The perennial desire of those in government, elected or not, is to just do something. People expect the government to act. They demand laws be passed. They want the regulatory state to work to their benefit. When the elected branches fail, people will run to the courts to just do something, or to unelected regulatory bureaucrats. Perhaps they should not.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States and also best president ever, had the philosophy all of us, particularly those in government, should take. “If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you,” he said. Just stand still and watch.
Instead, much of local and state government these days spend time fixing laws already passed to address the law of unintended consequences. Each tweak causes another chain of events that eventually will lead to another tweak. According to Jason Russell in the Washington Examiner, the tax code is now 74,608 pages, including both statutes and regulations. It was only 26,300 pages in 1984 — only. The United States Code, which is the body of laws passed by Congress, consists of 52 titles, bound into multiple volumes totaling more than 8,000 pages, weighing more than 25 pounds, and taking up a bookshelf. Add in the annotated version that is more commonly used and it takes up multiple bookshelves and costs over $18,000.00 to buy. The Code of Federal Regulations is even larger.
Ignorance is supposedly no defense of the law, but how anyone can be expected to keep up with so many laws and the regulations thereto is beyond me. Still, Congress passes more laws, as do states, counties and municipalities. Beyond the basic laws of public safety and the general welfare, the various legislative entities maintain archaic laws and criminalize business laws. It is, for example, against the law in Texas to carry an ice cream cone in one’s back pocket. Likewise, a Tennessee guitar manufacturer ran afoul of American criminal law by harvesting wood in Indonesia that violated a trade deal, though was legal in Indonesia.
Perhaps the various legislative busy bodies should dedicate a few years to repealing laws instead of passing new ones. That leads me to the American Health Care Act, which the Republicans claim keeps a promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It does no such thing. Rather, it preserves Barack Obama’s signature initiative, but alters it enough that the Republicans will take ownership of all the ills of the law moving forward.
Conservatives shouldered all the blame for the American Health Care Act failing to pass Congress a month ago, but the reality is conservatives were right. The proposal broke more promises than it kept. Led by Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus demanded changes to the legislation that steered it rightward and allowed states greater flexibility under Obamacare. That appears to be the best the GOP can do. They will not repeal the law, but will provide a way out of some of its major expenses.
While they contemplate that law, the Congress and president are considering a sweeping tax reform package. The United States’ tax code has not been comprehensively updated since 1986. As other nations have lowered their corporate tax rate to attract investment and fuel their economies, the United States has left its rate the same. The nation has further complicated matters by adding loopholes, regulations, and alterations through the advice and consent of paid lobbyists.
Corporate America has learned it is far better to carve out loopholes in statutes to protect themselves from competition than it is to actually innovate and compete. Why would any company spend the money to innovate when it can just hire a lobbyist to get a bureaucrat or congressman to tax and regulate the competition out of existence?
Our nation has grown far more complex than our founders probably ever imagined. But that complexity has provided excuses for inaction on reform as legislators in search of money and votes scratch the itch of “just do something.” Instead, Congress should stop doing anything. We would all be better off.