What a fine lesson that would be

By Kevin Avram
web posted July 17, 2000

Keith Chambers is a character. He's one of those guys everybody loves or wishes they knew. He has a keen sense of humor and irony. He loves American history, and is regularly pointing out various absurdities in emails or written stories that he fires off to his friends.

The most recent one I came across is a small piece he's been circulating about words. It notes that the formal explanation of the Pythagorean Theorem has 24 words. For those who aren't familiar with that, the Pythagorean Theorem is a highly technical geometric equation related to triangles.

Archimedes' Principle has 67 words. He was the scientist and thinker who defined the principle that explains why ships don't sink.

The Lord's Prayer has less than 70 words. The Ten Commandments are made up of 179 words. There are 286 words in the Gettysburg Address.

The US Declaration of Independence is considered to be one of the most eloquent and thoughtful documents ever written. Its author, Thomas Jefferson, stated that the source of our liberty is the Almighty, and that it is God -- not government -- who endows us with the right to life and liberty. He then systematically describes all the unjust and inappropriate things that had been done by the British and carefully explains why the United States must be a free and independent nation. The entire document has 1 300 words.

The final situation to which Keith's story draws attention brings us to the Year 2000. It addresses one simple issue - the sale of cabbage. In stark contrast to the small number of words needed to explain profound scientific insights, the eternal truths found in the Lord's prayer and Ten Commandments, and the wisdom and insights of the Declaration of Independence, US regulations dealing with the sale of cabbage require 26 911 words. Should we laugh or cry?

Unfortunately, this regulatory overkill is not an aberration or exception.

Americans are being buried under an ever-growing mountain of regulation. The 1999 Federal Register, which is the summary of all federal regulations, contains more than 71,000 pages. And every year a plethora of federal agencies issues thousands more. Currently, there are about 4 500 new rules in the process of being established. Of these, 137 are said to be "economically significant." That means each of them will have a negative impact on citizens to the tune of at least $100 million. It also means that if we consider just these incoming regulations and not the 71 000 pages that already exist, the compliance cost to taxpayers will be more than $13.7 billion.

The cost to comply with the entire regulatory package that the US government imposes on people is difficult to determine, but the best estimates put it at about $750 billion per year.

Even more significant is that all this regulation makes it increasingly difficult to work and function -- in some cases nearly impossible. In the past five years, the Clinton administration increased the number of rules that small business has to deal with by 35 per cent. It all means that Washington is slowly turning us into a nation of lawbreakers. The way things are headed there won't be a single American who will be able to get through the day without unknowingly breaking some kind of a federal regulation.

The irony is that there probably isn't one person in the Executive Branch of government -- including White House personnel -- or the Congress who's read all these regulations. That alone could prompt anyone to wonder what might happen if starting now, everyone elected to Congress or named to a cabinet position had to sit down and read every word of every federal regulation -- including the fine print - before being allowed to assume the duties and responsibilities of their new position. Good luck doing it before their term is over.

What a fine lesson in the foolishness of big government and excessive regulation that would be.

© 2000, The Niobrara Institute, Bellevue University Campus, PO Box 540787, Omaha NE 68154. The Niobrara Institute is a member of the State Policy Network - an affiliation of state-based think tanks and policy research organizations that are committed to the principles of constitutional government, market-oriented solutions, and values that are consistent with the writings of America's Founding Fathers.

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