Structural Pliancy

Mon, May 14, 2012 - 8:11am

A lot of people—and I am one of them—claim that personal and business freedoms are being eroded as never before. They show as evidence the roll-back of civil liberties, the over-regulation of business, the insistence on “compliance” by the various security agencies of every little rule, no matter how trivial—in short, the over-regulation of American life.

They are right: The U.S. government is guilty of over-regulating individuals and businesses—egregiously so.

On the other hand, a lot of other people—and I am one of them too—claim that certain persons and corporations act lawlessly as never before. They show as evidence the abuses of power of those in leadership—be it business, government, the military, or the intelligence/security aparatus—and they insist that something has to be done about it, some regulations have to be imposed.

They are right too: The U.S. government is just as guilty of under-regulating certain individuals and businesses as it is of over-regulating other people and businesses.

Obvious question: How can they both be right? How can it be that a few people, a few businesses, a few institutions are getting away with murder—in some cases literally—while most of us are under a crippling yoke of excessive, dishonest, petty and trivial rules and regulations that either serve no purpose, or actively pervert the welfare of our society?

Simple answer: Structural Pliancy.

Let me explain.

It’s no trick at all to find instances where the current regulatory environment being enforced on our society is so recalcitrant, so bloody-minded, so pig-headed, that it’s a miracle that America is able to exist as a functioning society at all.

Rather than pick a particular business, I’ll just point to a nightmare most of us have to deal with at least a few times a year: The security checkpoints manned by Transportation Security Administration personnel at all of the airports of America.

The regulations here are as rigid as a steel rod, yet at the same time as arbitrary and pointless as . . . actually, I can’t think of simile that quite captures the sheer ridiculousness of the TSA security protocols at the airports. The ridiculousness of those protocols are uniquely their own.

We all know the drill: You wait on an interminable line, and then finally when it’s your turn, you take off your shoes, you surrender all liquid containers with more than 100ml of fluid, you let your carry-on bag go through a metal detector (and then often as not be searched manually again), while you pass through a metal detector and a body scanner that is streaming God knows what kind of nasty radiation at your body.

Only after you’ve been dosed with radiation and humiliated good and proper are you then allowed into the boarding gate—as if travelling in a free country were a privilege rather than a right.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an elderly diabetic grandmother in a wheelchair—you have to walk through the metal detector and stand in the body scanner. It doesn’t matter if you are a five-year old girl—you’re going to get groped just this side of sexual assault, if you refuse to go through the body scanners. We have heard so many horror stories that there’s no need to enumerate any more of this lack of sense. I mean, c’mon: Is a five-year old child really going to stuff plastic explosives and an UZI sub-machine gun under her pink “Hello Kitty!” blouse, and then whip them out amid her cries of “Allah is Great! Allah is Good!” once the plane reaches cruising altitude?

It’s not only the lack of discernment on the part of the TSA workers at the airport—it’s a failure of imagination in the standing rules: The ridiculousness of so many of the rules and regulations, which add a layer of hassle and difficulty to the process, yet serve absolutely no useful purpose.

Likewise, businesses and industries all across America are burdened with regulations that make no sense, just like the TSA protocols make absolutely no sense. In every industry in America, there are stupid rules and regulations as ridiculous as any of the TSA’s rules: Rules and regulation imposed from Washington, without any regard for the practical realities on the ground. Rules and regulations that make business and life difficult for no other reason than stupidity—or worse, so as to give the illusion that Washington is “doing something” about this or that problem, while in fact doing nothing more than making something needlessly more difficult and complicated.

Notice: I am against stupid regulations—but I am not against regulations per se. On the contrary, only a fool would say we do not need regulations. For instance, traffic lights are a regulation to the free flow of automobiles: Who in their right mind would say that we ought to eliminate all the traffic lights in all the major cities in America, because they “infringe on our innate liberty to drive wherever we want”? Nobody, other than an idiot.

As a thinking man’s conservative, I recognize that government regulations are necessary for two reasons: One, to organize the relationship between any two entities in our society, so that their dealings with one another are free, easy, efficient and honest; and two, to safeguard the weak, the unaware and the general society from the actions of any individual person or entity who might seek their own benefit at the expense of inflicting harm on others.

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Novelist, Filmmaker, Economic Commentator