Friday, May 8, 2015

By the People, by Charles Murray

Is it just me, or is Charles Murray getting angrier and more frustrated as he gets older?  Murray's new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission reveals Murray at the end of his rope.  This stuff he's been writing about for decades--limiting government, declining societal norms, the welfare class, racial divides--is coming to a head.  In By the People, he addresses the out-of-control federal bureaucratic state, offering solutions but with reservations about success.

The U.S. federal government has grown beyond anything the founders would ever recognize.  "Under Republicans and Democrats alike, the federal government went from nearly invisible in the daily life of ordinary Americans in the 1950s to an omnipresent backdrop today."  He paints a bleak picture of the administrative state, and finds that "solutions are beyond the reach of the electoral process and legislative process."

In the first several chapters, Murray describes how we got here, a nation of rules, whose rule makers are unaccountable and who frequently impose "arbitrary or capricious" rulings.  He compares our system of rules to a Third World kleptocracy, where lobbyists have pay the bribes and legislators shake down donors.  It leads to effectual lawlessness and inevitable corruption.

Given the corruption of the legislative process, what does that leave?  The judicial process, of course.  The most substantial section of By the People has Murray calling for civil disobedience, in which people refuse to follow certain types of regulations.  He primarily has in mind businesses whose operation is constrained by those "arbitrary and capricious" rules.  In order to protect these righteous scofflaws Murray proposes legal defense funds, similar to the Institute for Justice (only on a larger scale) and industry-specific trade associations.  When a company or work site is targeted by OSHA or other government agency, they will have a means to defend themselves.  Given the number of work sites across the country and the limitations of the regulatory agencies, Murray foresees an eventual concession to a "no harm, no foul," hands-off regulatory atmosphere.  He sees these concessions as potentially changing overall attitudes toward the regulatory state.  "Once it becomes normal for liberals as well as conservatives to react to stupid regulations with 'This is ridiculous,' the way will have been opened for larger changes."

Murray can be simultaneously bleak and wildly optimistic.  On the one hand, "The federal government was created with one overriding duty: to allow us to live freely as we see fit. . . . It has betrayed that duty." Yet, he writes, over the next two centuries, "America will do a better job of leaving people free to live their lives as they see fit. . . . There will be too much money and too many technological resources to make today's leviathan government necessary."  In the meantime, I really like his proposal for the Madison Fund, the legal defense fund he outlines.  If he can get the funding and recruit some good lawyers for it, I think it can have the impact he describes.  If he gets busy on this, maybe he will have a role in reining in the bureaucratic state and relieve some of his frustration!  More power to ya, Dr. Murray!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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