by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The British government has announced that it will be proposing legislation to have senior bankers face prison for “reckless” risk taking. This news item underscores two dangerous trends.
The first is the largely unremarked upon phenomenon of modern democratic governments criminalizing more and more activities. In the U.S., for example, numerous prosecutions have been successfully pursued against corporate managers for the activities of subordinates that the managers didn’t order or even know about. Isn’t it a basic tenet of law that you can’t be charged with a crime you didn’t commit?
A corollary to this is penalizing people for offenses they didn’t know they had committed. Yes, there has always been the axiom that ignorance of the law is no excuse. But that is for basic crimes like thievery, which you should know is illegal. In recent years, however, governments–especially regulators such as the EPA–have issued voluminous rules that can easily catch the unwary. The federal tax code is notorious for this. The frightening truth is that if the federal government wants to “get” you or your business, it can. There’s no way for law-abiding citizens not to get ensnared in the regulatory maw.
Noted social observer and author Charles Murray is writing a book on what he rightfully describes as the increasing lawlessness of the U.S. government. The blizzard of new rules, many of them vaguely worded, undermines the basic foundation of the rule of law: simplicity and predictability. Murray finds the phenomenon far more widespread than most people realize. The recent Inspector General’s report on extensive, deliberate IRS abuses is but the tip of the iceberg.