A new study estimates the cost of regulation in the U.S. at $14,768 per household:
For two decades, Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has tracked the growth of new federal regulations. In his 20th anniversary edition this week, he’ll report that pages in the Code of Federal Regulations hit an all-time high of 174,545 in 2012, an increase of more than 21% during the last decade.
Relying largely on government data, Mr. Crews estimates that in 2012 the cost of federal rules exceeded $1.8 trillion, roughly equal to the GDP of Canada. These costs are embedded in nearly everything Americans buy. Mr. Crews calculates these costs at $14,768 per household, meaning that red tape is now the second largest item in the typical family budget after housing.
There are numerous government regulations that are beneficial to human flourishing and are worth the cost we pay. But many—perhaps nowadays even the majority—of federal regulations are a drain on our economy and an unjustifiable restriction of freedom.
While it would difficult to determine the value of worthy regulations, let’s say that we could reduce it in half. Households wouldn’t get the money directly, of course, but since the cost of regulations is embedded in almost everything we purchase, living expenses would be reduced dramatically. Imagine the effect of an economic surplus equal to $7,000 per household. Although $900 billion may not seem like much in an economy of $15.7 trillion, it’s more than we spend each year on Medicare/Medicaid ($802 billion), Social Security ($768 billion), or Defense ($670 billion).
Because we live in such a heavily regulated country we tend to forgot that regulations come with a price. Some regulations are worth the cost, while others are not. Determining the good from the bad is therefore not just a duty of good governance but a moral obligation. We aren’t merely wasting money on bad regulations, we are wasting resources that could be used to improve the lives of all citizens. And that’s too high a price to pay for waste.