Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Driving over the homeless

Salman Khan and I were driving around the city of Bombay in the dark. It had been a hectic day. Salman had killed terrorists, verbally jousted with his girlfriend's father, and just a few hours earlier, capped it all off with a romantic song and dance routine in Shivaji Park. Now his day was almost over and I, as his reliable sidekick, was accompanying him in his car as we made our way back home to catch some hours of sleep before we had to get up in the morning and do it all over again. I was nodding off in the passenger seat.

Suddenly Salman stopped at a traffic light and stared at the road ahead. "Fuck man, it's all dug up. The road's a nasty mess."
I stared too. He was right.
"It's gonna take a couple of grand off the value of my car", he said.
"I guess so", I replied. "But whatchu gonna do"?

Salman looked left and right. "I'm gonna drive over the sidewalk", he finally said. "The sidewalk is alright".
Even in the dark, I could make out bodies lying prostate on the sidewalk.
"There are people sleeping out there, Salman", I said.
"So what?" he asked me.
"I don't know if you've been following the news, but they made it illegal to drive over the homeless", I said.
"What?" Salman was astounded. "You mean to say that they took away my God-given freedom to drive indiscriminately over the bodies of people sleeping on the sidewalk?"
"Well, yes, the government did pass a law that forbids doing just that", I said.
"But that doesn't make any sense. It's just one of those bureaucratic regulations that help no one", said Salman.
"It will help the sleeping homeless who otherwise would have had to be killed under your wheels", I said.
"But the homeless shouldn't be sleeping there in the first place", said Salman. "Why is the government getting involved in controlling the choices people make about their own lives? The homeless know that if they sleep on the sidewalk, they could get run over by people like me. If these people are such idiots, maybe the government shouldn't even allow them to vote."

"They are sleeping on the sidewalk because they have nowhere else to go", I said.
"Stop stop, you're bleeding all over my new sneakers. I think it's your heart", said Salman. "Anyways, I don't think imposing new regulations is the answer. If there's one thing India doesn't need, it's more bureaucracy".
"I hate regulations as much as you do", I said. "However, some regulations are essential for maintaining law and order. Some are necessary to prevent the weak in society from being taken advantage of by the strong."

"Yeah, I AM pretty strong". He flexed his biceps for me.
"I meant strong in terms of your influence in society", I said.
He stopped flexing. "But regulations only add to the bureaucratic red tape", said Salman. "A much better solution would be to allow these people to sue me AFTER I run them over."
"How would that help the people you ran over?", I asked.
"Well, once people begin to sue me, the benefits of running people over would be outweighed by the cost of defending lawsuits filed against me and I would probably get over that habit", said Salman. "That's how the free market works".
I spotted the loophole in his reasoning.
"But it could be years till your civil case even appears in court", I said.

Salman was looking at himself in the car mirror. "Is that a hair growing on my chest?", he asked.
I inspected his freshly shaven skin. "No, it's just a shadow", I said.
Salman breathed a sigh of relief. "What were you saying?", he asked.
"I said it could be years till you see the inside of a court", I said, "Plus with all the people suing each other, the backlog's gonna increase".

"Precisely. Which is why legislative regulations are what we need to enact, not bureaucratic ones", he asserted. "People should be able to sue each other freely. The government should stay out of the suing business."
"But what about all the people who will be lining the rubber of your wheels by the time these regulations come into effect?" I was skeptical of his claims.
"Well, too bad for 'em. As I said, they should be intelligent and refrain from sleeping on the sidewalk".

I noticed that the argument had begun to go around in circles.

"You know, there's an easier solution", I said. "Instead of driving over those people, you could just take a different route that would avoid turning their bodies into a mass of bloody pulp."
"That's an inefficient use of my time and resources", yelled Salman. "I cannot afford to do that. And neither can this country".
"Ok, in that case, let me out", I said. I stepped out of the car.
"See you later, commie", spat Salman through his window.
"Ok, and hey, don't forget to wear your shirt tomorrow", I said. "It's gonna be a cold day."
"Fuck the cold", he said, as he revved up his car and drove into the sea of bodies. I turned around to walk to the bus stop. The cries of anguish behind me signalled the triumph of deregulation.

Update : Mercatus with a less frivolous take on the matter.

Update2 : Since Salman basically flouted the no-homeless-killing-by-running-them-over regulation, it cannot be called as the triumph of deregulation. However, since he was ultimately prosecuted, the entire incident could be termed a triumph of regulation.

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