Deregulation

The Trump Administration Has Issued the Fewest New Regulations In Decades. Does That Matter?

Raw counts of new rules added or pages in the Federal Register are a poor measure of deregulatory efforts.

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MIKE THEILER/UPI/Newscom

Donald Trump ran for president promising to slash red tape and deregulate the American economy. According to some recent headlines in conservative media, he's been wildly successful.

"Trump issues fewest regulations ever," reads the headline from The Washington Examiner. "Trump Administration Issues Fewest New Regulations in History," blares PJ Media. The Washington Free Beacon was only slightly less boosterish, declaring: "Trump's Deregulatory Agenda Still Rolling, but Pace Slows Slightly."

All these posts rely on the work of Wayne Crews, a regulatory expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who noted in a New Year's Eve blog post that the Trump administration had issued 3,367 rules in 2018, a slight uptick from 2017 but fewer than any other year going back to the 1970s (when the government first started recording such things).

The number of pages published in the Federal Register—a collection of all federal rules and public notices—is likewise only slightly higher than it was in 2017, which itself saw the lowest page count since 2001.

That might sound encouraging for fans of deregulation, but neither figure is a very good measure of how much regulation is actually occurring.

For one, the laws governing bureaucratic rulemaking require a new regulation to be written in order to get rid of an old one. This means, as Crews notes, that the "Federal Register and rule counts can both grow even in a deregulatory environment."

More importantly, not all rules are created equal.

A rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, for instance, means much more than the Coast Guard issuing a regulation about a New Year's Eve fireworks barge in federal waters. Similarly, the number of pages in the Federal Register counts not just regulatory commands but everything from background on existing rules to summaries of public comments on potential new ones.

Perhaps a better way to gauge Trump's deregulatory progress is to look at the Unified Agenda, a centralized collection of rules under development by some 60 federal agencies. Unlike the Federal Register, the Unified Agenda excludes most routine rulemaking that only effects the internal workings of federal departments, as well as most regulations relating to military or foreign affairs. Since 2017, most rules included in the Unified Agenda must be explicitly marked as either regulatory or deregulatory, thanks to Trump's executive order demanding that two regulations be cut for every new one added.

According to the Unified Agenda, the Trump administration has completed 236 explicitly deregulatory actions from January 2017 through the end of Fiscal Year 2018 in September, with 85 of these being ruled 'significant'—meaning the rule either has an annual effect of $100 million or more, or is deemed a significant departure from previous policy. That compares to 31 significant rules marked as explicitly regulatory.

This comes out to about 2.7 significant deregulatory actions for every significant regulatory one, which adds up to $33 billion in net regulatory savings since the Trump administration took office according to an October administration report.

That the balance of significant new rules is tilting toward the deregulatory side of things is encouraging, but some free market economists are still critical. Scott Sumner, an economist at George Mason University, argues that Trump's deregulatory progress must be weighed against his administration's restrictionist approaches to foreign trade, immigration, and investment.

Sumner also argues that some of Trump's deregulatory efforts could be harmful if they loosen restrictions on risky, externality-causing corporate behavior while leaving in place federal subsidies and protections that encourage said corporate risk-taking.

"Imagine removing all regulations on building homes right on fragile oceanfront sand dunes, while continuing to provide federal flood insurance to those homes," writes Sumner, arguing the result would not be a freer market but an equally distorted one where risk takers can rely on government subsidies to bail out their bad decisions.

Meanwhile, many of the Trump's deregulatory actions—even ones promoted as examples of his regulation-slashing success—were initiated by past administrations.

That last point is less an indictment of Trump than a demonstration of the limits of how much any executive can do unilaterally to pare back the regulatory state. Taking more impactful actions—say, by eliminating some of the agencies producing these rules—would require congressional action.

The current Republican-controlled Congress has showed little interest in wholesale regulatory reform, and the incoming Democratic majority in the House will want to move in the opposite direction. As long as that is the case, the executive branch's deregulatory efforts will continue to be, at best, marginal reductions.

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  1. The Trump Administration Has Issued the Fewest New Regulations In Decades. Does That Matter?

    Yes, it’s further proof of his Hitlerian DNA.

    1. And his withdrawal from two perpetual wars is proof of his imperialistic expansionist designs (actually saw this argued yesterday, that the grownups like Mattis were all that kept Trump back from trying to conquer the world).

      1. Yes I am trying to get my head around that one. Of course it was seen as more proof of Russian collusion by many.

    2. Orange Man Bad!

    3. More proof that Reason is being infiltrated by the cancer of silly progressives. Unless it is satire

  2. Taking more impactful actions?say, by eliminating some of the agencies producing these rules?would require congressional action.

    Even if congressional action is constitutionally required to eliminate those agencies, it is imo possible for the exec branch to eliminate its own direct responsibility for making those regulations mandatory (which is the main source of how they become onerous and coercive).

    Just identify the authorizing legislation as non-enumerated – which would mean the only legitimate authority for it is as some interstate compact. That would make it possible for entire depts to be transferred to that form of org – which in turn would eliminate most of the mandates, put those depts under the admin of a board that is far more accountable to the states, force congress into the oversight role. And over time, it could even lead to easier elimination of that dept – which otherwise simply can’t happen.

  3. Trump’s deregulatory progress must be weighed against his administration’s restrictionist approaches to foreign trade, immigration, and investment.

    Trumpistas don’t feel that way because, they believe, the road to prosperity is by achieving total economic autarky. We’re going to be so rich! said the Dear Leader Trump. You know, like North Korea rich.

    1. One has nothing to do with the other. If you don’t like his policies on immigration, good for you. But that doesn’t mean his reduction of the regulatory state didn’t happen or is less significant.

      1. That’s not about immigration. Its about ‘everything produced in America by Americans’.

        That’s what will make us as rich as North Korea – open borders or closed.

        1. Except that no one is claiming that except the voices in your head. There is no way you are dumb enough to think this. Come on.

          1. I know you really want to believe his trade war is about negotiating for free trade but deep down you know the Old Mexican is correct.

          2. No one except Trump and a significant percentage of Republicans and Democrats – including Sanders.

            It is the core principle that underlies the worry of anyone upset at the trade ‘deficit’.

    2. When one party promotes autotarky as a virtue and another imperfectly fights it, who do you vote for?

      1. Vermin Supreme?

    3. “Enrich Emperor Xi NOW!”

  4. I knew Trump would find a way to screw this up.

    1. Regulashions? We don’t need no stinking regulashions.

  5. That the balance of significant new rules is tilting toward the deregulatory side of things is encouraging, but some free market economists are still critical. Scott Sumner, an economist at George Mason University, argues that Trump’s deregulatory progress must be weighed against his administration’s restrictionist approaches to foreign trade, immigration, and investment.

    And yet, foreign trade and even the trade deficit continue to boom. Whatever your opinion of Trump’s dreaded “trade policies” they seem to be having little actual effect on trade. So sure, lets balance all you like. Scott Sinner would be better off if he just screamed “Orange Man Bad”. It would be as rational as what he is saying and at least would have the virtue of honesty.

    1. So its not having an effect on foreign trade – and LC would love to argue that point with you – then why are we hurting Americans with trade restrictions? What are we gaining if its not having an effect on the deficit? Why are these people being screwed over *now* if, with no current effect on trade, there will be no incentive for foreign countries to move to ‘freer trade’ later?

      1. Because life isn’t as simple as you think it is. And playing hardball with China to get them to open their markets is not the entirety of international trade. You are just a fucking raving lunatic on this subject.

        1. But if its not having an effect on trade – if its not hurting them – how is it ‘playing hardball’? Where does the incentive for them to open their market come from?

  6. He’s making real and lasting change… I only hope the next Leftist to get in doesn’t unravel all of it…
    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/

    1. Wouldn’t exactly be lasting change then, would it?

  7. >>>eliminating some of the agencies producing these rules?would require congressional action.

    entirely more dangerous people than T

  8. Trump= Most Libertarian-ish president in over 80 years.

    1. But Orange Man Bad!

      1. Hillary would have set the captives free! And would have let her cabinet steal money by the truckload while the media looked the other way.

  9. The Trump Administration Has Issued the Fewest New Regulations In Decades. Does That Matter?
    Raw counts of new rules added or pages in the Federal Register are a poor measure of deregulatory efforts.

    Jesus is this dumb. First, more rules is more regulatory, not deregulatory. Second, fewer new rules is less regulatory than more rules de facto. Third, the count is number of rules, any page counting is just shitty noise injected by the author. Ultimately, he’s less of a raging regulatory statist than any President since the metric was invented. The fact that some Reason writers find this so hard to say is astounding.

    1. Its not more or fewer *rules* – its more or fewer *pages* in the list of rules. And there’s no real link between regulatory burden and the number of pages required to list those regulations.

      A single page that says only ‘do what you are told’ imposes a massive compliance burden all on its own.

      1. Its not more or fewer *rules* – its more or fewer *pages* in the list of rules.

        Wrong. 3,367 is the raw rule count 68,082 is pages, both lower than Obama’s or previous;

        “The Federal Register closed out 2018 with 3,367 final rules in all. The only lower count was 3,281 under Trump a year ago, which was the lowest count since records began being kept in the mid-1970s,” he added.

        Federal Register pages are also way down, winning praise from corporate America and consumers.

        Under Trump the daily list of pages totaled 61,308 in 2017 and 68,082 this year.

        And there’s no real link between regulatory burden and the number of pages required to list those regulations.

        I don’t entirely disagree but still, as I replied below, Britschgi (or Summers) could snatch any other proxy or metric out of the air and the one they choose shows fewer $$ spent by regulators. They then proceed to act as though this is a prima facia indictment of Trump.

        1. UUUUGH

          I’m not talking about whether or not the actual page count is greater or lower. I’m saying page count doesn’t correlate to regulatory burden very well. We could shrink the register down to a single page and end up with a greater burden than we have now.

    2. The fact that some Reason writers find this so hard to say is astounding.
      Praising Orange Man even just a little, is like saying “Hitler did some okay stuff too” in the social circles our brave journalists frequent.
      If Trump brought every single American soldier back to the states, deregulated everything, legalized everything from meth to zoosex, canned the wall and invited in Latin America to colonize, privatized the post office and handed 90% of his presidential powers back to congress, it still wouldn’t make them happy because it’s Donald Drumpf and he’s bad.
      To say “maybe he’s not that bad” means no more Georgetown cocktail parties or future employment possibilities with the Times or the Post.

      Would you ruin your career just to give credit where it may be due?

      1. If Trump brought every single American soldier back to the states, deregulated everything, legalized everything from meth to zoosex, canned the wall and invited in Latin America to colonize, privatized the post office and handed 90% of his presidential powers back to congress, it still wouldn’t make them happy because it’s Donald Drumpf and he’s bad.

        Yup. Unnecessary foreign wars are an axiomatic evil that needs to be opposed at all costs. Unless Trump opposes them and withdraws troops. Then, they’re still an axiomatic evil and I generally oppose them but Trump, as a man, is worse I’m willing to tolerate a little axiomatic evil to oppose him.

        It’s a bizarro mentality where The Manchurian Cadidate is a romantic-comedy and Dave is a political thriller.

    3. I think I’m on to their shtick.
      1. Write something blatantly unlibertarian.
      2. Wait for all the libertarians to show up and chastize the authors.
      3. Increase as revenue by having more (indignated) comments than on a genuinely libertarian piece.
      4. Profit.

      But it may backfire in the long run. I’m reading Reason less than before.

  10. Raw counts of new rules added or pages in the Federal Register are a poor measure of deregulatory efforts.

    They sure are – but I don’t see anyone not willing to trumpet the size of the *increase*.

    1. They sure are – but I don’t see anyone not willing to trumpet the size of the *increase*.

      Smallest increase since the metric was conceived. But the metric is bunk so Britschgi proposes a different metric, which shows actual cost-saving deregulation. Which he then dismisses because trade policy, externalities, and “he didn’t do it first” or something. If it weren’t serious, it would be a joke; and a stupid one at that.

      1. No, I mean no on will fail to complain about an increase in rule or page count – while here there’s hedging on whether or not a decrease is good.

  11. Raw counts of new rules added or pages in the Federal Register are a poor measure of deregulatory efforts.

    Yeah, it’s really dishonest to use them as any sort of metric:

    https://reason.com/blog/2016/08…..iling-fans

    It’s only August, but the Federal Register is on pace to reach more than 85,900 pages before the end of the year?breaking the all-time record of 81,611 pages that was set just last year.

    https://reason.com/blog/2016/05…..egulations

    As the Competitive Enterprise Institute reports, “six of the seven record-high Federal Register annual page counts are attributable to President Barack.” In fact, 2015 broke the record for number of pages in the Federal Register at 82,036 pages, more than 600 pages longer than the previous 2010 record.

    You know, just because Donald Trump scores well on a particular libertarian metric, it isnt’ a good reason to abandon the metric.

    1. You know, just because Donald Trump scores well on a particular libertarian metric, it isnt’ a good reason to abandon the metric.

      It’s insane. Trump scores well on the metric, so we should abandon it for another metric. The other metric shows fewer regulatory $$ spent and we should ignore that because of other policies, externalities, and the fact that other administrations proposed these regulations first. Point is, Trump needs indicting for something and this data shows it.

  12. Regulation, rules, laws, etc. help cripple the evil and corrupted capitalist state we now suffer in.
    America would be wise to allow the ruling elites and their business illiterate cronies to become captains of American industry.
    Our leaders have been enlightened to the prudent ways of socialism and recognize that capitalism only raises people out of poverty instead of letting them enjoy the wonders and delights of socialist poverty and slavery.
    Only when the masses are dirt poor, hungry, live in hovels, and have little will they recognize true happiness.
    This idea worked in the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, North Korea, Cuba and now, mercifully, in Venezuela.
    However, failing to allow The State to own the means of production, then the least our prudent leaders could do would be to regulate companies, corporations, and businesses in America to the point where these nefarious enterprises become in effect be a government function like the Nazis did.
    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Soviet sex is better because it’s all you fucking have left to do.

  13. So who will regulate us if not government?

    What we have here is a regulation gap.

  14. “Most deregulation evah is Bad because Orange Man Bad.”

    “That the balance of significant new rules is tilting toward the deregulatory side of things is encouraging, but some free market economists are still critical. Scott Sumner, an economist at George Mason University, argues that Trump’s deregulatory progress must be weighed against his administration’s restrictionist approaches to foreign trade, immigration, and investment.”

    Foreigners First!

  15. Trump has been the most Constitutional President America has had since I’ve been alive.

    No matter how hard left-wing mainstream news tries to dismiss that fact.

  16. Whats the alternative? Issue the most regulations which is what we had with the previous guy?

    Where does Reason get these guys

    1. Two more years of a Trump presidency and Reason will be so eager to prove it’s “cool kid” bonafides to the DC cocktail party circuit that it’ll be openly calling for socialized medicine, gun control and regulation of speech.

  17. Trump is making real and lasting change for the country…

  18. Glad Trump took on the issue. As a businessman he understands the damage done by excessive regulation. As for the politicians they only run on what they gave people actually managing, reorganizing for efficiency is of no concern to most of government.

  19. “‘Imagine removing all regulations on building homes right on fragile oceanfront sand dunes, while continuing to provide federal flood insurance to those homes,’ writes Sumner, arguing the result would not be a freer market but an equally distorted one where risk takers can rely on government subsidies to bail out their bad decisions.”

    So is there any evidence that anyone in the Trump administration is considering actually doing this, or can Scott Sumner point to another deregulatory action that the Trump administration has taken that would have a similar effect, or is he just pulling this hypothetical out of his ass because Orange Man Bad?

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