Almost 200 years ago, French observer Alexis de Tocqueville warned Americans about a new kind of despotism, not the tyrannical kings of Europe but rather the tyranny of too many laws. He predicted that the people's own elected lawmakers would generate stifling regulations meant for their own good. Such a network of "complicated rules," he warned, "enervates, extinguishes and stupefies a people." That's precisely how Americans feel.
Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, says the regulatory maze has gotten so bad that it's easier to open a restaurant in Siberia than in California. His U.S. franchises have increased in number by only 2 percent over the past three years, but overseas they've increased by 53 percent.
Anthony Davies of Virginia wanted to open a microbrewery, but the startup regulations dissuaded him. Regulations have been dampening entrepreneurship for decades. U.S. business startups and expansions have declined every year since 1989, according to a Brookings Institution report in May. That's a quarter-century of stagnation!
Regulations also reduce Americans' purchasing power. New Obama administration regulations add $44 to the price of a dishwasher and a whopping $1,357 to the price of a car, according to the American Action Forum.
The biggest regulatory assault on personal freedom is Obamacare, which compels you to buy health insurance and dictates what it covers and how doctors treat patients.
Get ready for more intrusions. The Clean Water Act was passed to protect rivers and lakes — a good thing — but a proposed expansion would apply to property that floods during heavy rains, even your backyard.
So far, proposals to stop this loss of freedom are lame half-measures. Philip Howard, author of the interesting new book "The Rule of Nobody," says Congress should appoint independent commissions to review regulations and cull useless and pesky ones. Don't count on that to work. Members of Congress don't read bills before they enact them and don't read reports by the commissions they appoint.
The federal government needs to be downsized with an ax, not a scalpel. Start with eliminating several departments of government that the U.S. Constitution didn't intend, such as Education and Interior. It's perfectly legal. In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office reported on eliminating these and other federal departments as a way of reducing the deficit. But the bigger benefit would be sweeping away the thousands of regulations enforced by these departments and precluding more from being churned out. Ronald Reagan proposed eliminating the federal role in education in 1980, but since then, it's gotten larger.
State and local lawmakers are compounding the public's distress. New York and California are the worst offenders, according to Chief Executive magazine. New York is tagged the "least free state" by the Mercatus Center.
New Yorkers dodged a liberty-killing bullet in June, when a court denied New York City's final attempt to ban large sodas. The city had argued that its health department should be able to ban anything, as long as its rules are based on science.
Scary thinking. It's what Republicans need to loudly repudiate. On Aug. 7, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to slap a tax on sweetened drinks — yet another strategy to control what we eat. It won't pass any time soon, but she proudly says it's just a matter of time.
Latter-day "tyrannical kings" like DeLauro, who presume to know what's best for all of us, ought to be ridiculed, not re-elected. Reagan put it well: "Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives."