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What Robert Bellah calls "expressive individualism" has led to unprecedented social legislation in America and expanded government employment since the 1960s, helping to produce a generous supply of public services, policy entrepreneurs, and clientele groups. The legal scholar Lawrence M Friedman notes that "the right to be 'oneself,' to choose oneself, is placed in a special and privileged position." As a consequence, "achievement is defined in subjective, personal terms, rather than in objective, social terms." When the claims of expressive individualism are considered in tandem with the increasing reach of the modern social service state, a case may be made for their mutual dependency.
Today, the regulatory operations of central governments impinge upon virtually all areas of life, leading to widespread efforts by interest groups to have their vision of the good life implemented through law and regulatory oversight. Much of the resulting fiscal, educational, and social intervention is largely invisible to the electorate but has led to greater dependency. It also led the economist George J. Stigler to offer a theory of regulatory capture when he observed that clientele groups develop a mutually beneficial relationship with the agencies that regulate their activities. Indeed, when this becomes business as usual, few will call it corruption. Thus, when examining laws and public policies, it is always wise to ask: Cui bono? Who benefits? As the Watergate whistle-blower, Mark Felt, put it: ‘Follow the money.’
This article is drawn from a series of eight introductory lectures and readings for a course on government regulation. Part I is a revision of the first four lectures.
Samson, Steven. “Government Regulation: From Independence to Dependency, Part One,” The Western Australian Jurist, Volume 4 (2013). 117-161.