Thoughts on Liberty on the Fifth of July

As we often do, we spent the 4th of July with our relatives in South Dakota. Independence Day is a good time to be in South Dakota, as the spirit of liberty shines a little brighter there than in some other precincts. This is manifested, in a small way, in the lavish fireworks displays that South Dakotans mount–not just towns, but individuals. People are not trusted with such dangerous explosives in the nanny state of Minnesota.


We stopped by one of our favorite stores, which reminded me that the old joke about alcohol, tobacco and firearms–that’s not a government agency, it’s a convenience store–is missing a few items, like bait and gasoline:


Independence Day has come to stand for much more than a commemoration of America’s independence from Great Britain. Rather, it is a celebration of our spirit of independence as a people. What guaranties our liberties? Well, our Constitution, for starters. But our current rulers view the Constitution merely as an inconvenience. Which led one Ukrainian journalist to suggest that his country adopt it:

Why don’t we use the American Constitution? It was written by really smart guys, it has worked for over 200 years, and they’re not using it anymore.

It is commonly noted that a written constitution doesn’t necessarily mean much. Many tyrannies–the Soviet Union, no name just one–have ostensibly been governed by constitutions that could have worked fine if they had actually been implemented. What makes freedom possible is not primarily a document, but the people’s spirit of liberty. If the spirit of liberty dies out, we will not be saved by a piece of paper, however wise and venerable it may be.

That spirit is by no means extinct in the United States, as the rise of the Tea Party, along with many other phenomena, demonstrates. But it is increasingly hemmed in by an overweening state, which promotes dependence to advance its own interests. What can we make of a United States where a demand for “free” birth control has become a central plank in the platform of a major political party? As John Hawkins wrote (see The Week In Pictures): “Hysterically demanding that the government force people to pay for your birth control doesn’t exactly say, ‘strong, independent woman.'”

In the long run, our freedom is most threatened by such cultural decay. But in the meantime, the biggest danger comes from the unelected, unaccountable fourth branch of government. The fourth branch, the permanent bureaucracy, chips away at our freedom on almost a daily basis. Thus, at 4:15 on July 3, the Obama administration released 1,300 pages of new Obamacare regulations. What do they say? No one knows. I mean that literally. There is no one on Earth who could explain the thousands of pages of regulations that have been issued to implement Obamacare. This is what Nancy Pelosi meant (or should have meant, anyway) when she said that we had to enact Obamacare to find out what is in it. The truth is that there was never much of anything in it until the bureaucracy went to work on writing regulations.

Our rulers don’t mind that they have no idea what the latest 1,300 pages of regulations contain. They wouldn’t have followed them anyway. Glenn Reynolds reminds us that laws are for you and me, but not them:

LAWS ARE FOR THE LITTLE PEOPLE: Consumer Financial Protection Pulls an IRS, ‘Loses’ Documentation.

According to a report issued by the Inspector General for the Board of Governors and subsequently released by the House Financial Services Committee on Oversight and Investigations, the CFPB not only failed to secure funding approval, but the report also concludes that the entire project of renovating the CFPB headquarters in Washington, D.C., has “no sound basis” at all. With updated costs calculated, the project is expected to total $215 million dollars, amounting to $120 million dollars in excessive spending.

CFPB did not even follow its own guidelines for obtaining approval for the renovation, and incredibly, the Inspector General was unable to locate any documentation on the actual decision to renovate the bureau’s headquarters, whatsoever.

It’s just a criminal conspiracy with the power to tax.

The rules are way too complicated for bureaucrats to figure out, so they just ignore them. Much like the IRS and its records retention policies. In contrast, businesses, in general, do a remarkably good job of identifying and complying with millions of government regulations, but at enormous cost. All of which is paid by us.

A tiny town on the road to South Dakota displays a stone sign on which is engraved the town’s name, along with “The Lord is my shepherd.” If we could resurrect James Madison, it would be interesting to try to explain to him why that town’s marker violates the Constitution that he wrote, while it is perfectly OK for a bunch of government employees, elected by no one, to issue thousands of pages of regulations that purport to govern the health care of American citizens.

We have been writing for some time about the threat to liberty posed by the administrative state, under the title “Adventures In Administrative Law.” More recently, we have highlighted Professor Philip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unlawful? See, too, my argument that libertarians, and others who care about freedom, should focus on the administrative state as the most urgent threat to Americans’ freedoms. We will have much more to say on this subject in the months to come.

If you have made it this far, you probably need cheering up. So here is a link to a funny article by Philip Bump in the Washington Post, titled “How to not die from fireworks, courtesy of the Clinton administration.” Someone dredged up a 1996 federal government video–another fruit of the bloated bureaucracy–on how to avoid fireworks accidents. Only the film seems to have been made with subversive intent, or at least that’s how it looks now.

And, finally, here is a brief video of a fountain that we bought at the fireworks emporium pictured above and shot off last night. It concludes with “4th of July” outlined on the side of the fountain in a fiery red:

Happy Independence Day!