Where I live in Herefordshire, England, a new estate is being built. And this means that the surrounding roads are full of trucks and diggers. The roads are also being dug up to put in drains, paths, and even a roundabout or two. The roads haven’t been closed (mostly), but they’re often reduced to one-way roads, with traffic lights regulating the traffic going first one way, then the other.
The result is that for the past couple of months it’s been taking me longer to go anywhere in my car. I have to take longer journeys. And sometimes I have to wait at traffic lights.
And that means I have to work harder to go shopping or to visit pubs or anything else I might want to do. Seen from the perspective of Idle Theory, it means that my idleness has fallen over the couple of months the roadworks have been in place.
And in Idle Theory‘s outline idea of law, this should mean that I should be able to demand compensation. And since the estate’s developers will presumably be making a nice profit when they sell their new houses, shouldn’t I be entitled to a cut from that? I think that if I got just £10, I’d feel that I hadn’t been completely on the losing end. And thousands of other people round here would feel the same.
When large building works of this sort are undertaken, shouldn’t the developers set aside some amount of money to recompense all the thousands of people who will be delayed or otherwise caused trouble by their activities?
The idea could be extended elsewhere. Don’t traffic lights act to delay people for a few minutes every day? And if a local council erects traffic lights at some junction, or pedestrian crossing, shouldn’t they recompense all the drivers who will be delayed by these lights ?
It seems entirely plausible to me that cars could be fitted with wi-fis that connect them to the traffic lights they pass through, and every time the car stops for a minute or two at lights, the traffic light could transfer money from the local councils coffers into the car’s wallet, which could later be transferred to the driver’s wallet.
In fact, maybe everybody could be wi-fied up this way, and every time you walked along a street, you’d be paying people around you for causing any delay to them. And they would be paying you for any delay they caused you.
So, for example, if you are the courteous sort of person who holds doors open for people, and stands aside to let them pass, then if you did this to allow 20 people through a pub door, you’d get 20 small payments from each one of them. In fact, you might even be able to earn a good living just standing at the front door of a pub or theatre or hotel, just holding doors open for people. The hotel or theatre or pub wouldn’t hire you as their doorman: the hotel and theatre and pub clientele would instead pay you for for making life easier for them, and the payments would be automatic.
The same transactions could be extended elsewhere. If someone abducts and holds someone, then they are delaying them for whatever length of time they are being held, and should be required to compensate them accordingly.
And if the government makes laws which act to restrict or hamper or delay people, should not the government compensate them all accordingly?
I was reading yesterday that somebody wants to ban new fast food outlets within 400 metres of schools. Very well, but that will mean that any child who wants to buy fast food will have to walk 400 metres to get it (and presumably walk all the way back to the school afterwards). Given a walking speed of 1.4 metres/second, it would take a child 286 seconds to walk there, and 286 seconds to walk back – a total of 571 seconds, or nearly 10 minutes. Shouldn’t all the children be compensated for this extra cost that has been imposed on them? And who should compensate them but the person who proposed this law (one Professor Russell Viner)?
Good laws, one might suggest, are laws that, on balance, make life easier for everybody. And bad laws are ones which make life more difficult for everybody. If, let us say, that Professor Russell Viner’s law would be good for everyone, then he would be entitled to be rewarded for being a benefactor to society. But if his law hampered and hindered people more than it helped them, he would find himself being punished with payments to compensate them.
This suggests a new way of making laws. Somebody proposes a law, and they are made accountable for its consequences. All the councillors who vote for the law also become accountable. If the law is a good law, all those who were involved in enacting it are rewarded accordingly. If the law turns out to be a bad law, they suffer the consequences. And since they are able to repeal a bad law, they will do so very rapidly (maybe even the day after it comes into force). In this manner, good laws will remain on the statute books for a long time, and bad laws will be rapidly removed.
In such a regime, legal entrepreneurs would spend their time dreaming up new laws. If you could come up with a law that made life easier for almost everyone in a large city with 10 million inhabitants, you could become a millionaire. But if you made a bad law, you could wind up behind bars, as a menace to society (or hanged).
The whole of the law might be summarised as: Do whatever you like, and then pay for it. Or: Do what you like, but please don’t keep me waiting.