A photo from a White House event in December 2017 shows President Donald Trump standing between two stacks of paper.
The pile on his right reached half-way up his shins. It was dwarfed by the massive pile on his left that looked like it could fit in a backyard shed and had to be brought in by forklift. Its several columns reached above the head of our 6-foot-2 president.
The stacks vividly illustrated how much we’ve empowered federal bureaucrats by burdening Americans with a ninefold increase in federal regulations from 1960 (about 20,000 pages) versus the present (more than 185,000 pages).
The president then ceremoniously snipped a red ribbon connecting the piles to demonstrate his administration’s commitment to ridding Americans of meddlesome and nettlesome red tape.
The Founding Fathers would cringe, maybe even faint, if they could see how we have overfed our Leviathan.
But regulations are only half the story. Laws, too, contribute to our bind.
In a 2016 study, Paul Larkin and John-Michael Seibler of the conservative Heritage Foundation reported that the federal government has created more than 4,000 criminal laws.
Again, the Founders never intended for our ruling class in Washington to rule over us in such stringent fashion.
To understand how far the tentacles reach, check out the absurdity on a Twitter account called A Crime a Day (@CrimeADay).
Twitter by and large is a cesspool of calumny and hate. Yet this account, the work of Mike Chase, a criminal defense lawyer from Hartford, Connecticut, is one of the most useful things you’ll find on social media.
Chase seeks to count and chronicle every statute in the federal criminal code. His Twitter feed reminds us how ridiculous, mundane and outdated many laws are -- and how much liberty we have ceded to our central government. For instance, consider just some of Chase’s offerings from this month.
April 7: It’s a crime “for a brewer to not immediately report an ‘unusual’ loss of beer while the beer was being transported between breweries.”
April 5: It’s a crime “to engage in population control of barn owls in Hawaii by putting oil on their eggs if you don’t use 100% corn oil.”
April 4: It’s a crime “for judges in the Federal Duck Stamp contest to not spend at least two hours reviewing the artwork submitted by duck stamp contestants before the contest begins.”
April 3, whose entry could be applicable to Joe Biden: It’s a crime “for a bathhouse employee, who works in a bathhouse that uses water from Hot Springs National Park, to touch bathers without getting a health examination first.”
April 1, assuredly not an April Fools’ Day prank, but which is enlightening in the wake of Robert Mueller’s pursuit of some Trump associates: It’s a crime “to lie to a National Park ranger, causing them to respond to a fictitious event.”
If you doubt him, Chase helpfully cites the section of the code where the laws can be found.
Chase is performing a valuable public service. Thus, his work deserves more attention. @CrimeADay has 102,000 followers. If they all retweeted his posts, maybe some of the people in power would soon see how ridiculous some of this stuff is -- and, more importantly, work to repeal it.
Many regulations in Trump’s big pile likely are necessary to protect Americans’ health and safety. But many others probably further neither, yet come with an economic cost that takes juice out of the economy. As for those dozens of volumes spelling out the federal criminal code, the libertarian journalist Albert Jay Nock has observed we give away something more valuable than cash with pointless laws.
“If we look beneath the surface of our public affairs, we can discern one fundamental fact, namely: a great redistribution of power between society and State,” Nock wrote. ”... Every assumption of state power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.“
Nock wrote that in 1935. Consider how much power we have surrendered to Washington since then. We need to take some of it back. And Mike Chase has come along to show us where to begin.
Bill Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editorial page editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida.