This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The number of new final regulations this year will pass 3,000 this week, with more than three weeks still to go. The Omicron variant gave the country an education in the Greek alphabet, though it is too early to tell if it will be particularly harmful. New job numbers provided further evidence that the big spending bills are unnecessary, and that it is well past time for policy makers to begin tamping down inflation. Meanwhile, agencies issued new rules ranging from Egyptian artifacts to imported goats.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 67 final regulations last week, after 59 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 31 minutes.
  • With 2,991 final regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 3,251 final regulations this year. 2020’s total was 3,218 final regulations.
  • Agencies issued 29 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 47 the previous week.
  • With 1,927 proposed regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 2,095 proposed regulations this year. 2020’s total was 2,222 proposed regulations.
  • Agencies published 357 notices last week, after 399 notices the previous week.
  • With 20,481 notices so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 22,262 notices this year. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 1,224 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,496 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue this year contains 299 pages.
  • With 68,874 pages so far, the 2021 Federal Register is on pace for 74,863 pages in 2021. The 2020 total was 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are 24 such rules so far in 2021, none from the last week. Agencies published five economically significant rules in 2020, and four in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from $8.83 billion to $13.72 billion. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 340 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” in 2021, with five in the last week. This is on pace for 370 significant rules in 2021. 2020’s total was 79 significant final rules.
  • In 2021, 823 new rules affect small businesses; 87 are classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

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

On the TV: Supply Chains

This morning I appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to talk about supply chains, opposite the Economic Policy Institute’s Robert Scott.

Video and a transcript are here.

Speaking at CEI Supply Chains Event on 11/30

CEI is hosting an online Zoom event on November 30 on supply chains, featuring my colleagues Sean Higgins, Marlo Lewis, Iain Murray, and me. It will begin at 12:00 ET. You can register here. The full event will be posted on YouTube afterwards.

Here is the invitation text:

Just in time for the holiday season, the global supply network is fraying in ways that affect our everyday lives. While Washington policy makers debate short-term fixes, the only real solutions are long-term reforms. Please join CEI for a discussion of the root causes of our current crisis that have been percolating for years pre-COVID. CEI Vice President Iain Murray will moderate a discussion with our respective experts in trade, labor, and energy policy, Ryan Young, Sean Higgins, and Marlo Lewis. 

Sean Higgins, Research Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Marlo Lewis, Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Iain Murray, Vice President, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Ryan Young, Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

12:00 – 1:00 pm EST

Register: https://cei-org.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_B4kvgNobRcKCjbpfqOTxhg

Sign up to join the conversation live and receive a link to the video archive following the event.

Registration confirmation and event reminder emails will be sent from CEI Events at no-reply@zoom.us 

Questions? Email events@cei.org 

Sean Higgins is a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute specializing in labor and employment issues. Prior to joining CEI, he covered the intersection of politics and economics as a journalist for two decades, as senior writer for the Washington Examiner, Washington correspondent for Investor’s Business Daily, and a contributor to publications like The Wall Street JournalFortuneReason and National Review Online.​

Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He writes on global warming, energy policy, environmentalism, and the precautionary principle. Prior to joining CEI in 2002, he was director of external relations at the Reason Foundation, staff director of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs during the 106th Congress.

Iain Murray is vice president for strategy, senior fellow, and director of the Center for Economic Freedom at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He is author of the best-selling books The Socialist TemptationThe Really Inconvenient Truths, and Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You. He has written extensively on the role free markets play in improving our lives.

Ryan Young is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. His research focuses on regulatory reform, trade policy, and antitrust regulation. He writes the popular “This Week in Ridiculous Regulations” series for CEI’s OpenMarket blog.

Thankful for Good Economic News on Jobs, Consumer Spending: More to Do

This statement originally appeared on cei.org.

During Thanksgiving week, jobless claims dipped to 199,000, their lowest level in 52 years, when the country’s population was less than two thirds of what it is today. October consumer spending grew 1.3 percent, leading to optimism about a strong holiday season. CEI senior fellow Ryan Young comments:

“It’s nice to have two bits of good news going into Thanksgiving. Jobless claims are back below 2019’s pre-COVID levels, and consumer spending increased in October enough for retailers to expect a healthy holiday season. This provides more evidence that the economy is mostly healthy, but for COVID. The more we beat back the disease with vaccines, the more people feel safe opening up. Washington’s big spending bills, which won’t begin spending money in earnest until next year, were never needed in the first place.

“There are still notes of caution. Inflation remains high, and all that deficit spending will likely make it a few tenths of a percentage point worse for several years going forward. This will make the Fed’s inflation-fighting job even more difficult. It is also possible that October’s big consumer spending increase was a reaction to clogged supply networks. People may be doing their holiday shopping early in anticipation of longer shipping times and possible shortages. To the extent this is the case, people aren’t necessarily spending more, they’re just spending earlier. In the meantime, Congress and President Biden can help by spending less, and removing trade barriers and regulatory sludge that are distorting supply networks and clogging ports.”

Fed Chairman Powell Should Prioritize Getting Inflation Under Control

This statement originally appeared on cei.org.

President Biden has re-nominated Jerome Powell to head the Federal Reserve, and CEI Senior Fellow Ryan Young expressed hope that Powell will make the politically tough decisions needed to get inflation back under control.

Statement by CEI Senior Fellow Ryan Young:

“Getting inflation back under control is a top priority. Jerome Powell’s renomination sends a needed message of stability. President Biden did not nominate a yes-man who will do as he’s told, though some of Biden’s other nominees may yet fill that role. Under the circumstances, this news is about as good as could be expected.

“Inflation is what happens when too much currency is chasing too few goods and services. Record government spending deficits are adding to inflation and will be made worse by the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. If Chairman Powell raises interest rates to tighten the money supply, which he should, those debts will become more expensive for the government to repay. But this will raise the ire of the White House and Capitol Hill. Making matters worse, politicians also generally favor looser monetary policy heading into an election. The Fed’s independence is always under attack, and the stakes are especially high during the COVID economic crisis.

“Fighting inflation also means removing trade, labor, and energy regulations that are clogging supply networks and preventing goods and services from being created in the first place. Chairman Powell has nothing to do with those policies, but he is still tasked with fighting their inflationary effects. He is not being set up for success, but President Biden could have done far worse.”

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The House passed a $1.85 trillion spending bill, which a 50-50 Senate will now consider. An Alzheimer’s vaccine began human trials. If it proves safe and effective, we will then find out how many years the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will withhold it from patients. Hopefully the FDA learned the right lesson from its expedited approval of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, agencies issued new rules ranging from date taxes to refractory products.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 63 final regulations last week, after 52 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 40 minutes.
  • With 2,865 final regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 3,301 final regulations this year. 2020’s total was 3,218 final regulations.
  • Agencies issued 41 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 34 the previous week.
  • With 1,851 proposed regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 2,132 proposed regulations this year. 2020’s total was 2,222 proposed regulations.
  • Agencies published 391 notices last week, after 343 notices the previous week.
  • With 19,725 notices so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 22,725 notices this year. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 3,255 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,225 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue this year contains 299 pages.
  • With 66,150 pages so far, the 2021 Federal Register is on pace for 76,210 pages in 2021. The 2020 total was 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are 21 such rules so far in 2021, three from the last week. Agencies published five economically significant rules in 2020, and four in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from $6.72 billion to $11.61 billion. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 331 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” in 2021, with four in the last week. This is on pace for 381 significant rules in 2021. 2020’s total was 79 significant final rules.
  • In 2021, 789 new rules affect small businesses; 84 are classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

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

Court Strikes Down Trump Tariff: Precedent for Institution-Level Changes?

Pessimism reigns for trade liberalization in the short run, but there is fresh hope for the long run. A new court decision over solar panel tariffs shows why. Reason’s Eric Boehm’s headline sums it up: “A Judge Just Did What Biden Wouldn’t: Dump Some Trump Tariffs.” This is good news, but it gets better.

The decision’s importance isn’t about the solar panel tariffs themselves. It’s about the separation of powers. And political institutions, such as the separation of powers, are what drive trade policy in the long run—not adjustments to this or that tariff rate. The rules of the game determine how it is played. Those rules have been out of whack for some time, and presidents have been abusing them. That could start to change if this precedent were to influence other cases.

In short, the court ruled that the executive branch overstepped its tariff-making authority, so it partially negated some solar panel tariffs that President Trump enacted without congressional input. Most readers know that Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that only Congress has taxing authority. The Constitution grants the president no such powers.

There is some history behind why the president was still able to unilaterally enact tariffs without congressional input. This context is important for understanding why trade policy has become so dysfunctional and which institution-level changes will be most effective in reforming it.

In the mid-20th century, Congress wanted to pass large-scale tariff relief, but was systematically incapable of doing so. Nearly every tariff had its own special interest in some member’s district defending it. So even though almost everyone agreed that tariff relief as a whole is good policy, they couldn’t it done. Hundreds of small exemptions added up quickly, and trade reform bills became so watered down as to become useless.

Worse, tariff liberalizations were necessary to meet requirements under the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was founded in the aftermath of World War II, and was the predecessor to the World Trade Organization (WTO). GATT was established in part to preserve peace after the horrors of World War II; countries that trade seldom go to war. It was also established as a way to undo the U.S. Smoot-Hawley tariffs and foreign retaliatory tariffs that had reduced foreign trade by two thirds and left it clogged with paperwork and corruption.

The solution to this special interest sludge, Congress believed, was to outsource tariff policy to the president. The thinking was that the president represented the country as a whole, rather than small slices of constituents, and so would be less prone to lobbyists’ pleas. So, the 1962 Trade Expansion Act and the 1974 Trade Act both contained provisions granting the president the authority to unilaterally impose tariffs under certain conditions without a vote in Congress.

It didn’t work. Tariffs did go down over time, but those provisions had little to do with it. They were almost entirely dormant until the Trump administration. And instead of using them to lower tariffs, Trump used them to raise them—eventually doubling America’s average tariff rate in about three years.

This week’s court decision said that the Trump administration overstepped its bounds on a solar panel tariff it imposed under Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act, which lets the president enact tariffs to protect domestic industries from foreign competition.

It is a narrow ruling that affects only one of the three major tariff-making provisions—and the least-used one at that. Much the bigger fish are Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, a national security provision that was invoked for the steel and aluminum tariffs, and Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, a treaty violation provision that was invoked for the China tariffs.

But this week’s court decision sets a precedent. Again, what is important isn’t what the ruling does to solar panel tariff rates, though any tariff relief is welcome. What is important is what the ruling means for institutions, such as the separation of powers. Iain Murray and I have been arguing for years that tariff reform depends on restoring a healthier separation of powers. For a long time, the executive branch has been too powerful relative to Congress. And the problem gets worse with each new administration, regardless of which party is in power.

Which leads to a bit of bad news. The Biden administration actually defended the Trump administration’s position in the case. Politicians rarely argue to reduce their own powers, and that’s what this case is really about.

It is also bad news that President Biden is seemingly allergic to tariff reform. Even a modest reform like resetting tariffs to 2017 levels would help unclog supply networks while lowering consumer prices during a time of high inflation. It’s as close to a win-win as there is in politics—helping the economy and making the other party look bad at the same time. But Biden isn’t doing it. He is even airing new proposals, such as carbon tariffs, that are essentially Trump-era trade policies in green packaging. And if he needs to, he might try to do it without Congress having a say.

Even with a court victory, the short run still looks bad for trade policy. The Trump tariffs should now be called the Trump-Biden tariffs. The Biden administration is also delaying or ignoring other important facets of trade policy, including trade agreements with the United Kingdom and European Union, rebuilding the WTO, and rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is carrying on without American involvement.

Any significant positive move on trade policy is likely years away, but this week’s court decision gives some hope for the long run. That is because policies, in the long run, do not depend on changing this or that tariff rate. They depend on institutions. The more we can chip away at executive power and contain taxing power to the legislative branch, where it belongs, the better off we will be. This is just a baby step, but as every parent knows, baby steps lead to good things.

Review of Michael Munger, The Sharing Economy: Its Pitfalls and Promises (Institute of Economic Affairs, 2021)

Transaction costs are one of the most overlooked ideas in economics. They are also one of the most important. The lowering of transaction costs is an engine of modernity itself and key to understanding where future progress might take us. That is Duke University economist Michael Munger’s argument in his new book, The Sharing Economy: Its Pitfalls and Promises (free download from the Institute of Economic Affairs). It follows up his 2018 book, Tomorrow 3.0.

What are transaction costs? As the name implies, they are things that get in the way of making transactions. Think of them as economic friction. Things like waiting in line, searching for a product, comparing prices, driving to and from a store, or resetting another forgotten website password. Transaction costs often cannot be measured in money, but they are still part of the price of everything we buy. A good economist knows, money is not everything.

Countless beneficial transactions never happen because the time and hassle required outweigh the benefits. Successful entrepreneurs can make these lost transactions come to life just by lowering their attendant transaction costs. In a way, they succeed by making the invisible visible. Along the way, they can create new industries, revolutionize existing industries, and topple old ones. Transaction costs are the hidden engine of Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction.

Munger’s dissertation advisor was the Nobel laureate Douglass North, one of the pioneers of transaction cost economics, along with other laureates such as Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson. Munger likes to tell a story about North explaining that, while there are endless questions to ask in economics, many of them have the same answer: transaction costs. Over the years, North’s advice has proved useful to countless graduate students in search of thesis topics. As The Sharing Economy shows, there remains plenty of uncharted territory. Today’s graduate students should take note—as should experienced scholars.

How do transaction costs apply to the new sharing economy? Broken down to fundamentals, Uber doesn’t sell taxi rides or food delivery. It sells access to a platform that drastically lowers transaction costs for some services. The product is the platform. Yes, people use it to buy and sell taxi rides and food delivery, but they could use that type of platform for almost anything.

This is why a lot of sharing economy startups describe themselves as the Uber or the Airbnb for this or that service. They’re selling transaction cost savings, not whatever product or service appears in their marketing materials.

Every transaction requires what Munger calls the three Ts: triangulation, transfer, and trust. Sharing platforms can solve the three Ts quickly and cheaply:

  • Triangulation means coordinating everyone involved in the transaction. In a food delivery transaction, those are the customer, the restaurant, and the delivery driver. Until recently, solving this coordination problem was so difficult that most restaurants did not offer delivery at all. And the ones that did had to hire their own drivers to work exclusively for them. Unless business was both brisk and consistent, this was a risky proposition. Today, sharing platforms can solve triangulation problems in seconds. As a result, restaurants that might not be able to afford full-time delivery staff can now share drivers with other businesses and earn additional sales, while customers gain additional choices.
  • Transfer means making sure everyone gets paid. Uber, for example, has all parties’ payment info stored in the app. It automatically charges customers the right amount, pays restaurants and drivers, and handles tips. That is far easier than in the old days of cash, checks, or reading out your credit card number over the phone.
  • Trust is all parties having confidence that everything will go as it should. This is what ratings systems contribute. Riders can avoid drivers with low ratings and drivers can avoid problem customers. They can do this in seconds just by glancing at their ratings. On the other side of the coin, high ratings can be lucrative for vendors, giving them a greater incentive to keep customers happy than a traditional cab driver. And keeping that five-star rating can encourage more civil behavior from customers. It doesn’t pay to be a Karen.

Sharing economy platforms solve the three Ts so quickly and easily that millions of transactions that would never have happened a decade ago are now routine. This, for Munger, is a reason for optimism. Similar platforms could emerge for all kinds of goods. In fact, they probably are doing so right now in a dorm room or a garage somewhere.

Tools that spend nearly all of their time in storage could be rented out, for example. Other possibilities include office equipment, professional-grade audio and video equipment, and designer clothing. Some of these ideas might be successful. Others might be duds. People will likely find out soon enough.

Munger believes the low-transaction cost sharing economy could transform manufacturing as we know it. Factories would make far fewer goods, and what they do make would tend to be professional grade and more durable. A drill that spends 30 years in someone’s garage might get a couple hours of use over its entire lifespan, but if it’s shared, it will get far more use on a wider variety of tasks. It will need to be more solidly built and easily repaired.

That is one reason why the sharing economy has costs, as well as benefits. Both words in the phrase “creative destruction” are important. Just because the benefits outweigh the costs doesn’t mean costs do not exist. Manufacturing jobs have already declined by about a third since their 1979 peak, from about 18 million workers to about 12 million. If sharing platforms become popular for a lot of goods, that decline will be deeper and steeper. At the same time, the higher-grade goods still being made might require more skills or more automation to make, displacing less skilled workers.

Other jobs would open up in warehousing and delivery, and likely in other sectors. Munger doesn’t know what these might be, and neither does anyone else. Some of these jobs might not be appealing, might not pay as well, or may not work with some workers’ family responsibilities or other personal situations.

On the other hand, the size of the labor force has stayed remarkably consistent relative to population  throughout America’s transition from agriculture to industry, and from industry to services. While the inability to predict the future is scary, that’s no reason to keep things as they are. As Munger says on page 89, “Platforms are disruptive, but outlawing disruption has never worked.”

Transaction Costs and a Policy Revolution

As transaction cost reductions transform the economy, they also transform public policy. The problem is that public policy usually takes long to catch up. Regulations classify many workers as either employees or contractors, and treat them differently. Employee status comes with certain rules for minimum wages, benefits, and working conditions, while the rules for contractors are generally looser. It is also a false dichotomy that poorly fits workers’ needs.

If an accountant uses a platform like Taskrabbit to work for several clients, is she an employee of any of them? Does she count as Taskrabbit’s employee because it handles her payments or is she a customer who pays to access its platform? Does it matter if she commutes to an office or works from home? What if she’d rather choose her own health insurance or retirement plan? My colleague Iain Murray explored this question in his 2016 CEI paper “Punching the Clock on a Smartphone App.”

Current regulations don’t have good answers to these questions. And laws like California’s AB5 gig worker law and the proposed PRO Act at the federal level would entrench the legacy labor law model even further. All this is because some entrepreneurs thought of a way to use smartphone apps to reduce transaction costs.

In the age of COVID, sharing platforms have made it easier for workers to avoid public transportation and crowded offices. When COVID subsides, many workers will still prefer to avoid commutes and offices in favor of more pleasant surroundings like home offices, coffee shops, or smaller shared offices—which some sharing platforms offer. Regulators should think carefully before they take those options away.

Antitrust policy is in the middle of its own revolution, thanks in part to transaction costs. Sharing platforms are just another version of the old make-or-buy decision. If a company needs legal help, does it use in-house counsel or hire an outside attorney? Should a firm employ its own custodian or hire a cleaning service? The answer depends on transaction costs. If it’s cheaper to do something yourself, do that. If transacting with someone else costs less, do that. The answer is different for every company—and can change over time within a company. Sharing platforms and their lower transaction costs provide new possible answers to this age-old problem.

As of this writing, the leading food delivery platforms are DoorDash, UberEats, and GrubHub. They could buy out smaller competitors or merge with each other in the coming years, which might result in antitrust action. It shouldn’t, and transaction costs explain why.

A restaurant that wants to offer delivery has a make-or-buy decision to make. Does it hire its own driver or outsource to a sharing platform? It will go with whichever has lower transaction costs. This provides a built-in competitive check on sharing platforms that will never go away—even if one sharing platform monopolizes the entire market. If its fees cost more than the restaurant hiring its own drivers, then restaurants will opt for the latter. Several restaurants in the same city could even band together and jointly hire a driver—if regulations allow them.

The reason people use sharing platforms in the first place is because their transaction costs are lower than the alternatives. And the alternative of doing something in-house will never go away. Sharing platforms do not have market power, and never will.

Sharing platforms also do not restrain trade, which is another threshold for antitrust enforcement. They enable new trades that would never have happened otherwise, because they lower transaction costs. Before sharing apps, food delivery options in most places were limited to pizza and Chinese. Now, everyone from McDonald’s to mom-and-pop diners offer delivery. Some restaurants, such as Panda Express, are even attempting to undercut sharing platforms by creating their own app-based ordering services to avoid platforms’ fees.

Transaction Costs and the Moral Economy

Contrary to popular belief, morals are an integral part of economics. One of the discipline’s founding works, after all, is Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Man is an animal that trades, to paraphrase from Smith’s other great work, The Wealth of Nations. People want to exchange, cooperate, and compete. It is our nature. But transaction costs get in the way of our nature, because they get in the way of trade.

Economists Virgil Storr and Ginni Choi, of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, argue in their book Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals? that markets are moral playgrounds. When people enter those playgrounds, they learn how to trust and earn trust. They learn to keep their word and be polite—the late, great Steve Horwitz delighted in the “double thank you” that accompanies most transactions. People on the playground learn that the best way to get something you value is to give others things they value even more.

These are skills that take practice and repetition to develop. Transaction costs raise the cost of this moral practice. And when something costs more, people consume less of it.

If the goal is an open, civil society, then transaction cost reduction should be an important priority. Sharing economy platforms have the potential to do exactly that on a massive scale. At the same time, they are just another chapter in a long story, and hardly the final one.

Munger, by taking Douglass North’s advice, has used an old and overlooked tool to better understand new technologies and emerging economic changes. Sharing platforms have already changed the way people take cab rides, order food, and go on vacation. In the coming years, they could reshape the manufacturing sector, office culture, and even urban design, if traditional offices and downtowns continue to fall out of favor.

Transaction costs can also lead to fresh insights about labor regulations, antitrust, and other areas of public policy, as well as the overlooked symbiosis of markets and morality. Though The Sharing Economy is geared to a British audience, American readers will still get far more value from this freely downloadable book than they spend in transaction costs. While this admittedly sets a low bar, I intend it as high praise. I could not recommend this book more highly.

Download The Sharing Economy for free from IEA’s website here.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

It was a four-day week for the Federal Register in honor of Veterans Day. In the news, inflation reached a 30-year high, President Biden signed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill into law, and a United States senator got his feathers in a bunch over Big Bird’s vaccination status. Agencies issued new rules ranging from turtle excluder devices to the United Soybean Board.

On to the data:

  • Agencies issued 52 final regulations last week, after 63 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 14 minutes.
  • With 2,750 final regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 3,228 final regulations this year. 2020’s total was 3,218 final regulations.
  • Agencies issued 34 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, after 33 the previous week.
  • With 1,810 proposed regulations so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 2,085 proposed regulations this year. 2020’s total was 2,222 proposed regulations.
  • Agencies published 343 notices last week, after 495 notices the previous week.
  • With 19,254 notices so far in 2021, agencies are on pace to issue 22,182 notices this year. 2020’s total was 22,480.
  • Last week, 1,225 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,505 pages the previous week.
  • The average Federal Register issue this year contains 291 pages.
  • With 62,891 pages so far, the 2021 Federal Register is on pace for 72,455 pages in 2021. The 2020 total was 87,352 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (subtracting skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. There are 18 such rules so far in 2021, two from the last week. Agencies published five economically significant rules in 2020, and four in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2021’s economically significant rules ranges from $5.42 billion to $9.26 billion. The 2020 figure ranges from net savings of between $2.04 billion and $5.69 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact numbers depend on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 353 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” in 2021, with four in the last week. This is on pace for 407 significant rules in 2021. 2020’s total was 79 significant final rules.
  • In 2021, 773 new rules affect small businesses; 89 are classified as significant. 2020’s totals were 668 rules affecting small businesses, 26 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

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

On the Radio: Inflation

Earlier this week I was on the Lars Larson show to talk about inflation. The audio is here.

I also appeared on the Dave Elswick show on the same topic. The audio is here, starting around five minutes in.