This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

It was a relatively slow week, with 44 proposed regulations and 62 final regulations, though the Supreme Court did rule the federal ban on sports gambling unconstitutional. New rules from the last week range from flying aliens to a cactus status.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 62 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 78 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 43 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,231 final regulations in 2018. At that pace, there will be 3,175 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,281 regulations.
  • Last week, 1,169 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 2,270 pages the previous week.
  • The 2018 Federal Register totals 23,339 pages. It is on pace for 60,153 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts 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. Two such rules have been published this year, none in the last week.
  • The running compliance cost tally for 2016’s economically significant regulations is $215 million.
  • Agencies have published 44 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year.
  • In 2018, 200 new rules affect small businesses; 11 of them are classified as significant.

Highlights from selected final rules published last week:

For more data, see the study “10,000 Commandments” and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

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This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The big news from last week was the release of the spring edition of the twice-yearly Unified Agenda, which lists all planned agency regulations currently in the pipeline. Wayne Crews offers his take here and here. The 2018 Federal Register also zoomed past the 20,000-page mark, adding more than 10 percent to its total page count last week. New rules range from menu labeling to sea turtle observers.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 78 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 63 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 9 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,169 final regulations in 2018. At that pace, there will be 3,177 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,281 regulations.
  • Last week, 2,270 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,177 pages the previous week.
  • The 2018 Federal Register totals 22,170 pages. It is on pace for 60,245 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts 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. Two such rules have been published this year, one in the last week.
  • The running compliance cost tally for 2016’s economically significant regulations is $215 million.
  • Agencies have published 40 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year.
  • In 2018, 186 new rules affect small businesses; 10 of them are classified as significant.

Highlights from selected final rules published last week:

For more data, see the study “10,000 Commandments” and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Dad Jokes in Economics

Even trade economists are not immune to making the occasional awful pun.

“Poland’s exports of golf carts to the United States were challenged on anti-dumping grounds… the Poles did not even play golf, so there were no domestic prices to work with: the Poles had put the cart before the course.”

-Jagdish Bhagwati, Protectionism (1988), p.51.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

It is now May, and still only one economically significant (costing $100 million or more per year) regulation has been issued this year. With the 2018 Federal Register poised to break the 20,000-page mark as soon as Monday, new finalized rules from the last week range from naming crabmeat to air taxis.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 63 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 65 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 40 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,091 final regulations in 2017. At that pace, there will be 3,136 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,281 regulations.
  • Last week, 1,177 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,222 pages the previous week.
  • The 2018 Federal Register totals 19,900 pages. It is on pace for 58,184 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts 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. One such rule has been published this year, none in the last week.
  • The running compliance cost tally for 2018’s economically significant regulations is $115 million.
  • Agencies have published 37 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year.
  • In 2018, 171 new rules affect small businesses; 9 of them are classified as significant.

Highlights from selected final rules published last week:

  • The legal name for a kind of crabmeat.
  • The Federal Communications Commission wants to make it easier for communities to build 5G networks.
  • New regulations for donated food.
  • compliance guide for small businesses working with the Defense Department and the General Services Administration. “It consists of a summary of the rules appearing in Federal Acquisition Circular (FAC) 2005-98, which amends the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). An asterisk (*) next to a rule indicates that a regulatory flexibility analysis has been prepared.”
  • Regulations for air taxis.
  • Serving sizes for breath mints and other foods.

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

Regulatory Reform in Congress Regulatory Reform in Congress

While the president’s initial flurry of executive orders enacting some regulatory reforms was a pleasant surprise, the next president can undo them with the stroke of a pen. Permanent reforms require Congress to pass legislation. With a possible party change looming in one or both chambers of Congress, it might be now or never for substantive regulatory reforms to become law for the foreseeable future. If Congress and the president are as serious as they say about regulatory reform, here’s a short to-do list for the rest of the year:

  • REINS Act: This bill, which has passed the House four times now, would require Congress to vote on all new regulations costing more than $100 million per year. The goal is to increase elected officials’ oversight over unelected agency officials’ rulemaking. See also my paper on REINS here.
  • Regulatory Accountability Act: This bill, which has passed the House, packages six reform bills in one. Reforms include stricter disclosure requirements for agencies regarding new rules; making judicial review of regulations easier; stricter disclosure for rules affecting small businesses and non-profits; require benefit-cost analysis for more regulations; monthly agency reports on upcoming regulations and other activities; and require a plain-language 100-word summary for proposed new regulations.
  • Regulatory Improvement Act: This bill would establish an independent commission to comb through select parts of the 178,000-page Code of Federal Regulations. The Commission would send Congress an omnibus package of redundant, obsolete, or harmful rules to eliminate. The RIA’s lead sponsor is a Democrat, which might make Republicans squeamish about giving the other team a victory. But they should pass the bill anyway. Not only would this be a positive political gesture, it’s a needed housekeeping chore that deserves to be expanded upon in future sessions of Congress.
  • GOOD Act: Neither chamber has passed this bill yet. It would alleviate the problem of regulatory “dark matter” by improving access to guidance documents that agencies issue. Agencies sometimes circumvent the legally required notice-and-comment rulemaking process by simply inserting regulations into these guidance documents.

These reforms are not a silver bullet, and will not significantly reduce the size or scope of the $1.9 trillion federal regulatory state. But by improving oversight, transparency, and accountability, they provide a needed foundation for other reforms, such as a regulatory budget and regular retrospective review of existing rules. Keep an eye on this space for future developments and reform ideas, as well as this year’s edition of “10,000 Commandments.”

Steel and Aluminum Tariffs a Massive Net Loss for U.S. Economy

Following in George W. Bush’s footsteps, President Trump increased tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum by 25 percent in March. But he exempted U.S. allies such as Canada and the EU from the additional levies until May 1. While exemption extensions are possible, they are far from certain.

Economists estimate the tariffs could save roughly 33,500 jobs in the steel and aluminum industries. But consumers tend not to buy ingots of steel at the grocery store; steel and aluminum are useful mainly as inputs for other industries. From automobiles to canned foods to construction, higher steel and aluminum prices mean higher prices for goods throughout the economy, and the costs will ultimately fall on consumers. At the same time, sheltering domestic producers from competition can lower product quality.

All in all, the tariff increases are expected to cost five jobs for each one saved according to a Trade Partnership study. The net loss is expected to be as much as 146,000 jobs. Politically, this is not a winning strategy in an election year. More importantly, that’s a lot of families that will be asking tough questions about how to pay the rent and put food on the table, through no fault of their own.

Not only are our trading partners not lowering their trade barriers against U.S. goods, they are raising them. The EU in particular is targeting bourbon and blue jeans, two staples of Americana. It is obvious that the motivation for these retaliatory tariffs is political and not economic. Kentucky, home state of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, produces 95 percent of the country’s bourbon. And Levi Strauss, the iconic blue jean company, was founded in San Francisco, home city of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

Factoring in these and other potential tariff increases, and the administration’s blustery posture could end up costing American workers a lot more than 146,000 jobs.

If the intention of raising our own tariffs is to get our trading partners to lower theirs, then someone in the administration has made a huge negotiating error. One of the wisest quotes on trade is attributed to Cambridge economist Joan Robinson: “Even if your trading partner dumps rocks into his harbor to obstruct arriving cargo ships, you do not make yourself better off by dumping rocks into your own harbor.”

As I noted recently, U.S. steel and aluminum production are both over their 40-year running averages. The industry is healthy, and maintaining an open, competitive global market is necessary to keep it that way. Rather than throw still more rocks into U.S. harbors, the administration’s top priority on trade should be dredging them out. For America to truly be a leader in the world economy, it must lead by example.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The number of new final regulations passed the 1,000 mark last week, with new rules ranging from sending mail to human reliability programs.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 65 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 61 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 35 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,028 final regulations in 2017. At that pace, there will be 3,134 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,281 regulations.
  • Last week, 1,222 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,827 pages the previous week.
  • The 2018 Federal Register totals 19,088 pages. It is on pace for 58,196 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts 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. One such rule has been published this year, none in the last week.
  • The running compliance cost tally for 2016’s economically significant regulations is $115 million.
  • Agencies have published 33 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year.
  • In 2018, 161 new rules affect small businesses; 8 of them are classified as significant.

Highlights from selected final rules published last week:

For more data, see “10,000 Commandments” and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.