America used to be a nation of laws. Those laws served as guidelines for how we conducted business and ourselves. They were powerful laws, to be sure. But more importantly, they were fair, just, and judicious. They were laws we could all believe in. They were reasonable. They were not onerous or overbearing.
That’s no longer the case. Our laws no longer guide our actions; they dictate them. The problem is we’ve morphed from a nation of laws into a nation of lawyers. And the simple truth is that lawyers aren’t exactly judicious or minimalist about the laws and regulations they propose, draft, and implement.
Think about it. We talk about big federal government, but the size of its ever-growing budget and the enormous debt it’s piling up are just the beginning. The bigger problem is that we’ve somehow managed to create a system where career politicians – most of whom are lawyers – are incentivized to create more and ever-more complex legislation and regulations that are rarely repealed.
That’s the big government gift that keeps on giving.
The more lawyers and lobbyists we have the more laws and loopholes they create. We’re talking millions and millions of pages of legislation and regulations. And you know what that means? It means countless billable hours for hordes of attorneys that you and I, our small businesses, and our corporations have to pay to figure it all out, keep us out of the government’s crosshairs, and defend us from frivolous lawsuits.
The price for government protection and infrastructure used to be just taxes. Now it’s taxes plus a never-ending conundrum of laws and regulations that tax our lives, our liberties, our pursuit of happiness, and our sanity.
Make no mistake: lawyers make our laws, run our country, and more and more, determine how we live our lives. And the end result has us all running scared of a government that’s supposed to be there to protect us. For example:
Those of us who live in rural or mountainous areas are afraid our homes will go up in wildfires caused by forests of dead fuel that environmental lawyers stop us from clearing.
Property and business owners are afraid of the Environmental Protection Agency’s repressive regulations and predatory legal practices. It’s out of control in California where, get this, even oil-based paints are being phased out. Never mind all the crazy rules about what you can and can’t do with your own property.
What started as legislation and regulation meant to guide how banks lend money to homebuyers was hijacked by politicians with an agenda. The resulting subprime mortgage crisis nearly destroyed our nation’s economy.
People are afraid that, if they voice their true political beliefs, the IRS will come after them with its 70,000-page tax code.
A few terrorists and lunatics have had a dramatic impact on our personal liberties and freedom. You can’t even bring a bag or a backpack to a football game anymore, just a one-gallon clear plastic bag. Don’t even get me started on the anti-gun activists.
Parents are afraid that, if they discipline their kids, they’ll end up getting sued, arrested, or a visit from Child Protective Services.
When the blood alcohol driving limit drops to 0.05%, as it inevitably will, you won’t even be able to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner without being afraid of getting a DUI. Yes, other countries have stricter drunk driving laws, but they’re generally smaller nations with better public transportation systems and a lot fewer highway cops.
Laws that were needed to enforce equality have turned into affirmative action, which provides advantages to certain select groups while discriminating against others. The very laws that were supposed to stamp out racism have basically institutionalized it.
We’re afraid that all the regulations are just the beginning because, three years ago, Congress actually passed a law that would change all of our lives forever without having any idea what was in it: ObamaCare.
And, as crazy as it sounds with all the lawyers running our country, we’re afraid that all the real criminals are getting out of jail with a slap on the wrist.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked with hundreds of attorneys over the decades. I have great respect for the field. Besides, some of my best friends are lawyers. No kidding. But, with rare exception, we don’t let them run our companies and they probably shouldn’t be running our nation, either.
Laws are important. They create order. But if you allow them free reign, laws and the lawyers who make them take on a life of their own. They self-perpetuate. They create bureaucracy. You used to have to work for the government to experience bone-crushing bureaucracy. Now we all get to experience it 24x7. It isn’t pleasant.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.