The federal regulatory state has just surpassed a dubious milestone.
Since 2005, the total net cost of the 4,432 regulations finalized has now topped $1 trillion, according to the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank with a focus on limited government and free markets. That translates to a long-term total cost of $3,080 per person, or an annual per capita cost of $540.
“In other words, each year every person, regardless of age, in the nation is responsible for paying roughly $540 in regulatory costs,” AAF Director of Regulatory Policy Sam Batkins writes. “These burdens might take the form of higher prices, fewer jobs or reduced wages.”
It was fitting that the Environmental Protection Agency’s second round of heavy-duty truck standards, with an estimated cost of at least $29.3 billion, put federal regulations over the top of the $1 trillion threshold, given that the EPA has been one of the worst offenders, having been responsible for six of the top eight most expensive rules by total cost, and all of the top five by annual cost, since 2005.
In addition to the cost in dollars, there is also the cost in terms of lost time, for the hours spent on paperwork and compliance would otherwise be spent on more productive pursuits. The federal regulations during this period racked up a total burden of more than 754 million paperwork hours, enough for about 350,000 full-time jobs, AAF estimates. “That’s roughly the population of Anaheim, Calif. devoted solely to federal paperwork,” Batins notes.
It seems that President Barack Obama is going out with a bang, too. As of last week, the Federal Register, which includes the federal government’s final and proposed rules and regulations, reached 91,642 pages, the highest in its 81-year history and more than 10,000 pages higher than the previous record set under Obama in 2010, the Competitive Enterprise Institute reports.
Many of these regulations are silly and nonsensical, as revealed by some of the recent entries from CEI’s “This Week in Ridiculous Regulations” series on its blog. The agricultural cartels known as “marketing orders” are always ripe for regulatory overload. There are rules for removing the word “midget” from California raisin standards, changing the size requirements for olives, another potato handling regulation (the 345th since 1995) and another “Egg Research and Promotion” rule (the 549th during this time).
Other rules include requiring movie theaters to have closed captioning and audio description devices, imposing energy efficiency test procedures for electric cooking tops, mandating that hybrid and electric vehicles make more noise (so that blind pedestrians will be able to hear them), banning smoking in public housing, and revising the Food and Drug Administration’s procedures for approving over-the-counter sunscreens.
To address this regulatory bloat and economic drain, CEI recommends some common-sense measures such as requiring Congress to vote on all new regulations costing more than $100 million a year, establishing a bipartisan, independent commission to evaluate the 178,000-page Code of Federal Regulations and recommend a package of rules for repeal and requiring that the cost of new regulations must be offset by repealing one or more existing regulations, which has been utilized in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the U.K.
This would be a great start, and would help President-elect Donald Trump make good on his promise to eliminate government waste and burdensome regulations.