For Every Session, an Unsession — Undoing the Accretion of Bad Law

The Minnesota legislature has just repealed 1,175 laws as part of Governor Mark Dayton’s “Unsession” plan.

As reports:

It’s no longer a crime in Minnesota to carry fruit in an illegally sized container. The state’s telegraph regulations are gone. And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral — if you can figure out how to do it…

In addition to getting rid of outdated laws, the project made taxes simpler, cut bureaucratic red tape, speeded up business permits and required state agencies to communicate in plain language.

It is a rare example of an acute focus on reining in the tendency of laws — whether good, bad, or anachronistic — to accumulate over time.

The success of Governor Dayton’s initiative leaves me with a thought: what if every legislative session was accompanied by an unsession of equal length? If the notion that laws accrete over time is uncontroversial, then would it not be prudent to institutionalize regular pruning and reevaluation?

source: Competitive Enterprise Institute's "Ten Thousand Commandments" report

source: Competitive Enterprise Institute’s “Ten Thousand Commandments” report

Regulatory accretion is a serious issue — not just a matter of illegal fruit containers and powerless prohibitions against driving in neutral. Outdated laws can be used to persecute minority groups through selective application and enforcement. Sodomy remained illegal in many U.S. states until the archaic laws were finally struck down be the supreme court in 2003. And regulatory inflation has economic costs in addition to human costs. The Competitive Enterprise Institute reports that the regulatory compliance burden of the United States economy in 2012 was $1,863,000,000,000 — or 1.863 trillion dollars. That is larger than the 2012 GDP of Canada, Mexico, or India.

In fact, as noted by if the 2012 U.S. compliance burden were a country, it would have been the 10th largest economy in the world.

One is left wondering how much of that regulatory burden would hold under the scrutiny of regular “Unsessions.”