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Posted: August 24, 2011

How many laws are enough? Part 2

My four-step plan to fix the system

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read the first part.)

We currently have no check-and-balance system for impeding the excessive law-writing, rule enforcement, and prison-building currently taking place. Simply adding friction to the process will slow it down.

For this reason I would like to offer the following four-step approach to solving this enormous problem.

• Step One - Demand Visibility: Make it a requirement that all laws be posted in one central location online. As a first step towards getting a handle on the runaway law-creators, we need to create a law that requires all laws be posted on one central website online. Any laws not posted will be deemed unenforceable.

• Step Two - Demand Understandability: Make it a requirement that all laws be written on an 8th grade comprehension level. Laws are unenforceable until they have been certified as having been written on this level.

• Step Three - Demand Enforcement: Make it a requirement that any laws that have not been enforced in that past 20 years become unenforceable and must be removed from the list. Time spent getting rid of the clutter means less time for creating new laws.

• Step Four - Remove Conflicts of Interest: Make it a requirement that no government be allowed to directly profit from the enforcement of their own laws. Whenever there's a profit motive linked to law enforcement, the nature of government changes, and our humanity becomes compromised.

With a society that is already heavily invested in our current systems, and people already pre-programmed to think and act accordingly, the operating system can only be changed by rewriting the source code. In short, we need to create systems for changing the system.

My Challenge to You: I would like to challenge everyone who reads this column to convince me that this will not be an effective approach. Please leave your comments below.

Few believe this is a sustainable system. People who enter prison cannot lead productive lives. Removing them from wage-earning positions and turning them into wards of the state is a recipe for economic disaster.

Nearly every person who currently feeds off this system, including police, judges, lawyers, wardens, and prison guards is leaching off and income stream that will soon shrivel to a fraction of its current size.

Future Justice Systems

The current justice system is a monopoly, with the irony being that they need to have their own anti-trust division take a long hard look at their own system.

Rather than using an "us-vs-them" police force, putting the first level of monitoring criminal behavior into the hands of average citizens is already doable. Camera phones with both visual and audio recording capabilities are already being used to create evidence for court cases.

A self-monitoring society is one that will assume responsibility for its own rules, morals, and ethics. Yes, there still needs to be laws, regulations, and guidelines, but the enforcement of them should be place in the hands of people who do not feel a constant need to justify their own existence.

Once criminal behavior has been uncovered, a new organization will be created to decide on a corrective course of action. Whether it will be based on a restorative justice system like many cities are experimenting with to make the injured party whole again, or whether it's an e-justice system where a virtual judge and jury dole out an instant decision, the most likely direction will be a system that is faster, fairer, and more personalized than anything from the past. "Authentic justice" will do away with the fanfare and ceremony associated with today's courtrooms.

Future punishment will take many forms, with incarceration only being used as the "option of last resort."

Taking productive members of society away from their ability to earn a living, provided it was a legal income stream, will no longer be an option.
I particularly like the ideas that my good friend Jeff Samson recently suggested.

"With the advent of, pervasive camera networks, drones, satellites and "Terrabyters" and taissers it appears that typical prison systems may get challenged. Prisons are expensive commitments of land architecture, people and resources while the less expensive ability to track and control individuals digitally is growing rapidly.

Sensational news groups may do the job for us. A variation on "Entertainment Tonight" which hounds celebs may be "Convict News", Who's in your neighborhood now and how far did Freddy get today. Some reality shows are close to that now. It doesn't appear that a concern for public privacy will restrain such a move based on the evening news and transparency is a very popular trend. So let's start a show!"

I also like the idea of future technology being able to closely match the punishment to the crime. As an example, a person who is a pickpocket will lose their ability to use their right arm for the next six years, or a burglar will lose their ability to use their legs for the next 8 years, or a rapist will experience a constant state of erectile dysfunction for the next 20 years.

As we peel away the onionskins of transparency, our options for self-monitoring and self-correction will reveal unusual new alternatives for righting the wrongs of society.

Final Thoughts

Are we truly the most evil country on the planet? That's what our prison population numbers are saying to the rest of the world. When systems become overbearing we lose our ability to innovate.

The current justice system is stomping all over our ability to build ourselves a better future. If we lose our relevancy, others will be quick to take over the top spot.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

I agree with your comments that, "goverment should not set up laws where they will profit." This is such a blantant conflict of interest. And I would add that School district Board Members AND city council people and the like shouldnt vote on their own salary increases--duhh. Thank you. By Kristie Lara on 2011 08 24
I think you may be overly optimistic, Tom, about the ability of a corrupt system (or those living under a corrupt system) to correct itself. I also think that one factor that you haven't explored in your article is the Linear Thinking Factor. Until people stop operating on fear-based, rules-based, black and white, linear-type thought, the solution is always going to be more laws, more prisons, more crack-downs until we live in an absolute police state --- which we're very close to now. But linear thinkers are in the majority, and Americans always want winners and losers, right and wrong, absolute solutions. Just look at any action movie where EVERYTHING is solved by one big fight at the end. That, unfortunately, is our national mentality right now. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 08 24
Missing from this discussion in the elimination of laws regarding victimless crimes such as prostitution and drug use or possesion. By Dan N on 2011 08 24
A very meaningful article, while that later part sort of obsesses with technology toys the first part deals with the very real elements of human nature. Elements that truly matter with regard to a society being able continue to innovate, grow and ultimately prosper as a whole. The Judicial system is utterly out of touch and out of control. Holding the opinion that you can "legislate from the bench and enforce via deprivation" to establish common sense, rational thought and moral perspective. That is why it is a system that has become Judge/Jury/Executioner. Judges legislate from the bench by deciding which laws they will or will not follow, thinking they personally know what is correct in any case. We don't need more laws we need to first follow the ones we have - we have all but trashed the constitution the foundation upon which all other laws are made. Our prison system is so quickly swinging the balance of fiscal weight from earners to spenders that as Tom says we need to STOP making endless laws and focus more on effectively using the ones we have. By Tom Smith on 2011 08 24
As soon as I'm elected to an office, my first step is to make a 'mark.' The only way I can do this is by pushing for a law - so I'll look for a cause to champion. That way, when I come up for re-election, I can show that I've done something. This has been the modus operandi for every politician at every level, no? And why wouldn't it be? I feel sure that we have so many laws because someone wanted to prove that he 'did' something. Thanks for the article. By David Ess(EveryoneHasABoss) on 2011 08 24

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