The Obama Outrages: Government as Black Swan

Incidents of government overreaching have come so “fast and furious” over the past several years that the most recent one seems largely to have gotten lost in the blur.

But if you live in or near farm country, as I do in upstate New York, you may have been amazed to see that the federal government, in the guise of its Department of Labor, recently set about abolishing the family farm.

That clearly would have been the result if 85 pages of new regulations proposed by the DOL last year had gone into effect. According to my local newspaper, the Saratogian, the proposed regulations “would have prohibited teens younger than 16 years old from doing many standard farm chores and limited their ability to work with livestock, which not only threatened 4-H programs, but the future of family farming itself.”

In other words, it would have been a “twofer” for Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and her swashbuckling bureaucrats in Washington — knocking off both family farms and the 4-H in one blow! Farm-country outcry killed the new diktat just before it was to take effect, and it was buried “for the rest of the Obama administration” by the ostensibly embarrassed White House.

As astonishing as this exercise in arrogance is, it’s only one part of a pattern. Consider:

  • The GSA scandal, in which bureaucrats charged with improving government efficiency decided to treat themselves to a hugely expensive lark in Vegas, of all places, which the president himself had once made politically incorrect.
  • The Secret Service scandal, in which agents got caught, literally, with their pants down among foreign floozies.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency scandal, in which one of the agency’s regional bigs was found to have told his minions to “crucify,” like the conquering Romans, gas and oil companies at random to terrify them into submission.
  • The Justice Department scandal known as “Fast and Furious,” in which drug traffickers south of the border received lethal firepower in what many believe was a bid to discredit the right to bear arms in this country.
  • The National Labor Relations Board’s telling a major manufacturer, Boeing, that it couldn’t open a new plant in a “right-to-work” state.
  • The ongoing scandal of the Energy Department’s backing a whole string of losers with taxpayer funds under the rubric of “alternative energy.”
  • The ObamaCare overstretch in which the president snapped his fingers at the backlash over his contraception mandate (itself a major and gratuitous blow against separation of church and state) and said, in effect, “the insurance companies will pay for it,” without citing constitutional authority.
  • The EPA’s seeking to bankrupt the coal industry apparently on “global warming” authority.
  • The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which shocked civil libertarians by ordering colleges to use the relatively lax “preponderance of evidence” standard against males accused of rape on campus or risk losing federal funds.

The list goes on and on. In the age of Obama, it looks like government increasingly is becoming a kind of “black swan” machine.

Black swans, as explained in the best-selling book by Nasem Taleb, are events so far out of the ordinary as to be massively disruptive because they can hardly be imagined, much less planned for. A recent example was the financial meltdown of 2008-2009 precipitated by securities that were thought to be safe and even “insured” (by the government, in many cases, in the guise of its mortgage packagers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac); a more recent example came last year when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused not only massive flooding but a nuclear disaster in Japan.

Note the distinction between these two examples, however; one was largely an outgrowth of government policy while the other was due to an act of God (or nature, or chance, as you prefer). What we’re seeing increasingly with the Obama administration is that black swan events are being manufactured and loosed upon us by our government itself. It’s no consolation that they’re coming in the name of the progressive agenda of “helping” us. It’s of even less consolation to consider that the president apparently believes he’ll have “more flexibility” to do as he pleases after November.

In the case of the fatal farm regulations what’s perhaps most shocking is that such a ham-handed attempt would have been made in the first place. Are there no adults at the Department of Labor to tell the juveniles “This isn’t going to fly, and would create huge problems for the president in an election year anyway. So get back in your room — now!” If the idea behind such moves isn’t disruption for its own sake — or to administer lessons on the power of the government to whatever it wants until we all “get it” — what is it?

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Kimberly Strassel writes that Al Armendariz, the EPA procurator who was going to crucify oil and gas companies just to let them know who’s boss, is hardly the exception to the rule within the Obama administration but rather exactly the kind of federal enforcer the president wants. In other words, Obama considers him a feature — not a bug — in his plan to totally transform America.

But if she’s correct, that would mean that Obama-style government could no longer be considered a “black swan” machine. Why? Because these disruptions are planned, not random.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based upon a modified image.)