Politics

Trump writes an obviously good Executive Order. The Left attacks it.

Summary: Trump’s flood of executive orders have been an assortment of far-right ideas, mostly written in haste (and hence poorly researched and carelessly written). The Left has vehemently opposed them all, even some that are obviously good ideas. It’s vital for the 1% that we not unite on anything, even something small. Such as pruning the weeds from the vast garden of government regulations.

Woman Climbing a Pile of Paperwork

The body of Federal laws and regulations has been growing for two centuries. Neither Congress nor Federal agencies have any incentive to cancel those that have become outdated, or are proven ineffective. The pile of laws, unknowable to the average citizen, selectively enforced by government officials and the 1%’s well-paid attorneys, has become a threat to our democracy.

How many regulations are there?

The usual way to count new pages in the Federal Register, begun in 1935. See this graph of their annual page count (this is total pages, including blanks). The total for 2016 of 82,324 was a record high — above the 2010 high of 81,405 in 2010 (both not including blank pages).

Pages in the Federal Register

The best source of information is the Congressional Research Service report “Counting Regulations: An Overview of Rulemaking, Types of Federal Regulations, and Pages in the Federal Register” by Maeve P. Carey (4 October 2016). They show that the Federal Register recorded 191,304 final new rules during the 40 years 1976-2015 — 4,783 per year. The annual number of rules slowly climbed from 1976, peaking in 1980 at 7,745. It has since declined to a record low of 3,410 in 2015. But that’s a crude measure. Some rules are trivial, some are only temporary, and some are revoking previous rules.

There is a better way to measure this. The 1996 Congressional Review Act requires tracking of “major rules”, which means any rule that has or is likely to result in…

  1. “an annual effect on the economy of $100,000,000 or more;
  2. a major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, Federal, State, or local government agencies, or geographic regions; or,
  3. significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of US-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic and export markets.”

There have been an average of 70 new major regs per year during the past 19 years (1997-2015). That includes a substantial increase to 81/year during Obama’s first 7 years in office.

Stack of Federal regulations

Trump acts to address this problem

Trump has taken a small step that will over time — very slowly — force agencies to prune the overgrown weeds from America’s garden of regulations.

Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.

30 January 2017. Section 1. Red emphasis added.

“It is the policy of the executive branch to be prudent and financially responsible in the expenditure of funds, from both public and private sources. In addition to the management of the direct expenditure of taxpayer dollars through the budgeting process, it is essential to manage the costs associated with the governmental imposition of private expenditures required to comply with Federal regulations. Toward that end, it is important that for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process.

This does not affect the many independent agencies, such as the SEC.

The Left reacts to Trump’s initiative

Turn to Lawyers, Guns, and Money website (academics I once highly respected) to see the Left’s rebuttal to Trump’s actions. This article is by the artist Shakezula.

“Regulations are bad. The worst! They won’t let you do whatever you want! shouts the yammering yam at 1600 Penn. Ave. And so he took his big yuge beautiful pen in his clammy little paw and …

“I mean, has anyone in that gang ever even looked at the United States Code? Do they have any idea what’s covered by the term Regulation? Or how rules are made? Of course not. Anyone with any idea of how the regulatory process works would not even joke about doing this. Someone has given Bannon or perhaps Trumplethinskin himself a list of the titles of regulations that are Bad, including no doubt any that Trump doesn’t like and that’s it. When everything – even regulations industries have requested – grinds to a halt, the Republicans will claim they’re being efficient.”

This is foolish hysteria, mixed with childish name-calling.  With hundreds of thousands of regulations on the books, anyone who knows how “the regulatory process works” understands that agencies can easily find five or ten thousand regs per year that warrant repeal. It is wild exaggeration to say that this will make the regulatory agencies or their regulated industries “grind to a halt.”

To provide an example of the possible ill effects of this order, Shakezula quotes from an article at the Modern Healthcare website. The article quotes many industry experts who applaud Trump’s executive order, plus a “policy advocate” from a leftist group founded by Ralph Nader.

“Amit Sarang, a regulatory policy advocate at watchdog Public Citizen, said the rule may be problematic for providers and vendors who have invested significantly in adjusting their businesses around new or upcoming regulations. “We don’t know which of these healthcare regulations that the healthcare industry has already complied with and sunk costs into are going to have to be repealed in order to allow for expected regulations,” Sarang said.”

Sarang assumes that the FDA, founded in 1906, has no obsolete or ineffective regulations on its books. Anyone familiar with government agencies knows that is not so. I suspect that Sarang also knows this.

As the Right did to Obama, the Left has chosen to oppose everything that Trump does — no matter the effect on America — with lies their weapon of choice. We are trapped between factions that care only for their partisan gain, both doing the 1%’s bidding by keeping us divided and weak.

Robert Heinlein predicts the future, again

“I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body. …But, instead of following tradition, I suggest one house of legislators whose single duty is to repeal laws. Let the legislators pass laws only with a two-thirds majority, while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority. …If a bill is so poor that it cannot command two-thirds of your consents, is it not likely that it would make a poor law? And if a law is disliked by as many as one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?”

— Professor Bernardo de la Paz (a rational anarchist), from Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Donald Trump and the new populism, and especially these…

  1. The Left sees President Trump and goes mad.
  2. Here’s the news about Team Trump. See the promises fade away.
  3. Trump assembles a Strategic and Policy Forum to better hear the 1%.
  4. As we start a new era, see the similarities between Obama and Trump.
  5. The Left steps across a line and embraces political violence.
  6. Listen to Trump’s inaugural speech: words that could overthrow the 1%.
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7 replies »

  1. I think I saw an anime with a system like Heinlein’s proposal. The result was space colony rebellion and giant robots. Of course, Heinlein may have also predicted giant robots…

    As for this love of regulation in its own right, I don’t know what to call this phenomenon but I’ve seen it in a lot of fields. Basically, it isn’t that they are opposed to the thing in itself, it is opposition to what the thing is felt to represent or conceal. Example: Public school teachers feeling that teacher assessment programs have more to do with increasing staff turnover and lowering wages than with helping children. (This would be a debate in its own right, it’s just an illustration I’m somewhat familiar with.)

    The problem of course becomes that when we are interacting with things that have become complex signifiers and symbols, the actual facts of the matter get all tangled up, and you get absurdities. I’m not sure how much of this is divide-and-rule tactics, and how much is just plain ol’ human stupidity.

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  2. I’m glad to hear that outdated regulations might be updated or scrapped. What I’m wondering is why we’re cheering this on at such an early time when it’s the 1% and their political lackeys who will be deciding which regulations to scrap. Similar to my reaction to your blog yesterday about the left not cheering on Trump’s populist rhetoric, I’ll start cheering when I see action instead of words. This is especially true given who Trump is, a known pathological liar, and who Trump is placing in key positions.

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    • Aaron,

      “What I’m wondering is why we’re cheering this on at such an early time when it’s the 1% and their political lackeys”

      Good question. It’s a question of tactics. The 1% own both parties. They own most of the news media. They own most of the political movements, left and right. So how best to respond?

      Taking your insight to the logical conclusion, we’d oppose almost everything. Certainly anything which gives officials discretionary authority, which is almost everything that works.

      Alternatively, we can evaluate policies by their face value — applaud logical and potentially beneficial steps, denounce illogical and inimical measures. This helps by taking us out of left-right tribal thinking, the first step to building large alliances that (like the New Deal coalition) can re-take control of America.

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  3. I believe the French solved this problem with their workplace regulations, the Code du Travail. I heard on a BBC documentary that there were complaints that it was too large, already at several thousand pages, and only going to grow. The solution was to print it with a smaller font.

    People paid and judged by the quantity of legislation they produce are never going to be interested in having less of it. Particularly when many of them are lawyers and see laws as the solution to every problem they are presented with.

    Trump’s proposal is probably a little crude, but makes an awful lot of sense.

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    • Steve,

      “People paid and judged by the quantity of legislation they produce”

      US officials are not paid that way. However, they have no incentives to clean up the body of regulations. It’s brings no fame, builds no reputations, earns no friends in the regulated industries, is ignored by journalists. It’s a similar problem to research replication by scientists — essential for the scientific method work, but career death.

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  4. Some interesting Fiskable nuggets in the quoted passages:

    “even regulations industries have requested”

    This speaks to an oft-overlooked aspect of regulation: that large firms often actively lobby for additional regulations to erect barriers to entry for smaller competitors (since the cost of compliance is fixed or scales much less rapidly than revenue). Much of Dodd-Frank is of this nature.

    The passage from Amit Sarang is likewise suffused with this concern for the ability of the health-care industry to use regulation for competitive advantage — an odd priority for a group that calls itself “public citizen.” Then he explicitly commits the sunk cost fallacy:

    “we don’t know which of these healthcare regulations that the healthcare industry has already complied with and sunk costs into”

    So even if a regulation is burdensome and useless, and keeping it on the books will impose more costs in the future than repealing it would, we should keep it anyway because it imposed costs in the past. Makes tremendous sense. Got it.

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