It is not very often that you hear people say, “Thank God that the federal government regulates the size of the holes in my Swiss cheese,” or, “I sleep well at night knowing that the United States Department of Agriculture’s ‘Food Safety and Inspection Service’ has issued hundreds of arcane guidelines and standards for my frozen pizza.” Largely hidden from daily life and absent from receipts and tax forms, regulations are hidden taxes that everyone pays — even if we don’t realize it.
Government regulations are omnipresent. They hike the cost of our Federal Communications Commission-regulated alarm clocks, make the drive to class more expensive through burdensome fuel and safety standards and increase the cost of a six pack through vast bottling, labeling and labor mandates.
Surely, the concept of regulation is desirable to most people in our society. We don’t want factories dumping hazardous materials in the Huron River nor do we think that car companies should be allowed to make cars that combust while we are speeding along on the highway. But is government the best and most efficient means to achieve these goals? And if it is, is government regulation morally permissible?
Unfortunately, the growth of government means a shift from a market economy to a political economy where regulation is written to benefit political interests, not society as a whole. This transfer means distorted economic signals, poorly allocated resources and taxpayer money that is squandered. We are left with a labyrinth of confusing — and often pointless — regulations that hurt consumers, punish business owners and, worst of all, bring smiles to the faces of lobbyists. One look at the titanic Code of Federal Regulations lays to rest President Bill Clinton’s ludicrous claim in 1996 that the “era of big government is over.” On the contrary — big government just keeps growing.
The alternative to the current system is to allow individuals to make their own decisions about which products they buy, what they put in their own bodies and who they choose to do business with. Liberty and free markets in the absence of government coercion are not only moral, but they lead to a healthier, safer, smarter and more prosperous society for everyone. This is a reality that Congress should keep in mind as it addresses important issues like health care and energy.
Students need to recognize the expansion of government and fight against it. Today, numerous student groups will celebrate “Liberty on the Diag” from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to educate students about the benefits of freedom. Participating groups include College Libertarians, Young Americans for Freedom, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, Students for a Free Economy and Students of Objectivism. While these groups don’t agree on every issue, they all feel strongly that more government means less freedom — a specter that should be avoided like the plague.
Jonathan Slemrod is the president of the University’s chapter of the College Libertarians. Sam van Kleef is the president of the University of Michigan’s Young Americans for Freedom.