The Age of the Busybody

Article excerpt

Busybodies. In an earlier, gentler time, every neighborhood had one. Predominantly but not exclusively female in those days, the local busybody was recognized with ease. Although the verb was mercifully unknown, she micromanaged all PTA meetings, gatherings, sales, and affairs whether or not she was chairman or even occupied a seat on the governing board. She notified all neighbors about the proper means and methods of raising their children, managing their households, and directing their spouses. Since she knew more about everything than anyone else, she offered unsolicited aiiyunc cibc, sue uncicu umuiiiucu t commands disguised as suggestions to the community grocer, the resident pharmacist, and the sales managers at the five-and-dime, variety, shoe, and apparel stores. In essence, she minded everyone else's business.

One other trait of the busybodies stood tall for all thoughtful folks to perceive:They were far too busy minding the business of all within their fiefdoms to mind their own business, to care for their own children, and to manage their own households.

Times are no longer simple and gentle and safe, but the busybody has not only survived but also prospered, become fruitful, and filled every crevice and cranny of the nation. Fifty years ago my father insightfully titled his speech to a San Francisco business gathering as I have this article. He observed that in the years following World War II, busybodydom had flourished like an obnoxious weed, threatening to crowd out the air and light of individual ideas and purposeful personal action, and in this manner destroy the nurture encouraged by stable and essential decisions. The past decades verified Jack Foley's observation and warning and, unfortunately, we reside today in times dominated by throngs of busybodies.

Rules and regulations, orders and directives, all kinds and kindred of commands direct almost every avenue of our daily lives. Virtually all these directives emanate from busybodies and almost all of them are, or may be, enforced by the power of law; that is, the noncomp lying person suffers a penalty, usually loss of liberty or property, occasionally the loss of his life. Our lives today are ruled by force writ large, a force that usually commands far less efficacious outcomes than would result from the free actions flowing from purposive and creative individual conduct.

When we consider legally compelled directives, we blandly think of the tripartite governmental structure of the federal government and the similar political construction of the several states, and we see in theory a legislative branch that enacts laws, an executive who administers those laws, and a judiciary that interprets rules and issues orders based on and about those laws. Myopically we do not see the whole regulatory blight that afflicts us because we overlook several obscured but essential components of law-making. Without limitation, consider the following busybody regulators.

Legislate and Delegate

First, state and federal legislators seldom enact detailed statutory law. Most often they pass broad policy statements and "delegate" detailed rule-making and enforcement powers to an administrative bureaucracy. The critical characteristic of this rule-making and law-enforcing apparatus is that it is unelected, usually unknown, and fundamentally untouchable and ungovernable. While the legislator theoretically oversees the detailed conduct of the administrator, in fact oversight is nonexistent in almost all instances. Hence the common retort to those who disagree with overwhelming and strangling legislation that "you can reject the legislators at the next election" is a sham and a chimera. Legislators come and go, normally after enhancing their own wealth remarkably, but the unelected bureaucratic rule-makers and rule-enforcers remain for a lifetime, ordinarily protected by compulsory civil service "safeguards" and most assuredly made wealthy by huge and untouchable pensions and other emoluments of the office. …