Is it true that California's "bad laws and regulations are not a license for lawlessness"?

Over the weekend, the office of California Board of Equalization Vice Chair Michelle Steel took offense at my Friday H&R post about her state's new shadow economy-targeting Centralized Intelligence Project, which means that her obviously hard-working communications director, Arie Dana, had to kill time on a Saturday typing up a "correction." Much of that document is spin for an elected Republican who "has distinguished herself as the state's leading tax fighter" and yet linked herself to a grandiose tax-collection scheme. But there's an important philosophical point buried in there that's worth discussing.

Before philosophy, though, let's dispense with the basics. Arie objects, "J.D. is wrong in saying that there is a new bureaucracy if he means to imply that there will now be a new state department." But I don't mean there will be a new state department. Nor an agency, committee, troika or soviet. That's why I used the word "bureaucracy." SB 1185 calls for the hiring of new government workers to work on the Centralized Intelligence Project, hence "new bureaucracy."

Also, I'm supposedly "incorrect in saying that the cost of the measure is $2.5 million. Outside of the initial cost to interface IT and house integrated information, the other estimated costs or 'cost pressures' will be absorbed in each of the nine agencies existing budgets." But I drew my numbers from an analysis prepared on May 29 by the Office of Senate Floor Analyses. Click here, go to the "Bill Analysis" tab and select the top link. All I added was ... well ... the numbers, to get a total. And yes, the analysis does refer to "increased staffing costs to each of the participating state entities, likely in the range of $500,000 to $1 million," plus "[a]dditional staffing costs, likely in the range of $200,000 to $500,000 beginning in 2013-14, to hire an administrator and staff" plus "[a]dditional increased staffing costs in the range of $300,000 annually..." You get the picture, right? If the numbers are wrong, take it up with the source.

Oh, and by the way, costs allocated to "hire an administrator and staff to the Partnership" and "$750,000 to establish and house the Partnership’s processing center" do sound, just a bit, like a new bureaucracy.

More important than whirling and twirling the words "bureaucracy" and "cost," though, are the following assertions in the "correction":

On the bill itself, it is a law enforcement bill, which passed out of the Senate without any opposition - not a single "no" vote. In each committee hearing and on the Senate Floor, the measure passed out unanimously.  ...

While freedom-loving Americans must keep up the fight for liberty and against the State, we also have to live within and follow the laws that exist on the books. Bad laws and regulations are not a license for lawlessness.

This echoes Michelle Steel's statement in the BOE press release that "In a high-tax and high-regulation state such as California, it becomes attractive to operate businesses outside the law in order to obtain a competitive advantage over law-abiding citizens. We must work together to ensure that no California business is put at a competitive disadvantage for simply following the law."

While I'm aware that, in GOP circles, "law enforcement" occupies roughly the same status as the cult of Mithras did for Roman legionaries, not everybody shares that veneration. To insist that "[b]ad laws and regulations are not a license for lawlessness" is less a governing philosophy than a suicide pact. People aren't fleeing to the shadows because they really like looking over their shoulders and surrendering access to the courts and other legal protections. They're doing so because, as Michelle Steel concedes, California is "a high-tax and high-regulation state," and individuals and small businesses find it increasingly difficult — even impossible — to make ends meet under "the laws that exist on the books."

The legal way to avoid those taxes and regulations is to leave. From 2008-2010, according to the Tax Foundation's migration calculator, 112,186 more people left the state than moved in. Those people took $2,661,488,000 in adjusted gross income with them. Those who stayed behind but illegally ducked underground are still spending their money in the state — a better outcome, you'd think, for California.

Would Ms. Steel prefer that everybody follow the law — and leave?

But, as SB 1185 demonstrates, defiance of bad laws brings a lot of pressure on governments to change things. Enforcement is always the first recourse of control-freak officials, but many a truly shitty piece of legislation has shuffled off into the sunset only after being rendered unenforceable and ridiculous by mass disobedience. Family lore holds that my great-grandfather, Giuseppe Marano, was a grade-A prick, but nobody did more than he and his customers to promote the repeal of Prohibition simply by exchanging cold cash for colder beer across the bar of a Bronx speakeasy year after year. That simple act, multiplied millions of times across the country, made the re-legalization of alcoholic beverages inevitable in a way that magazine articles and speeches never could have all by themselves.

And that disobedience preserved a strong measure of freedom in the face of anti-freedom laws.

So it is with California's destructive taxes and regulations. People defy them so they can keep putting food on the table. In so doing, they stay a little freer than they would by obeying. And they put pressure on the powers that be to make changes that those powers don't want to make.

If I owe Michelle Steel a bit of an apology, it's for singling her out. I did so because she was quoted acknowledging her state's lousy business environment, and then endorsing the wrong "solution." Her colleagues, such as Chairman Jerome E. Horton, were quoted favoring the legislation just because it would put the screws on people and help increase the state's take (they assume). They're idiots; she apparently knows better.

And the people of California are fully justified in doing what they can to survive the state's ruinous policies.

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  • fried wylie||

    All I added was ... well ... the numbers, to get a total.

    Gov't-spending-math doesn't work that way, noob.

  • Drake||

    WTF is the "Board of Equalization"? Sounds very Orwellian.

  • fried wylie||

    It's those thing in recording studios with all the sliders, knobs and jacks.

  • JW||

    How about "Ministry of Obedience?" Better?

  • ||

    Put on these glasses.

  • JW||

    Not this year.

  • ||

    I'm giving you a choice, JW: either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

  • JW||

    I told you, I don't want to be in-VOLVED! [punches Epi in his taint]

  • ||

    You dirty motherfucker!

  • ||

    "I got one that can see!"

  • rts||

    Sounds like the sort of thing that would be headed up by the Handicapper General.

  • Drake||

    What was that crazy movie in which the talented people had to walk around with chains and weights?

  • The Hammer||

    You know what's funny? Last time I mentioned Harrison Bergeron on Huffpo, some dipshit went on a rant about how Vonnegut was being satirical in the story, and it was actually meant as a criticism of libertarians' paranoia about the government and the Civil Rights Act. It was...frustrating, to say the least.

  • robc||

    First mistake: Being on HuffPo.

  • Brett L||

    Given his later in life politics, I can see how someone might believe that. They'd be wrong, but I could see an earnest HS English teacher convincing students of that.

  • fried wylie||

    Bad laws and regulations are not a license for lawlessness.

    Individually, I guess they're not. It's when you have an ever-expanding system of bad laws and regulations, that routinely tries to "repair" itself with more bad laws and regulations, that one has to start questioning support of that system.

  • sarcasmic||

    The logical conclusion of such a system is a totalitarian state.
    Which, for law enforcement types, is a feature, not a bug.

  • ||

    Sure they are. Why are we supposed to follow a bad law or regulation? Just "because"?

  • R C Dean||

    STOP RESISTING!

  • LTC John||

    reaches for Taser RIDE THE LIGHTNING!

  • robc||

    Anyone see Head Games on the Discovery network last night. It was the first episode and it was on conformity.

    One of the tests they did was to put a nonsensical tape line down in a museum with a sign that said "Please Follow Line" next to the start.

    And people did, even when they got silly with it. But in its first iteration, some small kid asks why they had to follow the line. His Mom says, "I dont know, but its the rule".

  • Brett L||

    One of the docs in there did his postgrad work at FSU. Used to hang out with him and his wife. I was surprised to see him on TV. I thought Science Friday was as high as he'd rise.

  • robc||

    I wished they had shown the non-conformists and discussed it too.

    I wanted more detail. What percent of people walked the zig-zag or went in the circle?

    And did those that ignore the zig-zag still follow the line generally or did they start ignoring it at that point? Does an overly silly regulation cause revolt faster?

  • Agammamon||

    Yeah, but this example isn't very good.

    Most of us understand that in patronizing an establishment we are agreeing to abide the that establishments rules and that if we don't like the rules we can leave.

    As such, following a line may just not seem like a huge imposition to get what you want (see the museum) and add in that most *businesses* are careful to not add in excessively onerous requirements.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Sure they are. Why are we supposed to follow a bad law or regulation? Just "because"?

    Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Ahem *taps the black letter law*, it's written right there in black and white.

    OBEY.

  • Paul.||

    If my reading of some old, dead white men's scribblings is accurate, bad laws and regulations are a license to revolt.

  • Creepy Uncle||

    "When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law."

    Or

    "There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are "just" because the law makes them so."

    - Frederic Bastiat, The Law

  • fried wylie||

    I say individually, because you have to give some time, some benefit of the doubt, in which the dumbfucks might rethink things and come to a better conclusion. You can't go all torches and pitchforks at the drop of a hat...then again, maybe that's what it would take to keep gov't in line.

  • fried wylie||

    go all torches and pitchforks at the drop of a hat...then again, maybe that's what it would take to keep gov't in line

    Thinking that out...eventually, people would pay others to get do the torch'n'pitchforking, then those t'n'p'ers would become enshrined as a public function, then they'd unionize...

  • Brett L||

    Seems like a good problem to have. I think an occasional t'n'p parade ending at some bureaucrat's office would be useful. Especially if a couple of those torches got thrown through windows.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Excellent screed, J.D!

  • jdtuccille||

    Thanks! The whole "ya gotta obey the law" mindset rubs me the wrong way.

  • sarcasmic||

    "When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law."
    -Bastiat

    People without any moral sense rub me the wrong way.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Bastiat should be required reading in school.

  • JW||

    Bastiat should be tattooed on the inside of every pol's eyelids.

  • fried wylie||

    "1984 was a great book, I think every kid should be forced to read it."

    -Subway

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Throw in Spooner and Thoreau and you have an excellent reading list.

  • Paul.||

    Thanks! The whole "ya gotta obey the law" mindset rubs me the wrong way.

    Ahem, torture, warrantless wiretaps...

    But I know what you mean.

  • jdtuccille||

    Granted. But I think there's a difference between putting legal restrictions on the vast, powerful apparatus of the state, and putting legal restrictions on individuals.

  • sarcasmic||

    What is the state except a collection of individuals?

  • jdtuccille||

    In the abstract, you're right, but the state has a special status with its "monopoly on the legitimate use of force" (rephrase that as you wish). It has a different relationship with individuals than does any other institution. Perhaps that's more of a quantitative than qualitative difference, but I think it's significant.

  • Sam Grove||

    With the state, some individuals are more equal than others.

  • JW||

    Excellent screed, J.D!

    Hear hear!

    Once again, I'm reminded by reality about how the Republicans are so vastly different and such a strong and viable alternative to the Democrats.

  • R C Dean||

    Bad laws and regulations are not a license for lawlessness.

    I think JD showed a lot of restraint by not going all "You know who else . . . " on her.

  • Ranter||

    Game. Set. Match...to J.D.

    Wow, it must be hard to be a GOP flunky in California and talk yourself into doing the opposite of common sense whenever these laws get voted on.

    Any bets on these new, improved laws stemming the flow of people out of California? Or are they just going to keep ignoring fiscal, free-market reality? Maybe they can pass a law making it illegal to leave the state?

  • califernian||

    The sane people are fleeing. You know that means the concentration of insane people goes up. Expect total freakin' insanity from Sacramento over the next 10 years

  • Brett L||

    Bad laws and regulations are not a license for lawlessness.

    But they are a license for tar and featherings, torch and pitchfork parades, and riding out of town on a rail, right?

  • fried wylie||

    hmmmm, thinking about regulations:

    feathers? species protection regs
    tar? EPA regs
    torches? OSHA regs
    pitchforks? USDA regs

    At least the statists are in support of rails, so plenty of those to go around.

  • The Hammer||

    No. For those, you have to get separate permits.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I'll leave this here.

  • ||

    "J.D. is wrong in saying that there is a new bureaucracy if he means to imply that there will now be a new state department."

    I remember when it was considered professional for government spokespeople to respond to their critics as, say, Mr Tucille. But I guess you and Arie are on first name basis.

  • jdtuccille||

    He's a Californian. Casual is mandatory.

  • califernian||

    I like the rhetorical technique. "You are wrong if by X you mean ". IN apress release. fucking genius.

  • califernian||

    Ack, stupid filters.

    "You are wrong if by X you mean [some other stupid thing you obviously didn't mean]".

  • Silent Cal||

    Michael Steele's sex-change/race-change operation is impressively good. My compliments to his/her surgeon.

  • widget||

    But, as SB 1185 demonstrates, defiance of bad laws brings a lot of pressure on governments to change things.

    It would be very kool if businesses really did, en masse, defy the CA sales tax laws by neither collecting nor paying sales tax. But collecting the tax from customers and just keeping it is called stealing.

  • Espantapajaros||

    What a strange belief. Bad laws and regulations are absolutely license for lawlessness. If you want people to obey the law, then write laws that don't suck. Otherwise, find a different line of work.

  • califernian||

    Comrade, please report to the nearest re-education camp immediately.

  • Agammamon||

    When people bring out "its the law" as an arguement (whether its regarding immigration, drugs, or taxes and regulation) I point out that by their logic runaway slaves were wrong, that this country shouldn't even exist because our founders "broke the law".

    Immoral laws are immoral.

  • jdgalt||

    Ms. Steel, please pay attention at least to your own words. You said:
    "We must work together to ensure that no California business is put at a competitive disadvantage for simply following the law."

    The only way to ensure that is to change the law so that California's taxes and regulations no longer force its businesses to be uncompetitive with those outside the state.

    The only reason I'm still here is that I can't afford to move away. Yet.

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