Will on Regulation

Monday, June 03, 2013

Following up on an earlier piece, George Will has written an informative column about several disturbing aspects of federal regulations. Kicking off with a railroad safety mandate that would cost as much as "the $11 billion combined capital investments of all U.S. railroads in 2010", Will focuses on the staggering expense that regulations incur:

Concerning [Cass] Sunstein's sanguine conclusion, skepticism is permitted. Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has recently published his "Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State." This year's 20th-anniversary edition notes that regulation, the "hidden tax," costs almost $2 trillion not counted among the official federal outlays. Using mostly government data, Crews concludes:

The cost of regulations ($1.806 trillion) is now more than half the size of the federal budget and 11.6 percent of GDP. This costs $14,768 per U.S. household, equal to 23 percent of the average household income of $63,685. Regulatory compliance costs exceed the combined sum of income taxes paid by corporations ($237 billion) and individuals ($1.165 trillion). Then add $61 billion in on-budget spending by agencies that administer regulations.
Will also warns that, since our legislative branch has delegated most regulatory activity to unelected officials, there is little public accountabilty: "... 29 times more regulations were issued by agencies than there were laws passed by Congress."

Will's further point regarding Congressional abuse of such delegated authority is well taken, but the kind of corrective measure he discusses would not solve the problem. This is in part because most people, wrongly suspicious of capitalism on moral and practical grounds -- but unable to plan an entire economy themselves -- are electing these officials for the purpose of ordering others around. It is also in part because most people confuse legitimate government activity, such as punishing fraud, with the illegitimate preventive law that so many regulations represent. It should come as no surprise that men elected to do something that they shouldn't be doing and that is impossible anyway would decide to slough it off.

-- CAV

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