The victims of today's excessive government regulatory zeal face the same enemy confronted by the nation's Founders: unconstrained centralized power.
The modern version of unconstrained power is an oligarchy enforced by unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats, all agents of the executive branch and immune to recall.
No one can escape the vice-grip squeeze on the artery of a free nation -- neither businesses nor individuals can find relief. We're suffocating under the choke-hold from the liberal ruling elites, whose vision of good government is consulting with the Federal Register each morning to find out what we are allowed to eat for breakfast, when and how we can wash our clothes or turn on the thermostat, what kind of toilet to flush, how much O2 we can breathe in, and how much CO2 we can breathe out.
The 18th-century version of unconstrained power was physical intimidation wielded by agents of the monarchy, who used a standing army to suppress natural rights, enforce taxation ,and impose political will, as observed by historian Bernard Bailyn. Our Founders' rebellion was "against British power, justified ... by the belief that unconstrained power will destroy free states which are fragile, and the liberties that free people enjoy."
The Third and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, drawn up as a pair, were the means to deny such feared physical intimidation from the government. The Fourth Amendment, proscribing unwarranted search and seizure, is certainly relevant today, and for the most part, it forms the rationale for the unenumerated right to privacy.
The Third Amendment, prohibiting the quartering of government troops in peacetime in private homes, seems irrelevant in modern times. Yet how is the intrusion of government regulators into every corner of our lives substantively different from quartering troops in our homes without our consent?
While Americans have clashed in sharp debate over taxation from the very beginning, government regulation has, oddly enough, escaped scrutiny. Yet regulators' destruction of a vibrant economy by strangling industry and commerce while depriving owners of their private property rights is as toxic and pervasive as taxation.
After all, fewer than half of the nation's citizens pay income taxes. When it comes to federal regulation, everyone pays tribute. No one can escape. The costs are staggering. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) says regulatory excess imposes unnecessary costs of $1.8 trillion every year -- taxes in effect, if not in name.
Excessive taxation impoverishes a nation and its citizens, a theme well-documented by Bailyn in his treatise "To Begin The World Anew." During our fledgling nation's debate over ratification of the Constitution in 1787-88, opponents of the federal model found their voice through, presumably, two Constitutional Convention delegates from New York, who wrote several monologues under the pseudonym "Brutus."
"Brutus" wrote an athletic exegesis decrying the federal government's power to tax. This condemnation makes for an even more potent description of today's power to regulate1:
[Such power] exercised without limitation will introduce itself into every corner of the city and country. ... it will enter the house of every gentleman, watch over his cellar, wait upon his cook in the kitchen, follow the servants into the parlour, preside over the table, and note down all he eats and drinks; it will attend him to his bedchamber and watch him while he sleeps; it will follow the professional man in his office or his study ... it will follow the mechanic to his shop, and his work, and will haunt him ... it will penetrate into the most obscure cottage and finally will light upon the head of every person in the United States[.]
The prescient scenes described by "Brutus," perhaps viewed as histrionic melodrama then, have come to pass more than two centuries later.
Who would imagine the federal government requiring its citizens to purchase health insurance, exacting a tithe for merely being alive?
Who would imagine the federal government telling its citizens what kind of light bulbs to buy while dictating to the free market what kinds of light bulbs may be manufactured and sold?
Who would imagine one single sentence in the Energy Improvement Security Act of 2007 spawning ninety pages of light bulb labeling rules from the FTC?
Who would imagine the EPA sacrificing tens of thousands of jobs in the California San Joaquin Valley to preserve the habitat of a three-inch fish?
Who would imagine the DOE and EPA joining hands to crush the refinement of oil, coal, and natural resources, depriving the nation of cheap energy and raw materials, upon which all economic growth depends?
An entire economy in Washington, D.C. thrives on NGOs, lobbyists, and trade organizations either advocating for regulations or fighting against them. In D.C., every problem has a regulatory solution, always a government mandate imposing rules and codes; reporting; exacting tithes; and assessing fines, fees, and forced compliance with thousands of unintelligible requirements consuming billions of dollars in legal fees.
The effect of regulatory overreach in the 21st century goes beyond bruising the ideology of private property and free-market economics. Private risk-taking is discouraged as special-interest stakeholders, emboldened by government naysayers, declare victory when a private investor is forced to abandon plans to open or expand a mill, factory, refinery, mine, or power plant.
Cheers erupt when a factory-opening ribbon-cutting ceremony is underwritten by federal grants, only to be shut down a few months later when the taxpayer subsidies run out. Regulatory co-conspirators persist in the fantasy that rule-making from Washington, D.C. experts, who have never spent a single day in their lives making a product or meeting a payroll, will have no effect on jobs or investment. Why are serious journalists surprised when 15 million jobs, especially of the green variety, can't be found?
Unrestrained, incontinent, and unrepentant government regulators have a headlock on the nation's citizens, occupying every square inch of our persons and soiling our dwellings. We are all under house arrest by Obama's Standing Army of Regulators until the new Congress demands that they be expelled, dispersed, and paroled until exchanged.
1Bernard Bailyn, To Begin The World Anew, Vintage Books, 2004