|New Civilization News: Black and White and the Law|
Category: Legal, Justice
17 comments1 Apr 2005 @ 12:00 by Andrius Kulikauskas @220.127.116.11 : Law gives rise to law
Hi Flemming. That's one question I keep returning to: How does law give rise to law? I noticed that in working with databases: every solution brings up new problems. So if you have a key (or password) to a door, then you have to worry about what to do if you lose the key, and what if somebody finds the key, and where do you keep a second copy, and how do you make a copy, and how do you know which copy is primary, and it goes on and on. So the answer I think is that there is no perfect solution, but instead for each set of problems there is an optimal solution. The optimal solution is where you spend, say, roughly half of your energy on the general case, and roughly half of your energy on special cases.
I started to study this while doing part-time work summarizing regulations. I decided to study the core of the law of Moses, it is actually quite short. Exodus 20-23, about the length of the Serman on the Mount. http://www.ebible.org/web/Exodus.htm#C20V1 I noticed that the punishments (sometimes harsh, sometimes lenient, sometimes absent) seemed to be chosen to maximally dissuade. If they are too harsh or too lenient, then they aren't taken seriously. So for adultery you put somebody's life at stake, but for gossip you just say don't do it and punishment apparently won't have any effect. That's what seems to be the logic.
Having lived in both the US and Lithuania, and from what I've gathered of Europe, I think that there are a few ways in which US civil culture is freer and kinder. So, for example, as an export driven business, after two years of being due a rebate on my VAT, I applied for it to be returned to me. (Note that the whole concept of Value Added Tax bookkeeping is foreign to the US.) They took my application and then called me in for a total audit of all my taxes, starting with my income taxes. Now, I'm a dual citizen and a sole proprietor in both countries. One difference being that in the US I don't have to register my business - and where I do, then it's with a local municipality. But, of course, in Lithuania I'm forced to register it and declare exactly what sorts of business I will be doing. In the US, I can keep my receipts in a shoebox and that is good enough. But in Lithuania I am supposed to do full fledged accounting - basically I'm supposed to hire as an employee a part-time accountant. Basically, the US is fact driven (can you prove that you had this expense, forget about the paperwork) and Europe is document driven (do you have the paperwork, forget about the facts). So I go into the office and I say, here are my VAT expenses and here is proof that I have genuine income, am a real business - the information needed to calcluate my rebate. But they said, this is not enough, we need to audit your entire business. I explained that that's irrelevant for the matter of hand, and so I would take back my request for a refund, which they recommended. They agreed but then said we have to audit you anyways. That's their policy. They said, look how long do you need to prepare? We'll give you two months. I said, these are my priorities: 1) I make sure the money is in your hands, 2) I collect my receipts and documentation, 3) I submit my paperwork, 4) I manage my books. As any business person, I am naturally overwhelmed in all directions and I keep dedicating time to this, and morally that is sufficient. I am running losses and living on the edge, even as I'm supporting a community center and developing a high impact high tech export business. For me to put my books in order - for the last seven years - which I should do myself to get it done right - would take about 200 hours. At that point I have to decide whether we'd all be better off for me to spend that time and energy publicly campaigning against this. Because, frankly, my income comes from the US and it makes sense for me to start first with how it is done there. So it came up, well how are things done in America, is it any different? And I said, in America millions of people ask for income tax rebates every year and the government sends them exactly what those people declare they are due. And they found that mind boggling. And people in America are quite conscientious about paying their taxes and those who cheat don't brag about it, whereas in Europe it's considered normal, expected to cheat. When I'm running a profit, then yes, I should find time to take care of this. And besides, the laws here continuously change, so I may just be able to wait this out. So then the officer asked, but what can I do, I am bound by my station. And so I said, here is the principle: just do whatever you can within the slack allowed you. Please, go ask your supervisor to look into this. So they went two levels up and finally they released me. I went outside and walked around to unwind - my business had almost been destroyed. And I stumbled into a new statue of the Japanese consul who had written his signature on some 30,000 visas for Jews to safely exit the country during World War II, staying up night after night. I cried. You can build statues to celebrate good behavior and people have no clue what it means to apply that. They should have an exam for bureaucrats regarding these moral issues.
Now, it's pretty remarkable that a bureaucrat would relent, and perhaps that happens more often here than in the US, although I don't have these problems in the US. Unfortunately, except for me, you are treated better if you are a US citizen. I think there is a key difference in culture between the US and Europe (with the UK and Lithuania somewhere in between). I think that difference is driven by class. In the US everybody wants to think they belong to the same middle-class, from Bill Gates to the ghetto dwellers. And when they see an official or a bureaucrat they feel - you work for me. And the laws are meant to serve me and be fair to me. Or you may have power over me, but that is only here and now, and vice versa. So let's be good to each other. Institutions support that, including the decentralized police system (Lithuania has a national police system) and trial by jury. I'm realizing that trial by jury is important because it lets the bureaucrats, the police and the system know that they don't have the last word. In Europe we seem to box ourselves into class concepts that seem to leave us impotent in the face of our system. There is a working class and it is appeased and thereby kept as a class and kept out of the picture. People can organize as they like but they don't actually get anything done as individuals. These European Union projects are unholy, the way they are designed around the assumption that we are crooked and must be monitored in the most wasteful and incapacitating ways. In America, there is at least some kind of political discourse regarding Iraq. In Europe, people march in the streets often with no real impact on their politicians. In America, there is quite a lot of self-critique, or at least some inkling. I don't find any self-critique in Europe, but certainly not any moral introspection or any assumption of leadership, or understanding of leadership as a duty and calling for those who can be leaders. I hope I'm not ranting too much, but I want to balance the picture, and as a European I want Europe to shape up.
Flemming, I wrote about our Daisy project: http://www.openleader.com/index.php/OpenLeaderBiz/DaisyTeam Please write there or to me if you might be interested, which would be fantastic. We might also be able to organize stipendees to help with your projects if that might free you up, too.
2 Apr 2005 @ 00:57 by Pat Beatty @18.104.22.168 : You have such a wonderful way of putting
things. I love reading your pearls of wisdom.
2 Apr 2005 @ 12:45 by celestial : On the abotion issue,
It is a sad commentary that abortion has become a FORM OF BIRTH CONTROL!
If women want to have sex but not children, they should seek out sterile males.
On the tax issue,
Better if everyone paid a small percentage of their income, everyone benefits from good government. So much VALUABLE TIME is wasted in bookkeeping and enforcing regulations. Let the businesses who want to refine their productivity keep records for that purpose.
On enacting laws,
Hammurabi had it right on a number of his laws but throwing one in the river didn't take into account ones body fat.
Inevitability, some people end up getting crushed in the system from the misapplication of a law. The first time this is proven, the law should be suspended or modified.
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