It’s a dimly lit detention facility.
In the background a light bulb buzzes; the heavy sound of human breathing steadily reverberates down the halls. The springs of a cot squeak; rubber shoes squeal against the floor.
The conspicuously-clothed criminals pent up in this concrete-clad cage strike up a conversation.
“So, what are you in here for?” a rough-looking character says as he leans against the wall, with his clenched fist resting on his hip.
A man with a weasel face, thick-framed glasses, and greasy hair is hunched over in the corner, watching as events unfold.
Rather rebellious-looking and shifting uneasily, a young fellow towers by the locked entrance. He knows the question was addressed to him. Yet the silence prevails.
“Well, c’mon,” the demanding questioner continues, “We don’t have all day.”
“Actually we do,” he corrects, “But I ain’t a patient person.”
The young man looks down at the floor, his face turning red.
“Blogging without a license,” he gulps. The gruff individual who asked the question stares, wide-eyed. He isn’t sure he can match it.
The weasel-faced man nods, and points to the rough-looking man (his mother never told him it was rude to point) and mutters, “Ol’ Jim here planted patented pumpkins two falls ago. Big lawsuit. You probably saw it in the news.”
“What are you here for?” the young one asks the weasel-faced man.
Weasel-face scratches his head, and looks up.
“I sold organic raw-milk goat cheese to homeschool moms,” he pauses, “In New York no less.”
“You know what’s more?” Jim the rough-looking fellow adds, “’fore he was sent to solitary, I spent five weeks in thuh’ same cell as Trademark Tim.”
The young man is new to prison life. He asks, “Am I supposed to know who that is?”
“Fresh-face, eh?” weasel-face says, “He started up a package delivery company and used the color brown. You know the rest.”
They all shudder. They know they have to watch their backs—the inhabitants of this nightmarish “detainment facility” are obviously capable of anything.
When everybody’s a criminal, the law can’t mean anything.
More and more often in the United States, ordinary people are inadvertently turning to a life of crime; and because the federal government is so determined to stifle honest work and efficient free enterprise, this sort of “crime” definitely pays.
In fact, the cost of complying with bureaucracies’ arbitrary regulation is so exceedingly burdensome that it’s enough to destroy entire markets and firms—to say nothing of millions of lost jobs and vanishing economic efficiency.
Red tape is more than just inefficient: it is violent.
A government’s one function is to protect life, liberty, and property—thus murderers, rapists, and thieves ought to be considered criminals.
But clearly those who do nothing to deprive a person of life, liberty, or property ought not be punished by the state, and when they are, the state is surpassing its bounds and is no longer legally valid. Even if the “criminal” would not have violated the non-aggression principle, the government’s henchmen would in their enforcement of their petty federal ultimatum.
Regulations that dish out thousand-dollar fines and prison time for legal “offenses” like unlicensed hair-braiding or out-of-the-home freelancing are doing precisely what the state is meant to prevent: infringing upon inherent rights.
The state-sponsored aggression that ensues when a regulation is broken is nauseatingly inconsistent and harsh, dictated by the mood of a bureaucrat. Kids selling lemonade without a license can get a criminal record before the age of ten; bakers or photographers can be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars because they turn down a customer; someone who crosses a powerful corporation with a strong D.C. presence will be cut down in the prime of life. (I mean this in a mostly figurative sense.)
Many who lean towards free markets but can’t help but think that there ought to be a set of ground rules for each industry are overlooking the fact that laws are not magically supported by words printed on paper: the law is backed up by guns, fines, pepper spray, prison time, promises of death, and life-ruining lawsuits. Are most of the federal regulations threatening these things worth those punishments?
In the end, the mass of federal regulations torturing the economy is unwarranted interference in individual choice, a brutal manifestation of state aggression against the citizenry, and an absolute breach of legal equality. These regulations present more than moral problems: practical problems (including overfilled jails, criminalization of half the population, dramatic economic slowdowns, and inconsistent enforcement of laws) also make our foolishly large collection of regulations far from worthwhile.
Little laws here and there almost always sound like they’re for the best; the contents of voluminous thousand-page laws seem to be prudent; the powers afforded to bureaucrats sound fair enough—but this is not the case, and never will be.