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Is the Deregulatory Phase of the Trump Presidency Grinding to a Halt?

The Competitive Enterprise Institute says there's a bunch of regulatory warning signs, from trade to antitrust to speech.

||| ReasonReasonWhen President Donald Trump was preparing his first State of the Union address, I went around Washington talking to people who have toiled for decades in the largely barren fields of regulatory reform/rollback, and asked them what we might expect from a president who hadn't campaigned on the issue too much.

With some caveats, the army of Cato and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) types were far more optimistic than I expected. "I think, he could be the most serious deregulatory president ever," said CEI's Myron Ebell, who in fairness had headed up the incoming administration's transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Over the ensuing months Trump seemed to deliver on those expectations—tagging Neomi Rao to head up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, hitting record lows in the number of pages added to the Federal Register, appointing two critics of regulatory deference to the Supreme Court.

But the caveats have always been lurking nearby. Actual deregulation requires legislation, and we have a historically cowardly Congress. And from media mergers to the movement of goods to the movement of people, Trump in several sectors has been tacking aggressively in the opposite direction of decontrol. "Now, if he keeps his promises on some other issues, like trade," Ebell told me, "I'm scared to death."

Well, yesterday CEI made that fear into a concrete article by Vice President for Policy Clyde Wayne Crews, titled "What If Trump's Regulations Exceed His Regulatory Rollback Savings?" Crews notes that "Present-value dollar savings from regulatory streamlining are purported to be $8 billion in 2017 and $23 billion in 2018, with $18 billion anticipated for fiscal year 2019," but that there are also "warning signs."

The major pertinent issue is Trump administration's own impulses favorable toward regulation, from antitrust to vaping. These undermine, and could even derail, his deregulatory program.

Prominently, Trump and Democrats finally "agree" on two prominent things: antitrust action against online and traditional media and regulation of social media speech[.]

Crews then makes a sobering list of worrying areas—antitrust, speech, infrastructure, trade, telecom, the farm bill, vaping, bump stocks, subsidies, and so on.

A sample:

Antitrust: Trump has been most explicit about invoking antitrust action against tech and telecom, striking a discordant tone with the rest of the explicit deregulatory agenda. Antitrust is the original sin of the Progressive administrative/regulatory state, yet Trump, as a candidate, promised to torpedo the AT&T-Time Warner deal, and his administration's Justice Department is engaged in an appeal of a court ruling approving the merger.

The president has also said that Google, Facebook, and Amazon may be in a "very antitrust situation," and told Axios that he was "in charge" and "looking at it." Some have called for the ultimate punishment, the breakup of such companies. Trump also tweeted that Comcast may be violating antitrust laws, though after mulling it over (itself a regulatory cost), the Justice Department did not investigate the Comcast-NBCUniversal alliance. […]

Speech:Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow was asked this past summer about regulating Google search results, and said,"We'll let you know....We're taking a look at it." We have noted before that Google is a private entity, and search results are free speech. Google cannot censor anything. The entire Internet and all its underlying capabilities remain intact, crawlable as ever, unaffected by Google's existence.

Trump has tweeted extensively about social media censorship, and separately had threatened NBC's broadcast license. Asked at a November 7, 2018 press conference if he would regulate social media companies, Trump acknowledged that, "when you start regulating, a lot of bad things can happen." Nonetheless he said, "I would do that. Yeah. I would look at that very seriously. I think it's a serious problem. At the same time, you start getting into speech; that's a very dangerous problem. That could be the beginning. So it's very dangerous....But I would certainly talk to the Democrats if they want to do that. And I think they do want to do that."

Related to concerns about the social media environment, Trump's regulators have considered a record-high fine against Facebook for alleged privacy violations.

Read Thomas Winslow Hazlett on making the Fairness Doctrine great again, and Nick Gillespie on the bipartisan urge to regulate disruptive technologies. I interviewed Crews and others in a Reason TV doc on Trump's deregulation last year:

Photo Credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Don't look at me!||

    How much did the chart cost?

  • Juice||

    It looks like a chart of immigration and naturalization law.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I don't know, but let me quote from the article here...

    "I think, he could be the most serious deregulatory president ever," said CEI's Myron Ebell...

    But The Donald hasn't even WARNED us (in a serious and straight-forward manner) of exactly WHAT it is, that we should NOT do, in order to NOT fall afoul of The King's Men!

    And so my Pubic Duties (self-chosen to be honest) beckon me, yet once again, to Perform My Much-Needed Sacred Pubic Duties... Your obligations (to the Sacred Welfare of The Pubic) include REFRAINING from blowing on a cheap plastic flute, w/o permission of Your Betters!!!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    And from media mergers to the movement of goods to the movement of people, Trump in several sectors has been tacking aggressively in the opposite direction of decontrol.

    This is like looking up the basketball game from seven years ago where the president painted his body black for school spirit and using that against him because he has wiped out the entirety of the regulatory environment today. Come on, Welch. You're better than that.

    (Nailed it.)

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Although in all honesty (or as much as I can muster), a certain media merger that the Trump DOJ half-assedly opposed in court is why this Dish Network subscriber doesn't have HBO right now. And so help me, if I miss Game of Thrones because of this...

  • SIV||

    Dish sucks even with HBO but they do have that HDNT or whatever that shows Basic Instinct and Showgirls over and over again.

  • SIV||

    Your girl lost, Welch.

  • TLBD||

    Shorter article:

    Trump has rolled back regulation but we are worried he will do the opposite. Though he hasn't done so yet, our worry proves that you shouldn't like his policies.

  • ||

    "The only thing we have to fear is... fear itself!" So, be very afraid!

    Just think, this is the guy that a scant few years ago was championing the "libertarian moment". It's almost like his libertarian principles were exactly one paycheck in depth.

  • Blargrifth||

    How much credit does he really deserve for deregulation at this point? I recall almost nothing of substance that has been rolled back or repealed since Trump took office. Getting rid of petty, excess regulations made by your lame duck, unpopular predecessor is easy and worth little in terms of political capital. Outside the adjustments to Dodd-Frank what else has Trump done that is worthy of praise?

  • Wizard4169||

    And as Welch pointed out, virtually all of his rollback has been by executive order. That means he's effectively building sand castles; as soon as the tide starts running the other way (and it will, sooner or later), they'll be washed away. Legislation is much harder to undo, but legislative action has been sorely lacking. Trump has no idea how to work with Congress to advance his agenda, and shows no interest in learning.

  • vek||

    Uhhh, he hasn't had carte blanche for 1 single second since he got in office. He didn't have the votes in the senate to get anything done. Now he doesn't even have the votes in the house.

    Even when we have a president who would actually do useful things, they often can't, because the system is setup so as to prevent shit presidents from doing bad things. Such is the nature of our system...

    Anybody who thinks there were the Dem votes to pass anything of any use is trippin'. Obama didn't have the votes for anything either, which is why he did everything by EOs too.

  • Blargrifth||

    It is the president's job to work with Congress. If what you say is the case than we would count the votes every election, learn that no party has more than 60 votes, submit to the fact that nothing will ever be accomplished, and dissolve the legislature until next election. Trump's incompetence and lack of effort should not be excused.

  • vek||

    What world do you live in dude?

    That basically IS how things have tended to go for a LOT of years now. And the rare piece of bi-partisan lawmaking that has got done in the last few decades has been almost universally bad.

    If you ask me it's the GOPs fault that the country has slid so far so fast. They've comprised like hell time and time again to stupid demands of the Dems, and the Dems have basically never reciprocated. And the few times the GOP could have passed whatever they wanted when they did have control, they've not followed through on campaign promises by cutting spending etc either.

    We've had solid gridlock for better than a decade now though, so don't go blaming this on Trump... By that same measure Obama was just as incompetent and lacking in effort.

  • ||

    Well, yesterday CEI made that fear into a concrete article

    I... I mean you didn't say that the article was purely motivated by fear... I guess.

    How many parts water do you have to add to concrete fear to build a good article? How much admix before it turns to worthless, crumbly shit?

  • Rockabilly||

    The government is the enemy of freedom and a friend to the democrat progressive communist

  • Juice||

    Actual deregulation requires legislation, and we have a historically cowardly Congress.

    A lot of regulation consists of "the Secretary shall [come up with some regulations]" so a huge chunk of it could be eliminated by executive fiat.

    Hell, the requirement to file Form 1040 could be eliminated with an executive order.

  • ||

    I don't get this.

    Is he or isn't he?

    In fairness, I've had one too many.

  • Echospinner||

    Only his hairdresser knows for sure.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    We'll see in a few years. Take GW Bush, he started off like he maybe for a smaller less regulatory government but by the end his policies created the Tea Party.

  • Robert||

    Sure, if you look totally cockeyed at Trump (or anything), you can see what you see. If you figure out the least favorable way to parse his A in a Q&A, if you take CEI's warning signs & worries as "concrete"...sure.

    Come on, you know Larry Fucking Kudlow's going to do the right thing, don't pretend to believe otherwise.

  • BigT||

    "Related to concerns about the social media environment, Trump's regulators have considered a record-high fine against Facebook for alleged privacy violations."

    Aren't privacy violations a breech of the service agreement? Isn't this simply enforcing a contract?

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Being the most deregulatory President in recent memory was a pretty low bar to clear, and Trump cleared it handily. And, yes, he could have been more deregulatory, but it would have required some help from Congress, and a less obstructive judiciary.

    But I have noticed that libertarianism has a bit of a cognitive blind spot in regards to the anti-liberty potential of monopolies and oligopolies. Maybe it's a result of the philosophy developing in the wake of some serious trust busting?

  • vek||

    More or less agree across the board.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Antitrust hysteria is a Red Republican hangover from spoiler votes gotten by the Anti-Monopoly Party. This was the first American party to add the Communist Manifesto Income Tax as a plank in its platform. Subsequent looter parties kept this up until their spoiler votes caused the Kleptocracy parties to inject it into the Constitution. Just as Republicans regarded beer as a gateway drug leading to heroin and the Demon Rum--again because of the steady drain of Prohibition Party spoiler votes--so they fear vaping as an alternative to legally mandated dirty needles or Polonium-containing cigarettes. The reasoning seems to be the same as the law poisoning untaxed alcohol with enough methanol to cause blindness and death on the theory that a good repeal plank supporter is a dead repeal plank supporter. Replacing vaping (and most everything else) with prayer and abstinence is still high on the Comstock Law Republican agenda, even if, regrettably, it has to be done at gunpoint.

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  • vek||

    One of the things with monopolies is this: It really doesn't matter much if somebody has a monopoly on saaay strawberry jam production. Like at all. If they price gouge, competitors will come in, and not much damage will have been done in the meantime. If they simply operate an efficient monopoly that they deserve by superior operations, that's fine too.

    But with saaay the media, search engines, etc... These things are fundamentally different than jam or hot dogs or t-shirts, or almost any other class of products. They effect things OUTSIDE of simple business, dollars and cents.

    The media is not a monopoly... But it is a cartel system, with only a few major players, and one that has very clearly leftist political goals. It's not a good thing.

    Likewise with big tech. Many of them have borderline monopolies on their respective fields, but it might not matter much if there was diversity of opinion throughout tech... But somehow SJWs seem to rule 99% of the businesses. They have effectively formed a cartel too. They control search, social media, payment processing, video platforms, hosting... Basically EVERYTHING of any importance. Their deplatforming is damn near as powerful as state sanctioned unpersoning can be.

  • vek||

    So the big questions are:

    How bad does their behavior have to get before we should do something? What if big tech was unanimously in favor of outright banning ALL conservatives? They damn near are already... OR gassing all the Jews? Is that reason for action? Because communism is worse than that... You get the drift I think?

    Even if they'll fail eventually, how long should we tolerate bad behavior that can literally swing elections and the fate of human history? Especially since it is a direction we here all agree is bad.

    Finally, even if some bad comes from breaking them up, forcing free speech on their platforms... Will THAT amount of bad be LESS than the amount of bad we're getting rid of?

    I think many delusional libertarians don't accept or realize that there's a difference between peacetime footing, and what is acceptable then... And wartime footing. I think we're pretty much in wartime mode here, and they're still wanting to play by some silly set of rules that the other side isn't adhering too.

    If you play fair with a cheater, you lose. Every time. For those of you that still think we should be in peacetime mode, I sincerely suggest you re-evaluate the facts. The left is going full tilt boogie, and has no problems using violence, and any and all other means against people. If you're too scared to break up an evil business, are you man enough to do the other things that may be needed?

  • Azathoth!!||

    This HAS to be said again--


    Shorter article:

    Trump has rolled back regulation but we are worried he will do the opposite. Though he hasn't done so yet, our worry proves that you shouldn't like his policies.

    That's all this is. There is literally nothing more to it.

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