Monday, August 26, 2013

Regulatory Tyranny

There’s a book on my to-read list called Individual Rights and Government Wrongs that puts forth the idea that all government regulation should be done away. I’m not new to this concept; son Political Sphere has been honing this argument on me for a while, so I don’t have the automatic response that the very idea is crazy. I’m willing to hear this debate.
The book’s author, Brian Phillips, is local and spoke at our last Tea Party meeting. He points out that, regardless of regulations, it is never in the interest of businesses to sell inferior or dangerous products. And there are plenty of private information sources where we can learn about the safety and quality of products. Think about it; when we want to buy a major appliance, we probably look at Consumer Reports. When we want to buy a used car, we might also use Kelly Blue Book. When we want to hire a contractor, we’ll probably consult the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List. If reliable information is the commodity consumers demand, private enterprise can provide that commodity. Government simply is not the most reliable source of consumer information.
 Phillips said that most people bring up the Food and Drug Administration and say surely we need that. Again, if we used information sources and made informed decisions, we might be better off than waiting for government imprimatur. The FDA, as a regulatory agency, produces no food, develops no new medicines; it only prevents or allows actions of free citizens.
Phillips included a real example about the FDA, the Abigail Burroughs story. Abigail had a rare form of cancer as a young woman. Her doctor knew of a drug that could help, but it was not yet approved by the FDA. She sought permission from the FDA to use experimentally. They refused. She died eight months later, at the age of 21, in 2001. In 2004 the FDA approved the drug that might have saved her life, too late for her. If Abigail had been allowed to depend on her own doctor that she trusted, and the research she had done before making an informed decision to risk using the experimental drug, she might not have lost her life in her youth. The FDA was not protecting her; it was preventing her from acting on her own behalf.
Phillips said, “According to the FDA, Abigail did not have the right to act, except by permission. That’s the principle underlying all government regulation.”  I think that is the key point. When government acts as the decision maker and permission giver, government has usurped our freedom to act according to our own minds.
He says some people argue that government can regulate, because the majority has voted them that power, so it’s the will of the people. But the US is not a democracy. In a democracy, the majority can do anything it pleases. He gives the example of democratic Athens, where the majority voted to put Socrates to death for his ideas. The US is a representative republic; the Constitution spells out safeguards of our rights, purposely limiting government. It protects us from the tyranny of the majority.
Another way our current regulatory bureaucracy is anti-Constitutional is that, as I mentioned in my last post, law must be knowable by those who are subject to it. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse, so if an entrepreneur/business owner is required to hire someone (or possibly an entire department) whose entire job is to study compliance to bureaucratic regulation, because knowing the law without the intense study (and possibly even with it) is impossible, then do we actually have free enterprise? We have business by permission—and are always at risk of missing a detail for which we can be fined or prosecuted. “Whatever the ruler says” is tyranny.
So, if we agree we’re in a bad place in this regulatory nightmare, what do we do? I don’t know the eventual answer. I am at the information sharing point. Phillips said something I found hopeful: “The real revolution occurred in the fifteen years before a shot was fired—in the hearts and minds of the people.” And I remember my US history enough to know that’s true. People like Samuel Adams were speaking out, loudly, the decade before the Revolutionary War, spreading the message of freedom, helping people understand the principles at stake. I remember one amusing story about Samuel Adams’s very large dog, a Newfoundland I think; the dog had a thing against the bright red coats worn by the British military being quartered in the city to rule over the people. The dog and was known to take the occasional piece off a red tailcoat to carry in his teeth. Samuel Adams was the kind to give the dog a congratulatory pat on the head while insincerely apologizing or apparently failing to notice. Adams was a bit ahead of his time, outspoken—and right. We need some Sam Adamses in our time. Phillips said, “Those of us who want to return America to its purpose need to be sure of the value of our cause.”
Phillips rightly pointed out, “Our founding fathers also lived in gloomy times.” They went from a ragtag army to take on the world’s greatest military power—and they won.” They had to, because they were fighting for our God-given rights. He reminded us that they lost lives, and fortunes, but never lost their sacred honor.
It might seem easier to just give in and try to get along, but we may have already done that too long. We may need to stand up and speak up, more and more. We already have a brilliant Constitution; we just need to abide by it. Changing minds and hearts could be the most peaceful path to return to freedom.

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