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The only reason we have so many laws is that not enough people will do the right thing.
Copyright © 1997 by David E. Ross
I sometimes use this quip in the signature line of E-mail and newsgroup messages. Too many persons who have seen my quip seem to misunderstand what I mean.
No, I did not say "all laws".
Yes, I know that some laws are enacted to placate special interests. Other laws are enacted merely because some lawmakers have the attitude: "If we can control a situation, we should control it." Too often, I see this attitude in an adjacent city to the west of the community where I live.
Many of our laws, however, do indeed result from an attempt to raise society's and business's standards of behavior. Too many individuals — in both their personal and business lives — follow standards based on doing no more than what the law requires. But the law sets only the minimal standards, not the optimum standards.
Have you never heard someone justify his or her actions by saying "It's legal"? When enough individuals say that to justify inappropriate actions, new laws are enacted. If more people did the right thing — not because some law requires it but because it is indeed the right thing to do — we would have fewer laws.
I think of Bill Siverson, a community leader in Oak Park. Bill had a broad experience in community service, having been President of the Oak Park Civic Association (now defunct) and a founder of the Oak Park Unified School District.
At one of its meetings, the Oak Park School Board reviewed its personnel policies. California law requires school district policies to include prohibitions against employment discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and national origin. Bill asked why the scope of the policy in Oak Park covered only those forms of discrimination required by the law and why could not the Oak Park Unified School District have a policy that is better than what the law requires. As a result, the policy was modified to include marital status as another situation where employment discrimination would be prohibited in the Oak Park Unified School District even though no state law addressed that form of discrimination.
Bill believed that doing the right thing was more important than doing only what the law required, and I was proud to serve on the Oak Park School Board with him for several years.
30 December 2000
An article in the Los Angeles Times (14 February 2001) contrasts the differing privacy policies of AOL and Time Warner and describes how the newly merged AOL Time Warner might feel pressure to make more profitable use of the huge customer database accumulated by AOL. One paragraph in the article contains a telling statement about the need for laws.
Time Warner's reliance on the law and not on doing what is right can only attract the enaction of new privacy laws. It certainly demonstrates our inability to rely on companies to set and enforce their own privacy rules when they advocate such low standards.
Remember, the law sets only a minimum standard for behavior. If that is the only standard that many persons will use — both as individuals and as leaders of business — then we need more laws with higher standards.
14 February 2001
After the poorly received initial public offering (IPO) of Facebook stock, it was determined that principal underwriter Morgan Stanley had advised institutional investors and "big-money" individual investors before the IPO that Facebook's earnings would not be as good as previously estimated. General retail investors were not given that information until after the IPO and collectively lost $500,000,000 in the first week of trading in Facebook's stock.
When questioned, Morgan Stanley responded that its IPO procedures were "in compliance with all applicable regulations." That attitude can only result in new regulations that are much more restrictive.
25 May 2012
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