If one wants a depressing read and Sylvia Plath poems aren’t enough, one should go online and find the Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State put out by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Even the summary of the report is enough to make you want to put your head in the stove.

According to CEI, federal regulations cost the American people about $1.8 trillion every year. Each family in America pays over $14,000 a year in regulatory costs. Nearly everything you buy, from your mattress to your Cheerios, is regulated by the federal government, and that costs money.

The government is prolific in its production of regulations. CEI notes that in 2012 a new regulation was produced every two and a half hours. Most of these were not passed by Congress, but were rules promulgated by regulatory bureaucracies. In 2012 alone, Congress passed 127 regulations, but federal bureaucrats produced 3,708 new rules.

For example, the federal government, starting in 2009, banned the sale of gas cans that had the rear vent. Ironically, the ban is intended to stop spillage of gas. But as we all know, the rear vent is there to make the gas pour more smoothly, so likely the regulation causes more spillage.

Or pick up the Department of Justice document on Standards for Accessible Design for the disabled. We all want to be accommodating to the disabled, but do we really need a 275 page document telling us how to build mini-golf courses, what the proper sight lines are for the wheelchair bound at a sporting event, and telling folks in electric wheelchairs not to drive them into pools?

So many regulations serve not to protect or improve the lives of the common citizen, but to enrich the already well-connected. Many businesses and industries hire lobbyists not just to influence Congress, but to lobby the regulators. Former congressmen and bureaucrats make a killing influencing regulations for the benefit of their clients. Apple recently hired former Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson as an “environmental advisor.” Her real job is clear: schmooze your former agency on behalf of your new employer.

In Federalist 62, James Madison warned against the evils created by voluminous law. “It poisons the blessing of liberty itself,” wrote Madison. “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” Does anyone really understand the nearly 4,000 regulations promulgated just last year?

Big government gives unfair advantage “to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people.” Those of us without time to keep up with the ever-changing law are at a disadvantage compared to those with the money to hire experts to do so on their behalf.

If we want to revive democracy and people’s faith in government, one important step is making a government that the average person can understand. That includes one that does not regulate our gas cans.

Jon D. Schaff is a professor of political science at Northern State University in Aberdeen. His opinions are his own, not those of the university.

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