“Schadenfreude” is that lovely German word that means “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others”. When the others are the Americans, the delight is even sharper, but in this case it's dulled again by the realisation that we're no better off on this side of the Atlantic.
Here's FOX Business Network journalist John Stossel ...
“If you have 10,000 regulations,” Winston Churchill said, “you destroy all respect for law.”
He was right. But Churchill never imagined a government that would add 10,000 year after year. That’s what we have in America. We have 160,000 pages of rules from the feds alone. States and localities have probably doubled that. We have so many rules that legal specialists can’t keep up. Criminal lawyers call the rules “incomprehensible.” They are. They are also “uncountable.” Congress has created so many criminal offences that the American Bar Association says it would be futile to even attempt to estimate the total.
So what do the politicians and bureaucrats of the permanent government do? They pass more rules.
That’s not good. It paralyses life.
Politicians sometimes say they understand the problem. They promise to “simplify.” But they rarely do. Mostly, they come up with new rules. It’s just natural. It’s how the public measures politicians. Schoolchildren on Washington tours ask, “What laws did you pass?” If they don’t pass new laws, the media whine about the “do-nothing Congress.”
This is also not good.
When so much is illegal, common sense dies. Out of fear of breaking rules, people stop innovating, trying, helping.
Think I exaggerate? Consider what happened in Britain, a country even more rule-bound than America. A man had an epileptic seizure and fell into a shallow pond. Rescue workers might have saved him, but they wouldn’t enter the 3-foot-deep pond. Why? Because “safety” rules passed after rescuers drowned in a river now prohibited “emergency workers” from entering water above their ankles. Only 30 minutes later, when rescue workers with “stage 2 training” arrived, did they enter the water, discover that the man was dead and carry him to the approved inflatable medical tent. Twenty other cops, firemen and “rescuers” stood next to the pond and watched.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, sometimes called the first libertarian thinker, said, “The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished ... the more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be.” He complained that there were “laws and regulations “more numerous than the hairs of an ox.” What would he have thought of our world?
Big-government advocates will say that as society grows more complex, laws must multiply to keep up. The opposite is true. It is precisely because society is unfathomably complex that laws must be kept simple. No legislature can possibly prescribe rules for the complex network of uncountable transactions and acts of cooperation that take place every day. Not only is the knowledge that would be required to make such a regulatory regime work unavailable to the planners, it doesn’t actually exist, because people don’t know what they will want or do until they confront alternatives in the real world. Any attempt to manage a modern society is more like a bull in a darkened china shop than a finely tuned machine. No wonder the schemes of politicians go awry.
F.A. Hayek wisely said, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” Another Nobel laureate, James M. Buchanan, put it this way: “Economics is the art of putting parameters on our utopias.”
Barack Obama and his ilk in both parties don’t want parameters on their utopias. They think the world is subject to their manipulation. That idea was debunked years ago.
“With good men and strong governments everything was considered feasible,” the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote. But with the advent of economics, “it was learned that ... there is something operative which power and force are unable to alter and to which they must adjust themselves if they hope to achieve success, in precisely the same way as they must taken into account the laws of nature.”
I wish our politicians knew that. I wish they’d stop their presumptuous schemes. We need to end the orgy of rule-making at once and embrace the simple rules that true liberals like America’s founders envisioned.
He is absolutely right, of course, in every respect. How lovely to know that the Americans are in the same mess we are! But he might have gone a little further, and said that the proliferation of rules, regulations, laws and paperwork is the work of the half-baked and mediocre. The GOS worked for a time in local government and saw this at first hand.
The most effective managers were always the ones who depended on their own common sense and the common sense of those working under them, the ones who knew that delegation means giving people a job to do and trusting that they'll do it properly, the ones who realised that the greatest imperative is to make life simpler and more pleasant for those on the receiving end of services, the ones who knew that DOING NOTHING IS ALWAYS AN OPTION!
The weak managers were those who, given a new task to carry out, immediately took refuge in proscription. “Quick, we'd better create a new form and make everyone fill it in!” they'd cry. “And we'd better send it out with some rules so people know how to complete it!”
“What will you do if they don't fill it in?” I'd ask. “Or if they fill it in wrong?”
“Well in that case we need some sanctions, don't we? We need to threaten them with a fine, or withdraw the service”.
“But you've already got lots of this information from them already, haven't you?”
“Ah yes, but it's all locked away in such-and-such a database. We can't keep switching from one database to another every time we want to know something, like the ages of their children or the ethnicity of their dog. It won't take them a moment just to answer a few extra questions. After all, we're providing them with a service so it's for their own good!”
Sad to say, this seemed to the GOS a particularly female trait. Men are basically too lazy to want to control every tiny activity all the time. Women see micro-management as a positive quality, and it ain't. And of course if a stupid rule exists, sooner or later some tosser is going to try and enforce it. This is the reason people get fined for dropping cake-crumbs in the street, or threatened if they forget which bin to put out this week. This is the reason traffic wardens are now routinely filming innocent citizens with concealed cameras – it says in the rules that no one must be nasty to
And so it goes. The same syndrome is responsible for most of the elf'n'safety nonsense we have to put up with. It makes no difference that the Health and Safety Executive keep bleating that they didn't mean it and we're all being silly, the rules have been invented by limp-wristed petty officials who need to justify their own jobs and make themselves feel important, and the various operatives on the street now have reams of paper to hide behind, which only they understand which makes them feel important, and the ones who suffer are us poor buggers who only wanted to have a little street party with our neighbours, with jelly and bunting to celebrate the old Queen ...
(Some sad people have been complaining about Jeremy Clarkson using this expression. They say it's blasphemous, and only they have the right to talk about Jesus because they're Christian, so he belongs to them and the rest of us mustn't even mention him, which is a bit awkward for the 21 million boys in Latin America who are actually named Jesus. So we're going to keep using it as often and as inappropriately as we can, and we hope you'll all do the same. Look on it as an act of Christian charity, if you like: these people obviously want to take offence, so we'll give it to them. Jesus wept!)
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Copyright © 2012 The GOS