If it bleeds it leads.

NOTE: pick the correct link

The public typically enjoys the crisis du jour, the bright shiny object, the squeaky wheel, the vocal minority. We’re like the teenage girl who favors the edgy guy with the leather jacket or the teenage boy who favors the flashy girl with the makeup and hot car.

But the best work of law and government is often boring.

The other day, I renewed a family business license with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ business registration division. I did the renewal on my smart phone in under three minutes and within 24 hours, they had confirmed processing.

This is bureaucracy? Sign me up!

A while back, I looked into setting up a corporation and I found out that the Hawaii Legislature had adopted a model corporation act which does most of the work in a simple, standardized form. For someone who remembers the old days when articles of incorporation had a lot of idiosyncratic language in them, this was good news.

Filing the basic documents involved little more than putting a few words on a form and paying a small fee. It’s not exciting — there is little opportunity for deeds of derring-do. But it is efficient, relatively free of friction, and elegant in its simplicity.

Does making it easier for would-be entrepreneurs to set up a business help our economy? Yes.

Boring yet essential: A screen shot of the state’s Bureau of Conveyances website.

Can we talk about the Bureau of Conveyances?

In Hawaii, we have a dual system of recording the deeds by which we transfer real estate, but the documents are filed in the same place, and the administrator is the same person. The Bureau of Conveyances handles a huge number of filings, but has always been underfunded, and lags behind, because it isn’t sexy.

Some folks think that conveyancing is all about business and that it doesn’t warrant the emotions that get stirred up when talking about the poor, victims of discrimination, or volcanoes with religious import and telescopes that look into the far reaches of the universe. But they’re wrong, and here’s why.

The main reason that someone doesn’t come to your home, kill you and your family, and occupy the space as they might have in the olden days, is because one cannot acquire real property that way in the USA. You must transfer real estate by deed and in order to give notice to the world of your ownership interest, you must record that deed with the government.

Sure it’s boring, routine, mundane. But does it save lives? Yes.

‘Milton Friedman Was Wrong’

Here’s another example of boring: We leave to private lawyers the enforcement of contract and property rights.

But when it comes to the prosecution of fraud, we rely partly on the government because the consequences of a conviction are often not just about paying money.

To prove fraud is difficult because you must prove intent and that is only after you detect the fraud and chase fraudsters who are continually changing their corporate entities and moving around the country or even attacking from outside the country. One thing we do to make it easier to prosecute fraudsters is to create licensing schemes for certain types of business. It is typically much easier to revoke a license than to prove fraud.

This is bureaucracy? Sign me up!

So to libertarians everywhere, try to understand: Milton Friedman was wrong. Licensing is not just about protectionism. It is an anti-fraud measure that protects the public from predators.

Anti-fraud is an extension of property rights and contract rights and therefore provides basic infrastructure for the market system. It isn’t sexy, and most people aren’t even aware of the horrendous frauds that happen all the time.

But our ongoing failure to properly fund and support antifraud efforts is a big problem for everyone because it hurts GDP and penalizes those who play by the rules.

Is GDP a security issue? Yes.

Boring can be beautiful when it comes to government. And to the extent that the purpose of government is to create stability and continuity over the long term, boring is an essential feature of good government.

What’s the biggest problem with government today? Too broad a scope given limited resources.

If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

It takes hard work to understand why some parts of government and law matter more than others, but that work is as vital as it is boring.

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