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Stupid Laws

We laugh when we hear about the usual stupid legislation of the past; the stuff that is still on the books. It is illegal, for example, to catch fish with your bare hands in Kansas. Wyoming has a law forbidding you from wearing a hat that obstructs a person's view in a theater or event. You need a permit to be a fortune teller in South Carolina, and in Kansas City, Missouri, children can't legally buy toy cap guns. However, they can buy real shotguns at the gun store.

Then there are the stupid laws that are not considered stupid by most people. That is what this article is about. In particular, those laws and regulations that are supposedly for public safety, but are really intended to benefit some particular interest group or businesses. It seems like a good idea to have laws that make people safer. But such laws are often just an excuse for creating more control or profits for some industry, or for bureaucrats who like to exercise power for its own sake.

To understand what I mean, lets start with my eye infection. A minor problem, it could be easily cured with antibiotic eye drops in a few days. I've used them before with no side effects. In fact, I would go buy some right now - if I was allowed to. But stupid laws prevent buying such eye drops without a prescription from a "medical professional."

Oh, but those laws keep us safe, some of you will claim. Is that right? Perhaps it sounds reasonable, but let's look at the matter. I have an eye infection that could be easily cured with $5 eye drops. However, laws have made it so I have to make a doctor's appointment and get a prescription for them. This makes the treatment 16 times as expensive, of course, but I also don't have time, since we are leaving for South America a couple days from now.

Now, if I don't treat it, is that safer? You may think this is a unique case, but think about how many other people probably hesitate to spend a day off work and spend $80 to see a doctor - just to get that $5 cure. After all, there are millions here without insurance, and others who don't just want to take the time. This law that is supposed to make us safer may often result in leaving infections untreated. It at least results in making the treatment 16 times as expensive.

What is my solution? Well, my personal solution is to wait until Wednesday, when I am out of the "land of the free" and in Ecuador. There, I will be free to buy the drops from any pharmacist - no prescription required. Of course, they have their stupid laws there too (as all countries do), but fortunately not so many in this area. And to my knowledge, there is no huge problem with over-doses from eye drops.

That brings us to safety issues. Everything has risks, right? But pharmacists can explain them to us, so why do we have laws that require doctor visits for medicines that are statistically less dangerous than the drive to the doctors office? Let's follow the money, and see who benefits from this system. Hmm... it certainly keeps doctors busy, doesn't it?

Do we really think that without these laws there would be an epidemic of antibiotic eye drop deaths? And how many would actually damage their eyes if they bought the drops over the counter? It seems likely that some would. Things do have their risks, as I said. Of course there are risks in discouraging any medical treatments by making them expensive and a hassle, right? By the way, The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine recently issued a report. It showed that avoidable medical mistakes cause more deaths in the U. S. each year than car accidents or breast cancer or AIDs. They're the 8th leading cause of death now. Hmm... so much for relying on licensed professionals to keep us safe (or even alive).

So, what is the real point of these stupid laws? Laws and regulations that are supposedly in "the public interest" are primarily intended to benefit some industry or special interest. For example, do we really think there would be a public health disaster if hair stylists weren't licensed by law? It seems more likely that it's a way to limit access to the field, and so keep prices higher. They don't want to compete with people cutting hair in their garages and undercutting prices.

Remember the law mentioned above, requiring licensing of fortune tellers? We laugh, but I can assure you that before we were brainwashed, people laughed at the idea of it being illegal to cut somebody's hair without a license. A house cleaner I know thinks we need a law licensing all who clean houses. Of course the "public good" or "safety" will be the excuse, but I listen to the hints. He's tired of cheap cleaners who are less "professional" and undercut his prices. A law requiring licensing would limit access. Then the "professional" cleaners could keep their prices up (or raise them even higher).

Lets be generous to the lawmakers and assume their law stops those crazy unprofessional hair cutters from causing perhaps two hair styling fatalities annually. Meanwhile, we allow sugar to be sold freely, despite the fact that as one of the primary contributors to diabetes, it probably causes tens of thousands of deaths every year. Why? Nobody has a financial interest in outlawing sugar (or if they do, they don't have enough lobbying power).

Follow the money and power. Plenty of industries gain power and profits from laws that limit access and keep prices up. They are very good at lobbying for laws that "make us safer." Notice, though, that those industries with the most laws and regulations in the "public good" are not necessarily the safest, but they do provide the most expensive products and services. Think medical professions, dental care, lawyers, and real estate agents.

Consider that we can drink, smoke, sit on the couch for hours, and marry whoever we want. These activities and products are demonstrably more dangerous than most of the things that "public interest" laws supposedly "protect" us from. So why don't we just let people be informed of the risks and be able to make their own decisions? Because treating people like adults is bad for business. The ill-concieved laws that are supposed to be good for us are really meant as a way to boost profits and power for some industry or special interest.

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Stupid Laws