14 Jun 2009

Ten Thousand Commandments

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual Ten Thousand Commandments report on the growth and costs of federal regulation has some startling figures.

Given 2008’s government spending of $2.98 trillion, the regulatory “hidden tax” stood at 39 percent of the level of federal spending itself. (Because of the months-old spending surge, this proportion will surely be lower next year.)

Trillion-dollar deficits and regulatory costs in the trillions are both unsettling new developments for America. Although FY 2008 regulatory costs are more than double that year’s $459 billion budget deficit, the more recent deficit spending surge will catapult the deficit above the costs of regulation for the near future.

CBO now projects 2009 federal spending to hit $4.004 trillion and the deficit to soar to $1.845 trillion. The game has changed; although these spending levels eclipse federal regulatory costs now, unchecked government spending translates, in later years, into greater regulation as well.

Regulatory costs are equivalent to 65 percent of 2006 corporate pretax profits of $1.8 trillion.

Regulatory costs rival estimated 2008 individual income taxes of $1.2 trillion.

Regulatory costs dwarf corporate income taxes of $345 billion.

Regulatory costs of $1.172 trillion absorb 8 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at $14.3 trillion in 2008.

Combining regulatory costs with federal FY 2008 outlays of $2.978 trillion implies that the federal government’s share of the economy now reaches 29 percent.

The Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia jointly estimate that agencies spent $49.1 billion to administer and police the 2008 regulatory enterprise. Adding the $1.172 trillion in off-budget compliance costs brings the total regulatory burden to $1.221 trillion.

The 2008 Federal Register is close to breaking the 80,000-page barrier. It contained 79,435 pages, up 10 percent from 72,090 pages in 2007—an all-time record high.

Federal Register pages devoted specifically to final rules jumped nearly 16 percent, from 22,771 to a record 26,320.

In 2008, agencies issued 3,830 final rules, a 6.5-percent increase from 3,595 rules in 2007.

The annual outflow of roughly 4,000 final rules has meant that well over 40,000 final rules were issued during the past decade.

Although regulatory agencies issued 3,830 final rules in 2008, Congress passed and the President signed into law a comparatively low 285 bills. Considerable lawmaking power is delegated to unelected bureaucrats at agencies.

According to the 2008 Unified Agenda, which lists federal regulatory actions at various stages of implementation, 61 federal departments, agencies, and commissions have 4,004 regulations in play at various stages of implementation.

Of the 4,004 regulations now in the pipeline, 180 are “economically significant” rules packing at least $100 million in economic impact. Assuming these rulemakings are primarily regulatory rather than deregulatory, that number implies roughly $18 billion yearly in future off-budget regulatory effects.

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