We often hear big businesses complaining about regulations, but if those regulations are complex enough, they turn into giant opportunities for big business. All you need is a smart team of lawyers in order to drive a big truck through a tiny loophole or exemption, as explained by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:
[N]o one should take too seriously Republican complaints about burdensome regulations strangling the economy. The truth is that most reformers prefer fairly simple rules. In the tax world, they’d prefer to simply tax all income. In the environmental world, they’d prefer to set firm limits for pollutants. In the financial world, they’d prefer blunt rules that cut off risky activity at its knees.
But businesses don’t like simple rules, because simple rules are hard to evade. So they lobby endlessly for exemptions both big and small. This is why we end up with tax subsidies for bow-and-arrow makers. It’s why we end up with environmental rules that treat a hundred different industries a hundred different ways. It’s why financial regulators don’t enact simple leverage rules or place firm asset caps on firm size. Those would be hard to get around and might genuinely eat into bank profits. Complex rules, conversely, are the meat and drink of $500-per-hour lawyers and whiz kid engineers. If the rules are complicated enough, smart lawyers can always find ways around them. And American corporations employ lots of smart lawyers.
In an earlier post, I had cited this quote: “One can make money only if there is real risk based on actual uncertainty, and without uncertainty there is no risk.’ To the extent that we have simple and understandable rules, it is harder to hide unfair business practices.
There is great value to uncertainty–to unwieldy and vague legislation–to those who have teams of savvy lawyers and accountants whose job it is to navigate and circumvent the purported intent of the legislation. That’s because most of us don’t have the time, attention, energy or political clout to rein in those who create these legislative monstrosities. We’re too busy working 8 or more hours per day at the office, then trying to be good parents, trying to fix the house or car, and maybe relaxing for an hour or two per night. How many of us are interested or able of plowing through 2,000 page legislative packages or regulations in our “free time,” or trying to make sense of complex court decisions that also struggle with these legislative morasses?
As Kevin Drum writes:
We could probably cut the size of agency regulations by 10 times if we wanted to. But business don’t want to. Sure, they’d prefer no regulation at all, but they know that’s not in the cards. So in public they bemoan complexity, but in private they fight endlessly for more of it. To their lawyers, every single extra page is an extra opportunity to make more money.
It makes one think that we need a law to outlaw complex laws. We need a law that all laws should be written in plain English and that they must be understandable by high school graduates. Those who insist that they need something that is not reasonably understandable should be presumed to benefit a special interest and presumed to be opposed to the public good. Complex laws are huge red flags, regardless of the title of the law or the way politicians assure us that these laws will benefit the public.
Indigestibly complex laws almost always signal that ordinary Americans are getting screwed.
About the Author (Author Profile)Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.
Sites That Link to this Post
- The limits of disclosure : Dangerous Intersection | July 20, 2012