# Simple Legal System

I've recently been reading a lot of utopian/dystopian fiction, and quite a few of them (e.g. Thomas More's Utopia) has this idea that people shouldn't be ruled over by laws that they can't understand. That is, the average person should be able to understand the law to the point of defending themselves in court without a lawyer.

Is it possible to have a legal system like that for a highly-urbanised-mechanised-developed system like that of the Western world? If not, then what kind of system would be conducive to such a simple legal system?

• Can you clarify your question as under the current legal system individuals can defend themselves in court without a lawyer. – Scott Downey Mar 19 '15 at 12:14
• That was pretty vague of me, sorry. Here's an excerpt from Utopia that describes what I mean a little better: Every one of them is skilled in their law, for as it is a very short study, so the plainest meaning of which words are capable is always the sense of their laws. And they argue thus; all laws are promulgated for this end, that every man may know his duty; and therefore the plainest and most obvious sense of the words is that which ought to be put upon them. – drunkBrain Mar 19 '15 at 12:17
• In theory, modern Western legal systems aim for this standard already. It is an important legal principle that an ordinary citizen should be reasonably certain which acts are illegal. In other words, you should not commit a crime "by accident" because you didn't have reason to suspect you were breaking the law. Of course, in practice we doesn't necessarily meet this standard... – Royal Canadian Bandit Mar 19 '15 at 12:42
• Exactly; you can use legalese to prove many a statement that the average person would dismiss as impossible (I recall that my Legal Studies teacher at some point proved to the class that the statement "black is white" is a true one). – drunkBrain Mar 19 '15 at 12:45
• @ScottDowney: A silly theory. In a precedent law system the layman has no shade of chance of winning against a professional, due to sheer volume of precedents. In common law (non-precedent), there's still so many caveats, interpretative regulations, exceptions or contradictions you're walking a minefield and the professional is just waiting for you to slip. – SF. Mar 20 '15 at 5:35

I'd always pay a professional to repair the plumbing or to fix my teeth, why would I do anything less in court?

It is important that all citizens can tell right from wrong and legal from illegal, but you don't have to know the exact dividing line between manslaughter and murder to know that both are wrong. That can be left to professionals.

Some factors which unnecessarily complicate legal systems:

• Excessive Case Law: Courts must rely on precedent to make sure that there is a consistent interpretation of law, but if too many important decisions can only be found in musty tomes of precedent and not in the law text itself, only professionals can find their way.
• Jurisdiction Friction: Do you have to re-learn everything when you move a hundred miles?
• Multipurpose Laws: Does each law have a single purpose, and can all relevant rules be found in that volume? What's that rider doing in the spending bill?

Some factors which necessarily complicate legal systems:

• Comparing Apples and Oranges: There is a difference between a drowning man who trashes wildly and hits a rescuer and someone who does the same with calm deliberation. Can a simple law discriminate properly?
• Side Effects in a Complex World: Is each shareholder of a company responsible for something the company does? Or the CEO? Or the employee who actually executes the decision without any say on policy?
• So a social system would need to somehow ensure the existence of simple interactions between people - and abolish complex ones - to have a simple legal system? – drunkBrain Mar 19 '15 at 13:29
• @drunkBrain trying to enforce only 'simple interactions' would be a far far FAR worse society then one where you need a lawyers help once in a great while. Our economy is nothing but complex interactions, and yet dropping back to a barter system isn't something that many sane people would recommend. Now societies in older times and smaller communities tended to have less complex structures, mainly due to how hard it would be to do anything more complex with limited communications, which makes older smaller communities more viable options – dsollen Mar 19 '15 at 16:06
• @dsollen: Though the average Westerner probably does not break three laws every day, it sure seems that we break quite a few without realizing it. – dotancohen Mar 19 '15 at 19:26
• @dsollen: I'll take your word for it, but thanks for the assurance. I still prefer -Wall. – dotancohen Mar 19 '15 at 19:49
• @cpast: If a court would not be justified in finding that Z was "close enough" to X in the absence of the earlier ruling allowing Y, then it has no business saying Z is good enough. Only if a court found Z was a result of a bona fide effort to do X would be justified in finding it "good enough"; such a finding need not reference the earlier decision. If it found that it was a result of an effort to avoid having to do X, it should rule the action illegitimate no matter how similar to Y it may have been. – supercat Mar 19 '15 at 21:46

I don't think that you can create a 'simple' legal system for large governments. the sort of system that this works for is very small places, towns or settlements.

However, even there it's a double edged sword. The lack of exact laws will likely be addressed by having a tribunal (or single elder, or similar system) that is capable of saying "we didn't have a law for that, but it's clearly wrong and you must be punished." You need something like that to prevent rampant abuse of the 'ain't no law' variety. Just because tricking the senial old lady into thinking I was her ex husband back from the grave, giving me all her money, and then committing suicide isn't explicitly against one of the half dozen town laws, something should be done to punish me. I can't stress enough that some sort of remedy must exist for addressing situations where laws don't exist in any system that focuses on a small number of laws that only cover the most obvious situations. Without either complex laws or a ruling body to handle bizarre situations outside of law you will quickly have society fall apart because it's too hard to loophole your way into doing any wrong and antisocial act you want.

That, in turn, means that your 'guilt' is dependent on what others feel should be guilty, meaning doing something abnormal or culturally shocking may be treated as breaking a law, even if you don't think it should be. Imagine an older settlement that caught someone having a homosexual relationship, they could decide that's 'clearly wrong' (by that era's standards) and enact some sort of horrible punishment against him. Now admittedly it's possible for someone to create a law against homosexuality because they think it 'feels wrong' that not everyone would agree with, but at least then there is an upfront law and an individual knows what would happen if found guilty. They may avoid the action, or perhaps just hide it better, because they know what is allowed or not. That' still better then engaging in an action you think shouldn't be wrong and happily telling others only to be informed that it's wrong and your to be burned at a stake later. There is a reason our legal system forbids ex post facto laws!

Going along with the above the Tribunal system also risks emotions and personal biases playing a larger role in your legal system. Lets go with the homosexuality example again, but imagine a slightly more progressive society where roughly half the population thinks there is nothing wrong with homosexuality (or not enough to punish it) and half feel it should be punished. In theory this means a man caught in the act faces roughly a 50/50 chance of being punished, depending rather the tribunal deciding hit retroactive-guilt happens to have more of the anti-gay or pro-gay (or maybe just meh-gay) individuals in it.

However, that's not entirely what happens. Imagine two man are caught having sex, Peter and Hitler (such a subtle name choice). The two for whatever reason face separate tribunals to decide their guilt. Peter happens to be a wonderful person who volunteers regularly, tends to the sick, helps old ladies across the street, and is so wonderful he Peter is nearly a saint (see what I did there lol). Hitler kicks puppies and mocks people who look different and has been muttering some things about Aryan people and certain religions that make people uncomfortable.

You may find that this 50/50 chance isn't so obvious. Surprisingly people find it in their hearts to forgive Saint Peter but condemn Hitler, for the exact same crime. Their personal views of the individuals affected their rulings since there was not concrete law which forced them to stay consistent regardless of individual. Which, in my hyperbole version doesn't seem so bad, but if the thing swaying the decision of individuals is more how much they like someone personally, or even rather they are good looking or polite enough or the color of their skin, well now the potential inconsistency of having people deciding guilt in specific cases where personal biases can play a role becomes allot more problematic. Generally our legal system fights very hard for consistent rulings, and in this case ambiguous legal situations will always bee less consistent because even the most well-meaning person striving to avoid bias will still be, to some level, subconsciously swayed by these biases. Explicit laws help to avoid this.

I think a key aspect of making a legal system comprehensible is accepting that no matter how well laws are written, ambiguous cases will always arise and that it is better to recognize certain areas of the law as being nebulous, and have decisions involving nebulous aspects of law be made arbitrarily, than to try to have everything rigidly defined.

To use an analogy, suppose that a traffic court punishes people who park illegally, but also punishes those who issue inappropriate citations. If the traffic court tries to use case law to decide whether various borderline cases should be considered legal or illegal, the net result will be that neither people parking their vehicles nor the people issuing citations will know what lines they should be following.

If, however, the court were to instead take the policy that any vehicle which does not clearly go outside the inner edge of the boundary lines will be considered "legally parked", any vehicle which is not clearly within the outer edge of the boundary lines will be "ticket-worthy", and those which overhang the inner edge but not the outer edge may be arbitrarily declared ticket-worthy or not, then motorists would know that if they don't want a ticket they should ensure they're within the inner lines; ticket writers who don't want to risk censure should generally avoid writing tickets for vehicles which don't go beyond the outer lines. If a motorist parks his car so that it is clearly not entirely within the inner boundary, the motorist may or may not receive a ticket, but will have no basis for objection if he does.

While such a system would likely have a much larger "gray area" than one based upon case law, it would likely also have much simpler and comprehensible boundaries. Further, if the codified boundaries are in any way unreasonable, the ability to see where they are would make it much easier for people to petition to have them changed. By contrast, if parking places are unreasonably small but minor overhangs are ignored, then it will be very hard to determine whether the "de facto" parking spaces are reasonable, since nobody know how big they "really" are.

The easiest way to do this would be to say that you are free to do what ever you want as long as your right to freedom doesn't take away someone else's right to freedom. Lets try this in action. You own a shop. You are enjoying your freedom to sell products to make money. Bob wants some of what you sell but can't afford it so he uses his right to freedom and breaks in one night and steals a ton of your stock. The problem now is your freedom is hindered. You don't have any stock to sell so you take Bob to court and the judge rules in your favor for infringement of personal freedom and has Bob pay you back. The payments for a crime should be proportionate to the time the victim spent with limited freedom ie. You loose stock so Bob pays you back for the damage to your store and to replace the missing stock plus a percentage (this percent would be worked out in front of a judge). In the case of murder, the murderer has taken all the freedom of the victim therefore all of their freedom should be taken in a way the benefits the family of the victim ie. a lifetime of service.
This is the most simplistic law system that I can figure out and should allow the most flexibly.

EDIT: I realized that I said nothing about punishment so I updated above.

• Bob breaks into your shop and steals a few items. Or differently put; teenage shoplifting. Rarely do they steal "a ton", far more often is it small and singular items. How does this infringe upon someone else's freedom? Additionally, how do you punish murder? – Pimgd Mar 20 '15 at 12:27
• But without a law saying where the borders of freedom are, how do you decide that it was Bob who hindered your freedom to sell, and not you who hindered Bob's freedom to obtain the goods for free? – celtschk Mar 21 '15 at 18:03
• That is the purpose of a judge and jury – unknown Mar 21 '15 at 18:04
• @unknown: But how is the judge to decide if your behaviour was rightful or not if there is no law telling him that? – celtschk Mar 21 '15 at 18:06
• It's right there in the question. Bob can't obtain your items for free because that would hinder your freedom to sell as that is a freedom you already have. You cannot be hindering Bob's freedom because Bob didn't have that freedom to begin with. To describe a more extreme example that's useless for the actual system but useful for explaining the situation: You can't be free to kill someone if there is no one to kill¨, similarly you can't be free to get items for free if there are no free items to get. – Miguel Bartelsman Feb 14 '17 at 4:09

Well... my approach to inventing this (note, similar to medieval setting), was "crime against Justice".

Most of problems with the law is that people will try to squeeze through any smallest loopholes they can find. In any codex of law there's maybe 5% of the actual law and 95% of patching the loopholes. And that increases the volume and complexity beyond commonly learnable levels.

But there's the letter of law, and there's the spirit of law, its actual purpose. All that patchwork is to squeeze the rigid form of a rule into the nebulous "feels fair"; emotional/ethical judgement.

So here goes the simple law: You shall not abuse the law for unfairness.

Law in its basic form is being taught at common (primary/high schools), one or two hours per week maybe, and the lessons involve spirit of the regulations, not just the letter. Each law also summarizes the spirit alongside the rules.

And violators of the "crime against Justice" are persecuted most severely. Trying to enforce a deceitful clause in a contract can land you up to thirty years of heavy labour depending on circumstances like malicious intent, scale of the contract and scale of unfairness created by the clause. But these factors are to be known only by the judges. You as a citizen need to know that if the contract actually means something different than what you were sure for it to mean, you can ask the court for help. It's up to them to decide.

Example (from real life): I sign a contract for a service on December, 2nd. I agree for the price and the contract says the price can't change by more than 6% per year. Billed at the end of a monthly cycle starting on day of the contract, so for me, every 2nd of each month.

My first bill, which I received in January, 2nd, was 12% higher. It was perfectly legal for them to do. During the first month of service they performed two raises, late on December 31st and early on January 1st. They used the price from the moment of billing, at the end of the period.

With "crime against justice" their boss would be now breaking rocks in a quarry.

• and what happens if we disagree on what is a crime against Justice? Perhaps I think that my sharing my wireless internet with my neighbors in exchange for money makes sense, I'm paying for the bandwidth and I should be allowed to do whatever I want, while the wireless company sees me as selling their services to houses that haven't payed for it and thus stealing. We both think our views make sense, were affected by our own personal biases. Who decides which one is abusing loopholes and thus committing a crime? – dsollen Mar 20 '15 at 13:15
• @dsollen: If it's merely a honest disagreement on terms that were undefined or not imprecise, the judge will resolve it, period. Probably ordering you to cease sharing the service but clearing of the punitive charges set by your ISP, considering they would be allowed to charge you per endpoint device connected if they choose so (and allowing you to break the contract if such terms are not to your liking). OTOH, if the wording was "for Internet connectivity" and they suddenly count links from your router as multiple connectivities, this would be deceitful. – SF. Mar 20 '15 at 13:29
• Generally, this system would shift much of the burden onto the judge; many disagreements would not be regulated by law at all, but judged on case-by-case basis, a'la "small claims". If the two sides agree the wording is ambiguous, they turn to the judge for a resolution without any risk. If one entirely rejects the interpretation of the other though, they run at risk of "abusing the law" – SF. Mar 20 '15 at 13:51
• Besides, if you just violate the terms of agreement, you only risk what the agreement claims you risk. But if you create an agreement in a way that opens a way for tricking the other party, e.g. into violating it unintentionally, you are guilty. If you did it by a mistake, and took steps to correct (e.g. waived the punitive charge) it when the clause was triggered, you may merely get a warning, but if you created it intentionally and tried to exploit it, beware! – SF. Mar 20 '15 at 13:54
• this is actually very close to my answer as well, but the difference is that while I suggested my answer as an interesting world building concept I honestly don't think it's viable in real life, plus I added a few qualifies to make it more viable. No one will admit that they were trying to loophole, everyone will claim an honest disagreement. Thus to punish you need to both decide one side is write, and then decide the other side should have known it, and decide that the other side was malicious. Laws requiring reading someone's mind/motive are very grey and dangerous. – dsollen Mar 20 '15 at 15:04

Why not? The technology around man is changing, not man himself. What matters are questions of culpability and responsibility. If the object was acting under my direction, then I am responsible for not preventing it from damaging others.

The Jewish legal system works this way. It may be a long study, but the laws are generally plain language (if in Hebrew) specifically BECAUSE they want everyone to know and understand them.

Tort law in modern times gets... interesting... when you talk about two areas: independent actions made by machines (think robots and onboard computers that fail) and "intellectual property" which shares none of the characteristics of real property.

The former might seem complex but consider: objects cultivated by man that act out of preprogrammed instinct with some learning capabilities = robots and computers but ALSO domesticated animals.

As for the latter, well, that's a highly emotional debate that is difficult to discuss, as it often veers into morality, philosophy, and economics. Ownership of information takes this and crosses the boundary into privacy rights, but that doesn't prevent simple laws from handling it.

So what's unique about modern life that a simple legal system can't address it?

Lots of issues with this:

Laws are written in human language. Human language mutates and is open to interpretation. Humans will tend to interpret the law in a way that maximizes their self-interest. This makes it hard to say for sure what any particular laws says or does.

The simpler a law, the less flexible it is. Laws generally need exceptions (military service or self-defense for murder), or gradients (fine for petty theft, jail time for robbing a bank, a bigger fine for robbing a country). All of these make things more complex, and add more room for interpretation by self-interested parties. Simple sounds fine until it applies to you, then it's unfair and blind.

The inmates are also the wardens - people are often writing, or can influence, the laws that will impact themselves. I like to think of this in video game terms - imagine your favorite game, but the developers are elected and get to make changes to the rules based on their personal preference, or on who pays them the most. As you can imagine, this wouldn't end well. The end result is that laws end up complicated because people want to take advantage of them.

All of the above is a long way of saying that I don't think this is possible with human language and society. For one thing you would need some sort of immutable language that never changes and is rigorously defined, but it's unlikely that everyone will be familiar with that language. They'd need to rely on translations to understand it, with only legal specialists working directly with the laws.

• or you could update each law every X year – lijat Aug 4 '16 at 18:36

Second answer here, I wanted to suggest an alternative that I think would address your concerns somewhat and make for an interesting story/world, though I'm not going to necessarily recommend it as an ideal solution to real life.

Imagine a world that puts more weight on spirit over letter of the law. Imagine a world where many laws exist as now, but they include not just the extremely lawyer exact terminology, but also a more general description of spirit and intent of a law. Then when an action is questioned both the letter and spirit of the law could be addressed in deciding guilt and punishment. This would mean people being arrested on technicalities would be limited, you have to clearly have the intent to break the spirit of the law. A country that had this as a firm part of their legal system would allow people to argue for themselves better because they would be able to argue for the spirit of a law even if they don't know the technicalities the lawyer knows.

Our legal system already has a number of principles that come down keeping to spirit of law over technicality. In legal contracts between non-lawyers a judge will often rule in favor of the intended spirit of a contract in arguments over obvious technicalities (complex contracts written by lawyers for large entities generally stick more to technicalities, on the ground that a skilld lawyer had time to read and understand the full meaning of the contract and still agreed to it). In fact any part of a contract that was written with such fine print or misdirection as to hide the fact that the signer is agreeing to something he clearly would not have chosen to, or which is clearly unrelated to the agreement otherwise, such as agreeing to be an indentured servant for the rest of you life when you click "I agree" to a software's terms and licenses, is effectively tossed out and will never be enforced.

Likewise the concept of mens rea, ie intent, used in criminal law works something like this. Mens rea protects someone from being found guilty of technically breaking a law without intending to...sort of, it's more complex then that. For instance, if I'm walking past someone's sliding door and somehow trip and fall through the glass door into their house I will not be found guilt of breaking and entering, even though I did in fact quite literally manage to both break and enter their house. I did not intend to do it, and so I'm innocent of that crime, I'll still have to pay to fix the door probably.

One could invent a world where this concept is taken to a greater degree, where intent and spirit of law is a major factor in all aspects of the legal system. The more that the law and culture emphasis spirit and intent over letter of law the more a layman can try to defend himself. Perhaps spirit of a law is most relevant to defense, since your innocent until proven guilty you can use a "this violates the spirit of the law" argument to avoid being found guilty, but the prosecution using a "the spirit of the law says he should be found guilty even though it's not explicitly written" would have a much harder time of winning. That would better handle issues with ex post facto laws since ambiguity of law can't be used to arrest 'innocent' people, only protect them.

However, there are still two major issues with this world as well. The first is that you still have more ambiguous laws, and thus the issue of rather performing action X will get me arrested is unknown until I go to court. If someone wants to perform action X, but doesn't want to be arrested, having more explicit laws which allow him to know ahead of time rather or not X was allowed would be nice. Again, if spirit of law was used primarily as a defense then at least anyone wanting to do X will know definitively if X was allowed, and will know he is taking a gamble if X is explicitly disallowed technically but he feels that he should be able to do it under Spirit of the Law charges.

The other, more important, issue is logistical one. Implementing a system like this makes it easier to argue your innocence, and will make laymans want to try to argue their innocence even when they really have no case. This will mean a need for far more judges and other legal support to handle all these cases. It also puts a more significant amount of power in the hand of the judge/jury due to their need to rule on ambiguities. Thus which judge you get over seeing your case has an even more drastic effect on the outcome of the case then it already has now. This may sound minor, but were talking a massive increased government expense, an expense that could go to other things like lowering taxes, improving governmental services or, as a wild thought, providing lawyers to any defendant that needs one so he doesn't have to argue his own case.

• Question on your last point - if the spirit of the law is that important, do you still need judges? Or is a random jury that's pulled together and briefed on the law sufficient? (I think this has other issues but you might be able to get away without those logistics) – Dan Smolinske Mar 19 '15 at 16:02
• @DanSmolinske A jury means getting 15 people together to hear a case, a judge is only one person. Therefore it's always cheaper and logistically easier to have a judge then a 'random jury'. In our own court system we use judges for all but the most severe cases from a pure cost cutting perspective. In this theoretical one the judge will need less training, thus be payed less, and thus a judge trail would be even cheaper and more preferable then a jury then our own system. – dsollen Mar 19 '15 at 16:15
• @DanSmolinske I also think we would still have a judge in Jury cases. People are very...emotional. We can be driven to making irrational decisions easily. If you put someone on trial for raping a little child the jury is going to want to arrest him, they see him as guilty because the crime was so horrible they want to punish someone, which works against someone falsely accused. The Judges main role is to mitigate these sort of emotion driving mistakes, mostly by limiting ethos arguments, not to translate lawyer speak. That role will be all the MORE important with increased ambiguity. – dsollen Mar 19 '15 at 16:19

One of the societies along these lines that stuck in my head was one that Williamson wrote in Freehold.

The essence was that there was no criminal code, everything was treated as a civil matter between the person/group/company that did something and the person/group/company that was harmed by it. There was a major cultural emphasis on self reliance and personal responsibility for your actions.

This was extremely odd to the main character who came from Earth where everything was heavily regulated and people looked to the state to provide answers for everything.

• Not a good example as while it makes a good story his society simply doesn't work. Look at what his characters say about insurance to see that he doesn't get it. – Loren Pechtel Aug 5 '16 at 0:01

No. It's impossible. The problem is the law covers a lot of specialized areas and the law will be written taking into account those specialized vocabularies. Even if you waste a whole bunch of words avoiding the use of the specialized vocabularies it won't help because the average person will not have the understanding of the field to know what the law is referring to.

The closest I believe it's possible to come to this is a legal system understandable by the typical skilled practitioner of the act being regulated. I also think it would be possible to basically eliminate precedent as a problem--require that any precedent-setting decision either modify the law itself or at a minimum add the case as an example on the law. We no longer need the law to be a single block of text, it should be full of hyperlinks.

It is possible. Think of it this way: Right now our (The United States' - I'm using them as an example because they most exemplify the "Western World") laws are written in such a way that they are too easy to interpret and misconstrue. By this I mean that everybody takes something different out of them, every time they read them. This is like a factorial equation, where you have, say, 48 people who read a statement once. If 48 people read a statement once, they each get a different interpretation (notice the use of a - that's one interpretation per person, per time read. If they read it again, the equation will change to something like 48*2 which equals 48 people reading a statement twice, and therefore coming out with two separate interpretations.) This would have to be modified so that the language would be un-factorialable, say. This means condensing and clearing/cleaning your language so the least amount of interpretations are possible, but also cleaning it so that it is a fair interpretation as well. You don't want unfair laws, but at the same time, you don't want to write an interpretation that leaves room for misconstruing and misinterpreting, which would be in violation of the very laws themselves since they could not be understood, let alone "properly" understood (as you, as the creator, have the right and duty to make yourself understood, theoretically).

Just for kicks and giggles, this is the number you'd get if you had 48 people reading the same Constitution: 12,413,915,592,536,072,670,862,289,047,373,375,038,521,486,354,677,760,000,000,000. If you're curious as how this works, it could work in two ways: The '48' could represent one person, and '47' the next, and so on. Each adds on to the possible interpretations of the Constitution until they get to one. So, when they read it a second time and theoretically get a different interpretation, you just multiply that big number by two. And that's how much room you have for misinterpretation.

One of the things large & modern societies have consistently failed to emulate is the role that reputation plays(ed) in small communities.

Besides that you have options like:

Most laws and crimes can be simplified massively.

You misrepresented the truth.

You changed the state of life or limb. [damage, kidnap, etc]

You hurt somebody's feelings.

You changed the state of property.[damage, theft etc]

Etc and then the caveats, intent, negligent, in a group, endangered.

Another category of complexities arise from group behavior, the way we apportion blame, responsibility & reward has shaped our social groups. If one changes how the law treats responsibility & reward, behaviors change also.

If every member of a mob was liable for every act of vandalism it commited, I think you'd see different behavior, likewise with corporate mentality. If one member of staff abuses patients for 12 years..how on earth could it be right that the other staff working over that time are not guilty of something.

In other words, people should be made responsible for what goes on around them so that they act responsible for what goes on around them.

Once people have this, laws on truthiness and the misrepresentation of facts that result in guaranteed jailtime, paying-for-plaudits becomes illegal and journalists have to do actual work with actual information instead.. the world gets a lot cleaner.

//

Beyond that, one can enforce a simplification of language in certain fields.

Let's take Bank Accounts. A Bank Account is a loan, it's as simple as that. If you loan somebody your car, it's still your car. Likewise if a showroom loans you a car, it's still their car.

If I'm loaned a chisel by my neighbor, he doesn't get to own the living room doorframe that it helps to build. No, that would be silly. Neither does he get to demand that I give him a sparkling new chisel back because his chisel got scratched in normal use. Likewise, if you borrow money from a bank, the native assumption should be that it gets back less than it gives out + some goodwill ;)

One of the ancient debates in Chinese legal history going back thousands of years was between the "rule of man" and the "rule of law", a debate which in China ended up favoring the former rather than the latter.

In a rule of man regime, the formal law is very simple indeed. Each person is subordinate to his superior and each superior owes a duty to deal justly with his subordinates, and a not terribly set of rules clarifies who is superior to whom. The secret to the success of such a regime is to insure that superiors appoint virtuous and competent people to be their direct subordinates. If that task is manageable, this simple rule of man regime can suffice to rule sprawling empires and to some extent this is basically how all large modern bureaucracies in business, in government, in religious organizations and in other non-profits work.

A leading argument in favor of a rule of man regime over a rule of law regime is that it fundamentally isn't feasible to put together a set of laws that can govern every situation in a large and complicated society that is understandable and free from a risk of manipulation at the hands of amoral lawyers. Since any rule of law system must ultimately be implemented by people who need to be virtuous and competent to work well anyway, an elaborate set of legal rules themselves is really just superfluous, the argument goes.

Notably, the common law system of case law from which the English rule of law system ultimately emerged, was based upon a foundation that looked more like the Confucian rule of man regime than a rule of law regime. The new Norman king of England who conquered it in 1066 CE installed his top military officers as nobles in a feudal hierarchy in a manner more or less corresponding to the organization that they had held within his military, and gave each of these nobles the authority to do justice in accordance with their common sense and local custom and tradition, subject to review by aristocrats superior to them in the feudal hierarchy. Subordinates were expected to follow the leader of their superiors, but otherwise, justice was a matter to be discovered by these esteemed former military officers and their esteemed descendants, rather than something to be ordained in advance by the King issuing details orders for every situation.

Eventually, their collective wisdom guided more strongly by those at the top of the feudal hierarchy than by those at the bottom, organically gave rise to a set of rules deduced after the fact in efforts to reconcile the collective rulings of these aristocrats (originally holding court personally and later having designee judges hold court on their behalf as their agents).

In the long run, as this system ossified, it became elaborate and rule driven, but at first, it was very simple.