COVID-19 has certainly opened people's eyes to government overreach. As usual, political leaders used the crisis to ban the little guys and clear a path for larger corporations to move full-steam ahead. Here in Tahlequah, we were not allowed to shop at Felt's Family Shoe store or eat a hamburger at Presley's Burgers, but we could eat a Subway sandwich while shopping at Walmart. Most cities were much worse.
In Michigan, residents were not allowed to shop for paint or wallpaper. In Florida, professional wrestling was an essential activity, but a drive-thru window at church was unlawful. California closed all its beaches. A man in Colorado was arrested for playing catch with his daughter in nearly empty park, but we could still go to Lake Tenkiller parks. However, truckers and travelers found our roadside rest areas were closed shortly after the epidemic was official.
Oklahomans seldom suffer from overreach like the people on the East and West coasts. Small Oklahoma businesses have a pretty easy time compared to the non-flyover states. As long as the product is legal, starting and operating a business in Oklahoma is much simpler than other, more sophisticated states. It costs $25 per year for a business license in Tahlequah. On top of that, a small business has to pay state and local taxes, sales taxes, employment taxes and insurance, and not much else. The same business in New York City could easily cost several thousand dollars to open and operate during the first year, whether it made money or not.
Alexander Hamilton, one of the principal authors of the Constitution, urged Congress to promote manufacturing so the U.S. could be "independent of foreign nations for military and other essential supplies." In addition to national independence, he believed, manufacturing would provide a path to equality in the global market. Congress turned him down. To help industry in the U.S., he encouraged Congress to build canals and better roads for transportation. He asked for high tariffs to encourage citizens to buy American-made goods and promote speculation. The early Congress liked that last idea, as did their manufacturing constituents.
Congress averages about 200 new laws every year. Many older laws are inappropriate for today's high-speed world of jets and internet companies, but the basic concepts in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, for the most part, have not changed, except for the creation of bureaucracies. A nation the size of the U.S. could not function without expert bureaucrats to keep the congressional wheels rolling. Unfortunately though, most of the governmental overreach comes not from Congress, but from bureaucracies, such as the Federal Drug Administration, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Justice – somewhere between 257 and 450 agencies and subagencies. No one really knows how many federal agencies exist or even how many federal employees there are – somewhere around 2.79 million.
Unelected bureaucrats are free to interpret ambiguous laws (most laws are ambiguous) in whatever manner they deem appropriate. The problem with these agencies is they can make rules and regulations that have the effect of actual laws – including rules that are not available to the public until after violations occur, complete with hefty fines and prison terms. The only way to fight these regulations is through the court: a financially prohibitive battle that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, ordinary citizens and small businesses do not have the resources to take on the full power of the U.S. government; it is simply not possible. As long as bureaucrats have this kind of power, government overreach will be the norm rather than the exception.
Mark Stepp is a retired senior technical writer and former newspaper reporter/editor. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and a graduate of Northeastern State University with a BA in education and journalism.