Re: POLI: Forest fire amendment

Michael Lorrey (
Sat, 22 Feb 1997 12:08:33 -0500 wrote:
> In a message dated 97-02-20 17:27:34 EST, Damien Sullivan writes:
> > Some time ago someone mentioned Jefferson's belief that each generation
> > should remake its constitution and laws; Greg Burch replied that there's
> > a lot of wisdom encoded in parts of the law, and it would be inefficient
> > to recreate that over and over.
> >
> > But we don't have to. People can read the old laws and re-enact the
> > good ones. The point is to force a reconsideration of the old
> > structures, and in modern terms get around the public good problem
> > (people won't organize to get rid of a bad law that hurts them
> > slightly). Think of it as a forest fire: the useless brush and dying
> > trees are consumed, the healthy live. Similarly the laws with strong
> > justifications would be re-enacted; dross would be pruned.
> One of the things I like best about this group is how bright the folks are
> who are attracted to extropianism and who participate on this list. This
> often exhibits itself in a "convergent evolution" of memes, with people
> figurng out the same truths from different angles. Damien's "forest fire"
> suggestion is a perfect example of this. The idea of a defined end to the
> efficacy of a law or other government function, forcing the reconsideration
> of its value, is actually known in at least the theory of legislation, but
> unfortunately not very common in practice. It is called "sunset", in a
> metaphor that really doesn't convey the worth of the idea as well as
> Damien's.
> I am by no means an expert on this subject, but do recall that the idea of
> "sunset" features in legislation became fashionable in the late 70s and know
> that at least some governmental agencies and functions have had sunset
> provisions written into their enabling legislation since then. (I have a dim
> recollection that it may have been a minor buzzword in the policy lexicon of
> the Carter administration and know that it gets mentioned from time to time
> in the Texas legislature.) But I can't think of any fundamental legislation
> (like codes governing basic commercial or social relations) or big or
> expensive governmental agencies that have serious sunset deadlines.
> Furthermore, I can't think of any correlary of the sunset principle in any
> common law system of which I am aware. Thus, for instance, in the common law
> regimes with which I am familiar, a principle of law is just that until it is
> affirmatively challenged and a conscious decision is made to change it. In
> fact, the idea of a definite "lifespan" for a specific rule of law is quite
> foreign to the fundamentally ad-hoc and case-specific process of developing
> legal principles in the common law process. Thus Damien's suggestion of a
> constitutional sunset or "forest fire" amendment would in fact be necessary,
> as a matter of legal theory and practice in our current system.

I wonder though, giving lawmakers the opportunity once a generation to
re-enact laws would possibly give them ample opportunity to add on more
and more garbage, giving us a legal version of bloatware. At least once
a law is passed it stays passed and can't be screwed with that much.

Personally, I would go in the other direction, making the passing of
laws an irreversable act tantamount to a constitutional amendment, and
requiring supermajority voting to enact. THis would force lawmakers to
really mean it when they pass a law. Seems to me that most of the "good"
laws or acts of congress typically pass by an overwhelming majority,
while the rest that are nothing but hindrances are typically simple
majority passers.


Michael Lorrey ------------------------------------------------------------ President Northstar Technologies Agent Inventor of the Lorrey Drive

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