Two auto mechanics were talking the other day as one filled out a form for a state vehicle inspection.
"It takes more time to fill out the paperwork than it does to inspect the car," one said, as the other nodded in agreement.
Government regulation is the bane of every business, large and small. If only the government would get out of the way, the argument goes, we could all prosper.
An excellent story in "The Economist" in 2012 pointed out some remarkable regulation statistics:
The Dodd-Frank law of 2010 was intended to stop big banks from taking the sort of risks that led to the fiscal crisis that nearly toppled our economy in 2008. Certainly a worthy goal. And clearly a complicated challenge.
But the law, according to The Economist, is 848 pages long and is 23 times longer than the Glass-Steagall act it replaced. What's more, many pages require regulators to fill in additional detail. Some of those clarifications are hundreds of pages in length.
During the George W. Bush administration, a massive bureaucracy, much of it secret, was created to monitor and observe our lives in the name of national security. With the Edward Snowden affair, we are just now seeing some of the disturbing excesses that sprang from that broad grant of authority.
Democrats, meanwhile, created an estimated 10,000 pages of regulations related to the Affordable Care Act that some critics still argue will be impossible to execute.
It is common for both political parties to create regulations that favor particular industries, and that hamstring competitors. The ethanol industry, which forces us all to use a product most customers really don't want, is now kept alive for the benefit of Midwestern corn and grain farmers.
It is common to blame government in general for this impenetrable mass of government regulation and considerable interference in our regulated lives.
"Ah, the government," we so often say in disgust.
But, if you go back far enough, you will usually find the grain of a well-intentioned idea, most often initiated by the public itself.
For instance, both the U.S. House and Senate, which hardly agree on anything, agreed last year to impose more regulations on compounding pharmacies that mix customized drugs.
That was in direct response to a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and left hundreds more with debilitating illnesses, all due to one unsanitary lab company in Massachusetts.
Obviously, no one ever wants that to happen again.
Or consider the outrageous case of David Kwiatkowski, a drug-addicted nurse who hop-scotched across the country injected himself with narcotics and refilling syringes for later use, even after learning he was infected with hepatitis C.
Kwiatkowski worked as a cardiac technologist at 18 hospitals in his career, moving from one to another when hospitals suspected his illegal activity, until he was finally arrested for 32 deaths in New Hampshire.
Only a voluntary professional association kept track of such disciplinary problems, and most states dropped cases against Kwiatkowski when he resigned and moved to a different state.
As a result, the hospitals that continued to hire him were unaware of his previous problems.
New requirements for hospitals, and a better way to keep track of offenders might help. But that requires more regulations and, without doubt, more bureaucracy.
Is that worth the trouble and expense if it could offset 32 deaths, widespread suffering and millions of dollars of extra care?
Once established, even more regulations tend to follow, as government attempts to close loopholes and prevent scofflaws
Over time, the original purpose for a regulation is likely forgotten or, sometimes, the problem changes or even disappears.
Then we begin to wonder why we are buried in so much frustrating regulation.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.