Right-wing think tanker Charles Murray’s latest book is coming out this week, and it offers a plan “to make large chunks of the Federal Code of Regulations unenforceable.” In other words, he says, “I want to pour sugar into the regulatory state’s gas tank.”
Not surprisingly, Murray’s anti-regulation manifesto is being giddily promoted by right-wing organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, Murray’s institutional home, as well as the CATO Institute, the State Policy Network, and right-wing pundits like National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and Fox News’s John Stossel.
Murray is probably best known as co-author of “The Bell Curve,” which infamously explored theories on race and intelligence. His new book, “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission,” is a call to “massive civil disobedience” to government regulations: “The government cannot enforce its mountain of laws and regulations without voluntary compliance. Let’s have a private-sector counterweight that pulls back the curtain and exposes the Wizard’s weakness.”
Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada wrote recently, “If ‘Atlas Shrugged’ had been written by a despondent social scientist instead of a dyspeptic novelist, it would read a lot like ‘By the People’.”
Murray says his book grew out of frustration over the experience of a friend, who he describes as an honest businessman unjustly harassed by arrogant federal bureaucrats. Murray’s solution is to have one or a few anti-government billionaires kick in to create “The Madison Fund,” a legal group that would flood the government with lawsuits challenging the enforcement of regulations they deem unnecessary. As AEI cheerfully explains in its cartoonish graphic: “Even the largest government agency cannot afford to carry a large number of small legal cases that are strung out for as long as the law permits. Goliath cannot win against hundreds of Davids.”
That is exactly the strategy used by the Church of Scientology in its long-running war on the Internal Revenue Service. Murray doesn’t credit Scientology leader David Miscavige, but it sure seems like he should.
Journalist Lawrence Wright covered Scientology’s legal strategy in his 2013 book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” which was the basis for this year’s HBO documentary on the church. Wright reported that Scientology besieged the IRS with 200 lawsuits from the church and more than 2,300 lawsuits on behalf of individual parishioners in every jurisdiction in the country, “overwhelming government lawyers, running up fantastic expenses, and causing an immense amount of havoc inside the IRS.” Miscavige boasted that church lawyers had so exhausted the IRS’s legal budget that the agency couldn’t afford to send its lawyers to an American Bar Association conference.
That is what Murray wants to do to agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Scott Ott, cheering Murray on at PJ Media, puts it this way:
“By flooding the zone, Murray hopes to cripple the ability of the regulatory state to fight a multi-front war against we, the people….Murray would overwhelm government agencies to get them to stop arbitrary enforcement actions; to leave us alone except in situations that genuinely threaten public health and safety. He likens it to the way police don’t stop every speeding car, but only those that pose the greatest threat to the well-being of others.”
Murray does say he is not opposed to all regulation. But it’s not clear who will make those judgment calls, especially given that Murray’s examples of unnecessary government regulation include meat safety inspections (!) and health regulations applied to dental offices. Murray says supermarket chains and the American Dental Association should be trusted to police their own, with the threat of bad publicity on social media providing sufficient incentive.
Murray’s plan includes another strategy used by the Church of Scientology. Murray says the Madison Fund will wage public relations campaigns to ridicule government regulations and the officials enforcing them. Wright documents that Scientology supplemented its legal war on the IRS with ads featuring celebrities, including non-Scientologists, who had been audited or otherwise had tangled with the IRS.
The legal war waged by Scientology worked, winning the church official recognition as a tax-exempt religion and all the legal protections that came with it when the IRS caved. Wright says that IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg “had to balance the longing on the part of some of his executives to destroy the church against the need to keep his resources, both human and financial, from being sucked into the black hole that Scientology had created.”
At least Scientology officials had just one goal – official recognition — and backed off once they won that battle. In contrast, Murray envisions an ongoing, wide-ranging, black-hole-creating campaign that he openly admits is an end-run around the democratic process, which has failed to produce the radical restrictions in government that libertarians are looking for.
In fact, Murray is remarkably down on the democratic process. “You are not going to roll back the reach of government through the political process,” he declares. “It can’t be done.”
Murray admits he is “a lot more overtly hostile toward the government – toward what’s been done to the American project – than I have ever been before.” He argues that the U.S. is the only country ever founded on a charter designed to limit the power of government, and “from 1789 to the 1930s is the sole example of minimal government anywhere, at any time.” Since the New Deal, however, government has grown in ways that can no longer be reversed, even by electing Republicans. Says Murray, “Attacking the regulatory state through the legal system is the only option for rebuilding liberty.”
Murray says he fears for America’s limited-government “soul.” It will be interesting to see how many conservatives agree that saving America’s soul means pushing the country back toward a pre-New Deal reality by a systematic campaign of legal harassment designed to prevent much of the federal government from doing its work.