There are probably more well-deserved jokes about the U.S. Congress than any institution in the world. Will Rogers quipped “When Congress makes a joke it’s a law, and when they make a law, it’s a joke.” Rogers perfectly captures how the actions of Congress are more often virtue signaling than efforts to ensure a rule of law society.
“Virtue Signaling” describes “…the act of showing support of doing something ‘virtuous’ because it makes you look good to your peers, rather than because you truly believe it.” While virtue signaling is part of the DNA in most organizations and cable news, it is front and center in Congress. Unfortunately, members of Congress find greater ego satisfaction virtue signaling to supporters than doing the hard work needed to enact carefully crafted laws that will be effectively implemented. While there are thousands of examples of the disconnect between what is enacted into law and the real-world policies of the U.S., the laws outlawing child labor, forced labor, and illegal immigration are excellent examples of the disconnect.
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Virtue Signaling – Congress signaled great virtue when it enacted Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 to prohibit the importation of goods made, in whole or in part, by the forced labor of children. With more virtue signaling, Congress in 2005 assigned the Department of Labor the responsibility to reduce the likelihood of these goods being imported into the U.S.
Abuse of Rule of Law – Unfortunately, still today, many of our most in-demand products are made by the forced labor children and are being imported into the U.S. Wise step, a recruitment software company, in an article, identifies the 28 companies that still use child labor. Most of the companies are top brand names but more interesting is the breadth of industries still using child labor to produce products for American consumers. The industries include chocolate making, food production, fashion, apparel, sneakers, toys, and cell phones.
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Virtue Signaling – Forced labor, commonly referred to as “slave labor,” is defined by section 307 as “All work…extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its non-performance which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily.” While the statute prohibits any product mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, by forced labor, it has little enforcement due to a clause that allows the U.S. to waive enforcement if it lacks the resources (i.e., money) to conduct inspections or the products are no longer made in the U.S. but wanted by consumers.
Abuse of Rule of Law – As to the lack of inspection resources, Congress merely fails to appropriate the money for inspections. As to products no longer made in this country, U.S. business decades ago exported its manufacturing base to acquire cheap labor.
Having two self-fulfilling reasons for not enforcing prohibitions on forced labor, the federal government rarely used its section 307 enforcement powers; only 60-75 times between 1930 and mid-1980 and 27 times between 1991-1995. There were no enforcement actions between 2000-2016. In 2016 Congress removed the exemption clause. Since then, there have been 16 enforcement actions.
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Virtue Signaling – Congress enacted a comprehensive Immigration and Nationality Act that is several hundred pages long. It addresses everything from application forms, different aspects of travel for the different status categories, to visas and foreign entry, to detention procedures. Literally, every step of the legal immigration process is established so that foreign citizens can apply to the United States for citizenship or permission to work. The law is supplemented by regulations, policy manuals, memoranda, and Handbooks, comprising tens of thousands of pages on how to become a U.S. citizen. It appears nothing is left unsaid by the bureaucrats.
Congress has been legislating on citizenship issues since 1790. While Congress has legislated many inconsistent policies over the years, e.g., exclusion at various times of Chinese, Communists, idiots, alcoholics, preferences for nurses at times, and countless other categories of exclusion or preference, it has always had detailed policies on legal entry into the country.
Abuse of Rule of Law – Notwithstanding the countless immigration policies and procedures for legally entering the U.S., President Biden, without any change in law, promised good treatment to undocumented immigrants crossing our Southern border, in violation of U.S. law. He also reinstituted catch and release policy in which these unauthorized citizens are caught and immediately released into the interior of the country, making it impossible to ever find them. For all intents and purposes, these undocumented people are now permanent residents of the U.S., they just lack paperwork.
In the month of March 2021, alone, there were 172,000 persons in this category. Estimates are that 6000 people, per day, are now entering, the U.S., the highest in our history, without complying with our immigration laws.
The Rule of Law Is a Fiction in the U.S.
The United States continuously signals virtue claiming to be a Rule of Law society. We have comprehensive laws regulating or prohibiting child labor, indentured servitude, sex trafficking, drug smuggling, and have a process for legal entry into the country. Actually, the U.S. has tens of thousands of laws that regulate most aspects of society, from low-flush toilets to the ethical treatment of animals. We have more laws than any other country in the world. In short, we constantly signal our virtue to the world.
Unfortunately, we have a government that randomly and arbitrarily implements the laws of the nation. We have a big business community that regularly skits the law for extra profit. We openly allow illegal entry into our country of people who are the worst of the lawbreakers, i.e., drug dealers, cartel operators, sex traffickers, and those who enslave others.
The U.S. government should be honest with the laws it enacts. It could legalize certain drugs and prostitution. It could increase the number of work permits for foreign labor. Taking these steps would make our laws consistent with our actions. But the U.S. won’t do any of this. In the end, the federal government wants a massive number of laws so it can prosecute, regulate or eliminate those it finds objectionable.
Tacitus warned us that “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” By that definition, we are the most corrupt nation on earth. Congress needs to eliminate all unnecessary laws and enforce the necessary laws. In more colloquial language, Congress needs to stop virtue signaling and start being responsible lawmakers. Having reasonable laws that are obeyed is the basis of the rule of law society and engendering respect for our institutions.