Jeff Jacoby

An important axiom of government is to imagine that the law or regulation you propose or champion is in the hand of your worst nightmare.  Would you want that person to have the same power you are proposing to be used by those you currently favor.  Too often our current rulers craft rules and powers as if they will always possess the reigns of government.

Jeff Jacoby makes this point in The Power to Regulate is the Power to Destroy in his Boston Globe Column. He highlights a hypocrisy, but that words carries little outrage any more in the world of politics and power.


The power to regulate, like the power to tax, is the power to destroy. Whether you’re a liberal or conservative, beware of complacency when government regulators gore someone else’s sacred cow. Both sides can play that game, and your sacred cow may be next.

In the two cases Jacoby highlights the issues (guns and abortions) have a high moral component in the passion of the activists, but there is another consideration; that regulations are often laws without the debate.  The greatest liability of the progressive regulatory state is the replacement of well constructed debate with mandates and rules issued by either the professional administrative state or the executive using broad administrative powers.  The legislative bodies is often too willing to pass the details of legislation off to the bureaucracies.  It may be from a rush to issue legislation within a power time window or it may be from the inability to reign in debate on the details. The bureaucracies will issue rules from a law for years after the law was passed and the legislators who passed it have moved on, never having muddied their hands with the details.  It is not uncommon for the administration of a law to surprise many of its supporters. There is a large chasm between the intentions of laws and the outcome of the regulations they spawn.

The law is passed and either forgotten or  (grudgingly ) accepted, but new rules from the legislation keep coming, often for decades, and the effect is a continuity of uncertainty and an accumulation of friction costs that clog up the machinery of commerce and our lives.