Massive number of laws actually hinder progress

Among other rules, Naperville has a law on how many chickens you can keep in your backyard. | File photo
Among other rules, Naperville has a law on how many chickens you can keep in your backyard. | File photo

So why weren’t there more infrastructure projects funded by the Recovery Act?

Too many tax cuts and too much political obstructionism? In part, but the real reason is that it has now become so difficult to get all the permits, meet all the federal, state, and local requirements, and get permission from all the “stakeholders,” that like Gulliver in Lilliput, progress was completely hobbled by a thousand tiny laws.

We neither need nor want all those laws. You’d think that with gas at $4 a gallon we wouldn’t need an anti-cruising ordinance, but we still have one. So does Moline, but they also have a law making it illegal to ice skate on Riverside Pond in June and August, when there is fishing, but not in July. They probably don’t need that law either.

We still have a law requiring cats to be on leashes. I’ve never actually seen one leashed, and most cats would probably just lie there and refuse to walk. It seems cruel to drag them around, so maybe we should do what Colorado does and let them run loose if they’re wearing a taillight.

We have an ordinance limiting the number of backyard chickens to eight. That number was adopted during a council meeting at about 8 o’clock. Coincidence? I’ve always thought it was arbitrary and unnecessary, just like Kirkland’s law that makes it illegal for bees to fly though town.

A lot of these laws were intended to prevent something that they thought would someday become a problem. Perhaps that’s why it’s illegal in Normal to make faces at a dog, or why you can’t give any animal in Zion a lighted cigar.

But dealing with a problem that hasn’t yet occurred can backfire. We have absolutely no evidence, for example, that renters neglect the property they’re renting. It certainly isn’t true in my subdivision. In fact, we have a resident’s association instead of a homeowner’s association because we have found that our renters are as responsible and considerate as our owners and value them equally.

Discriminating against rentals by registering landlords and making renters feel like suspected second-class citizens could make blight a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think the last thing we should do is discourage investment in our real estate market.

Some laws are ignored because people think they’re stupid. In Joliet, a town that until 1845 was called Juliet, you can be fined $5 for pronouncing it Jolly-ette. People ignore it, just like they do our law requiring every pet to be relicensed every year. And they’ll ignore it if we change it to licensing them only once because it’s simply officious and serves no useful purpose. Vets ensure pets have their shots, and I haven’t seen Atticus Finch out shooting any rabid dogs.

We need to sunset every single law we have. I know of an important dredging project that was approved only after the Recovery Act guaranteed their loan. They’ve been so tied up in permits, notifications, and court proceedings, however, that they’re just getting started later this year.

Some laws that seem dumb really aren’t. It’s illegal in Alabama to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket. It seems silly, but that’s how horse thieves used to lure horses away from where they were hitched, claiming afterward that they had simply followed them home. Others were probably passed to make some moral point, like the one that says you can’t hunt whales in Kansas. But most, like the one in Chicago that forbids fishing while sitting on a giraffe’s neck, simply defy explanation.

The role of government is not to establish a collective morality and uniformity of behavior, but to defend individual rights, leaving us otherwise free to govern our affairs. That doesn’t require many laws.