The first chapter in the new Competitive Enterprise Institute agenda for Congress, “Free to Prosper,” is on regulatory reform. Most of the Agenda is about reforming specific regulations. It is also important to focus on the rulemaking process itself—a better game needs better rules. For Congress, that means restoring a separation of powers. For several decades now, the executive branch has been growing too powerful. This rule change has been disastrous—federal regulations now comprise more than 180,000 pages and cost about $1.9 trillion every year. Congress should restrain an out-of-control executive branch by:
- Defunding unapproved agency initiatives, and, where applicable, using the Congressional Review Act to rein in agency overreach.
- Improving regulatory disclosure, transparency, and cost analysis of regulations and guidance. A first step could be to implement a regulatory report card to tally regulatory costs and flows in a user-friendly way, and promote more accurate reporting to enable analysis of the regulatory enterprise by third parties.
- Implementing a bipartisan regulatory reduction commission and regulatory sunsetting procedures.
- Requiring votes on major rules—those with estimated annual costs of $100 million or more. One option is to enact the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act.
- Implementing a limited regulatory cost budget.
These reforms should apply to independent agencies, not just cabinet-level agencies. They should also apply to regulatory dark matter—the notices, guidance documents, and other materials that agencies use to regulate outside of the required notice-and-comment rulemaking process.
For more, read “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress.”
Here it is: “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress.”
It covers everything from transportation to labor to energy to tech policy. I coauthored the chapters on regulatory reform and trade policy.
My colleague Richard Morrison summarizes the Agenda here.
Joshua Greene – Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them
A defense of utilitarianism that is actually far more interesting for its insights on evolutionary psychology. The brain has evolved some surprising methods for getting along with others—or not getting along. Greene also explores how they apply in a modern world so different from the hunter-gatherer world we have only recently escaped, from politics to everyday life.
From p. 382 of Robert Bork’s 1978 book The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy at War with Itself:
One often hears of the baseball player who, although a weak hitter, was also a poor fielder. Robinson-Patman is a little like that. Although it does not prevent much price discrimination, at least it has stifled a great deal of competition.
Jonathan Gottschall – The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Gottschall’s scholarly mission is to make the humanities more scientific. Specialization is important, but not at the cost of ignoring what other disciplines are doing. I wholeheartedly endorse this approach, despite specializing in economics. The humanities, other social sciences, and even actual sciences all factor into my work.
Gottschall’s native discipline is English, but this book incorporates psychology and evolutionary biology to make a compelling and plausible thesis. Why do humans tell stories? Most people will say it’s because we enjoy them. Yes, Gottschall asks, but why? He finds an evolutionary purpose—when kids play pretend or adults read a novel, they’re practicing. They learn empathy and put themselves in other people’s shoes. That improves social skills, and improves survival—and without harmful consequences when failure occurs.
Most stories also involve some kind of conflict or troubles. This also has instructional value, so we evolved to find stories without conflict or trouble boring. Dreams are the same way—they nearly always involve some kind of trouble or unease. More pleasant dreams and stories are wasted cognitive effort, with no social or evolutionary payoff. Stories make us better prepared for real life situations, so no wonder we’re wired to naturally crave them, same as we do sex or food.
Over at cei.org, Iain Murray, Kent Lassman, and I reflect on the great economist Harold Demsetz’s intellectual legacy.
Edward Gibbon – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
It takes roughly as long to read as it did to write, yet this turns out to be a good thing. Gibbon published the first of six volumes in 1776, and the last in 1787. Factually, it holds up quite well, though it was written before archaeology revolutionized the historian’s profession.
Gibbon writes history as it should be—rather than simply reciting facts, he tells stories, has opinions, and argues a thesis. His skepticism of exaggerated claims and numbers in ancient sources is also decidedly modern; it is interesting to read this work of history as a product of its own place in history.
The Decline and Fall was written during the peak of the Enlightenment, and exemplifies its emphasis on reason and skepticism. Gibbon’s periodic prose style is superb, and his many quirks are both endearing and curmudgeonly. He openly hates superstition, is quite opinionated on various monarchs, puts naughty details in his footnotes, and really has it in for eunuchs, of all people.
Gibbon is also a true master of the art of the insult, and offers too many quality barbs to recount here. Naturally, I made highlights throughout the text.