Yesterday President Obama took to the oped page of the WSJ to announce his plans to promulgate an executive order that
requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.
All well and good, perhaps, but the piece leaves about the same impression as a promise by Ghengis Khan that his Mongols will wipe their feet on the doormat before pillaging your home.
I exaggerate, of course, but there is an immense disconnect between the words in the oped and the ongoing actions of the administration. Yes, discarding bizarre rules like those that require treating saccharine like industrial waste is beneficial. But that victory, such as it is, took place when every department of the federal government has gone on a regulatory binge. I am most familiar with what is going on at CFTC, and that is enough to make me shudder as I watch an agency that historically has earned the sobriquet “stepchild” systematically re-engineer every aspect of the immensely complex derivatives markets. But even a cursory glance across the regulatory landscape reveals hyperactivity everywhere, from Net Neutrality at the FCC, to the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, to the EPA, which is beavering away at a scheme to regulate carbon emissions–something that an overwhelmingly Democrat congress failed to pass. And then, of course, there is Obamacare.
Even the example that Obama touts–fleet fuel efficiency standards–illustrates the point. Yes, perhaps the changes Obama mentioned mitigated the harm of the regulations. But fleet fuel standards are a grotesquely inefficient way to achieve the policy objectives that Obama sets out, and they have wreaked tremendous havoc on the American auto industry–as Holman Jenkins has pointed out repeatedly on the same WSJ oped pages. At best, the changes that Obama mentions made the regulation less horrible.
In other words, this executive order is, at best, microsurgery on the capillaries, undertaken at a time that blood is gushing from all the major arteries.
Given the disconnect between the nanoscale of the executive order, and the macroscale of the regulatory state, there is room for skepticism–and indeed, even cynicism–about the initiative. This smacks of a PR venture–“See, I am actually pro-growth”–intended to counter the widespread–and well-earned–criticism of the effects of the metastasization of the regulatory state. A shiny object dangled in front of the easily distractable to divert attention from the fact that the regulation is continuing to grow inexorably.
Yes, I guess it is a good thing that Obama is promising that Leviathan will slick down that cowlick and clean under its fingernails. But that’s very small comfort given that Obama and Congress have fed the beast a steady diet of steroids over the past two years and show every intention of continuing with the regimen as long as they can.