Let’s Simplify Legal Jargon – Lunch w/ TED

Lunch with TED — By on August 5, 2010 at 12:35 am

Congress “reforms” healthcare with a bill so large that our national leaders haven’t read it. These days, the laws are complex and not written in plain English. This means that most people cannot engage them. Alan Siegel wants to change that.

This week’s TED talk is very short. However, it couldn’t be more timely.

The recent healthcare bill and the now overturned is an excellent example of a law whose complicated language has confused people. In a rather infamous remark, Nancy Pelosi declared that the Congress needed to pass the bill in order to see what was in it. Why? Because it was a huge bill full of references to pre-existing laws that made no sense to anyone who tried to make their way through it. There would literally be a discovery process for people on the receiving end of the new law (and it’s corresponding taxes)! If the bill was shorter and written in plain English, people might be surprised to find out that taxation begins immediately but most benefits do not kick in until 2014 – for example.

I believe that Siegel is on to something. If laws were more accessible – if people knew what they were getting themselves into – then political activism would be on the rise. As it stands, most people are content with vague notions of “common good” and “equal opportunities” and allow themselves to be won over by the side that can appeal to this sentimentality the best. However, sentimentality cannot hold a candle to one’s pocket book. If costs, mandates, and opportunity losses were made clear, people would likely be less inclined to vote for the healthcare bill.

What do you think? If the laws were written in plain English, would you read them?

I’m open to being wrong on this one. After all, the 17 page Arizona law was written in plain English and the President’s top advisers didn’t even read the thing before slandering it. Perhaps simplicity will not overcome our bigger problem: apathy.’