Tuesday 2 April 2024

Overlawyered [updated]


Lawyers are a proxy for regulation. To get a feel for how destructive regulation is, you could maybe look at the number of lawmakers. Compared with the combined average of Denmark, Singapore, Norway, Ireland and Finland, New Zealand has 50% more Ministers, 156% more departments, and 280% more portfolios.* 

Or you could simply measure the exploding number of pages of regulations and statute law over the years and guess at how that strangles enterprise. But that would barely do full justice to its stultifying effect either. 

But just measuring lawmakers or the number of pages of legislation they produce doesn't fully measure the destructiveness of what's on those pages. A far better proxy measure is to look at the number of parasites who live off the law -- i..e, the lawyers who write, enact and feed off it. Way back in 1924 H.L. Mencken observed:

“All the extravagance and incompetence of ... Government is due, in the main, to lawyers, and, in part at least, to good ones. They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every Federal judge is a lawyer. So are most Congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizens has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah jong factory, we’d be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half.”
He was right then. He's even more right now.

We don't have the rule of law any more, but rule by lawyers. When Mencken wrote that in 1924, New Zealand had roughly one lawyer per 1,000 people. We now have nearly three times that number — and we're less free, less safe, and our taxes have increased at least tenfold.

The number of lawyers in the country is a proxy for our level of (over)regulation, of the extent to which we're being strangled by the grey ones. And look at how the blood suckers have grown, especially post-WWII. And they keep growing, with around 3% more of the bastards every year.

It's frightening.

* 'Too complex,' Max Salmon

UPDATE: "The 54th Parliament ... has proportionately more lawyers (17), managers (44) and analysts (22) than are found in ordinary life. Almost 14% of MPs have legal work experience, compared to 0.5% of the public. The construction sector is the least represented in Parliament...." [SOURCE: 'A Parliament of office workers']

1 comment:

MarkT said...

Even in purely commercial environment outside of government regulation and laws, for instance construction contracts, I'm finding lawyers increasingly conservative and over the top in their expectations. They seem to live in this alternate reality where they imagine a voluminous amount of words is the key to eliminating risk for their clients, prioritising this over a practical understanding of the real risks and being clear about where the risk lies.

It's not just lawyers either. I've noticed a pronounced increase in conservatism across the board both in the public and private sector the past decade. It's the precautionary principle writ large over our whole commercial environment now - the idea that any risk of something going wrong is intolerable and requires onerous documentation to avoid. It's usually out of balance with the probability or consequence of something going wrong, weighed against the deleterious effect on speed and efficiency of having this approach.