To say that Americans have a regulation problem is putting it lightly.
For instance, the government is now setting the serving size of breath mints, and demanding 12-point type on clothing labels. It prohibits dog walkers from strolling with more than four pooches, and requires cat food manufacturers to list calories in “kilocalories per kilogram.”
The feds also restrict the amount of water per flush (for toilets and urinals) and limits the electricity that may be used to power the oven clock. And, of course, Washington now prescribes the type of health insurance we all must buy.
These rules are not anomalies in an otherwise rational regulatory system. Indeed, never before has the federal government exerted such control over virtually every aspect of our lives, including our yard sales, light bulbs, TV volume, telephone rates, toothbrushes, furniture, linen, and the size of the holes in Swiss cheese (Grade A must be 3/8 to 13/16 inches in diameter).
Not all regulations are unwarranted, of course. But today there are hundreds of thousands of pages of rules crafted to regulate lifestyle.
For example, the Food and Drug Administration is preparing to effectively ban most types of trans fats, and sodium is the next target in the agency’s regulatory sights. The Department of Transportation establishes fuel efficiency standards — justified, in part, as saving us money on gasoline consumption. Likewise, the Department of Energy has imposed energy conservation standards on literally dozens of appliances — the benefits of which supposedly include lower utility bills.
Whenever government mandates such “benefits” through regulation, however, individuals lose the freedom to choose for themselves whether the benefit is worth the cost.
This constant increase in regulatory burdens also acts as a drag on the economy. It shifts resources from innovation, expansion and job creation to regulatory compliance.
One might hope that businesses would resist all the unnecessary government interference. Alas, it is not unusual to find them collaborating with their overseers. Regulation raises competitors’ costs and erects barriers to market entry for newcomers.
Economist George Stigler described the phenomenon as “regulatory capture,” that is, businesses partnering with regulators to hinder their rivals. Of course, the extent of such capture is directly proportionate to the size and scope of government. The bigger government grows, the more special interests its produces.
More than any of its modern predecessors, the Obama administration has aggressively exploited regulation to achieve its policy agenda. Preceding administrations also have increased regulation, albeit to a lesser degree. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the regulatory burden imposed on Americans and the U.S. economy has grown in each of the past 30 years. Total regulatory costs have not declined since 1982.
Regulatory overreach by the executive branch is only part of the problem. Much of the red tape imposed during the past five years has been driven by vast and vaguely worded legislation, such as the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law, in which Congress granted broad discretion to multiple agencies. In this way, lawmakers claim credit for “doing something” while evading blame for specific regulations.
Hundreds of other costly regulations are also in the works. The most recent Unified Agenda — a semi-annual compendium of planned regulatory actions by agencies — lists 126 “economically significant” rules in the “proposed” or “final” stages. Of particular concern is the FCC’s plans for Internet regulation.
Reforms of the regulatory process are critically needed. Among these: requiring congressional approval before any new major regulation takes effect, requiring analyses of the regulatory consequences of all proposed legislation before a vote by Congress is held, setting sunset deadlines in law for all major regulations, and including “independent” agencies in the White House regulatory review process.
Without decisive action, the fundamental character of the nation will be transformed from one of individual liberty to one of government supremacy — no longer of, by and for the people.
- Diane Katz is a research fellow and James L. Gattuso is a senior research fellow in regulatory policy in the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation
Originally distributed by the Tribune Content Agency