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June 19, 2013

Niall Ferguson on "The Regulated States of America"

Recalling Alexis de Tocqueville's praise of American preference for building voluntary associations to work together rather than relying on government, Niall Ferguson writes in the Wall Street Journal that modern American has become "Planet Government."  The suffocating effect is not only felt in the economic sphere but in the decline of intermediary associations on matters of religion and morality, charity and community.  It is no accident that nations (and states within the United States) with the largest governmental sectors also become nations (and states) with the lowest levels of charitable giving and of religious faith.

The column ends with a prescient quote from de Tocqueville -- and one can readily substitute "spirit of faith" or "spirit of community" for "spirit of free enterprise here:

Tocqueville also foresaw exactly how this regulatory state would suffocate the spirit of free enterprise: "It rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces [the] nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd."

Posted by Greg Sisk on June 19, 2013 at 11:45 AM in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

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Put another way by the Continental Congress:

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance."

Posted by: CK | Jun 19, 2013 1:10:31 PM

"It rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting..."

Much of the regulatory state involves ex ante regulations that prevent things from occurring. As an alternative, there can be a "common law" type regime whereby behavior is regulated ex post, and as such, activities occur but are only "regulated" when an issue is raised by a party (e.g. contract or tort dispute).

Posted by: CK | Jun 19, 2013 1:13:54 PM

Thanks, Greg. Having worked for the Federal Government many decades ago as an officer in the US Army and then as a young lawyer for a regulatory agency, I think there was an assumption that government could always do it better. I think that assumption was flawed. Moreover, the assumption ignored an exercise of the principle of subsidiarity which encouraged individuals and their communities of parish, church or other religious congregation, local community, county, etc. to formulate and execute plans for attending important matters. Over the decades, folks have gotten out of the habit of doing this because many of them too might have thought that Washington could do it better. Sadly, the exercise of subsidiarity has become for many a lost art; and, since nature abhors a vacuum, the Federal Government stepped in. I was and remain honored by my Federal service and the privilege of working with many dedicated and hard working people. Yet, we did not think critically enough of the implications of the central governmetn moving into this vacuum. Nonetheless, the problems that we as civil servants or as citizens have made can always be corrected by us, too. RJA sj

Posted by: Robert John Araujo, SJ | Jun 19, 2013 4:21:03 PM

I just came across this apt Chesterton quote: "If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments."

Posted by: CK | Jun 19, 2013 4:59:34 PM

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