Regulation Nation

AirFilledChipsby James Ray Deaton6/19/15
Is that bag of potato chips you bought yesterday out of federal slack fill compliance? You needn’t read news about urban riots, celebrity sex changes, secret trade deals, grifty politicians or general all-round murder and mayhem to sense that our dear old republic has wandered off track. Sometimes all you have to do is gaze into a freshly opened bag of chips or box of cereal.

The empty space between the top of the cereal and the top of the cereal box is officially called “nonfunctional slack fill” by the federal bureaucrats who measure, track, regulate and fuss about such things. When the federal regulatory leviathan is so pervasive that excessive “slack fill” is an actionable offense you know that the ghost of Thomas Jefferson is somewhere, somehow, either crying in shame or taking up arms against someone.

A recent article in the The Wall Street Journal business section (WSJ 6/12/15) detailed how one spice making company is suing another for allegedly violating federal slack fill laws with its pepper tins. The article also notes that the maker of a meat snack stick is targeted in a lawsuit because of “certain boxes that are more than 1.5 inches longer” than the actual meat stick itself.

In another instance, according to the article, a pharmacy chain agreed to pay a $225,000 fine in California last year for “excessive packaging” of some of its in-store brand products. “Excessive packaging” sounds like something aging rockstars might stuff into the front of their jeans to enhance their, uh, sex appeal before going onstage to perform — not something the government needs to regulate.

How did we get to this regulatory purgatory? Do we really need government officials and others worrying about such things as slack fill, excessive packaging and “de-sheeting”? (When the number of sheets in a toilet-paper roll is reduced). Taxpayers actually pay people to come up with these terms and the rules and regulations behind them. Meetings are held to discuss enforcement strategies and settlement options. Powerpoint presentations are likely involved. Lawyers are retained.

Is there nothing so picayune that the long and expensive arm of the federal regulatory apparatus is not enlisted and empowered to “protect and defend” the apparently powerless and infantile consumer?

Before we became regulation-nation, slack fill and de-sheeting issues were mostly self-limiting and resolved in the marketplace. If brand “A” toilet paper short-sheeted you once too often — you probably started buying full-sheeted brand “B” toilet paper (or not). If brand “C” candy bar started shrinking in size over the years, you likely started buying the full-size brand “D” candy bar (or not).

Consumers, not government regulations, were the driving force. Companies that short-sheeted too much or employed excessive “slack fill” or other potentially deceptive practices likely lost customers and either changed their slacker ways or went out of business (or not). But either way, such an expensive, intrusive and bureaucratic federal web of regulation was not involved.

Maybe things have gone too far and some kind of bureaucratic, regulatory critical mass has irrevocably changed our nation. Maybe not. The very fact that the term “nonfunctional slack fill” is somewhere, somehow, part of federal law is disturbing. Something has changed (fundamentally transformed?) when the empty space at the top of a cereal box is named, measured, monitored, defined and prescribed by our government officials.


James Ray Deaton, one of six known conservatives living in Berkeley, Calif., is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
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12 Responses to Regulation Nation

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Wonderful article, James. I wonder how you would answer your own question:

    How did we get to this regulatory purgatory?

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      There is no doubt that the world is full of crooks, shysters, snake-oil salesmen and con-men. There are probably a higher percentage of such people in business than in the general population and the percentage of such people in politics is probably higher than the percentage in business.

      Therefore, between those government officials who sincerely wish to protect the public and the crooked politicians who want to appear to be doing something to protect the public and get the “bad” guys, it is quite logical that regulations are imposed on certain things. The problem today, is that we appear to have lost the ability to find some common sense medium between what is protective of the populace and insanely authoritarian.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        A couple thoughts on that, Mr. Kung:

        + It’s possible that business is less ethical than it used to be. If this is so, it’s possibly because inherently the corporate entity is more anonymous than, say, the mom-and-pop store down the street. I’m assuming there are more corporations now than there were a hundred years ago.

        + Whether people are more or less ethical than they used to be, surely there is still a large number of people who are unethical which then drives what Michael Medved calls the “do something” aspect of politics. There is very little opportunity for a politician to make a name for himself by leaving things alone. But there is lots of opportunity for finding an issue where he can “do something” entirely regardless of whether the “doing” is a sensible thing to do or not.

        + I think people more and more expect politicians to “do something.” We seem unwilling or incapable of making a distinction between an event that is unique (and thus not a test case for further regulation) and those occurrences which show important and significant systemic problems that could be solved or reasonably reduced. Our population has become less educated, less wise, and more thoughtless.

        + The above is exacerbated by the overall desire to trade liberty for security. Whether this is because of the introduction of the women’s vote (my favorite) or because we’ve all become Julia or Pajama boys to some extent, I can’t say for sure. But very few people are satisfied with the idea that sometimes excrement happens and no law or rule can solve that.

        + Lawyers and their influence have expanded their control. It is in their interest to have lots and lots of cases to exploit. Many laws are of the “cover your ass” variety, there only because of our increasing litigious nature — a nature exploited by the low class of lawyers.

        + A quote often attributed to Tocqueville is “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” In my opinion, America is no longer good. She thus can’t help but cease to be great. Evidence of this is electing and then re-electing an America-hating Marxist such as Obama. But he is only the tip of the iceberg. It is a generally-accepted conservative view that if people will not restrain themselves then government will be more than happy to step in to do so. I think we see this occurring. And in all honesty, it makes sense. The boobs, Pajama Boys, and forever-juveniles I see walking around absolutely require someone to tell them what to do, when to do it, how to do it, etc. Sorry to say, but the truth of the matter is that it’s better for the state to be their surrogate parent than to simply let them run wild. That’s where we are now. And I think much of the regulation we see (but certainly not all of it) is government playing the part of parent. And we accede to this because we’re fine with them making the tough decisions for our lives. As long as we’re free to tattoo our bodies and play with our personal electronic devices, we can continue to believe we’re waving that Gadsden flag.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I can’t disagree with what you say.

          We seem unwilling or incapable of making a distinction between an event that is unique (and thus not a test case for further regulation) and those occurrences which show important and significant systemic problems that could be solved or reasonably reduced

          This is an important point. The large mass of people have always been susceptible to momentary panic and suggestions by politicians that they know how to solve the problem. I believe it was Gustave Le Bon in his “Psychology of Crowds” explained and demonstrated this.

          In more recent times, we only have to look to that scoundrel Rahm Emanuel who said, “never let a crisis go to waste.”

          • Timothy Lane says:

            And remember that Le Bon was an important source for Ann Coulter’s study of liberalism as ochlocracy, Demonic.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    How did we get this way? “A little more won’t hurt.” A certain amount of regulation is necessary. To the liberal mindset, that means more is better — and the liberal mind (if you’ll pardon the oxymoron) cannot fathom the notion that at some point there will be too much regulation.

    I remember some short cartoon on the subject in the 1960s. It dealt with forestry and its regulation in some pseudo-medieval kingdom. The regulator loved his book of rules, and kept adding more and more — until finally no one cut any timber. And at that point they threw the regulations out entirely. Would that we could do that now. But the economy hasn’t ground to a total halt yet — and there’s no telling what would happen if it actually did. Most revolutions don’t end up with good results, because the makers of the revolution are more concerned with their own power than with their professed goals. (Thank God for George Washington.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Certainly that short cartoon captured one aspect of the “why” of it:

      + The accretion of regulations like barnacles on the bottom of a boat.

      The natural gravity of such things is toward increase, not decrease. Other main influences surely exist. And I bring up this aspect not only because James asks a good question, but one of my harsher criticisms of the generally lame NRO is that so much of it is little more than what I call “descriptive conservatism.” That’s where a problem is described, and that’s it. A lot of GOP candidates do that…without offering a prescription for the problem. It gives the illusion that they mean to do something about it. But if they give no prescription, you can be sure that they won’t.

      As I see it, there are at least three parts to every subject:

      1) What (describe the problem)
      2) Why (how did it become a problem)
      3) Do (what to do about it)

      None of us here is in the position to make laws. But we might be thinking about this fuller aspect when politicians merely pretend to talk depthfully about matters when they are just describing problems. And describing tends to be the easy part. There’s little risk involved in noting, say, the national debt. But telling people they’ll need to stop sucking off the government teat (as the “What to do about it” aspect) is not so easy.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Most revolutions don’t end up with good results, because the makers of the revolution are more concerned with their own power than with their professed goals. (Thank God for George Washington.)

    It is not only that the makers are concerned for their own power. It is that revolutions bring out the talents of the psychopaths, sociopaths and feral human beings amongst us. They are free to express and develop these talents to the fullest. Of course, looking out for their own power and expressing such talents are not mutually exclusive actions, rather they tend to go together.

    There is one small bit of justice in all of this, i.e. revolutions generally eat their own. Unfortunately, they devour many innocents as well.

    I agree 100% with you about G.W. The greatest man in history!!! We could have ended up with a Napoleon and all the subsequent problems which arose because of him. Hurrah to his defeat at Waterloo, 200 years ago yesterday!

    • Timothy Lane says:

      King George III said that if Washington gave up his power voluntarily he would be the greatest man in the world. And as Glenn Beck put it, “He did and he was,”

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        Glad you mentioned ol George III. The movie about him being mad was IMHO pure bull. Here is a portion of a letter he wrote in the 1780s,

        “A people spread over an immense tract of fertile land, industrious because free, and rich because industrious, presently became a market for the Manufactures and Commerce of the Mother Country. An importance was soon generated, which from its origin to the late conflict was mischievous to Britain, because it created an expense of blood and treasure worth more at this instant, if it could be at our command, than all we ever received from America. The wars of 1744, of 1756, and 1775, were all entered into from the encouragements given to the speculations of settling the wilds of North America.”

        George was no ones fool he was well aware that commerce was and is the lifeblood of a nation. The regulatory state is a slow motion heart attack.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          George was intermittently mad, and probably more so later in life (he was king for over half a century).

  4. Actually “slack fill” ticks me off pretty badly. It keeps getting bigger but the prices keep going higher. I’m sick of paying for air.

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