Regulatory Hangover


A thing you can do if you really want to go off the deep end for about twenty minutes: Go to regulations.gov and have a good hard look at politics in action. You want to tuck into the federal regulations dealing with migratory birds? Review, in all its glory, Kathleen Sibelius’s mandatory obesity rating for every American (another gem tucked into the stimulus bill)? It’s all in there, and the reasoning for making a federal issue out of your fat can is documented in excruciatingly precise language.

Just take a random sample for the flavor, if you can bear it:

Proposed subparagraph (h) also proposes to require the importer to maintain these records in an organized manner and either electronically or in a central location, at or in close proximity to the NHP facility, to allow CDC to inspect the records during CDC site visits during regular business hours or within one hour of such visits. Before distributing or transferring an imported NHP, an importer must communicate to the recipients of NHPs, in writing, the restrictions and definitions of permitted purposes and obtain written certifications from the intended recipient that the NHPs will be used and distributed for one of the permitted purposes before the NHPs are sent to them. CDC is soliciting public comments on these proposed requirements.

That’s from the regulations touching what Americans are and are not allowed to do with an imported monkey. (Approved purposes for monkeys include getting them high on cocaine, another project funded by the stimulus.) I’m not sure whether that monkey in The Hangover 2 is a domestic NHP (that’s non-human primate) or an imported one, but you can be sure that, either way, the handling of it is subject to regulation from more than one federal entity. (The bananas, too.)

If you go to regulations.gov and do a search for all of the existing and proposed rules, the listing of headings alone runs more than 6,000 pages, containing more than 61,000 items. That’s not the whole shebang, of course — just what’s available on the web site. The Federal Register, within living memory about the size of a family Bible, today takes up about 30 feet of shelf space.

Out of these millions of words of small-print lawyerese, Obama’s regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, has identified about 30 regulations he’d like to see repealed, as part of a review of regulations mandated by an executive order. That’s nice. In 2010 alone, Mr. Sunstein and his colleagues inflicted 43 new “final rules” (which is what regulators call regulations), on the country, half again as many as the total number of regulations he has sifted of the vast galaxy of administrative law. The trend is against us.

And more regulations are on the way. A surprising number of our regulations are intended to improve regulation, reduce paperwork, enhance transparency, etc. If you want to pull all your hair out, read the federal regulations about improving regulatory practice.  

Some of the regulations Mr. Sunstein has targeted are nice candidates for repeal. For instance, because milk contains fat, it is regulated the same way as petroleum is — milk fat being an organic oil. That means that people who ship and package milk have to be prepared to clean up the Exxon Valdez, basically, spilt milk being the same thing as spilt crude in the eyes of the bureaucrats, costing the dairy industry about $67 million a year. This has led to a lot of “crying over spilt milk” jokes, and it is easier to repeal regulations that make people laugh. So, there’s one down.

Mr. Sunstein shares his thoughts on the matter in the Wall Street Journal today. You would think that the attention he has lately paid to the millions of wasted man-hours and trillions of wasted dollars entailed by our gigantic regulatory apparatus would have him rethinking the scope of the regulatory enterprise. You would be wrong.

You’ll note I wrote “trillions of wasted dollars” above, not billions. That’s not a typo: The annual cost of regulatory compliance in the United States runs about $1.75 trillion a year. As the Heritage Foundation points out, that means that regulations cost Americans more than do individual income taxes.

With that in mind, I cannot honestly write, “Thanks for nothing, Mr. Sunstein.” Instead, I’ll offer: Thanks for the functional equivalent of nothing, Mr. Sunstein.


—  Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.


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