Free Markets, Free People


The cost of the regulatory state

One issue that deserves much more attention is the cost of the powers government exercises to regulate.  The Competitive Enterprise Institute has just issued a study that does exactly that – study the cost of the regulatory state and the impact it has on our economic viability.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that regulation is up and so is its cost (per the report, the cost of regulatory compliance in this country is about $1.75 trillion):

Among the report’s findings:

  • The Federal Register stands at an all-time record-high 81,405 pages.
  • In 2010, federal agencies issued 3,573 final rules.
  • While agencies issued 3,573 final rules, Congress passed and the president signed into law a comparatively “few” 217 bills. Considerable lawmaking power is delegated to unelected bureaucrats at agencies, an abuse addressed recently in proposals such as the REINS Act.
  • Alarmingly, proposed rules in the Federal Register have surged from 2,044 in 2009 to 2,439 in 2010, a jump of 19.3 percent.
  • Of the 4,225 rules now in the regulatory pipeline, 224 are “economically significant” meaning they wield at least $100 million in economic impact—this is an increase of 22 percent over 2009’s 184 rules.
  • Given 2010’s government spending (outlays) of $3.456 trillion, the regulatory “hidden tax” of $1.75 trillion stands at an unprecedented 50.7 percent of the level of federal spending itself.
  • Regulatory costs exceed all 2008 corporate pretax profits of $1.463 trillion.
  • Regulatory costs dwarf corporate income taxes of $157 billion.
  • Regulatory costs tower over the estimated 2010 individual income taxes of $936 billion by 87 percent—nearly double the level.
  • Regulatory costs of $1.75 trillion absorb 11.9 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at $14.649 trillion in 2010.
  • Combining regulatory costs with federal FY 2010 outlays of $3.456 trillion reveals a federal government whose share of the entire economy now reaches 35.5 percent. 

The report urges reforms to make the regulatory costs more transparent and accountable to the people, including annual “report cards” on regulatory costs and benefits, and congressional votes on significant agency rules before they become binding.

Take a moment to absorb those numbers.  And ponder, for a moment that final percentage.  35.5% of what our economy produces now is related to government spending or compliance to a government regulatory regime.

Here’s a thought – if the government wants to spur economic growth, create jobs and, most likely, increase revenue for government, perhaps a serious – and I mean very serious- look ought to be taken (along with action, please) at the mountain of costly regulations now imposed by said government and a majority of them rolled back.  Over 81,000 pages of regulations, and I’m sure some bureaucrat out there believes everyone of them is necessary.

Sane people know better. Much of it is out of control or heading that way.  For instance:

Runaway regulation under the Clean Air Act.

In regulating greenhouse gas emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to pick and choose which provisions of the Clean Air Act it wants to implement. But that is not how the Clean Air Act was set up. Under the Act, regulation under one section trips regulation under multiple other sections. Even if EPA tries to avoid this outcome,environmental pressure groups have already filed several lawsuits to compel the agency to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions under other sections. Unless Congress intervenes, every building larger than a single-family dwelling likely will become subject to carbon controls in the near future.

Of course the next logical step after pulling in all structures other than “single-family” homes is to do what?  That’s right, pull in single family homes.

And:

EPA’s administrative cap-and-trade power grab.

The EPA plans to propose greenhouse gas emissions control technology standards for power plants in July2011 under the Clean Air Act. One of the primary options the EPA is reportedly considering is a cap-and-trade program. The fact that even the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress refused to enact a cap-and-trade program appears not to matter to Climate Czar Carol Browner or EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act requires clarification and the agency’s unilateral actions require investigation.

Can’t get it done by Congress (whose job it is, by the way).  Then do it by regulatory fiat.

Plus:

De facto moratorium on American oil and gas production.

Political decisions by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his appointees have led to a steep decline in domestic oil and gas production on federal lands and offshore areas. Production is already down and will almost certainly decline further. The extent of these cancellations is not fully apparent because they have been done piecemeal. An investigation is needed to put all the pieces together and thus show the damaged one and being done to America’s domestic oil and gas industry.Congress refused to enact a cap-and-trade program appears not to matter to Climate Czar Carol Browner or EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act requires clarification and the agency’s unilateral actions require investigation.

These are the types of regulatory abuse and over reach that are harming our economy, costing us jobs and making us less competitive.

Not only do we need to get government spending back under control, we badly need to get the regulatory state back under control as both spending and over regulation are eating up increasingly large parts of our GDP.

~McQ

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7 Responses to The cost of the regulatory state

  • And of course, in addition to not having out of control Czars we have the President’s assurance that signing statements are extra Constitutional, and he won’t use them.

  • Would you:

    — Go into a theatre with only one exit?

    — Buy meat from a store that smells bad or is visibly unclean?

    — Work in a place that is clearly unsafe?

    — Buy blood pressure or diabetes medication from some guy on the street?

    For most of us, the answer to these questions is “no”.  In short, we are perfectly capable of being our own inspectors / regulators; we “hire” government to do the job out of convenience.  But this comes at an increasing cost.  For one thing, inspectors like to find more and more things to inspect (I do industrial quality control, so I am QUITE familiar with this attitude!).  For another, inspectors can be bribed or simply miss something.

    We’ve outsourced our own responsibility and created a monster in the process.  Now, having realized that the monster is hurting us, we may not be able to stop it.  Indeed, we’ve gotten so used to the monster “taking care of us” that we may not even want to stop it.

    • I do some QC as well, and have seen companies have their Asian offices morph into huge, huge bureaucracies just to do “QC” though some of this is US regulatory compliance moving East.
      Then there are the iron rules that must be applied – drop testing.  Try that with a shipment of chalk. Then you have to explain why your particular product has to have an exception…headache city.
      I will say some products or processes can have basic regulation done well. Meat for example, probably shouldn’t be bought on the basis of the store’s apparent cleanliness. The highest end grocery often looks immaculate on the floor, but the back rooms can be disgusting. How could you tell that as a consumer?

  • So, does this mean we should follow Steve Forbes lead and push for a gold standard?