We Can Change Our Wicked Problems!
U.S. founding visions and ideals create a great power of law, documented values and rules intended to apply to all, to reduce arbitrary and abusive uses of power and to provide and protect individual rights. The legal system is one of the three main branches of Federal Government, intended to create a check on the other two branches of government, Congress and the President, and ensure fair, unbiased interpretation and enforcement of the laws for all. That is a beautiful, inspiring and idealistic vision which has had a positive impact in the world. However, that system has become very corrupted.
A U.S. law library has bookshelf stack after bookshelf stack, full of many hundreds of books, containing many, many thousands of federal, state and local laws, codes and case rulings. Literally, nobody even knows how many there are; but there are at least 3,000 federal criminal offenses; and California alone passed 900 new laws in 2016, just for a sense of scale. When prosecuted for a violation, ignorance of any law is not an acceptable defense, but there is no mechanism to inform or educate people about what most laws are. Every year, thousands of new laws are created, amended or interpreted by judges, very few are eliminated, and there is virtually no effort to tell people about the changes.
The federal tax code alone is a byzantine, overgrown jungle maze of rules and exceptions that contains more than 10 million words, about 75,000 pages, that would fill 250 three-hundred-page books, not including a big body of case law. This system’s complexity is simply unviable. It doesn’t make sense.
To engage with this inordinately complex system requires knowledge of laws and legal processes, and typically representation by specialized professional attorneys, who have invested a lot in developing these knowledge and skills. Those investments are so big, specialized and out of reach of most, that lawyers can charge exorbitant fees for services, fees a huge and growing number in the U.S. can’t afford. A “good” lawyer often charges more for one hour of work than a worker paid the U.S. minimum wage earns in a week, after taxes. Some charge more than $1,500 an hour, minimum wage for a month.
Engagement in the legal system is either a burdensome administrative process or a competitive process in which a client wins or loses, based largely on the performance of the lawyers. Lawyers who are better competitors can command higher fees. So, legal system engagement has become biased and unfair, based on who can afford the best lawyers. The wealthy have more legal system power than the poor, because they can afford to pay the best lawyers, who know how to twist, manipulate and argue obscure rules, processes, techniques and precedents. The wealthy often exert power over the poor with the threat of legal action, because the poor know they cannot afford to win legal battles, even when right.
This fundamental, real world unfairness, plus racial bias, leads to more poor than wealthy people being in prison, and to things like a poor person serving many years in jail for desperately stealing something for hunger valued at little, from someone not really hurt by it, while a white collar criminal who steals millions from thousands of people who are bankrupted spending little time in jail. Guilty plea bargains settled 97% of all federal cases in 2011. Many are from poor people unable to pay for legal defense.
Government corruption leads to the creation of laws that benefit some special interests over others. Wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations buy access to lawmakers via contributions, lobbyists and other ways to get laws made that provide them competitive and other advantages. Often, special interests and corporations write the laws that benefit them, and they are passed without lawmakers even reading them. Then, the laws become tools to enforce advantages of some over others.
Laws, codes and regulations are often so wickedly complex, regular people can’t comply with them. It’s too hard or expensive to learn and follow the rules. So, only those who can afford to follow the rules, with specialized help, can participate in businesses and endeavors those rules apply to. For example, costs to plan for, comply with and prove compliance with building codes can price us out of being able to build or amend a home; it costs too much to pay the specialists who have spent years learning to play these games, much like lawyers have. We don’t read long, burdensome and obtuse agreement legalese, and we lack the power to change them, literally signing away our souls and children sometimes.
The U.S. is so large and powerful it sometimes chooses not to comply with international laws, and the rest of the world is not powerful enough to enforce them. For example, we illegally kidnap and kill citizens of other countries, take children from asylum seekers, and intervene with our military.
Lawyers are systematically corrupted. They may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on education to become licensed. They then have to pay for that education, so they must earn lots of money for that. They often feel entitled to earn a lot of money, because it was difficult and expensive to get licensed. Many choose to become lawyers because they can earn a lot of money and get rich, rather than because they believe in legal ideals and principles and want to work within the legal system to improve society.
Litigation is pervasive throughout U.S. society and systems. If anything goes wrong, people in the U.S. are culturally conditioned to find who they can blame for it and then try to exploit them. Lawsuits are rampant, extremely expensive, and they often seek not only actual damages, but also punitive damages, which can radically exceed actual damages. How much money can we get out of whoever goofed up?
Juries have awarded at least 64 plaintiffs in the U.S. more than $100 million, and several with billion$. Does it make sense for that kind of money to go to plaintiffs? It’s a game of getting all that can be got for claimants and lawyers, and of loss minimization for defendants. The lawyers get rich on both sides. They also get rich trying to proactively protect those with money from vulnerabilities to lawsuits.
In 2016 in the U.S., the total cost of tort (civil liability) lawsuits was $429 billion (37% of FADS). Lawsuits cost about a fourth of what the U.S. federal government has discretion over how to spend in a year, equivalent to 2% of U.S. gross domestic product, or $3,329 dollars per household in the U.S.
Litigation increases costs for everything, and it creates a culture of fear. Organizations and citizens are afraid of lawsuits. That inhibits freedom. We are afraid of doing, or not doing, anything that may create exposure to attack through litigation. That incents property owners to keep people off our properties; burdensome and obtuse legal agreements for even the simplest human and business interactions; people and businesses buying very expensive insurance protection against litigation; and people creating corporations and other legal constructs to protect ourselves and our holdings from lawsuits. This creates a culture of fear, in which we are reluctant to engage with each other as human beings.
The U.S. legal system is extremely complex, unfair, expensive and broken. Its brokenness affects all. That’s common sense. Change! Don’t try to sue and destroy others for our simple, honest mistakes! Help people obtain and use good legal representation to contest predatory incarceration and lawsuits! Live true to your personal principles, ideals and values, rather than probably unknown letters of the law! Try to start doing business with people based on simple trust, executed with an honest handshake, instead of complex, expensive legal agreements! Take responsibility for your own decisions and actions! Provide support for human beings caught and punished by this unfair justice system! Be fair!
Contribute information, articles, comments, suggestions, ideas and discussion on this Legal chapter.
How do you feel after reading this information? Why do you feel that? What values are impacted? How can we change? What can we do? Where can we get more information? (Please submit any discussion on the entire We Can Change Wicked Problems! section here.)
Please provide only constructively intended interactions addressing ideas and content, not persons. All mean-spirited interactions will be deleted, especially anything disrespectful directed toward persons interacting with this site and their qualities, rather than ideas and content. Thanks!
 “Frequent Reference Question: How Many Federal Laws Are There?”, Jeanine Cali, U.S. Library of Congress, March 12, 2013, https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2013/03/frequent-reference-question-how-many-federal-laws-are-there/
 “California passed 900 new laws in 2016. More does not always equal better”, The Times Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-new-state-laws-20160102-story.html
 “Federal Tax Laws and Regulations are Now Over 10 Million Words Long”, October 8, 2015, Tax Foundation, https://taxfoundation.org/federal-tax-laws-and-regulations-are-now-over-10-million-words-long/
 “Look at how many pages are in the federal tax code”, Jason Russell, April 15, 2016, The Washington Examiner, http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/look-at-how-many-pages-are-in-the-federal-tax-code/article/2563032
 “Some Lawyers Are Now Charging $1,500 Per Hour”, Claire Zillman, February 9, 2016, Fortune, http://fortune.com/2016/02/09/lawyer-hourly-rates/
 “Federal Guilty Pleas Soar As Bargains Trump Trials,” Gary Fields And John R. Emshwiller, Sept. 23, 2012, The Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443589304577637610097206808?mod=googlenews_wsj
 See the chapter on Government Corruption
 “When Not Reading The Fine Print Can Cost Your Soul”, Matthew S. Schwartz, March 8, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/03/08/701417140/when-not-reading-the-fine-print-can-cost-your-soul
 “The U.S. carried out extraordinary rendition flights from 2001-2005. Here are 15 more countries that helped”, Rebecca Cordell, The Washington Post, March 14, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/03/14/the-u-s-carried-out-extraordinary-rendition-flights-from-2001-2005-here-are-15-more-countries-that-helped/?utm_term=.51a6a6b6a95b
 “Taking Migrant Children From Parents Is Illegal, U.N. Tells U.S.”, Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, June 5, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/world/americas/us-un-migrant-children-families.html
 “How the U.S. violates international law in plain sight”, Margot Patterson, America, The Jesuit Review, October 12, 2016, https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2016/10/12/how-us-violates-international-law-plain-sight
 “The Blockbuster Punitive Damages Awards”, W. Kip Viscusi, Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business, Discussion Paper No. 473, 04/2004, http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/olin_center/papers/pdf/473.pdf
 “Costs and Compensation of the U.S. Tort System”, U.S. Chamber, Institute for Legal Reform, October 24, 2018, https://www.instituteforlegalreform.com/research/2018-costs-and-compensation-of-the-us-tort-system