Politicians say they "create jobs." In fact, only the private sector generates the information needed to create real, productive jobs.
Since this current post-recession job recovery is the slowest in 80 years, you'd think that even know-it-all politicians would want to sweep away the labyrinth of government regulations that hinders job creation. Successful job creators like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Staples founder Tom Stemberg tell me there are so many new rules and taxes today that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to create the thousands of jobs they once made.
The feds now have 160,000 pages of rules. Does anyone read all that? I doubt it. (Members of Congress don't read the bills they vote on.) Do the rules make life safer? No. A few new rules are useful, but most are not. Their sheer volume makes us less safe and less free.
In fact, the thick rulebooks help cheaters by giving them an indecipherable screen to hide behind. They also mislead consumers by giving them the illusion of protection. "I don't need to worry because regulation protects me." It's why some sophisticated people gave all their savings to Bernie Madoff.
A false sense of security is worse than none at all.
And the waste! Americans will spend $46 billion a year to obey just the new regulations the Obama administration imposed. Think of the money diverted to lawyers, accountants and "compliance officers"—money that might have created jobs and financed products that could make our lives better.
Alison Fraser, who keeps track of these things for the Heritage Foundation, points out that George W. Bush's administration was a big regulator, too. "President Bush…had 28 major new rules passed in the first three years alone," said Fraser on my Fox Business show. "We've had a virtual explosion—almost a regulatory assault on our system of free enterprise and on our job creators."
The mainstream media portray Bush as a deregulator and blame his nonexistent deregulation for the housing and financial debacle. But the opposite is true. Bush hired thousands of new regulators. He only looks good in comparison to Obama—which is not saying much.
Advocates of regulations don't acknowledge the law of unintended consequences. The Department of Energy demands energy-efficient appliances. But the extra cost deters some consumers from buying new appliances, so they stick with the old, wasteful ones.
On top of doing little good, endless rules kill the freedom that made America the land of opportunity. We preach entrepreneurship, and try to teach children the value, satisfaction and excitement of starting their own businesses. Then we let entrepreneurial opportunity be crushed under the weight of the regulatory state. The byzantine rules send this message to Americans: Don't try. Don't build anything. Don't innovate. Don't create anything new.
Let's not overlook the fact that big businesses often have no problem with this. They frequently benefit from complex regulation because it increases the chance that potential competition won't even get off the ground. Big business's hand has been behind the regulatory state at least back to the Progressive Era.
I could give you endless examples of small businesses crushed by big government. Here are two from my last TV show:
Shelly Goodman paid millions to buy a 13,000-square-foot mansion on 10 acres in Arizona in order to create a wedding reception center and bed-and-breakfast. Local bureaucrats forced her to spend thousands of dollars on studies to show that her business would not create burdensome traffic or noise. She did. The studies said it wouldn't. Yet the big house sits empty because her local government refuses to let her operate a business, even on her own property.
In Virginia, Greg Garrett started farming oysters. His neighborhood is zoned for livestock. He could raise buffalo, but local bureaucrats decreed that he could not sell oysters. Why not? My staff talked to the zoning official, and we still have no clue. That's the case with a lot of American law. It's arbitrary power. Regulations are so numerous and complex that no one really understands them. This diminishes our ability to flourish.
Big government makes us all small.
John Stossel (read his Reason archive) is the host of Stossel, which airs Thursdays on the FOX Business Network at 9 pm ET and is rebroadcast on Saturdays and Sundays at 9pm & midnight ET. Go here for more info.