All Maine Matters

July 2006



This Month’s Issue
Read November’s Issue of All Maine Matters.


Low Bandwidth - Text Only

Designed by Laisha

Drop of Millte
By Dr. Bill Reid

A key reason I decided to run for the District 87 seat in the Maine Legislature is the burden of laws, rules, taxes, regulations, mandates and permits the legislature, and the bureaucracies responsible to it, impose upon us. Seven hundred new laws in the last legislature alone and more coming in future sessions. Load the whole set of our state’s statutes into a canoe and it would sink straight down to the pickerel and perch at bottom of the pond. Set them, along with the volumes and volumes of rules, regulations and court decisions, onto a lobster boat and it will join the lobsters on the bottom of the bay. I begin to wonder how many laws it will take to sink the state.

It should be obvious that this creates an insurmountable obstacle to the individual citizen who wishes to be law-abiding. This ever-multiplying mass of laws makes compliance with them just about impossible. How many people know just the latest fifty laws passed this legislature and signed by the governor? If you don’t know them all, with their penalties—if any— for failure to comply, you are courting trouble and failing to do you duty as a citizen.
We need people in Augusta who aim to reduce, not increase, the number of laws in Maine.

One source of the problem is that the individual legislator, regulator, and bureaucratic executive fails to see the problem of excessive law as a whole. They deal only in individual cases. Many citizens react to new legislation from the same narrow perspective.

There is an old paradox by the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno the Eleatic, called “The Millet Seed.” It goes like this: If you drop a grain of millet you can’t hear a sound; drop a bushel sack and you will hear a resounding thump. The error made by those who are indifferent to the problem of legal and regulator excess is the same a man who assumes that the bushel sack will be as soundless as the single seed.

Logicians call this the “Fallacy of Composition.” We commit it when we attach a property common to the members of a set to the set itself. A single, given, law or regulation seems harmless or benign in itself, so people assume that the whole mass must be equally inoffensive. No millet seed makes a sound, therefore the set of seeds in the sack will make no sound when dropped.

I was talking with a lady the other day about a new law the governor had signed. It required that anytime a person with a protection order tried to purchase a firearm, the person protected by the court judgment must be notified. I expressed my doubts about the necessity of the law because it seems pretty clear it was duplicative, added yet more bureaucracy, more complication, more chances for error, and most likely would do no good. She argued that we should have it because might do some good, It wouldn’t be too difficult for the authorities to carry it out, it seemed to be reasonable, and besides it didn’t seem do any harm.

When she offered her reasons, I was struck by the fact she was committing the Fallacy of Composition.. She was at ease that the new law was harmless at worst and accepted the addition of yet another soon-to-be-forgotten law to the huge heap already accumulated on the books. She saw this single law as no big deal and, in fact, most of the individual laws not terribly oppressive in themselves. They might do some good; would not be too difficult to carry; won’t do any harm. She figured what is true of each of the laws in Maine is true of the whole “set” of Maine Laws.
This is exactly the mentality we need to change. Look at the big picture—the whole set—and you see a demonstration of Thomas Jefferson’s dictum: “It is the nature of government to expand and of liberty to retreat before it.”

It is merely common sense to recognize that unless the big picture is kept constantly in view, the point will be—must be—reached where liberty can only exist in defiance of the law. In a sense, the more regulated we become, the less law-abiding we will be; both from ignorance and conscious evasion.

Dr. Bill Reid is a Candidate, House District 87 (New Sharon, Jay, Mercer, Starks, and Chesterville)

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 All Maine Matters