A Nation of Felons

A companion to the post 6,125 – one of the first posts on the site from February 4, 2011:

I was driving home from the airport the other day and casually listening to the radio during the trip. I don’t remember who was on, what I do remember is this statement – “The average American is a felon. On average, a citizen of the United States will break 3 Federal laws each day and not even know it.” I didn’t hear the actual source to validate it but it is certainly understandable.

The CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) is the printed record of all federal administrative laws at the time of the printing, updated in hardcopy every 6 years. The Federal Register is the source that updates and adds administrative regulations (which have the same force as statutory law enacted by legislation) in the interim between printings. As of the last printing in 2008, there are 50 titles (chapters) encompassing 80,700 pages.

The CFR only covers federal administrative law. States, local governmental and regulatory bodies are busy as well, codifying everything from pet licensure to tax policy. On January 1, 2011, the Great State of California enacted 725 new laws. I have read that in 2011, over 40,000 new laws and regulations went into effect. I have no source other than common sense – if one assumes that California is representative of “blue” states and on the extreme end and there are “red” stated on the opposite, we can assume an average of half of that, 350, is about the norm.  Taken over the 50 states, there would be 17,500 new laws enacted. Including local laws, it would seem reasonable that 40K is a good number.

It is highly likely that I’m breaking one of those laws right now.

Why so many? Why the complexity?

As so many things do today, this reminds me of an exchange in Ayn Rand’s classic, Atlas Shrugged. This exchange between Hank Rearden and Dr. Floyd Ferris, Ph.D., the Associate Director of the State Science Institute is below the fold…

Hank Rearden is the sole owner of Rearden Steel. He had developed a new steel formulation – Rearden Metal – that was cheaper, lighter and stronger than any other formulation. Needless to say, the market saw the value of this material and his business was growing by leaps and bounds. The government didn’t like it and created legislation to “protect” ore producers and other steel companies from Rearden’s success. They required by law that all steel producers had to receive an equal share of ore, thereby restricting Rearden’s ability to produce.

Rearden would not accept that restriction and broke the law by cutting deals with less reputable mine owners to keep supplying him the ore to meet his demand – eventually, one of the mine owners needed a governmental favor and in payment for that favor, turned Rearden in, leading to this exchange between Rearden and Dr. Ferris:

“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against—then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it.

You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

For me, the most relevant points in this exchange are these:

  1. There’s no way to rule innocent men.
  2. Governments can declare so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws and they can pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted.
  3. Create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt.
  4. We’re after power and we mean it.

A large contingent of liberals, leftists, Democrats and erstwhile “moderate” Obama supporters get contorted into obtuse shapes every time those on the right use the term “socialist” or “collectivist” to describe current governmental policy. They parse the words to the point that nothing short of an exact fit for the definitions will do, else it is illegitimate to apply them.

As we have heard ad infinitum from the left, the textbook definition of socialism is “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

The left’s position hangs on the words “collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods” as a way to deflect the definition. They argue that because the government doesn’t actually own the means of production that it can’t be socialism and therefore the Obama administration isn’t socialist. For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act didn’t socialize health care because the government didn’t take over ownership of the insurance companies and health care providers now did it?

The important part of this argument is not in the words used by the left but the ones that were left out. When one adds this, “any of various economic and political theories advocating” to the language that they approve of to deflect the definition, it is clear that actual ownership is not required, that “advocating” collective or governmental ownership of means of production qualifies. Webster’s definition works in the pure sense of a socialist/collectivist system. Since “pure” socialism tends to be autocratic rather than democratic, I would propose a different interpretation as it is evidenced in a democracy.

In the American Republic – where voting determines the leadership every 2, 4, and 6 years – can socialistic endpoints be achieved? They can and have been. The exchange in Rand’s book is instructive because it shows that direct ownership of an enterprise by a government is not necessary for socialism/collectivism to be enacted. The key is not direct governmental ownership of an asset– it is control of that asset…and that control can be achieved via legislative fiat and administrative regulation.

Let’s look at Obamacare in conjunction with the 4 points that I teased out from Rand’s Rearden/Ferris exchange:

  • There’s no way to rule innocent men.
    Obamacare applied to people who were innocent. They had done nothing wrong, were playing by the rules and had personally committed no crime.  Their only “crime” was buying health insurance or working for a company that provided it as a benefit. There is no reason for a free and innocent man to change his behavior.
  • Governments can declare so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws and they can pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted.
    Obamacare encompassed over 2700 pages, promulgating over 125 boards, panels and regulatory agencies that did not exist and since they didn’t, there were no rules. These new rules would not be debated as statutory law, they would be the outgrowth of the generalized, higher level language of the actual legislation and come to life as regulatory rules. They would be administrative law with the same force as statutory law but minus the transparency and open debate by elected officials.
  • Create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt.
    Personal and corporate behaviors would have to conform to the statutory and administrative laws or be penalized.
  • We’re after power and we mean it.
    Administrative control over nearly 30% of the economy, I would call that power.

Given the complexity of society and government, we have to look at the endpoint, not the means. We have to understand that the dictionary definition is only a group of words that qualify meaning in the simplest terms. Look at what a given policy achieves – the result – as you look for understanding. If the outcome is socialist/collectivist even though the means used to achieve it don’t fit like a glove, it is still socialist.

Obamacare is just an easy target. It is big, visible and substantial acrimony is attached to the debate surrounding it. Lots of energy…but as posted earlier, there are far less debatable laws that are being enacted every year, each slicing off another layer of freedom and replacing it with control. We must learn to recognize this.

The left gets exercised when the right uses the terms collectivist, Marxist and socialist interchangaibly. They argue that we are ignorant because we just don’t understand the difference. Another Rand quote, this time directly from her, crystalizes my view:

Fascism and communism are not two opposites, but two rival gangs fighting over the same territory . . . both are variants of statism, based on the collectivist principle that man is the rightless slave of the state.

I feel the same way with ideologies on the left. They all lead to the same endpoint and therefore are interchangeable. Even Marx said that his ideology was the bridge between socialism and communism. For the left all roads do lead to Rome.

Don’t fall for the linguistic gymnastics. If it walks like a Marxist, quacks like a Marxist – it probably is Marxist.

5 thoughts on “A Nation of Felons

  1. SPOT ON!!!!!
    In some ways I am proud to be a criminal. If being free is the end result and preserving my liberty.

  2. Pingback: Resolutions | The Rio Norte Line

  3. Pingback: American EXCEPTIONALISM under assault… | The Rio Norte Line

  4. Pingback: “Soft” Tyranny Is Still Tyranny | The Rio Norte Line

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