Monday, July 12, 2010
A Tsunami of Law Making
By Alan Caruba
All societies, even the most primitive, established laws to ensure that relations between people did not lead to the worst offenses such a murder, rape, and thievery of all descriptions. As societies evolved, the number of laws did as well, ever rising to meet the many ways thought necessary to keep the peace.
In ancient societies, punishments were by our modern standards, draconian. Death was not an uncommon sentence for most offenses. We can measure modern societies by this rule and it is no surprise that Middle Eastern and North African nations, operating under Islamic Sharia law, frequently impose this penalty.
In an effort to maintain decorum or conformity, regimes often passed laws regarding what people could and could not wear. The Greeks and Romans were particularly concerned about trousers or slacks. The Codex Theodosanus, around 443 CE, banned them. England’s Dress Act of 1746 banned kilts and tartans, but the act was later repealed in 1782. In Iran, the wearing of a mullet hair style was just banned.
Virtually nothing is beyond the interest of lawmakers. In the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, it is against the law to assault a police dog, throw a snowball on public or private property or break into a dog pound. In Little Rock, Arkansas, it is illegal to honk your horn after 9 PM any place where sandwiches or cold drinks are served. In Canada, a person does not have to accept more than twenty-five pennies.
The general rule is that the larger a central government grows, the more laws and regulations it generates. As we have seen with Obamacare, the fact that sixty percent or more of the citizens affected opposed it made no difference as the Democrat controlled Congress engaged in all manner of bribery and chicanery to achieve its passage. This is likely to be repeated with Cap-and-Trade and other nation-killing legislation.
With laws come the regulations to enforce them. In April, The Heritage Foundation published a report, authored by James Gattuso and Stephen Keen, on the rising tide of regulation under the Obama administration.
“These regulatory taxes do not appear on any balance sheet, yet cost Americans about $1 trillion every year. The regulatory burden on Americans continued to surge during 2009, with record increases in costs, thanks to both the Bush and Obama Administrations.”
In fiscal year 2009 alone, new regulations costing more than $13 billion per year were adopted by the Bush and Obama Administrations, “the highest annual total since 1992.”
As often as not regulations actually stunt innovation and the development of new technologies. “For decades, strict Federal Communications Commission rules on radio frequency usage hindered the development of wireless services. Not until the rules were eased—and the wireless revolution began—did the costs imposed by the rules become apparent.”
“By most measures, regulatory burdens increased at near record rates in 2009—due to new rules adopted by both President Bush and President Obama.”
One way of measuring such things is the size of the Code of Federal Regulations. Unlike the Federal Register, a catalog of regulatory changes, the CFR is a compendium of all existing regulations. In 2008, the CFR was 157,974 pages in length, an increase of 16,693 pages since the start of the Bush Administration. By 2009, the pages had increased to a record high of 163,333.
There are so many regulations that observers have a category they call “major” or “economically significant” regulations that have an economic impact of more than $100 million. It is estimated that as much of 90% of regulatory costs are derived from them.
In 2009 there were twenty-three new major rulemakings. They included mandatory energy standards for soft-drink vending machines, a mandatory reporting regime for greenhouse gas emissions, new fuel-efficiency standards for cars, and new Truth in Lending requirements for banks.
Corporations, medium and small businesses will be required to produce a mountain of 1099 forms just from a new requirement to report all purchases from vendors of $600 or more. This is extremely time-consuming, costly, and will likely grow the government’s workforce that must process all those reports.
The costs of regulations for fiscal year 2009 were the highest in seventeen years and were the second-highest cost total ever recorded.
Little wonder that Washington, D.C. is chockablock with thousands of lobbyists and government relations professionals in an effort to stop bad legislation and the subsequent increase in regulations.
One can only imagine how the economy would revive and grow if a serious effort to reduce spurious lawmaking and the writing of regulations was made.
© Alan Caruba, 2010