Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

An old joke runs something like this:

    “We lose a dollar on every widget sold.”
    “So how do you stay in business?”
    “We make up for it in volume.”

The lesson? Mere numerical productivity is not key to the success of any human enterprise. Adding value is key. Quality counts. And profit.

Tell that to Ezra Klein. He measures Congress by how many laws it makes. The current Congress has made very few laws compared to previous ones — Klein has a very nifty graph of this, see at right — so Klein blasts Congress: “there’s no session of Congress with such a poor record of productivity.”

But it’s not gross-weight productivity that counts. As economist David Henderson perceptively noted, what matters is whether the laws are good or not.

The more laws we’re encumbered with, the less their quality. Or as Cicero once put it: “The more laws, the less justice.”

Laws carry the weight of force, and force is the opposite of freedom, so the more the laws, the less the freedom. Further, it’s almost impossible to manage the huge bulk of the legal code, leading to bureaucratic drudgery both in and out of government, and mismanagement of resources everywhere. At best, we wind up with only piecemeal enforcement, which is itself a temptation for a common sort of tyranny, the prosecution of folks someone in power doesn’t like.

Note that graph. Each session adds to existing law. And unlike spending feeding debt, which is at least somewhat offset by revenues, these laws tend not to be the repeal of old laws. Graph the accumulation of laws, and it goes only one direction.

The wrong direction.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor


  1. Jim says:

    You make it sound like this is Klein’s main point. It isn’t and you know it. He made 14–yes 14–points about this congress.

    But you only picked the one you wanted to write about.

  2. Thank you, Mr Jacob, for unfailingly getting it pithy — and for just about always getting it Right!

    B A: – L A – CA — and The Very Far Away

  3. Paul Jacob says:

    Yes, Jim, there is still enough freedom in America that I can and do pick what I want to write about.

    And, to be fair, this was Mr. Klein’s #1 point.

  4. Brian Wright says:

    But it seems that if Congress is reducing the addition of new laws, then by the logic of your case things would be getting less bad than they could. 🙂 And from what I see, the laws of the more recent sessions are making things far worse than ever. Which means the badness density of the more recent laws–e.g. NDAA, Obamacare–is going thru the roof!

  5. Paulina West says:

    One nitpick about the x axis. He has labeled this as “number of laws passed” but without his raw data and methods, we do not know how many laws he estimates were passed in the 2700 page Obamacare.

    Next, his concern about Congress’ productivity may be still valid. Let me explain. The actions of Obama’s Czars which Congress neither has approved nor disapproved, and which Congress is unable to audit or to question because they refuse to appear before elected officials, may indeed be taking work from the legislative branch of the government. Also, we know that other unelected, unaccountable departments of the federal government have been legislating and taking work away from Congress.

    For example, the EPA has recently won a court ruling that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas and endagers the public, and upholds the EPA’s ability to control this harmful gas using helpful life-giving economic coercions and regulations on industry and individuals. So we see that Congress is losing its productivity to such apparatus’ as the EPA and the DOE.

    And so Congress has been less productive, yet even when Congress is not in session, our lives, liberty and property are still in danger. Someone is taking work from them and they should be mad.

  6. Pat says:

    WHat’s that old saying: the government which governs least governs best?
    It makes one long for a ‘do-nothing’ Congress. At least they would do no harm.

  7. Drik says:

    Easy to confuse quantity with quality.
    With this Congress, we have neither.

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