Size does matter

    A breezy new little book called “Size Matters: How Big Government
    Puts the Squeeze on America’s Families, Finances and Freedom,” by Joel
    Miller provides a great snapshot of what Americans should have in mind
    in the midst of the current wave of scandals in Washington and calls
    for lobbying reform.

    The book is filled with anecdotes showing, clearly and simply, the
    inverse relationship in runaway growth in laws, regulations, and taxes
    _ allegedly passed for our benefit _ and the ability of businesses to
    grow and provide new and affordable products. Or in the ability of
    Americans to afford core necessities such as buying a home or saving
    for retirement.

    Particularly timely, given the current
    environment in Washington, is Miller’s discussion about the
    Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, passed and signed into law in the wake of
    the Enron and WorldCom scandals.

    Sarbanes-Oxley was another case
    in point that it is inconceivable to politicians that free people, when
    left alone, can simply learn from their mistakes. Those who commit
    crimes go to jail, and the rest of us, businesses and consumers, can
    read about what happened and avoid making similar mistakes (e.g., don’t
    put your life savings into one stock). Change and improvement can take
    place cheaply and efficiently.

    But, under such a scenario, how
    can our senator or congressman be a hero? No, they must pass new laws
    to demonstrate that they are indeed manning the ramparts, ready to
    deliver new solutions for making a better world.

    Of course,
    this better world somehow always winds up with government even bigger
    than it was before, with new laws, regulations, and costs.

    Miller points out that Sarbanes-Oxley will cost large firms about $5
    million on average in new compliance costs, with auditing costs going
    up around 50 percent. Small firms are seeing their auditing costs
    doubling and tripling.

    Furthermore, as result of this law,
    private firms are having second thoughts about going public and having
    to submit to the regulatory nightmare. As result of staying out of the
    capital markets, they forego new growth opportunities, which
    translates, for us simple folks, into jobs.

    Sarbanes-Oxley put
    new criminal offenses on the books, adding to the four thousand that
    are already encoded. The total number of federal crimes enumerated in
    our Constitution, we learn in this little book, is a grand total of

    Bottom line: One American does something wrong and the
    rest of us pay the price forever. That is, all of us except the
    politicians who have even larger fiefdoms to oversee and lawyers and
    accountants who have more laws requiring compliance and opening the
    door for more litigation.

    Miller quotes former Senator Phil
    Gramm at the time Sarbanes-Oxley passed saying, “In the environment
    we’re in, virtually anything could have passed the Congress.”

    Do you get the feeling we’re getting ready for more of the same?

    After reading the statistics Miller quotes, any sane person will click
    off the next self-righteous political spiel about lobbying reform. In
    the 1920’s there were 400 lobbying organizations in Washington. By the
    1990’s there were 10,000. Today, 35,000 registered lobbyists roam the
    streets and halls of Washington _ about 65 for every senator and

    Let’s not forget that a good chunk, and among the
    most lucratively compensated, of this lobbying corps are ex-senators
    and congressmen. Last time I checked, I found that around 40 percent of
    members of Congress never return home; many set up shop in the nation’s
    capital to rake in the big bucks playing off the contacts they have and
    their intimate knowledge of the town.

    Our problem is the size
    and scope of government. Period. New laws about who can talk to whom
    and when and who can buy whom lunch are a joke. They’re cosmetics that
    simply redirect behavior and change absolutely nothing.

    According to the latest Harris polling, Americans are indeed dubious
    that changing lobbying laws are going to make any difference. About 75
    percent respond that new laws won’t make any difference. Eighty-six
    percent think the type of behavior to which lobbyist Jack Abramoff
    pleaded guilty typifies Washington lobbying behavior.

    What are the political implications here?

    Republicans should pay close attention. According to investment advisor
    Don Luskin, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll done last December polling
    voter preference for which party should control Congress now shows a
    stronger preference for Democrats (46 percent prefer Democrats; 38
    percent prefer Republicans) than the same poll, taken in October, 1994,
    before the Republicans wrestled control of Congress away from
    Democrats, that showed 44 percent favored Republicans and 38 percent
    favored Democrats.

    I think Republicans retain an advantage in
    that there are at least some who want to cut back government. Size does
    indeed matter and Americans should settle for no less than change that
    is real and that is substantial.

    (Star Parker is author
    of “Uncle Sam’s Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor
    and What We Can Do about It” and president of CURE, Coalition on Urban
    Renewal and Education,