We live amid a proliferation of laws. This is an international phenomenon. In my home state, New York, the legislature passed a ban on plastic bags—a potentially justifiable disincentive to pollution that the city, in its even greater wisdom, may now accompany with an inexplicable 5 cent charge for paper ones (see Talking Points). On the other side of the Atlantic, Brussels, the world’s most important native habitat for faceless bureaucrats, has passed a raft of new internet regulations. Among them is a “link tax” that Google would pay for tiny snippers of text in search results. It’s a plan that could cripple internet searches—and similar to a German rule that failed so badly that publishers were left begging Google to restore its links (see Best Columns: Business). As often as not, regulations are themselves subject to a still higher law, that of unintended consequences. Dealing with regulation and bureaucracy is frustrating, but it is the inescapable modern condition.
The pendulum, though, swings both ways. The feeling of being oppressed by bureaucracy leads to the impulse to tell government to mind its own beeswax. And that in turn, when the hand is overplayed, leads to what we are witnessing with Brexit (see Main Stories). For many in the U.K., the ordinary human tendency to feel put-upon by distant bureaucracies morphed into a national sense of umbrage. Now that has turned into a surly intransigence among Brexit supporters that threatens to cast the country adrift on an ocean roiling with economic catastrophe. Brexit will be a great subject for future dissertations in baby-and-bathwater studies, and some lessons apply to the United States. We routinely find ourselves chafing at the modern regulatory state, but we are stuck with it, and when it fails, we need to fix it. When you own your home, you need to be prepared to make repairs, not tear it down when you find a problem with the plumbing.