Planet Money of NPR is one of my favorite Podcasts. Recently, it had two episodes, back-to-back, that made me think about old laws in different parts of the world and what impacts they have in modern days.
The first story was about lunch time in France. If you have done any business in that country, you would know that lunch in France is not munching sandwiches at your desk. They like to go out to eat and devote more than one hour to this activity. What I did not realize is that there was, until recently, a law that required people not to eat in office.
The reason was, in the old days they needed to clean up work places after so many hours of being occupied…. fumigate and so on. So, people were forced to leave office buildings during midday. So, a natural outcome was they ate lunch outside their offices instead of just cooling their heels. Recently, the law was changed so workers can be more like us, Americans, and eat in their offices without risking arrest (I jest). However, people still prefer to eat lunch out and it is now a French tradition. Why? Because they enjoy camaraderie and time away from work in the middle of the day.
Result: This old law continues to be beneficial even in the modern days, not in the way it was intended but because it promotes better work environment.
Another story dealt with a law that is related to the expiry date stamped on food packages. We are all familiar with these dates…good if used by xxx, not to be to be sold after yyy, and so on. Not only are there multiple ways these dates are reported, but there is no consistency and different states have different rules.
A specific example cited was for milk sold in Montana. The law in that state says that a grocery stores need to stop selling milk by twelve days after the cow was milked, while in most other states it is about twice as long. The reason for the law is that in the old days milk did not last that long which is clearly not applicable any more given the modern ways of storing and treating it. All other states have changed but not Montana. Now it is difficult to make change in that state due to a powerful milk lobby. If they increase the days milk is allowed to stay on shelf, outsiders may come in. Currently they don’t because twelve days does not allow enough time to transport milk from long distance and sell it.
Result: People in Montana pay higher price for their milk just because of an old law. Not so good, but not the end of the world.
It is hard not to bring up another old law which is causing a devastating impact, unlike the milk law in Montana. This one applies throughout US, and is not really a law but a constitutional amendment. You know what I am talking about. It is the second amendment which gives citizens the right to carry guns. This law was created in the days of militia and fear of a malevolent government. Just as is the case with the prior two examples, this reasoning does not apply in the modern times, but it is almost impossible to make changes. Once again there is a lobby involved, the NRA. Thanks to the vicious circle of gun manufacturers, NRA and greedy politicians, this amendment remains in force.
Result: Terrible. Massacre after massacre, with no end in sight.