The New 10,000 Commandments Report – It’s Worse than Ever
Before we begin, we should mention that the US economy has long been one of the least regulated among the major regulatory States of the so-called “free” world, and to a large extent this actually still remains true. This introductory remark should give readers an idea of how terrible the situation is in many of the socialist Utopias elsewhere.
Even in the US though, today’s economic system is light years away from free market capitalism or anything even remotely resembling a “laissez faire” system. We are almost literally drowning in regulations. The extent of this regulatory Moloch and that the very real costs it imposes is seriously retarding economic progress. It is precisely as Bill Bonner recently said: the government’s main job is to look toward the future in order to prevent it from happening.
A great many of today’s regulations have only one goal: to protect established interest groups. Regulations that are ostensibly detrimental to certain unpopular corporatist interests are no different. Among these is e.g. the truly monstrous and nigh impenetrable thicket of financial rules invented after the 2008 crash in a valiant effort to close the barn door long after the horse had escaped. They are unlikely to bother the established large banking interests in the least. The banking cartel is probably elated that it has become virtually impossible for start-ups to ever seriously compete with it. The same is true of many other business regulations; their main effect is to protect the biggest established companies from competition.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – evidently named after a species close to extinction – has just released its 2015 report on the regulatory State, entitled “The 10,000 Commandments” (download link at the end of the article). Here is a summary of the grisly highlights (now would be a good time to get the barf bags out):
“Federal regulation and intervention cost American consumers and businesses an estimated $1.88 trillion in 2014 in lost economic productivity and higher prices.
If U.S. federal regulation was a country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy, ranking behind Russia and ahead of India.
Economy-wide regulatory costs amount to an average of $14,976 per household – around 29 percent of an average family budget of $51,100. Although not paid directly by individuals, this “cost” of regulation exceeds the amount an average family spends on health care, food and transportation.
The “Unconstitutionality Index” is the ratio of regulations issued by unelected agency officials compared to legislation enacted by Congress in a given year. In 2014, agencies issued 16 new regulations for every law — that’s 3,554 new regulations compared to 224 new laws.
Many Americans complain about taxes, but regulatory compliance costs exceed what the IRS is expected to collect in both individual and corporate income taxes for last year—by more than $160 billion.
Some 60 federal departments, agencies and commissions have 3,415 regulations in development at various stages in the pipeline. The top six federal rule making agencies account for 48 percent of all federal regulations. These are the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 2014 Federal Register contains 77,687 pages, the sixth highest page count in its history. Among the six all-time-high Federal Register total page counts, five occurred under President Obama.
The George W. Bush administration averaged 62 major regulations annually over eight years, while the Obama administration has averaged 81 major regulations annually over six years.
Look at it and weep: the estimated cost of federal regulations and interventions alone in 2015 – click to enlarge.
If one adds taxes and the damage done by the Fed’s incessant money printing to these regulatory costs, it is a miracle the economy hasn’t imploded yet. Note the deeply undemocratic nature of the regulatory process: The vast majority of the rules – all of which have the power of law – is concocted by unelected bureaucrats in the form of “administrative law”. It would otherwise simply be impossible to make up thousands of new rules every year. As unproductive as the bureaucracy is, it is still smothering the economy with this onslaught. This will probably never change, unless the entire system collapses one day. After all, the people tasked with making the rules need something to do.
The cost of federal regulation per US household, compared to various major household expenditure items – click to enlarge.
Growing Like a Weed
A look at the Federal Register shows that the growth in regulations is essentially a permanent feature. There are no longer any significant time periods during which the number of rules actually declines. It is probably no coincidence that the charts below are eerily reminiscent of charts showing total federal debt or charts depicting the growth in the money supply. The only thing that is no longer showing any respectable growth is the economy. Of course, no-one should be surprised by this.
Federal Register pages per decade. One wonders how people survived the practically lawless 1940 – 1970 period. Note that if we were to go back in time by another 30 years, we would see that the federal government wasn’t even a footnote in most people’s lives.
Over the past 22 years, almost 91,000 final rules and regulations were published cumulatively. We are just guessing here, but we believe that between the time the average citizen gets out of bed until shortly after he has slurped his morning coffee, he has violated at least five laws or regulations already – click to enlarge.
Cumulative regulations published in the Federal Register – almost 91,000 in the past 22 years alone – click to enlarge.
Monetary costs are just one aspect to this. There is also the wasted effort and psychic cost that is incurred when people realize that there are many things they simply cannot do, even though they would harm no-one and would actually provide a service to their fellow men. It will often prove extremely difficult to fight the red tape and still establish a successful business venture at the same time. Certain sectors of the economy have been closed off to the private sector completely (see the example of roads below). Very often start-ups with little capital cannot hope to compete in certain business sectors, as the regulatory obstacles are simply impossible to overcome.
Recently a US trucking organization has penned a manifesto in which it is bitterly complaining about crumbling roads and bridges across the US and urging the government to “do something”. The authors should take a long, hard look at their sad collection of statistics and realize that this is what actually happens when the government monopolizes a sector of the economy.
Another aspect is of course social control. By making a criminal or a potential criminal out of everybody, the mountain of laws and regulations can always be brought to bear against citizens or organizations that have somehow displeased government officials or managed to attract their wrath. One can see a variation of this principle at work in modern-day criminal court cases. People who are indicted for a crime are usually faced with a whole plethora of charges apart from the main charge. The intention is to force them to accept a plea deal whether or not they are innocent. The point is obviously not to serve the cause of justice.
However, we don’t want to digress too much here. The purely economic cost on which the CEI report focuses is distressing enough all by itself. One only has to think the problem properly through. Similar to other government interventions such as interest rate and money supply manipulations by the central bank, these enormous costs hamper the economy to such an extent that economic progress is slowed to a crawl. Who knows what we could have achieved by now if this were not the case? Perhaps people would already be able to reach the ripe old age of 150 and still feel like spring chickens in their early 100ds. Concerns over material well-being that continue to bedevil so many people today may already be orders of magnitude smaller. As Israel Kirzner once remarked in this context:
“We are not able to chart the future of capitalism in any specificity. Our reason for this incapability is precisely that which assures us . . . the economic future of capitalism will be one of progress and advance. The circumstance that precludes our viewing the future of capitalism as a determinate one is the very circumstance in which, with entrepreneurship at work, we are no longer confined by any scarcity framework.”
However, for this to be true, free market capitalism must be able to breathe. We won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of entrepreneurship if it is smothered at every opportunity.
As revolting as the full picture is, we recommend reading the entire “10,000 Commandments” report, which can be downloaded here (pdf). Above we show only a very small selection of the charts and data contained in the complete report. One thing should be clear to everyone reading it: This is a major problem that deserves a lot more attention than it usually seems to get.