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Don’t underestimate the danger and cost of giving it up to the regulatory state. It’s ability to impel behavior in the absence of any legislative mandate, and apparently without accountability to the judicial branch or any other authority, is explored by Michael Greve in “Prescription for a Banana Republic.” He does this mostly in the context of the Department of Education, but he also mentions the FDA’s practice of issuing “draft” guidance, frequently with perverse consequences. I know from my own experience in the financial industry that the problem is more general. Here’s one snippet from Greve’s article:

Why do we permit agencies to proceed in this underhanded, unreviewable fashion? The general idea is that in choosing to proceed by “guidance” rather than formal, reviewable regulation, the agency is giving something up: the legally binding effect of its rulings. It’s not really coercing anybody, and so why bother the courts? That answer, however, wildly underestimates government’s ingenuity in giving real-world effect to supposedly informal documents.

Richard Rahn had a piece yesterday on the closely related topic of fines and asset forfeitures imposed by regulators without any court proceeding, let alone a conviction. He quotes two former directors of the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Office:

Civil asset forfeiture and money-laundering laws are gross perversions of the status of government amid a free citizenry. The individual is the font of sovereignty in our constitutional republic, and it is unacceptable that a citizen should have to ‘prove’ anything to the government. If the government has probable cause of a violation of law, then let a warrant be issued. And if the government has proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt, let that guilt be proclaimed by 12 peers.

Greve mentions the strong influence exerted by regulators issuing so-called “Dear Colleague” letters containing “suggested” steps that might be taken “voluntarily” to avoid falling out of compliance with often ill-defined requirements:

Whereupon compliance officers across the country can be heard clearing their throats: I can help…. Replicate the m.o. across the full range of government services and regulation: it takes a ton of money to escape. Once you start adopting Juan Peron’s legal model, social patterns will follow. We’re well on our way.

Nudge me when it’s over. Oh, wait!