It's Time to Cut the Red Tape!

Rolling back the bureaucracy and regulations should be a signature campaign issue, but it's not.


I'm upset that the presidential candidates, all of them, rarely mention a huge problem: the quiet cancer that kills opportunity—regulation. The accumulated burden of it is the reason that America is stuck in the slowest economic recovery since the Depression.

I understand why candidates don't talk about it: Regulation is boring. But it's important.

The founders of this republic were willing to die rather than be subject to other people's rules. Today we are so accustomed to bureaucracy that we've forgotten what it means to be free.

We now have a million rules—many so complex that even legal specialists can't understand them. Yet bureaucrats keep writing more. And 22 million people work for government!

Okay, that wasn't fair. Many of those 22 million deliver mail, build roads and do things we consider useful. But at least a million are bureaucrats. And if you are a rule-maker and you don't create new rules, you think you're not doing your job.

On his Grumpy Economist blog, the Hoover Institution's John Cochrane points out that most of these rule-makers were never even elected, and legislatures rarely vote on their new rules. Yet, Cochrane writes, "regulators can ruin your life, and your business, very quickly, and you have very little recourse."

Regulators have vast power to oppress.

Their power not only hurts the economy, it threatens our political freedom, says Cochran. "What banker dares to speak out against the Fed? …What hospital or health insurer dares to speak out against HHS or ObamaCare? …What real estate developer needing zoning approval dares to speak out against the local zoning board? The agencies demand political support for themselves first of all."

Speaking up will bring unwanted attention to your project, extra delays, maybe retaliation. It's safer to keep your mouth shut. We learn to be passive and put up with more layers of red tape.

Fortunately, a few Americans resist. At Boston's Children's Hospital, head cardiologist Dr. Robert Gross dismissed Dr. Helen Taussig's new idea for a surgical cure for "blue-baby syndrome." He wanted to do things by the book. So she took the technique to Johns Hopkins Hospital instead. It worked. You don't hear much about blue-baby syndrome anymore. The embarrassed Gross went on to tell the story many times to teach medical students to listen to new ideas. Breaking the rules saved lives.

But that happened years ago. Few doctors break the rules today. The consequences are too severe.
American entrepreneurs took advantage of a "permissionless economy" to create Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc., but they could accomplish that only because Washington's bureaucrats didn't know enough about what they were doing to slow them down.

Now regulators have their claws in every cranny of the Internet. Innovation will be much more difficult.
Today's regulations are often vague. A typical edict: "The firm shall not engage in abusive practices." That sounds reasonable, but what is "abusive"? The regulator decides. Compliance is your problem.
If you have the misfortune to be noticed by the bureaucracy, or maybe a business rival complains about you, your idea dies and you go broke paying lawyers.

European regulators have adopted something even worse, called "the Precautionary Principle." It states that you may not sell something until it has been "proven safe." That too sounds reasonable, unless you realize that it also means: "Don't try anything for the first time."

Since we don't know all the rules, we're never quite sure if we're breaking any. Better to keep your head down.
And sometimes the rule-makers really are out to get you. Nixon used the IRS against political enemies. So did Obama IRS appointee Lois Lerner.

It's time for Americans to fight back. As Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "You are remembered by the rules you break."
America became the most innovative and prosperous nation in history because many Americans were adventurous, individualistic people willing to take big risks to discover things that might make life better.

Every day, bureaucrats do more to kill those opportunities. We'll never know what good things we might have today had some bureaucrat not said "no."

Presidential candidates ought to scream about that.


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  1. I understand why candidates don’t talk about it: Regulation is boring.

    As Stossel goes on to point out, it’s also power, power that the legislative branch has willingly shifted to the executive. It’s power to favor donor businesses and punish enemies. It’s power to enact de facto legislation from the White House. It’s the power to make promises and threats a president shouldn’t be able to make.

    1. Term limits for bureaucrats. No more civil ‘service’ careers. We need another fire the air traffic controllers moment but this time for all agencies.

  2. FOE, I think you nailed it. All about the political class and their power. It goes all the way down to the local level.

    I know of two business where trying to startup in my area, both have gone under because the local government kept changing / denying permits and requirements. The delays were so long that neither could afford to keep trying. I’m waiting to see what starts at the sites next and how quick they get going – it will tell me if they are friends of the local political class or not.

  3. Government can cut red tape when it wants.

    Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were allowed to convert from investment banks to commercial banks overnight on a weekend in 2008. Just think of all the red tape they cut to do that.? That way they could get trillions in low or zero interest loans

    So while cutting red tape always sounds great, watch out that its not just a way to push crony enterprise

    1. The red tape wasn’t cut, it was simply ignored with permission by the political class and bureaucrats involved. Much like the GM bankruptcy where rules were bypassed in favor of the union voting block that supported Obama’s campaign. It’s selective enforcement at it’s finest.

      That tape still exists for you and I.

  4. “I’m upset that the presidential candidates, all of them, ”

    That is why we need to start a JFS 2016 campaign. Run, ‘stache, run!

    1. You know who else was known for his distinctive mustache?

      1. Charlie Chaplin? Oliver Hardy? They also educated and entertained millions.

  5. Well, Sarah Palin did say she’d love to be Trump’s Secretary of Energy so she could give all the power back to the States and then disband the department.

  6. It would be a winning issue if the vote were constrained to Libertarians. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to give a shit. They just want to make sure their team is the one sticking it to the other guys.

    1. Worse, I think. Most people believe that they are victims of unnecessary red tape and soul-crushing bureaucracy, but want MORE regulation on everyone else.

  7. Rand Paul seems to be the only candidate taking much of a stand against bureaucratic overreach; sad that he’s mostly (deliberately?) ignored by the press.

  8. The more rules on the books, the more enforcers required, which gives the enforcers more and more power, and the sheep less power. It’s Parkinson’s Law at work. The government employees are always looking for ways to get a promotion, so they create work. But, too many associations give the enforcers power by requiring licensing. Why do you need a realtors license to help someone sell their home? If you want to manage someone’s rental property you must have a license and a licensed real estate broker as a sponsor, in some states. If you want to be a hair and skin care worker you have to go to school for a year! We vote for what is in our self interest, not for liberty. If only business owners could vote they would have less competition and less free markets. If only psychiatrists could vote we would all be required to have an annual mental check. People don’t want freedoms. They want to control others because humans are social animals. Millions of social animals in one group trying to tell millions of others in the group what to do is not a path to individual freedom.

  9. I agree with you and fist. I certainly get the gist, and he’ll no I don’t want a sip of your Sierra mist. Dude I said no!, your lip looks like it has a herpie or a cyst. So I can certainly resist.

    What? Why the hell are you wondering how it would be if we kissed, that’s not something that should be reminisced. You are definitely off my friends list!

    1. So you’re saying that my kiss is not on your list?

  10. most people are idiots with little to no self control and willpower. It’s not my place not my governments place to save them from themselves but some crafty sociopath decided it would best suit his/her needs to subjugate these idiots through the rule of law ensuring his/her power behind the veil of public safety. The predominate majority of those who aren’t blithering fools only worry about their own comfort which by in large is satisfied so they remain complacent. There are far too few Patrick Henrys left I fear.

    1. “most people are idiots with little to no self control and willpower”

      This is ALWAYS where elitism starts. You agree with the worst of the bureaucracts in this point. The difference is you have a “fuck ’em” mentality and they have a “save ’em” mentality, but they are both elitist.

  11. I hate to say it, but Stossel is wrong on this one. Presidential candidates shouldn’t be screaming about this, the American voters should be screaming about it! And only then will the candidates start talking about it.

  12. To many office seekers,office holders, elective office that is, are to willing to take the easy way out, no questions asked of those bureaucrats, no action taken to curb their excesses. These “elected things” and office seekers are plainly not doing their jobs. The course of inaction that they follow might be, for them, the easy way. For the body politic, it is all to often, neither easy nor is it inexpensive.

  13. The progressive/socialists love regulations and its dear to their progressive/socialist heart right next to taxes.
    That’s why they don’t want marijuana simply to be re-legalized.
    Oh no, they can’t have marijuana just re-legalized.
    It also must be taxed and regulated.

  14. How? Cutting regulations would be like picking glass shards off one’s face after crashing into one’s windshield after an accident. Can a blanket law be passed converting regulations into guidelines or suggestions? I doubt it, but it is an idea.

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