may I have permission to do something that lets me pay you some taxes?

Certainly, good slave. Please take a number and sit in the corner. Someone will be with you shortly next week. Meanwhile please read the instructions and be sure to have filled in form 92.5 correctly in black ink, except of course for section D which requires the blood of a virgin. Oh and when you submit form 92.5 and correctly fill out section D you must also provide a completed medical certificate 908 confirming that the blood is 1) from a virgin and 2) not infected with any disease. Certificate 908s are only obtainable between the hours of 10:00 and 10:30 on the day of a Full Moon (except if the full moon is a Saturday, Sunday or Public Holiday) from the Medical department on the third floor of the government annex building across town. Note Cert 908s may only be completely by a licensed Physician and must be accompanied by a form M-28….

You think I’m joking don’t you? Well I admit I may be stretching the truth slightly for comedic purposes but not much. When I lived in California there was a saying that went something like this:

In California we can make everything: the Central Valley makes vegetables, Napa makes wine, Silicon Valley makes computers, Hollywood makes movies and Sacramento? Sacramento makes it difficult

In a lot of the Western/developed world, the spread of regulations really does do a great job in dissuading people from undertaking acts of marginal commercial utility that would give them and others pleasure. E.g. this facebook friend of mine:

You know, if you want to encourage people to follow the rules, you should make following the rules simpler.

I want to be able to hand-sell some of my books at local fairs this summer. Research tells me this is a losing proposition—I won’t sell more than a dozen or so copies—but it’s outdoors, and it’s social.

I want to do the right thing. Here in Michigan we have a 6% sales tax. I want to pay that—taking it out of my cut, not raising the price to buyers, because again I’m doing this to be social.

But I can’t just send the state a check. No, I have to have a state license to collect sales tax—that I’m paying out of my pocket.

But I can’t just apply for a state license. No, I have to provide a Federal Employer ID Number. Even though I’m not employing anyone.

It’s like they WANT me to be a scofflaw…

As someone in the thread noted, the state may actually want him to be a scofflaw because catching him and fining him would generate more revenue than would be generated by his couple of dozen book sales. In fact quite possibly catching just 10% of the people that the opaque and complex process incents to become scofflaws will provide more income than 100% of the fees/taxes that would be paid if everyone were able to simply obey the laws and follow the regulations. Plus of course catching scofflaws allows bureaucrats to plead for larger budgets to capture more and as bureaucrats live to increase their budgets.

More generally though, the strangling kudzu of red tape really is a problem to modern economies. Amongst my various friends and acquaintances I have many who want to do things that will allow them to (eventually) pay some taxes to their various governments. There are people trying (and giving up on) running food trucks/carts. There are people trying to build (rebuild/extend…) houses. There are people such as the author quoted above trying to sell books or other wares. In every case their attempts to do these things are impeded, thwarted even, by requirements to get permits and certifications and pay fees for other paperwork which some other part of the government will then inspect to confirm that something is allowed. The problem is not the requirement for a specific permit per se – seen in isolation most make some kind of sense – it is the cascade that results because every one of them requires copies of additional permits and those additional ones have their own additional certifications that need to be attached and so on.

Moreover in very few cases do the various governmental offices and websites explain all the requirements and make it simple to start with Form A and go through collecting the various bits until you end up with a single Permit P at the other end. Typically you start off because someone perhaps your bank or potential customer/supplier/contractor says they can’t do X unless you provide them with a copy of permit P. You then spend hours trying to figure out what you need for permit P and discover that you need to submit Form F and preparation H. Then as you attempt to fill in Form F you discover that it in turn requires Documents D and E and they in turn require Form A, Bank Letter B and Certificate C and so on.

In very few cases does the possession of the magic Permit P actually prove that what you are doing is actually safe/healthy/fireproof…, all it does is prove that you have completed the paperwork obstacle course. Indeed when Inspector I comes along to do the final check he or she is likely to spend more time checking the various bits of paper than actually verifying that your building/product etc. is in fact safe/healthy/fireproof…

All this is what it takes to avoid being a scofflaw. And as various people have noted even the mostly law abiding typically commits numerous potential felonies every day. If for whatever reason you end up falling foul of some law enforcement action then the convenience factor is even lower. Not for nothing do we hear that “the process is the punishment” in many cases or that even rich people/large organizations will choose to settle quickly rather than seek a trial on the merits.

If you aren’t well off it is worse. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for “Black Lives Matter” but the part of their platform that complained about how the first negative encounter with law enforcement typically led to a downward spiral as it was impossible for a poor person to remain employed and fight court imposed fines and fees was absolutely bang on. If this article by Radley Balko doesn’t fill you with rage at the casual brutality of local government and court systems then you deserve experiencing it yourself.

I strongly suspect that a significant portion of the voters for Brexit and Trump voted that way because they hoped they would result in less regulation. In the case of Brexit this hasn’t happened yet, but in the case of Trump it is happening, gradually. At the very least Trump has stopped the accelerating rise in regulations and in some areas he and congress have rolled back significant amounts of pointlessness.

In fact it occurs to me that if Trump and/or the Tea Party wing of the Republican party want to get the vote of minorities then they could well get it by promising to eradicate the worst of the rules/regulations/licensing requirements and the catch-22 situations that result from falling foul of them.