A case can be made that governments continue to oppress the poor, however. The prohibitions and regulations of the modern state tend to discourage small-business formation and job creation while pushing prices up. The entry price of our increasingly regulated life—for the young adult, for the poor immigrant—has gradually steepened over the last century. While technology has changed our standard of living and made some things less expensive than they used to be, regulation has worked against technology to push prices upward on things like buying a home, obtaining medical care, getting a college education, and even purchasing consumer basics like food and energy.

Sider's analysis of our spending and debt problem ignores factors other than taxes and government spending. But regulation is a third factor that now rivals the other two in significance. When regulation discourages business growth and increases prices, the poor feel the biggest impact—and governments feel it too, in foregone revenues. A 2009 study of the economy of California, arguably America's most regulated state, suggested that the annual cost of regulation to the Golden State's economy was almost $500 billion, or a third of the gross domestic product.

But Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature have labored to increase regulation (see here, here, here, here, and here as well), and essentially have sought to balance declining revenues with cuts in services for the poor and increased taxes on the rich. At some point, the question must be asked why the people should accept this state of affairs as if the regulatory aspect of it cannot be changed.

Most of us agree that some kinds of regulation are necessary, just as we agree that government, taxes, and relief for the poor are necessary. Where modern thinking has gone overboard is in seeing these necessities of communal life as vehicles for remaking human life on earth according to one systematizing idea or another. "Systematizers" tend to lose sight of the direct, first-order objectives on which a majority agrees, like helping the poor right in front of us, or reducing the incidence of demonstrably damaging toxins in the air. They favor instead theoretical objectives that require using government to "reallocate" resources and reorder society.