Radio Commentary

500 New Regulations a Month

ree-marketeers constantly rail against the evils of federal regulations. We make a lot of grandiose comments about how regulations stifle economic growth and restrict personal freedoms, and contribute very little to the health and safety of average Americans. But perhaps we don’t spend enough time on just how big the federal regulatory leviathan is, and how fast it continues to grow. Take this figure: between April 1, 1996 and August 21, 1997, federal agencies produced 5,476 rules. That’s almost 500 new regulations a month.

The Office of Management and Budget estimates that the total annual cost of all federal regulations on the books in 1997 was $289 billion—that’s more than the nation spends on its military. About half—$144 billion—is devoted to complying with environmental rules alone. The OMB alleges that many types of regulations have real-world benefits, and no reasonable person would argue that no federal regulation has any positive impact on society. But amazingly, OMB analysts—these are federal government employees, mind you—did admit that strictly economic regulations, estimated to cost $91 billion, have zero societal benefits. And remember, these regulatory compliance figures are just "best guesses"—they don’t account for the costs of paperwork, for example.

The evidence is fairly clear that taken as a whole, the federal regulatory structure has far more liabilities than assets. In the real world, that spells bankruptcy. In the logic-impaired public sector, it apparently doesn’t mean much of anything. There’s no movement within federal agencies to curb their powers, and precious little will in Congress to rein in runaway regulations. u


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