The tyranny of the ruling class is one thing. The tyranny of overregulation is quite another.
The first can be solved by removing the ruling class. The second cannot. Overregulation is like a hydra: cut off one head and two grow back in its place.
In one sense it is good to follow rules. An orderly society cannot exist if people do not follow rules. And yet, as attorney Philip Howard has been at pains to demonstrate, too many rules and too much regulation stifle economic activity. Worse yet, it absolves people of responsibility and stifles the free will that sustains good character.
Of course, overregulation is make-work for bureaucrats. It is their reason for being.
Legislators also like overregulation. With the best of intentions and the worst of common sense they want to show that they are preventing bad things from happening.
Try questioning a regulation that is supposed to be saving the environment or helping little children or protecting middle class investors. You will immediately be attacked as a polluter or a bigot or a thief or worse.
Reviewing Howard’s most recent book, Stuart Taylor summarizes the basic concept:
In "The Rule of Nobody," Mr. Howard shows how federal, state and local laws and regulations have programmed officials of both parties to follow rules so detailed, rigid and, often, obsolete as to leave little room for human judgment. He argues passionately that we will never solve our social problems until we abandon what he calls a misguided legal philosophy of seeking to put government on regulatory autopilot. He also predicts that our legal-governmental structure is "headed toward a stall and then a frightening plummet toward insolvency and political chaos."
This has produced a moral calamity, a systematic undermining of moral responsibility and individual judgment:
But he warns that the "cumulative complexity" of the dense rulebooks that prescribe "every nuance of how law is implemented" leaves good officials without the freedom to do what makes sense on the ground. Stripped of the authority that they should have, he adds, officials have little accountability for bad results.
Over the years Howard has offered a myriad of examples of senseless regulations. Taylor presents a sampling:
After a tree fell into a stream and caused flooding during a winter storm, Franklin Township, N.J., was barred from pulling the tree out until it had spent 12 days and $12,000 for the permits and engineering work that a state environmental rule required for altering any natural condition in a "C-1 stream." The "Volcker Rule," designed to prevent banks from using federally insured deposits to speculate in securities, was shaped by five federal agencies and countless banking lobbyists into 963 "almost unintelligible" pages. In New York City, "disciplining a student potentially requires 66 separate steps, including several levels of potential appeals"; meanwhile, civil-service rules make it virtually impossible to terminate thousands of incompetent employees.