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.