Steve Forbes‘ latest column in Forbes magazine claims that the federal government could change its nickname from Uncle Sam to Uncle Tyrant.

OUR FOUNDING FATHERS understood that tyranny wasn’t likely to come from a foreign invasion but from the step-by-step erosion of our freedoms by an expanding government. This is what we are facing today. Most people have no conception of the slippery slope we’re on.

Two ominous trends threaten us. One is the monstrous growth of the regulatory state, whereby “independent” agencies, such as the EPA and the FCC, are creating countless rules that carry the force of law. These entities, not our increasingly emasculated Congress, are today’s real lawmakers. More and more they conjure up mandates based on whim and fact-free ideology. And often these diktats are written in vague or ambiguous language that gives bureaucrats oppressive discretionary powers.

Traditional Cabinet departments, such as the Treasury, are also engaging in government by decree. The Treasury recently issued a legally dubious rule to stop so-called inversions, whereby a company changes its headquarters’ mailing address to one outside the U.S. to save on taxes. Bureaucrats rightly calculated that companies wouldn’t undergo the years of uncertainty involved in fighting this decree through our oft slow-as-molasses court system.

Another weapon of oppression is the criminalization of a torrential number of what were once civil violations. A typical example: It is now a federal crime to walk a dog on federal lands with a leash that’s longer than 6 feet. Instead of a fine (putting aside why there’s a need for such a prohibition in the first place), violators can be sentenced to up to six months in prison. While the Founders couldn’t have known the specifics of how a future government would seek to sink its claws into the people, they wouldn’t have been at all surprised that it would do so unless stopped.

No one knows for sure how many federal laws there are these days that can trip up–and imprison–the unwary citizen. In the early 1980s the Department of Justice came up with an estimate of 3,000 crimes. Today experts believe that number is over 5,000.