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Worse living through lawsuits

| Saturday, July 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

There are now 175,000 pages' worth of federal laws. Local governments add more. And the cumulative effect of so many rules is to strangle life.

Yet lawyers like George Washington Law professor John Banzhaf want more rules. He requires his law students to sue people, just for practice. “And we keep winning!” he bragged to me.

They do. But his legal “victories” hardly benefit the public.

He and his students have sued Washington, D.C., hairdressers and dry cleaners for “discrimination” because they charge women more. Of course, they charge women more for a reason: Women's haircuts take longer.

“Women get pampered,” said hairdresser Carolyn Carter. “Men just get a haircut.”

Women's clothing is more varied and doesn't always fit dry-cleaning machines. The market sorts out these differences through differing prices.

Nonetheless, poor defendants have to spend thousands on legal fees, while law students get their “practice.”

A Korean dry cleaners association “went through three or four high-powered law firms” defending itself, Banzhaf says with pride. Banzhaf's lawsuits even got “ladies' nights” banned at Washington bars. Women liked “ladies' night.” Men liked it because it brought more women into bars. Bars liked it; that's why they did it.

But the practice violates the lawyers' concept of “equality.”

As if his lawsuits weren't obnoxious enough, the real irony is that the cost of the lawsuits is passed on to future customers. Businesses charge more to cover the cost of lawsuits and complying with regulations.

Tibor Machan, professor of business ethics at Chapman University, told me we should object to Banzhaf on principle. “Is it right to manipulate people all the time, to treat them like they're little children? The next step from the nanny state is the petty tyrannical state. And a dictatorial state.”

Machan echoes writer C.S. Lewis' point that well-meaning tyrants are even more dangerous than purely selfish ones. Lewis wrote, “Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end.”

The conceit of politicians and lawyers is that they think they can manage life through rules. So they keep adding more.

They don't see that these rules gradually wreck life.

Critics of lawsuit abuse focus on the cost of litigation, but the bigger harm is that fear of lawsuits itself deprives us of good things.

The free market does a better job protecting consumers. Competition protects us. Repeal most of the laws. Let the market work its magic.

John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of “No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed.”

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