Regulatory Rigor Mortis: Raising the Dead

Overlapping laws and regulations hurt America.  Simplification and reconciliation should be a bipartisan objective.” – The Lonely Realist

A distinctive feature of democratic government is that rules and regulations are relatively easy to add … and virtually impossible to adjust revise improve dilute, yet alone eliminate.  And yet … a unique opportunity exists today for significant relief from regulatory rigor mortis.

Regulations abound in America because there’s a constituency for any and all perceived ills, dangers, inequities, and special interests … each of which finds a receptive audience (more so today because of social media tribalism) that seeks relief a benefit solution … which produces a lobbying group of self-interested concerned citizens … who receive a hearing from Washington’s elected and appointed officials … who then sponsor responsive laws, rules and regulations … that proliferate over time.  (Forbes reported that America added 89,000 Federal rules and regulations from 1995-2016 alone (in addition to State and local ones).)  New laws, rules and regulations continue to be added in response to the desires concerns of one group or another.  Any attempt to disregard adjust remove an existing regulation is met by focused lobbying/voter mobilization that finds a further receptive constituency among government bureaucrats whose jobs depend on the antiquated inefficient challenged laws, rules or regulations.  TLR in June wrote about a narrow subset of rigid Federal, State and local regulations that impact on infrastructure (here), concluding that even if Congress were to allocate hundreds of billions of Dollars to repair and improve America’s infrastructure (as a recent Congressional compromise suggests might occur), it would be unlikely for the contemplated repairs and improvements to be completed for too many years.  Voters who believe that new or existing laws, rules or regulations are damaging, that they create unnecessary costs, or that they simply are unnecessary face an uphill battle … and most often lack the financial and electoral resources to displace entrenched interests.

It therefore has been challenging impossible to mobilize a majority of voters to address America’s too many regulations.  Although most Americans would agree that individuals, businesses and industries often are unnecessarily burdened by an excessive Federal government focus on micro-managing every ill and inconvenience brought to its attention – as well as by its sometimes obsession with fine-tuning America’s capitalist economy (with its consequent tendency toward Statism, most recently discussed here) –, there is little or no consensus on what specifically should be rolled back, what might reasonably be eliminated and what ought to be revised.  The only agreement is that pruning shears ought to be taken to other people’s regulations (NIMBYism by another acronym – Not My Regulations:  NMR).  Through massive effort and adroit leadership, Americans largely found common ground to legislate and regulate in the 20th Century.  That leadership has been sadly lacking in 21st Century America (a subject previously discussed by TLR here).  Finding common ground has been made all-the-more-difficult by today’s partisanship where compromise is a four-letter word (previously discussed here).  Republicans are infatuated with the ‘magic’ of the private sector and reflexively criticize government as the enemy of freedom, and Democrats distrust the market, preach government as the answer to all problems and prefer the bureaucrat they know to the consumer they can’t control.

Which is precisely why there is opportunity today for a bipartisan breakthrough and a significant regulatory overhaul.

The Biden Administration is in the market for bipartisan legislation.  Republicans want to solidify and expand their base so that they can retake Congress in 2022.  What better way for both Political Parties to achieve their goals than by agreeing to deliver money to voters by legislation that, in a single step, also eliminates poverty and scraps a hopelessly bureaucratic mess mass of entitlement complexities?

The “Progressive” wing of the Democratic Party favors a Universal Basic Income (UBI) (previously discussed by TLR here), a form of poverty relief revived in 2020 by Party-hopeful Andrew Yang (via a “Freedom Dividend”) and supported by such business leaders as Elon Musk.  UBI was first vetted by Republican President Nixon in 1969 …, who decided not to pursue it because of the political risk … and not because of its lack of economic viability.  To the contrary, studies at the time showed that recipients’ motivation to work was not reduced, a conclusion that has been confirmed by subsequent data, and that the budgetary costs might be recouped through productivity gains and redundancy reconciliation.  Although UBI continues to inspire the same politically-emotional reaction – the argument that it will create a culture of indolence (a concern applicable to all entitlement programs) –, the evidence is decidedly the opposite.

A number of trial versions of UBI have been adopted internationally (notably in Finland) and domestically (including by Stockton, Oakland and San Francisco) … with surprisingly (at least to TLR) positive results.  A thought-provoking variation on UBI was recently proposed by the New School’s Institute on Race and Political Economy.  It would revise the existing Earned Income Tax Credit to guarantee a $12,500 annual income for every adult and a $4,500 allowance for every child and would phase out as household income rises above $50,000/year …, which would address concerns that UBI would give a handout to the wealthy.  The New School proposal is intended as an addition to the 13 existing Welfare Programs (plus Medicaid and Social Security plans) and not as a substitute for one or more of America’s existing entitlements.  That omission could serve as a starting point for innovative Republican … as well as Democratic … proposals.

Democrats believe that Federal policy should be focused on “How America should be reducing poverty among its citizens,” with the consequence being an increase in the breadth, depth and delivery of Federal aid, a reasonable and rational approach … though broadly drawn.  There nevertheless should be universal agreement that reducing poverty, particularly among children, is a national priority, especially in 2021 as a postscript to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Republicans frame the question a bit more narrowly as “How should America reduce poverty among its citizens in the most efficient manner available?”  Accomplishing the latter requires substituting simpler, better-targeted government entitlements that eliminate redundancies and pare unnecessary bureaucracies while delivering improved benefits to America’s poor.  The Republican goal therefore includes a smaller, less intrusive government together with selectively-focused subsidies that decrease poverty without increasing welfare dependency.  The fact is that, at bottom, although the two Political Parties state their agendas differently to appeal to their different constituencies, they have the same goals.  Both therefore should be pursuing a solution … and doing so on a bipartisan basis to their, and America’s, benefit.

The Covid-19 subsidies enacted under the Biden and Trump Administrations will expire in September.  Their expiration will wreak havoc among America’s poorest.  Democrats and Republicans therefore should be politically primed to address this imminent need.  The uniqueness of the situation – a once-in-a-generation confluence of circumstances –, and the impact that addressing it would have on America’s economy, provides Republicans with the opportunity to champion UBI … and to do so on Republican terms that would include paring Federal government entitlements and bureaucracies.  It similarly provides Democrats with the opportunity to champion traditional Democratic Party poverty relief at the same time as they champion a further Federal response to Covid-19 and lure traditional Republicans with the goals of regulatory simplicity, smaller government and welfare reform.  Which Party will have the foresight to grab this opportunity?  Which Party will seize the moment?

Finally (from a good friend)

1. ARBITRAITOR – A cook that leaves Arby’s to work at McDonald’s.
2. BERNADETTE – The act of torching a mortgage.
3. BURGLARIZE – What a crook sees through.
4. AVOIDABLE – What a bullfighter tries to do.
5. COUNTERFEITER – Workers who put together kitchen cabinets.
6. LEFT BANK – What the bank robbers did when their bag was full of money.
7. HEROES – What a man in a boat does.
8. PARASITES – What you see from the Eiffel Tower.
9. PARADOX – Two physicians.
10. PHARMACIST – A helper on a farm.
11. RELIEF – What trees do in the spring.
12. RUBBERNECK – What you do to relax your wife.
13. SELFISH – What the owner of a seafood store does.
14. SUDAFED – Brought litigation against a government official.

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