Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Another reason I'm against the bankruptcy bill is this is yet another case of legislative micromanagement that takes away power from local judges and gives that power to congress' perfect wisdom in table form. Just look up someone's income, debt, etc. and have the table tell you whether bankruptcy shall be allowed or not. Currently the system gives local judges leeway to look at the total case and make an informed decision. For example, someone in debt due to unexpected medical bills (over half of today's bankruptcy cases) is a completely different situation than someone who can't stop himself from betting on the ponies.

S256 is so bad it doesn't even cover medical cases separately from gambling, but even if it did, do you really trust congress to produce the perfect lookup table to cover ever possible consideration? Of course not. That's why we let local judges do it.

I'm fundamentally against these forms of micromanagement unless the reason is extremely clear and necessary. Whenever possible all the details should be left at the local level, as close to the problem as possible. I believe this is simply a universal truth; certainly it is true in software design and team management. This is the point I was trying to make a week ago.

For example, there are laws that prevent overfishing. That's good. These laws are absolutely necessary, without them each fisherman will simply catch as many fish as he can until the species dies out. If he doesn't someone else will! But sometimes these laws get very, very specific, to the point ships can't even come into port temporarily to avoid a storm without it impacting how many fish they can catch. That's just stupid. There was even a case recently of a ship and crew lost to a storm for just this reason. Just give a guy a license to catch so many pounds of fish -- don't micromanage.

Minimum sentencing laws are another example of micromanagement. Good sentencing laws give the judge guidelines with a fair amount of flexibility. The judge can review the entirety of the case to determine the correct sentence. Judges that ignore the guidelines should be booted out of office, but all to often the reaction to controversial sentencing is to increase the minimum allowed sentences, transferring power and decisions from the local level to perfectly calculated tables composed by those in higher powers. For some reason legislators (and voters!) think they greater wisdom, with no knowledge at all, than local judges. Let the judge do his job, don't micromanage.

Government can and should look after the big picture, but legislating details is almost always a bad idea, and laws that micromanage are almost always bad laws.