Crying wolf over regulations

We’ve all heard the whaling about how regulations are so bad for businesses and the economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent millions promoting this theme and politicians all across the nation from local elected leaders to candidates for the White House have bought into this “job killer” rhetoric.

So you would think that behind all this bluster there would be a long list of regulations identified as prime candidates for the chopping block, right?


A report by two Rutgers University professors, Deborah Borie-Holtz and Stuart Shapiro)  looked at the issue of “too much regulations” by polling business executives in five Midwest states.  Here is what the report concluded:

“While business owners have strong feelings about the regulatory volume they are forced to comply with, they cannot name particular regulations that cause problems.”

And while 53% of the business executives over all thought that the volume of regulations have hurt the economy, it was party affiliation that really drove the numbers. 63% of Republicans felt that regulations were a significant problem while 50% of independents and only 26% of Democrats felt the same.  No other distinction between the business executives made a difference in their attitudes.

But maybe the business executives just didn’t have time to remember which regulations they didn’t like. Surely the business organizations that have complained so loudly about regulations have a long list of offending regs.

Wrong again.

The public interest organization Public Citizen looked at the comments submitted by business organizations in response to President Obama’s 2011 executive order for federal agencies to review existing regulations. Here is what Public Citizen concluded from its research:

“Very few industry submitters called for repealing any specific regulations.”

Not even the U.S. Chamber that leads the ant-regulation charge had identified specific existing regulations for purging. Taylor Lincoln of Public Citizen writes:

“(T)he Chamber provided input to only six agencies. Its comments focused largely on technical points, regulations under development or requests for better government service.”

So what is the reason all these regulation-haters can’t name any specific regulations they want killed?

Michael Mandel, who crafted one of the anti-regulation bills introduced in Congress, admitted that he didn’t have a list of bad regulations either.  He said it was because regulations have an “active constituency of defenders”.

What a bogus defense for the failure of those crying crocodile tears over burdensome regulations and yet not being able to name specific regulations as problems. If all businesses despised a particular regulation, the U.S. Chamber wouldn’t think twice about calling it out regardless if it had support from public interest groups.

But Mandel isn’t saying that the U.S. Chamber wants to find common ground with public interest groups on the value of specific regulations. He means that the U.S. Chamber is conflicted on every regulation because there are businesses that benefit from each regulation.  That’s one reason why they can’t create a list of bad regulations.

The other reason is the potential public relations disaster that would follow the naming of specific regulations they want dropped. Regulations are put in place to protect the health and safety of the public and employees as well as protect the environment and create a level playing field for all businesses (big and small) to compete.

Now this doesn’t mean that there are not problems within the regulatory system. I have maintained that the biggest need is more assistance for businesses to help them comply with regulations.

But instead of putting their considerable resources into this more constructive approach, the U.S. Chamber just talks about regulations in general as being bad and yells at the top of its lungs to convince the American public that regulations are evil. All the while it hopes that critics won’t look behind the curtain to find out that for the most part there is nothing to their advocacy but politics on behalf of their big dues-paying members.

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