Overregulation and Other Terms of Surrender

Monday, April 30, 2018

After consulting Ten Thousand Commandments, the Competitive Enterprise Institute's annual report on federal regulation, Jeff Jacoby sums up Donald Trump's achievements as a "deregulator":

In his first year as president (the CEI report covers developments in 2017), Trump signed measures cancelling 15 recently finalized Obama-era federal rules. These included, among others, a Federal Communications Commission regulation governing internet privacy, a sweeping gun-control rule curbing the rights of people with mental disabilities, and a rule restricting the ability of banks to require that consumer disputes be settled through arbitration. The administration also pulled the plug on 1,579 (!) rules proposed but not yet finalized by the Obama administration. The Federal Register page count was way down, too — to just 61,308, the fewest since 1993. [And down from 95,894 in 2016. --ed]
This counts as a highly-qualified success -- at providing "breathing room" for advocates of individual rights to make a case for capitalism. Do not mistake this for the first steps of a principled move to abolish the regulatory state. One need only read further to see why I think so: The idea on which such a change rests, separation of economy and state, is so alien that Jacoby himself doesn't even see it, much less buy into it:
You might think it's prettier, but it's still red tape; it's still in my way; and you had no right to put it there. (Image via Pixabay.)
Overregulation is not a trivial problem. The regulations imposed by federal agencies extract an estimated $1.9 trillion a year from manufacturers, vendors, farmers, and consumers. Regulatory overkill is a significant drag on economic growth. No reasonable person denies the need for wise and well-crafted regulation, but so much of what the federal behemoth pumps out is onerous and unnecessary. Mandates and restrictions ratchet up inexorably, often doing little or nothing to improve health, safety, or fairness, but paralyzing entrepreneurs, stifling innovation, and punishing consumers with higher and higher costs. [bold added]
Mr. Jacoby is hardly alone on the right in his suspicion of capitalism, but truth is hardly a matter of majority vote: If it is "unreasonable" to point out that watchdog groups, standards bodies, professional organizations, and the like can subsume the legitimate aspects of what the government package-deals with its central planning; I plead guilty as charged. Consider further that nobody who uses terms like "overregulation" or "regulatory overkill" ever states what a reasonable level of government intrusion into the economy would look like. (Or how those controls won't lead to more controls.) Nor do those who speak of "well-crafted" regulations have an explanation for how, exactly, one set of philosopher kings is to outdo another in ordering us all around. They also cannot explain the propriety of a bureaucrat doing so, because there is no propriety in using government force to do anything but protect individual rights.

As much as I respect Jeff Jacoby, I must note that until the day that the very mention of "overregulation" elicits the same reactions -- that terms like, "overservitude," "segregation overkill," or "well-crafted Jim Crow laws" would -- we will make no real progress towards abolishment. There is no logical compatibility between the ideas of freedom and slavery -- or between protecting individual rights and prescribing individual behavior -- and any use of government coercion to violate an individual's right to his life and freedom is morally repugnant.

-- CAV

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