Cut the Red Tape: Give the Economy a Fresh Start in 2012

Americans live in a regulatory minefield.

Consider the tens of thousands of statutes, regulations, and court precedents that affect nearly every aspect of your life: The United States Code is 50 volumes; the Code of Federal Regulations is 150,000 pages; State laws, administrative rules, and city codes add tens of thousands more pages. Add the myriad court interpretations of these rules, and you understand why the U.S. has more than 1.2 million active attorneys.

Most of these rules have nothing to do with protecting your rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Most have everything to do with limiting your choices: what kind of home you can live in or business you can start; forms you must file and licenses you must acquire; taxes you must pay; the goods, food, and medicine you can buy; and much more.

Why should we have so many rules? Laws, when rightly established, prevent us from harming each other. But when wrongly established, they keep us from living freely and smother the lamp of creative invention and entrepreneurship. John Quincy Adams wrote, “[T]he laws of man may bind him in chains, or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy.”

Instead of heaping more regulations on us, legislators should cut red tape so individuals and businesses can reach their potential in freedom.


Christina Martin is a policy analyst and project director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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  • WorkerBee

    Let me tell you something. Without “red tape” we would return to the days of child labor, sweat shops, and slavery. Our government is the only thing protecting us from the big guns at corporate who will abuse humans every chance they get. Government and unions, of course. So, no, we are not going to turn the clock back just to get a couple more jobs. We need living wages for jobs that are not too challenging. That’s the ticket.

    • Marvine McConoughey

       Certainly, laws help us.  If all laws were perfectly conceived, written, implemented, and enforced, then laws would help us perfectly. As is, law is not free from human error, and vast room exists for reform.

      We have living wage jobs available now.  These are sometimes described as “work that Americans won’t do,” when in fact they provide sufficient income for life.  Isn’t the sustenance of life the core meaning of a living wage job?

    • Chou Lin Humvee

      Hey Charlie Chancellor, you’r just the laundronaut tickee for more Communistree…

      • 3H

        Ya gotta love it when they eat their own.

      • None

        Racism. It’s alive and sick on Oregon Catalyst.

    • JoelinPDX

      That’s the problem with you pinkos…you have the best stuff to smoke.

    • 3H

      Bravo WorkerBee!  You have completely fooled your own.  And provided me with the best laugh of the day.

  • Bob Clark

    Much of the current day red tape is meant to keep government employment fat and happy; or to help one business against the honest competition from another business.  I don’t really fear sweat shops and slavery for government employees.  Heck, it’s hard enough as it is to correct government employee misbehavior or underperformance.  And in the modern economy there is plenty of opportunity to move from one job to another, unless the other job is denied because of red tape barring right-to-work (favoring closed union shops).  And older teenagers and folks in rural area Oregon are so mired in “protective” laws, they suffer from sharp unemployment rates and lack of job opportunities.

      Some folks still have belief systems mired in the over dwelling on those instances in the 19th century when Company owned towns were less rare; and when pre-civil war times were more recent than now.

    • 3H

      “Much of the current day red tape is meant to keep government employment fat and happy;
      I think that is completely wrong.  Some regulations may go too far, but I think on the whole, they are meant for reasons other than this.

      But, if you can provide some evidence, then I can be convinced to reconsider.

  • HBguy

    Without concrete examples, this post is vacuous. Christine, can you give us the top five examples of regulations that impede individual freedom with no societal value?

    • Sorry, HBGuy, I thought my point was self evident. Surely there is at least one law that bugs you and that you think infringes on your rights to choose? Perhaps at least one provision in the NDAA that offends you? 

      There are really too many problematic laws to list. And I won’t give you “my top five examples”. Rather, I’ll tell you what is bugging me at this moment. I’m bothered that I can’t go across the street and buy raw milk in the grocery store. Not because New Seasons wouldn’t provide it, but because the government has outlawed such sales in stores. Raw milk benefits my personal health and a few of my friends can’t even drink regular milk, but they can drink raw milk without getting sick.

      You know what else bothers me today? the endless regulations that normal businesses have to deal with that raise the price that I must pay. For example, my chiropractor and/or his staff have to become mini-legal experts about things like HPA rules (among many other laws). What if I don’t care whether someone sees my files or whether they are in appropriately locked storage facilities? No matter. My lack of regard for my own so called “privacy rights” regarding my chiropractic treatment is irrelevant. And what if I want to pay a friend to cut my hair and she doesn’t have a license? Hmm. She’s a law breaker, even if I consent. This list goes on and on. The government has decided what matters and that I am unfit to make such decisions for myself. If I break their rules, I (and/or someone else) become guilty of a crime.

      Since I wrote this article, a book has come to my attention: Three Felonies a Day. It’s about how most individuals break federal laws and regulations every day. Check it out http://www.amazon.com/Three-Felonies-Day-Target-Innocent/dp/1594032556. It focuses just on federal codes and regulations.

      • 3H

        Actually.. HPA applies to the doctor, not you.  If you don’t care about the privacy of your medical records, you are quite free to give them out, post them on the internet, do whatever you want with them.  See how personal choice works?

        What the doctor doesn’t have the “personal” choice to do is sell or share or personal information with anyone without your consent. And guess what.. you can give consent. 

        Now the hair-cutting.. that one is a good one to discuss.  Perhaps that should be changed.   

        See how easy that is.   It’s better, however, to discuss regulations with some idea that we are all talking about the same thing.  

        • If all we ever talk about is specific bills, we will miss the forest for the trees. We may disagree about which weed needs to be cut down, but surely we can all agree it is an overgrown mess, metaphorically speaking.

          • 3H

            Not without the details we can’t.   Simply saying “there are bad and unnecessary regulations” isn’t saying anything.  I suspect you’ll find that most people would agree.  The devil is in the details.

  • HBguy

    Sorry…Christina.

  • Marvin McConoughey

    Your advice, “legislators should cut red tape” is broad, but it is actually what should be done.  Our system of government has never created an effective pruning mechanism for its mountain of laws.  The federal tax code is an example.  It needs a major revamping, but the will do so is lacking.

    • HBguy

      Again….this is a statement without substance. Who isn’t for cutting unnecessary regulations and red tape. Or balancing the budget, or more family wage jobs, or saving SS, etc etc. Who isn’t a patriot, or god fearing, or for families. Who isn’t for public safety, or education. It’s very frustrating when people mistake any of these statements, no matter how heartfelt or sincere, for substance. 

      I’m waiting for anyone, from either major party, to describe substantive positions to me. It’s like waiting for Godot.

      • Marvin McConoughey

         Not sure what is meant by a “substantive position,” and I do not belong to any political party.  I would like the Alternative Minimum Tax to be reformed at least to the extent that a taxpayer at risk could find out without tedious computations that he is, or is not, required to file the full set of paperwork.  I believe that the IRS ombudsman has made similar proposal.  I understand the reasoning behind seeking taxes from those who otherwise are exempt though wealthy.  It is the convoluted paperwork that needs reform.

        • HBguy

          Thats a good idea. I’d agree. What I’m concerned about is “cutting red tape” is code for, for instance, cutting financial regulations en mass, or consumer protection laws. Or environmental laws. 
          I’d support an independent office of de-regulation that was tasked with finding (by business or citizen reporting) and challenging onerous or unnecessary regulations and rules where the regulators were forced to justify them publicly. The office could be non governmental and operated by a coalition of parties who are the most regulated. Business, Labor, landowners, industries, financial institutions. 

          • 3H

            And those that are most regulated will have the greatest incentive to change or dismantle regulations – regardless of the efficacy of those regulations.  In fact, several of those groups mentioned already have the means and resources to address issues that affect them.   You need to have representation from the very people that regulations protect.  And, you need a way to curb the power and influence of some of those groups to run rough-shod over the process.  

            I’m not convinced that asking the wolves to determine how many sheepdogs should guard the sheep is a good idea.

          • 3H

            Let me expand before the chorus gets all in a dither. 

            I think it should be a governmental commission  or committee.  Open to the public.  Perhaps a list drawn up of the most onerous regulations and red-tape, and certainly the opinions and concerns of the group you mentioned are valid and needed. 

            As each regulation is discussed, however, there should also be representatives from those groups or people that are protected by regulations. 

            Regulations should be explicitly justified.  Removing or altering regulations should also be explicitly justified.

  • None

    Governmental red tape can be a good thing.

    Because of “red tape,” thalidomide was not approved for use in the U.S., so we didn’t have the resultant birth defects that were seen in other countries.

  • JoelinPDX

    Christina, I’m afraid real change will have to wait until January 2013 when we have a new president and a Republican majority in place in the senate. What’s really disturbing is that the lame ducks will try to push through a bunch if their European socialist laws following their defeat in November 2012.

    • 3H

      How will that happen without the help of the House?  Just curious.  

  • David Appell

    I think part of the regulation problem is simply that our society is too big. The number of regulations should scale as something like the number of possible interactions between people, and for a population of N people the number of interactions is proportional to N-squared. So regulations, necessarily responding to size and complexity, are always going to seem to get out of hand. 

    Let a thousand countries bloom…. 

  • Johnb

    All regulations should have a sunset clause. After 3 tears it goes to a vote and stays or goes. No vote no regulation it goes bye bye.
    A sunset should be set on all past regulations to have them reviewed. If our legislators are busy doing this they will be to busy to pass more asinine rules.
    The only other time they should be allocated is the combining and getting rid of agencies that serve no purpose.

    • David Appell

      Sure. Who cares if a regulation is doing some good, preventing injuries, maybe even saving lives. Let it lapse if legislators are too busy dialing for dollars to renew it. Those regulations are just protecting people, and what are people compared to more profits?

    • None

      So, should a regulation banning lead in paint sunset after 3 years? Because, you know, lead might become healthy to humans within 3 years?

      • valley person

        It would buy us time to develop an immunity, like in the Princess Bride. And while we are at it we could learn to be immune to ecoli in water and grow more nose hairs to filter out soot in the air. Also, we could build up our bodies so we don’t need air bags any longer. I mean, the possibilities here are boundless.

        Of course, the “certainty” that business always says it needs to invest in things like….oh…air pollution equipment would go out the window. But this is conservative world, not reality, so who cares?

  • Rupert in Springfield

    It is intellectual laziness in the extreme to have considered the proposition of excessive regulation to such little extent that examples must be provided to prove the problem must exist.

    Few of us witness child abuse, and yet none would deny it is a problem. We know this because we occasionally hear of instances of it, not because we have direct familiarity with it ourselves.

    To not have heard of the absurdities of excessive regulation is an indicator of inattentiveness rather than lack of evidence of a problem.

    As a first step I would suggest the ignorant go and ask a friend who owns a business if they could see the tax forms they are required to file.

    • David Appell

      What’s lazy is to extrapolate from a few cherry picked examples of purportedly excessive regulation to the conclusion that all regulation is harmful or unwarranted. Regulations have benefits as well as costs. 

    • HBguy

      Since I currently own three businesses, and a Director on a real estate investment business in Washington State, Have 20 employees total, and go into the office every day, I am pretty aware of the tax forms that need completed. 

      The exercise in my question asking for examples was to learn exactly what the speaker considers excessive red tape, Or over regulation. It’s an exercise in learning what someone means poistion is. Do they believe stream protection by loggers is over regulation? 

      So you’re position is that examples aren’t required because everyone knows it’s true. My position is, you may be correct, give me some examples so we can work on getting rid of them if I agree, or at least make the regulators justify their regulations.

      Who is lazy?

    • David Appell

      For example, the EPA recently estimated
      that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 provide far more benefits than costs:
      $2 trillion in annual benefits by 2020, though with a large uncertainty. They
      estimate that the Amendments prevented 160,000 deaths in 2010, and this will
      rise to 230,000 by 2020. By then they will have prevented 200,000 cases of
      heart disease per year, 2.4 million asthma flare-ups per year, and 22.4 million
      missed school and work days per year.  

      http://www.eenews.net/assets/2011/03/01/document_gw_03.pdf

       

      By the way, these Amendments were signed into law by GHW
      Bush. The Clinton administration estimated the benefits to be $170 B/yr.

      http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/03/coming-clean-on-regulatory-costs-and-benefits

       

      The Small Business Alliance finds the total cost of all regulations
      to be $1.75 T/yr:

      http://archive.sba.gov/advo/research/rs371.pdf

       

      I doubt anyone can do a firm calculation given the
      complexity of society, and hence the complexity of the regulations. I also
      doubt anyone wants to go back and live amidst the air and water of the pre-EPA
      era, or to pre-OSHA working conditions.

    • valley person

      Rupert, that is about the lamest response you have ever posted. And that is saying something.

      Few of us witness space aliens abducting people, but we all occasionally hear about reports of alien abductions. So isn’t it time we did something about this?

    • 3H

      Asking for evidence, or examples, of what regulations should be cut, is not the same thing as saying, “since I haven’t experienced it directly, it must not exist.”  I believe you have suggested to someone on here that they take a class in logic: I’m going to ask that you do the same.

      As for child abuse, it is legitimate to ask how often it happens, and under what circumstances.  In fact, any person who wants to address the issue of child abuse will ask those questions, and seek the answers, in order to craft a response that is the most effective.  See how that works?What is intellectually lazy is saying, “we need to cut regulations and red-tape!” without providing any examples or a list for discussion.  Perhaps we’re not all thinking about the same thing.  Perhaps what you, and others, consider “red-tape” might be something that provides essential protection of drinking water, or breathable air, or might prevent employers from locking exit doors making them unavailable in case of a fire.  What is intellectually lazy is assuming that we are all talking about the same thing.

      • valley person

        Yes, and don’t forget we also have to cut taxes because some people say they are too high, therefore they must be too high.  Never mind discussing what they pay for.

    • None

      No, Rupert, it is intellectual laziness in the extreme to assume that all people accept your ideas without question.

      Yes, there are excessive regulations. Have you considered the possibility that there are some needed regulations that are lacking?

      • 3H

        Well, for many on here, almost any tax is too high.  Some taxes are tolerated – just barely. 

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