The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

The Regulator’s Cucumber Syndrome

Gatestone
Institute’s Soren Kern on November 14th had an article, “EU Regulations: ‘Dictatorship
of the Bureaucrats’?
” about the bewildering plethora of European Union
regulatory laws.

In
preliminary note-taking for this column, I tried to learn how many federal
product regulations exist in the U.S.  The
truth is that no one knows, not Congress, not the Federal Register – unless one
was willing to undertake a major research project, which would entail going
through every back issue of the Register, page by page, remembering to include current,
pending legislation in the count – and not even the Library of Congress. One
site’s estimate in 2010 was that there were 40,627
laws in force
in the U.S., covering everything from criminal law to product
standards. That number is certain to have increased since then.
The
Wall Street Journal’s article of July 23rd, 2011, “Many
Failed Efforts to Count Nation’s Federal Criminal Laws
,” which focused
only on federal criminal laws, was not optimistic:
“You
will have died and resurrected three times,” and still be trying to figure
out the answer, said Ronald Gainer, a retired Justice Department official.
In
1982, while at the Justice Department, Mr. Gainer oversaw what still stands as
the most comprehensive attempt to tote up a number. The effort came as part of
a long and ultimately failed campaign to persuade Congress to revise the
criminal code, which by the 1980s was scattered among 50 titles and 23,000
pages of federal law….
The
project stretched two years. In the end, it produced only an educated estimate:
about 3,000 criminal offenses. Since then, no one has tried anything nearly as
extensive….
In
1998, the American Bar Association performed a computer search of the federal
codes looking for the words “fine” and “imprison,” as well
as variations. The ABA study concluded the number of crimes was by then likely
much higher than 3,000, but didn’t give a specific estimate.
These
studies excluded regulatory laws. But, violations of federal regulatory laws
can overlap into criminal law. How else to explain the many individuals being
arrested, jailed, fined and given prison terms for violating the
“laws” of the IRS, the SEC, the  EPA, the FDA, or the HHS? This is an important
issue that should not be overlooked. As our behemoth government swells even
larger, more and more people will be charged with violating regulatory laws and
meted criminal law “justice.”
The
Library of Congress would second the Wall Street Journal’s doubts. In a post
dated March 12th, 2013, “Frequent
Reference Question: How Many Federal Laws Are There
?,” Shameema
Rahman, Senior Legal Research
Specialist with the LOC, cautions
:
At the reference desk, we are frequently asked to estimate
the number of federal laws in force. However, trying to tally this number is
nearly impossible.
If you
think the answer to this question can be found in the volumes of the Statutes at Large,
you
are partially correct. The Statutes at Large is a compendium that
includes all the federal laws passed by the U.S. Congress. However, a total
count of laws passed does not account for the fact that some laws are
completely new; some are passed to amend existing laws; and others completely
repeal old laws. Moreover, this set does not include any case law or regulatory
provisions that have the force of law.
In a
conversation about this topic, a friend asked me, “What about the United States Code?” The current Code has 51 titles in
multiple volumes. It would be very time consuming to go page by
page to count each federal law, and it also does not include case law or
regulatory provisions.
While
we are on the topic, would you like to know the difference between
the United States Code and the Statutes at Large? According
to the Government Printing Office,
“the Statutes at Large, is the permanent collection of all
laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress.”
Let
us not forget the latest proposal by the FDA, that it will regulate trans fats
in foods. A FrontPage article of November 14th, “If
You Like Your Food, You Can Keep Your Food
,” reported:
Obama’s FDA is considering a ban
on trans fat in foods. Like incandescent bulbs and cheap free market health
insurance, margarine may become one of those things that you can no longer buy
anymore. It will also mean that many other foods will either be banned, become
more expensive or taste worse. The FDA had already mandated trans fat labeling
on products.
The new ban would not protect
anyone; instead it would take away the right of Americans to choose what they eat.
Under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the FDA was created to prevent “the
manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous
or deleterious foods, drugs, medicines, and liquors.”
Milk, butter, cheese, ice cream,
hot dogs, salami, French fries and eggs. The FDA has given itself the authority
to ban everything from a glass of milk to a carton of eggs. And that’s not an
exaggeration.
It’s
hard to decide. Which side of the pond is copycatting the other in terms of
dreaming up new regulations and people-management laws: the U.S., or the EU?
You can only be sure that the laws on either beach are as numberless as grains
of sand.
And
there you have it: No one knows how many federal laws, regardless of their
purview, are in force and were created by Congress over at least a century. Abiding
by all those regulatory laws costs Americans untold billions of dollars every
year. Ninety-nine percent of them simply usurp individual and business choices
and substitute a bureaucracy’s fiat enforcement powers. The page count? It must
be in the millions.
Now
we turn to the EU, that great pile of bureaucratic hubris lording it over 28-member
nations and shepherding their 500 million citizens to “energy efficiency,
environmental friendliness, and health standards.” Soren Kern notes:
European bureaucrats have…imposed
bans or restrictions on thousands of…consumer products, including bananas,
clothes dryers, cosmetics, cucumbers, fruit jam, laptop computers, laundry
detergents, light bulbs, olive oil, plastic bags, refrigerators, showerheads,
television sets, tobacco, toilets, toys, urinals and wine cooling cabinets.
 Kern prefaces
his article with the EU’s proposed cucumber law. Don’t laugh. They’re serious.
European Commission Regulation
No. 1677/88, “Class I” and “Extra class” cucumbers are
allowed a bend of 10mm per 10cm of length. “Class II” cucumbers can
bend twice as much. Any cucumbers that are curvier may not be bought or sold.
There
was a downside to this instance of sheer bureaucratic idiocy. The human
cucumbers of the EU bureaucracy had to “bend”:
Amid public outcry, Brussels
eventually reversed
its ban
on curvy cucumbers—as well as on imperfectly shaped Brussels
sprouts, carrots, cherries and garlic—as part of the EU’s effort to cut
“unnecessary” red tape.
That
was “democracy” at work, the “voice” of the people, a voice
which the EU rarely deigns to listen to.
Done
chuckling? Have a banana:
Arguably the most famous examples
of EU over-regulation involve rules on the physical appearance of fruit and
vegetables. For example, European Commission Regulation No. 2257/94—also known
as the “bendy
banana law
“—states that all bananas bought and sold in the EU must be
“free from malformation or abnormal curvature.”
According to the regulation,
“Extra class” bananas must be of “superb quality,” while
“Class I” bananas can have “slight defects of shape,” and
“Class II” bananas can have full-on “defects of shape.” The
document states that the size of the banana is determined by “the grade,
i.e. the measurement, in millimeters, of the thickness of a transverse section
of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicularly to the
longitudinal axis.”
This
is material rich in Monty Python humor. Imagine a skit in which the hapless
European shopper must take a slide rule and a sextant to the fruit bin to
ensure the store isn’t carrying unauthorized fruit, and sells only
“superb” and “slightly defective” cucumbers, bananas and
cumquats. Imagine it, but know that these bureaucratic wonks are dead serious. They
are drunk on the ambrosia of regulatory elitism. Only they have the faculty to define what is “superb” and what
is not. They are the unelected, sumptuously salaried Platonic guardians of the
crass, ignorant, materialistic hoi polloi.
But,
wait! There’s more!
Les
bureaucrates ne manquez pas un tour!
The vacuum cleaner ban was
quietly approved during the summer holidays in August and went largely unnoticed
by the general public until after the German newspaper Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung
(FAZ) published
a story
about the new law on October 24.
“As of September 2014, only
vacuum cleaners that consume less than 1600 watts may be sold in the EU,”
according to FAZ. “From 2017 only a maximum of 900 watts will be allowed.
At the same time, the vacuum cleaner must be fitted with a label that grades
energy consumption on a scale of seven letters and colors: The letter ‘A’ on a
green background means very low energy consumption and the letter ‘G’ on a red
background means very high energy consumption.”
Before
a European can finish his laundry, he will have to make sure his dryer is
planet-friendly.
As of November 1, “the
weighted condensation efficiency of condensation tumbler dryers must not be
less than 60%,” according to European Commission Regulation
No. 932/2012
dated October 3, 2012 which implements “Directive
2009/125/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to
ecodesign requirements for household tumble driers.”
And
the European soon shouldn’t dare think of using a plastic bag or repair to his
loo, john, or water closet without making sure that it, too, is
planet-friendly.
On November 4, the European
Commission—the executive body of the European Union—adopted a
proposal
that requires member states to implement measures to reduce the
use of plastic bags. That same week, Brussels announced criteria to standardize
the flushing of all toilets and urinals in the EU
. The decision followed
years of efforts by experts working for the European Commission’s environment
directorate, as well as “stakeholders” studying “user
behavior” and “best practices.”
Finally
– and I’m sure Soren Kern could have continued with fifty more pages of
examples – the European will not be able to pot his own plants or grow his own
herbs or tomatoes without EU approval.
In May 2013, the European
Commission announced the so-called Plant
Reproductive Material Law
, an Orwellian directive that would make it
illegal to “grow, reproduce or trade” any vegetable seeds that have
not been “tested, approved and accepted” by a new EU bureaucracy
named the EU Plant Variety Agency.
The new law would give Brussels authority over all plants and seeds bought and
sold in all 28 EU member states, and would prohibit home gardeners from growing
their own plants from non-regulated seeds. Critics say
the new law is an effort by the EU to gain “total domination of the food
supply.”
Now,
the thing to remember about especially European lawmakers and bureaucrats is
that when they do back down and scrap a wholly fiat law such as the cucumber
law because of populist dissatisfaction with it, it isn’t because they’ve seen
the light and realize that they’ve overstepped their mandate by violating the
rights of their minions. No such connection takes place in their minds. It is
because, for the moment, at least, the imposition is temporarily impractical.
Abstractions do not germinate in their minds.
Nor
do they in our own regulators, bureaucrats, and politicians. Their idée fixes are anchored to concretes,
not actual ideas. They are as fearfully obsessed or fascinated with things as a
prattling infant is with the shiny thing that goes round and round over his
basinet or crib.
In
my last column, “Modern
Art: Fool’s Gold
,” I quoted Ayn Rand on the subject of the shrunken
epistemology of modern men, and particularly of politicians (and even Supreme
Court judges, e.g., Chief Justice John Roberts deliberating incoherently on the
constitutionality of ObamaCare).
Decomposition is the postscript to the death of a human body; disintegration
is the preface to the death of a human mind. Disintegration is the keynote and
goal of modern art—the disintegration of man’s conceptual faculty, and the
retrogression of an adult mind to the state of a mewling infant….
To reduce man’s consciousness to the level of sensations, with no
capacity to integrate them, is the intention behind the reducing of language to
grunts, of literature to “moods,” of painting to smears, of sculpture to slabs,
of music to noise.1.
By
way of analogy, that is the starting point of an infant’s consciousness, a
pre-conceptual mind which would otherwise normally progress to the integrations
of language, literature, painting, sculpture, and music – depending on an
individual’s willingness to think and integrate (and that is a matter of volition). An infant develops the
capacity to integrate sensations, moves on to percepts of things, and ultimately
to concepts.
But
all American and European regulatory and welfare state political creatures
share the same dark metaphysics and the same arrested epistemology.
So,
in reference to events like the sale of an Andy
Warhol montage
of pictures of a car crash, reported by NBC News on November
14th, for another astronomical sum, Warhol’s obsession with
concretes in all his work is symptomatic of the current state of men’s minds.
The prized eight-by-13-foot
painting titled “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” captures the
immediate aftermath of a car crash, depicting a twisted body sprawled across a
car’s mangled interior. It has only been seen once in public in the past 26
years.
These
are minds mired in a retrograde reduction of their consciousnesses to the infant
level. For that is all they are doing: grasping the raw sense data of a car
crash. Something like Delacroix’s painting, “Liberty
Leading the People
,” is beyond their perception. They may see it, and
even perceive the human figures in it, but its theme, composition, and spirit
are beyond their capacity to capture – or value. Smashed metal and twisted
bodies, however, are the limits of their perceptual awareness of reality. They
must be prohibited. People must stop smoking, eating un-curvaceous vegetables
and fruit, drinking sugary liquids, using dryers and vacuum cleaners that use
“too much” power, driving cars except by their rules, and an
inexhaustible range of other actions employing entities that are perceived
nemeses to such a creature’s existence and emotional statis.  
Thus
it is with bureaucrats and lawmakers who see concretes they think ought to be
controlled, regulated, and even banned. They cannot (or will not) think beyond
those concretes. Concretes existing and being valued and used by others
represent threats to their existence. The ideological excuses – the
environment, the “pubic good,” and “public health,” and so
on – are almost irrelevant. The key to understanding a bureaucrat, or a
politician, or an artist who focuses on sensations and concretes, is that they are
adults who choose to remain at an infant’s level of dealing with reality, but
who have the supposed power to compel reality and others to conform to their perceptions.
The consequences of wielding that power do not weigh much in their decisions to
realize those perceptions.
All
unregulated or uncontrolled things and actions are bad things, thinks the
regulatory wonk and politician. My existence is meaningless, and even put in
peril, unless I can control them. The universe is malevolent, unpredictable, out
to get me, and my peace of mind can be only be guaranteed if these bad things
are controlled or banished. Who am I
to say what is bad or not? I am an
exemplar of “public service,” dedicated to advancing the “public
good.” (Thank God someone dreamed up those ideas!) I can be the apotheosis
of selfless virtue without having ever lifted a finger or produced anything of
value that anyone else would want. How others can be something and produce
things is a mystery to me, it’s a realm I don’t need or choose to explore, and
I don’t have to concern myself with that, because I have been granted power of
all those others.
This
is the origin of power-lust: the compulsion to control reality by controlling the
choices and actions of anyone in it. The next time you are frustrated with the stubborn
obtuseness of a bureaucrat or politician who can’t or won’t acknowledge your
right to exist or act without his permission, know that you are faced with the
equivalent of an infant in an adult’s body, impervious to reason, ready to
scream and whine and throw a tantrum if he doesn’t get his way, still sucking
on the teething ring of collectivism and the welfare state and
totalitarianism-for-your-own-good, and able to thwack you with his
lead-weighted rattle.
The
time cannot come too soon when Americans and Europeans throw the baby out with
the bath water.
1. “Art and
Cognition,” by Ayn Rand, in The
Romantic Manifesto
. New York: Signet/New American Library, 1971. pp. 76-77

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4 Comments

  1. Tim C

    "European Commission Regulation No. 1677/88, "Class I" and "Extra class" cucumbers are allowed a bend of 10mm per 10cm of length. "Class II" cucumbers can bend twice as much. Any cucumbers that are curvier may not be bought or sold."

    Just what are they using these cucumbers for?

  2. Tim C

    Clearly I posted my remark before getting to the even more ridiculous.

    Wow.

  3. Tim C

    Regarding growing your own – I recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (no affiliation, just great results).

    For instance, I never knew cabbage can actually have flavor and taste delicious.

    Oh, and washer/dryers etc – US is right with 'em there. Sooner than later appliances that work (like my old Electrolux I bought off Ebay) will be a valuable commodity.

  4. Roxanne

    Very well done synthesis of what passes for thinking in a modern politician or bureaucrat's mind. The desire to control those who are able to live, to produce values. As an illusion of being in control of reality. Their undoing will come the day they bring destruction on themselves by their "controls"- and the illusion is shattered.

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