The growing weight around the economy’s neck: regulations

by Ryan Streeter on March 5, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Thomas Hemphill and Mark Perry have a good essay in the American on how we aren’t as free as we like to think. Their section on the growing regulatory state highlights the growing weight around the economy’s neck that most policymakers spend too little time addressing:

To provide perspective on the growth of the U.S. regulatory state, the Federal Register, in its first volume, published in 1936, contained 2,620 pages. In 2012, in its 77th volume, the Federal Register contained 77,249 pages – an increase of 2,848 percent. The past decade was the Federal Register’s most prolific, with an annual average volume of 75,413 pages.

While most of that decade encompasses the George W. Bush era of “cowboy capitalism,” President Obama holds the record for the most plentiful consecutive two years (2010 and 2011) of pages published in Federal Register history, with 81,405 pages and 81,247 pages during these years, respectively.

…[S]pending by regulatory agencies on social and economic regulations (in constant 2005 dollars) increased from $2.7 billion in fiscal year 1960 to an estimated $51.6 billion in fiscal 2012 – a 1,700 percent increase in regulatory agency spending in the last half century. Of the $51.6 billion in spending by regulatory agencies last year, $42.4 billion (82.2 percent) was allocated for social regulations related to health, safety, security, and the environment, while $9.2 billion (17.8 percent) was budgeted for economic regulations targeted toward specific industries (for example, price ceilings or floors, production quantity restrictions, and service parameters). In terms of employment, regulatory agencies employed 283,615 full-time federal employees administering regulatory compliance in fiscal 2012, which represents nearly a five-fold and 397 percent increase from 57,109 full-time federal employees in fiscal 1960.

I’d only add that the so-called “social” regulations related to health, safety and the environment may well have a bigger economic impact than the so-called “economic regulations.”