A country of too many laws and rules

Michael Swickard, Ph.D. is a radio talk show host, columnist and former educator.

Guest commentary

Michael Swickard, Ph.D.

© 2011

We are a country of too many laws and rules. There are millions of laws and rules that apply to the citizens of our country. The IRS rules alone can fill a medium sized room with paper. No one person has read all of the laws and rules of our country, or could read them. These billions of words apply to each of us but there is not enough time to read them all. Many are selectively applied to citizens, often for political reasons.

How did we get so many laws and rules? Lawmakers pass new laws each session on top of the thousands upon thousands of laws already on the books. The media talks about the laws that get passed as if passing more laws was the sole function of the legislators. They must add lots of new laws every session. Additionally, bureaucrats come up with new rules on top of the multitudes of rules already governing our every action. The number and complexity of these are multiplied by our court’s interpretations.

Often these laws and rules are contradictory such that two Americans doing exactly the same thing are treated quite differently by our government. It was not always this way. In my little slice of heaven we had the Code of the West. This was before the lawyers took over our country.

This Code, while not written, was better understood back then than we understand our Constitution now. It started with the notion that each person was to look out for themselves. You were expected to defend yourself and also those who are weak when attacked. We were to defend ourselves by shooting back, not by being the first to shoot. We are instructed to be modest, loyal, courageous, never a quitter and absolutely true to our word. A handshake was sufficient for contracts.

With others, the first rule was to never pry into another person’s past. Never touch another person’s horse or hat and be considerate to everyone. This was the original “you will know it when you see it” as to being considerate or not. There were no examples but none were really needed.

In the Old West we were to say “Howdy” to those we meet on the trail, but not to talk much. As a rule we knew that we could never make a threat without expecting a fight. As would be expected of these folks, you were to cuss only around other men and never ever would we complain about the cooking.

When it came time for food we knew to remove our hat and guns at the dinner table. And, at dinnertime anyone who wanders into camp is welcome to eat, even your enemies. They treated their enemies with respect.

There are more, again, not written but understood. Violate them and most Westerners at the very least would quit talking to you. The government of the day, what little there was, tried to not change the behavior of citizens except when it was unavoidable. Some citizens might go years without hardly any dealings with the government. Contrast that to a society that was overflowing with government rules.

In Japan around the year1600 A.D., Ieyasu Tokugawa became the Shogun. His family rule lasted 250 years without wars or incursions by foreign powers. During that time Japan became very prosperous. In fact, in 1850 there were around 31 million Japanese and only 23 million Americans. That was the good news for the Japanese citizens.

The bad news was over the years the rules controlling citizens were increased and increased and increased such that every aspect of a Japanese citizen’s life was very regulated from what clothes could be worn, what jobs were available, what food each citizen could have depending on their status, etc. There were no real citizen rights and each Japanese was bound to follow all of the orders given to them by the authorities. No dissent was tolerated.

While America in 2011 is not exactly Japan in 1850, our nation moves in that direction. We have made an industry out of rules. Some people spend their entire life working on the interpretation of rules that cover the size, consistency, color and water content of garden peas. Perhaps that might be slightly exaggerated but the rule handlers in our society multiply like locusts and with the same effect.

From the local codes officers, state inspectors to the Federal Departments of Energy and Education, etc., we Americans are increasingly subjected to an avalanche of new rules of our behavior. Some of the rules make sense, most do not. Importantly, for every rule we are aware of there are ten more rules covering us.

The government sticks its nose in our lives at every point to the point that there is nothing free about our society. It has happened over a great many years a little at a time so that the incredible number and breadth of control is not normally a topic of discussion.

Liberty is the ability to do as you please as long as it does not impact someone else. When we talk about the land of the free we do not reflect that some bureaucrat watches everything we do with an eye to stop us from doing things. Not much liberty remains in this land of a million laws and rules. Can we reverse this direction to always more rules?

Dr. Michael Swickard is co-host of radio talk show News New Mexico 6 to 9 a.m. Monday – Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email: michael@swickard.com




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