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Fighting for Conservative Leaders and Values

Regulatory State/Anti-social State

Niall Ferguson in the Wall Street Journal highlights concerns about the increasing regulatory state in America and the decreasing civic life of Americans.   I have to admit that I am somewhat at fault for this.  I recall with great affection the work my dad and his friend did with the Dundalk Optimist Club.  As I am sure some of you know, in my late teens, wrestling was a dominant part of my life.  Without the dedication of Coach Bob Crandall and the work of the men of the Optimist Club, the Dundalk Hawks wrestling team couldn't have prospered like it did (Maryland Junior League State Champs!).   The Optimists (and OptiMrs.) ensured that the boys on the Hawks had all we needed, one greasy Heritage Fair hamburger at a time.  They gave their time and energy so that kids and the community had what they needed because it was the right thing to do and it was just what you did - and their friends were pretty good company to boot.    

 I would be remiss if I didn't note that more important than the Optimist Club was my folks dragging themselves out of bed at some awful hour in the morning, to drive to some stinky gym in the backwoods of Pennsylvania to make sure I made weigh-ins.   But that's another post completely.  

I mention this all to highlight my disappointment in myself that I somehow never seem to follow through on my desire to join some of the civic organizations in the Edgewater/Annapolis community.   When on the Hill I tried to help out with the Jewish Staffers Association, but I clearly need to find a mechanism to join together with my neighbors to help out my neighbors.  Forty is around the corner so maybe I make that the impetus.  

As for the regulatory state, I hope I have less blame for that one.  I in particular remember the Rear-View Mirror bill coming through the Commerce Committee and hearing from the lobbyists in the auto industry tells me how the bill should be allowed to go through because it's better to get the regs started under the Bush Adminsitration, because, goodness we don't want the Obama Adminsitration getting to run herd over this thing.   That worked out well.  Hill staffers reading - push back from the table, close out the meeting, and keep the hold.  

Anyway I commend this article to your attention.  I'm hopeful that it'll feed into a discussion of how we can focus more on community and attempt to ensure that as one of my colleagues says culture > politics.  

The decline of American associational life was memorably documented in Robert Puttnam’s seminal 1995 essay “Bowling Alone,” which documented the exodus of Americans from bowling leagues, Rotary clubs and the like. Since then, the downward trend in “social capital” has only continued. According to the 2006 World Values Survey, active membership even of religious associations has declined from just over half the population to little more than a third (37%). The proportion of Americans who are active members of cultural associations is down to 14% from 24%; for professional associations the figure is now just 12%, compared with more than a fifth in 1995. And, no, Facebook FB +0.21% is not a substitute.

Instead of joining together to get things done, Americans have increasingly become dependent on Washington. On foreign policy, it may still be true that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus. But when it comes to domestic policy, we all now come from the same place: Planet Government.

As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Clyde Wayne Crews shows in his invaluable annual survey of the federal regulatory state, we have become the regulation nation almost imperceptibly. Excluding blank pages, the 2012 Federal Register—the official directory of regulation—today runs to 78,961 pages. Back in 1986 it was 44,812 pages. In 1936 it was just 2,620.

True, our economy today is much larger than it was in 1936—around 12 times larger, allowing for inflation. But the Federal Register has grown by a factor of 30 in the same period.

The last time regulation was cut was under Ronald Reagan, when the number of pages in the Federal Register fell by 31%. Surprise: Real GDP grew by 30% in that same period. But Leviathan’s diet lasted just eight years. Since 1993, 81,883 new rules have been issued. In the past 10 years, the “final rules” issued by our 63 federal departments, agencies and commissions have outnumbered laws passed by Congress 223 to 1.

Right now there are 4,062 new regulations at various stages of implementation, of which 224 are deemed “economically significant,” i.e., their economic impact will exceed $100 million.

The cost of all this, Mr. Crews estimates, is $1.8 trillion annually—that’s on top of the federal government’s $3.5 trillion in outlays, so it is equivalent to an invisible 65% surcharge on your federal taxes, or nearly 12% of GDP. Especially invidious is the fact that the costs of regulation for small businesses (those with fewer than 20 employees) are 36% higher per employee than they are for bigger firms.

Next year’s big treat will be the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, something every small business in the country must be looking forward to with eager anticipation. Then, as Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) warned readers on this page 10 months ago, there’s also the Labor Department’s new fiduciary rule, which will increase the cost of retirement planning for middle-class workers; the EPA’s new Ozone Rule, which will impose up to $90 billion in yearly costs on American manufacturers; and the Department of Transportation’s Rear-View Camera Rule. That’s so you never have to turn your head around when backing up.
Niall Ferguson: The Regulated States of America