This year’s Federal Register is on pace to be 80,190 pages long. That’s an average of 220 pages of fresh proposed rules, final rules, notices, and more every single day.
If this pace keeps up, this year’s Register will make for slightly easier reading than 2010, which set a new record with an 81,405 adjusted page count.
Think about that for a second. 160,000 pages in two years. Even Stephen King couldn’t write that much. Amazing that so many people claim this or that part of the economy is unregulated. With 165,000 pages already in the Code of Federal Regulations and more coming every day, it just ain’t so.
Have a listen here.
Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s regulatory czar, announced today that the administration intends to repeal regulations from 30 different agencies. CEI Vice President for Strategy Iain Murray thinks this is a good step, though a small one. He estimates today’s proposal would save about $1.5 billion, which is one-tenth of one percent of the $1.75 trillion total burden of federal regulation.
Winston Churchill observed that “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” We may finally be seeing a small step in that direction. The Bush and Obama administrations have tried fiscal stimulus to speed up economic recovery. It didn’t work. The Federal Reserve tried increasing the money supply, which they called “quantitative easing” because it sounds much more pleasant than “printing money.” That didn’t work. Then they tried it again. That didn’t work, either. What to do?
We at CEI have been pushing a deregulatory stimulus for years. Now that all other possibilities are exhausted, the administration appears to be taking small steps in that direction. Regular readers are aware that federal regulation costs about $1.75 trillion, and that the Code of Federal Regulations is over 157,000 pages long. Both of those numbers grow every year, as over 3,500 new rules hit the books annually. This morning, OIRA chief Cass Sunstein is announcing a 30-point plan that would “save American companies billions of dollars in unnecessary costs,” according to The Washington Post.
This new initiative stems from Obama’s Executive Order from earlier this year that ordered agencies to comb their books and recommend obsolete or harmful rules for elimination. Agencies hardly have an incentive to reduce their size or scope, which is why an independent commission would be a better vehicle for getting rid of old rules. The rules Sunstein is proposing to eliminate are very modest. But it’s better than nothing.
The real savings would actually go to consumers. Because companies pass on their costs, consumers are the ones who ultimately pay regulatory costs. They will also ultimately reap the savings in the form of lower prices and more choices.
The bad news is that the regulatory savings will comprise only a tiny fraction of the $1.75 trillion cost of federal regulation. Many will hail these reforms as landmark, revolutionary, or some other hyperbole. They are nothing of the sort. It is only a first step on the road to a saner regulatory approach. But if people believe that we’ve already reached the destination, they will lose the desire to press for further reform.
The worse news is that almost all of the new rules in the pipeline – 4,225 at last count – will still hit the books. Costly new regulations from the health care bill and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill may well outweigh the savings that Sunstein is proposing today.
Not all the details are out yet, but there is reason for deregulators to be cautiously optimistic. For more regulatory reform ideas, see this article that Wayne Crews and I wrote for AOL News.
Congress never actually votes on most regulations. Over 3,500 regulations hit the books most years. But Congress usually passes fewer than 200 bills per year. As Wayne Crews and I explain in today’s Investor’s Business Daily, this is regulation without representation.
Only Congress, and not agencies, have the power to legislate. But that is exactly what is happening now. Bills to regulate carbon emissions, regulate the Internet, and more all failed in Congress. But agencies are enacting rules. If you can’t legislate, regulate. This is wrong.
It allows politicians to escape blame for unpopular or controversial regulations. Don’t blame me, blame bureaucrats! It also gives agencies little incentive to rein in their worst impulses. If they can do whatever they want, they will work to expand their budget and authority.
The first step in solving the problem of regulation without representation is requiring Congress to vote on major regulations. Not all regulations — 3,500 votes is a bit much. And agencies do deserve some independence on administrative affairs and minor detail work. But requiring 200 votes on major rules costing at least $100 million each is the least Congress should do.
The REINS Act, recently introduced by Rep. Geoff Davis and Sen. Rand Paul, would do just that. There are many facets to regulatory reform. There is much more to do. But putting a damper on regulation without representation is a good start.
You can read Wayne’s and my article here.
Posted in Publications, regulation
Tagged deregulate to stimulate, geoff davis, ibd, investor's business daily, rand paul, regulation, regulation without representation, REINS Act, Ryan Young, wayne crews
Today is the last working day of 2010 which means the last edition of the 2010 Federal Register came out this morning. The final unadjusted page count is 82,589 pages. That’s the third highest ever.
Page counts are typically highest in years when power changes hands. This year was no exception. The two other highest unadjusted page counts occurred when Carter handed off to Reagan, and when Clinton handed off to Bush. The Bush-Obama handoff featured the largest-ever adjusted page count, 79,435.
This time, the spike happened with only the House changing parties. The next few years will tell us a lot. 2010’s high page count may have been a combination of this year’s ambitious legislation plus a midnight rush to get the White House’s regulatory wish list in place before the other team can block it.
Or, as in the past, it could be that we have reached a new, permanent plateau of frenzied federal activity.
I’m hoping for the former. But the Republicans in Congress are no friends of limited government, so one never knows. They will reliably oppose anything the other team comes up with. But as the Bush years showed, they’ll also vote for the exact same policies so long as it’s their team that’s proposing them. This is not a recipe for fiscal or regulatory health.
The man who deregulated air travel passed away yesterday at age 93. That man, Alfred Kahn, was a Cornell economics professor who did far more than teach. He revolutionized the role of economics in regulatory policy. He also did important work on electricity deregulation in addition to his famous work on deregulating air travel.
Kahn’s most famous book was The Economics of Regulation, which pointed out that regulations often hinder competition, not help it. His use of the economic way of thinking was distinctly unfashionable at the time. One of his greatest legacies is righting that wrong.
As a lifelong partisan Democrat, Kahn had credibility in political circles at a time when regulatory skeptics were shooed away from the corridors of power. After chairing the New York Public Service Commission, President Carter appointed him to lead the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1977, which he dismantled.
Before Kahn, airlines had to get permission from the CAB to establish new routes or terminate old ones. The CAB set ticket prices, not the market. This prevented profitable or high-demand routes from being given adequate service, and kept money-losing, little-traveled routes open. It prevented airlines from keeping up with their customers’ ever-changing needs.
The CAB was also a wonderful device for keeping pesky startups from competing with established industry giants such as Pan American. Southwest Airlines, for example, would only fly routes inside the state of Texas to avoid CAB regulations.
Once the CAB was abolished, Southwest and other small airlines tried out new business models and offering lower fares. Some of them prospered; others did a poor job giving people what they wanted and ceased to be. Today, air travel may not have the amenities it used to, but it cheaper, more flexible, and more adaptable than it was under the CAB.
Washington could use more people like Alfred Kahn. He had his successes in a few choice sectors of the economy, but many more still have Civil Aeronautics Boards of their own stopping them from reaching their potential. Let us learn from his example of a life well lived; a good place to start is Thomas McCraw’s Prophets of Regulation.
The Small Business Administration released a new study today. “The Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms,” by Nicole V. Crain and W. Mark Crain, updates previous studies of the same title from 2005 and 2001.
From the introduction (p. 6):
The findings in this report indicate that in 2008, U.S. federal government regulations cost an estimated $1.75 trillion, an amount equal to 14 percent of U.S. national income. When combined with U.S. federal tax receipts, which equaled 21 percent of national income in 2008, these two costs of federal government programs in 2008 consumed 35 percent of national income.
And keep in mind that those numbers are for 2008. With government spending now closer to 24 percent of GDP, the federal government’s current share of the economy is around 38 percent.
State and local spending and regulations, of course, cost extra.
Posted in Economics, regulation
Tagged crain, deregulate to stimulate, federal regulations, liberate to stimulate, mark crain, nicole crain, nicole v. crain, over-regulation, regulation, sba, studies, trillions, w. mark crain