Regulation Run Amok—And How to Fight Back

Too many government regulations today are pointless and prevent us from doing our jobs as well as we could, writes Charles Murray. His modest proposal: Ignore them.

America is no longer the land of the free. We are still free in the sense that Norwegians, Germans and Italians are free. But that’s not what Americans used to mean by freedom.

It was our boast that in America, unlike in any other country, you could live your life as you saw fit as long as you accorded the same liberty to everyone else. The “sum of good government,” as Thomas Jefferson put it in his first inaugural address, was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.” Americans were to live under a presumption of freedom.
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In sports, this enforcement philosophy is called “no harm, no foul.” If a violation of a rule has occurred but it has no effect on the action of the game, the officials ignore it and the game goes on, to the greater enjoyment of both players and spectators. As the sports announcers say, “The officials are letting them play tonight.”

The measures I propose won’t get the regulations off the books, nor will they improve the content of those regulations, but they will push the regulatory agencies, kicking and screaming, toward a “no harm, no foul” regime. They will be forced to let the American people play.

This essay is adapted from Mr. Murray’s new book, “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission,” which will be published May 12 by Crown Forum. He is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.