Thank You, Mr. Sunstein

Monday, March 06, 2017

Cass Sunstein has just done what others in the political establishment haven't done regarding Donald Trump's rhetoric concerning regulations: He has looked at what the President is actually doing. Let me add that, in doing so, Sunstein may have also inadvertently aided the cause of limited government, something he shows that Trump isn't doing (and it is for that, and that alone I am thanking him):

[Friday's executive] order calls for the official designation of "Regulatory Reform Officers" and "Regulatory Reform Task Forces" within each department and agency of the federal government.

The reform officers are charged with carrying out three earlier executive orders. The first is Trump's own requirement that agencies eliminate two regulations for every one that they issue. More surprisingly, the second and third come from Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The Clinton order, issued in 1993, requires cost-benefit analysis of new regulations, along with approval by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The 2011 Obama order calls for "retrospective review" of existing regulations, with the goal of getting rid of those that don't make sense. By requiring adherence to the Clinton and Obama orders, the Trump administration has signaled a degree of continuity with what came before. That's a good idea (and it's hardly deconstruction). [links omitted, emphasis added]
And lest we forget, Sunstein is no foe of the regulatory state. Here are what he regards as the only alternatives going forward:
... Almost no one likes regulation in the abstract, but if we are speaking of food safety, highway safety, air pollution standards or protection of disabled people against discrimination, it makes no sense to take a meat ax to the administrative state.

What's needed is a scalpel, in the form of an evidence-based effort to see what really deserves to go, after close engagement with the American public.... [links omitted, emphasis added]
But that stands to reason: Nobody who thinks individuals need to be "nudged" with a gun for their own good is going to be able to imagine, say, (a) businessmen realizing that they have incentives to offer safe products, (b) a legal system consistently applying the principle of private property slamming the brakes on pollution, (c) better-educated members of the public, no longer lulled to sleep by government watchers being more careful about what they purchase, or (d) private groups subsuming much of what government agencies now do to set standards for more specialized industries. To truly deregulate, we would need axes, scalpels, and sun-setting for an orderly transition to capitalism, not that Sunstein -- or, as he correctly indicates, Trump -- is speaking of such. It is possible that reducing the size of this tumor may buy some temporary relief, but the tumor will remain, no matter what the patient is led to believe.

So, as the Trump years and their aftermath march on, when we inevitably hear that Trump "deregulated" this or that, don't forget what Sunstein has observed. Trump has undertaken the quixotic task of "reforming" a fundamentally flawed (and hence, unreformable) system. So when we hear "deregulation" being blamed for some ill down the road, remember that that's not what's happening right now.

-- CAV


Kyle Haight said...

I'm partial to using "regulatory revision" instead of "deregulation", because what's actually happening is a modification or revision of a persistent system of economic regulation. It may be that the revised system causes less economic damage than the pre-revised system, but both are still systems of economic controls and suffer from the fundamental flaws inherent to government interference in the freedom of production and trade.

Gus Van Horn said...


I like that. I am tempted with "tweaking," which may be fundamentally correct, but opaque to anyone who doesn't understand why regulation is fundamentally wrong. Your term both avoids conceding the premise that regulation is somehow okay and provokes clarifying conversation.