scientific" then you would expect to see some sort of verifiable results, but time and again the markets surprise the professionals who are supposed to be watching them.

But I will say one thing about the plan that is being floated by Bush and Congress right now -- laws that pass quickly almost always turn out to be bad ones. Think USA PATRIOT Act (sorry for "shouting" in all caps, but that's the official name of the law, since it's an acronym). Almost every time there is a "crisis" or an "emergency" the politicians in Washington are whipped into a fever of "We have to act -- now!" and what we usually wind up with is bad laws that have unintended consequences down the road that nobody foresees. Because there simply wasn't time to think about the consequences in the rush to passage.

Allow me to quote from Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series, who created a future "Bureau of Sabotage" (and the incomparable Jorj X. McKie, Saboteur Extraordinary) in books and short stories. Herbert's "BuSab" exists to slow down government processes. As Herbert explains in Whipping Star:

Once, long centuries past, sentients with a psychological compulsion to "do good" had captured the government. Unaware of the writhing complexities, the mingled guilts and self-punishments, beneath their compulsion, they had eliminated virtually all delays and red tape from government. The great machine with its blundering power over sentient life had slipped into high gear, had moved faster and faster. Laws had been conceived and passed in the same hour. Appropriations had flashed into being and were spent in a fortnight. New bureaus for the most improbable purposes had leaped into existence and proliferated like some insane fungus.

Government had become a great destructive wheel without a governor, whirling with such frantic speed that it spread chaos wherever it touched.

Now, the normal process of Congress and the White House passing laws is usually pretty sedate. One might even use the word "glacial." And it is frustrating when you want to see something get done to have to urge your pet legislation through endless committee meetings and discussions and debates and procedural votes. Normally, in other words, citizens would probably be a little happier if government did work a little faster.

But there's a reason for the delays. They allow critical examination of whatever is being proposed. And the laws that evolve as a result of such are (theoretically, at least) improved as a result.

Which is why I am always leery of laws that ram through Congress with little or no debate because there's "a crisis" which must be dealt with. Lawmakers are (1) desperate to "do something" to show the voters back home they're on top of things, and (2) are usually well-meaning in whatever they're attempting to do. But that doesn't mean that they sometimes pass some really bad laws as a result.

Think about it -- we're debating a plan which will give mountains of taxpayer money to the same people who three weeks ago were not warning us of imminent disaster. They didn't see it coming. They were, in a word, incompetent at doing their jobs. All of a sudden it becomes a full-blown "emergency" which must be acted upon within days (if not hours) or else the Great Depression is going to return in the middle of next week.

All I'm saying is that with a plan this gigantic, perhaps legislators in Washington need a little time to debate the relative merits of the plan, and perhaps attempt to vet it a little bit instead of just blindly rushing to pass it in the next twenty minutes.

Because -- from my experience at least -- bad laws usually are the ones that pass the fastest.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com