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A law of government is defined as an order of government that is prescribed and enforced under the authority of that government.  Laws are the basic control system elements through which the authority of government is exercised; they are the forcible means by which the ends of government are sought.

Laws of government deal with the most fundamental concerns of human existence such as human rights, war and peace, and the financial stability of nations. They specify the rights and obligations of the people and institutions that are within the jurisdiction of a government and they are the essential problem solving instruments by which the purpose of government is satisfied. Since they have a direct impact upon the human rights, living standards, and quality of life standards of the people, they may be counted among the most important creative works of humankind.

Every law of government has the following characteristics:

Letter of the Law:  A law is a written order - a set of instructions, or software - that provides directions for human behavior. The entire written content of a law is the "letter of the law," and it is nothing more or less than the fixed arrangement of its words, numbers, symbols, and punctuation. The letter of the law conveys the spirit of the law.

Spirit of the Law:  Contained within the letter of the law is the purpose, or intent, of the law, which is termed the "spirit of the law." For any given law the spirit of the law is the hoped-for change, or benefit, that the law will produce, from a less desirable condition to a more desirable condition, as predicted by the designers of the law. In other words, laws are tools that are intended to be useful. Since the purpose of the law is the reason for its existence, the letter of the law is subordinate to the spirit of the law.

Sanction:  The forcible means by which a government achieves its goals; they are coercions, i.e., restrictions, prohibitions, or commands for action, that attempt to regulate or change the behavior or status of those individuals and institutions that are subject to the law.

To encourage individuals and institutions to comply with the law, therefore, each law has a mechanism of enforcement, or authorized sanction (the "carrot or stick"), that is applied to accomplish the intent of the law. Subsidies, fines and imprisonment are examples of mechanisms that may be used as the forcible sanction of a law.

Costs:  All laws consume and divert resources. Virtually the entire budget of a government is required for the research, design, promulgation, implementation, and interpretation of the body of laws of the government -- the costs of which must be borne by the people. To pay for these operations, governments create and enforce additional laws (at additional cost to the people) to raise revenue through sanctions such as taxes, fees, and fines.

There are nine principal costs of each law of government: 

  1. The cost of research, design, and development to characterize a societal problem and create a law to solve the problem.
  2. The cost of the legislature to conduct the lawmaking process for the law.
  3. The disbursement of funds from the treasury as specified by the law.
  4. The cost and effort required to record and promulgate the law to all affected parties.
  5. The cost and effort required to enforce the law.
  6. The cost and effort required to interpret and administer justice in the court system as prescribed by the law.
  7. The cost of compliance: the funds, and effort that are expended by those who are required to comply with the law.
  8. The opportunity cost: the loss of opportunity for individuals and institutions to conduct activities of high value, such as education or research, because the resources for those activities were instead applied to the creation, promulgation, enforcement, interpretation, and compliance of the law.
  9. The cost of the effort to assure and improve the quality of each law (quality assurance [QA] and quality improvement [QI]).  

Side Effects:  Laws, like all other human made creations, may or may not be useful, but they always produce unintended and unwanted side effects.  The side effects of laws impact the human rights, living standards, and quality of life of the people -- any or all of which may be degraded when a law of government is enforced.

Benefit of the Law:  The benefit of a law is the degree to which the law solves (solves, mitigates, or prevents) the societal problem that is addressed by the law.

Performance, or Net Benefit:  Since every law forces a change in the natural order of things (i.e., performs work) and since every law imposes restrictions, incurs costs, and produces side effects, the performance, or usefulness of each law, in terms of its overall effect upon the well being of the public, can be derived.

The performance of a law is, simply, the measure of the problem-solving benefit of the law minus the measured sum of its burdens (restrictions, costs, intrusiveness and side effects...). If the net benefit (benefit minus burdens) is positive, the law is useful; if the net benefit is zero, the law is useless; if the net benefit is negative, the law is detrimental. For a democracy, the only valid laws are those whose net benefit is positive.

Fallibility:  Every law is the product of human creative efforts and is thus susceptible to imperfections of design. As a result laws may fail in their objective or become outmoded, and they may incur excessive costs or produce unacceptable side effects. Fortunately, laws, like every other human made product, may be improved by design changes (amendments), and they may be repealed when they are found to be less than useful.