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Jewish World Review
May 7, 2012/ 15 Iyar, 5772
Bumbling, fumbling, benighted, old Washington near tipping point where freedom is done for
Always fearful there might be some human activity left unregulated, the federal government was recently getting ready to stop children from doing some farm chores, causing farmers to grumble.
This is an election year. Farmers vote. And President Barack Obama's electoral caregivers responded to the grumbling by saying the feds would give up on this goal for the time being, which probably means until after November.
The Department of Labor was largely aiming at chores involving farm machinery, and even then, not on farms where the children live with their parents. What department officials failed to grasp is that adults who care far more about these children than they do are already watching out for them. While this may be news to Washington, most of us get it that fathers and mothers love their offspring.
What is more, farmers surely understand gobs more about agricultural activities than bureaucrats mostly trained to cultivate inconvenience. Despite some statistical support, the regulations would likely have made no one safer for a minute. The chief consequence would be that we everyday Americans would have been that much more restricted in making decisions and leading our own lives.
After all, it is not just the few, the powerful and the manifestly reckless who are being told how to behave down to the minutest detail. It is all of us. And if you doubt that, listen to what Michelle Obama said after enactment of legislation granting the federal government more authority to dictate what children eat at school: "We can't just leave it up to the parents."
Well, some of us think we can't just leave it up to bumbling, fumbling, benighted, old Washington to keep adding one bossy tidbit on top of another until a tipping point is reached and freedom is done for. Express that thought, though, and watch out for command-and-control progressives preaching that regulations are crucial to rein in destructive conduct and explaining that the process rests on the democratically expressed will of the people.
Let me respond.
Yes, we need laws and regulations. The issue is that we have hundreds of thousands of pages of them, making anything more than sporadic enforcement, and any very extensive or deep knowledge of what's in them, impossible. Every other American would have to be a federal agent to properly administer this exhaustive assemblage, and the burden on businesses alone is something like $1.75 trillion a year by one government estimate.
This is neither democracy at work nor the Constitution closely heeded. Our curious Congress in effect passes good intentions, leaving it to administrative agencies to work out the myriad particulars that often have nothing to do with those intentions. This is government-by-bureaucratic whim.
No one is smart enough to foresee the consequences. Many regulations do immense harm, even killing people. That is exactly what happened with fuel-limit standards that put Americans in smaller cars, according to studies by the National Academy of Sciences and scholars at Harvard University and The Brookings Institution.
As for the corporations that are supposedly kept in tow, some help frame the regulations to give themselves special breaks hurtful to the public and easily delude regulators half as expert as they are. While some businesses may profit, most are kept from using ordinary sense of a kind that would benefit the whole nation.
Even some of the best regulations have been self-defeating because society was often advancing more on its own than it did after they went on the books.
Especially in league with the welfare state, these multiple regulations are making a mockery of our ideals, diminishing our humanity and suffocating our economy. Salvation resides in reinstituting limited government and undertaking a series of difficult reforms, gradually whittling away at the mountainous mess. We have to get started soon.
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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
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