“The Law” Doesn’t Matter

In “1984,” Winston Smith reflected that there were no laws in Oceania — at least not in the sense of uniformly applied, written laws. You just knew you’d committed an offense when you found yourself doing ten years in a forced labor camp.

Funny how that keeps coming back to me.

A recurring theme in the news lately has been people arrested for recording arrests on their cell phone cams. Now, in most of these jurisdictions it’s formally specified in the law that filming public officials, in public, in the performance of their public duties, does not constitute illegal wiretapping. And it does not constitute “interference with police business.” And yet they’re arrested for it, on the grounds — as stated by the cops — that they’re engaged in illegal wiretapping and interference with an arrest. If you can afford a civil liberties lawyer, afford the risk of losing your job and getting blacklisted by employers, and are willing to spend time in lockup, you might possibly be able to fight it out in court and beat them. But the fastest way to get brutally taken down and arrested — regardless of what “the law” says — is to expose the cops to public scrutiny.

There’s no written law anywhere that defines carrying more than a certain amount of cash as a criminal offense. But if a cop pulls you over and finds a large sum of cash on you, you’ll almost certainly “civilly forfeit” your money for fitting the profile of a drug dealer.

But even when the laws and the rules are objectively enforced at any given time, if you figure out some way to come out ahead despite adhering to them, the people in charge will change the rules just as soon as they notice.

A good example is card-counting — the technique used by idiot savant Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” to beat the house. Card-counting isn’t cheating, and isn’t violating the casino owners’ rights in any objectively definable way.  It isn’t even violating any previously defined rule.  It’s just using your eyes and your brain, and making deductions from what you observe. But if you start winning too much, the guys behind the security cameras will start bird-dogging you for any sign that you’re counting cards. And if they think you’re doing it, out you go.

I’ve argued that people who “work hard and play by the rules,” so beloved of Soccer Mom politicians, are suckers.  When you play by the rules, the house wins — because the rules are mainly designed to benefit the people who make the rules.

The whole point is that the rules, the law, are set up to produce a predetermined outcome. And that outcome doesn’t have much to do with the ostensible reasons the rule-makers set forth to justify their rules. When working people find a way to subsist comfortably with a reasonable amount of labor, without having to first obtain a huge amount of investment capital, and without having to work to support a ruling class in addition to themselves, that’s what the Quality Improvement theorists would call an “unacceptable process variation.” In the terminology of W. Edwards Deming, observed output is what a process is designed to produce. And if the observed output is found to be undesirable, then the process needs to be redesigned to produce the desired output.

When technological change enables people to produce the necessities of life for themselves without working extra hard to produce rents for the privileged, then the rules have to be rewritten. Hence increasingly draconian “intellectual property” laws, designed to overcome the imminent threat abundance poses to the privileged classes’ extraction of rents from artificial scarcity.

Regardless of the stated “public interest” intent behind economic regulations, the real effect of most of them is to mandate artificially high capital outlays or overhead costs in order to undertake production, and to put a floor under the minimum number of hours a person has to run in the hamster wheel to obtain a good or service.

If you’re not working to feed a useless eater, the system has failed.

The good news is that, no matter how harshly the laws are ratcheted upward to suppress the technologies of abundance, technological developments are also making them easier and easier to evade. For thousands of years, we’ve found the rules irrelevant to protecting our interests because they’ve rewritten them as often as necessary to keep that from happening. But that’s about to come to an end. They’re about to find the rules, for the first time, irrelevant to their own need for controlling us. The producing classes, like Samson, will break the bands of “the rules” as a man would break a cord of tow.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory