Magazine | December 31, 2017, Issue

Regulation Nation

Regulations empower the government to demand cessation of a million small violations buried deep in the compacted sediment of federal law. They are a fearsome tool for imposing the will of the state. Trump wants to cut them. What a Hitler, eh?

For reluctant Trump defenders, the drive to reduce regulations is the “But Gorsuch!” of the administration’s second act. For conservatives disinclined to say that anything good can come out of the Trump term, which they regard as a daily hairball soaked with Diet Coke coughed up on the national rug, the braking of the regulatory express is waved away: Any conservative president would have done the same.

Yeeeeaaah, well, maybe. Perhaps a President Cruz or President Fiorina would have grabbed a shovel and headed into the Augean Stables of the Federal Register, but we’re used to a GOP president’s announcing a blue-ribbon panel to study the issue while the organs of the administrative state pump out more regs like a queen ant producing larvae for the colony.

Trump tweeted this out the other day:

“In 1960, there were approximately 20,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations. Today there are over 185,000 pages, as seen in the Roosevelt Room.”

That didn’t sound entirely authentic. The sentiment, yes, but the tone lacked his usual zesty style. If Trump was watching while an aide typed the tweet, you can note the exact moment when he leaned over and pressed CAPS LOCK on the keyboard:


The response was what you’d expect: Millions will die, of course. The Obamacare mandate is dropped? Death stalks the land. The tax bill passes? The Reaper’s scythe drips red with its grisly harvest. An embassy is moved? Peaceful, pious family men instantly move to Sweden and throw gas bombs at Jews.

Here’s a typical response from Joy Reid, who is on TV somewhere for some reason. Tweeteth the sage:

“Every one of those pages protects your food from being filed with rat droppings, spoiled meat out of your deli, lead out of your paint, your child’s medicine from being defective & corporations from polluting the air you breathe or dumping medical waste in the water you wade in.”

What some liberals think a regulation says:

1. LEAD. There shall be no lead in anything children may touch or ingest. The end.

What the regulation actually says:

1. (d)(92) LEAD. Pursuant to the Lead Exposure Act of 1977 (modified under section 2, subsection C, of the Bacon-Lehtis Omnibus Chemical Control Act of 1982), all commercial products containing LEAD (hereafter defined as an unreactive post-transition metal, unless otherwise noted) shall be, but not necessarily be, unless there is occasion invoked by the Drinkable Paint Act of 1984, subject to certification by the Lead Certification Bureau. Or not.

Any item proved to contain lead, or suspected of containing lead, or rumored to contain lead, or whose name can be acrostically rearranged to contain the word “lead,” or transported in a vehicle or bag that passed through a state in which lead is mined, or a state in which lead mining occurred prior to 1962 (SEE ALSO, Lead Mining Waiver List under section 43,237 of the Omnibus Obfuscation Act of 1988), shall, if so deemed, be subject to the Interstate Substance Transport Act of 1937, under which all samples must be put into a paper bag and handed off to the lab for testing by a bucket brigade of 400 unionized workers.

No part of this regulation shall be construed, or understood, or looked at askance, with the intention of regulating the pay, or employment status, of the workers who transport the samples, as they are covered under the Maik-Werk Act of 1933, and shall be employed until the point of death, after which they, or their descendants, shall receive half pay in perpetuity.

REVISED, 2013: The term “lead” shall include, but not be limited to, “lead-like products,” defined as anything that contains an element on the periodic table. Penalties for noncompliance with the requirements about the reporting of the specifics of the environmental impacts shall be trebled in the event of. Additional penalties will be brillig if an investigation demonstrates the intentional gimbling of toves, slithy or slightly slithy.

That’s one page. Multiply by eleventy billion, covering everything. At least it solves the lead problem! But it creates a climate of uncertainty. Imagine this conversation:

Toy Manufacturer to Lawyer: What the hell does this regulation mean?

Lawyer: No lead, basically.

Toy Manufacturer: I sell a paste you smear on ceramic sheep and it turns into green moss that looks like hair.

Lawyer: No lead in the sheep?

Toy Guy: No. I mean, I don’t know, it’s clay. What kid breaks a clay sheep and starts eating the shards?

Lawyer (googling): You’re based in Iowa, right? I’m seeing a paint factory in Manitoba, operating from 1910 to 1914. If your sheep were made in a state that bordered a state that bordered another country, we have to do discovery on their lead-abatement process.

Toy Guy: Oh, no. Why?

Lawyer: The wind could have deposited lead from Canada in Iowa.

Toy Guy: Okay, well, if we have to — oh, geez, there’s a hair in my sandwich.

Lawyer: That’s impossible. I can’t tell you how many regulations forbid that.

Narrator’s Voice: When sent to a lab, the hair tested positive for lead. New regulations have since been proposed.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

James Lileks — James Lileks writes the Athwart column for National Review magazine and is a frequent contributor to the National Review website. He is a prominent voice on Ricochet podcasts.

In This Issue



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