Now regulation is pervasive. It touches air and water pollution, pensions, vehicle fuel efficiency, the Internet (“net neutrality” rules), home mortgages, political campaign contributions . . . and much more. The annual outpouring of new rules and proposed rules is mind-boggling. In fiscal 2015, the Federal Register — containing final and recommended rules — totaled 80,260 pages, says the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a market-oriented think tank.
The popularity of regulation is no mystery. Many regulatory goals (say, clean air and water) enjoy broad public support. Through regulation, government can promote these activities without having to raise taxes or increase budget deficits. The costs of regulation are largely invisible and are shifted mainly to consumers in higher prices, workers in lower wages or companies in reduced profits.
The size of those costs remains controversial. It’s not large, says the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In studies, it has consistently found that regulations’ benefits dwarf the costs. For 2015, OMB estimated that the benefits for 21 new and major regulations totaled $45 billion compared with costs of only $6 billion. The regulations included a rule on food labeling from the Food and Drug Administration and a rule affecting construction workers from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.