Historian Ferguson laments the decline in America’s rule of law

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson shares with Barron’s his concerns that “the U.S. is on a slippery slope that could turn it into a European anti-risk-taking welfare state.” A primary concern involves the declining emphasis on the rule of law.

The rule of law has become more expensive in the U.S. without becoming more efficient. Any business, particularly small to medium-size, that has had encounters with litigation in the past 10 years will know what I’m talking about. The rule of law in the U.S. has become, at some level, dysfunctional. One reasn for that is the way Congress works. It is a honey pot for lobbyists. The result is that complex legislation is riddled with ambiguities that — guess what? — only lawyers can resolve. Dodd-Frank is designed to improve regulation, but what it actually does is institute a massive job-creation scheme for lawyers. There isn’t a financial institution in this country that doesn’t now require its compliance department to retain a whole bunch of lawyers to explain to them what this 2,000-plus-page monster means for their business. That concerns me.

If you locate a new plant in the U.S., you encounter this increasingly unfriendly regulatory and tax environment. You don’t know what the taxes are going to be, because Congress is playing a game of chicken about the deficit. It ought to be solvable. However, there are vested interests in the political system that have no interest in solving this problem because they profit from it. It is a classic problem of rent-seeking behavior triumphing over profit-maximizing innovation and entrepreneurship.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...