Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Government:  The Wonky Liberal

Republicans have many strong arguments to make against the Obama administration, but one major criticism doesn't square with the evidence. This is the charge that President Obama is running a virulently antibusiness administration that spews out a steady flow of job- and economy-crushing regulations.
Over all, the Obama administration has significantly increased the regulatory costs imposed on the economy. But this is a difference of degree, not of kind.

During the final year of their administrations, presidents generally issue tons of new rules. Nineteen-eighty-eight, under Ronald Reagan, 1992, under George H.W. Bush and 2008, under George W. Bush, were monster years for new regulations. In his first years, Obama has not increased regulatory costs more than Reagan and the Bushes did in their final years.

Data collected by Bloomberg News suggest that the Obama White House has actually reviewed 5% fewer rules than George W. Bush's did at a similar point in his presidency. What has increased is the cost of those rules.

George W. Bush issued regulations over eight years that cost about $60 billion. During its first two years, the Obama regulations cost between $8 billion and $16.5 billion, according to estimates by the administration itself, and $40 billion, according to data collected, more broadly, by the Heritage Foundation.

That's a significant step up, as you'd expect when comparing Republican to Democratic administrations, but it is not a socialist onslaught.

Nor is it clear that these additional regulations have had a huge effect on the economy. Over the past 40 years, small business leaders have eloquently complained about the regulatory burden. And they are right to. But it's not clear that regulations are a major contributor to the current period of slow growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics asks companies why they have laid off workers. Only 13% said regulations were a major factor. That number has not increased in the past few years. According to the bureau, roughly 0.18% of the mass layoffs in the first half of 2011 were attributable to regulations.

For more, see The Wonky Liberal by David Brooks, December 5, 2011 at NYTimes.com.

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