Adventures in Pointless Regulation

I’d kind of like to see some kind of federal commission—or maybe a blue ribbon panel convened by an ideologically diverse set of civil society institutions—to just kind of look through the books of different municipalities and point out what kind of unknown and pointless laws are sitting around:

Doua Moua, 23, played a menacing gangster in a Clint Eastwood movie, but Mr. Moua swears he really is a nice, gentle and rules-abiding fellow. At least he was until he moved to New York City and unwittingly slipped into a world of lawlessness.

Mr. Moua lives with five roommates. And in New York, home to some of the nation’s highest rents and more than eight million people, many of them single, it is illegal for more than three unrelated people to live in an apartment or a house.

As Cara Buckley’s article makes clear, nobody actually enforces this rule. And a good thing, too, because if you did it would be a disaster for tons of people. Instead, “[w]hen the law is enforced, it is usually because of a complaint from a neighbor or because inspectors spotted a violation while responding to a maintenance problem.” This kind of situation is, however, rife with the potential for abuse. And of course sometimes you can have pointless regulations that are rigorously enforced. My personal favorite New York example is that you can’t sell beer at a liquor store, a policy whose rationale I can’t even begin to imagine.