At Washington Legal Foundation (WLF), we routinely make constitutional objections to government’s interference in the private market place.  For example, in the coming weeks we’ll file an amicus brief in Florida v. HHS that will argue the Constitution prevents the government from forcing Americans to purchase a product they don’t want.  Similarly, on January 13, we published a paper by Charles M. English that questions the constitutionality of government-mandated speech.

But we’re also bothered by government regulation and market interference simply because the government is too frequently incompetent.  As we noted in an “In All Fairness” advertorial feature we published in the March 30, 2009 edition of The New York Times:

The same government which has given us abysmal veterans’ medical care, a disgraceful Hurricane Katrina response, an estimated 13 million illegal aliens, and the Postal Service now wants to fix our health care system.  Can the American patient really trust government bureaucracy with such complex surgery?”

If your response is anything other than a definite “No,” then take a look at this recent EPA action:

As reported by the The New York Times on January 9, 2012, “When the companies that supply motor fuels close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.”  The only problem, as the article notes in the next paragraph, is that the required biofuel doesn’t exist – it simply hasn’t been produced.  (“A Fine for Not Using Biofuel That Doesn’t Exist”)

Unbelievable.   Could you imagine getting a pay cut because you failed to edit a paper that your colleague had yet to write?

But this is what happens when the federal government makes policy at the 1,000 foot level while ignoring market forces and only paying attention to its special interests.

Unfortunately, the victims of such hapless policymaking are very real.  The $6.8 million loss will not simply reduce executive compensation – it will mean jobs cut or slightly higher gas prices for consumers.  Things will only get worse in 2012 when oil companies will face additional penalties for failing to reach an even higher level of non-existent biofuel additive.

In the free market, when somebody makes a dumb decision that costs his company millions of dollars, he gets fired.  In government, the bureaucrats simply say “whoops!” and move on.

That is why the only way to limit the negative effects of such non-existent biofuel additive decisions is to reduce the amount of control government has over our economy.  This has become somewhat of a bipartisan belief, with elected officials of all stripes speaking out for less regulation.  But actions still speak louder than words.