In software, it’s called feature creep. This is the bloat or encrustation that forms on a working computer program. It is caused by adding overly specific functions that originate with a “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a…?” but which are not strictly necessary, or even inapposite to the software’s main purpose.
As a piece of software ages, function creep is almost inevitable unless it is kept harshly in check. Lead engineers must be brutal in slapping down minor functionaries that come to him with wish lists. “We need new rules!” they will plead, tears in eyes. But he must harden his heart and focus on the software’s main mission. For the moment he gives in to one request, he will give in to others, and the software begins to pick up debris like a snowball rolling down a hill. Finally, the code reaches the point where it is barely recognizable from it earlier self; where it once took only one person to run, it now takes a dozen, four of them consultants with large hourly rates and occult knowledge.
How does such software survive? It cannot, unless it is a monopoly, unless all are forced to use it because it is the only option. Then the sluggish, brute package becomes commonplace, people adapt and they stop questioning their needless toils. Upstart rivals to the software are not just slapped down, but it is thought rude to question or consider them. At last, however, the package becomes so laden with gook, it collapses in on itself, and takes it users with them.
As it is with software, so it is with governments.
This country was founded on the idea of liberty, on the sentiment of Leave Me The Hell Alone Unless You Have A Damn Good Reason. We quickly went beyond, what some see as the necessities, of a police force and Army—many at the beginning argued against a standing Army!—to the paperwork spewing, rule generating, regulation creating, money confiscating, swollen carbuncle we have today. We have not yet reached the point where every possible aspect of our lives has at least one bureaucracy watching over it, but such a state cannot be far away. How did this happen to such freedom loving people?
Caring. The feature-creeping nightmare of excess niceness and solicitous mothering brought on by the love of our fellow man. The old joke used to be that a sweater was defined as a garment a child put on when the mother got cold. The new joke, on us, will be that a sweater will be required by law to be worn by children when the wind chill index drops below 50o F. Regulations will ensure sweaters, to be properly called sweaters, must have at least so many knots per square inch, the yarn thickness at least so many thousandths of an inch. Caliper-wielding bureaucrats will be dispatched to retail stores to issue hefty fines for those in violation. Any that complain will be told (1) “It’s the law” and (2) “It’s for the good of the children!”, a statement against which there is no rational counterargument.
A joke? Then how about this story: a Middleville, Michigan woman threatened with fines for watching her neighbors’ kids. Those kids stayed with hers at the school bus stop in front of her house. Her neighbor, a close friend, had to leave for work before the bus arrived, and our lady, for no fee, watched over them. A busybody ratted her out and she was charged with operating an illegal day care center. One at which the absence of paedophiles had not been properly certified! She was duly told to cease or face imprisonment. A Department of Human Services “spokesperson would not comment on the specifics of the case but says they have no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed to protect Michigan children.” We recoil now, but soon this idiocy will be commonplace and each of us will be scandalized when we hear our neighbor was not properly certified—by experts!—in child watching.
The reason we have come to this ridiculous state is obvious. Our government started with only a few men. But, roughly, for each idea these men had, an employee was needed. These employees themselves had ideas—created with love and caring—and those ideas needed more bodies, and so on. Even if at our beginning our leaders were the best and brightest, we need only remember that intelligence is not awarded evenly, and that as government grows the average intelligence of its employees must shrink. Therefore, the larger the government, the larger its proportion of the less able, the below average, and the downright stupid. At some point, a negative feedback kicks in with a vengeance, and we resemble the snowball barreling down the hill, crushing all in its path, with nothing being able to stop it.