People Just Wanna Do Wrong

It is critical that we get our thinking right:

The natural tendency of people is to treat authority as power. The same thing that causes a person to rev a powerful motor at a stoplight or, in older days, to slap a horse with the reins while at the same time pulling back–to feel that surge of power–drives bureaucrats to abuse authority. People get a charge out of it. It makes them feel likeĀ masters of their domain. It’s human nature.

This is why we’re supposed to be a nation of laws and not men, by the way. It’s why our country is based on a social contract that is, or should be, written in stone. People like to be unethical, evil.

“A nation of laws.” See, the whole basis in having a nation of laws is that the laws don’t change in accordance with the people who are in power. Equal protection under the law is what makes justice blind.

Let’s say I commit murder. I’m caught in the act by 20 people who see me stab a man in a drunken rage and then pass out. A nation of laws ensures that it simply does not matter if my cousin is the sheriff, or the judge, or the prosecuting attorney, or the executioner. Justice, equal justice, says that I broke the law and I’ll pay the penalty, whatever that might be. If people need to recuse themselves so justice can be done by someone else acting on behalf of the state, then so be it.

Unequal justice (which isn’t justice at all) says that I can break the law, but because of my connections–the people I know or the ones to whom I’m related–I do not have to pay the same penalty as someone else with less powerful connections. Simplified, might (power) makes right.

But of course, we understand that this is wrong. Something in us naturally recoils from one person getting less punishment than another because of the ability of family and friends to pull strings on his behalf.

There are literally dozens of countries around the world which function in accordance with the idea that there are laws for those in power and there are other laws for those out of power. In fact, that double standard is part of what drove the colonists to put up their persons and property as collateral for the American Revolution. The injustice of a lord or lady getting away with murder while a commoner was committed to prison for stealing a loaf of bread did not sit well with people who were accustomed to the collective benefits of living in a much more egalitarian system.

When a law is passed in accordance with the laws which govern such, then everyone (be they president or writer or oil rig roughneck) is bound by the law. For those whose responsibility is enforcement of the law to say that they will extend waivers or otherwise obviate the law for certain people but not for others is not equal justice. Rather it is the odiferous display of favoritism by those in power for their friends, allies and other beholden individuals.

If a law is not applied equitably to all, then it should either be changed (to something enforceable) or repealed. It is not enough to say something along the lines of “Well, don’t worry, my administration won’t be going after you.” But what about the next administration? Will it be as lenient or will we be whipped with scorpions?

The remarkable stability of our business sector is absolutely tied to the understanding that we are a nation of laws and not of men. Contracts of all sorts only have power because of this. Look at any country where the government has nationalized some industry or another, nullifying all contracts which existed previously. Do you understand what that does for economic stability, for the trust which the citizens have in the system of law in that country? It destroys it. No one can be certain if what they own today, they will own tomorrow.

To increase that certainty, they do what people have done since the beginning of time, they curry favor with those in power as a means of ensuring that they don’t lose what they have. Is that really what we would like to become? A nation of supplicants, providing favors or outright bribes to our elected officials and the endless supply of bureaucrats who keep the behemoth which is government breathing?

Do we want to be slaves?