Michael Barone writes: Is there any way to reverse the trend to ever more intrusive, bossy government? Things have gotten to such a pass, argues Charles Murray, that only civil disobedience might — might — work. But the chances are good enough, he says, that he’s written a book about it: By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.
“The Progressive push to give politically insulated bureaucrats power to impose detailed and often incomprehensible rules was a product of the industrial era, a time when it was supposed that experts with stopwatches could design maximally productive assembly lines.”
Murray has a track record of making seemingly outlandish proposals that turn out to be widely accepted public policy. His 1984 book Losing Ground recommended the radical step of abolishing all welfare payments. A dozen years later the federal welfare reform act took a long step in that direction.
[Order Charles Murray’s book “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission” from Amazon.com]
Murray was prompted to write By the People, he says, when a friend who owns a small business was confronted by OSHA inspectors and had an experience similar to one recounted in Philip Howard’s The Death of Common Sense.
The inspector found violations. Railings in his factory were 40 inches high, not 42; there was no automatic shutoff on a conveyor belt cordoned off from workers; a worker with a beard was allowed to use a non-close-fitting dust mask. Picayune stuff. But unless changes were made, the inspector said, we’ll put you out of business.
“What is to be done? Citizens, says Murray, should be willing to violate laws that the ordinary person would instantly recognize as ridiculous. And deep-pocketed citizens should set up a Madison Fund, to subsidize their legal defense and pay their fines.”
How had things come to this pass? Murray ascribes it to the abandonment of effective limits on government embedded in the Constitution by its prime architect James Madison. That started with the early twentieth century Progressives, who passed laws setting up independent and supposedly expert bureaucrats in charge of regulation, and furthered by New Deal Supreme Court decisions.
“The cultural uniformity that people remember from the post-World War II decades is the exception rather than the rule in American history. We were a religiously, ethnically and regionally diverse nation in James Madison’s time, Murray says, and we are once again. The uniformity temporarily imposed by shared wartime and postwar experiences is no more.”
Murray argues that these mistakes cannot be reversed by the political or judicial processes. The Court won’t abandon longstanding doctrines on which millions of people have relied. Congress, even a Republican Congress working with a Republican president, won’t repeal vaguely worded statutes that give regulators wide-ranging discretion. Read the rest of this entry »