We have a fairly new phrase to add to our political vocabulary. In addition to the surveillance state, we also have the permission state. You have to ask the state permission to do so much now. The state calls to mind the feds, but I’m thinking of state and local government as well as the national government. The more control they have over what you do, the better they like it. How do you exert control most effectively? Like parents who dominate their children in an unhappy household, you require that people ask for permission before they can do anything.
The remarkable thing about this state of affairs is that people seem to take it for granted. I have to have nearly a dozen permits and inspections in order to do substantial work on my house? Sure, where do I pay? The same readiness to comply without complaint seems to hold all across business, personal, and political life. Consider the lack of freedom that young adults experience in their high schools. Ask them if they don’t find the constraints a little tight, for an environment that is supposed to prepare you for autonomy in the wide world. They may look at you and say, “What constraints?” Permission based institutions are all they’ve known.