Americans of all political persuasions want safe working conditions, clean air and unpolluted water.
But reform is clearly needed when government begins to regulate for the sake of regulating, and when doing so harms – even endangers – those citizens it’s called to protect.
For example, while the Food and Drug Administration was created to help safeguard the food supply and ensure reasonable protocols for drug safety, it too often uses its regulatory power to shield monopolizing companies from competition, which can block the path to lifesaving generic drugs.
Competition, on the other hand, reduces costs and increases access to many groundbreaking drugs and medical.
It’s been just the opposite with EpiPen, a lifesaving anti-allergic reaction device, the cost of which has risen from $60 a few years ago to now $600 for a pack of two, even though the epinephrine included in the EpiPen costs less than $10 to manufacture.
This price tag forces some to ask: “Are we going to pay the mortgage or ensure our kids have this life-saving drug available should they get stung by a bee or suffer some other potentially fatal allergic reaction?”
Drastic choices like this could be avoided if regulators remained true to the fact that their agencies were created to help, not harm.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in a speech on the United States Senate floor recently highlighted the Clean Water Act as an example of the morphing of well-intended regulations that protect against the discharge of pollutants in navigable streams into job-killing “monsters that emerged from the toxic swamp of big-government bureaucrats at the EPA.”
Paul pummeled courts and regulators who “came to decide that dirt was a pollutant and your backyard just might have nexus to a puddle which has a nexus to a ditch which was frequented by a migratory bird that might have flown from the ditch to the Great Lakes. Ergo, the EPA can now jail you for putting dirt on your own land.”
Such morphing is helped along by the lack of serious, consistent reevaluation of well-intentioned rules that originally served useful purposes but now are enforced only because they remain on the books.
Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose Reaganesque reforms led to a dramatic economic turnaround in the Hoosier State, required proposals for new regulations to demonstrate favorable benefit-to-cost ratios and sunset provisions allowing reevaluation of their continuing usefulness every few years.
Daniels also demanded agencies search for an existing rule that could be updated before creating a new rule.
This approach could be helpful in Kentucky, where more than 3,500 of the 4,700 regulations in the regulatory code have never been reviewed.
Still, it’s rare for regulations – like taxes – to actually go away.
Instead, they swell to the point where the Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates it now costs each American household $15,000 annually just to comply with federal regulations.
Plus, state regulatory codes too often emulate Washington by mutating into ugly opponents of individual liberty and economic growth.
According to the Mercatus Center at George Washington University, while the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations grew from 71,000 pages in 1975 to 178,000 pages in 2015, the Kentucky Administrative Regulations Service grew by a whopping 250 percent in the last four decades – from just four volumes in 1975 to currently 14 books.
The commonwealth’s regulatory code has become so large that it takes 367 hours – reading 40 hours a week at a rate of 300 words per minute for nine weeks – just to read it.
Large, increasingly complicated regulatory codes make it difficult for businesses and citizens to comply, which ultimately defeats any positive purpose of regulation by reducing compliance and incentives to improve safety while increasing uncertainty and frustration.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.