Work at the Tenth Amendment Center often becomes very cerebral in nature. I deal with political, legal and philosophical issues, and I spend much of my time researching, writing, and working with legislators and policy makers.
You see, it all comes down to people.
Limiting the power of the federal government to its prescribed role isn’t just about a high-minded philosophy or loyalty to some political ideology. I got involved with the TAC because I’ve seen the damage done to individuals when overreaching government runs them over. Spending bankrupts our children’s future. Overzealous security measures strip us of our liberty. And burdensome regulation chokes the ability to provide for our families.
Watching a TV show the other night reminded me of this reality.
I admit it; reality television counts as one of my guilty pleasures. And Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush Alaska sucked me right in from episode one. Watching those novices bumble around Alaska attempting to mine gold brings to mind the proverbial train wreck. I just can’t turn away.
Parker Schnabel and his 96-year-old grandfather are my favorite characters in the show. The 17-year-old high school student took over the Big Nugget mine for the summer. The other night, I was watching, discussing with my wife how much I admire the kid’s work ethic, when a federal regulator showed up to do safety inspections at Big Nugget.
Sure enough, the inspector shut down the mine because Parker and his grandfather lacked the required eight hours of “site specific” safety training. Parker explains that his grandfather ran the mine for 26 years, always emphasizing safety. Never an injury. But that fact didn’t matter a lick to the inspector. Rules are rules and the mine shut down, ultimately costing Parker more than $3,000 in lost time and costs to hire a certified trainer. Talk about a life lesson.
Mr. Regulator wasn’t finished. Next he showed up at the Porcupine Creek mine, shutting down that operation for the same violation.
“I just don’t understand a site specific anything, because we know this mine better than any instructor ever thought of knowing,” Fred Hurt protests.
“We’re regulating,” the inspector says with a chuckle. “To protect the health and safety of the miners.”
Hurt walks to his truck in utter disgust, knowing the shutdown and cost of hiring a trainer will set him way back in both cash and lost mining time.
“Two or three days of mining – period, minimum that we’re shut down. You just tell me how anybody would feel other than angry, over B.S. like this.”
Hurt and Schnabel’s experiences exemplify the problem with centralized, one-size-fits-all regulations. They lack any responsiveness to local circumstances. Some bureaucrat in Washington D.C. comes up with regulations and then the feds apply them across the entire United States. No leeway exists for local circumstances. The regulations include no flexibility for unique situations. And federal regulators have no clue what really goes on at a given mine on a regular basis. It creates a dog a pony show situation. Those regulated jump through hoops to comply with the letter of the law, spend hours keeping up with the required documentation and stage everything perfectly when the inspector shows up.
Do these regulations “protect the health and safety of the miners?” Debatable. Do they cost millions of dollars and create countless headaches. Undoubtedly. And the entire system lacks soul. It churns away like the bureaucratic machine it is, chewing up lives in the process.
The founders understood far-away, unresponsive, centralized government. They experienced its ugly power first hand. They felt powerlessness and anger when some functionary with no knowledge of their circumstances rolled into town and told them, “You WILL do it this way,” and then extracted a sum of money from their pockets for the privilege of their oversight. And they fought a war to free themselves from the tyranny.
This raises the question: why would they create strong centralized, all powerful government to replace the one they threw off?
They would not.
In fact, the framers created a general government with limited, enumerated powers, leaving most authority to the states. As James Madison explains in Federalist 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce; with which the last the power of taxation will for the most part be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.”
The actions of that federal mining inspector violated the Constitution. It grants no “mining regulation” power to the feds. And that should matter to anybody who cares about the rule of law. But even more important, one-size-fits-all, broad-brush regulations damage the lives and livelihoods of real Americans.
And that is why I continue to do what I do.