Federal Rulemaking Breaks Another Record

Chidem Kurdas

How big is the impact of the American regulatory state? The immense scale and complexity of federal regulation at large make it impossibly difficult to grasp. One reasonable indicator of its effect is the number of pages of new final rules published in the Federal Register.

This metric grew by 7% to 26,417 pages from 2012 to 2013, according to a report issued yesterday by Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The total number of new Federal Register pages, including other matters besides final regulatory rules, are on course to break another record if the current trend continues—it will add up to 802,301 pages by the end of the 2010s. The previous decade of the 2000s contributed 730,176 pages. By contrast, the fast-growing 1950s came with a mere 107,030 pages.

The cumulative impact boggles the mind, given that every year new regs are added to the old regs, very few of which are ever discarded. In the past 21 years, 87,282 final rules have been published in the Federal Register.

But the Obama administration has been exceptional in how much it expanded the regulatory state. “Obama’s page counts dominate all the earlier years,” Mr. Crews writes.

He estimated annual total regulatory cost at $1.863 trillion—-over 11% of the US gross domestic product. If this cost were a country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy, larger than India’s.

Another notable pattern is the great power of government bureaucrats. They made 3,659 rules in 2013, whereas Congress passed 72 laws. Mr. Crews calls the ratio (51) of rules to laws the “Unconstitutionality Index.”

For the bureaucrats themselves, the process works wonderfully well. They make and implement – or on occasion ignore – the rules as they like. In my new book, Ponzi Regulation, I’ve described how sharply the practice in the financial area diverges from the supposed public interest purposes of regulation.

And then the bureaucrats go through the revolving door to the side of the regulated, who have little choice but to pay for protection against convoluted rules.


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