Overregulation has negative impacts on economic growth; that’s the key reason cited for the various rounds of regulatory reform we’ve seen in North Carolina in recent years.

But Mark Steyn‘s latest “Happy Warrior” column for National Review reminds us of another way in which an overly meddlesome regulatory state harms its citizens.

There is now almost no activity and American can engage in that doesn’t fall under the regulation of some level of government — from handing out complimentary coffee in California hardware stores to rescuing a bird from the jaws of a cat in Virginia. And even if you do nothing at all except stay at home and sit on the toilet, the government regulates that, too.

In economic terms, around one-tenth of America’s GDP is consumed by federal regulation alone. But there are psychological costs, too. John Moulton was a distinguished judge, a man of science, and a chap who held the splendid title during the Great War of Britain’s “director-general of explosive supplies,” a job he did brilliantly. Lord Moulton divided society into three sectors, of which the most important he considered to be the “middle land” between law and absolute freedom — the domain of manners, in which the individual has to be “trusted to obey self-imposed law.” “To my mind,” wrote Moulton,” the real greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measure by the extent of this land.” By that measure, our greatness is shriveling fast: The land of self-regulation has been encroached on remorselessly, to the point where we increasingly accept that everything is either legal or illegal, and therefore to render any judgment of our own upon the merits of this or that would be presumptuous. …

… It is a small step from a citizenry that no longer knows how it should act to a citizenry that no longer knows whether or if it can act, and from there to a citizenry that can no longer act.