On my way out of the library I found, literally on the floor, a pamphlet called A Day in the Life of a Regulated American Family, signed by one Susan Dudley of the Mercatus Regulatory Studies Program, and apparently published by this PhD-flaunting institution with the goal of frightening small children. It is the perfect inversion of that story from 1945 about the happy dime, whose wanderings showed generations of schoolkids the many ways government improves our lives. Using the same kid-friendly technique, Dudley gives us a parable of deepest paranoia: Nearly everything in life, the pamphlet tells us darkly, is tainted by the hand of government. It regulates the radio stations, inspects our food, fiddles with our cars, restricts what we can do with our employees, and it might just declare our backyard a wetland if we don’t look out. Each of these examples is meant to terrify, and when the totalitarian threat isn’t immediately obvious – I, for one, wish the government would do more food inspecting, not less – Dudley sticks in an extra sentence establishing its awfulness (“John … is not made safer by the airbags”). The pamphlet is illustrated with clip art of the kind found for free on the Internet and used to enliven elementary school newsletters.
The trash was where this thing belonged, and I hastened to deliver it to its rightful resting place. But for some reason I hesitated, brought it home, looked up its author: and behold: a few years after excreting this thing, Susan Dudley succeeded John Graham as chief of OIRA [the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs]; she is today our government’s chief regulatory officer. The effect is like a hammer to the head, like learning that they’ve put a ten-year-old Quaker lad in charge of the Strategic Air Command.
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