I grew up in a world where cars didn’t have seat belts, and drivers drank and drove, and you could smoke pretty much everywhere, except in church.
We’re living in an increasingly regulated world. Back in my days in architecture, there was something called the Building Regulations, which I remember as a slim volume of laws. The last time I saw it, I remember noticing that it had got a lot thicker, with whole new sections added. But nobody was much bothered about Building Regulations, because they only regulated how buildings were designed and what they were made of. They didn’t regulate the people inside them, and how they behaved.
And that’s the difference between, on the one hand, Building Regulations and, on the other hand, seat-belt and drink-drive laws and smoking bans. The former don’t restrict people’s behaviour, and the latter do.
I don’t remember either seat-belt or drink-drive laws having much of a notable effect. It wasn’t as if there were cars with drunken drivers in ditches everywhere before the drink-drive laws were introduced. And that was because people can drive cars perfectly well while they’re drunk, in much the same way that they can walk around while they’re drunk. Probably the main reason why there weren’t multiple pile-ups before drink-drive laws were introduced was because extremely drunk drivers couldn’t even manage to climb into their cars.
I don’t remember anyone complaining about seat-belt and drink-drive laws (not entirely true: my father objected to seat-belt laws). Most people thought they were perfectly sensible laws. Most people don’t complain about smoking bans either (not entirely true: I’ve been complaining about them non-stop for the past 12 years). And that’s because the restrictions are slight, and don’t affect everyone. And they only require people to regulate themselves in small ways. People can live with that.
But the sum net effect of all these gradually mounting minor restrictions and regulations and constraints is a large and ever-increasing loss of freedom. We are gradually becoming imprisoned.
And the source of all of these rules and regulations is government, and governments always seem to be expanding. And the bigger government gets, the more rules and regulations it makes. And governments everywhere seem to grow in size.
I offered an explanation for this process of government expansion in Idle Theory., which is the idea that technological innovation (roads, bridges, planes, ships, computers, phones) acts to increase social idleness, with busy hard-working people replaced by idle playful people.
A variant of this was that as social idleness rose with technological innovation, newly idle people were simply given jobs in government, where their only task was to make new laws, rules and regulations.
In busy societies, the idle ruling class (yellow) were few in numbers (and consisted of a king and his court) and made few laws. But as social idleness rose, this ruling class expanded in numbers (mostly in government civil service), and created more and more laws, more and more rules and regulations.
The net result is that as societies become idler, everyone still has a job, but more and more people are working to regulate and restrict what everyone else can do. It’s why (particularly in the USA) there seem to be countless numbers of lawyers.
But since the effect of law is always to restrict what people can do, the inevitable consequence of multiplying rules and regulations must be a reduction in social idleness. Instead of life getting easier and easier, it starts getting harder and harder. Or at least while technological innovations (computers, mobile phones, etc) continue to increase social idleness, multiplying rules and regulations at the same time reduce social idleness. So while new cars are faster than old cars, compulsory speed limits negate the gain.
The EU is probably the best exemplar of this effect, with its multiple tiers of government (local, regional, national, and European), all of which generate more and more stifling laws and rules and regulations.
There’s nothing ideologically-driven about this process. It’s just something that happens naturally. If the expanding governments are progressive in character, their new laws will restrict traditional behaviours (e.g. smoking and drinking). If the expanding governments are conservative in character, their new laws will enforce tradition (e.g. church attendance?). Either way, the expanding governments will be increasingly restrictive in one way or other.
Brexit has been a popular revolt by angry, over-regulated people against the expanding administrative EU state, and is an attempt to remove one entire tier of government (the European tier). But if government is always expanding, is the removal of a complete tier of government likely to be successful? Won’t it just expand elsewhere (e.g. local government)?
Seen this way, our modern highly-innovative but also highly-regulated societies are like cars which are being driven with one foot firmly on the accelerator pedal, and the other firmly on the brake pedal. Either the engine will stall, as the brake overwhelms the accelerator, and we will find ourselves in an extremely restricted and unfree (and poor) society, bound by innumerable rules and regulations. Or the brakes will be removed, and we’ll experience an explosion of new freedom in an almost completely unregulated world. Or perhaps there’s a middle way between these two extremes.