Cost of Government Regulations

The cost of government regulations on our society is enormous.  In the U.S., I have seen estimates of up to $1.8 trillion per year, and that is just for federal regulations.  These could easily add up to $15,000 per family living in America, the land of the free.

Just because it is mainly businesses that directly incur these costs, it doesn't mean that we all don't pay for them.  Every cost to business flows down to the individual level in some way.  A business is not some magical entity that has unlimited resources to spend.  When a business incurs an additional cost, it flows down to somebody, whether that is the business owner, a reduction in the stock price, a reduction in employee wages, or higher prices for consumers.  Sometimes it simply means that a product is not brought to the market that otherwise would have.

The sad thing is that most of these regulations are put in place by bureaucrats and lobbyists who are trying to stifle competition or individually profit.  Most of these regulations do not help employees or consumers as a whole.  In fact, like most things that the government does, regulations often have the opposite effect of their supposedly intended purpose.

You could have a food safety regulation imposed by the government.  But this can be a moral hazard.  It might make the objectives of the business to comply with the government safety regulations instead of doing their own testing.  It might make consumers less apt to do research to verify the safety of the food they are eating.  It might make independent regulators outside of the government less likely to "audit" the food under government regulation.

There can be many other unintended consequences.  Think of a business having to comply with rules providing handicap parking.  How many times do you drive through a parking lot and see many unused handicap spots near the front of the store?  While it is easy for someone to say that people should walk further and exercise, they don't know everyone's situation.  Perhaps someone has an injured leg but doesn't have a handicap pass.  Perhaps there is a bad thunderstorm outside.  Many people make the wrong assumption that businesses would not provide such services if not for government regulations.

I think of government regulations much the same way I think of war and foreign aid, at least in terms of the cost.  (Obviously war is far more serious aside from the economics.)  These are easy cuts for the government to make our lives easier and increase our standard of living.  If the government stopped all wars and ended all foreign aid, it would be easy savings.  The federal government would be closer to balancing the budget without raising any taxes.

I see government regulations the same way.  I can only see benefits from reducing regulations.  Perhaps there would be a few lobbyists and bureaucrats who would be hurt by it.  Perhaps there would be some big businesses hurt by it by having to compete more.  But overall, dramatically reducing regulations would be a huge benefit to society, especially once the realignment of resources has taken place.  It would significantly help most businesses and would help to raise wages, raise production, and lower consumer prices.

There are some government programs that would be far more difficult to cut.  If Social Security payments were reduced, it would benefit some people, particularly those who are young and working.  On the other hand, it would be difficult for older people, especially those who are highly dependent on Social Security.

So why not make the easy cuts first?  Stopping war and empire building and ending foreign aid are "easy" reductions that would mostly only hurt the elitists in government or those connected to the government.  The same is true of government regulations.  Eliminating half of the regulations coming from the federal government alone would be a huge benefit to the economy and our standard of living.  The only thing that has to happen is for Americans to demand it.  The government is not going to do it on its own.