Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What was the worst legislation ever?

I mean this in the nicest possible way -- especially since otherwise, this is a good column -- but could there please be some sort of agreement among the pundit class that, like, the Fugitive Slave Act deserves the crown for "Worst Legislation Ever?" Or fine, if you must, possibly the The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798? The health care bill is bad, as are the racial preferences therein, but it is not as bad as either of those two.

See also this George Will review of a Bruce Bartlett book:

Sometimes Bartlett is a tad too robust... And when he says the law establishing the Medicare prescription drug entitlement "may well be the worst piece of legislation ever enacted," one wonders what consideration he has given to, say, the Fugitive Slave Act.


  1. Is this limited to US federal legislation, or do state laws and foreign laws also count? If the question is restricted to US federal law I'd say that it would have to be the peacetime draft in existence from 1950 to 1971 - forced labor for millions without any real national security justification (a volunteer army would have performed better). The National Recovery Act (cartelization of the entire nonagricultural economy, unemployment for millions) is a worthy competitor, but it only lasted for 2 years.

    As for the Fugitive Slave Act, it was awful, but only a few hundred fugitive slaves were recaptured under it (including some who may have been recaptured anyway). The amount of additonal forced labor it imposed just doesn't compare with the tens of millions victimized by the draft.

  2. Is this limited to US federal legislation, or do state laws and foreign laws also count?

    Both Spakovsky and Bartlett were kvetching about the federal Congress, so I'd limited this (admittedly glib) post to U.S. federal legislation. Of course if you throw in the malfeasance of foreign, state, and local governments, things look much wores.

    I actually don't agree with the peacetime draft being on that list. There's *some* justification for maintaining a draft in war. There can also be *some* justification for maintaining a draft in times of hot peace like the era you describe.

    The NRA may well have been worse than the Fugitive Slave Act. The chain of causation between the NRA and its ill effects is more complicated than in the Fugitive Slave Act case, which is probably why everyone other than committed libertarians thinks the Fugitive Slave Act is worse.