Friday night topic: The rise of rulemaking


— 5:58 PM on March 22, 2013

Growing up, I sometimes wondered what my generation's contributions to the world might be. Now that I'm an adult, I can see those contributions unfolding, as people near my age are responsible for running most everything.

To my shame, it appears my generation is making its mark on the world primarily by creating all sorts of new rules about nearly any domain of life: from smoking to soft drink sizes, from invasive copy protection regimes to scanning through your clothes at the airport.

The other day, my wife was totaling our car mileage related to health care expenses, because apparently that's a thing you can do that's tied to an incentive. I was shocked, although I shouldn't have been. We've created a complex web of rules and regulations that require true savvy and substantial investments of time to navigate. Many of us even seem to enjoy it.

It seems that most influential adults today instinctively hear of a problem, an injustice, or merely the potential for one and think, "There ought to be a law." Once the thought is formed, few objections of consequence are raised, and very often, a new rule is added to the teeming mass of others.

I wonder why. Why do we have such faith in constant rule-making to improve life? Why do we have so little sense that the inherent loss of freedom in that practice should give us pause? Is it because the distinction between law and morality has been lost somewhere along the way, so the seemingly rational response is to criminalize nearly everything? Is it because technology now enables the dissemination, tracking, and enforcement of complex regulatory systems with relative ease? Or do I somehow still get to blame the baby boomers for this trend and let my generation take credit for legalizing pot?

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