Last of the Law Abiding Citizens? Part One: Money Crashers

By Erin Lale

With the vast number of new regulations in the U.S.A., is it still possible to be a law abiding citizen? I asked a disparate group of Americans from all walks of life what they thought. In this first part of the series, I interviewed Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, for a business perspective.

Erin: With the vast number of laws and regulations, is it still possible to be a law abiding citizen?

Andrew:Even with all of the new laws and regulations, it is possible to be a law-abiding citizen, though it seems to get more difficult by the day. Here’s a perfect example. My friend knows that using a cell phone while driving is illegal in many states, but he always thought that it was legal in his (Georgia). However, a few months ago, he was pulled over by an officer for driving without a seat belt. He was guilty of that, no doubt, but he was surprised when he was issued two citations: one for the seat belt and one for using a cell phone. When he asked about the second one, he was told that using a cell phone while driving is not a crime in and of itself, but if you’re doing it while committing another crime (driving without a seat belt) then it is a punishable offense. It’s these types of situations that can make it difficult to be a law abiding citizen.

Erin: Can you live within the law or do you have to skirt it to survive?

Andrew: So far, I don’t think I’ve had to skirt the law in order to survive, but in all honestly, I just don’t know – especially with all of the new ridiculous laws that have recently been enacted. Apparently, high school students can’t even hold hands in Tennessee anymore. This makes me wonder what laws I may be violating as I go about my daily activities.

Erin: Do you have to resort to a black market to stay alive?

Andrew: I don’t have to resort to a black market to stay alive, but I know I can save a lot of money by doing so. Black market economies have sprung up for computer software, video games, and DVD movies. If you want to save a buck or two, ask your friends, family members, or co-workers, and I’m sure you can find a cheaper avenue for these products. Just keep in mind that knowingly possessing these products is illegal.

Erin: Have you given up trying to keep up with regulations, and if so, has this resulted in less respect for laws you previously tried to follow?

Andrew: I haven’t lost any respect for old laws that I follow; rather, it’s just the new ones that make me question the motivation behind them. I recently heard of a law passed in Rochester, New York, where you can face fines and possible jail time if your grass is too high. If I lived there, I’d do my best to abide, but I also wouldn’t stress out about it. Considering the frivolity of the law, I’d have a hard time believing I’d ever be prosecuted for such an offense. I think this law was put in place as a way to generate more revenues for the city and nothing else.

Erin: What do business people in America today not know about regulations that affect their business?

Andrew: I think that there are plenty of new regulations that American businesses don’t know about that can significantly impact their business. A case in point is the Dodd-Frank Act. At 849 pages long, it contains countless new regulations, but many portions of the bill have yet to even be written! How can a small business owner keep up with that?

Erin: Is there less respect for the law than there used to be?

Andrew: I absolutely feel that there is less respect for the law than there used to be, but it’s not only because of newly-enacted laws. Municipalities struggling for revenues are relying on laws passed years ago to sock it to small business owners. I have a business colleague who was recently hit with a citation for $350 in signage violations because of banner ads he had posted in front of his business for years. Suddenly, the county came down on him for it, citing an outdated law.

Erin: Is there a black market in America like there was in the Soviet Union?

Andrew: While there is certainly a black market in this country, I think it differs
significantly from that of the former Soviet Union. Their black market was centered on bribery, in my opinion, while the black market here is based more on getting similar products for reduced prices.

Erin: Are businesses giving up?

Andrew: Businesses aren’t giving up as of yet, but if Obama gets re-elected, you may see this as a rising trend. I have a friend who works in the mortgage industry who told me that because of the passage of Dodd-Frank, it now takes him twice the time to process a new mortgage than it did before, all because of new government red tape. He’s still in business, but if things worsen, he’s already told me that he’ll have to find a different line of work. If Obama gets re-elected, I fear there will be much more governmental regulation.

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