Jay Reding.com

Leviathan Unchained

Harold Meyerson, writing in The American Prospect argues that Americans are “hypocrites” because we dislike regulations in general, but like specific regulations:

Last Thursday, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a survey that revealed what Pew termed “Mixed Views of Government Regulation.” But “mixed,” in this case, means anti-regulatory in matters of ideology and pro-regulatory in practice. Asked whether they believed that government regulation of business was necessary to protect the public or that such regulation usually does more harm than good, just 40 percent answered that regulation was necessary, while 52 percent said it did more harm than good.

But then came the specifics. Pew asked whether federal regulations should be strengthened, kept as is, or reduced in particular areas. When it came to food production and packaging, 53 percent said strengthen, 36 percent said keep as is, and just 7 percent said reduce. In environmental safeguards, the breakdown was 50 percent strengthen, 36 percent keep as is, 17 percent reduce. In car safety and efficiency, the split was 45, 42, and 9 percent. In workplace safety and health, it was 41, 45, and 10 percent. And with prescription drugs, it was 39, 33, and 20 percent.

This is hardly a new discovery—public opinion polls have shown similar results for decades. In general, Americans dislike government regulations, but they want stronger regulations in specific areas.

The Overreaches of the Regulatory State

Meyerson thinks that this is hypocrisy and that Americans are “in denial.” Meyerson misses the point:
when Americans are directly effected by regulations, they oppose them. But it’s easy for Americans to want those “other guys” to be regulated. And in fact, the numbers are not that heavily weighted towards more regulation. A plurality thinks that there’s too much regulation, a slightly larger plurality thinks that there are two little. A smaller plurality thinks that the amount of regulations are fine the way they are. Together, the number of people who want fewer regulations or the status quo outnumber those who want to expand the regulatory state.

And as the regulatory state grows and the state and federal level, we will likely see the number of people wanting to roll back government regulation rise. Take these examples:

A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because the school told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the person who was inspecting all lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom that day.

The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs — including in-home day care centers — to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.

When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.

Imagine what will happen when something like that becomes commonplace. It’s one thing for a government regulator to go after “big corporations” with stupid and destructive regulations. But the second those stupid and destructive regulations effect the average American, it will be time to break out the tar and feathers.

And the school-lunch police aren’t the only example of regulatory insanity going on in America today.As one Nevada farmer found out, the regulatory state doesn’t give a damn about common sense or your rights:

I can’t tell you how sick to my stomach I was watching that first dish of Mint Lamb Meatballs hit the bottom of the unsanitized trash can. Here we were with guests who had paid in advance and had come from long distances away anticipating a wonderful dining experience, waiting for dinner while we were behind the kitchen curtain throwing it away! I know of the hours and labor that went into the preparation of that food. We asked the inspector if we could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day. (A personal family choice to use our own food.) We were denied and she was insulted that we would even consider endangering our families health. I assured her that I had complete faith and trust in Giovanni our chef and the food that was prepared, (obviously, or I wouldn’t be wanting to serve it to our guests).

I then asked if we couldn’t feed the food to our “public guests” or even to our private family, then at least let us feed it to our pigs. (I think it should be a criminal action to waste any resource of the land. Being dedicated to our organic farm, we are forever looking for good inputs into our compost and soil and good food that can be fed to our animals. The animals and compost pile always get our left over garden surplus and food. We truly are trying to be as sustainable as possible.) Again, a call to Susan and another negative response. Okay, so let me get this right. So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?! Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals? Not only were we denied the use of the food for any purpose, to ensure that it truly was unfit for feed of any kind we were again threatened with police action if we did not only throw the food in the trash, but then to add insult to injury, we were ordered to pour bleach on it.

There was nothing wrong with the food, other than it didn’t meet the purely bureaucratic whims of the health inspector. And this wasn’t one deranged idiot going off on a whim: the state health inspector was constantly on the phone with her superior, who not only ratified each decision, but was apparently calling the shots.

This is the face of government regulation in America: it’s not about protecting people, it’s about power and control. Was the state protecting that elementary school student from anything? No, the options she was later given were worse than what her parents had packed. Was there any danger to the guests of that Nevada farmer? No, but because the government doesn’t want any deviation from their narrow rules, they acted like tinpot dictators and made the farmers throw away the food and pour bleach on it.

In a sane world, the people responsible for those decisions would be fired immediately. But this is not a sane world. It’s a world where too much power has been abdicated, too much common sense abandoned, and too much authority ceded ever upwards. And that is why Americans hate regulation—and as more Americans experience this kind of rampant idiocy, the number of Americans who see the regulatory state as the enemy will only increase.

And when Americans say that there are too many regulations on small business, they are absolutely right. Take for example what happened to a small business trying to operate a beer garden in Arlington, Virginia. Government bureaucrats at the local level are ofter just as rapacious and just as foolhardy as their compatriots on the state and federal level. For another example, watch this video outlining the many needless hurdles a small business owner has to go through to open an ice cream parlor in San Francisco.

We talk about how important it is to foster the growth of small businesses and how critical it is to get Americans working again. But as the above examples demonstrate, our system of massive government overregulation costs jobs and takes thousands of dollars out of the economy and into the hands of the government apparatchiks who administer this maddening system.

So yes, it’s easy for the average American to say that someone else should be regulated—given that the media has turned big corporations into mustache-twirling villains at every opportunity it’s no wonder that a plurality support more regulation. But when Americans look at the issue of regulation holistically, they see the reality that regulations hurt more people than they protect.

Meyerson thinks that the problem with America is that government isn’t powerful enough. But a government powerful enough to make BP, GE, or any other company do whatever government wants is a government that is powerful enough to make you do whatever government wants. And that doesn’t even get into a discussion of regulatory capture. Big business doesn’t hate government regulation—they’ve learned to use it as a cudgel to beat down competition before they can rise up to challenge the established players. That beer garden in Virginia can’t afford an army of lawyers and lobbyists to negotiate with the regulators—but a chain restaurant can. What is the result of this nonsensical regulatory overreach? Fewer small business and more powerful big ones.

American’s aren’t hypocrits—at least not in the way Meyerson accuses them of being. Rather, Americans need to understand that the same sort of regulatory insanity that causes schoolchildren to be given chicken nuggets or farmers to have to throw away perfectly good food is no less idiotic and no less harmful when it’s applied to big corporations.