The Scribes and The Pharisees

Just behind sex, food, shelter and clothing in the hierarchy of human drives is the pharisaical impulse – that most ardent desire to write down and impose the minutiae of stultifying rules and regulations upon the spirits of our fellows.  Jesus put it this way: They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matt 23:4) John the Baptist was more succinct: “You brood of vipers!” (Luke 3:7)

We have advanced exponentially in the technological competence to distribute and enforce these regulations, but not a whit, it seems, in controlling the inclination.  In the twentieth and twenty first centuries, the prime movers of regulation are the progressives or liberal political parties (or tyrannies), most especially exemplified currently in the United States by the Obama administration.

Just a couple of examples from the most prolific regulations generators in American history:

  • In 2010, the administration headed the charge to fulfill Rahm Emanuel’s admonition (former White House chief of staff, now Mayor of Chicago) to never let a serious crisis go to waste by signing into law the Dodd Frank financial reform bill.  When any bill is passed, it then falls to the bureaucrats to promulgate the regulations defining how it will be enforced.  And propagate the new bureaucrats necessary to enforce it.  Propagating bureaucrats is something at which progressive government is particularly talented.  Consisting of 2,319 pages, Dodd Frank has generated over 8,000 pages of new Federal Register regulations.  And counting.
  • The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was worse yet, imposing over twenty new taxes, over 2,700 pages in length, it has generated to date almost 12,000 pages of new regulations.   Eighteen pages of these went just to define the term, “full time employee”.  No kidding.  Any reasonable person could have defined the term in a well constructed sentence.  11, 327 pages in July so far.  And counting.

The far from conservative and long esteemed magazine, “The Economist” wrote this about Dodd Frank: “(the bill) will smother financial institutions in so much red tape that innovation is stifled and America’s economy suffers.”  Given the tepid recovery, barely above horizontal since the recession ended in early 2009 – the slowest post war recession recovery –and the record breaking low velocity of money turn over, “The Economist” was prescient, albeit with an obvious prediction.  Banks are sitting on enormous reserves of cash that are not being put to use.

 Financial institutions are struggling to understand and implement the 8,000 pages of Dodd Frank, and are increasingly timid to put their cash back into growing the economy.  Businesses, also concerned with compliance and future tax implications, are reluctant to borrow the money necessary to grow and hire new employees.  Fear and the fearful levels of work necessary to comply are two sea anchors that an economy just beginning to see the wind pick up from the doldrums doesn’t need.  Experts approximate that the 8,000 pages so far are about 30% of what will ultimately be imposed.    The House Committee on Financial Services calculates that the law will take private companies 24 million labor hours a year and require that businesses hire 26,477 employees to comply.  In that sense, it is, I suppose, a jobs bill.  Of course, not one of those 26,477 expensive employees will contribute an iota to growing the business or the profits necessary to hire more people.  Au contraire.

What does this new bureaucracy look like, and how much does it cost the already overburdened taxpayer?  One section (there’s a lot of sections in 2,300 pages) of Dodd Frank was the original brainchild of Elizabeth Warren (Harvard professor and Senate candidate running against Scott Brown in Massachusetts). Dodd Frank established a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (bureau being first two syllables of ‘bureaucrat’).  Sounds lofty and helpful, doesn’t it?  The CFPB has a budget of over $447 million for fiscal year 2013, ladles on 958 new federal employees, 60 % of whom make over $100,000 in salary, and has authority to draw up to $550 million directly from the Federal Reserve with no Congressional oversight and just a one page letter to the Fed describing why it needs the money.  Five percent of the employees make over $200,000, which is more than a sitting cabinet member.  The “administrative assistant” (secretary) of the director, Richard Corday, makes $165,139. They spent $40 million (40% of it borrowed in the deficit) on office renovations.

In contrast to those exalted salaries, the median American taxpayer makes $50,054, an amount that has decreased against inflation every year of the Obama administration, including 4% last year.  So far, we have seen the CFPB produce such gems as Consumer Alerts (such as the mandatory small print in things like credit card terms and conditions) published in 187 languages at taxpayer expense, including Somali and Tamil – spoken predominantly in northeast Sri Lanka.  How many of us have read the terms and conditions in the existing credit card statements?  The Tower of Babel had nothing on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The Labour Party government in post WWII Great Britain left in place many of the wartime restrictions and regulations; this is typical of the progressive Pharisee: once in place, regulations tend to grow brothers and not ride off into the sunset.  A report was commissioned in the fifties to investigate the benefits of closely managing the youth.  Here are some excerpts: Special agencies, called Citizen’s Advice Bureaus, are set up to steer the bewildered through the forest of rules, and to indicate to the persistent the rare clearings where a private person may still make a choice…(the ordinary citizen) spends great stretches of his waking hours going through motions that have been predetermined for him by directives in whose framing he has had no part, whose precise intention he seldom understands, and of whose appropriateness he cannot judge.  (They are) so acclimatized to that state that they seldom plan and carry out under their own steam any new….enterprise.  He thus looks forward to no future period at which a sinewy faculty of responsibility is likely to be of service to himself or others.

Anyone who has had the misfortune to work for a micromanager experienced the slow sapping of creativity, energy, commitment and joy that results.

At his inauguration, President Obama promised “hope and change” and to “fundamentally change” America.  Many did not understand the degree to which he wanted to change us, nor exactly how he would go about it.  This time during the election process, we do.

(Powerful central government) covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd.  The will of man is not shattered but softened, bent and guided… Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd. “Democracy in America” Alexis de Tocqueville.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Scribes and The Pharisees

  1. A few thoughts upon reading your latest post…

    I do not believe it is intellectually honest to blame the current state of affairs in D.C. on the Obama administration. I am no fan of the man’s politics, but our current crises have roots that extend back at least 30 years. (And yes, the case can be made that they extend much further, but let’s not go there for the purposes of this discussion.) Rancorous partisanship, combined with the ever-increasing influence of lobbyists, has steadily increased the length of congressional bills since at least the Clinton administration. Lobbyists are writing more and more of our laws – Literally. One side of the aisle or the other tucks in an ear mark here or there, some designed to pander favor, others to act as catalysts for filibuster or some other maneuver by which they might topple or at least undermine those bills that “their side” doesn’t care for. No longer does anyone understand the necessity for cooperation – Not to be confused with compromise. Our representatives do not represent the best interests of we the people; in fact they really couldn’t care much less about us unless except as automatons at the polling places each election cycle. And yet we send them back. Unfailingly. And why? Because “our guy’s different.” “He’s not one of those.” Seriously?!

    Has Obama earned a second term? I do not believe so. But he is the only contender with job experience. (Too bad for him that we also need to factor in job performance.) Does Romney deserve a first term? I do not believe so. Not on his own merits. Not on his record. Once again we are placed in the untenable position of selecting from the lesser of two evils. Some assert that only around 6% of voters have yet to make up their minds about which ballot to cast on November 6th. I am one of them. All I know for certain is that I will not be casting my vote for the Democrat electors. Will it be Romney, or will it be Johnson? Or will I simply choose not to participate in the process since I know that no matter the outcome, the lobbyists will continue to determine policy? My conservative friends warn me that either way I will be throwing away my vote and handing Obama a second term. I’m not so sure. It is my vote, after all. I earned it through military service and continued service as a productive citizen. The only way I throw it away is by failing to exercise it. But how much does it really mean anymore? I don’t know, and sometimes I don’t want to know.

    It is not about us and them; it is about us, as in we the people. Hell, they were supposed to be “of us”, but that is no longer true, if indeed it ever was. The politicians have forgotten about us. And they will not be bothered to remember us so long as we slavishly continue to reelect them. Both the Tea Party and the OWS movements are indicative of the sorts of grassroots activism needed to make our voices known. Unfortunately the Tea Party was hijacked and OWS was infiltrated, rendering both defunct. We need more like them, and we need them soon. Otherwise we will continue to get what we’ve got. What was that definition of insanity again?

    Keep up the good work, Jack!

    Like

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