Simplicity Is Beautiful

One of the guiding principles of sound regulation is that simplicity is beautiful. This sign, outside of a school in California, is one of the ugliest things I have ever seen (click photo to enlarge):

California school parking sign

CEI’s Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

The Federal Register burst past the 50,000-page mark with Friday’s 878-page effort, which also contained 21 final regulations and four “significant” documents.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 83 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register. There were 75 new final rules the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and one minute.
  • So far in 2014, 2,322 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,561 new regulations this year. This would be the lowest total in decades; this will likely change as the year goes on.
  • Last week, 1,882 new pages were added to the Federal Register.
  • Currently at 50,432 pages, the 2014 Federal Register is on pace for 77,350 pages. This would be the 6th-largest page count since the Federal Register began publication in 1936.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. 27 such rules have been published so far this year, one of them in the past week.
  • The total estimated compliance costs of 2014’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $7.62 billion to $10.87 billion. They also affect several billion dollars of government spending.
  • 189 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
  • So far in 2014, 440 new rules affect small businesses; 64 of them are classified as significant.

Highlights from selected final rules published last week:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Economics and Science Envy

Science envy, or what Hayek called scientism, has deeply hurt economics as an academic discipline. In the post-Samuelson era, economics as a way of thinking has been displaced by regression analysis, Markov chains, and the like. These tools can be quite useful when used properly, but the discipline has reached the point where the leading journals are publishing papers in applied mathematics, as opposed to economic analysis. Deirdre McCloskey, on page 25 of her book The Vices of Economists–the Virtues of the Bourgeouisie, points out that economics is simply not capable of aping the hard sciences the way many of today’s economists would like it to:

But economists can’t go into a laboratory and work out the quantitative balance. In this respect they are like astronomers rather than chemists. They have to rely on the experiments of history. Still no tragedy. Economics is mainly an observational science like astronomy or evolutionary biology or history itself. That’s no scandal. In fact, it was the occasion for one of the great programs in modern economics.

Vernon Smith actually did find a way to perform economic experiments in a lab setting, and he won a Nobel for it. But he would largely agree with Deirdre about the wisdom of treating economics as a hard science along the lines of chemistry or physics. His experiments are intended to reveal how people, wittingly or not, apply the economic way of thinking in their decision-making, or to shed some light on how markets work under different sets of rules. They are absolutely not intended to impress his peers with mathematical prowess, or to be scientifically conclusive.

In some ways, studying people is far more difficult than studying galaxies or atoms. That’s half the fun, even if the way people act sometimes defies the application of statistical significance.

New RegData Site Makes it Easier to Track Regulation

About three years ago, our friends at the Mercatus Center launched a website called RegData that compiles a searchable database on many facets of regulations. For the first time, it also quantified just how many regulatory restrictions are in the 175,000-page Code of Federal Regulations. By doing text searches for terms such as “must,” “shall,” “shall not,” and the like, they found that, as of 2010, there have been more than one million regulatory restrictions. Ten Thousand Commandments turns out to be an understatement, by a factor of one hundred.

This week a major RegData revamp was released, with more data that is more searchable than before. Head on over and play with the search tools for a bit and see what you’ll find. There is also a short instructional video where Patrick McLaughlin walks you through the site.

CEI’s Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

em_spectrum
In a week like any other, new regulations hit the books for everything from tax delinquents to the electromagnetic spectrum.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 75 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register. There were 80 new final rules the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 15 minutes.
  • So far in 2014, 2,239 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,543 new regulations this year. This would be the lowest total in decades; this will likely change as the year goes on.
  • Last week, 1,987 new pages were added to the Federal Register.
  • Currently at 48,550 pages, the 2014 Federal Register is on pace for 76,819 pages. This would be the lowest total since 2009.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. 26 such rules have been published so far this year, three of them in the past week.
  • The total estimated compliance costs of 2014’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $7.62 billion to $10.87 billion. They also affect several billion dollars of government spending.
  • 181 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
  • So far in 2014, 417 new rules affect small businesses; 60 of them are classified as significant.

Highlights from selected final rules published last week:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

The Ex-Im Bank’s Unilateral Disarmament Fallacy

One of the weakest arguments against free trade is the “unilateral disarmament” fallacy–that a country should refuse to liberalize its trade policies until other countries liberalize theirs. If your opponent uses it, you almost automatically win the debate. The Export-Import Bank’s defenders must be getting desperate, because they are now having to resort to the unilateral disarmament fallacy. Here’s a letter to the editor I sent to the Cleveland Plains-Dealer setting the record straight:

Editor, Cleveland Plains-Dealer:

George Landrith’s argument that the U.S. should subsidize certain businesses because other countries subsidize some of their businesses is equivalent to saying the U.S. government should stop ripping off its citizens only when foreign governments stop ripping off their own citizens (“Why keep the Ex-Im Bank? Unilateral economic disarmament is as unsound as unilateral defensive disarmament,” August 10).

The Export-Import Bank’s special favors make U.S. businesses less competitive by rewarding political connections over customer service, and have led to 74 corruption allegations during the last five years. If other countries want such problems, fine. But the U.S. can, and should, do better by closing the Ex-Im Bank this fall, regardless of what other countries do.

Ryan Young
Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Author of the study, “Ten Reasons to Abolish the Export-Import Bank.”

CEI’s Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

sack of potatoes
Despite another 47 proposed regulations and 80 final regulations last week, 2014 remains on pace to have the smallest number of new regulations of any year in either of the last two administrations.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 80 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register. There were 98 new final rules the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 6 minutes.
  • So far in 2014, 2,164 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,535 new regulations this year. This would be the lowest total in decades; this will likely change as the year goes on.
  • Last week, 1,576 new pages were added to the Federal Register.
  • Currently at 46,563 pages, the 2014 Federal Register is on pace for 76,084 pages. This would be the lowest total since 2009.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. 25 such rules have been published so far this year, three of them in the past week.
  • The total estimated compliance costs of 2014’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $7.34 billion to $10.57 billion. They also affect several billion dollars of government spending.
  • 177 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
  • So far in 2014, 401 new rules affect small businesses; 60 of them are classified as significant.

Highlights from selected final rules published last week:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.