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We hear occasionally about the tremendous burden government regulations place on the economy. According to FreedomWorks, the petty tyrants of the alphabet agencies place well over $1 trillion per year of added expense on the nation.
This is important, but it misses how that money is not merely one giant glob of currency ripped from the economy. Each dollar stands alone as money pulled from an individual’s pocket, as food never laid upon a table, as a vacation never taken, and as a Christmas present that will never sit beneath a tree.
It’s easy to see why regulators want to regulate. As Kevin Williamson wrote in 2010:
WELCOME to Washington, Mr. Smith, and welcome to the Agency. I salute your determination to apply common sense in Washington, to fix what’s broken in order to serve the public interest and the common good. Weirdly enough, everybody in Washington wants to do that: Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party patriots, Barney Frank. These guys don’t agree on much, but they all sincerely want to do what’s best for the country, pretty much to a man.
There is no cabal of evil government bureaucrats stirring their cauldrons and conspiring to make individual lives harder. On the contrary, these people work diligently to do what seems to them to be good things that will help the nation. But, they can’t. They are incapable of positively effecting outcomes because they suffer from a severe lack of information. More precisely, they cannot know how their well meaning regulations will effect real people in the real world irrespective of their motivations and intentions. Back to Williamson:
The head-clutching paradox is that 536 elected Washingtonians and endless phalanxes of well-meaning appointees such as yourself wring such hideously wretched results out of such idealistic intentions. There is an explanation for that—so, if you’ll forgive me for the spoilsportsmanship and for tempering your understandably high post-appointment spirits with some gritty reality, it is my duty to inform you: You do not know what you are doing. Probably never will. You do not even know what you are talking about, and I mean that literally.
These people may fancy themselves experts in their fields, but they are certainly not experts at everything their regulations will touch. They can only know what they want to cause, but they will always fail to foresee or account for what their regulations actually do cause.
The personal cost of regulation is weighing heavily on me right now because of my recent entanglement with well intentioned regulations that were obviously written for the public’s good, but have become a personal burden.
My occupation requires me to carry a commercial driver’s license. As is probably obvious to anyone, vehicles weighing thousands of pounds (hundreds of thousands in my case) pose a potential threat to the public if not operated properly by competent, capable people. Such a threat opens the door to government regulations. One such constraint on vehicle operators of any sort is adequate health. With commercial vehicles the health requirements become even more stringent. With this in mind, Congress and the Department of Transportation (DoT) have regulated the type of physical a person must pass to be licensed. One such requirement is to bar anyone with a potentially incapacitating condition that is not properly controlled through adequate treatment.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the newest condition to make the list of potentially incapacitating diseases. It is some of that common sense Williamson writes about to not want a person who can’t achieve adequate rest to doze off and turn an 80,000-lb. rig into an unguided missile on the highway. The problem, however, is that not everyone who has sleep apnea knows about it. The solution: more regulation.
Recently the DoT published advisory guidelines containing sleep apnea risk factors to screen for when conducting physicals. Because these guidelines are only recommendations which do not have the force of law, the department cannot bar people with an undiagnosed condition from licensure, but they can threaten a physician’s ability to issue medical certifications should he not comply with the guidelines and fail to deny medical certification to people unless they seek treatment for undiagnosed illnesses.
This, then, is where I find myself. I’ve never had a problem with drowsiness on the job, never had problems staying awake during the day, and never had sleep problems that impaired my ability to perform my assigned tasks. Reality, however, does not matter to the regulators. I’m not of a certain shape or size, so I must incur the expense of seeking a diagnosis of a condition for which I show no signs of having.
Compounding matters, though I carry a commercial driver’s license, I do not do what almost all CDL holders do, namely drive heavy vehicles on public roadways. I don’t drive long hours over the plains, negotiate steep mountain passes, or contend with busy city traffic. When I drive I don’t even worry about oncoming traffic because there is none. I drive slowly over a short distance on closed roadways. The weight and contents of the load are of a sort which pretty much guarantees alertness regardless of how tired one might be.
Where this gets really personal is that at work we have an event once a year that requires us to provide around-the-clock support to the fleet for several weeks straight. As it stands, I’m scheduled for about 60 hours of overtime. It’s a grueling schedule to keep, but that much extra money coming in right before the holiday season is something we plan on in my shop.
Since May I’ve had to extend my temporary medical certification three times to coincide with every step in the process of determining whether or not I have sleep apnea, with the Navy doctor who conducts the physical becoming harder to deal with at every extension. When he withheld his signature yesterday, the day before my certification expired, this petty tyrant, acting at the behest of well meaning regulators in Washington, effectively cancelled Christmas at my house. This well intentioned regulation which accomplishes nothing on behalf of the public by preventing me from doing my job carries a high personal cost.
Thankfully — or perhaps due to some well placed ranting on my part — the physician has relented and given me an extension for another month. Next week I’ll hook some mad scientist’s contraption to my face in hopes of proving once and for all that I am of adequate health to continue performing tasks I’ve accomplished flawlessly for nearly a decade.
John Locke defined the state of nature (man’s perfect liberty) as
a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.
In today’s America, where every action is regulated to the nth degree, we find ourselves asking leave and depending on the will of well meaning but clueless bureaucrats in a state that can be best described as perfectly contrary to liberty.