Sunday, July 26, 2009

Consequences are always 'unintended'

I just heard someone complaining about 'insurance lobbyists' and suggesting they should all be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town  (i.e.: D.C.)  on rails.  It occurred to me that he wanted the benefits of a huge government bureaucracy without any of the (unintended) consequences.

Nope.  Not very likely.

As Barry Goldwater used to say 'way back there in '64:  "A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you've got."  That is almost precisely the situation we are in today.  Government has expanded with such breathtaking speed since the mid-20th century that today it intrudes into nearly every aspect of modern life.

Travelling out-of-state for business or pleasure?  There's TSA at the airports, AmTrak at the train station, and the Interstate Highway System if you're going by car or bus.  The  'security screening'  at the airport is intense;  that at the train station is  (so far)  less intense, but give it time;  if you get within 75 miles of the border  (and in Florida, that's almost the entire state)  CBP claims the right to stop you for any reason  (or none at all)  to search you, your car, and all your passengers for contraband and to verify that you all have the right to be where you are.  If you complain, you will be tazed and possibly killed.  Talk about 'taking everything you've got'...

Are you in business?  Did you get the proper license(s)?  Have you applied for a taxpayer ID number so that you can be identified on your employees' W-2s?  Even if you don't have employees, you'll still need it to file your business tax returns.  And then there's OSHA and the NLRB to protect your employees, and ICE and CBP to lock them up.

Recently there was talk of something called  "Real ID".  The federal government was going to force states to modify their drivers' licenses to comply with federal security directives.  The rule was that you would not be permitted to board an airplane or an AmTrak train  (and soon intercity buses)  without a federally-approved form of identification.  The cost was phenomenal and the benefits illusory.  Many states dug their heels in -- it was the beginning of the current 10th amendment revolt we're hearing more about each day.  The federal government postponed implementation.

Well, heck, why are they being so all-fired difficult?  Isn't  "protecting the people"  one of the fundamental purposes of our government?

Ummm...  actually, no.  According to the Declaration of Independence, governments  (all of them)  exist to protect the rights of the people.  When the Constitution was written, the writers wanted to be a little more...  uh...  precise.  They wrote:  "We the People of the United States,  in Order to form a more perfect Union,  establish Justice,  insure domestic Tranquility,  provide for the common defence,  promote the general Welfare,  and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,  do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Still with me?  It was the people's intent to do all these things  (for themselves)  and so they created...  constituted...  the federal government to handle all the 'details'.  Silly peasants!  Did they not understand that the meanings of words change over time so that, eventually,  'promote the general Welfare'  would have an entirely different meaning than it did when the ink was wet, and that phrases like  'regulate Commerce ... among the several States'  would become a grant of near-dictatorial power?

The people granted to Congress certain powers  (in Article I, section 8)  and it was James Madison's view that those were the only ways Congress could  'promote the general Welfare'.  Among these powers was that of  'regulat[ing interstate] Commerce'  which was then understood to be a sort of  'negative power'.  Congress' duty as regards interstate commerce was to keep New York and Pennsylvania from  'ganging up'  on New Jersey and Maryland.  As it turns out, that's one of the powers Congress never actually needed  (just as we've never needed the protection of the 3rd amendment).  The states were too busy trading amongst each other and making money hand-over-fist to ever think about entering collusive agreements against other states.

Doesn't matter.  Over time,  'regulate [interstate] Commerce'  has morphed into a Frankenstein monster, all because of that damned little verb:  'regulate'.  It used to mean  'regulate the air pressure from my SCUBA tank so my lungs don't burst and I don't asphyxiate, either'  and  'regulate the militia so they all understand what "about face" means and they know how to clean their rifles and can all shoot reasonably well'.  Today it means  'bury under a mountain of words'.

In this way, Congress can do lots of things they ordinarily wouldn't be able to do:

The 2nd amendment prevents government from infringing the right to keep and bear arms, but if those  'arms'  or any part of them ever crossed a state line  (or ever might cross a state line in the foreseeable future)  they're  'interstate commerce'  and they can be  'regulated'  (i.e.: taxed and restricted so heavily that no one would ever think to 'infringe' them more).

In 1919 Congress knew they had no power to outlaw alcohol and needed the 18th amendment  (The Volstead Act)  to give them the power  (which lasted until the 21st amendment repealed it).  However, by the time Nixon was President, Congress merely relied on its power to  'regulate [interstate] Commerce'  to enable Nixon's 'War On Drugs'.

Almost everything Congress has done since FDR has been justified as either  'providing for the general welfare'  or  'regulating interstate commerce',  and almost everything Congress has done since FDR would be viewed with sheer horror by anyone who was present at the Constitutional Convention in 1791.

The laws of the United States  (that is: federal laws)  are compiled in a series of volumes called the Code of Federal Regulations, or 'CFR'.  It is so large that it is fair to say that no one knows what's in it.  There are 50 major volumes divided into 'titles' that cover every aspect of modern American life.  Were you to buy a printed CFR, it would cost you over $2,000 and when it was delivered you would have to have twenty feet of  (sturdy)  shelf space to store it.  The index volume alone weighs 2 pounds, 10 ounces or 1.2Kg for the metrically inclined.  Parts of your copy would be obsolete in three months;  all of it would be obsolete in a year.

The CFR regulates everything including insurance companies.  It is so arcane that it is not possible to go through life without violating at least one federal regulation.  Since doing so would make any insurance company executive a federal criminal, and since every one of them has certainly done so, even if they can't say precisely which regulation they violated, it is incumbent upon those insurance company executives to stay 'friendly' with Congress lest they find themselves on the wrong end of a Congressional investigatory committee.  Thus the presence of lobbyists.

My naïve little friend from the first paragraph wants the impossible:  a huge government that works for his benefit.

He's going to have to give up one of those...

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