I can’t stop thinking about NYC councillor Peter Koo’s bill to ban smoking while walking on city streets.
To me it looks like a perfect example of a bad law.
But what do I mean by a bad law? If there can be bad laws, then there must be good laws as well. What’s a good law?
It reminded me that I was thinking about exactly these sorts of questions when I was piecing together the ethics of Idle Theory, and began to think about law. And I never really managed to figure out law. It’s one of the unsolved problems of Idle Theory. There are lots of unsolved problems in Idle Theory.
The ethics of Idle Theory was quite simple. Good acts were acts that increased people’s idleness, and bad acts were ones that decreased people’s idleness. And idleness was a measurable physical quantity: you could measure it with clocks. And all living things find themselves somewhere on a scale between 0% and 100% idle.
The economics of Idle Theory meshes in with this. Economic growth is growth in idleness: people don’t have to work so hard. Economic decline brings a fall in idleness: people have to work harder.
So where did law fit into this? My approach to it was that sometimes people did things that made other people work harder, and the law was the means through which they could seek redress. So, for example, if you had a piano you were trying to dispose of, and you left it on the street outside for someone to come and collect in a few days time, then for the time it was sitting out on the street, people would have to walk around it. Let’s say it took them 5 seconds to walk round it. Well, that’s 5 seconds of extra work that they’d have to do. And let’s suppose that 500 people walked down that street every day, then your piano would cost them a total of 500 x 5 seconds. And if the piano was out on the street for 5 days before it finally got collected, that’s a 5 x 500 x 5 seconds. And that’s nearly 3½ hours.
Now if those 500 people wanted redress, they could take you to court, and ask to be compensated for the 3½ hours they’d lost. And the magistrate or justice would weigh up the facts of the matter, and come to a judgment about it. And in your defence you might plead that you didn’t put your piano in the street, or the guy who was supposed to collect it that day didn’t show up until 5 days later, or that it wasn’t your piano, or whatever. Let’s say that the court finds against you. And requires that you compensate the 500 plaintiffs each with 25 seconds of work, which you could pay in money (which is a measure of time also) or work in lieu.
But if there’s a magistrate that has to hear the case, and there’s a clerk of the court, and various other people who need to be present, including the plaintiffs (all 500 of them) and the defendant (you), and 12 people in a jury – a total of around 550 people -, then if it takes 1 hour to have the case heard, then that’s another 550 hours of work that has to be done to render judgment on matter of a mere 3½ hours.
Clearly it’s a waste of everybody’s time to hear cases like this, and most likely a magistrate would throw the case out on those grounds alone: Waste Of Time. But the important thing here is the administration of justice is itself time-consuming. And so justice really ought to be speeded up. Do people really need to go to a court house to have their cases heard? Does there really need to be a clerk and a stenographer and a policeman on the door? Couldn’t the whole thing be done using something like the Smoky Drinky Bar, so that everyone, including the judge and jury, could stay at home?
It’s one reason why justice is so expensive: it’s all so antiquated. We’ve got 17th century courts in operation during the 21st century. The judges might as well arrive in horsedrawn carriages, and the jurors on ponies. And write with quill pens on parchment.
And Peter Koo’s No Smoking While Walking ban is an attempt to prevent a misdemeanour even more trivial than the one I’ve just been citing. For the distracting effect of cigarette smoke on anyone seldom lasts more than a second. It’s the same as the distracting effect of the odour of perfume or aftershave or garlic or fried onions, or the sound of passing cars or trucks or trains. And most of these minor distractions are ignored by most people: they’re just accepted as being part of the to and fro of everyday life. They don’t pay any attention to it.
So Peter Koo’s No Smoking While Walking bill is creating an offence out of next to nothing. Or if it can made into an offence, then there’s nothing to stop equally trivial interruptions being banned. Like unwrapping sweets in a cinema. Or coughing in church. Any magistrate worth his salt would kick the case out of court for being a Waste Of Time. Such matters are – or should be – beneath the law. The law should be reserved for matters of considerable gravity in which it is important that justice be rendered.
But there’s another thing that Peter Koo’s proposed law does: it’s forcing smokers to stand still. It would impose that cost on them. And that cost would be the time it took for them to smoke the cigarette. Just yesterday, reviewing my IQOS, I was wondering whether 6 minutes was about how long it took most people to do. So if you’re a smoker in NYC, and you spend most of your time on its streets, and you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, then Peter Koo’s ban will cost you 20 x 6 minutes, or 2 hours, a day. The population of New York City is 8.6 million, and assuming 20% of them are smokers, and they all smoke 20 cigarettes per day, and spend half their lives on the city streets, then the total daily cost to them will be 20% of 8.6 million times 20 cigarettes times 6 minutes times half a day, which I make to be nearly 1200 days/day or 3¼ years/day.
That’s roughly the cost that will be paid every day by the city’s smokers. And in one year they’ll have paid 1200 years, and in 10 years they’ll have collectively paid 12,000 years.
So this is a law which, if enacted, will save sensitive non-smokers next to no time at all from the petty distraction of a few whiffs of tobacco, but will impose a huge collective cost on New York’s smokers. So it will impose a huge collective annual cost on New York. It will make life in New York harder.
And that’s why it’s such a bad law. It benefits next to nobody, and it imposes a huge cost on millions of New Yorkers, who really deserve to be treated as equitably as anyone else.
But we might go further and ask: shouldn’t it be a crime to enact bad laws which impose costs on people and make their lives harder? And isn’t it a very great crime if such laws end up costing people not just 3½ hours, but 12,000 years?
And when people commit crimes of such magnitude – which amount to serial homicide because they cost much more than the 70 years of a lifetime -, can there be any possible redress made? No, there can’t.
Isn’t this a case where it were better that the legislators who propose such bad laws be executed before they can enact them? If Peter Koo is going to propose such bad laws today, how many more will he dream up tomorrow? He must be stopped immediately.
I can see no way round the conclusion: Peter Koo must hang.
And so must the other sponsors of his bill.
Their lives would be a small price to pay to save New York City from the catastrophic piece of legislation they are proposing. Paying with their lives would also prevent them from ever doing anything like it again.
The only thing I’m not sure about is whether NYC ever hangs anybody these days.