America's economic and political infrastructure is awash in a flood of federal regulations that is growing deeper and more expensive every day. Consider these data points from the Competitive Enterprise Institute's latest edition of its annual "Ten Thousand Commandments" report:
* In the two decades CEI has published Ten Thousand Commandments, 81,883 final rules have been issued. That's more than 3,500 per year or about nine per day.
* The Anti-Democracy Index -- the ratio of regulations issued to laws passed by Congress and signed by the president -- stood at 29 to 1 in 2012. That's 127 new laws and 3,708 new rules -- or a new rule every two-and-a-half hours.
* Some 63 departments, agencies and commissions currently have new regulations awaiting approval.
* The 2012 Federal Register had 78,961 pages. That's fourth highest all time. The top two all-time are 81,405 pages in 2010 and 81,247 pages in 2011.
* The EPA added 223 rules in 2012 -- sixth among federal agencies behind Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture and Transportation. But its overall total of 1,953 rules account for 48 percent of all federal rules, and their compliance cost -- $353 billion -- far exceeds that of all other agencies.
* Total annual costs for Americans to comply with federal regulations reached $1.806 trillion in 2012. For the first time, this amounts to more than half of total annual federal spending. It is more than the GDPs of Canada and Mexico.
* Regulatory costs amount to $14,678 per family -- 23 percent of the average household income of $63,685 and more than receipts from corporate and personal income taxes combined.
* Per-employee regulatory costs climbed from $7,755 for firms with 500 or more employees to $10,585 for those with fewer than 20.
* Combined with $3.53 trillion in federal spending, Washington's share of the economy now reaches 34.4 percent.
* Tax compliance accounts for one-sixth the total cost of regulation -- more than $300 billion.
Washington politicians and bureaucrats seem to have forgotten that one of the key charges against King George III in the Declaration of Independence was that he had "erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance."
But it was not primarily the heavy economic cost of the King's multitudes and swarms that so worried the founders as much as the unaccountability that resulted. As Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, put it a few years before his death: "Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure."
In other words, it is all but impossible to have a government of laws, not of men, when the law is made up of thousands upon thousands of directives, including many so densely worded that understanding them requires the services of highly paid specialists who concentrate on one or two areas of regulation. Sooner or later, the profusion of regulations will drown out the essential liberties enshrined in the Constitution.