Government Over-Regulation

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.

About Frank Davis

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8 Responses to Government Over-Regulation

  1. Timothy Goodacre says:

    PHE, ASH, Action on Sugar, Action on Salt, the medical profession are all conspiring to take our freedom away. Who asked them to ? Not me for sure !

  2. beobrigitte says:

    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.
    So did I. And it was a free, wonderful world that we enjoyed and took for granted.

    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.
    Back then people operated on common sense, not fear. Those who had one over the eight drove very careful and slowly.
    Then there were those who demanded to be carried to their cars to drive home who were just left where they were. People looked out for one another.

    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.
    Which created a forest of often contradictory laws and people demanding more laws so their child-like existence won’t be threatened.

    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)?
    That’s what I fear.

  3. Barry Homan says:

    “… 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 …”

    (cough) Sorry Frank, I strongly disagree. While there are those who develop a certain level of tolerance, the average yob runs a big risk being drunk on the road.

  4. Smoking Lamp says:

    The social controlling class (and their minions in public health and tobacco control) seek to impose laws and regulate in order to strengthen their bureaucratic monopoly on power. Now, even in place that have restated tobacco control’s persecution they are trying again. In Greece, a stronghold of individual smokers’ liberty we see the politicians in league with the global bureaucrats: “A new Greek leader wants people to obey a public smoking ban — for real, this time.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/a-new-greek-leader-wants-people-to-obey-a-public-smoking-ban–for-real-this-time/2019/09/21/f21cd774-d4cb-11e9-8924-1db7dac797fb_story.html

  5. Joe L. says:

    Related: It seems people are taking note of the power of the votes of the vaping community, upset with government overregulation in the form of the recent flavor bans. This is encouraging (although voting for the Democrat candidate who eventually opposes Trump isn’t going to help vapers any):

    How vapers could cost Donald Trump the presidency in 2020

    I wish more smokers would stand up for their rights and form a cohesive group; we could have a similar, if not greater, impact. Smokers need to shake off the propaganda and stop feeling guilty and ashamed for enjoying tobacco. We can vote out establishment politicians and vote in proponents of free choice, starting at the local level, and regain our freedoms. Tobacco Control must be destroyed!

    • jaxthefirst says:

      The problem is, Joe, there are so few of “proponents of free choice” in positions of influence and indeed so few angry-enough smokers to support them just for that (although I certainly would!) With just a few minority parties actually stating that they’d try and at least relax anti-smoking legislation – and probably with even those having a few anti-smokers lurking in their midst, being as anti-smokers, like rats, tend to get everywhere – realistically we’re into the territory of choosing the least-worst option, in terms of avoiding parties (like Labour or the LibDems) who actively trumpet their anti-smoking credentials and make endless threats directed solely towards smokers, leaving us with the somewhat unsatisfactory option of voting for parties which simply aren’t so vocal, but don’t say anything either way, in the hope that this means that at least they’ll tend to leave us alone. A hope which can often be in vain (e.g. plain packaging and display bans under the Tories).

      Of course, if one is lucky enough to be in a constituency where one of those minor parties are standing – as I was two elections ago – then one can vote accordingly (as I did), but with so few people in the slightest bit bothered about smoking (because most don’t smoke) and thinking more about a whole host of other issues when deciding who to vote for, smokers’ votes are effectively swamped out of existence. It also doesn’t help that even those parties who profess to want a relaxation of anti-smoking legislation rarely highlight it, for fear of being jumped all over by the bigger parties and, possibly, for fear of alienating any potential anti-smoking voters who may be considering voting for them because of their policies on other things. So unless they are the kind of people who look carefully into each party’s policies, even many smokers remain unaware of those parties who might offer the possibility of “the dogs being called off.”

      And that’s the nub of it, really. The whole anti-smoking movement is an illustration of prejudice allowed to run rampant. This is where it ends up, with a minority of the population actively persecuted by the State and their supporters, unchallenged – nay, even supported – by a gullible, inward-looking public who simply refuse to see what’s happening to their fellow citizens simply because it doesn’t affect them. The anti-smoking brainwashing has been going on for so long and so relentlessly that there is no-one in any position of power – absolutely no-one – who is prepared to publicly fight our corner in even the most minor way against the massed ranks of the totally-convinced, anti-smoking converts who form the large majority of the PTB today.

      I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps there’s a space for a new political party representing those who currently have no (meaningful) representation, in terms of those who are increasingly feeling the heavy hand of the State working very obviously (and shamelessly) against them in particular, but find that there is no-one speaking up for them in the corridors of power. Smokers are the obvious ones, but as other groups come into the crosshairs of the more controlling elements of our authorities, it seems likely that more could come to be included under that canopy over time – drinkers, the overweight, white people, men, Christians, car drivers, i.e. anyone who is currently “less fashionable” to support than their opposite numbers in society. Who knows, if the ever-shrieking Remainers in Parliament manage, even at this late hour, to overturn the EU Referendum result – bearing in mind that the vast majority of our MPs are themselves Remainers (which is why Leave-inclined voters were, like smokers, brushed aside and ignored for 40-odd years, until the advent of UKIP shook everything up) – such a party may even find many Brexiteers joining their ranks too, because you can bet your bottom dollar that should such a travesty take place, as far as most of our MPs are concerned, everything would just go back to “business as usual” (i.e. completely ignoring Leavers’ concerns for another 40-odd years). Such a party would be the equivalent of the repeatedly-refused “none of the above” box on the ballot paper.

      Just a thought.

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