The Child(ish) Slavery of the Nanny State
“[Tyrannical] power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?” ~Alexis de Tocqueville
In America today, we would be hard pressed to think of a single aspect of our lives politicians and government bureaucrats not only have their hands in, but are in clear up to their elbows. The busybody police of the ever expanding nanny-state have concluded that we, as mere mortals, are far too foolish to make important decisions on our own. Instead, we, the children of the benevolent federal leviathan, must have the minutiae of our daily lives dictated to us in ways large and small.
From the content of school lunches to the salt content in restaurant food, to the volume of water that can go down our toilet in a single flush, or the amount of water that may come out of a shower head each minute, whether we can use an incandescent light bulb, the average miles per gallon new cars must achieve, to mandating the contents of insurance policies…the list is literally endless.
When such regulations and restrictions are discussed, invariably the proponents of ever more government regulation and control drag out the absolute worst case scenario, and use that as the pretense to govern everything up to that point. The point is to find a “victim” to be the poster child for said new regulation or mandate, thereby rendering any criticism of the regulation as an attack on the victim and further proof of the critic’s inhumanity.
Yet there will always be a “victim” to justify every new rule, regulation, policy and mandate. The very process presupposes that there exists the possibility to alleviate human suffering through the elimination of risk. Of course, that is simply impossible, but even if it were theoretically possible, the greater question is, at what cost? The only way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate risk, and the only way to eliminate risk is to take away the freedoms of individuals to choose to engage in behavior that brings risk. At that point we are nothing more than slaves to a government, having freedom of thought and choice removed for our own good.
The driving force behind ever expanding regulations is a combination of politicians and bureaucrats needing to justify their pay, as well as a desire to control the lives of others because they understand, even if we don’t, that their brilliance will lead to our happiness. Or to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, they are comforted in their tyranny because they know they do it for our own good; or so they think…
Yet has behavior modification through regulation improved our lives? It certainly has not improved the economy. We have literally hundreds of thousands of pages of federal and state regulations. How can the average citizen possibly be expected to know the intricacies of so many rules? And, being unable to know and understand them all, they are always at risk of violating some rule or regulation inadvertently, and having done so put themselves and their livelihoods at risk, true victims to the capriciousness of government bureaucrats eager to wield power over their dominion. By some estimates, it costs U.S. businesses almost $500 billion per year in compliance costs with the tax code, and according to a 2011 study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the cost of complying with regulations now stands at almost $2 trillion annually.
Think about that! The cost of complying with the tax code and government regulations is now nearly as large as the entire FY2010 federal budget! And for what? Have we stopped bad things from happening? Clearly we haven’t. In the wake of the Enron/WorldCom fiasco we passed massive new regulations meant to prevent these occurrences in the future. We’ve passed Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA and a slew of other regulatory laws, and yet that did not prevent the financial meltdown just before the 2008 elections, did it? We’ve now passed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, but it won’t change anything either, at least not for the better. Democrats made certain that Dodd-Frank did not impact Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest recipients of bailout money, and the two organizations at the center of the meltdown.
Instead, the huge corporations with their high-priced lobbyists and attorneys will carve out special exemptions and loopholes which will free them from compliance with the new regulations. Do you know who won’t be exempt? The millions of small businesses that create the vast majority of new jobs in this country. As a result, the economy will continue to grow at an agonizingly slow pace, and the suffering will be prolonged for the millions of Americans looking for work.
One man who discovered the pain of regulatory, bureaucratic micromanagement had no one to blame but himself. That would be former U.S. Representative, Senator and 1972 Democrat presidential candidate, George McGovern. McGovern would never be mistaken for a conservative, or even a moderate. If McGovern leaned any farther to the left he’d fall over. He spent nearly half a century in politics, and during that time was an enthusiastic supporter of ever more government intervention in our lives.
However, after retiring, McGovern made a failed attempt at running small Connecticut hotel. For a man of his extensive experience, surely that would be a walk in the park. The failure was explained in a 2004 interview in which he said “You know, the hotel business may be the most difficult place in the world to make a living unless you happen to own the Waldorf-Astoria. It was not a success… I saw all the difficulties — record-keeping, keeping track of the tax applications, paying the help. It gave me a new appreciation for the problems of small businesses…It’s possible that small business should be exempted from some of those things. Who can be against anything called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration? But maybe some of the requirements should be eased off a little bit.”
In 2008, McGovern seemed to have finally gained an appreciation for individual liberty. He said then, “Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society. Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life. The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.”
Just so, sir, just so. One down, thousands more politicians and bureaucrats to go. With rights come responsibilities, and with freedom comes risk. These things are inseparable, and the attempt to separate them has only led to our own enslavement.