by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Regulation is pervasive in the United States and touches nearly every aspect of Americans’ lives. The labels on breakfast foods, the flow rate of water in the shower, and the fuel efficiency of cars are all regulated by the federal government. Regulations at the state and local levels affect whether Americans can obtain certain jobs with a government permission slip called a license, whether local pharmacists can write prescriptions for simple medications, and whether hospitals can add beds to their facilities. Additionally, the amount of regulation in the United States has grown steadily over time, a process known as regulatory accumulation. Each year new rules get added to the lawbooks, adding pages of new requirements. Yet typically few rules are removed to offset the growth. Thus, the regulatory environment grows more complex and omnipresent each year. …
… Regulations matter for several reasons. First, regulation raises questions about accountability. In a democracy, government is supposed to be responsive to the people. The nominal justification for the existence of regulatory bodies is that regulators have expertise and enjoy some separation from politics. Legislators may not have time to become experts in every topic for which they write laws, and they may be more susceptible to short-term political or interest group pressures. Regulators can potentially provide more independent, subject-matter expertise. However, there is a tradeoff in that policy making becomes more hierarchical and less democratic under regulator-driven governance.
Second, the accumulation of regulation has a cost in terms of economic growth. Economists Michael Mandel and Diana Carew have likened the effect of regulation on the economy to dropping pebbles in a stream. The first pebble is insignificant. A thousand pebbles slow the flow.