A Philosopher's Blog

Trigger Point

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 22, 2013
M1911A1 by Springfield Armory, Inc. (contempor...

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One rather important matter is determining the appropriate trigger point for regulation and law. The basic challenge is determining the level at which a problem is such that it warrants the creation and enforcement of regulations and laws.

While it would be unreasonable to expect that an exact line can be drawn in all or even any cases (to require such an exact line would be to fall into the line-drawing fallacy, a variation on the false dilemma fallacy), a general level can presumably be set in regards to tolerance of harm.

Naturally, the level of reasonable tolerance would involve many variables, such as the number of cases of harm, the severity of the harm, the cost of regulation/laws, and so on. For example, paying a cost to regulate or outlaw something that causes no harms would seem to be unreasonable and wasteful.  As such, the various “morality” laws that regulate consensual sex between adults would be unreasonable and wasteful. As another example, paying a modest cost to regulate or outlaw something that causes considerable harm in both numbers and severity would seem reasonable. Thus, the regulation of alcohol and tobacco seems reasonable.

While the specifics will vary from case to case, there should be a consistent approach to these determinations based on general principles regarding costs, number of incidents, severity of the harm and so on. In general, a utilitarian approach would be sensible—weighing out the likely benefits and harms for the various approaches to determine the most reasonable approach.

Not surprisingly, people tend to approach the trigger point of law and regulation very inconsistently. As with most matters of law and regulation, people tend to assess matters based on what they like and dislike rather than rationally assessing the relevant factors.

As a matter of comparison, consider the gun related deaths of children and voter fraud. While there is some dispute about the exact number of children who die from accidental gunshot wounds children obviously do die in this manner.  Not surprisingly, some people have endeavored to strengthen the regulation of guns and pass laws that are aimed at preventing the accidental death of children from gunshots. It is also not surprising that the National Rifle Association (and other similar organizations) have lobbied against such efforts and have argued about the statistics regarding the gun related deaths of children. While the N.R.A. is obviously not in favor of the death of children, the approach taken has also included the standard method of contending that the problem is not at the trigger point at which new regulation or laws should be created and enforced. The general idea is that the harm being done is not significant enough to warrant new regulation or laws regarding guns, such as rules for the safe storage of weapons. In support of this, the N.R.A argues that the death rate from accidental shootings is less than falls, poison or “environmental factors.” That is, not enough children are dying to warrant new laws or regulation (I will assume that the death of a child is regarded as being a serious harm).

There is also considerable dispute about voter fraud, although even those who regard voter fraud as a serious problem admit that the number of incidents is tiny. However, after the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the Voting Right Act several states enacted laws alleged to be aimed at addressing voter fraud. These laws include those requiring voters to have the proper ID (which former Speaker of the House Jim Wright was not able to get) and those aimed at reducing or eliminating such things as early voting. In general, these laws seem to be ineffective in regards to actual fraud and the existing laws seem to be adequate for catching fraud. For example, eliminating early voting would not seem to have any capacity to deter fraud. While the voter ID laws might seem to have the potential to be effective, actual voter fraud typically does not involve a person voting in person as someone else. Even if it did have some value in preventing voter fraud, it would do so at a great cost, namely disenfranchising many voters. Overall, the main impact of these laws is to not reduce voter fraud (which is miniscule already) but to disenfranchise people. In some cases politicians and pundits admit that these laws are intended to do just that and in some cases they get in trouble for this.

Given the low number of incidents of voter fraud and the considerable harm that is done by the laws allegedly created to counter it, it would seem that such laws would be rather unjustified when using a rational approach to setting a trigger point for new laws or regulations. It could, of course, be argued that the harm done by allowing a miniscule amount of voter fraud is so serious that it warrants disenfranchising people—that is, trying to prevent a few fraudulent votes is worth preventing many legitimate votes from being cast.

Interestingly enough, some of the folks who are pushing hard for new laws to “prevent” voter fraud are the same folks who push hard to prevent new laws to reduce the deaths of children. This presents an interesting look at how people actually make decisions about trigger points.

 

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2 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 22, 2013 at 8:53 am

    What’s wrong with voters being properly identified via photo ID, fingerprint, retina scan, facial recognition, DNA or by technological whatever means available?

    Voter identification is the only area we should never update with new and better technology… why?

    I’ve heard no good arguments against requiring voters to have photo identification.

    I’ve heard only appeals to emotions and empty rhetoric ( e.g., “disenfranchising people”).

    What considerable harm has been done by demanding people have a photo ID?

    Who is disenfranchised by being required to have a photo ID?

    MSNBC finds one old lady or one old veteran who can’t get a photo ID, so we all have to remain locked in the past forever? That’s nonsense. They can get a photo ID. We can all get photo IDs.

    People are already required to have a photo ID, in order to identify themselves.

    I’ve always had a photo ID.

    You have to show police a photo ID when asked for identification. And if you don’t produce a photo ID you are taken to jail and held until you’re identified.

    You can’t cash a check or open a bank account without a photo ID.

    You can’t enter many buildings without a photo ID.

    You can’t get into a nightclub without a photo ID.

    You can’t rent a motel room without a photo ID.

    You can’t do many things without a photo ID. Except vote? That’s absurd.

    In an age when our DNA is stored in an FBI database and our emails are stored in an NSA database why would anyone care about being required to show a photo ID before voting?

    • magus71 said, on November 24, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      “Voter identification is the only area we should never update with new and better technology… why?”

      Because it will hurt Democrat’s chances of winning elections.


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