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Too many rules drive Connecticut’s ‘race to the bottom’

Nearly every day I struggle to implement a very important parenting principle: The more rules I give my children, the less control I have over their behavior.

I have a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. At home, they can usually handle the expectations of good behavior, of course with typical exceptions. But when we’re out and about, I sometimes fall into micromanaging their behavior.

“Don’t touch that.”

“Sit here.”

“Stop making that noise.”

And then, all of the sudden, WHACK!

“Why did you hit your sister?” But I know the answer. By exerting too much control over my son’s behavior, I lost any control. A child’s energy acts like dammed water. If you don’t give it anywhere to go, it goes anywhere it wants.

We take pride in our children and want them to live up to our expectations, but sometimes, in the moment, we work against our own goal.

Similarly, I think many people have let their high hopes for Connecticut diminish our state’s chances of success.

There is a great fear in Connecticut that our state will fall behind. Often I hear this expressed in terms such as, “We don’t want to be like Mississippi. Or Arkansas.”

People suggest, in not quite so many words, that if we don’t have this tax or that spending program or yet another regulation, we’ll somehow slip below the Mason-Dixon Line. Fortunately, nothing is so tenuous about our situation.

This strict view – good states don’t allow bad behavior – leads us to pile on rules without any perspective on the real-life effects of those rules. Until we stop wearing policies as a badge of honor, it will be hard to honestly assess their impact on people.

As with my children, sometimes more rules create worse results.

Connecticut state government simply has too much going on. For example, some of our regulations cover the same ground as federal rules, layering on the burden without covering any new ground. I’ve heard of an employer who faced two regulators simultaneously and couldn’t decide how to comply when they couldn’t agree with each other.

Too many rules leads to lack of clarity. We must start prioritizing. In order to prove compliance with some regulations, we require (through still more regulations) that people and employers demonstrate compliance. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is treating failures at the second level the same as failures at the first level.

Even if you don’t agree with me that too much regulation can actually lead to poorer results, let’s proceed on the consensus that some regulation just doesn’t add any value.

Perhaps that excessive hassle has something to do with our shrinking population or our struggling economy? Or might these rules have something to do with why fewer kids show up every year at many of our better schools?

Take one example. Governing magazine recently ranked the 50 state economies. Connecticut landed in the bottom 10. The last time Governing ranked state economies, in 2013, Connecticut was also in the bottom 10. Only two other states repeated: Mississippi and New Mexico.

The miasma of regulation in Connecticut makes it hard to follow all the rules. Some people would rather focus on succeeding instead of checking boxes to prove their good behavior. Much like children, we can let them reach their potential at home or they’ll find somewhere else to do it.

When I argue for a smarter, more limited state government, I often hear we are in a “race to the bottom.” Unfortunately, that is correct, although probably not in the way it was meant. Connecticut is racing to the bottom – and, if we’re not careful, we might win.

Yankee Staff

Yankee Institute is a 501(c)(3) research and citizen education organization that does not accept government funding. Yankee Institute develops and advances free-market, limited-government solutions in Connecticut. As one of America’s oldest state-based think tanks, Yankee is a leading advocate for smart, limited government; fairness for taxpayers; and an open road to opportunity.

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